I read in the paper the other day that the value of Silver is on the rise. The folks at Blue Note must have taken notice, and dug into their vaults for some hidden Silver artifacts . . . Voilŕ, they came up with a dynamic unreleased tape of a 1958 concert at Newport.
Okay, you want to gripe that Blue Note kept a great Horace Silver session unreleased for a half century. But that wouldn't be fair. In point of fact, the label only waited 49 years, 6 months and 28 days before letting us hear this sterling Silver Sunday set saved from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. But we should consider ourselves lucky to have it at all.
Songs of the Day: January 2008
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
Eliane Elias: Waltz for Debby
Frank Macchia: Down in the Valley
Marc Copland: River's Run
Josh Nelson & Sara Gazarek: Leaving Here
Ben Allison: Little Things Run the World
Sathima Bea Benjamin: Solitude
Joachim Kühn & Majid Bekkas: Youmala
Robert Glasper: Of Dreams to Come
Fred Hersch: Misterioso
Michael Blake: Ghostlines
Michael Wollny: Initiation
Carla Bley: Ad Infinitum
Ron Carter: My Funny Valentine
Cyrus Chestnut: Don't Be Cruel
Frank Kimbrough: It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago
Maria Schneider: Cerulean Skies
Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau: Ahmid-6
Keith Jarrett: Oleo
Eldar: Place St. Henri
James Moody & Nnenna Freelon: Just Squeeze Me
Bruce Hornsby: Questions and Answers
John Scofield: Shoe Dog
January 31, 2008 · 0 comments
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
Every weekday, jazz.com selects two songs to feature on its home page. The Song of the Day focuses on a noteworthy recent release. A Classic Revisited looks back at an important recording from the music's heritage. These two features provide an opportunity to highlight the best of new jazz and old jazz.
With the end of the month at hand, it's time to wrap up the selections from the last month. Below are the classic tracks featured during January. Tomorrow we will look the month's choices for Song of the Day.
Gerry Mulligan (with Zoot Sims): Come Rain or Come Shine
John Coltrane: Giant Steps
Herbie Nichols: Applejackin'
Woody Shaw: Theme for Maxine
Ramsey Lewis: The 'In' Crowd
Joe Pass: Have You Met Miss Jones?
Duke Ellington: The Harlem Suite
Dizzy Gillespie: Tin Tin Deo
Artie Shaw: Begin the Beguine
Woody Herman: Apple Honey
John Lewis: Sketch
Ornette Coleman: Embraceable You
J.J. Johnson: What's New
Jim Pepper: Witchi-Tai-To
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder
Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
John Coltrane: Moment's Notice
Miles Davis: All Blues
Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane: Monk's Mood
Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Bright Moments
Billie Holiday & Lester Young: All of Me
Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana
Charlie Parker: Billie's Bounce
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 30, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
Bill Evans, artwork by Suzanne Cerny
On Friday September 5, 1980 I was waiting next to the bandstand of the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, anticipating the performance that evening by pianist Bill Evans. Little did I know that ten days later, Evans would be dead. The official cause of death would be a laundry list of sufficient causes: bleeding ulcer, cirrhosis of the liver and bronchial pneumonia. But a more accurate description might be blind self-destruction, fueled by an out-of-control cocaine habit. Evans was fifty-one years old.
I had secured my favorite location in the club: the front row on the left hand side, where I was only a few feet from the piano keyboard. I was so close, I could almost reach out and add a few notes to the performance, if I felt so inspired. I had enjoyed many great piano players from this same spotâ€”McCoy Tyner, Jaki Byard, Tommy Flanagan, and othersâ€”and I would always make sure to arrive early in order to secure this choice real estate in the small and often over-crowded club.
Seeing Bill Evans live was a special treat. I was twenty-two years old at the time of the Keystone Korner gig, and had been listening to Evans' music since my high school years. In all honesty, my earliest experiences with his recordings had made only a modest impact on me. I probably had heard more than a dozen Bill Evans LPs while I was still in my teens. But I listened voraciously to all the jazz I could find back then, and the Evans albums were just part of my general and on-going musical education. The great "Aha!" moment was still to come for me. It arrived when I discovered Evans' 1961 Village Vanguard recordings (with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian). These performances had an over-powering impact on me, changing my evaluation of Evans and radically altering my concept of what a jazz rhythm section could and should do.
My earliest introduction to Evans had been through his work with bassist Eddie Gomez, and though this music was often fascinating and smartly played, it lacked the emotional depth I heard in the Vanguard recordings. And the interactivity between Evans, LaFaro and Motian seemed to exist on a higher plane than I was used to encountering in almost any jazz setting. At first I listened to the Village Vanguard recordings, but I soon moved beyond that into memorizing and studying them. When I moved to England to pursue graduate studies in philosophy in 1979, I only had room in my suitcase for a handful of records. Sunday at the Village Vanguard was one of the first selections to go into the bag.
Almost every track from the Vangaurd is special. The trio takes "My Foolish Heart" at such a slow tempoâ€”much slower than what was considered an acceptable ballad tempo back thenâ€” that one fears it is like trying to ride a bike at a snail's pace. Won't the whole thing just topple over? But (surprise!) Evans and company discover a realm of relaxed and centered improvisation almost more akin to meditation than to jazz music. On "Gloria's Step," Evans and LaFaro ignore every rule ever set on how bass supports the piano in a jazz band, yet achieve a musical mind-meld that you could never reduce to a textbook formula. On "My Man's Gone Now" or "Detour Ahead," the three musicians seem to have left notes behind, and work instead with a vocabulary of emotion and mood, one that defies all the lick-based improvisation models of swing and bop, hot or cool. In fact, there is not a single musical phrase from the Vanguard live recordings that sounds like it was worked out in a practice session beforehand. For my generationâ€”made up of practice room wonks who digested ii-V licks the way Scooby Do ate Scooby snacksâ€”this was a radical departure from the norm. You could memorize the Slonimsky Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns from front to back, and it wouldn't get you an inch closer to improvising at this level.
Recently Marc Myers, who runs a great blog at JazzWax (and occasionally contributes to jazz.com) took some heat for suggesting that Bill Evans' greatest music was made during the 1959-65 period. I tend to agree with Myersâ€” although I might stretch the glory years a little longer in order to encompass the Alone solo piano session from 1968. I have been working on an article for jazz.com on essential Bill Evans tracks, and I find myself gravitating back to his recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which still hold their power over me. Not that there weren't great examples of music-making from the later years, but Evans got into a comfort zone during most of the 1970s, relying on the same songs played with the same musicians, night after night, year after year. In all fairness, I must say that Evans never played badlyâ€”even in those final days before his untimely death -- and almost every recording he released had merit. But few moments in these later works would make fans forget the earlier legacy, with its magical telepathy and zen-like immersion into the musical flow. And who could blame Evans for falling short of these exemplary performances? He had simply set the standards too high in his late 20s and early 30s. Any pianist (Evans included) would have trouble rising to this level, night after night, recording after recording.
My favorite recordings of Evans in the later years came when he was forced out of his comfort zone. His 1974 Symbiosis project with Claus Ogerman puts him in front of a large orchestra, playing a long and complex piece, and Evans is jarred into a brilliant performance. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Evans had worked as a sideman in very challenging settingsâ€”with Miles Davis, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Cannonball Adderley and others calling the shotsâ€” and the intensity of these experiences had spurred him into a series of extraordinary performances. Symbiosis is a throwback to this earlier period, and reminds us how Evans had established himself, in his late 20s, as the most in-demand piano sideman in jazz. Other 1970s encounters with Stan Getz or Lee Konitz or Tony Bennett were also memorable, suggesting that Evans could surprise us if he was forced to match wits with another legendary talent. The encounter with Getz in Europe during the summer of 1974 was especially revealing, since the two players openly feuded on stageâ€”at one point, Evans even stopped playing piano in silent protestâ€”yet the chemistry of the music itself was potent and beyond reproach.
Evans benefited from the arrival of new trio members toward the end of the decade. Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera forced Evans to reinvent himself, and the body of work this trio left behind (most notably their live recordings in Paris) reveals a new tautness and vigor in the pianist. Eddie Gomez, a great bassist by any measure, may have simply made performing too easy for Evansâ€”the recordings he did with Evans almost seem effortless. But more than a few fans liked Evans better when he was under a little pressure on the bandstand. The new sidemen did just that. They worked hard for their money, and their energy level was contagious, spurring and prodding their famous employer. In his early 50s, Bill Evans seemed ready to embark on a new period of self-discovery.
This was the band that Evans brought the Keystone Korner for this late, great gig a few days before his death. Yet the first impression they made that evening was far from positive. My date for the evening leaned over and whispered in my ear: "Bill Evans looks terrible." In truth, his face had an unhealthy pallor, and he seemed drained of energy.
But the music itself belied these appearances. The trio attacked the songs they played that night. One might think that Bill Evans at the end would return to the introspective romanticism of his early workâ€”after all, that would seem an easier route for an ailing man than to try to reach a high level of intensity. But Evans did not go gently into that good night. His playing was acerbic and biting, almost completely purged of sentimentality. Johnson and LaBarbera were playing at top form, and also shared some of the aggressive vibes coming from the piano bench. The trio stretched out at length on the song "Nardis," which Evans seemed to enjoy as a musical sparring partner in these final days, and the music was hot and brittle. But the moment thatâ€”at least in retrospectâ€”was most telling, was Evans' sardonic performance of the "Theme from M.A.S.H." â€”also known as "Suicide is Painless." He played this song frequently in those final days, and it was an ironic choice given that what Evans was inflicting on himself off-stage, with countless injections of cocaine and a steadfast refusal to seek medical treatment, was little less than a pre-meditated suicide.
One hopes that for Evans it was, at least, relatively painless. But all the evidence points to the contrary. Gene Lees, who knew Evans well, once called his death "the longest suicide in history.'' There were many warning signs along the wayâ€”not just in Evans' behavior and lifestyle, but even in his past relationships. Bill's brother Harry, who suffered from depression, had committed suicide in April 1979. Years earlier, Bill's wife Ellaine had also taken her own life by throwing herself under a subway train.
A few days after the Keystone Korner engagement, Evans was in New York for a gig at Fat Tuesday's, when he could no longer ignore the warning signals from his deteriorating body. Suffering from acute stomach pains, he asked LaBarbera to drive him to the hospital. Evans checked in at Mount Sinai, where he died on September 15, 1980. He was buried in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, next to his brother Harry.
The tribute recordings began shortly after his death. Even artists who had seemed far distant from Evans' musical valuesâ€”his adherence to acoustic instruments and old popular songs and chord-based improvisation -- joined in on the celebration of the now departed pianist.
Some forty or so tribute recordings have been released over the years. The most impressive of these was one of the first to appear. Herb Wong, working with Helen Keane, put together an all-star line-up of pianists, perhaps the most impressive collection of keyboardists ever assembled for a single project. The resulting Bill Evans: A Tribute boasted the following participants:
Yet this unprecedented recording, released initially as double LP on the great (but short-lived) Palo Alto Jazz label, quickly disappeared from the marketplace. Finding a copy today is not an easy task. Then again, keeping great music out of print and unavailable is a time-honored tradition in the jazz world, refined to a high art, especially by the major labels. Perhaps they believe that we wouldn't value this music half so much, if it were easy to purchase and hear.
Other artists offered their own personal tributes to Evans. I especially recommend Richie Beirach's Elegy for Bill Evans (alas, also a challenge to find), John McLaughlin's Time Remembered, Jean-Yves Thibaudet Conversations with Bill Evans and the newly released Something for You featuring pianist and singer Eliane Elias. One of the tracks ("Waltz for Debby") from this last CD was recently featured as Song of the Day on jazz.com. Tribute recordings by Fred Hersch and Jessica Williams also stand out as fitting memorials to this master musician.
Evans' reputation is secure. In fact, he is one of the most frequently imitated musicians in the history of jazz music. His chord voicings, his way of constructing phrases, and many of his other musical mannerisms, can be recognized in the recordings of numerous pianists. You don't need to buy a Bill Evans tribute CD to hear the homage of these followers. The marks of Evans' impact on the jazz world are everywhere, and by now much of this influence is indirect. Even a young player who never sought out a Bill Evans recording would pick up on his vocabulary through others who learned first hand from the original source.
Even so, I think that the deepest lessons of Evans' best work have not been fully assimilated. His greatest contribution to the jazz idiom cannot be boiled down to hip chord voicings or a certain approach to constructing improvised lines. His finest moments stand out for their psychological and emotional depth, for their willingness to embrace a fragile, elusive truth that too often gets swept aside in the rush of jazz improvisation. Evans' muse ran counter to the glibness of the jazz worldâ€”a glibness perhaps inevitable in a musical style that prizes intensity and fire and macho posturing so highly. Perhaps it is a miracle that Evans' distinctive work ever made its way in the world, cutting through the noise of the 1950s jazz scene, or that he himselfâ€”also fragile in his own wayâ€”was able to sustain it as long as he did.
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.
January 29, 2008 · 8 commentsTags:
Jazz.com's arnold jay smith was in attendance at Sweet Rhythm for the benefit to help jazz pianist George Cables, currently recovering from kidney and liver transplants. He sends in this report.T.G.
When one of our own needs help the jazz community turns out. Sweet Rhythm was sold out for eight (8) sets of enthusiastic jazz for our colleague, pianist George Cables.
Coordinated by Sonny Fortune and Russ Musto, Sweet Rhythm, the club formerly known as Sweet Basil in Greenwich Village, and its owner James Browne hosted two nights, four sets each of jazz, jazz and more jazz for their comrade. Cables is recovering from kidney and liver transplants.
On Friday night it was difficult enough getting into the place, and once you did there were so many people with whom you just had to press the flesh, some we haven’t seen for a bit. I opted for a table near the rear, close to the restrooms --as if I had a choice. It was to the side of the stage so it became the musicians’ table as well.
The set in progress was led by Fortune on alto, and featured Valery Ponomarev, trumpet, Rufus Reid, bass, Louis Hayes, drums. Pianist Michael Weiss slipped in towards the end of the last tune, “I’ll Remember April.”
Cables was in absentia but he sent a note which host Rob Crocker (WBGO) read during each set. It was delivered as a thank you for all in attendance –musicians, friends and fans alike. For his musicians friends Cables said how pleased he was that so many of those with whom he played were on the bandstand. “I’ve gotta play better,” the note stated.
The small room was cleared after each set so as to allow those waiting outside in the cold to enter, and pay their $25 which went directly to Cables who won’t be able to perform for at least a year.
The second set featured the Turres: Steve on trombone and his wife Akua Dixon on electric cello. But it was her vocal on a dirty blues (italics hers), Dinah Washington’s “Big Long Sliding Thing,” which had them whoopin’ and hollerin’. The rest of the band were no slouches: James Spaulding, alto & flute, Paul West or Lisle Atkinson, bass, Weiss, piano, and Leroy Williams or Billy Drummond, drums. The other selections were “What Is This Thing Called Love,” with some “Hot House” licks, “I Mean You,” “Footprints,” “Just Friends,” with rhythm only, and “All God’s Children Got Rhythm.”
George Cables has some heavy and fine friends. Godspeed!
This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith.
January 28, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
David 'Fathead' Newman's 75th Birthday
Photo by Rick Gilbert (skyhookentertainment.net)
Jazz.com's Ralph Miriello was in attendance at Iridium Jazz on Thursday for an all-star celebration in honor of David 'Fathead' Newman's 75th birthday. He sends us this update, which we are publishing along with photos by Rick Gilbert. Jazz.com also thanks Jim Eigo for his help on this report.T.G.
It was a cold January night in New York when the first evening of a planned four night celebration honoring journeyman saxophonist David “ Fathead” Newman ‘s 75th birthday was held at the Iridium jazz club. David Newman was dapperly dressed in a black turtleneck and blazer, doffing a very stylish black beret. Newman exuded the look of a sophisticated, mature, cool jazz musician. In speaking to Mr. Newman between sets, he let on that his birthday is actually a month after the celebration. He was born on February 24, 1933 in Corsicana, Texas; but, no matter, this was a time when old friends and colleagues could all join in this very special jazz celebration.
David 'Fathead' Newman
Photo by Rick Gilbert (skyhookentertainment.net)
Newman is probably best known for his nearly ten-year stint with the great Ray Charles, helping to create a horn-section sound that was immediately identifiable. By 1958 he had begun his journey as a solo artist with a series of LPs on Atlantic records. His debut album Fathead contains what is arguably his most famous composition, "Hard Times” and included long time friends and collaborators Hank Crawford on baritone and Marcus Belgrave on trumpet, along with the inimitable Charles on piano.
His work as a sessions and studio player showcased his bluesy, soulful full tenor sound, but he has also provided some stirring work on alto and flute. He has been featured on countless jazz, soul and blues albums throughout the years and so it was not surprising that this special event brought out some formidable jazz contemporaries as well as some younger admirers.
The first set on Thursday included a stirring version of Milt Jackson’s “Bags Groove” with the great Phil Woods on alto saxophone, in a rare club appearance, alongside Newman on tenor and unannounced guest John Scofield on guitar. The rhythm section included Warren Bernhardt on piano, John Menagon on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. This group could swing. Scofield and Woods were replaced on the next tune by Marcus Belgrave on trumpet and the venerable Jimmy Cobb taking over for Israel on drums. On Newman’s own “Hard Times” the stage included Howard Johnson on baritone saxophone, the elder statesman Benny Powell on trombone and soulful guitar wizard Melvin Sparks. Cobb and Menagon kept the groove swinging and Newman’s broad smile was evident throughout. This was a soulful display of old friends coming together to celebrate life and make music. The first set ended with Sonny Rollins tune “Oleo” the perfect vehicle to allow Howard Johnson to showcase his formidable chops, Powell to let loose and Newman to swing out on tenor over Cobb’s driving percussion.
Paul Shaffer, photo by Rick Gilbert
The second sets highlights included a stirring Woods solo on the crowd requested “Body and Soul.” The alto icon was in relaxed and flowing form as he sat back in his trademark leather fisherman’s cap to do this classic piece poetic justice. Newman responded with his own grand reply on tenor and the two saxophone masters ended the tune in friendly harmonic interplay. David Letterman band leader, Paul Shaffer was introduced from the audience and proceeded to take over piano duties with an unexpected vocal rendition of the Charles classic “Unchain My Heart”. Shaffer’s comic yet masterful approach to the song brought the house to satisfyingly joyful applause. Pianist John DiMartino and trumpeter David Weiss joined in on a jumping rendition of Bobby Timmon’s soul/jazz mainstay “Moanin” and the night ended with the classic Dizzy Gillespie’s “ Night in Tunisa” with stirring solos by Weiss, Johnson, Newman and DiMartino.
If the soft spoken Newman had any doubts about his impact on the world of music or the friendship and respect he has garnered from his fellow musicians over the years, all doubts were shattered by the outpouring of love and respect that was gathered at the Iridium this night. This was a night of joyful appreciation and great music.
This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello
January 27, 2008 · 1 commentTags:
Jazz.com continues its quixotic but noble pursuit of reviewing all the great - and even not-so-great – jazz tracks recorded since Jelly Roll Morton was in swaddling clothes.
Here is a round-up of a few of the reviews published during the last the ten days. As always, we provide smart and final assessments, and a ranking based on our proprietary 100 point scale. We also include, whenever possible, links for fast (and legal) downloading. And site visitors are can add their own two cents, or even high denomination bills, in the 'comments' section at the bottom of every review.
You can search through all 1,400 reviews in our large (and constantly growing) database by using the search engine in the left sidebar on our Music page.
Count Basie (with J.J. Johnson): Rambo
Count Basie: Stay On It
John Coltrane: The Night has a Thousand Eyes
Miles Davis: Footprints
Paul Desmond & Gerry Mulligan: All the Things You Are
Duke Ellington: Jack the Bear
Bill Evans (with Claus Ogerman): Symbiosis
Taylor Haskins: Live Free or Die
Billie Holiday: Good Morning Heartache
Stan Kenton: All the Things You Are
Stan Kenton: Elegy for Alto
Oliver Lake: Montana Grass Song
Pat Martino: Dozen Down
Charles Mingus: II B.S.
King Oliver and Louis Armstrong: Chimes Blues
Jack Reilly: Round Midnight
Shorty Rogers: Didi
Jamie Saft: Ariel
Ken Serio: Big Blue Cars
George Shearing: So Rare
Wayne Shorter (with Milton Nascimento): Ponte de Areia
Horace Silver: Enchantment
Steely Dan: Aja
John Taylor: Tramonto
Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-tette: The Carioca
Lennie Tristano: 317 E. 32nd Street
Mark Turner (with Joshua Redman): 317 E. 32nd Street
McCoy Tyner (with Michael Brecker): Flying High
Weather Report: Elegant People
John Zorn: New Jersey Scum Swamp
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.
January 24, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: track review roundup
Ben Allison is not your typical jazz composer. He claims that the bass-lines for the title song from his new CD Little Things Run the World – currently “Song of the Day” at jazz.com -- were inspired by Led Zeppelin. In other instances, he will cite Charles Mingus or Neil Young or Charlie Haden as influences.
Honestly, Allison does such a good job of incorporating his sources of inspiration into his own style and sound, that he could claim Yma Súmac and George Winston as his musical parents and I would still rush out to buy his CDs. The best things about this artist is not where his ideas come from, but what he does with them.
If you polled the experts to compile a list of the great jazz bassist-composers, the top two spots would be a lock – Charles Mingus and Dave Holland. Third place would be a tougher call, but with each new release, Allison makes a stronger case for his candidacy. Like Holland and Mingus, he writes songs that draw on the strengths of his musicians.
Despite what you may have head elsewhere, the path to success as a jazz composer is not putting lots of black dots on a page, but in creating a framework that spurs and prods the soloist into creating something fresh and interesting. Allison is able to do this with a frequency that is quite impressive. And I am even more impressed because the black dots on the page are sometimes fairly paltry in an Allison composition. There is not much tune in his tunes. Even so, he usually finds a clever angle to make his minimalist charts take life – and maybe with greater success because of the simplicity of his tools.
With eight recordings to his credit, released over the last fifteen years, Allison should no longer be a secret. He has won the Down Beat Rising Star award on bass so many times, you would think his bloody star had taken off into the stratosphere by now. But in the jazz world, where even great talent often leads lives of relative obscurity, Allison still contents himself with releases that sell a few thousand copies . . . and get great reviews. "For a jazz record — for any jazz record — if we sell over 10,000, we're all going out to lunch," Matt Balitsaris, owner of Palmetto Records which releases Allison’s music, recently told an interview. Maybe Allison’s new release, Little Things Run the World, will get him to the next level in popularity and earn everyone that much anticipated lunch.
All it would take is for a few Led Zeppelin fans to get on board.
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.
January 23, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
The role of the jazz critic has been greatly complicated in recent years by the proliferation of self-produced CDs. For a musician these days, a CD is like a business card, and every jazz player is expected to have a recent recording to hand out. No matter who you are – a grungy garage band guitarist or a seasoned veteran of the big band era – you must have an up-to-date disk to validate your music-making.
On a recent day, I received ten self-produced CDs in the mail. My task might be a simple one if I could assume that self-produced recordings were inferior products. But only a small percent of these home-made recordings are demonstrably bad. Most reveal a fairly high level of proficiency and professionalism, and a few are outstanding. Indeed, I often find self-produced artists who are markedly superior to the “name” players with record contracts.
Of course, the big name labels have other worries these days than just picking the best music to release. In truth, musical considerations sometimes seem to be toward the bottom of their priority list. In a forthcoming essay on jazz singers – which I hope to publish on jazz.com this spring– I will talk about the strange coincidence in which only drop-dead gorgeous youngsters get record deals. Of course, we know this is only a coincidence. A&R execs at the big labels certainly wouldn’t be so foolish as to try to sell CDs – where, after all, you can’t see the singer – on the basis of looks! If the record industry did that, it would eventually lead to declining sales, reduced fan loyalty and a series of one-hit wonders without staying power.
Oh, have I mentioned that the record industry is beset by declining sales, reduced fan loyalty and a series of one-hit wonders without staying power?
What is really going on here?
"The music business, as a whole, has lost its faith in content," David Geffen recently told an interviewer. "Only 10 years ago, companies wanted to make records, presumably good records, and see if they sold. But panic has set in, and now it's no longer about making music, it's all about how to sell music.”
These are very astute words, and they get to the heart of the crisis that is shaking the foundations of the recording industry. Geffen's quote comes from an extraordinarily frank article published a few months ago in The New York Times Magazine. The article focused on Rick Rubin -- who recently was called in to “fix” Columbia Records, despite his insistence that he wouldn’t tale the job unless his “ridiculous demands” were met. These included various ground rules – e.g., Rubin would (1) never wear a suit, (2) never travel, and (3) never go to an office, etc. But what Rubin does bring to the party is a love of good music, and a passion for the artistry involved in making it.
Rubin amplifies on the same points that Geffen raises: “So many of the decisions at these companies have not been about the music. They sign artists for the wrong reasons — because they think somebody else wants them or if they need to have a record out by a certain date.”
Rubin continues: “There was a time when if you had something that wasn't so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels. And that's how the music business functioned for 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not."
Of course, the industry will be forced to change now. But can it really reclaim the artistry of its lost youth, after decades during which it willfully forgot the difference between a good record and a bad record?
It is sobering to compare 2008 with 1938. In 1938, the most successful commercial music artist in America was Benny Goodman. But Goodman was not constructed by the recording industry, he was the real deal. In addition to his virtuosity as a jazz clarinetist, Goodman could also sit in with classical ensembles and play Mozart or Copland – indeed, he commissioned the famous Copland clarinet concerto – or lead one of the hottest big bands ever to play a swing chart. Seventy years ago this week, Goodman brought his great band to Carnegie Hall, where its musicianship was not out of place. And he got there the old fashioned way, just as in the old joke, through "practice, practice, practice."
Could we imagine someone like that becoming the most successful pop music artist today? Not a chance. Talent has been so separated from marketing and 'packaging' in the music industry, that we can’t even envision someone with Goodman’s pedigree and abilities rising to the top of heap. You might as well wait for Britney Spears to perform the Mozart clarinet concerto at the Philharmonic.
Artists who don’t have a deal with a strong label rely on a number of techniques to get visibility for their work. One of the most proven approaches is to bring in a well known guest artist to play on your session.
Vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin has done just that. Indeed, even though it is only January, I think she has already out-done everyone else this year, by putting out a CD with Duke Ellington backing her up on piano.
Yes, the Duke Ellington, who participates on two tracks on Benjamin’s new A Morning in Paris CD. And the pianists on the other tracks aren’t so shabby: Billy Strayhorn and Abudallah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand).
(By the way, Benjamin will be celebrating the release of this CD Wednesday evening - January 23 - at New York’s Sweet Rhythm jazz club.)
The story behind this release is a fascinating one. It starts in February of 1963, when South African Beattie Benjamin (Johnny Dyani would later give her the name Sathima), then living in Zurich, convinces Ellington to come hear her boyfriend’s piano trio. Ellington agrees, and is impressed not only by the boyfriend, then known as Dollar Brand (later as Abudllah Ibrahim), but also by Benjamin’s own singing. Ellington arranges for both to record in Paris, with hopes that the music would be released by Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label.
The Dollar Brand recording soon came out, and helped boost that musician to a prominent position in the jazz world. But Benjamin’s vocal tracks were never issued, most likely because Sinatra did not think the work sufficiently commercial. The tapes were believed to be lost, until writer David Hajdu secured a copy while undertaking the research for his Billy Strayhorn biography Lush Life. Now, 45 years after the session, Sathima Bea Benjamin’s studio encounter with Ellington and Strayhorn has finally been released.
Fans may listen to these tracks because of Ellington, but they will walk away impressed by Benjamin. Ellington plays a modest role as accompanist, and does not seek to feature his own solo skills in this setting. But one can hear what he found so appealing in this singer. One critic has reportedly noted that Benjamin sings standards as though "she has never heard anyone else perform them." Listening to her versions of “Solitude” (today's Song of the Day at jazz.com) or “I Got It Bad,” I have a similar reaction. I am impressed by her ability to cut through to the essence of these songs, almost as if they had just been composed to match her mood on that February morning in Paris.
Her deep immersion into the emotional state of this music is perhaps even more remarkable when one considers the temptation to try to impress Duke with something new or different or unusual. But Benjamin eschews all the fancy trappings that often weigh down a jazz vocal performance with unnecessary glitter and gloss. She sings these songs from the heart, and for that very reason this 45 year old release doesn’t sound the least bit dated.
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.
January 22, 2008 · 1 commentTags:
Bob Blumenthal’s interview with Eddie Palmieri and Brian Lynch, which is published today on jazz.com, provides some fascinating insights into how Latin and jazz musical traditions have become closely intertwined in recent decades.
Social scientists use the term syncretism to describe cultural trends that, previously separate, have started to merge. In many ways, jazz is an art form built on syncretism. And though some think that this blending together of styles was a factor in the music’s past, and has now mostly played out, I tend to see it as an accelerating trend that will continue to shape the direction of the music for many decades to come.
At one point in the interview, Brian Lynch remarks
I didn’t find out about the earlier stuff from Cuba until later; but even then, hearing Eddie or the Fania All-Stars, I wasn’t having a “What is this?” kind of reaction, because I had heard a lot of Horace Silver and he has some of that same feeling in his music. Let’s face it – if you were listening to Horace, Lee Morgan and Art Blakey, you’d hear the rhythms in some of their stuff. The musics have always been locked together.
Eddie Palmieri, for his part, describes his personal musical development in terms that are, to some degree, the mirror image of those Lynch uses. He recalls to Blumenthal:
The jazz I first paid attention to was on my brother’s Duke Ellington and Count Basie records. But the first jazz album that I bought was by Richard Twardzik. I got that album in 1958 and was into his compositions like “A Crutch for the Crab” and “Yellow Tango.” Over time I started listening to more jazz artists. When I formed La Perfecta, I started trading records with Barry Rogers. I’d loan him a La Sonora Matancera album, and he’d loan me Thelonious Monk. That’s how I was introduced to Kind of Blue, Thelonious, Bill Evans, all of the pianists. All of that music, plus the small Latin group Cal Tjader formed with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, were my jazz foundations..
Here's the interesting twist: this same inter-mingling of traditions is now happening on a global scale. The syncretism today is just as likely to involve Asian or Eastern European or North African traditions, and not just the "Latin tinge" (as Jelly Roll Morton called it), which has been so prominent in jazz history. And much of the excitement of this world fusion is taking place outside of the United States -- and hence often outside the purview of the jazz media, which still relies too much on the (perhaps subconscious) assumption that jazz innovation flows outward from Manhattan.
One need look no further than the "Song of the Day" currently highlighted on jazz.com: the track "Youmala" featuring the trio of Joachim Kühn, Majid Bekkas and Ramon Lopez. Reviewer Thierry Quénum asks, with only a touch of humor, whether we want to view this music "from the German + Moroccan + Spaniard, or Jew + Moslem + Christian angle." But the bottom line is that this type of cross border musical diplomacy is shaking up the jazz idiom in a highly invigorating manner.
In the future, I hope to highlight more examples of this modern-day syncretism at work in the jazz world. The Latin jazz heritage stands, in many ways, as an example of the fireworks that can go off when two two (or more) musical traditions intersect in just the right way. Could this be happening right now in places and manners that are under our radar screen?
You can read the full text of Blumenthal’s interview here,
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.
January 21, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
In the early days of modern jazz, the music media fueled the fires of conflict between fans of old jazz (who were ridiculed under the name of “moldy figs”) and those who preferred the sounds of bebop.
Of course, the musicians themselves rarely had much patience with this so-called “war between the generations.” Charlie Parker may have been lauded as the leader of the modernists, but Parker himself understood how much he owed to the masters of earlier decades. In a Blindfold Test, conducted by Leonard Feather, Parker lavishly praised Johnny Hodges, altoist with the Ellington band, declaring: “That record deserves all the stars you can muster.” In his solos, Parker would quote from Lester Young or Louis Armstrong or interpolate a phrase from a trad jazz warhorse such as “High Society.” Bird never recognized a generational divide.
The other revolutionaries of the era were no different. Dizzy Gillespie would acknowledge the influence of Roy Eldridge, just as Thelonious Monk would express admiration for James P. Johnson. From the perspective of the greatest artists, there was no war, only a whole tradition, different branches all springing from the same roots.
But the ideology of this supposed battle between the old and new has never completely gone away. In particular, the fans (and even some critics) were rarely as open-minded as the musicians themselves. This is changing – for some interesting reasons that I hope to explore in a future posting here – but not as rapidly as one might hope. As a result, the jazz world still shows some unfortunate divisions and barriers.
In particular, the world of traditional jazz continues to live a subterranean existence, with its own festivals, periodicals, venues and culture. Its leading practitioners rarely share the same stage with musicians versed in other jazz styles. And sometimes the exponents of this music feel – with some justification – that they are ignored by many of the institutions that support other styles of jazz. Why, they wonder, are trad jazz players – who celebrate and preserve the original sources of all later jazz styles -- themselves the least celebrated of jazz practitioners?
I once heard a trad jazz player sum it up succinctly. “People talk about cool jazz. Well, I think I’m stuck playing un-cool jazz.” Yet even the most fervent modernists could learn something from the great traditional jazz bands. Listen to the best of these ‘un-cool’ musicians, and you will find that they know how to construct a solo that tells a complete story. The very constraints of the early jazz idiom – which does not encourage fancy double-time licks, excessive chromaticism, or radical harmonic substitutions – force the performer to develop strong, musical phrases that cohere into a complete solo. Almost any aspiring jazz player would be a better soloist after apprenticing in a trad jazz band. But students coming up today might never get the chance, so big has the chasm grown between old and new in the jazz world.
For this reason, I especially admire cornetist and bandleader Jim Cullum. He not only demonstrates his artistry from the bandstand, but is also a great off-stage advocate for the early jazz heritage. Jim has found a way of using all the most modern media to celebrate the oldest type of jazz. He is on public radio – more than 150 stations -- and satellite radio. He shares his music via on-line video and one of the most frequently visited jazz web sites on the Internet (www.riverwalkjazz.org). He has one of the best organized email distribution lists in the jazz world. And Cullum may be playing songs from the 1920s, but that doesn’t prevent him from reaching out to the new generation via YouTube and MySpace. (Of course, much of the credit for this goes to Don Mopsick, who is both bassist and web wizard in the Cullum jazz universe.) For someone who doesn’t do email himself, Cullum gets high marks from the technology savvy.
We are indebted to both Jim and Don for giving us permission to reprint several articles. Today we are publishing three of Cullum’s first hand accounts of his life and times: ”Earliest Memories and the Hollywood Club; "The Jazz Disease"; and ”Why the Cornet?” At the same time, we are also reprinting (with the permission of Riverwalk Jazz), several other interesting pieces. Check out ”The Face of the Bass” by Don Mopsick; ”Play the Melody” by Don Mopsick; and ”Swingin’ Unplugged" by Don Mopsick.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 20, 2008 · 2 commentsTags:
Well maybe not a real knife fight. This is the Internet, after all, and the bloodshed is only virtual. But if this had been the corner bar, instead of a web site, I would be sweeping up broken glass and filling out a police report right now.
It all started with Sun Ra.
You don’t know who Sun Ra is? Do you come from Saturn? Whoops . . . if you had come from Saturn you would definitely know about this musician, who had astral connections few other jazz players can match. Sun Ra claimed to be the descendant of an ‘angel race’ from the planet Saturn. He took his name from the ancient Egyptian sun deity, and led a number of bands – for example, The Solar Myth Arkestra or the Blue Universe Arkestra – which usually relied on the term 'Arkestra' somewhere in the name.
Small-minded people will tell you that this is a deliberate mis-spelling of ‘orchestra,’ but I prefer to think of it as a musical extension of Noah’s Ark – with Sun Ra aiming to get at least two of every kind of sound in his Ark-estra. In practice, his music might be played by solo piano, or with thirty or more musicians, or with any combination in between.
Alas, some sullen terrestrials have tried to disprove Mr. Ra’s genealogy. They suggest that Sun Ra was actually a fellow named Herman Blount, born in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914. But this slander is hardly credible. Anyone can tell by a quick glance at the artist’s wardrobe that it could only have arrived from outer space.
I must admit my fondness for some of the recordings of this interplanetary visitor. His releases always held surprises, and often pleasant ones. There were a few clinkers in the mix but, in general, the fine musical moments out-weighed the lesser achievements of the Arkestra. And, when you are trying to capture two of every kind of sound, some allowance needs to be made for the slimy and scaly creatures that find passage on the boat.
But our staff reviewers – a cantankerous group, known for (heaven forbid!) sometimes disagreeing with my musical judgments – have been less kind.
Steve Greenlee, for example, in his review of Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War,” opens his review as follows:
“Did Sun Ra really think he could get this song played on the radio? The same two bars and two chords repeated over and over for nearly eight minutes? Ra and his backup singers reciting FCC-unfriendly lyrics that contain a 12-word noun commonly heard in the R-rated films of Quentin Tarantino?”
Or here is Alan Kurtz, from his review of Sun Ra’s “Medicine for a Nightmare":
“Sun Ra had visited Saturn as a teenager, and later renamed himself after the Egyptian sun-god, Ra of Heliopolis. (Well, why not aim high?) With a keyboard technique reminiscent of Imhotep wielding mummified fingers, Sun Ra doesn’t tickle the ivories so much as scuffle with them.”
But Kurtz goes further, comparing Sun Ra to schlock film director Ed Wood and – even worse -- casting doubt on the Egyptian origins of this keyboard deity in his review of Sun Ra’s “The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters.” Here is the offending passage:
“Sonny [Blount] changed his name to Sun Ra. His music, however, remained surprisingly devoid of Arabic influence. Instead of the distinctive Arabian scales, rhythms or instruments that evolved from ancient times, Sun Ra dishes out cheesy electric organ to inept accompaniment. If teenagers played this in your garage, you'd swear they have no talent, and you'd be right. These ‘Pharaonic Jesters’ ought to be called ‘Moronic Gestures.’”
It was only a matter of time before the devoted fans of Sun Ra fought back against these calumnies. The dictionary defines “saturnine” as “sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn.” But clearly the people who write these definitions have never met anyone from the planet Saturn. I know from experience . . . since the Saturnians who rose up in Sun Ra’s defense were anything but taciturn or sluggish.
They started their attack with a few testy comments on our review pages, and then mounted a far more vehement (and sometimes potty-mouthed) attack on Mr. Kurtz in the pages of another web site (Bagatellen, which I should note, is a fine source of information on various contemporary jazz styles, and not just Egyptian deity jazz and interplanetary jazz).
In the interest of bringing about a lasting peace between the Sun Ra fans and foes, I stepped into the comments page of Bagatellen with the spirit of reconciliation in my heart, and honeyed words on my lips. Here I rapidly took a few blows to the chin, and had several stones thrown in my general direction. I hastily retreated back to the safe haven of the jazz.com blog. But I did agree to explain and defend jazz.com’s review policy in an interview with Derek Taylor of Bagatellen.
Derek did not offer up softball questions – quite the contrary! He made me defend and justify a lot more than just some harsh words directed at Sun Ra. But I imagine that many of the questions he asked are also on the minds of some jazz.com readers. So -- in the interest of full disclosure -- I am providing the complete and unedited text of our interview below.
How did Jazz.com come about?
I am not sure of the entire history of the www.jazz.com domain. I imagine that it has changed hands a few times, but I am not aware that it has ever played much of a role in the jazz world. But I was intrigued when the current ownership of the domain name asked for my help in building it into something special.
This is an unusual project for me. As you probably know, I have rarely written jazz journalism or reviews. I have focused instead on books and historical research. I like big projects that allow me to tackle large subjects. I spent more than a decade researching my recent Work Songs book, and my big book Delta Blues, another huge undertaking, will come out later this year. Web writing is usually the exact opposite – a place where people toss off random thoughts, often poorly thought out and rarely backed by research.
I decided to try to bring my “big project” approach to the jazz.com site. I wondered if I could gather a team of top notch writers, reviewers, photographers, artists, and other talented people, and succeed in providing a multi-layered and comprehensive approach to the jazz idiom.
Probably the most ambitious idea was to review individual tracks – not entire CDs – and try to cover the whole history of the music. By my estimate, I will eventually need more than 10,000 reviews to do a good job of this. We have around 1,400 completed right now.
That is impressive, but your indictment of “web writing” gives me pause, particularly since the brevity of many of the reviews on jazz.com could potentially invite a similar conclusions. In this regard, they read like soundbites rather than fully cooked meals of criticism. I suppose this fits with the focus on tracks over albums. But readers familiar with the music may find them lacking, as I have. Do you see this as a viable conclusion to reach or am I looking at them in the wrong light?
This is an important issue. I too am concerned about any approach that reduces music criticism to sound bites. In fact, I have changed some of our guidelines on reviews in recent weeks. When we first started writing track reviews, I suggested that our critics write reviews that were between 50 and 100 words per track. I am now encouraging the writers to stretch out, and contribute longer and more detailed reviews when they feel it is appropriate.
I remember my disappointment at many of the reviews in the All Music Guide, which attempted to sum up an entire CD in one or two sentences. I don't want to go down that path. In some instances, I am now publishing reviews of individual tracks that are longer than reviews for individual CDs in other periodicals.
Of course, the quality of the review is more important than absolute length. But I want to give our critics the flexibility to go shorter or longer depending on what they want to say in the review.
What is the rationale behind reviewing individual tracks rather than albums?
I have always been unhappy with the traditional CD review. Back when I wrote my book The History of Jazz, I was asked by the publisher to add a list of recommended CDs. I refused. Instead, I compiled a list of recommended tracks. This was long before the rise of downloading and the iPod. But even back then, I preferred focusing on the individual track for a variety of reasons.
As we know, CDs are often a mixed bag, with some strong material mixed in among weaker performances. Also, the most important historical tracks often show up on various reissues, some of which go out of print very quickly. So you can recommend a CD only to find that it has been discontinued by the label, while the song is now available on some other compilation. A track-oriented focus avoids these problems.
But perhaps the most important advantage of recommending tracks is that it encourages closer listening of the music. When people listen to an hour-long CD, they often treat it as background music while they do some other task. If I can get people to listen to a track, in contrast, there is a greater chance that they will focus their attention on the music. For these reasons, I am firmly convinced that a track orientation is a much better approach for both the reviewer and the fan.
Of course, with the rise of downloading, the track review is the way of the future for purely technological reasons. I think you will soon see other people jumping on this format for reviews.
The death of the album as default music format does seem imminent. But what about recordings that are conceived of as albums by the artists (ie. Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, A Love Supreme, etc.)? Doesn’t parsing them apart do the overall whole a disservice?
You're quite right. I've learned that I need to make exceptions in certain instances. For example, we sometimes need to discuss works that encompass multiple tracks -- such as an extended composition -- in a single review. I recently did this in a review of Wynton Marsalis's Blood on the Fields. I considered reviewing individual tracks from this extended composition, but finally felt that I needed to treat it as a single entity. We did the same with Ellington's Black, Brown & Beige. So we are willing to break our own rules, when they don't seem to work.
How did you recruit the staff and who handles what in terms of operations? What qualifications do you have for contributors?
I am responsible for recruiting reviewers, and I have been working hard at this for more than a year. I want critics who know the music and write well. The quality of the writing is especially important to me, since so much web journalism falters in this regard.
I have written some short guidelines for our reviewer. Let me quote from them. “We look for intelligent, stylish reviews. We don’t ‘dumb down’ our writing. We encourage you to develop your own tone and attitude, and not try to match some perceived generic style of writing.” Etc. This gives you a sense of our philosophy. I want to encourage individual reviewers to develop their own voice and approach to the music. I am not imposing any ideology on them. In fact, I strive for the opposite. I think ideology has done a lot of harm in the world of jazz criticism.
Our web technology is also a big help. Our software architecture allows me to publish multiple reviews of the same track – and each with comments from site visitors. This encourages different perspectives and attitudes, and is a major advantage the web has over the print media.
Bagatellen operates in a similar fashion, but on a much smaller scale. One of the unfortunate by-products of an open comments policy is anonymous invective, usually followed by conflict. What steps are you taking to curtail this sort of behavior on Jazz.com?
We have a policy that allows us to remove comments that are abusive or otherwise inappropriate. But so far I have only censored one comment from a site visitor-- and that was from a woman who invited people to visit her salacious web site for purposes that seemed to have nothing to do with jazz music.
In perusing the site, I came across several examples where the reviewer did not appear to possess a grasp of the artist under review. What sort of quality control measures do you have in place to ensure that an artist receives fair and accurate appraisal?
I am working to recruit the best critics I can find for our track reviews. I am quite proud of the team that I have compiled – currently 26 reviewers and growing. I enjoy reading Rob Bamberger writing about Jelly Roll Morton, or David Sager discussing King Oliver, Jeff Sultanof on big band music or Eric Olsen on hard bop, and the like. I bring in the critics that have the most interesting things to say, and give them a platform to say it.
I see that some of the posters at Bagatellen have questioned Alan Kurtz’s familiarity with free jazz. Honestly, Alan was hanging out with Eric Dolphy back in the day, exchanging views with Dolphy after both of them had been listening to a John Cage concert. He brings a lifetime of intense jazz listening to his reviews. Alan – and our other reviewers – teach me new things all the time. And he is a great prose stylist, which is very important to me. The fact that he doesn’t like a particular Sun Ra recording is not grounds for disputing his knowledge of the music.
That said, we encourage intelligent rebuttals from site visitors. And we also can publish multiple reviews of a single track. So this isn’t like the old days at Down Beat when there was no way to criticize the critics. We like frank and spirited exchanges.
In the case of Kurtz, the issues centered on his apparent unfamiliarity with Sun Ra’s music and the conspicuously provocative nature of his prose. His pieces contained very little in the way of specifics about the music, trading instead in cagey quips and erroneous generalizations. To me, that’s not good criticism, nor is it especially good writing. There’s no problem with not liking something, but in the case of a critic, such dislike should be substantiated with an informed perspective. From my vantage, such a standard didn’t seem in place with Kurtz’s pieces.
I imagine Alan could have added another paragraph or two elaborating on his views. But I don't think that would have softened the blow for Sun Ra fans who disagree with his sentiments. Alan didn't like the recording, and he made his points using humor. That's a valid way of expressing an intelligent opinion.
I thought his views were provocative and amusing. I still do. Of course, I also knew that they would generate controversy. When he first showed me the review, I sent him an email suggesting that it would get people 'hot and bothered' -- those were my exact words. But I also laughed out loud at his wit. So I never considered not publishing his review. But that doesn't mean that there aren't other perspectives on this track. We would publish an alternative review from another critic without hesitation.
By the way, even the most devoted Sun Ra fans need to realize that there are different opinions about this body of work. Sun Ra's music -- in fact, his entire career -- was designed to evoke strong reactions. When you set yourself up as an Egyptian sun deity you have to expect some flack.
In light of the rapid growth of content (1400+ reviews in several months) what concerns, if any, do you have about maintaining depth of coverage and caliber of writing? If the history of All About Jazz is any indication, the danger would seem to be quantity trumping quality.
We have been writing these reviews for more than a year – so it isn’t like we cooked up all this material overnight. We didn’t open the site until we had a solid library of content ready. There has been no rush to pad the site with hastily written reviews.
Of course, we all know about other places on the web that publish lots of poor quality reviews. Or publish good reviews mixed in haphazardly with bad ones. These outfits operate like fanzines. They serve a function, but this is different from our vision for jazz.com.
First, we pay our writers, and that gives me an advantage over the amateur outfits. Site visitors can submit reviews too – so we can publish the work of fans as well as experienced critics. But I haven’t started doing that yet. And I won’t if the submissions aren’t good enough.
I am convinced that anyone who takes the time to read a couple hundred of our reviews will be impressed by the high caliber of what we are doing. Will they agree with everything our critics say? Of course not. But that is always true of good criticism. It is supposed to engage people with provocative viewpoints, not just dish out bland comments that never offend.
I am having a little trouble with your claims of across-the-board quality. Not to pick on poor Kurtz again, but his reviews of Charles Mingus’ “Stormy Weather” (97/100 rating) and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (100/100)-to name just two examples- leave me in serious want of more in the way writing and criticism. Both read like off-the-cuff blog or fanzine entries and neither delves deeply into the music’s mysteries or mechanics, despite awarding near-perfect and perfect ratings respectively. Are you concerned about the magnitude of your content masking reviews that do not measure up to your intended standards? It appears to have done so in some cases already and to put it in direct terms some of the content does feel suspiciously fanzine-like.
Alan Kurtz is probably the best prose stylist on our reviewing staff. I work hard on the style and flow of my sentences, but I often find him delivering metaphors and turns of phrases that I wish I had come up with myself. I would hire ten more like him if I could find them. Honestly, compare his work with what passes for reviewing in the major magazines, and it compares quite favorably.
And there is an art to writing a scathing review. Check out Kurtz's take on Kenny G's "Songbird" which belongs in the Hall of Fame for musical invective. But he is also generous with his praise when he finds music he admires.
How is Jazz.com funded? I noticed direct purchase links to Amazon.com on the review pages. What rebuttal would you offer critics who see this arrangement as a conflict of interest?
We are just like other small jazz outfits – such as independent record labels, nightclubs, magazines and the like. We rely on funding from individuals who love the music and want to do something for it. The only difference is that we have a philanthropic approach, and intend to donate any money we make back into jazz-oriented charitable causes.
If, God forbid, something like Hurricane Katrina happens again, we want to be able to offer help to the members of the jazz community who are impacted. And, of course, there are many pressing areas for jazz philanthropy that arise all the time. If we can get Jazz.com on a stable financial basis we will use the cash we generate in these areas.
I see that some people have suggested that Amazon.com is funding us. Wouldn’t it be great if Amazon was actually channeling money into jazz web sites? But that is not the case. We have no corporate funding.
We put in the Amazon links as a service to our site visitors. I am trying to create the kind of site I would enjoy visiting myself. I like listening to new music every day, and when I read an interesting review I want to be able to find the music quickly. The links to Amazon allow that. We could just as easily be linking to iTunes or eMusic or other sites. But Amazon has the widest selection, and they do a great job of offering even obscure and out-of-print releases.
Who handles the editing of content and what is the process? How is content determined? To what degree is it left to the discretion of the reviewers?
Until recently, I was the only editor, but that’s changing. I recently brought on Tim Wilkins to take over some of the work of editing our on-line encyclopedia. We have ambitious goals for our encyclopedia, much as we do for our track reviews. Soon I will probably need some help editing reviews as well. In the last 24 hours, my reviewers have sent me around twenty submissions to edit -- so this keeps me pretty busy, maybe too busy. And I want to have time to write more myself.
My editing style is fairly low key. I ask the reviewers to suggest which tracks they want to review, and I almost always let them focus on the music they like to cover. Many of them have different opinions on the music than I do – but that is fine. In fact, it’s desirable. I encourage them to take a stance on the music, and express their views clearly Sometimes I have sent back a review for more work because it didn’t take a firm position. And I am a stickler for good writing. I will be quite insistent on that. You can have controversial views on the music, and I will publish them. But if you write poorly, there is no place for you at jazz.com.
Please explain the rating scale for reviews. A spectrum of 1 to 100 points seems quite broad, not to mention a potential breeding ground for ambiguity and inconsistency.
I never liked the one-to-five-star rating system that you find, for example, in Down Beat. In practice, reviewers almost never use the top end or low end of any scale – so most reviews are crammed together in the three star or four star range. It’s hard to see what use that is to anyone. I wanted a range with room for more nuance and subtle gradations. I find that the one hundred point scale works well.
Good points, but such a scale also leads to potential anomalies. A Bagatellen reader noted the Harmon trumpet feature where Chris Botti in the company of Sting trumps Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Lee Morgan AND Dizzy Gillespie in terms of rating points. Regardless of where one falls in regards to Botti, the average jazz fan would probably find such an appraisal suspect, if not plain crazy.
Could you maybe take me through the process by which you personally assign scores? Let’s take your “12 Essential Brad Mehldau Performances” piece: the scores for the 12 selected tracks range between 88 and 98, a ten-point spread at the top end of the overall scale. What makes “All the Things You Are” a “98” and “Martha My Dear” a “95”? Also, are those scores in relation to jazz writ-large? Or just Brad’s own catalog?
You can compare review scores, and wonder why I gave a higher score to one Brad Mehldau track rather than another. But, honestly, I couldn't say anything here that would be any more astute than what I have already communicated in my reviews. I don't give out scores of 98 cavalierly, and any time I have done so in a review, I will try to communicate as clearly as I can why I did so.
Will everyone agree with my score? Of course, not. It wouldn't be much fun if everyone agreed. But I absolutely stand by my Mehldau reviews. Just as I am sure that Alan stands by his reviews.
A stop by the homepage today (1/12/08) revealed links to articles and reviews on Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Brad Mehldau, Cyrus Chestnut, Lee Morgan and Frank Zappa. Save Zappa, such a sampling seems pretty centrist or “mainstream”. What sort of plans do you have to more prominently feature other styles/eras of jazz (free, third stream, Dixieland, etc.)?
We want to cover the full range of jazz music. I am painfully aware of where we have gaps in our coverage, and I am working to fill them.
For example, during the last few weeks, I have been working to recruit reviewers and photographers from outside the United States. In just the last few days, I have added three more European reviewers and two European photographers, and I have some leads in other parts of the world. This will help alleviate the US-centered bias that is so pervasive today in jazz journalism.
But there are many other gaps that I need to address. Our last three features, as you point out, were devoted to Clark Terry, Frank Zappa and Maria Schneider – I think that is a reasonably diverse trio. And in the last ten days we have published reviews of Willem Breuker, Cheick-Tidiane Seck, Stan Kenton, Don Grolnick, Marian McPartland, Etta James, Woody Shaw, Deborah Harry, Philip Catherine, Kerry Politzer, Paolo Fresu, Pat Metheny, Nancy King, Art Pepper, Frank Zappa, Martial Solal and Ed Palermo, among others. I don’t think anyone can look at that list and say that we have a narrow definition of jazz.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 17, 2008 · 2 commentsTags:
Fifty years ago today, Ahmad Jamal mesmerized an audience at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago with his remarkable version of the song “Poinciana.” Jamal had been performing this piece for several years, but on January 16, 1958 recording equipment had been set up in the club. The resulting record took the jazz world by storm. “Poinciana” became a surprise hit, and stayed on the charts for more than two years – a stunning achievement for any recording, but unheard of for a piano trio side.
The recording deserved its extraordinary success. Jamal had a fresh conception of the jazz keyboard that stood out from the pack in 1958, and still sounds invigorating in 2008. His playing revolutionized the use of space and time in jazz; Jamal knew when to hold back and when to go for the big effect, and he took chances on both extremes. He is usually (and rightly) praised for the subtlety of his playing, but Jamal also deserves recognition for his ability to hit the home run, his knack for pulling out some grand, dramatic effect at just the right moment in a performance.
Rumors tell how even the sturdiest concert pianos require the care and attention of tuners and technicians after he has given them a workout – so much for the “delicate” attack of Ahmad Jamal! Keyboardists of all stripes could learn much by studying his body of work, if only to appreciate how to use the full dynamic and expressive range of the instrument. (One person who did benefit from Jamal's example was trumpeter Miles Davis, who borrowed songs from the pianist's repertoire, and understood perhaps better than anyone how Jamal got so much firepower from so few notes.)
Of course, Jamal was not the only party responsible for the hypnotic and breathing rhythms on “Poinciana.” Drummer Vernel Fournier and bassist Israel Crosby perfectly matched and supported every move the pianist made. To this day, I have never heard a rhythm section who surpassed this team for playing with quiet intensity, for bringing down the volume and playing fewer notes, but without sacrificing the energy level of the song. (If you need proof, just check out this exemplary version of “Darn That Dream” from 1959).
The live recording at the Pershing Lounge would change Jamal's career, and from this moment on, he would own “Poinciana." But he did not introduce it into the jazz repertoire. Glenn Miller holds that distinction – having performed and recorded the song on many occasions, going back to the 1930s. Benny Carter had a mini-hit with the song in 1943, when it served as the flip side for his memorable recording “Hurry, Hurry.” During the 1940s, the song also showed up in the repertoires of Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James and Jack Teagarden. Charlie Parker quotes “Poinciana in a recording of “Ornithology” from 1950. Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan recorded it in 1953. So this song was no undiscovered gem, just waiting to be plucked by Ahmad Jamal – it was out there and frequently covered by the greater and lesser talents of the jazz world.
But Jamal made all these versions into mere footnotes to his classic performance. He employs a syncopated vamp to set up the melody, and this may have been the hook that turned the song into a hit. Not many jazz songs have become charted singles, but most of the ones earning this distinction have employed vamps – for example “Take Five,” “The Sidewinder,” “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “Watermelon Man.” But vamps also can bore you to tears. To Jamal's credit, he puts a jolt of electricity into every phrase, into his every move at the keyboard.
Here is a video of of Jamal playing this same piece in 2005. As you can see, his arrangement has lost none of its magic. Jamal himself is so familiar with the piece that he starts playing even before he is seated at the instrument! (Don't tell Mr. Jamal, but I think that gets you expelled from Juilliard.) Is he in a rush? Not really. Jamal is clearly enjoying himself while performing his signature song, even after all these decades. Pay particular attention to the wide expressive range of this performance, which goes effortlessly from whispers to shouts, and brings the audience along for every twist and turn in the journey.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 16, 2008 · 1 commentTags: poinciana
Jazz.com continues its quixotic but noble pursuit of reviewing all the great -- and even the not-so-great -- tracks since Buddy Bolden first hit a flatted third. Here is a small sampling of some of the track reviews posted in the last few days. As always, we provide sly and savvy assessments, and a ranking based on our proprietary 100 point scale. We also include, whenever possible, links for fast (and legal) downloading.
Gil Evans: La Nevada from Out of the Cool
Sonny Rollins: The Freedom Suite from The Freedom Suite
Wynton Marsalis: Sister Cheryl from Wynton Marsalis
Bill Evans: My Foolish Heart from The Complete Live at the Village Vanguard, 1961
Pat Martino: We’ll Be Together Again from We’ll Be Together Again
George Benson: Giblet Gravy from Giblet Gravy
Nancy King: Stompin’ at the Savoy from Impending Bloom
Shelly Manne: Lean on Me from 2-3-4
John Coltrane: Olé from Olé
Bill Carrothers: Keep Your Sunny Side Up from Keep Your Sunny Side Up
Marian McPartland: Threnody (A Lament) from Marian McPartland Plays the Music of Mary Lou Williams
Vienna Art Orchestra: Jean Harlow Meets Leonardo da Vinci from Triology
Archie Shepp: Mama Too Tight from Mama Too Tight
Kerry Politzer: Waiting from Watercolor
Willem Breuker: Potsdamer Stomp from The Parrot
Martial Solal: Zag Zig from NY-1: Live at the Village Vanguard
Don Grolnick (with Michael Brecker): Pools from Hearts and Numbers
Paolo Fresu: Angel from Angel
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 15, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: track review roundup
Harlem at Night, photo by Marcel Fleiss
Marcel Fleiss captured the excitement of jazz in New York and Paris during the 1950s as writer and photographer for Le Jazz Hot. Born in Paris in 1934, Fleiss first developed his interest in jazz at age fifteen, and soon was immersed in the modern musical currents of the day. At the age of eighteen, Fleiss came to New York, and was a regular presence at Birdland, the Blue Note, the Apollo Theater, and other locations where he could photograph the leading jazz players of the day.
Thelonious Monk at Salle Pleyel (1954)
Photo by Marcel Fleiss
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Fleiss when he was in Los Angeles for a conference on jazz at the Getty Center. His images and first hand accounts of the 1950s jazz scene in Paris and New York captivated me, and all of the others who were in attendance at this event. He generously agreed to let us share a selection of his jazz photography in one of our Visual Jazz galleries on jazz.com.
These images reveal the essence of jazz in full flight. What a delight it is to see Thelonious Monk in a stylish dark suit -- and white socks! -- entertaining at the Salle Pleyel. Or Erroll Garner and Art Tatum sharing the piano bench at Birdland. Or Paul Desmond with a dreamy and lost expression on his face, while Dave Brubeck listens and comps with intensity in the background. Or Lee Konitz playing on the stage at Birdland, but seemingly more interested in getting the attention of Miles and the other members of the band than with the audience.
I encourage all of you to pay a visit to our Marcel Fleiss gallery and share in these stirring images of a great era in jazz history.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 14, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
The last day of IAJE in Toronto was a time for unexpected pleasures, and for the talents of the event’s Canadian hosts to shine.
NEA Jazz Master Jon Hendricks, 86 years young, put on one of the event’s best shows in an impromptu set with some of the city’s finest jazz musicians, including saxophonist Jane Bunnett, Don Thompson on vibes, and bassist Neal Swainson. Thompson, Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke are the house band for The Art of Jazz, a Toronto nonprofit that offers educational events and concerts. Hendricks knows these musicians well from his visits to the city, including one in June of last year, when he received a lifetime achievement award from the organization.
“You sounded like a twenty-year-old up there!” quipped Dave Mibourne, publisher of the Toronto Jazz newsletter, after the show. “Can you put that in print?” Hendricks shot back, not missing a beat.
For many years, international stars recruited local bands in Toronto, which created a seasoned cadre of musicians, like Thompson and Swainson, who have played with the best of the best in the jazz world. They also teach at Humber College, home to a world-class school of jazz that develops much of the city’s young talent.
The evening’s main concert showcased Canada’s young and irreverent musicians, starting with clarinetist Francois Houle’s octet, a forward-sounding ensemble that sounds like what would happen if Gil Evans hired a brass band for a Balkan wedding. Houle’s virtuosic pallete includes slap-tonguing and other effects rarely heard on the clarinet, and his compositions, such as “Albatross,” an homage to the everpresent cell phone, and the Spanish-tinged “Guarnera,” alternate passages of free improvisation with tightly orchestrated heads.
Montreal’s Les Projectionnistes were up next, offering an entertaining, high-energy mix of Raymond Scott cartoon clowning and rock riffs. The seven musicians, led by trombonist Claude St. Jean, performed cuts from their 2005 CD Vue, with some outstanding work on the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes by Francois Lafontaine. Don’t be fooled by the comedy, folks, these are serious musicians – but it’s refreshing to learn that Canada’s avant-garde has a refined sense of humor.
Drummer Barry Romberg then led his Random Access Large Ensemble, a fifteen-piece ensemble created by adding to his working septet. Many of Romberg’s compositions share an affinity with Dave Douglas, and cuts such as “Accidental Beef” and “Make Up Your Mind” highlight the musicianship of Toronto instrumentalists in their mastery of multiphonics and advanced harmonics in their solo work.
Whether it’s because of the free health care or the fact that young Canadian musicians, unlike their Stateside peers, don’t start careers saddled with tuition debt, it’s delightful to see so many impeccably trained young people having fun as they experiment with large groups and forms that would be economically unviable in a city like New York.
“Bring down the lights!” said Guido Basso, the Montreal-born flugelhorn player whose quintet closed the show. Past midnight, most listeners succumbed to IAJE fatigue, leaving only a hundred or so diehards, mainly Torontonians, who knew Basso was worth the wait. The lights came down, and Basso rewarded weary fans with the intimacy of a straightahead jazz set that demonstrated that Toronto jazz can be as good as anything you can hear in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris or Milan.
Basso is well known to Canadians from his forty years as a fixture on television and in and was joined by fellow veterans Thompson, Clarke, Rick Wilkins on tenor sax and Dave Young on bass for a shimmering set of standards that included “You’ve Changed,” “Body and Soul,” and “The Nearness of You.”
“Thanks for inviting us to your jazz party,” Basso said, smiling, as he bid farewell to this year’s IAJE. “What a wonderful party it was.” Indeed.
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins
January 13, 2008 · 1 commentTags: iaje
An NEA jazz master is one of a tiny, tiny elite. Only a hundred men and women have ever been chosen by the United States’ top arts organization to receive this honor, less than the number who have climbed Mount Everest or flown into space.
Too many masters of jazz passed on before they could receive this kind of honor: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holiday are a few from the hundreds who died before the country of their birth – and indeed, the world - fully recognized the value of their gifts.
As the number of jazz pioneers dwindles, the NEA has accelerated its granting of this honor. At least six have been honored each year since 2004, instead of the three in each of the preceding twenty-one years. Of this hundred, nearly half have passed on. From the six who were honored this year, one – pianist Andrew Hill – died last April, shortly after he received news of the award.
Because of this, a sense of heartfelt camaraderie and gratitude for the gifts of jazz and life permeated this year’s NEA awards at the IAJE, which honored Candido Camero, Andrew Hill, Quincy Jones, Tom McIntosh, Gunther Schuller and Joe Wilder.
“I only had to wait nine months to be born, then 86 years to receive this award!” joked Camero, a conga player who has introduced countless jazz fans to the intricacies of Afro-Cuban rhythm since his arrival in New York from Havana in 1946. Camero, who invented the technique of playing two conga drum at once, has performed and recorded with everyone from Charlie Parket and Tony Bennett to Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus and Stan Kenton.
85-year-old trumpeter Joe Wilder, one of the first major jazz musicians also to gain acceptance in the world of classical music, shared memories from his years on the road with Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, and reflected on the contributions of jazz to the advancement of equality. “It’s raised our level of social understanding,” he said.
Quincy Jones was visibly moved by his reunion with friends from his early years as a trumpeter and arranger. “I knew these guys before electricity – we used to starve together!” he laughed. Despite the hardships, he recalled his apprenticeships with Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and others as a time of peak musical experience. “The forties and fifties – I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world.”
“The world has chosen jazz and blues as its Esperanto,” Jones remarked on his travels around the world, but he laments the fact that more is not done in the United States to introduce young people to jazz. “They don’t know how to hear it,” Jones said. "When we were young, it was all we knew, because it was all around us.”
Composer Gunther Schuller marveled at how the musical conversation has broadened since the fifties, when he and John Lewis sought to bring improvisation into classical music through the Third Stream movement. ”I got hell from both sides,” recalled Schuller. “But now, so many talented musicians have decided to bring music together.”
McIntosh, the legendary arranger and film composer who Duke Ellington once hoped would replace Billy Strayhorn after his death, summed up the mood of the past and present jazz masters at the evening’s gala ceremony. “The source of life is happiness,” he told the gathered crowd. “And jazz is not the devil’s music: it’s God’s choice.”
The evening concert began with a tribute to Oscar Peterson, played by surviving members of Peterson’s group and Oliver Jones, a Canadian pianist who learned as a child by sitting on the steps of Peterson’s family home in Montreal to listen to him practice.
Jazz Master David Baker then led the Smithsonian’s Jazz Masterworks Orchestra through a number of highlights from Quincy Jones’ career, including “Soul Samba” and “Quintessence."
Vocalist Kurt Elling joined the orchestra for rousing renditions of songs Jones arranged for Frank Sinatra, including “Luck be A Lady Tonight” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,”as well as his own lyric and arrangement to “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”
Singing for the audience of assembled jazz masters – which included Jones, Joe Hendricks and Nancy Wilson – was a dream come true for Elling. “Just give me the first three rows,” Elling said, “and I'm happy.”
But the evening’s highlight came after the ceremony, when newly minted Jazz Masters Candido and Joe Wilder, and 2005 master Paquito D’Rivera, came on stage for an impromptu jam session.
“One more time?” Candido asked the audience, beaming, after he brought them out of their seats with his solo. “Yeah!” the crowd answered, on their feet. “One more time?” He asked again, after an even hotter reprise. “Yeah!!” They replied. These Masters are no ways tired, nor are they done with us yet. We are lucky to have them.
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins
January 12, 2008 · 2 commentsTags: iaje
The I in IAJE stands for international: it marks the group's change, over time, from a high school bandleaders’ guild into the leading association in the jazz world. Almost any musician who makes a living in jazz is also an educator - supplementing performances with teaching gigs at summer camps, conservatories and clinics - and so is likely to be found at IAJE.
IAJE’s annual winter convention has become the one time of the year that the jazz community gathers under a single roof – usually in New York – to meet and greet, talk up new projects, and find new gigs. Its success has attracted rivals:this May, Jazz Improv Magazine launched its own New York convention, adding a twist by opening their doors to jazz fans, not just pros and their students.
By coming to Toronto, IAJE draws on its strengths – 8,000 members in 42 countries, involved at every level of jazz, of all ages. These aspects are front and center at this year’s IAJE, with an overflow of talented players, young and old, from around the world.
Ear-catchers have included Andy Milne and Gregoire Maret, who cast a spell over an afternoon crowd gathered in the glass atrium of the Intercontinental Hotel with compositions from their new Obliqsound CD, Scenarios. The two met in 1999 when Maret appeared with Milne’s hip-hop tinged ensemble, Dapp Theory. Both were surprised to discover a shared penchant for lyricism, which prompted them to meet in the studio to record a series of improvised compositions over two years.
“In a duo, you're really naked,” said Maret, who was born in Switzerland and has played with everyone from George Benson to Pat Metheny. “But you have a range of colors and textures that are harder to find in an ensemble.”
Milne, a Toronto native who studied with Oscar Peterson at York University before moving to New York in 1991, was pleased to see how many new jazz venues and education programs are now open to young Toronto jazz musicians. “It’s changed a lot since I was coming up,” said Milne, who spent a seven-year apprenticeship in Steve Coleman’s M-Base collective. “Back then, you really had to move to New York to get the challenge you needed. Nowadays, it’s different.”
Indeed, Toronto is bubbling with after-hours jazz activity at downtown clubs like the Rex, the Opal Jazz Lounge and The Trane Studio. There are so many talented young players that one New York bandleader, Darcy James Argue, was able to recruit a an entire eighteen-piece ensemble from local talent to perform his arrangements at IAJE.
Argue’s big band, Secret Society, plays in a style he calls “steampunk,” which sounds like a mash-up of Zappa and Brookmeyer. Argue’s wall of sound does not always shimmer, but it well deserves its many fans amongst jazz musicians, many of whom turned out to cheer the band on at the IAJE’s first evening show.
One standout composition by Argue was "Habeas Corpus," which he wrote about Maher Arar, the 34-year-old Canadian who was seized in 2002 by U.S. authorities while changing planes at JFK and deported to Syria. There, he was tortured and detained for four years before U.S. officials admitted their mistake and cleared him of charges. “I was haunted by his story,” said Argue, whose composition’s repeating death-march figures well evoke the claustrophobic conditions of Arar’s detention in a six-by-three cell. “It’s something everyone should know about.”
Saxophonist Courtney Pine hosted the evening's mainstage showcase of U.K. performers who rarely – if ever – perform in North America. “We are so proud of the positive effect jazz is having in the U.K. for young people,” Pine said, citing his nation’s growing number of jazz clubs, university programs and radio stations.
If the new face of U.K. jazz is Empirical, the first group Pine presented, then it is young, talented, multi-ethnic and outrageously photogenic. “These guys could be out playing with anybody,” Pine said. “Instead, they have chosen jazz - the path of most resistance.”
Since winning the prestigious EBU/North Sea Jazz Festival competition last year, the group has enjoyed heights of acclaim rarely enjoyed by young North American jazz musicians – their first release was voted Album of the Year by Jazzwise and Mojo magazines, highlighting their appeal to both jazz and pop audiences.
Trumpeter Jay Phelps, saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, and drummer Shaney Forbes all contributed compositions that combined a driving beat with a high-mindedness and impeccable musicianship that is reminiscent of Dave Douglas. These included “A Tyrant’s Tale,” which Phelps said he wrote in the aftermath of September 11th.
Up next was affable guitarist Martin Taylor, who mugged for the cameras and offered a glimpse of the U.K.’s trad jazz scene, with his group, Freternity. Taylor, who worked closely with violinist Stephane Grappelli, and has settled into a pleasing style on chestnuts such as Love for Sale and Skylark that falls close to the tree of Grappelli’s alter ego, Django Reinhardt.
Saxophonist Tommy Smith led a youth orchestra of twenty-one young Scottish talents, who played surprisingly engaging versions of Oliver Nelson’s "Hoedown" and other big band standards. One standout soloist was trumpeter Ryan Quigley, who brought the house down with his work on Gillespie’s "A Night in Tunisia." In contrast to Dizzy’s version, Quigley started with slow phrases and saved his pyrotechnics until the end, building the audience’s suspence and enthusiasm.
Trombonist Dennis Rollins’ Badbone & Co closed out the show with a glimpse of future jazz. Their funky set drew equally on Nicholas Payton, Trinidadian carnival, Fela and JamesBrown for inspiration. Rollins ‘ band brought the audience out of their seats with hgh-energy beats and sample loops, reworking pop and jazz classics,
This booty-shaking climax to the evening’s music demonstrated that jazz is united by a funky Afro-Carribbean continuum that stretches all the way from New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to South London, passing through New York on its way up to Toronto.
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins
January 11, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: iaje
Jazz.com editor Tim Wilkins sends the following report from the IAJE convention in Toronto. Check back later in the week, for more updates from IAJE.
Savvy marketers at Air Canada thought their shuttle flights should be called Jazz – a choice I doubt had much, if anything, to do with music. But for once, the name fit – at least based on the number of instruments in overhead compartments and under seats, which turned our Wednesday morning flight to Toronto into a kind of 21st century version of the Basie bus.
On board were jazz pilgrims making their way this year, as every year, to the International Association of Jazz Educators convention. Seated nearby were vocalists Lauren Kinhan and Peter Eldridge from New York Voices, and bassist Ruben Rogers, all scheduled to perform on the first evening.
Mark Patterson, trombonist with Maria Schneider and Convergence, was amazed when the stewardess let the bell end of his case stick out into the aisle throughout the flight. “How often does that happen?” he said. I guess jazz was in the air.
On the ground, we shared a bus downtown with the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz All Stars, a group of exceptional U.S. high school musicians. They pressed against the glass, wondering at “how Canadian” the surroundings looked – that is, often familiar, but with subtle and surprising differences. “What is a P.E.I. potato, anyway?”
Fortunately, predictions of gloomy weather didn’t hold – the sun was bright, temperature in the thirties, not at all what you’d expect from Canada in midwinter. Blue Note guitarist Lionel Loueke, originally from Benin in West Africa, was one of the many relieved by this: “This weather is made for shirt sleeves!” he said, with a big smile.
A number of travelers did face weather delays along the way – including drummer Eric Harland, who endured three canceled flights, two airports and even more runway time on his way from New York. But by seven in the evening, he was primed and ready to make music, and the gathered jazz pilgrims were even more ready to hear him play
Attendance is down from past years in New York, where 7,000 or more attendees and hangers-on cram into hotel ballrooms to hear jazz’s finest musicians play at the top of their game. But so far, this has made IAJE Toronto a listener’s dream. This may change tonight, when tickets to the evening shows go on sale to the public, but at the moment, concerts are comfortably full but not overflowing.
Acoustics in the two theaters of the main music venue, the downtown Convention Centre, are a vast improvement over the New York Hilton, where the convention is most frequently held. Even the atrium of the adjoining Intercontinental Hotel, where smaller shows and jam sessions will be held, sounds great.
Rogers and Parland joined pianist Aaron Goldberg on stage for the evening’s first show, playing cuts from their 2006 Sunnyside CD, Worlds, as well as from Mingus Mouse, jazz recordings Goldberg has made to spark children’s interest in jazz. If Harland was weary from his travel marathon, it didn’t show. He had plenty of tender fire on hand and won over the audience quickly. Harland and Rogers mesh into a tightly symbiotic groove, which at first didn’t seem to connect with Goldberg’s more abstract, Jarrett-inspired patterns. But the trio quickly came together, and Goldberg surfed comfortably over the undulating sounds laid for him by the drummer and bassist.
Of course, IAJE is always a time for hard choices – whether to leave one panel or performance in the hopes of catching an exceptional moment at another venue – and despite their enthusiasm for Goldberg’s trio, half of the audience was out of their seats by his last number and headed upstairs to get a seat for the evening’s gala concert.
The Getz/Brown All-Stars opened the gala show, demonstrating the remarkable level of proficiency many young players can attain already in their teens. They may not yet have the tone, or the unique voice that they ultimately hope to attain, but they’ve got chops to spare. Veteran drummer Carl Allen, who joined the band on numbers that included Dave Liebman’s “Day or Night” and Nicholas Payton’s arrangement of “After You’ve Gone,” clearly relished the opportunity to help these kids swing harder, faster, and better.
New York Voices followed, joined by Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet, who received an IAJE Presidents Award earlier in the evening, along with Canadian Senator (and bandleader) Tommy Banks. Other honorees included record producer George Avakian, who received the IAJE’s Humanitarian Award, and Donald Cantwell, IAJE’s jazz educator of the year.
A nice thing about IAJE is the opportunity to connect with old and new friends, and to track artists at different stages in their career. D’Rivera, now an established virtuoso, is an elder statesman of IAJE, having come a long way from the time when as a relative unknown in North America he shared an IAJE workshop stage with another unknown, a twelve-year-old saxophone prodigy named Chris Potter.
The Voices have matured in their collaboration with D’Rivera, which began with the 2001 album Brazilian Dreams. At that time, they had a winning concept but were not entirely at ease with the foreign repertoire. After seven years together, they have made this repertoire their own, to the delight of the crowd and Avakian, who rightly praised them onstage.
The evening’s final show was well worth the wait: guitarist Loueke performed tracks from his forthcoming debut on Blue Note, as well as reworkings of songs from earlier albums, including “Nonvignon” and “Benny’s Tune,” written for his wife, Benedicte.
Loueke performed with Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc (Frank) Nemeth, his collaborators for more than seven years. The trio, which recorded two albums for Obliqsound as Gilfema, has moved into a new space on the Blue Note recording in which Loueke takes the spotlight, without sacrificing any of the trio’s collaborative spirit.
This is especially true of the lightning intereactions between Nemeth and Loueke, who trade percussive riffs with an intuitive grace that can only come from many years of close collaboration. “These guys are family to me,” Loueke said, and you could hear intimacy in every note they play. The crowd was on its feet long before the trio’s last number.
The IAJE’s theme this year is “New Visions for New Times,” which was certainly on display on its opening night. Are these innovative collaborations and cross-cultural pollinations the future of jazz? Who knows. But wherever we're going, it will certainly be an exciting ride!
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins
January 10, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: iaje
Jazz.com celebrates its first month on the web today. And what an eventful month it has been. Since opening our doors, we have published hundreds of pages of new content – including 54 reviews during the last week alone. We continue to expand our coverage, both in terms of geography (three overseas reviewers brought on board in the last few days) and musical styles (check out the survey of Frank Zappa on our home page). Since opening we have also published daily blog entries, eleven Dozens columns, two new art galleries in our Visual Jazz department, and various features, interviews, discographies, etc.
We are also featuring a current release as Song of the Day and a historical track as A Classic Revisited five days per week. In general, our goal is to provide an even balance between keeping up with the best of the contemporary jazz scene and celebrating the music’s heritage and traditions.
But while we may be taking baby steps, we are dreaming about our Giant Steps. We want our track reviews to provide complete coverage of the full history of the music, from the earliest days of jazz to the latest releases. We recognize that in this day of (legal) downloading, there is a great need for a comprehensive guide to jazz tracks, rather than standard CD reviews. If you haven’t already done so, check out the review search engine in the sidebar of our Music page. A search will bring back results with the highest ranking tracks at the top. So, with a few keystrokes, you can identify (for example) the twelve Miles Davis tracks that have received 100 point reviews (on our 0-100 scale).
And unlike reviewers who live in the world of print media, we invite and publish your comments on all of our reviews. In some instances, we print multiple reviews from our staff covering a single track, to offer a variety of perspectives on a specific performance. We also invite feedback in our forums, our blogs and elsewhere on the site. The great advantage of an Internet-based jazz resource is the interactivity and dialogue it allows -- so we have sought to facilitate this wherever possible.
But this dialogue only works as a two-way street. We encourage you to speak up, and add your own perspectives on our pages. And if there are areas you would like us to address that we aren’t yet covering, drop us a note at email@example.com.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 09, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
Thousands of members of the global jazz community will descend upon Toronto over the next 24 hours, where the annual convention of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) is about to begin. But the weather report is ominous, with threats of wind and rain and maybe even snow.
We can't do anything about the meteorological conditions, but in the spirit of looking on the bright side we are sharing Alan Kurtz's celebration of Stormy Weather. Or, to be more precise, Alan Kurtz's celebration of his twelve favorite versions of the great jazz standard "Stormy Weather."
Jazz.com will be providing daily updates from IAJE, courtesy of our intrepid editor-on-the-prowl Tim Wilkins. So check back here later in the week for the highlights from Toronto.
January 08, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
Every now and then some jazz oddity shows up on eBay or one of the other web auction sites. In 2005, trumpet parts and a case once owned by Louis Armstrong were put on sale for $4,500. A few months later, a handwritten piece of sheet music from the pen of Charlie Christian was offered for a starting bid of $3,750. But these sums were chump change compared to the asking price for Robert Johnson's Gibson L1 – or a reasonable facsimile thereof – offered on-line to the credulous for a cool $6 million last year.
The latest eBay controversy revolves around a previously unknown Thelonious Monk 78 rpm acetate disk, apparently recorded at the Three Deuces, which sold for $500 earlier today. The disk had been found at a yard sale in a Boston suburb, hidden away in a dusty box of old records. A short musical extract was recently made available on YouTube, and struck many listeners as very un-Monkish. Of course, other early recordings of Monk make clear that his eccentric piano mannerisms evolved only gradually over the course of many years. But this snippet from his pre-bop period (if it is authentic) is especially restrained and traditional. I recognize Monk here, but only from the piano touch, not the conception. And I am not sure I could convince a jury of my peers that this is the real “High Priest of Bop” (as the pianist was sometimes known).
Above all, I am heartened by the continual discovery of “lost” jazz recordings -- sometimes coming to light a half century or more after they were recorded. I remember when the great stash of Dean Benedetti recordings of Charlie Parker showed up after forty years of rumors and idle speculation. These bootleg disks and tapes were the Holy Grail of bebop, and their rediscovery was a signal event. After this, almost anything seemed possible, especially in an art form as newly minted as jazz. More recently, we have been blessed with other great finds, such as Dizzy Gillepsie and Charlie Parker’s 1945 concert at Town Hall or Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane in performance at Carnegie Hall from 1957.
Who knows? Perhaps there is even hope that the (mythical?) Buddy Bolden cylinder recording will emerge from its hiding place. If it ever does, you will probably find out first on eBay.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 07, 2008 · 0 commentsTags:
I often encounter young jazz fans (and even critics) who are knowledgeable about the music’s history going back to the 1950s and 1960s, but when you push back further to the 1930s and 1940s, they are outside their comfort zone. They seem far less familiar with the great music from this earlier era.
Why this big divide at the mid-century mark? My answer is a simple one: audio fidelity.
Recording technology improved dramatically during the 1950s, and fans today can listen to Miles Ahead or Kind of Blue without needing to adjust their ears to compensate for the poor sound quality. But the jazz recordings of the 1940s require a (sometimes difficult) recalibration of our expectations. The fan who wants to approach the great masterpieces of this decade – for example, bebop classics such as Dizzy Gillespie’s world-beating solo on the 1945 recording of “Salt Peanuts,” or Charlie Parker’s famous alto break on his Dial recording of “A Night in Tunisia” -- has a much harder time of it. The music itself doesn’t sound old-fashioned; but the audio quality is from a different era.
The advances of the 1950s closed the great divide between recorded music and live performance. Finally – seventy five years after Thomas Edison patented his cylinder phonograph -- jazz lovers could enjoy, in the privacy of their homes, music that approximated the visceral experience of hearing it in person.
But not all of the record labels advanced at the same pace. Jazz fans are fortunate that Columbia signed so many major artists during the 1950s and 1960s – if only because the sound quality of its releases was so uniformly high. (Ah, if only the current owners of that catalog were as praiseworthy in their efforts to reissue these recordings!) In contrast, I find that releases on the Atlantic and Motown labels, even into the 1960s, leave me dis-satisfied with their murky, one-dimensional sound. At the opposite extreme, Rudy Van Gelder’s work for Blue Note (and other labels) has been justifiably praised. What a blessing for jazz fans, who rate the wizard of Englewood Cliffs (where Van Gelder still resides) over the more famous "wizard of Menlo Park." I listen to releases such as Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil or Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island or Horace Silver’s Song for My Father with lasting gratitude for the vividness and immediacy of the music as captured by this magician of the studio.
But Blue Note was not the only small independent with major league audio quality. The Contemporary label on the West Coast also stood out for the aural opulence of its 1950s and 1960s releases. This achievement was all the more striking when one considers the humble surroundings. Contemporary’s main “recording studio” was actually its backroom warehouse. The company preferred to record late at night simply because it was the quietest time on the premises. Contemporary also lacked the capital budget with which the major labels stocked their studios with the latest toys. Yet “[Sonny Rollins’] Way Out West was sublime.” Thomas Conrad has written. And Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section made Conrad “laugh out loud. No recording from January of 1957 had any right to hit me in the face like that—Pepper's alto fiercely alive and dancing on air, Paul Chambers' bass hitting deep and hard.”
Unlike other jazz fans, who were simply content to relax and enjoy this legacy from the past, Conrad was determined to unlock the secret of Contemporary’s great sound. He began hunting for the recording engineer, Roy DuNann, who had been responsible for these classic releases from a half-century ago. The current owners of the Contemporary catalog could not help, and Conrad started looking for DuNanns in the phone book. Finally a lead from mastering engineer Bernie Grundman pointed in the direction of Seattle. Here, Conrad finally found a Roy DuNann in the telephone directory.
He called and when a voice answered, Conrad asked: "Is this Roy DuNann, the audio engineer?"
After a pause, came this response: "I used to be."
The full account can be found here.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 06, 2008 · 1 commentTags:
We all know about Dizzy & Miles, Louis & Wynton, Bix & Brownie. Some trumpeters are so famous, that even a single name is sufficient to identify them. But there are other great trumpeters you may not have met yet, equally deserving of your undivided attention.
As part of our latest 'Dozens' feature, I am sharing my list of “Twelve Trumpeters You Need to Know on a First Name Basis.” All of these masters are now departed, and we can only enjoy their music through their legacy of recordings. For each one, I am highlighting an outstanding performance that shows why they deserve to have a home in your music collection. A few of these musicians hovered on the brink of celebrity, while others never enjoyed even the standard fifteen minutes of fame. But each one left behind at least a few examples of incomparable artistry.
With no further ado, let me introduce you to Jabbo, Dupree, Tony, Fats and all the rest of the gang. Read the full text of the article here.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 03, 2008 · 1 commentTags:
Bobby McFerrin & Chick Corea
Photo by Jos L. Knaepen
Jazz.com is delighted to announce the addition of photographer Jos L. Knaepen to our Visual Jazz galleries. Knaepen's remarkable photographs have captured the excitement of jazz in action since the late 1970s.
Belgian-born Knaepen dates his interest in jazz back to his teen years. At the age of seventeen he became introduced to the recordings of Django Reinhardt and Sidney Bechet, and he was soon a devoted fan in frequent attendance at jazz performances. His other passion during these years was the art of photography, and in time he brought together these two avid interests.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s Knaepen began to develop a reputation for his work. Now after a period of over a quarter of a century, he has amassed a personal archive of more than 46,000 images -- and growing daily.
We are pleased to be able to share a small sample of this artist's work in the Jos L. Knaepen Visual Jazz gallery.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia
January 02, 2008 · 2 commentsTags:
I generally don't inquire into our writers' private lives. Jazz critics are a bohemian lot, and when (in Fats Waller's words) "the joint is jumpin'," the coolest cats just look the other way. So when Alan Kurtz told me he wanted to write about his twelve favorite lovers . . . well, I tried to change the subject to the state of chord changes in Croatia.
But then I realized that he wanted to write about his twelve favorite versions of the song "Lover" -- the great jazz standard by Rodgers and Hart. Now that perked up my interest. I encouraged him to tell all in an intimate 'Dozens' piece for us. He has obliged us, and today we are publishing all the juicy details.
I won't divulge everything here, but you will find that Alan's list of jazz "Lovers" includes a legendary bebop altoist, the gent who left his heart in a cable car, and the ever-lover-ly "Jezebel of Jazz." But I won't say another word.
You can check out Alan's discriminating selection of the very best "Lovers" here.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia