Revisiting Classic Jazz Tracks

Regular visitors to jazz.com know that we highlight a great track from the past every day as part of a regular feature called A Classic Revisited.

Liberation Music Orchestra

The criteria are simple. In order to qualify for inclusion, a performance must stand out as a work of exceptional merit and be at least twenty-five years old. But this music is more than just a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Often the featured track has some special relevance to current events in the jazz world. That is certainly the case with today’s selection, “War Orphans” by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

This group has performed and recorded on only sporadic occasions since it made the 1969 LP that includes today’s classic track. But the current election campaign has spurred Haden to bring together the Orchestra for a November 4-9 engagement at the Blue Note and a concert at the San Francisco Jazz Festival on November 2. Coming on the heels of Haden’s milestone entry into the field of country and roots music, this represents one more pleasant surprise in a career that has invariably followed the beat of a different—and, clearly, a highly syncopated—drummer.

But Haden’s 1969 music is just one of many worthwhile tracks from the past presented on the jazz.com home page in recent weeks. Below is a complete list of all the performances featured as A Classic Revisited during the last five weeks, with links to their respective reviews. Whenever possible, each review includes a link for fast, easy and legal downloading—so site visitors are just a few clicks away from hearing what all the fuss is about.

A companion feature to A Classic Revisited is the jazz.com Song of the Day, which focuses on outstanding new releases. Be on the lookout for our survey early next week of best new tracks featured during October.



Classic Jazz Tracks Recently Featured at Jazz.com

Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra: War Orphans
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Chega de Saudade
Jabbo Smith: Jazz Battle
Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (live 1964)
Oscar Pettiford: Not So Sleepy
Cannonball Adderley: Love for Sale
Bunny Berigan: I Can't Get Started
Ahmad Jamal: But Not For Me
Kid Ory: Ory's Creole Trombone
Teddi King (with Dave McKenna): How Long Has This Been Going On?
New Orleans Rhythm Kings: Weary Blues
Mildred Bailey: Rockin' Chair
Count Basie: Lil' Darlin'
Johnny Hartman: These Foolish Things
Wynton Marsalis: Sister Cheryl
Jack DeJohnette: One for Eric
Ron Carter: Lawra
Glenn Miller: In the Mood
Tony Scott: Is Not All One?
Red Norvo: In a Mist
Ornette Coleman: Ramblin'
Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder
Teddy Wilson: More Than You Know
Shorty Rogers: Popo
Eric Dolphy & Booker Little: Fire Waltz
McCoy Tyner: In a Sentimental Mood
Wayne Shorter: Wild Flower
Oscar Peterson: Tenderly
Toots Thielemans: East of the Sun
Herbie Hancock: Speak Like a Child
Benny Goodman: Avalon
Jaco Pastorius: Donna Lee
Stan Kenton: City of Glass
Ben Webster & Billy Strayhorn: Chelsea Bridge

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.


October 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Milton Nascimento in New Jersey



Tim Wilkins, who covered Toninho Horta’s recent concert in this column earlier in the week, returns below to the subject of Brazilian music. Many concerts and CDs are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of bossa nova this year, but one of the finest tributes comes from Milton Nascimento, who has released an exceptional CD featuring a number of classic Jobim songs. (A track from this release, "Chega de Saudade," is currently featured as Song of the Day at jazz.com.) Wilkins reports below on Nascimento’s Sunday performance at NJPAC and his conversations with the band. T.G.



So what exactly are "novas bossas?" Well, if bossa nova was the "new thing" from Rio in the fifties, then Novas Bossas, the name of Milton Nascimento’s new CD, suggests there's more than one thing from Brazil worth listening to these days. But rather than speculate, I wanted expert advice—so I caught up with Milton Nascimento and the Jobim Trio after their concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) on Sunday, October 26.

Novas Bossas

"It's a desire for new things to happen," said Paulo Jobim. "When we got together with Milton, it inspired us to have new ideas, and to think of bossa as something that's not strict or closed off." Nascimento and the trio of Paulo Jobim on guitar, Daniel Jobim on piano and Paulo Braga on drums, thus chose the phrase to title their new album, just released by Blue Note. The disk includes subtle reworkings of bossa nova classics as well as songs by Milton and Daniel.

Novas Bossas, like much of Brazilian music, is a family affair. Daniel, thirty-five, is the son of Paulo, who is the son of Tom Jobim, bossa nova's greatest composer. Paulo played with his father frequently, as did Braga, Tom Jobim's drummer of choice in the last twenty years of his life.

Braga has known Nascimento since 1963, when they played together in the Berimbau Trio, a samba-jazz group, with Milton on upright bass. Paulo Jobim toured with Nascimento in the seventies, at times with Daniel in tow. Nascimento once dedicated a concert to the three-year-old boy as a birthday present. More often than not, they would all end up at Nascimento's beach house in the summertime.

Tom Jobim held Nascimento's voice—with its compelling power in the bass range and affectingly fragile falsetto—in high regard, and once asked him to record his compositions as a guide to how they should be sung. Tom, who died in 1994, also asked Braga to help convey the spirit of his music to a new generation.

Milton Nascimento and the Trio

The opportunity to fulfill these promises came last year, when the Trio performed with Nascimento in Rio's Botanical Garden. That set off multiple musical lightbulbs, and they began looking for more opportunities to collaborate. They recorded Jobim's "Samba do Avião," which is on the CD, for a popular soap opera, then convened at Milton's house to pick other songs to record.

The result, recorded in Milton's basement, is Novas Bossas. The songs are essentially live takes, with minimal overdubs and production. This may surprise some, given the sophisticated air of the recordings, which is more the result of the relaxed atmosphere of these sessions than of studio magic.

Milton wanted to record Tom's songs, while the Jobims wanted to record songs by Milton—so they compromised on a slate of eight by Tom, three of Milton's hits, two more bossa nova classics and one by Daniel, which Milton overheard playing from his laptop, and liked. That song, "Dias Azuis," communicates the central idea of Novas Bossas: the feeling is entirely bossa, with a relaxed, lilting pulse and wistful lyrics. Yet here and there are touches which might clash, but don't: electronic keyboards, and Braga's powerful brushwork, drawn from his years playing with Brazilian funk and soul stars.

"You can make whatever mixture you want in bossa, because it's open," said Daniel. "Just like jazz embraced bossa, bossa can embrace all kinds of other things. . . . Yes, I'm a bossa musician, but it's a natural thing. "Whatever I do turns out that way – it's a sensibility, a way of playing gently, which is a different sound."

Like another young Brazilian with a famous last name, Moreno Veloso, Daniel's career will be worth watching. He has a fine, understated singing voice, which Nascimento gently balances with harmonies and counterlines drawn from his own identity as a musician from the landlocked state of Minas Geraes, not Rio.

Some say Minas musicians were inspired by Gregorian chants, and in Nascimento's case this makes sense: his minor-key compositions, such as "Cais" and "Tarde," are modal and atmospheric in their exploration of intervals more than harmony. Yet this sensibility, too, feels at home here: the deep longing and sense of loss in his voice are pure bossa. As are Ben Webster's ballads. Or Billie Holiday singing "God Bless the Child."

But even Minas has more than one musical identity, as Nascimento explained. This is evident on the album's opening track, his 1973 hit "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser" by his close collaborator Lo Borges, which demonstrates their affinity for, among other things, The Beatles' "Fool on a Hill." Like Brazil, Milton said, "Inside Minas, there are multiple Minas: each place you go is unique, with its own, different thing – but every so often they get together."

To further emphasize the idea that bossa can include more colors than we might expect, the album includes "O Vento" by Dorival Caymmi, which is in a similar minor mode, and "Medo de Amar," an often overlooked composition by Vinicius de Morães, better known as Jobim's finest lyricist, sung in a heartbreaking duet by Paulo Jobim and Nascimento.

On Tom's songs, Nascimento is best where the vulnerability of his voice illuminates the lyrics, on songs such as "Esperanca Perdida" and "Chega de Saudade." On this last, both on disk and in concert, he wishes sadness away with a potent incantation. But for every moment of minor melancholy, Novas Bossas offers an uplifting counterpart, such as Milton and Paulo Jobim's playful duets on "Brigas Nunca Mais" and "Trem de Ferro." In concert, Braga's propulsive, funk-inspired drumming kept the repertoire bubbling, and Nascimento threw in a few anthems, like "Maria, Maria," to satisfy pop-hungry Brazilians in the crowd from Newark's nearby Ironbound district.

But what about those novas bossas I was wondering about?

"It's just bossa!" Daniel explained. "But a bossa that's changing… maybe you can call it bossa nova nova." Paulo Braga agreed. "Cabe tudo!" he said with a smile. Or, in other words, "There's room for everything!" in bossa nova. "Just as jazz has room for new things, bossa has room for the novas bossas, and for all of the new things we'd like to do."

This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins



October 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ornette: The Blue Note Years (Part Two)

Below we continue with the final installment of Chris Kelsey's two part article on the Blue Note recordings of Ornette Coleman. For part one of this article, click here. T.G.



The Empty Foxhole

It seems odd to think any one of Coleman's albums more controversial than the rest, since his early career was literally replete with controversy. However, Ornette's The Empty Foxhole project for Blue Note, recorded in September 1966, was easily the most notorious of all his recordings.

In what might be seen as a father's misplaced confidence in his child's nascent talent, Ornette used his inexperienced ten-year-old son Denardo on drums. Denardo definitely had a fresh approach, with a vivid imagination and big ears. He's especially responsive to his dad's improvised lines. Most often, however, he's a child doing a man's work.

On the martial "The Empty Foxhole," for example, Denardo sounds like Sunny Murray might've sounded had he grown up listening to sun-warped John Philip Sousa 78s on a wind-up phonograph. And Denardo isn't the only wild card. Ornette's trumpet and violin playing is also pretty hit-and-miss. It sometimes seems that the trio's third member, bassist Charlie Haden, was the only "professional" on the date. To be fair, Denardo acquitted himself much better two years later on Ornette at 12 (Impulse). By the '80s he would be a terrific drummer. A glass-half-full guy might even say that Ornette was simply ahead of the curve, as usual.

If Down Beat magazine had given an award in the mid '60s for "Established Alto Saxophonist Most Positively Influenced By Ornette Coleman," Jackie McLean would've won hands down. A Charlie Parker-derived bopper in the '50s, McLean's came under the spell of free jazz in the '60s, adopting some of its expressive and harmonic elements, adding them to his emotionally charged brand of post-bop. In March 1967, McLean took a logical step and invited Ornette to play trumpet on his Blue Note album, New And Old Gospel.

New and Old Gospel

If Coleman sounds in better form here than on The Empty Foxhole, it's due in no small part to the company he's keeping. McLean's men were first-rate musicians who, although they approached the music from a modal/bop angle, were very Ornette-friendly (they included drummer Billy Higgins, who had distinguished career playing in Coleman's own group). On tracks like "Lifeline," a medley of McLean tunes that opens the album, Ornette displays the same singing tone and mercurial phrasing that distinguishes his sax playing, while McLean does some of the most burning "out" playing of his career. Nothing here is as uncompromisingly free as Coleman's work as a leader. Instead, it's an inspired amalgam of Ornette's concept, Blue Note-style gospel jazz ("Old Gospel"), and modal jazz à la A Love Supreme-era Coltrane. Good, borderline great stuff.

Love Call

Ornette's final two Blue Notes are, like the Golden Circle recordings, a matched pair. The tracks for New York Is Now! and Love Call were recorded in two sessions held roughly a week apart in the spring of 1968. In selecting his band, Ornette reached outside the circle of musicians with whom he'd been performing since his un-retirement (a small group that included Izenson, Moffett, Haden, and Blackwell). He hired tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, an old classmate from their days together at I. M. Terrell High School in Ft. Worth.

He also tapped John Coltrane's former rhythm team of bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones—a daring choice, inviting comparison with his avant-garde doppelganger. The critical consensus has long held that it was a bad move. The consensus, in my opinion, is wrong. Garrison had recorded with Ornette years earlier, and although he might not have been Ornette's musical soul-mate (he had expressed doubts about the Coleman method on more than one occasion), he and Jones were incapable of failure when working alongside one another. On tunes like "Airborne" and "The Garden of Souls," the two men are superb, providing Ornette with some of the most primal backing he'd ever had. The darkly serious rhythm section provides a fascinating contrast to Ornette's lighter, more optimistic style. As for Redman, he sounds more like Ornette on tenor than Ornette On Tenor, his densely scribbled lines a hoarse, angry echo of Coleman's alto.

While it may be true that nothing Coleman recorded for Blue Note has stuck in the collective ear like "Lonely Woman" from The Shape of Jazz to Come or "Ramblin'" from Change of the Century, it's just as true that very little jazz made by anyone since has had nearly so great an impact as those early albums. (Thank Ornette's revolution for that; subsequent jazz became so splintered, no one style or artist would ever again have such a profound effect on the music as a whole.) Ornette's Blue Notes are an important part of his recorded legacy. Dismiss them at your own peril. There's gold in them thar digitally encoded bits.

This is the end of the second installment of Chris Kelsey's two-part article on Ornette Coleman's Blue Note recordings. For the first part of this article, click here.

October 28, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bossa Still Sounds Nova Fifty Year Later



Tim Wilkins, a frequent contributor to these pages and editor of the jazz.com Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians, reports on a celebration of bossa nova featuring (among others) the fine Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta, who deserves to be much better known by jazz fans. His account is below. Check back here soon for Wilkins’s follow-up review of Brazilian music in performance (next time: Milton Nascimento). T.G.


Pianist Cliff Korman calls the Manhattan School of Music an "innovatory," rather than a conservatory, and on Tuesday night I could hear why. A noncommercial island in New York's musical stream, it has some of the city's best players as students and faculty, who consistently perform miracles.



                  Toninho Horta (photo by Brian Hatton)

The concert on Tuesday (October 21) was one such miracle. The school brought guitarist Toninho Horta from Brazil to celebrate "50 Years of Bossa Nova." The concert, which spanned nearly three hours, evoked the future of Brazilian music as well as its past. The event was the brainchild of Korman, a Long Island native who spends half his time in Rio, soaking up the city's samba, choro and gafiera, when he is not teaching at MSM. The concert was subtitled "To Jobim with Love" to honor Antonio Carlos Jobim, the composer who hatched the laid-back jazz hybrid in Rio in the late fifties.

Pat Metheny calls Toninho Horta "the Herbie Hancock of the guitar," and rightly so. He is a master of inner voicings with a lyrical style which feels at home in any musical setting. But he is not from Rio—he’s from Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, an inland city ringed by mountains, far from the sand and sea celebrated by Jobim. Yet like many of us, he remains drawn to bossa nova's rebellious calm. "Everybody wanted to play like that—ting ting, ting ting," he recalled with a smile about the first time he heard bossa nova at age ten. "Very simple, but very cool."

By thirteen, Horta was writing songs, and at nineteen he was winning prizes alongside another Minas native, singer Milton Nascimento. The pair inspired a movement in Belo Horizonte called "clube da esquina”—the "club on the corner"—which offered a more open alternative to Rio's studied cool and the surrealistic ironies of the Tropicália musicians from Bahia and Sao Paulo.

"I never really set out to be a jazz musician," says Horta, whose early influences included Debussy, Tatum, Mancini and Kenton. His seemingly effortless musical range led to close collaborations with a who's who of Brazilian musicians, including Elis Regina, Chico Buarque, and Sergio Mendes. When he moved to the U.S. in the eighties, he worked with Metheny, Wayne Shorter and Bobby McFerrin, among others.

Horta's music involves more colors than the original bossa, which he draws from the baroque church and Pink Floyd, by way of Ellington and Tatum. Like Tatum, his harmonic flights always sound like an organic outgrowth from the composition.

"Those aren't the changes I learned in Long Island!" Korman joked onstage after Toninho led the band through his reharmonization of Jobim's classic "Once I Loved." Korman’s point was twofold: not only does Horta depart from the original versions, but the bossa nova songs which entered the jazz repertoire during the genre's brief boom in the U.S. at times lacked the harmonic, and rhythmic, subtleties of the originals.



                 Bossa Nova at MSM (photo by Brian Hatton)

Bossa nova was first a revolution of rhythm, then of dynamics: João Gilberto found a way to condense the patterns of Rio's raucous samba schools on the six strings of his quiet guitar. To this, Antonio Carlos Jobim added impressionistic harmonies drawn from jazz, but the foundation of bossa was always rhythm. This point was sometimes lost to Americans, who identify the genre more with the affectless delivery of Astrud Gilberto's English vocals on "The Girl from Ipanema" with Stan Getz from 1964.

Korman's reworking of "Ipanema" was one of the evening's highlights. Taking his cue from Horta, he led the band through a moody, wide-open reharmonization of the tune which highlighted bossa nova's untapped possibilities, more than its nostalgia for sand and sea. "Just open your ears, and drop this necessity of identifying one thing to represent a culture that's immense," Korman said. "I hope that I'm opening some creative windows to say we can really do something with this music."

The concert was really three programs in one: first, conductor Justin DiCioccio led the the school's jazz orchestra through a set of elegant Jobim arrangements commissioned by members of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. These included Scott Reeves' "Waters of March," Mark Patterson's "Agua de Beber" and Tony Kadleck's "Desafinado." Rather than count off the the band, DiCioccio rubbed his hands together to simulate the sound of feet shuffling through sand, setting up the deceptively simple pulse essential to bossa nova. To further emphasize the importance of this "foreign" rhythmic sensibility, on "Agua de Beber" the band set down their horns to follow him through a spokenese arrangement of vocal polyrhythms.

Second, Toninho led the band through versions of some of his best-known compositions, including "Moonstone," "Broken Kiss," "Aqui, oh!" and "From Ton to Tom," which can be heard on his album To Jobim With Love, released by Resonance Records in September.

Third, Korman led the rhythm section through a set of "samba-jazz," Brazil's take on hard bop, which thrived alongside bossa nova but is little known in the U.S. This included his arrangements of "Ipanema" and "Embalo," by pianist Tenorio Jr., as well Horta's "Bons Amigos" and "Aquelas Coisas Todas." It was during this third "set" that the rhythm section really caught fire, with drummer Will Clark catching a groove with Horta, percussionist Café da Silva and bassist Billy Clark.

Other standout soloists were trombonist Timothy Vaughan, who brought fearless swagger to "Desafinado," without turning the song into salsa stomp. Jay Rattman offered a beautifully understated baritone sax solo on the evening's opener, "Look to the Sky," which made it clear that he understands bossa's quiet fire. Saxophonist Steve Wilson, also on the MSM faculty, also joined the band at Horta's request and contributed fine solo work to "From Ton to Tom" and "Comecar de Novo."

Throughout, Korman, Horta, and Café pushed and pulled the beat with bossa nova's subtle sixteenth-note accents, capturing the revolutionary equipoise of Gilberto, Jobim and the other originators of the style. The evening was a testament to the enduring possibilities of bossa nova, which suggests that the conversation between the musics of the United States and Brazil, two bulwarks of African culture in the New World, has just begun.

"We're celebrating the great reach of two musics that meet, and create," Korman told the audience. "Two musics which really meet as equals, and celebrate each other; that's what we're celebrating tonight."

This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins



October 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Remembering Peter Levinson



The jazz world is mourning the passing of Peter Levinson, a publicist and biographer and larger-than-life personality on the scene who left us a few days ago at the age of 74. Below Neil Tesser share his reminiscences. T.G.


My friend Peter Levinson died October 21, at the age of 74. In this decade he became known as the author of important biographies, but I’ll always think of him as the last of the old-time jazz publicists. He came from a time when the big bands and the big acts would book two- and three-week stays at the supper clubs that ballasted the jazz circuit: Sinatra or Basie or Woody Herman would employ someone like him to travel with them, showing up in Beantown or Chitown or Vegas or Frisco a couple days before the band to set up the print and radio interviews, and sticking around to plant items with the entertainment columnists that would stoke business throughout the engagement.

Peter Levinson

I say “someone like him,” but in truth, I haven’t met too many people like Peter. He maintained the trappings of his era even as that era receded, but he never became old-hat—just “old school,” and increasingly admired for that. I couldn’t wait for my first word-processing computer; Peter wrote his press releases and eventually his books in longhand, and employed a secretary to type them up. He expected the magazine writers he contacted, on behalf of his clients, to know something about their beat, to exhibit curiosity about the world, and to practice ethics, because when he started, those people were the rule, rather than the exception; it galled him to watch the disappearance of those virtues as the years wore on.

I don’t think I ever saw him in a professional setting, not even the informal club life of the 80s and 90s, without a jacket and tie—and not just a tie, but something colorful and sharp against a nattily complementary shirt. He had a little of the peacock about him, but that too came from his era, and from the guys he admired most in the business. And he never overdid it; in fact, he seemed a little uncomfortable if caught without that armor when business called. He admired, sought out, and aimed to emulate the elusive quality called Grace—which made it fitting and lovely that when he married for the first and only time, it was to a woman of that name.

From his early work as a press agent he built a universally respected and successful public-relations firm. His clients came to include Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz, Earl Hines and Chick Corea, Peggy Lee and Artie Shaw, Mel Tormé and Kurt Elling. He specialized in jazz, and did so with class. Even as a young writer in my 20s, when I first received pitches from him, I knew that a press release from Peter would be literate and researched, trustworthy and correct; I soon learned that a phone call would be persuasive, insistent—OK, maybe a little pushy—but always respectful. (Hype and taste could co-exist in his world, because for the most part, he represented people he genuinely admired.)

In the 80s, he kept his office in New York but he and Grace moved to the West Coast, and Peter maintained a bi-coastal PR agency. That arrangement soon became unworkable, in large part because the business had changed so much, with artists and labels handling their own publicity (though rarely as well as Peter did for them). So in the late 90s Peter morphed into a biographer, a sometimes underappreciated profession that requires a particular set of skills and attitudes—and a commitment to exhaustive research—to do it right. He conducted scores of interviews, never less than a hundred and usually twice that many, for each of his books, sometimes spending months to track down first-source friends and acquaintances of his subjects. He wrote books on Harry James, then Nelson Riddle, then Tommy Dorsey, and finally on Fred Astaire, the best one yet: Puttin’ On The Ritz, to be published in the spring of ’09. Each of them will remain a valuable research tool, as well as a pretty good read, for years to come.

And each time he finished one of them, he employed the best publicist he knew to make the book a success. The manuscript having received its final proof, he started making calls, later shipping out review copies to the writers overlooked by the publisher, then scheduling readings and lectures and combing his rolodex to set up his own interviews. In the months before he began the next book, I could always count on any conversation with Peter to include him railing against the incompetence rampant in the modern book biz. I would always agree, before reminding him how lucky it was that he could make up for their shortcomings himself.

By then, I’d known him close to two decades. I’d met him in the late 70s, I’d guess: 17 years my senior, he entered my life as a mere business contact, who then became a friend, then more of an older brother; eventually we reached the point of being mutual confidantes and advisers—most fully during the times I stayed at his Malibu home, and most urgently when the canyon fires would make the news in Chicago and I’d call to see if that home had escaped the blazes. (It always did, though sometimes they got close.) I got to know his dogs—he fancied bichon frieses, but one at a time—and his collection of paintings by Haitian artists. I got to spend some time on his huge patio, overlooking a gazebo, staring down at the Pacific, Catalina Island visible on a clear day. And I always shrank back just a little in his home office, the walls groaning under the psychic weight of the photos, dozens of photos featuring Peter with iconic musicians from across jazz and pop history.

A couple years ago, Peter developed something called Progressive Bulbar Palsy. You can look it up on the Web, but I can tell you it’s one of Nature’s nastier pieces of work. It affects a ganglion of nerves that control functions of the mouth and larynx, and it gradually robbed Peter of his impeccable diction and then his ability to speak entirely. Within a year or so, he lost the capacity to fully swallow food, and eventually to swallow at all. The condition itself is pretty rare, but the medical community seems to have come around to the idea that it is in fact a subset, or in many cases a precursor, of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or Charles Mingus’s Disease to jazz folks)—and that was in fact the last diagnosis of Peter Levinson. For a man who made both his living and his life with words, I can’t imagine a greater cruelty.

The disease left his mind intact (and until recently, a fair amount of his motor skills as well; he continued to exercise, for instance, and had no trouble walking). For some, that might pose an additional insult, this awareness of one’s own deterioration coupled with the diminishing ability to even discuss what he felt. But for Peter, a man of boundless spirit and a measured but genuine enthusiasm, it merely got in the way. He continued working on his Astaire biography. He cut back on but did not abandon his correspondence. He communicated with a keyboard-operated voice synthesizer, and through his wife and his secretary. He kept going, and so exhibited a personal heroism that I can now add to his legacy: he reacted to tragic circumstances with acceptance but not resignation. We all hope we would handle such a prognosis in such a manner; thankfully, few of us have the need to discover if we were right.

The last time I saw Peter was this past spring. While visiting Los Angeles on business, I had made the familiar drive to Malibu to join Peter and Grace for dinner; but instead of me meeting them at Guido’s, their favorite local restaurant, she’d suggested we eat at the house. When I got there, I understood why. The slurring of speech that I’d first noticed a year earlier had given way to guttural expressions of agreement or consternation, sympathy or humor: the voice synthesizer was on the fritz that night, which led to frustration, but he still communicated to me his questions about my work, my home life, the Chicago scene. He indicated how much weight he’d lost—eating had become so difficult—and managed a shrug and a smile at the idea that this was a helluva way to diet.

I have some strong memories of Peter at his job: tanned and fiftyish, on his patio; at his desk, his hair in relative disarray as he worked the phones; laughing heartily at someone else’s joke; showing simultaneous indulgence and exasperation at one of the dogs. But that small smile of wry acceptance—acceptance but not defeat; Peter Levinson facing his fate with open-eyed pluck—is now the one I think of first.

This blog entry posted by Neil Tesser.

October 26, 2008 · 6 comments

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From the Mail: More on Jazz Vocals

Some time back jazz.com published a series of articles on the current state of jazz vocals. We continue to get feedback on them (you can check them out here, here and here). Now Simon Lawrence sends an interesting letter (see below) with some additional perspectives on the current situation for aspiring jazz singers. Readers are invited to share their own opinions by adding their comments on-line or emailing them to editor@jazz.com. T.G.






                     Jazz Singer, artwork by Suzanne Cerny


Ted,

I have just read both parts of your "State of Jazz Vocals Today" article. I found it a fascinating read, and dealing with issues I have written about myself in blogs. I am a young jazz crooner from the UK. It is about time someone wrote a good article on the state of jazz singing and I really enjoyed reading yours.

Since most of your article is mainly focused on the younger or new generation of jazz singers, I thought you might like the opinion of someone who is part of that generation, and what it is really like to be a young jazz singer today.

Although still in my twenties, I actually started out jazz singing before the jazz boom that happened around 2003, when artists such as Jamie Cullum and Norah Jones were bringing 'jazz' back into the charts. When I first started out, before the boom, I found it incredibly hard to get gigs in the UK. One manager of a bar said to me (in about 2000): "A young guy singing jazz songs? That won't work. People won't believe it, they only want to hear old people sing those songs." That was pretty much the response I got from most places.

It is interesting that as soon as Jamie Cullum became a hit star, those same bar managers couldn't book young acts fast enough. I knew that people would love to hear young people sing jazz, but the industry needed a 'star' before they could believe it.

In terms of jazz records, you make the point in your article about new jazz artists needing to create new material (something of which I am a true believer). However, I have to say that, certainly in the UK, most young jazz singers are promoting themselves by doing famous jazz covers on records and at gigs. Many new albums that come out may have the odd original song, but many still are full of 'crowd pleasing songs' like "Fly Me to the Moon." To get a record deal with purely original jazz songs is nearly impossible. Even Jamie Cullum had plenty of covers on his album Twentysomething and used 'What a Difference a Day Made' as his main promotional song for the album.

Even to get a gig at a proper jazz venue as a jazz singer in London, you pretty much have to perform jazz covers (unless you are established like Ian Shaw). Many of the venues have the same artists every week, the manager's favorites if you like. Every week I look in Time Out at the jazz listings. It's like Groundhog Day, same venue, same act. There is this illusion that London is a great place for 'new' or 'young' acts to break out. It is exactly that, an illusion. There is also a bit of a Catch 22 situation with gigs at top jazz venues. You can't play Ronnie Scott's, it seems, unless you are established, have management or a record deal. Yet, you won't be taken seriously by management or record companies until you've played somewhere like Ronnie Scott's.

The only other people who get to play the top jazz venues are what I have coined as the 'Jazzerati' or 'Jazz Mafia': artists that know and are friends with the management, and network themselves into the jazz scene like they are part of the furniture (regardless of their talent).

As far as record labels are concerned, you are completely right! They are very biased towards age. I am 28, and even I appear to be to old! Recently I went for an audition with the head of Jazz A&R for a major record label. I won't mention it by name other than to say it is a universally big company :-). The audition was held in London, and they said they were looking for the "next 'Jamie Cullum" or the "next Michael Buble." Well, I have never compared myself to them or are vaguely influenced by either of them (who I believe are both vastly overrated as singers). However, I went anyway as it is such a major label. I knew that most of the other guys at the audition would be singing covers like 'Fly Me to the Moon', which indeed they did. I stuck to my guns and sang one of my original jazz compositions, "I Don't Love You (But My Heart Does)."

I sang my song and the man said, "You have a great voice! A big voice!" He commended me on my singing 'a cappella' at the audition, saying I was a true jazz singer because all the other applicants had used cheap backing tracks on CD. All seemed to be going well... then he asked my age. "28," I said. His face dropped, it was like I had just told him I was a mass murderer. He then stumbled over his words and mumbled something about "letting me know," when moments earlier he had been praising my singing. As I walked out of the room, a young trendy haired guy walked in, who looked about 17. I could hear him destroying "Mr Bojangles" as I left the building. . . . I expect he got the record deal.

Finally a bit about myself. I am a jazz singer and composer. I sing because I love it, I adore jazz. I don't want to be a copycat singer. People tell me I sound like Frank Sinatra, a great compliment yes, but I tell them I want to be the first Simon Lawrence, not the next Sinatra, Buble etc. I also concentrate on performing and recording my original songs, rather than famous jazz covers.

For the last three years I have been collaborating and writing with the great American jazz lyricist Fran Landesman, and performing many of her songs such as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "Ballad of the Sad Young Men." I have an album coming out (although without a label or management) in December, here in London. It will be a mixture of my songs and Fran's. Absolutely no "Fly Me to the Moon"!

I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

Cheers,

Simon Lawrence

Note: You can check out Simon’s original jazz songs here, and his versions of Fran Landesman's songs here.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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2009 NEA Jazz Masters Honored

Jazz fans love a party, and the biggest bash in jazz these days is the annual celebration of the NEA Jazz Masters. This year the event took place under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and a standout group of honorees was on hand. The event also marked the swan song of a visionary NEA Chairman—yes, the one my my kids call Uncle—who has done a tremendous amount of good for the jazz world (among other things) during his tenure. Jazz.com’s arnold jay smith tells more below. T.G.



The National Endowment for the Arts presented its annual awards at a ceremony and concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Friday. The 2009 awardees are guitartist / vocalist George Benson, drummer Jimmy Cobb, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist / harmonicist/ whistler Jean Baptiste ‘Toots’ Thielemans, trumpeter Eugene ‘Snooky’ Young, and engineer Rudy Van Gelder, winner of the award for jazz advocate.



        The 2009 NEA Jazz Masters (photo by Jos L. Knaepen)

At the conclusion of the concert Chairman Dana Gioia talked about his resignation as Chairman of the NEA effective inauguration day, January 20, 2009. The evening began with Gioia conducting a panel discussion with six jazz figures honored. Benson told of his uncle and stepfather creating his first electric guitar out of a table with a formica top. “Formica was new at that time,” he reminded us. This came after he heard his family’s swing and bebop recordings. “I knew then what I wanted to do.” Some years ago George told a reporter that his uncle had made his first acoustic guitar out of a cigar box and a stick. With it he made his first appearance as a professional, on a street corner.

Cobb’s legerdemain turns with the greats, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Billie Holiday and a veritable Who’s Who of jazz. He reminisced about Dinah singing with a band in which he was in the rhythm section. When Dinah launched her solo career, having previously changed her name from Ruth Jones, Jimmy went with her. When asked about his appearance on the history-making, largest-selling jazz recording, Miles’s Kind of Blue, Jimmy seemed to mist over saying that it was the best time of his career. He clarified the details of an infamous incident outside the original Birdland where Miles was bloodied by the police making for some ugly racist tabloid headlines. Miles had told me that it was partially his fault. When I later asked Jimmy about it, he thought for a moment, then said,” Yeah. That sounds about right.”

Konitz talked about his time with pianist Lennie Tristano. To these ears, Tristano was a conundrum. His lines were simplicity personified, that is until you tried to play them. There were these strong unison lines which he insisted be played his way all the time. Yet when Konitz performed with the group his crafted solos often regarded as the first “free” jazz improvisations. Interesting-Lee changed his attention from “free” to the pure creativeness that his jazz has become.

Like Coleman Hawkins’ tenor sax before him, Toots Thielemans didn’t invent this ancient instrument; it just seems that way. He is by far the most creative musician on the harmonica, but he also plays the guitar and he whistles. You may read all about him in the OctoJAZZarians column on this blog. During the conversation portion of the ceremonies Baron Thielemans revealed that he once played a cardboard accordion performing French musette music. His responses to Chairman Gioia’s queries were filled with joy at just being alive and being able to play the music he loves.

Snooky Young, on the other hand, had to have the questions written out for him as he has lost most of his hearing. I guess playing in trumpet sections of virtually all the great bands from the thirties on, and doing the studios and the Tonight Show Band for 30 years takes a toll. He picked Jimmie Lunceford’s as the most fun although Count Basie was where he made his modern mark.

Lastly, we come to the non-musician of this sextet, but a valued sideman nonetheless, the engineer. At the concert portion the short film about Rudy Van Gelder flashed reproductions of record jackets. I remarked to no one in particular, “That’s my collection up there.” Again, it seems that way: Blue Note, Prestige, Clef/Verve. He was personal with Norman Granz and the latter day Verve producers including Creed Taylor. Van Gelder denies putting any kind of thumbprint on his recordings. “I just let the musicians do what they wanted,” he said. He didn’t do tracking till Taylor‘s CTI days. I visited the Van Gelder church-like studio in Englewood, NJ, church-like in that you didn’t speak especially in the booth. When he left the room to go into the studio to adjust a mike he covered the board with a cloth—I presume so that prying curious eyes couldn’t cop his settings.

The presentation/concert portion of the evening, co-hosted by Gioia and Wynton Marsalis, contained humor, some pathos, and best of all bonhomie. Tom McIntosh introduced Benson by telling us that he knew George before he knew George. Seems he and George’s birth father were armed forces buddies. Benson then laid into an up tempo “Stella By Starlight” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Cobb, in an interview with WBGO earlier, said he’d try to play some of his patented “ding, ding, ding” as he did on the intro to “Someday My Prince Will Come” from his stint with Miles. He reprised the ding thing but the tune this time was John Williams’s Superman theme, “Can You Read My Mind,” again with the JALCO. Superman? Apropos indeed.

Konitz’s intro was by his long-time friend Phil Woods, who read his own prepared notes. “My memory is still good, just short,” he quipped. He also noted that Lee has no licks for anyone to cop. Then introduced him by “copping one of Bird’s lick’s, ‘my worthy constituent’ Lee Konitz. (The line was something Charlie Parker used on the Massey Hall recording introducing Dizzy.) Tears and standing cheers followed. Konitz proved the no-licks line by playing (around) “Body and Soul,” if you catch my drift.

Thielemans offering was not his 'social security number' “Bluesette.” Nor did he whistle the Old Spice jingle and no muppets appeared on stage with him. He dedicated his offering to Louis Armstrong, whom he first heard on recordings in his native Belgium. During “What A Wonderful World,” with a chart arranged and conducted by Rich DeRosa, Thielemans interjected the familiar Satchmo closing phrase, the one which ends with a growly “Oh yeah!” Snooky’s seconds were Frank Wess and Gerald Wilson who were as funny as any Bob and Ray routine. Wilson went on and on and Wess shot by when he could. It was all in good fun and the JALCO played Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’,” which featured Young on the atomic bomb cover Basie album.

An example of Van Gelder‘s work was played by the JALCO. Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” came from the album Blues and the Abstract Truth. As an encore and as a further tribute to the late Neal Hefti the JALCO played his “Splanky” which also came form the Atomic Basie album. McIntosh and congero Candido Camero sat in.

Almost anticlimactically, Chairman Gioia announced that this was his last Jazz Masters event, as he was resigning from his post. His all-too-brief tenure was marked by triumph after triumph for both jazz and its practitioners. The number of awardees doubled from three as did the financial aspect, which now stands at $25 grand per. He also has given jazz a greater profile among the public and the schools. Gioia is returning to his poetry writing, “before my muse abandons me.”

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

October 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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Ornette: The Blue Note Years

Ornette Coleman's stint as a Blue Note recording artist was short-lived, and his recordings for the label often given less attention than his earlier Atlantic and Contemporary releases. Yet they represent some of the most provocative music of the era. Below is the first installment of Chris Kelsey's two part article on this fertile period in Coleman's career. For part two, click here. T.G.



In 1963, Ornette Coleman dropped off the face of the earth.

No, he wasn't abducted by aliens or snatched from the streets of New York by some Free Jazz-hating cult deprogrammer. His family and friends knew where to find him. But after knocking the jazz world on its posterior beginning in 1959 with such epochal albums as The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century, the man whom Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis labeled "the most important jazz musician since Charlie Parker" (and whom the noted authority on aberrant psychology Miles Davis diagnosed as "all screwed-up inside") unexpectedly and voluntarily withdrew from the scene.

As with most things Ornette, the reasons for his mini retirement were obscure. Controversy surrounding his music and a shortage of gigs were likely factors. So was money. Ornette never thought he was paid enough. In any case, after a self-produced concert at New York's Town Hall in December 1962, Ornette would not record or perform in public for more than two years.

Golden Circle

Nobody as compulsively creative as Ornette could just sit on his hands for two years. Like Sonny Rollins, whose celebrated 1959-1962 "retirement" remains jazz's most celebrated disappearing act, Coleman spent his hiatus in the woodshed, further honing his saxophone chops and composing new material. More than that, he taught himself two new instruments: trumpet and violin. By the time Ornette reemerged in January 1965 with a successful run at New York's Village Vanguard, he was a new and improved jazz provocateur. The Vanguard gig began a yearlong stretch of activity that culminated in a November/December engagement at the Gyllende Cirklen—the Golden Circle, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Blue Note Records had been interested in Ornette since at least the Town Hall concert, which it had recorded but never released (ESP-Disk eventually issued the LP). When it became clear his comeback had legs, the label stepped in and taped him at the Golden Circle, thus beginning a relationship between the Rolls Royce of jazz labels and the music's most provocative and influential artist.

While Blue Note is rightfully known for its devotion to hard bop, it also played an essential role in recording the '60s avant-garde. The company had begun documenting jazz's cutting edge in 1947, when founder Alfred Lion became the first to give Thelonious Monk his own record date. In the 1950s, the label recorded legendary fringe-dweller Herbie Nichols, and purchased the tapes of Cecil Taylor's first album, Jazz Advance, from the failed Transition label. The company issued much of Taylor's '60s music, which included such groundbreaking albums as Conquistador and Unit Structures. The idiosyncratic pianist / composer Andrew Hill did his best work for Blue Note during the decade, as did tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers. Multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy's most fully-realized album, Out to Lunch, was recorded for Blue Note in 1964. The company also recorded such progressively-inclined musicians as drummer Tony Williams, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, organist Larry Young, and trombonist Grachan Moncur III.

Ornette's association with the label would last two-and-a-half years, resulting in six albums: two great, one infamous, one nearly great, and two which the critical consensus has long held to be mediocre at best—a collective misjudgment in dire need of revision.

Two excellent full-length albums came out of the Golden Circle gig, The Ornette Coleman Trio at the Golden Circle, Stockholm, Vols. 1 & 2. Ornette led the same trio he'd used at Town Hall in '62, with bassist David Izenson and drummer Charles Moffett. The major change in the group was the evolution of Ornette himself. By 1965, he'd added two new instruments to his arsenal. Cuts like "Faces and Places" and "Dawn" might've been substantially similar in concept and execution to the type of music on his Atlantic albums, but performances such as "Snowflakes and Sunshine"—with Ornette's highly expressionistic violin and trumpet work—and "The Riddle"—with Izenson's trippingly dexterous pizzicato and agile arco bass—were strikingly different. These first two official Coleman recordings following his sabbatical showed Ornette to be as relentlessly inventive as ever.

This is the end of the first part of Chris Kelsey's blog article on Ornette Coleman's Blue Note recordings. For part two, click here.

October 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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How I Rediscovered the Blues

Delta Blues

Today marks the official publication of my new book Delta Blues, a work that has been in the making for many years. Yet it also represents the culmination of an unusual series of events by which many of my most deeply-held views on music were challenged and reformulated. As strange as it may sound, a vision quest of more than fifteen years led to the writing of this book.

When I was twenty years old, I naively thought I knew almost everything there was to know about the blues. At that time I was immersed in the world of modern jazz piano, and believed that the blues was a fairly simple song structure. I wrongly thought that once I had mastered the chords and various modernistic substitute changes, once I knew how to play the blues in all twelve keys and various meters, I had exhausted the potential of this music. As I see it now, my knowledge then was limited to the structure of the blues, while I remained largely ignorant of the substance of this music.

For my first CD, The End of the Open Road, I composed a blues. Although it kept to twelve bars, the harmonies moved far outside the tonic, dominant, sub-dominant formulas that defined the idiom. Here was my idea of the chords of a twelve bar blues at that time (1986): C7 / Db7 / Gmin7 / Gb7 / F7 / D7(#9) Db7 / Emin7 / A7(b5) / D7(b9) / G7(aug) / C7 G7(aug) / C7 G7(aug). This would have been typical of my attitude at the time. To the extent I retained an interest in the blues, it was driven by how I could build something complex on top of it.

Yet over the next few years my attitude started to change—at first slowly, and then dramatically. In time, I would begin to question many of the assumptions that had fueled my musical development during my teens and twenties. I look back at some of my notebook jottings from 1991, and can already see a shift in my perspective on music. Here were the first ruminations that later resulted in my books Work Songs and Healing Songs. Starting in the early 1990s, I found myself going back, again and again, to traditional music forms, especially non-commercial or pre-commercial styles of performance that had developed and survived outside the ever-expanding orbit of the entertainment industry.

I increasingly became aware of a depth and power in this music that I had missed before. I became especially interested in the power of music as a change agent, as a transformational force in day-to-day life—aspects of song that I felt were crucial yet poorly understood. In a very real sense, I was convinced that there was a magical element in music—and I stress that I am not speaking metaphorically here—a type of enchantment that was increasingly obscured amidst the noise and hype of modern culture.

I spent almost a decade studying traditional styles of music before I began writing about them. To some extent, I needed to begin my own musical education all over again, starting from scratch. The challenges this presented were many, and beyond the scope of what I can convey in this setting.

Sad to say, when I started writing about these subjects, I encountered fierce resistance from editors and publishers. They wanted me to write on the same things I had written about in the past, and they felt that writing about non-commercial styles of music would itself have poor commercial prospects. I was absolutely convinced, in contrast, that unlocking the transformational power of music as it confronts day-to-day life was perhaps the biggest story any music writer could address. Even so, this was a lonely time for me as an author. No one wanted me to write on traditional music, and my persistence in digging into this area over a period now approaching fifteen years possibly represents the most stubborn move of my life to date.

But it was this very persistence that prepared me to write a book on the Delta blues—a subject that began fascinating me around eight years ago. The Delta blues was not just another type of song, to my mind, but represented a rare moment in American culture when a powerful music of everyday life (remember my comments above about magic) confronts and transforms commercial music. Songs that grew out of the stark realities of impoverished communities somehow managed to reach out and change the whole entertainment industry. And did it, moreover, with very little compromise or watering down of their core essence.

I also now learned how even the structure of the blues was far more multi-layered than I had realized at first. The idea that the blues is built on twelve bars and three chords is a fairly late arrival on the scene. Before blues was a structure, it possessed a universe of sounds that defied the rigid categories of Western music. Exploring the complexities of these sounds—far more complex than I had realized in my youth—opened my ears in a way jazz never had. It was almost as if blues introduced me to the way music might have developed if Pythagoras and his heirs had not infused it with so much mathematics. In short, there was a blues behind the blues that resisted codification. I was determined to tell its story, and unlock its mysteries.

I won't try to tell the whole tale here. But I found myself carried away by the music and life stories of people such as Son House, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Skip James, and the others who played greater or lesser roles in this process. I was also interested in how this legacy became infused in the works of Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Beatles and other mega-stars.

In Delta Blues, I have tried to relate this remarkable story to the best of my ability. The challenges in doing so were far greater than I envisioned when I started the process—to some extent, I had to become something of a private investigator to unravel the many mysteries of this music. But it has been a great pleasure throughout the whole process—especially having the excuse to immerse myself in this music and the lives of the people who made it. My hope is that some of that pleasure and excitement will be conveyed to those who read my book, and (invariably a music writer's highest aspiration) that my narrative approaches, to some degree, the high standards set by the music itself.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.


October 20, 2008 · 1 comment

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Remembering Neal Hefti



A few days ago, when the media reported on the death of composer and arranger Neal Hefti, they focused on his popular themes to Batman and The Odd Couple. But knowledgeable fans realize that there was a lot more to Hefti than his work for the small screen. He was one of the most distinctive big band writers of his generation, and possessed an uncanny knack for creating swinging charts that appealed to both jazz devotees and the general public. Jeff Sultanof offers his reminisces and insights in his tribute below to the late composer. T.G.




 Hefti in Gotham City

Neal Hefti, who passed away on October 11, is one of the more interesting American musical figures involved with jazz. Known by the general public more for his themes for Batman and The Odd Couple, Neal was very happy that he'd captured the imagination of the public at large. In fact, in 1950, Hefti deliberately changed the direction of his music "so that Johnny next door can play it." His tune "Coral Reef" was a pop instrumental for big band, which tuned out to be a big hit. This and other popular singles on the Coral label helped to launch his own big band featuring his wife Frances Wayne as vocalist, which was hardly a jazz unit.

And yet, when Hefti was involved in a jazz project in later years, the results were magical. Clifford Brown with Strings is generally believed to be the best album of a jazz soloist with a string section, although there have been many such excellent projects since. By any measure, this album is one of the most influential and beloved in the jazz canon.

I've never seen the following information anywhere, and yet Derek Boulton, owner of the Horatio Nelson label, and manager of Robert Farnon and the Ted Heath Orchestra (among his many clients), swore to me that this is true: Neal Hefti's original last name was Frieberger, and he and his brother John were adopted by a family named Hefti because his birth parents were too poor to take care of them. "I call him Uncle Frieberger," Derek told me when I saw him in the mid-eighties at a luncheon honoring Farnon. One of the few gigs Neal did after the seventies was a concert with the BBC Orchestra, which Boulton made happen. Boulton is a persistent man, and must have bugged Neal unmercifully, as Neal had pretty much retired by 1980.

I met Neal over the phone in the mid-eighties when I was a standards and jazz editor at Warner Bros. Publications. WB had just purchased his catalog and my bosses were looking for opportunities to use it. The first thing they did was put back in print the big band arrangements all of us had played in our school music programs, and these titles are still popular—"Lil' Darlin'," "Cute," "Teddy the Toad," "Why Not?" "Sure Thing" and quite a few additional titles. They also wanted a Neal Hefti songbook, and I was asked to call him. Neal was pleasant but our initial conversations were very business-like and to-the-point. Over time, I started dropping some hints that I knew his music well, and that so much of it had influenced my musical life. Finally, he said with bemusement, "Are you some sort of historian?" That seemed to break the ice a bit.

His first professional arrangements were written while he was still in high school, and they were for top units—Nat Towles had one of the finest territory bands of the big band era, but his reluctance to record and to play big cities has robbed us of any evidence of his band save the memories of the musicians who played in it, who included T-Bone Walker and Billy Mitchell. Earl Hines also bought some work from Hefti at this time. Neal played with Bob Astor, Charlie Barnet, Charlie Spivak and Horace Heidt before he joined Woody Herman, who was in the midst of modernizing the style of his band. With Ralph Burns, Hefti turned the band's music around, arranging such titles as "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow," a new version of "Woodchopper's Ball," and composing originals such as "Wild Root" and "The Good Earth."

Hefti married the vocalist with Herman, Chiarina Bertocci, better known as Frances Wayne, and left the band in 1946 to free-lance. His arrangements were soon part of the Buddy Rich book. He made a few records for Keynote (including a Wayne vocal of "Siboney" which was not released at the time; Neal was delighted when it finally came out in a complete Keynote boxed set), joined Harry James as a trumpeter/arranger, and then wrote for Tommy Dorsey. One of the most pleasant surprises I had in recent years was discovering a Hefti arrangement of "La Rosita" written for the Tex Beneke band some years after Tex disassociated himself from the Miller ghost band. It is a beautiful, exciting, stunning piece of writing.

Any listing of his work as a composer would be incomplete without mentioning a recording with Charlie Parker called "Repetition." The story is well known; Neal wrote the piece without a solo, Parker walked in during the session, Norman Granz asked if he could be included, and Parker tossed off a solo which can only be described as incredible. How many musicians, irrespective of instrument, can either play or sing a solo of this caliber at a moment's notice?

Basie Plays Hefti

And then Neal turned his back on the music he was known for. Perhaps not wanting to be stereotyped as a jazz composer/arranger, he simplified his style. He wanted a larger audience for his work, and I'm sure the possible financial rewards were not far from his mind. "Coral Reef" signaled his being a new artist for the new label Coral Records, and for several years, he wrote catchy melodies which audiences enjoyed and remembered. This led to jingle work, arranging for television and radio, and an association with Count Basie which helped both of them considerably. Listeners worldwide enjoyed "Cute," "Flight of the Foo Birds," "A Little Tempo, Please, and L'il Darlin.'" While the Basie musicians preferred the music of Thad Jones, Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins, they knew that Hefti's music helped to introduce the band's sound to a wider audience. To this day, a Basie performance is not complete without one of Neal's pieces. Many of his Basie pieces had lyrics added later by Steve Allen, who sang these songs on his television show.

When his catalog was purchased, Warner Bros. was able to get piano/vocal arrangements of most of his well-known pieces, which made my job much easier. Neal and I reviewed them together and corrected them, I wound up arranging some titles which had never been in print before—a project that proved to be extremely successful. Many music lovers hadn't realized that the composer of "Batman" and "The Odd Couple" had a full, rich musical life before these themes were composed. I commented that so many of his works were unknown or unavailable, and asked if he would consider preparing a fakebook of them. He was thrilled with the idea.

Now came an adventure. Neal told me that he'd thrown out all of the music he'd written over the years. After getting over the shock, I listened as he explained that sometime in 1976, Frances was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She disliked Hollywood and wanted to be with her family in Massachusetts. Neal simply thought that his wife was more important than any of the music he'd written, and that was that. When Frances died, Neal moved back to California, and was now anxious to get his music straightened out so that if people wanted to play and arrange it, there would be accurate sources from the composer. Neal contacted the Library of Congress and got copies of whatever lead sheets they had, rewrote some of them so that they would lie in comfortable keys (he was always thinking of the student or amateur) and sent them on to me.

There were surprises. A lead sheet came in for an instrumental named "Great Moment." According to the discographies, Ed Finckel wrote this for Buddy Rich. I brought this up to Neal. "No, this is my tune,” he explained. “Buddy rehearsed it at the Earle Theatre in Philadelphia." So not only could I get this in print, I could correct a long-standing discographical error.

"Neal, when was the last time you heard this?"

"When Buddy played it in 1946. He never recorded it, but you already know that."

"What if I tell you that there is an aircheck of it on a bootleg LP? Would you like to hear it again?"

"OF COURSE. When can you send it?"

It's nice when you can be the person to unite a composer with one of his pieces that he'd long forgotten. It turns out he was more than happy when he finally heard it.

During our work together, it was inevitable that other facts would come up about Neal's work. He never authorized the Jon Hendricks lyrics to "L'il Darlin'" and was quite angry that Hendricks didn't ask him for permission; he added that the Bart Howard lyrics were authorized although not as well known (the lyricized version of the song is called "Don't Dream of Anybody But Me"). He did not include "Rhumbacito" in the fakebook because he admitted that it was very close to a theme for a movie written by Alfred Newman ("We played so many theatres and heard these themes over and over. I don't want to make a bad situation worse."), that his tune "Better Have Four" for Harry James was a punch line to a dirty joke, and that he'd wished he was more careful with titling some of his music, and that he hated his arrangement of "In Veradero" for Stan Kenton and was quite upset with me when I transcribed it for the songbook (it was soon replaced).

He also discussed his career with me. After leaving Coral Records, he signed with Label X, an RCA subsidiary that lasted for about three years. One album was a 10" collection of themes written by Rudolph Friml. In these recordings, Neal used a wordless chorus, which he would do in subsequent albums. But it was Ray Conniff who was credited with the idea when "'S Wonderful came out, and Neal was quick to tell that he did this first. He was happy that his collaboration with Clifford Brown was as popular as when he made it. He had no “insider” stories to tell about this project: he loved Clifford, Clifford loved him, everything went smoothly (it shows on the album).

In the early sixties, Hefti took his wife and two children out to California to work in the film industry. He arranged an album for Count Basie and Frank Sinatra without getting cover credit, but Sinatra told him he could make an album of his own. Jazz Pops has recently been reissued, and it is worth having. It reminds us that Hefti was still a superior arranger of jazz materials. The album has the standard saxes and brass, and includes a four-man flute section. This sound would be all over movie soundtracks during the mid-sixties, and Hefti anticipated the popularity of the sound just like Henry Mancini made the French Horn section popular when he wrote "Peter Gunn."

Like Mancini, Neal's themes were bringing in money, and he could pick and choose his projects. He turned down arranging work for singers, not wanting to write twelve arrangements in two days as was customary in that world. His soundtrack for the 1964 movie Harlow yielded "Girl Talk," which was adopted for the theme for the Virginia Graham mid-day talk show. "Lonely Girl," the theme from the movie, was one of Neal's loveliest melodies and deserves to be more known.

Ironically, it was the success of his music for Batman and The Odd Couple that led to Neal giving up writing. When I suggested that he write music simply for himself, he laughed. Except for teaching film scoring at USC, he was through with music, except taking care of what he'd already written. Losing his wife in 1978 was not tragedy enough, unfortunately; cancer took the life of his daughter in 1997.

In many ways, Hefti's career was fortunate. Like Mancini, he understood the public and gave it music that they embraced. Sometimes he was able to really stretch out and show the depth of his considerable talent. It would be tempting to think of what he would have done given a large budget and a big band for an album project.

He left his mark on the jazz world, and was a very nice guy. I don't think you can do much better than that. I shall miss him a lot.

This blog entry posted by Jeff Sultanof


October 19, 2008 · 3 comments

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Weekend Track Review Roundup

Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay

When you hear that sound, you know it’s time again for the jazz.com weekend track review roundup.

We rely on a crack team of 45 wrangling and bronco-busting reviewers, who aim to roundup the whole art of jazz from the first wax cylinder to last week’s hot new MP3 file. So far this group of jazzy buckaroos has reviewed more than 3,300 tracks—and they show no signs of slowing down in the saddle.

LP

Regular visitors to this address know that we focus on individual tracks not entire CDs. This approach allows our critics to be more specific in their assessments, and also is valuable to fans who are looking to purchase individual songs from Amazon.com, iTunes or other purveyors of virtual jazz. To assist in this, jazz.com provides a link for fast, easy (and legal) downloading with each review. Please, no rustlin’! We encourage you to respect the brand on the rump of each track in the roundup.

Check ‘em out below, and feel free to climb up on your own personal soapbox and add comments at the bottom of each review.

Adderley, Cannonball: Hummin’
Reveiwed by Marcus Singletary

Arriale, Lynne: Tones for Joan’s Bones
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Breau, Lenny: Georgia on My Mind
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Bruford, Bill: Joe Fraizer
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Buckethead: Machete
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Capilongo, Jim (with Norah Jones): Stella
Reviewed by Eric Novod

Carter, Ron: Cubano Chant
Reviewed by Frank Murphy

Cobham, Billy: La Guernica
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Coleman, Ornette: Airborne
Reviewed by Chris Kelsey

Coryell, Larry: Love is Here to Stay
Reveiwed by Marcus Singletary

Deodato, Eumir: Super Strut
Reveiwed by Marcus Singletary

Di Meola, Al: The Wizard
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Fitzgerald, Ella (with Duke Ellington): Take the ‘A’ Train
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Glasper, Robert: Beatrice
Reviewed by Greg Marchand

Holdsworth, Allan: Tokyo Dream
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Jones, Quincy: Dead End
Reveiwed by Marcus Singletary

King Crimson: The Sheltering Sky
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Konitz, Lee: Billie’s Bounce
Reviewed by Chris Kelsey

McLaughlin, John: Guardian Angels
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

McLean, Jackie: A Fickle Sonance
Reviewed by Kenny Berger

Mingus, Charles: So Long Eric
Reviewed by Frank Murphy

Mulligan, Gerry: Lady Chatterley’s Mother
Reviewed by Kenny Berger

Otis, Shuggie: The Time Machine
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Pass, Joe: Darn That Dream
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Rava, Enrico: Bella
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Rosnes, Renee: Black Holes
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Soulive: Shaheed
Reveiwed by Marcus Singletary

Walden, Narada Michael: The Sun is Dancing
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Weather Report: Teen Town
Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Williams, Mary Lou: Play It Momma
Reviewed by Frank Murphy

Woods, Phil: Adiós Nonino
Reviewed by Scott Albin

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



October 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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A New Label in the Jazz World (Part Two)

In the first part of this article, Bill Barnes looked at the career of George Klabin, the founder of the newly launched Resonance Records. In this second, and concluding installment, Barnes profiles the fledgling label—which, in a novel move, is run as part of a non-profit foundation—and its releases. T.G.



John Beasley

The Resonance label debuted in May, 2008 with pianist-composer John Beasley’s Letter to Herbie and the posthumous release of Gene Harris Quartet: Live in London. With the help of consulting director Rick Schultz, a former VP at MCA Records and Warner Brothers, the label was off and running. Its continuing mission: to seek out new talent and new material, to boldly swing where no one has swung before.

As George says, “It’s all about the music.” But not all forms of music—the focus is squarely on topnotch mainstream jazz. Strident, rule-breaking avant-garde protagonists and hip hop amalgamators need not apply; nor will you find the next Kenny G among the foundation’s roster of artists. The selection criteria have more to do with musicality than with marketability, choosing substance over style . . . and there is no undue emphasis on youth.

“We want to be known as a source of discovery for the great jazz musicians of all ages.” He is wary of getting Resonance involved with any musical flavor du jour, such as the recent spate of established artists blending world music with jazz. “The problem for me is that it isn’t what I want to do. Ultimately, this company is a reflection of my own tastes.”

But don’t call him a ‘new traditionalist.’ “Be careful about putting labels on me, or anyone,” he says. “I just want to make the best mainstream recordings possible, featuring extraordinary performers.” In this way he hopes to avoid the typical fate of a genre which some feel has had too long a shelf life. “We’re choosing the crème of the cream—incredibly talented virtuosic musicians.”

Andreas Öberg

A prime example: Andreas Öberg, a veritable guitar Godzilla from Sweden who made his American debut with My Favorite Guitars (Resonance Records RCD-1002). In the wings there’s the greatly anticipated tribute to Oscar Peterson by the astounding Romanian keyboard artist, Marian Petrescu, recently heard on Öberg’s gorgeous album. Future releases include flautist Lori Bell, pianist Tamir Hendelman (also featured on My Favorite Guitars) and Greta Matassa, a phenomenal vocalist from San Francisco. Resonance artists all share one trait: their passion for the music. “I want Resonance to be the place to go for exciting, passionate, great art.” George is emphatic on that point. “Passion is what’s lacking in many peoples’ lives right now. Passion is what’s going to draw them in,” he says.

One of the things that separate the music of Resonance from the rest of the lowing herd of ‘indie’ labels is the quality of the end product. One listen and it’s immediately clear that there is something different going on here. Klabin has become a master at capturing the nuances of performance, with a knack for utilizing the latest technology without becoming its willing victim. His mastering succeeds where many fail—taking the “IT” out of digital. What you have left are crystal-clear, gimmick-free recordings, with the warmth of live performances. He makes it clear that there are no throw-away vanity tracks or fillers on Resonance albums. “My values come from the seventies, where there was the attention to detail,” George is quick to emphasize. “Every cut of every record we produce is treated the same.”

This clarity and polish of the recordings have prompted some to compare Resonance to Creed Taylor’s CTI label in the early seventies. Packaging is an essential element at Resonance and a few of the CDs even include free high-quality DVDs of the featured artist in performance, produced by their studio chief and video director, Pierre Paul, a producer with over twenty years of experience. With such production values, this label may be well on its way to becoming the CTI of the twenty-first century.

But can such a concept survive, facing such tough economic conditions? If George Klabin has his way, it will. He points to the growing number of jazz enthusiasts in Europe, Asia and Latin America. “We need to find all the people who love mainstream jazz and network those people together,” he says. “I believe that you need to get down to the trenches and find people who’ll buy small, a few albums at a time. Concentrate on smaller pockets of loyal mainstream jazz fans, all over the world.”

Starting such an ambitious project in this unsettled artistic climate is a bold move, but this is a man who is no stranger to challenge. According to George, “There are two choices in life—love and fear—and we all have to take responsibility for our actions.” It’s obvious that the folks at Resonance Records love the music and have conquered their fears for the future. Their efforts should resonate with anyone who is passionate about the art of jazz.

This blog entry was posted by Bill Barnes.

October 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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A New Label in the Jazz World

Many jazz lovers dream of starting their own record label, but few have the passion and drive—not to mention the willingness to take on risk—that can turn that dream into reality. Jazz.com’s Bill Barnes looks at George Klabin, the guiding light behind Resonance Records, a Los Angeles-based independent label which recently set up shop. Below is the first installment of a two-part article. T.G.



George Klabin

The art of jazz may be alive and well in the twenty first century, but the business of jazz is another animal entirely. In fact, you could say it’s on the endangered species list. Like the polar ice cap, audiences (at least in America) are melting away while the overall music industry has been battling a paradigm shift in technology and market trends.

Rampant pirating, unauthorized duplication, personal digital devices and a dicey global economy are all factors taking their toll on established record companies. To combat shrinking customer bases and declining revenues, traditional jazz labels like Blue Note have fallen back on re-releasing gems from their archives while seeking out new crossover artists to attract a broader audience. There are very few opportunities for new musicians, especially those without a pedigree (i.e. “played with So and So…”) to get recognition. It’s even tougher for a new record company to survive, much less thrive, in this turbulent environment.

Well, now there’s a new sheriff in town, pilgrim: Los Angeles-based Resonance Records, the dream child of an idealistic mainstream jazz proponent from New York, who is also one of the recording industry’s pioneers.

Back in the turbulent, swinging sixties New York City was the place to be for jazz disciples, who could hear the crème of the avant garde, trailblazers such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Bill Dixon’s October Revolution in ’64 … magic and musical history were being created, night after night. In the thick of it all was a young Columbia student and mainstream jazz enthusiast named George Klabin, who ran jazz programming for WKCR, the university’s radio station. Although his sensibilities remained firmly in the mainstream, George recognized the importance of this brave new whirl and wanted to help give it more exposure.

As luck would have it, Bernard Stollman, founder of ESP Records, called him to do some engineering and subsequently brought him into contact with some of these avant garde players. Seeing an opportunity to move beyond the university station’s standard format, George began inviting emerging icons such as Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd and Gary Burton into the station’s studio, where he recorded their sessions on a professional quality two-track tape machine. His love of the recording process had been ignited- soon he was expanding his efforts beyond the studio, recording the musicians at their gigs. He captured the first Vanguard performance of Thad Jones-Mel Lewis on tape and would later record performances of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Les McCann and Charles Lloyd with Gabor Szabo. George Klabin had found his calling.

In 1968, George graduated Columbia and started recording for Don Elliot, who had a small and, at the time, state-of-the-art eight track recording studio in midtown Manhattan. Don Schlitten, the head of A&R for the Prestige label was impressed with the young engineer’s work and put him in charge of recording such artists as Dexter Gordon, James Moody and Barry Harris. Less than two years later he met violinist Harry Lookofsky, who had recorded the amazing album, Stringville for Atlantic. Together they created a studio on Broadway and 48th Street, which they expanded to 12 tracks with the purchase of the very first API console [Automated Processes, Inc., a pioneer in the development of multi-track recording consoles] ever made. That studio became Sound Ideas and recorded everything from commercial jingles to motion picture soundtracks…and, of course, jazz.

When Capitol Records pulled out of their studio on 46th Street in 1973, George and Harry rented the facility, which had one of the few orchestral-sized recording spaces in the city at that time. It was there George recorded the commercial mega-hit, “A Fifth of Beethoven,” five James Brown albums, as well as LPs with jazz greats Sonny Stitt, Archie Shepp and Frank Foster. He also mixed the first Brecker Brothers album and many of the Strata East jazz releases. Established jazz labels ECM, A&M and ENJA took advantage of the studio and he worked with Quincy Jones on two projects, including the eminently listenable album Smackwater Jack.

The sixties may have represented an apogee in jazz evolution, but George Klabin considers the decade of the seventies to be a zenith for jazz recording. He makes a salient point; it was a time of a near-perfect union between musicians and the technical people responsible for preserving their performances. So many groundbreaking musicians were recorded in this period, their work captured in brilliantly mixed sessions and released to an enthusiastic record-buying pubic: Chick’s Return to Forever,Weather Report, Herbie’s Headhunters and VSOP, McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Creed Taylor’s CTI releases—the list goes on and on. And then, along came digital technology.

In the latter seventies, Denon of Japan chose Sound Ideas to record their series of jazz releases, employing their proprietary 8 track Digital PCM recording system. This was the first time that multi-track digital was used to record jazz in the United States. At the end of the decade Sound Ideas became the first recording studio on the East Coast to install a 3M 32-track digital system, on which they recorded a broad range of artists from Billy Joel to Barbra Streisand. Nowadays it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary digital recording really was in the seventies and what staggering implications it would have for the recording industry and its potential for the art of jazz. Buddy Rich’s breathtaking digital LP, Class of ‘79 had been recorded live, direct-to-disc, in one take, portending digital technology’s limitless role in capturing the energy and joy of great performances.

But, if the seventies were the best of times for recorded jazz, the worst of times were soon to follow. “1980 began the decline of the jazz audience,” George laments. Lest we forget, the eighties became know as the “Me Decade,” when Reaganomics ushered in an era of unprecedented conspicuous consumption, while the conservative administration slashed public funding for the arts. The dumbing-down of America had begun. Coke-snorting Wall Street raiders marched to the beat of synthetic drummers at Studio 54 while live jazz venues began to dry up and jazz audiences began to disappear. Ironically, digital recording, heralded for its potential for capturing the integrity of jazz virtuosity, became the vector of mass-marketed, cookie cutter “smooth jazz,” touring the elevator-supermarket circuit. It also enabled the proliferation of small studios offering bargain-basement rates, which seriously imperiled the economic survival of the larger, fully-equipped professional studios.

Disillusioned, George closed the doors to Sound Ideas and went on to pursue other things. With the advent of the personal computer explosion, he went into IT, eventually moving to Los Angeles in the early 1990s. But he couldn’t stay away from the music he loved for long. Striking up a friendship with the owner of Santa Monica’s popular jazz mecca, The Vic, he began recording some of their acts live, using a 24 track portable studio. “I was able to get amazing recordings. The sound was very good in the room.” Soon he was building a new studio and was back in business.

Unfortunately, the legacy of the eighties remained—cutbacks, limited budgets for music education in public schools and a street culture which generally rejects the more cerebral forms of expression have contributed to the marginalization of U.S. jazz. “It’s dying man,” George says frankly, when asked about the state of the art. That’s not to say there aren’t great jazz musicians, composers and arrangers out there now. Indeed, amazing talent emerges every day, in some unexpected places- Sweden, Romania, Japan, Norway… people all over the world are playing and digging modern jazz. But in post-millennium America, too many musicians starve and struggle for recognition.

This was George Klabin’s impetus behind the creation of a non-profit corporation as the foundation of a new jazz label, which, in itself was a real stroke of genius. “I started this to protect and nurture the quality of the art form.” And so, the Rising Jazz Star Foundation was launched.

This is the end of the first part of Bill Barnes’ blog article. For part two of this article, click here.

October 14, 2008 · 2 comments

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Hank Jones and James Moody Keep Jammin'



Hank Jones and James Moody are redefining the meaning of those “golden years” spent in leisurely retirement. Jones recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and did it (as with so many other earlier birthdays) playing on the road. James Moody, a comparative youngster at age 83, recently went on a 54-city tour with the Monterey Jazz All-Stars. Jazz fans are fortunate that these road warriors continue to bring their music to a new generation of music lovers—but they should also be glad that Jones and Moody found time in their busy schedules to collaborate on a new CD. Chris Kelsey explains below why their release, Our Delight, should also be your delight. T.G.



Our Delight

I first heard Hank Jones play with Charlie Parker on one of those Verve compilation albums in the early '80s. Jones made no impression on me at the time—not because he didn't play superbly, but because none of Bird's sidemen showed up on my radar screen in those days. I was a 20 year-old sax chauvinist. I might as well have been Dean Benedetti—the guy who recorded tons of Parker's live gigs, but only ran the tape during the alto solos—and Jones could as well have been Al Haig, Duke Jordan, or any of the other pianists who played with Parker. They were all the same to me. I only had ears for Bird.

My youthful fixation on sax players to the exclusion of other musicians didn’t last long. I'm happy to say that I've been listening to everyone and everything for quite some time now. I will admit to remaining a bit sax-centric, however, and like most anyone who's listened to a lot of jazz saxophone, I've heard Hank Jones' piano pop up on some wonderful recordings over the years. From those dates with Charlie Parker to his 1985 quartet recordings with Anthony Braxton and a more recent collaboration with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, great saxophonists seem to be attracted to Jones like paparazzi to Brangelina.

It's little wonder why. At age 90, Jones remains one of the most versatile and supportive jazz pianists anywhere. He swings as hard as anyone, yet his playing has a dignified, magisterial air. It's self-possessed without being aloof, elegant without being stuffy. Hank Jones has always lent grace—as well as a strong, distinctive voice—to any band of which he's a part.

Jones's latest sax-playing partner is another veteran bebopper, the one and only James Moody. Moody made his name as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's groups, but he's also had great success on his own since his '40s debut with Diz, leading countless record dates for the Blue Note, Cadet, Vanguard, and Muse labels, among others. Two years ago, Jones and Moody were paired in the studio for the first time in their long careers. The resultant album, Our Delight, was released this autumn on the IPO label.

Our Delight finds the two men (joined by bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum) jammin' over a collection of jazz classics, the majority written by Gillespie or the great composer Tadd Dameron. The repertoire includes some of the most deservedly familiar bop compositions—tunes like like Dameron's "Good Bait," "Lady Bird," and "Soul Trane", and Gillespie's "Birk's Works," "Con Alma," and "Woody 'N You."

Most of the tunes are taken at a moderate tempo, better for Jones to exercise his swinging savoir faire. Certainly, no pianist has a better ability to add the precisely right thing at the perfect time. He's the consummate accompanist—unobtrusive, dynamically sensitive, and rhythmically astute. He's still a monster soloist, too. On Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle," the album's most burning track, Jones shows he's lost very little to the passage of time, his deft right hand churning out inventive single-note lines augmented by the occasional parallel harmony. His touch is sure, his grasp of the fundamentals of jazz performance as highly evolved as ever.

On tenor and flute, Moody is in fine form, as well. While obviously influenced by Parker (and Gillespie, naturally), he's always had his own thing. His improvised lines have never sounded more spontaneous then they do here. Bassist Coolman and drummer Nussbaum seem happy enough just to be in the studio with Jones and Moody. Their contributions are tasteful if generic—which, I hasten to add, is precisely what the occasion called for.

Hank Jones isn't just the world's best 90 year-old jazz pianist. He's one of the best period—and has been for a long time. I'm glad that I eventually opened my ears long enough to find that out.

This blog entry was posted by Chris Kelsey

October 13, 2008 · 2 comments

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Where is the Outrage Over Russ Garcia's Denied Oscar?

Where is the outrage?

Oscar

Several weeks ago, Marc Myers published an amazing and unsettling story in his JazzWax blog. The esteemed composer and arranger Russ Garcia had been denied an Oscar due to a case of mistaken identity. Myers did some superior sleuthing, and put together the facts in a first class exposé.

Garcia is now 92-years-old. It would be great to rectify this wrong while he is still alive. Yet the silence is deadening.

I thought this story would be covered by the mainstream media, and discussed by other jazz writers. I kept waiting for this newsworthy tale to be picked up by The New York Times or The New Yorker or the Associated Press—or somebody. Yet I am still waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. Is jazz coverage in the media so dead that a story of this proportions can come to light and then be left untouched?

Apparently it is.

Russ Garcia

The facts, as Myers brought them out, showed that Garcia had written orchestrations of Charlie Chaplin’s music for the Oscar-winning score of Limelight. Garcia also composed incidental music for the movie, and participated in the recording of the score. Yet the Oscar was given—probably due to confusion over names—to Larry Russell, who apparently had no involvement with the score.

How could this happen? The problem arose because twenty years had elapsed between the production of the Limelight (which was first premiered in London in 1953) and its US released (in 1972). Chaplin’s supposed “subversive tendencies” and investigation by the Justice Department had created an environment in which this film was kept out of U.S. theaters for two decades. When this movie finally was eligible for an Oscar, many of the people who had been involved in its production were dead, including co-arranger Ray Rasch. It seems that the Academy officials asked Rasch's widow to identify the other people involved in the project, and she must have responded “someone named Russell”—setting in motion the eventual awarding of a posthumous Oscar to Larry Russell.

If these facts are true—and I am convinced by the case Myers has made—then Garcia deserves an Oscar. The Academy seems content to ignore this matter—largely (I believe) because not a single newspaper has covered this story. Russ Garcia, for his part, is a very unassuming individual and won't pursue the matter himself. His comment to Myers is revealing: “I’m a Baha'i. It’s part of my faith never to be the source of grief to anyone. I didn't want Larry's widow or family or anyone to feel bad. I still don't. I've won plenty of awards.”

But no one is suggesting that Larry Russell’s award be taken away. Yet the Academy owes one to Russ Garcia. And should act while he is still around to receive the honor.

On a separate note, I would like to dwell on the poor showing by the print media on this matter. I hear constantly how bloggers are “not real journalists” and “don’t break real stories.” Yet the Garcia saga is just one more example of the opposite phenomenon. I check out the jazz coverage in a wide range of media outlets on a daily basis. I can assure you that the top ten jazz bloggers on the web are providing better coverage of the art form than all of the U.S. newspapers combined. Then again, that’s not hard to achieve after decades of declining jazz coverage in the press.

We may not be able to reverse that trend. But if we stir things up a bit, we might be able to get Russ Garcia his Oscar. One place to start is by putting some pressure on Sid Ganis, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy accepts questions and inquiries from the public at http://www.oscars.org/contact/general.html.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

October 12, 2008 · 30 comments

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Jazz.com Blogger Goes on Book Tour

Your indefatigable blogger is going on the road. In the coming weeks, I will be making a number of public appearances in conjunction with the release of my new book Delta Blues by W.W. Norton.

Delta Blues

Yes, I know I have been quite reclusive over the years. And because people don’t see me, all sorts of rumors spread. (By the way, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I don’t exist, and that the name “Ted Gioia” is merely a pseudonym for Dana Gioia.) But if Kim Jong Il can show up in public, I guess I can too.

And unlike Kim Jong II, I have a book to promote. I will tell you more about Delta Blues when we get to the official publication date—which is still about ten days away. However, I will note that the book is already available on-line and is shipping to customers before the scheduled release date.

(I didn't see Amazon.com jump the gun for the Harry Potter books. Just goes to show you that blues books must be even more popular than novels about boy wizards.)

Below is the current schedule of events.

October 10 Nashville
Southern Festival of Books War Memorial Plaza, Rooms 12 & 14 at 1 PM

October 24 Dallas
Barnes & Noble 7700 West Northwest Highway at 7 PM

October 26 Philadelphia
Kirby Auditorium, National Constitution Center 525 Arch Street at 10 AM

November 1 Austin
Texas Book Festival Details to come.

November 11 Memphis
Davis-Kidd 387 Perkins Road Extended 6PM

November 12 Greenwood, MS
Turnrow Books 311 Howard Street 5:30 PM

November 13 Oxford, MS
Off Square Books 129 Courthouse Square 6:00 PM

November 14 Jackson, MS
Lemuria 4465 I-55 North 5:00PM

November 19 Dallas
Old Red Museum 100 S. Houston Street Dinner & Reception, Tickets and info via blues@oldred.org

Enough for blogging. Forget virtual reality. It's time for a little face-to-face contact.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

October 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Digging Imaginary Compact Disks



Some kids have make-believe friends, and I've even heard of a grown-up who claimed a close acquaintance with a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall rabbit. But jazz.com’s Walter Kolosky is the only person I know who has an imaginary CD collection. Below he offers another installment in his reviews of CDs that may be too good—or at least, too strange—to be true.T.G.



Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is out for the year ruining many fantasy football players’ seasons before they even began. But there is good news. I am back with another fantasy jazz band review. If you don’t know or don’t remember the drill—here it is: I put together fantasy jazz bands. The members of these bands may be alive or dead. I give them music to play, and then I review the results as if I were a jazz reviewer from the time period of the fantasy recording. You may not be in line to have a good fantasy football season this year, but you will always have fantasy jazz to fall back on.

REVIEW: MEDESKI-HELBORG-KRUPA: THREE BY THREE

The hottest jam-band in the country these days is undoubtedly MHK. Unless you have been living in a cave the past year, you know MHK is John Medeski on B-3 Organ, Jonas Hellborg on bass and Gene Krupa on drums. This unit is filling college gymnasiums from Boston to San Francisco on its seemingly non-ending quest to have every jam-band fanatic in the country get a chance to see and hear the band at least once.

MHK

MHK has taken the jam-band scene into the stratosphere with its blistering runs of improvised jazz-rock and spacey world music, as well as its “taking the music to the people” attitude. The band has been very accessible to the local media across the country as well, building up a lot of goodwill. MHK makes it a point to reach out to music journalists and has eschewed the normal routes of promotion. “The band wanted more freedom to do what it wanted. We formed our own label and we handle our own PR. Giving interviews doesn’t cost us anything. We don’t spend one dime on promotion. It’s all about connecting with our fans in a more direct way,” says Krupa, the mop-headed drummer. To that end the group frequently promotes its music by posting performances on YouTube and other major video sharing sites.

In the long run, it will be the music that counts and MHK is all over it. Both Medeski and the Swede Hellborg are amazing soloists and improvisers. Medeski’s B-3 growls and grinds its way to one infectious groove after another. Medeski’s been mining this vein for some time. But, his decision to play with two of the more exciting jazz players out there has him displaying even more of his chops. Hellborg’s mastery of the fret board is exhibited in almost every phrase he plays. These days he’s bending his notes and shaping his lines as if he has a train ticket to Bombay in his back pocket.

Hellborg lets Medeski handle the jazz lines while he rocks. From time to time both players will double-up and run two bass lines at once, creating a particularly hypnotic bottom. Krupa is an absolute madman. (And they say the girls love him even if they don’t always dig the music.) His sticks are quick but heavy. He simply mistreats his bass drum.

MHK exposes three tunes (hence the album title) to its virtuosity. Two pieces, “The Underworld” and “Slap Happy” are group compositions, as if to emphasize the improvisational aspect of the band. MHK also covers, in the loosest sense, Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

“The Underworld” is a dark, murky and brooding piece that turns into a funk de force before our very ears. Medeski touches only the black keys located to his left. Hellborg handles the main theme that is somewhat reminiscent of Weather Report’s “Mr. Gone.” A frenetic Krupa kicks off the funk section of the piece. The tune maintains a low-boil for several choruses before incendiary ingredients are added. Both the players and listeners are drained when the last note dies.

Hellborg is quite well known for his bass-slapping technique. He didn’t invent this style. But his integration of it along with his amazing chord playing provides an ongoing contrast that sets him apart from 99.95% of his contemporaries. “Slap Happy” is an affirmation of this reputation. Hellborg slaps, bangs and cajoles his bass through the head of the arrangement. A surprising Eastern melody emerges above the cacophony, aided by Medeski’s staccato chords which seem to be created by some slapping of his own. A rousing three-way call and response develops into a frenzy of notes and heavy rhythms that MHK tries to fit into a box much too small.

MHK’s take on “A Love Supreme” is bizarre, to say the least. Medeski quotes from about five different Coltrane pieces. There is an abrupt change in direction in the piece when Medeski plays a few bars of “Mr. P.C.” Despite my best efforts, this reviewer could not find any quotes or chord changes that resembled anything I ever heard in Coltrane’s original “A Love Supreme” or any of its tangential themes.

Three by Three is an hour of some of the most exciting music produced by one of the most creative bands on the scene today. If you hear that MHK is coming to a neighborhood near yours, and you will, you owe it to yourself to go check the group out.

Three by Three: The Underworld; Slap Happy; A Love Supreme Personnel: John Medeski, B-3 organ; Jonas Hellborg, electric bass; Gene Krupa, drums.

This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky.



October 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Hargrove Brings It On Home

That’s what Roy Hargrove did, once again, at Boston’s Sculler’s Jazz Club last weekend. In a set of straight-ahead fire, over-the-top funk, and virtuosic flugelhorn, this lean and elegant horn player delivered the goods from the opening note to his R&B finish. Backed up by his touring band (except for pianist Alan Powell, who sat in for Gerald Clayton), Hargrove and his sidemen played world-class jazz. Even more, they were really having fun up there. It seemed like they were playing two shows—one for the audience, and one for themselves—and everybody ended up having a ball.

Roy Hargrove

Hargrove’s instrumentation and accessible melodies are reminiscent of hard-bop Blue Note—sort of a latter day Horace Silver, with less Cape Verde and more funk. Dressed in a dapper gray suit and gold tie, Hargrove opened with an uptempo straight ahead number. His bright trumpet solo ended on sustained notes in the top register, a technique he used often, sometimes resolving with a descending line. Complementing this, Justin Robinson let out all the stops with fluid alto phrases which he worked into talking, squawking grunts that drove the crowd wild. Danton Boller supported the band with a fat, fluffy bass. His solo work combined a good melodic sense with a judicious balance of ultra-fast phrasing and simpler statements. On piano, Alan Powell crouched into the keys, his lead sheets sometimes flying off the stands. Powell took a fair number of risks in his heavy, percussive riffs, runs, and tremolos, anchored sometimes by a McCoy-influenced left hand.

After their high-energy opener, the band switched to a shuffle with an infectious swing, and Robinson’s alto wove fluid lines, floating up and down scales through the changes. No notes in his long phrases were gratuitous: they stopped and rested naturally on patterns and motifs at times, supported by the band’s clean, fat pocket. In contrast to Robinson, Hargrove played a minimalist solo, crafting his lines from a phrase in the tune. You might call him (as someone once said about Miles and Coltrane) the Hemingway to Robinson’s Faulkner.

Drummer Montez Coleman definitely must eat steak, he guides the band with such a steady, strong hand. He’s a great choice for the group and its recent CD Earfood. Kicks and greasy fatbacks shot through his straight ahead playing on backup and on a solo punctuated by tight horn shouts.

Earfood

When Hargrove changed the mood with a flugelhorn cadenza into “Never Let Me Go,” the romantics in the room got what they came for. Lifting and connecting the melody, Hargrove just sang a beautiful song with that horn. Then he put his horn down, and sang it again. But if you were pulling your girl close to kiss her, you lost your chance when she broke out laughing, as Hargrove burlesqued the sappy lyrics, mourning his over-toyned world and his boyned bridges, all because of love’s pangs. He moved into a double time solo and a fine R&B cadenza. Smart guys seized the smooch moment then.

Next, the band played a tune I’d call “Transylvania Swing”—a Latin/funk groove that alternated with straight ahead phrases, and ended on a dark Mussorgskian line. It opened with a stately horn line, and after Powell changed the feel with wild, percussive choruses, Hargrove alternated pithy bites and lines, influenced by Miles’s later playing over steady chord vamps. When Robinson started wailing on alto, building intensity into his solo even with single repeated notes, Hargrove broke into a dance, strutting, caught up in the music.

As on other dates, Hargrove ended with the old R&B standby “Bring It on Home to Me.” But before he did, he reminisced about the town where he went to school and got to sit in—“that is, receive public floggings,” he said—with great players. Hargrove in turn brought up some Berklee students, but he never carried a whip. They played a blues and they were great. When the drummer, dropping a stick mid-solo, kept the beat going, recovered, and finished strong, the audience jumped up with applause. After the students finished, Hargrove’s regular band came on to exchange bear hugs with their younger brothers.

“Now that’s the future,” Hargrove said.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman


October 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Future is Punkt



When I heard the name, I knew it was a different kind of jazz festival: Punkt. You can tell right away that this is not your white-wine-and-brie type of jazz event. When the jam sessions start at Punkt, you’re likely to see more software jockeys than saxophonists on stage. And who better to describe this iconoclastic event than our frequent contributor Stuart Nicholson, who covers more territory—musical and geographical—than any other jazz scribe on the scene. T.G.



Punkt

People don’t just go to Punkt for the music, they also go there for a glimpse of the future. Artistic directors and DJs Jan Bang and Erik Honoré subtitle the festival “Live Re-mix,” meaning a live concert followed by a live re-mix. And the re-mix is the essence of the festival, revealing the creative potential inherent in the interaction between musicians, DJs and electronic technology.

Held in the Agder Teater in Kristiansand, a town with a population of some 75,000 in the south of Norway, the concerts are performed live on the main stage and within ten to fifteen minutes, or as long as it takes for the audience to move downstairs to the Alpha Room, a segment of the concert (usually around 30 to 45 minutes) is re-mixed live by DJs, often with guest musicians interacting as well.

Welcome to the digital age. Science and technology is now transforming our lives in ways unimaginable ten or even twenty years ago. Today the average cell phone utilizes more digital technology than the spacecraft that put the first man on the moon. Punkt is a response to these changes, showing ways in which technology can change our very perception of what music is and what it might become in the future. It is also a sobering reminder that jazz did not evolve in a vacuum but was shaped as much by technological as cultural and social forces.

You only have to look at Billie Holiday’s art for an example of this, which would have been impossible without a major technological advance of the early 1930s, the electric microphone. Or look at how jazz changed when the LP broke through the three minute barrier of the old 78 rpm disc, to get a sense of this. Fast-forward to today where DJs argue that if music is stored on multi-track tape or on a hard disc, then there can be no such thing as a “final mix,” only an infinite number of possibilities. It is these possibilities Punkt sets out to explore.

Talking to Jan Bang over breakfast coffee, I put it to him that the DJ’s art is not so much about the means used to achieve an end, but the end it achieves and whether it commands are attention or moves or fulfils us in any way. “I think the art lies not so much in revealing everything you can do as an electronic artist—a DJ if you like,” he responded. “It’s more about using electronics in a way that is organic. Electronics can often sound ‘overworked,’ there’s lots of gadgets and boys like gadgets, but it is not about gadgets, it’s a way of finding what is right for the music.

“When Erik [Honoré] and I originally talked about our ideas for Punkt, we saw it as instead of sampling live music on stage, we said, ‘What would it be like to sample a whole concert and work with different musicians deconstructing what has happened at the concert?’ So you had ‘Concert A’ and ‘Concert B,’ and ‘Concert B’ starting with elements of ‘Concert A,’ and that pushes you forward into places you would never have gone, creating something entirely new from what has just gone on before.”

No longer, then, the DJ laboring long into the digital night in the privacy of the studio to arrive at a re-mix, but working in the moment to spontaneously select and reorder the flow of audio data. This futuristic manifesto was underlined by the appearance of Rafael Toral on the Agder Teater stage, who walked on looking like the cybernetically enhanced Steve Austin from the hit 1970s sci-fi TV series the Six Million Dollar Man—“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology.” Toral had thick wires and shiny electrodes strapped to his torso and head plus gloves with gleaming electrical contacts and each movement of his body triggered an electric tone. By doing a kind of underwater dance, he managed to produce an improvised electronic symphony of bleeps, buzzes and hums which he calls, “post-free jazz electronic music” shaped by physicality, movement and gesture.

But the fascination lay not so much in his performance, but what it became in the Alpha Room just minutes after he finished his concert. Here the electronic impulses of the concert were reduced to distant sonar-like pings as three soundmixers and guitarist Eivind Aarest created a total re-conceptualisation of what had gone before. It was pure sonic legerdemain, a sound-on-sound creation in the moment that took on a life of its own.

Toral was followed by a concert by Gavin Bryars, once a pioneer of free improvisation with guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Tony Oxley. He has since moved in an equal and opposite direction to experiment with chamber music in a contemporary context. His hour-long concert with a string ensemble augmented by an electric guitar and two voices was the only concert of the weekend that was not subsequently re-mixed. A series of compositions outstanding in their beauty of conception and performance, the Medieval ambiance, haloed by sustained chords from the guitar was heightened by the voices of Anna Maria Friman (of Trio Mediaeval) and John Potter (formerly of The Hilliard Ensemble). At one point during soprano Anna Maria Friman’s recital her voice appeared so pure and angelic that on closing my eyes I suddenly felt as if some terrible misfortune had overcome me and I had arrived prematurely at the gates of St. Peter. Arve Henriksen on trumpet was also featured on two pieces, his beautiful tone complimenting the voice and string ensemble.

Subsequent concert highlights and remixes on the Friday night programme included J. Peter Schwalm’s powerful set remixed by DJ Strangefruit, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, where the explicit backbeat in his music was removed and replaced with eerie, ambient sounds that seemed to hover in the air. The Nik Bärtsch concert, perhaps the best of the weekend, was remixed by Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset who looped some of Bärtsch’s minimalist riffs to bring sharp definition to tiny musical gestures.

The Saturday night program included a concert by the promising young Norwegian piano trio Splashgirl, thoughtfully remixed by trumpeter Arve Henriksen and a concert by the British duo of electronic artist Leafcutter John and drummer Seb Rochford remixed by Unni Løvlid. However, the climax of Punkt 08 was Jon Hassell’s Maarifa Street concert. Hassell is a Godfather to Punkt, his influence felt as much through albums such as Power Spot on the ECM label as his musical philosophy which has influenced artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, and musicians such as Nils Petter Molvaer and Arve Henriksen. His set with Jan Bang on live sampling and Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche on violin plus bass and tablas created music that, like so much at Punkt, was resolutely non-genre specific, an effect heightened by J. Peter Schwalm’s remix. It contributed to the mystery and allure of this remarkable event whose reputation as one of the “must see” festivals on the European circuit is growing all the time.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson.

October 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jamming on the Carrot Panpipes

I never fail to be impressed with the range of strange musical offerings available on the Internet. Recently, I wrote an article in this column on videos featuring intriguing glimpses inside the musician’s practice room. Today, I would like to follow it up by focusing attention on the sadly neglected field of homemade musical instruments.

How things have changed. Back in the Paleolithic age, all instruments were homemade . . . or perhaps cave-made, as the case may be. Nowadays, you buy your chordophones and aerophones on eBay. No doubt this counts as progress, but I must admit to harboring a bit of nostalgia for the days when musicians rolled up their sleeves and made their own tooting and banging contraptions.

homemade instruments

I recall Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s fascinating account of his experiences teaching youngsters in a music camp. He thought he would begin at the ultimate starting point: how to make a drum. But even the first step proved challenging. Obtain the hide of two-year-old steer. I will spare you the bloody details of this Sarah Palin approach to drum apprenticeship. Needless to say, that was one drum those kids will never forget.

Fortunately we have YouTube to show us the ways and means of making our own instruments. I am fascinated, for example, by the Jamaican musician named Sugar Belly who has constructed a functional instrument from a car horn, cardboard, tape and a mouthpiece. I'm not sure even Adolphe Sax could have done a much better job with those ingredients. And who can fail to be impressed by the range of instruments constructed from bottles and containers featured on this video? Lest you dismiss such offerings, recall how the steel drum tradition forged a vibrant musical genre out of the detritus of industrial society. Who knows where the next similar breakthrough will originate?

homemade instruments

Not everything here lives up its booking, though. I was disappointed with this instructional video on how to make a drumset out of Lego. I was equally unimpressed by this guide to constructing a trumpet from a toilet paper roll or a mute from a one dollar air freshener. Mark my words: You wouldn’t catch Chris Botti tooting on anything that came out of a Charmin package.

I must admit that I don’t run into the “cello banjo” very often. It sounds like the punch line of a bad joke. (What do you get if you combine Yo-Yo's Ma with Danny's Barker?) But I am even less familiar with string instruments constructed from leftover bicycle parts. Yet this enterprising gentleman has done things with an old Schwinn that even Lance Armstrong never dreamt of.

The banjo seems to inspire many homespun inventors. Connoisseurs of YouTube performance art can enjoy impromptu concerts played on a red wine box banjo or a cookie tine banjo or oilcan banjo. However, with the price of oil these days, I would advise switching to a solar- or wind-powered unit.

homemade instruments

Of course, you can’t believe everything you see on YouTube. Frankly, I was skeptical when I first encountered this enthusiastic advocate of handmade vegetable instruments. The commentary is in Japanese, but fortunately subtitles have been added—in case you can’t tell the difference between “carrot panpipes” and a “broccoli ocarina” at first glance. But I became a true believe when I heard the path-breaking work of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. Finally we have the perfect all-organic band for the Whole Foods demographic. No messy hide from a two-year-old steer required in this ensemble!

Here is an extract from one critic’s review of a performance of VVO: “The concert was truly a sensory experience towards the end when the sharp scent of celery and onion filled the venue and juices from bruised vegetables stained the performers' attire.” Hey, can Jazz at Lincoln Center match that?

Feel free to add your comments below or email them to editor@jazz.com.

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

October 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden Releases a Killin' Country CD

Generally jazz fans don’t pay much attention to country music. But jazz.com may need to set up a satellite operation in Nashville, since 2008 is proving to be the year when jazz music got countrified.

Charlie Haden

A few weeks ago, when Wynton Marsalis released a CD with Willie Nelson, I commented in this space on how rarely jazz players mix with their country cousins. I pointed out a few precedents, such as Louis Armstrong’s 1930 recording with Jimmie Rodgers and the Western Swing of Bob Wills. One could add a few more names to the list, highlighting the country-inflected recordings of Bill Frisell, Gary Burton, Ray Charles, Cassandra Wilson and others.

But these tend to be rare exceptions. Most jazz musicians will cross the street to avoid encountering anyone wearing a cowboy hat. Like the Blues Brothers, their country repertoires begin and end with the “Theme from Rawhide” . . . or maybe don't begin at all. If you don't believe me, just try requesting a Merle Haggard song on your next visit to the Village Vanguard.

But it looks like this is starting to change. On the heels of the Marsalis-Nelson collaboration, Charlie Haden has released a country music album. Rambling Boy features “family and friends.” In the former category, we need to include the three Haden triplets, Rachel, Petra and Tanya Haden, their brother Josh, as well as Charlie’s son-in-law (and husband of Tanya) Jack Black. (Mr. Black, I am told, has done something or other in the movie industry.) Quite a bit of talent in the family, but the deck has been stacked with a few “visitors of note.” These include Pat Metheny, Elvis Costello, Bruce Hornsby, Roseanne Cash and Vince Gill, to name some names.

What’s the bottom line on this jazz-meets-country release? First, I need to advise you that there is very little jazz on this CD. If this were a wedding, the country bride would be left stranded at the altar, while the jazzy groom has gone back to the big city. A tiny dose of jazz is added at the rarest of intervals—mostly when Pat Metheny kicks in with his chords-as-open-as-the-heartland-sky. (You are advised to check out "He's Gone Away," featured currently as Song of the Day on jazz.com.) But if you are waiting for hot licks over “I Got Rhythm” changes, you will want to skip this CD.

But here is the good news. This is an exceptional roots music CD. If jazz is in short supply on the tracks, the assembled players make up for it with a double helping of bluegrass, folk, Americana, and gospel sounds, along with old-time country. And I mean old, old time. This is country music more akin to the Carter Family than to Garth Brooks or Randy Travis. Perhaps the closest comparison I could make is to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, released by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in 1972, but with a sense of style more appropriate to 1932. Charlie Haden has done the same here, surprising us with a CD that is several galaxies apart from his path-breaking work with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and others.

Even a jaded jazz guy like me got caught up in the excitement. And I don’t think I will be alone. I have a hunch that this will be a big seller, and one of the most popular recordings of Mr. Haden’s long career.

For more info, check out Stuart Nicholson's interview with Charlie Haden, published today on jazz.com. Here Haden gives more details about his early, little-known background in country music, and talks about his new project.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



October 02, 2008 · 3 comments

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Ladies Take Over BeanTown Jazz



Below Roanna Forman concludes her two-part article on the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival, which took place last weekend. (For part one of her article, click here.) Even if the sun went into hiding, the women shined at this event, whose participants included Cindy Blackman, Terri Lyne Carrington, Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen and Manami Morita, among others. Read on below. T.G.




Friday, September 26

Berklee BeanTown Jazz

“It’s a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented women,” Terri Lyne Carrington said during her set. In contrast to Cindy Blackman, whose sidemen in the preceding band were all side-men, Carrington had included Dutch sax player Tineke Postma and keyboardists Patrice Rushen and Geri Allen. Rounding out the sextet were Boston trumpeter Jason Palmer and electric bassist Matt Garrison.

The show began with the opening lines of “Que Sera Sera” piped in over the loudspeaker. (When Terri was just a little girl, she asked her mother what would she be—playing with Clark Terry at age 10, on the road with all the greats in her youth, and coming home to an honorary doctorate at Berklee?) Then, over a hip-hop line, Terri Lyne’s personnel filed out. When a rapper followed the band and jumped around with unintelligible lines, I grimaced, but was at least relieved that he never grabbed for his privates and yelled “yo.”

But musically, the show held my interest, and that’s what counts. Overall, Carrington is a steady, rolling rhythmic presence, maintaining and pushing the beat, not kicking it. She played refined riffs behind the action, and kept it all together firmly. She wasn’t as intense as Blackman—both women just feel their music differently. They’re players of such stature that “better” or “worse” are just not the right descriptors.

Each tune segued into the next, so the set moved well. The more intricate lines of the heads were intelligently written, with sax and trumpet adding drama and color, often doubling, and occasionally playing a scored dissonant line. Jason Palmer’s fast trumpet phrases have an inner logic, and his solos are well constructed. Tineke Postma, who looks like a cross between Joni Mitchell and Dominique Eade, laid down excellent lines. She did some gorgeous and gutsy tenor playing on the slow-moving “Shh,” pulling out all the stops with lyrical but angular phrases. Matt Garrison’s electric bass (he switched at one point to a stand-up electric bass) is flashy and guitaristic. Slides, tremolos, flamenco embellishments, and blues licks were all in there. That’s not to detract from his chops, although his main role was to lay down the groove for the band in this fusion / funk / freeform medley.

With a steady roll, Patrice Rushen cooked with fast-paced lines, and complemented Geri Allen, whose more conventional piano work moved from delicacy into strength when a tune called for it. The two keyboards traded comments when they weren’t soloing or backing up the band. When Geri Allen stepped over to the electric keyboards for the final number, she built her solo to a poised intensity, injecting exciting melodic elements into funk grooves. It was one of the most satisfying moments of the evening.

As for Carrington’s finale, she was like a rock, moving fluidly around her set with steady hand and subtle colors. You really got the feeling she could keep going forever—that’s the sign of a great musician.

Saturday, September 27

I was all set to join thousands of others in Boston’s South End on Saturday, (last year 70,000 people showed up) and stroll, eat, and listen for free to an excellent lineup, including locals and internationally known artists. But, although the Red Sox won this week under clear skies, the free performances on Saturday afternoon just didn’t happen. The concert was canceled due to rain.

They had a lot planned, including vocalist Kurt Elling, who writes lyrics to the likes of Coltrane solos; Randy Weston; saxophonist Javon Jackson, with special guest Les McCann; guitarist Russell Malone; and the group Gold Sounds, comprised of James Carter (horns), Cyrus Chestnut (keyboards), Ali Jackson (percussion and vocals), and Reginald Veal (bass and vocals). Gold Sounds stunned listeners in 2005 with renditions of songs by indie rock group “Pavement.” Also booked was Hey Rim Jeon, a Korean-born young pianist who is now recording Mona Lisa Puzzle with Herbie Hancock’s rhythm section (Terri Lyne Carrington, James Genus, and Richie Barshay).

Giving its talent as well as its name to the event, Berklee had booked several faculty-led groups for Saturday. Veteran drummer Ralph Petersen’s Unity Project is an organ group that focuses on Larry Young’s music. (Petersen began his career with Art Blakey’s two-drummer big band over twenty years ago, as a college junior.) Enclave, a local Afro-Latin post-modern free and fusion band, is led by Berklee faculty member Rebecca Cline on piano and Hilary Noble on sax and flute, with drummer Steve Langone, and bassist Fernando Huergo—all first call Latin jazz rhythm section players in the Boston area for many years. Also featured were Berklee faculty member saxophonist Walter Beasley, and alumnus André Ward, a highly successful smooth jazz sax player. Faculty member Fernando Brandao, flutist and composer, was set to bring his septet, whose members include the accomplished vocalist Teresa Ines, gifted pianist and bass player (and Berklee alum) Gilad Barkan, and trumpeter and faculty member Greg Hopkins.

Featured too was Berklee’s All-Star Ensemble. Every member has a full-tuition scholarship, and students play everything from jazz, pop, and hip-hop to what I’ll call hip-pop. To hear a few examples, go here. Of the four selections, only one is straight-ahead jazz, and I think I heard a drum machine in there.

Finally, JazzBoston.org sponsored a “Meet Boston’s Musicians,” tent, an idea that other cities may be replicating—but if they’re not, they certainly should be. It’s a chance for fans and players alike to trade notes with a town’s working musicians, to network, and to show support for local players.

Street performers were scheduled to entertain with Brazilian sounds from the Bahia region, so it would have been a great time. Lesson learned? Next year, we all pray hard for sunshine. Write it into the contract.

This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman


October 01, 2008 · 2 comments

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