The Best Jazz Tracks for April

If I told you that Nicholas Payton had decided to feature the song “Chinatown” on his new CD (Into the Blue), you might think that the celebrated New Orleans trumpeter was revisiting Louis Armstrong’s classic 1931 recording of “Chinatown, My Chinatown.” But in this instance, Payton has taken a surprising tack, choosing to tackle instead the film noir theme song from the movie Chinatown.

This haunting Jerry Goldsmith theme is one of the great soundtrack melodies, and I am surprised that more jazz artists haven’t covered it over the years. The harmonic progression has a curious flavor, starting darkly in a minor key but with surprising moments where a passing breeze hints at a major tonality. The whole composition is tinged with a bittersweet ambiance that the trumpeter captures perfectly. This is Raymond Chandleresqe jazz, and Payton’s performance is the kind of track you will want to replay as soon as it’s finished. This stylized performance has been selected as Song of the Day at, and the full review by Ralph Miriello can be found here.

Below are links to reviews of each of the tracks featured as Song of the Day during the last month. For a complete list of all the Songs of the Day since the launch of the site, click here.

Songs of the Day (April 2008):

Nicholas Payton: Chinatown
Meddy Gerville: Di Amwin
Marilyn Scott: Every Time We Say Goodbye
The Brubeck Brothers: Good Question
Stanley Jordan: A Place in Space
Brad Mehldau: The Very Thought of You
Drew Gress: True South
Rosey: Who Am I
Rave Tesar: The Vision
Avery Sharpe: Fly with the Wind
Jason Kao Hwang: Cloud Call
Ketil Bjørnstad & Terje Rypdal: The Sea V
Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garbarek: Joy Chant
Tobias Gebb & Trio West: How Deep Is the Ocean?
Kurt Rosenwinkel: Chords
Hendrik Meurkens: Hot and Stuffy
Russ Nolan: Naima
Marcus Miller: Blast!
Tal Wilkenfeld: Serendipity
Miguel Zenón: Camarón
Grand Pianoramax: Tempest
Irvin Mayfield & Ellis Marsalis: Yesterday
Karrin Allyson: Estrada do Sol

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

April 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Day Two at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Below Zoie Clift continues her coverage of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, with her account of day two of the event. The 39th Jazzfest comes to an end this weekend.   T.G.

                  Tribute to George Lewis(photo by Zoie Clift)

Saturday was a day for the die-hard fans at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The rain started coming down at around 2 in the afternoon and never let up. According to reports, it was the soggiest day at Jazzfest in recent memory, but fans seemed to go with the flow. Mud and standing waters had formed throughout the venues. Ankle deep water could be found in some sections of the Fair Grounds Race Course and everywhere one looked the scene was of mud, people carrying multicolored umbrellas and makeshift rain gear.

Despite the weather, the grounds were filled with fans and a festive attitude and atmosphere prevailed. As one attendee waited outside in the downpour for a set to begin, he looked up at the sky and shouted: “Is this all you’ve got!” Rather than let the rain drench their moods, most fans seemed to tackle the scenario with a ‘make do and deal with it’ attitude.

Though arriving at the festival later in the day this time around, I quickly settled on the Economy Hall Tent (which hosted traditional New Orleans jazz) as my home base for the afternoon. The first set to greet my ears was Norwegian trad jazz band Ytre Suløen with singer, Tricia Boutté. Boutte is a New Orleans native and the international ensemble was initially inspired by the jazz from New Orleans, which continues to be the foundation of the band’s musical style.

                        Tricia Boutté (photo by Zoie Clift)

This band is not afraid to experiment, which has helped them form the distinctive style, known in Norway as “the Suløen Sound.” This ensemble, which has been around since the early 1970s, was the first Norwegian band ever to be invited to an American jazz festival when it initially came to Jazzfest. The tent was packed and patriotic for their performance on Saturday. At the completion of every song, a host of Norwegian flags would shoot up and start waving throughout the crowd. The group ended their set with a gospel-tinged encore fueled by the powerful vocals of Boutte.

The rain was coming down hard outside -- so the covering of the tent was a much appreciated bonus for fans. It also provided a nice ambiance for the next set, a tribute to clarinetist George Lewis, featuring Dr. Michael White, Tommy Sancton and Sammy Rimington. The three clarinetists paid fitting homage to one of New Orleans' legends. Lewis is the celebrated figure behind such songs as "Burgundy Street Blues." Dr. Michael White has played with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and founded The Original Liberty Jazz Band with a specific mission of preserving the musical heritage of the city. White’s music has been inspired by Lewis, Sanction wrote a book about Lewis and New Orleans jazz, and Rimington is one of Europe's top players of New Orleans-style jazz. The crew played to a packed crowd as the rain poured outside.

The night ended with the sounds of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band with guest Gunhild Carling. The group’s jazz roots are based in the classic period of the 20s and the 30s and the inspiring sounds is produced by a cadre of veteran jazz musicians who embody the spirit and authenticity of early Swing Jazz. Though we were dry under the tent, when venturing outside my field of vision was lined with ponchos, umbrellas, plastic boots and muddy shoes. Even with umbrellas it was easy to get soaked by what had become an intense, cool rainstorm.

The rain continued Sunday and rain is in the forecast for the upcoming second weekend of the festival (which starts May 1st) as well. Rain is usually bad news for an outdoor festival, but the Jazzfest – like New Orleans itself -- has proven to be resilient. It seems no matter the weather, the fans will be there in high spirits and continue to go with the flow.

This blog entry posted by Zoie Clift.

April 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Day One at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is in the midst of its biggest post-Katrina production, with music on eleven stages, and concerts that will continue this coming weekend. Below Zoie Clift shares her photos and comments on the first day of the festival. Tomorrow we will publish her account of day two of Jazzfest.   T.G.

Jazz music is steeped in a tradition of bringing people of different social, cultural and racial backgrounds together. New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and there is no greater celebration of the city than the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, aka Jazzfest. It’s an opportunity to inhale the local traditions and thank the jazz gods for hosting visitors at such a splendid event.

Held at the Fair Grounds Race Course, Jazzfest is in its 39th year. This is third festival since Hurricane Katrina and according to organizers, attendance at this year’s event will likely surpass that of the two previous Jazzfests. Around 350,000 attended last year’s festival and this is the first year since the storm that the event has returned to a full seven day schedule spread over two weekends.

“In New Orleans, culture is a beacon for the rest of the community,” comments Jazzfest director Quint Davis. “When a trumpeter blows the right notes, we come together and dance. When a grand marshal steps, we step with him. Jazzfest is trying to help lead the way in guiding New Orleans to complete recovery—culturally, economically and spiritually.”

JazzFest has 11 stages mostly populated by Louisianans. The festival hosts hundreds of musicians in genres from jazz, blues and rock to gospel, hip-hop and country. There are also visiting international acts from Europe and Africa.

At the Fairgrounds, all plans fade as soon as you cross the track. Many scope out who they want to see before opening day, pouring over detailed coverage and daily schedules in outlets such as The Times-Picayune and Gambit Weekly. But no matter how hard you plan, it’s inevitable that your eyes and ears will take you off any pre-determined path. There is a whole year’s worth of music packed into a few days.

The first weekend alone was set to include performances by Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis, Pete Fountain, Nicholas Payton, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, and many other familiar faces. New to the fest were big names such as Robert Plant, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joel and Elvis Costello. "We've got a lot of people that want to play this festival," said Davis. "I felt more of that this year. Some of it is New Orleans, and some of it is Hurricane Katrina.” Along with the music, there is a bounty of homegrown foods and crafts, and experiencing a soft-shell crab po-boy or crawfish bread is hard to pass up.

In 1970 the first festival was founded by George Wein. The event saw second line, brass bands, gospel, and other music indigenous to Louisiana such as the Preservation Hall Band and Mardi Gras Indians. Steeped in tradition, many of the same performers were showcased at this year’s event too.

        The 39th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
                                (photo by Zoie Clift)

For a Jazz enthusiast, it’s hard to beat a full day on the grounds. On opening day, the Amina Figarova Sextet of The Netherlands was an off-the-beaten-path option. Hosted in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, Figarova, a classical pianist, and her combo fused R&B and Latin sounds into a contemporary jazz set. In the nearby Economy Hall Tent, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band led by trumpeter Jimmy LaRocca made an appearance. The band was founded by LaRocca’s father in 1917 and the six musicians played traditional jazz standards such as "Bourbon Street Parade," and "Dixie Jazz Band One-Step.”

The sounds of blues were also in the air and an unscheduled stop by the Southern Comfort Blues Tent showcased Barbara Lynn, a vocalist and guitarist (she plays left handed) known as the "Empress of Gulf Coast Soul." Shouts of appreciation could be heard throughout her set and she reciprocated, telling the crowd: “These are the hard core music fans.” A stop to refuel with Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians at the Jazz & Heritage Stage quickly ensued. The group was led by Big Chief Walter Cook and rhythmic beats from the crew had people dancing throughout the audience and even into the photographer’s pit. Members of the tribe jumped down from stage to dance with the crowd and their colorful suits (influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel) added an extra spark to an enthusiastic set.

Energized by the set, I ventured back to Economy Hall where I encountered Jamil Sharif’s New Orleans Jazz Professors. Sharif is one of the most versatile trumpet players of his generation and the son of trumpeter Umar Sharif. The band's repertoire featured traditional New Orleans jazz and swing from the Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson songbooks. Sharif ( who was the musical coordinator for the movie Ray) was joined by pianist Larry Sieberth, bassist Dewey Sampson, drummer Stanley Joseph, saxophonists Kelvin Harrison and Earl Bonie and trombonist Stephen Walker.

Sharif's set inspired impromptu dancing in the aisles and before long, under and outside the tent groups could be seen dancing. It's hard to listen to this music and sit still. The attitude of freeness that the musicians exude filters throughout the tents, to the fairgrounds, and ultimately throughout the city. Even after the festival closes, the music doesn’t stop. Various clubs around the city host acts up into the early hours of the morning.

                Ellis Marsalis at Jazzfest (photo by Zoie Clift)

A trek back to the Jazz tent ensued to hear Ellis Marsalis, one of the most respected pianists in jazz and patriarch of the Marsalis family. His act didn’t disappoint. The tent was packed and a calm and collected set was a perfect way to end a music fueled day. And this was just day one at the festival. Though six more days of music were still in the lineup, a lesson had already been instilled. Jazzfest was a chance to improvise, change your plans and immerse yourself in the moment -- in other-words, live a true Jazz experience.

This blog entry posted by Zoie Clift. Tomorrow check in for her report on day two of Jazzfest.

April 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008)

Twenty years ago, Sheldon Meyer of Oxford University Press asked me what subject I wanted to tackle for my second jazz book. Almost without thinking, I blurted out: "West Coast jazz."

One could have hardly selected a less fashionable subject for a jazz book at the time. West Coast jazz had been tremendously popular in the 1950s, but jazz critics had always tended to dismiss it. My dear friend Grover Sales wittily called it the perfect soundtrack for the Cold War. Other jazz writers were even less kind. Many simply left it out of their books and articles, ignoring it as some strange aberration in the history of jazz. If they mentioned the name "Chet Baker," it was with a smirk, like they were uttering the punch line to some inside joke.

But I loved the great West Coast jazz records, and thought that these players had been given a raw deal in the conventional accounts of the music. Above all, I felt there was a mismatch between the critics' dismissals, which presented West Coast jazz as formulaic and contrived, and what I heard in the music, which was a sense of playfulness and experimentation, above all an openness to new sounds and fresh perspectives.

Few figures exemplified this exuberant curiosity better than Jimmy Giuffre, who passed away on Thursday, two days before his 87th birthday. He marched to the beat of his own internal metronome, always following his own path – which usually tended to be the direction everyone else would be pursuing a few years later.

When jazz was hot and swinging, Giuffre dipped into the cool, and created a new flavor of big band writing with his celebrated "Four Brothers" chart. When the jazz world went gaga over tenor players, Giuffre embraced the unfashionable clarinet with a vengeance. When cool finally took off, Giuffre shifted gears again, crafting a unique pastoral sound that anticipated later ECM and New Age stylings – as demonstrated on his remarkable piece "The Train and the River." But before long Giuffre had jumped into the avant-garde, joining forces with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow at a time when Coltrane was still playing changes. Along the way, Giuffre could be found trying his hand at solo clarinet, or a trio without piano, bass or drums or a jazz fugue, to name just a few of his non-standard deviations.

In short, Giuffre's music is the exact opposite of the conventional (albeit false) image of West Coast jazz. These are not records built on some stale marketing department recipe. They represent the exact opposite. Here is jazz that grows from the artist's personal vision and inner soulfulness. And who better to take us on a vision quest than Jimmy Giuffre, an iconoclast who was into Eastern philosophy, enlightened states of being, and holy auras when most Americans' idea of secular transcendence stopped with Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale?

Giuffre once made a remark on the instrumentation of his various bands that still strikes me as one of the most insightful comments about bandleading I have heard. Asked why he always had such strange lineups of musicians – for example, his trio of clarinet, guitar and valve trombone – Giuffre responded that the key to success on stage came from picking musicians who have a personal chemistry and joy in working together. This intangible is more important than the instruments themselves. An odd perspective, but actually a very good piece of advice for someone trying to form an ensemble. If the personal rapport between the players has the right mojo, the music will almost always sound better than with those bands who look good on paper, but don't work well together as a unit.

The jazz world can still learn a lot from Jimmy Giuffre. He would be a great role model for a younger musician. His whole career stands as an ongoing lesson that jazz cannot be reduced to memorizing licks and following trends, but must start from the eternal basics of music-making: curiosity, commitment, daring and passion. These were Giuffre's invariable calling cards, and are bedrock reasons why jazz fans will continue to come back to his music, again and again, in the coming decades.

Below are some Jimmy Giuffre tracks reviewed on – with links to the reviews and our scores (on a 100-point scale).

Jimmy Giuffre: Jesus Maria (Score: 98)
Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and the River (Sound of Jazz, 1957) (Score 97)
Jimmy Giuffre: Propulsion (Score: 96)
Jimmy Giuffre & Lee Konitz: Palo Alto (Score: 95)
Jimmy Giuffre: Blue Monk (Score: 94)
Jimmy Giuffre: The Train and the River (live at Newport) (Score: 91)
Jimmy Giuffre: Emphasis (Score: 90)
Jimmy Giuffre: Iowa Stubborn (Score: 85)

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

April 27, 2008 · 3 comments


Good Riddance to Record Stores

A few days ago, published Mark Saleski's comments on Record Store Day, an event drummed up by bricks-&-mortar CD retailers who are trying to reverse their declining fortunes. Mark lamented the gradual disappearance of these traditional purveyors of jazz music. Now Alan Kurtz,'s resident curmudgeon, offers a rebuttal. Readers are invited to share their own views by adding their comments or emailing them to   T.G.

On April 17, editor-in-chief Ted Gioia announced that had published its 2,000th track review. As the author of 600 such reviews and editor of 550 by other contributors, I take particular satisfaction in this milestone. But it is merely the latest of many in our 4-month-old web site's ambitious trek "to cover the full extent of the art form," as Ted puts it, with track-by-track reviews, each including "a link for fast (and legal) downloading." Nowhere is's uniqueness more evident than in our music reviews, which serve online consumers in a way that no other jazz web site even attempts.

Nix Record Store Day

So you can imagine my chagrin when, scarcely two days later,'s Best Jazz Links on the Web redirected our visitors to a music blog that urged everyone "to celebrate the first ever Record Store Day" on April 19. Record Store Day! How retro can you get? This contrivance, explained, was the brainstorm of "a number of independent store owners who hoped to remind us that because most folks download their sounds today … a lot of record stores are going under." (emphasis added)

Within hours,'s Mark Saleski joined the chorus, lamenting the decline of record stores and decrying Internet music delivery services. To Mr. Saleski, Record Store Day underscores what's "missing from the online retail world: knowledge and culture." Knowledge resides in the record store staff. There is "no substitute for a store clerk who has spent years mining the Coltrane vaults." And Saleski's notion of culture? Why, that would be "the feeling of sifting through the bins with a group of like-minded people." As Saleski sees it, the alternative to record stores is bleak. "A future where people never leave their houses seems like no future at all." By this reasoning, is part of the problem, not the solution. After all, our track-by-track music reviews—75 of which Mr. Saleski himself has deigned to write—are aimed expressly at consumers of Internet music delivery services.

Surprisingly (to me, at least), Mark Saleski is not alone in biting the hand that feeds him. Marc Myers, who has contributed 25 reviews to, launched a similar jeremiad on his own daily blog. While conceding that downloads provide "portability and instant access to music at rock-bottom prices, without the burden of shelf storage," Myers warns that "with convenience comes compromise—namely the virtual death of album-cover art, liner notes and that little thing called 'hold-a-bility.'" Gloomily, Myers adds: "By any measure, downloading is a pretty sexless act and medium. … Lots of jazz albums are just a click away. One, two, three: you own it."  Mr. Myers, lest we forget, is complaining about this!

Don't get me wrong. A little whining now and then from my colleagues doesn't bother me. However, it's one thing to bewail the fate of outmoded business models, but quite another to impugn newer models that have gained traction precisely because they better appeal to consumers.

And bear in mind, consumers are not bemoaning the demise of record stores. Industry insiders are. Consider, for example, Record Store Day's Official Website. Among over 100 artists singing the praises of record stores are Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. (Notwithstanding the last named, the closest anyone in this list gets to jazz is Norah Jones.) Even on a separate Public Quotes page, the testimonials are almost entirely from industry insiders, including executives, musicians, DJs, journalists, a fellow who fashions portraits of musicians out of their old vinyl LPs, a store manager, and a former store employee.

Polling such people is like asking refinery workers whether or not they're in favor of gas stations. Naturally the folks who turn crude oil into price-gouging gasoline at the pump will vote Aye. Their livelihood depends on it.

Significantly, among the Official Website's Public Quotes, only a couple are from actual consumers. Of these, one is especially telling. A woman recounts purchasing "a great import punk DVD" from a record store around 1990. When she gave it to her boyfriend for Christmas, they discovered it was "a Loudon Wainwright video—not what we expected!" She duly returned the item, whereupon the store promised to replace it. Unfortunately, the punk DVD proved as hard to find as Loudon Wainwright's cover of The Sex Pistols' Greatest Hits. "Fast forward to 1995," the customer advises, "and a package arrived in the mail. It was the video!" Far from being dismayed that it had taken five years, the customer was thrilled, concluding: "Now that's the ultimate in customer service!" It this weren't so funny, it would be sad.

Personally, I always detested brick-&-mortar record stores, and haven't set foot in one for years. I found the independents as inhospitable as large chain outlets were bland. The littler stores, typically with black-lighted satanic décor, always had small bins so crammed with overpriced merchandise that I could neither browse nor find anything. And worse, they invariably played rap, reggae or heavy metal albums nonstop WITH THE VOLUME CRANKED UP TO 11 so that I literally had to wear earplugs, and even then could only suffer it briefly. Shopping was an endurance test that I miss not in the least.

And as for the specious argument that customers could count on sage advice from the scruffy, surly, devil-worshipping salesman glowering from behind the checkout counter stocked with rolling papers and other drug paraphernalia—why, that's just asinine. reviews are infinitely better informed than those guys, and dapper to boot.

Once, in Houston, removing my earplugs as I exited a store, I overheard an arriving customer tell the clerk she liked the piano player on Kind of Blue. When she asked for something similar, the clerk recommended George Winston. That hyperventilating coot who bolted from the store, blathering obscenities and lurching headlong into lower Westheimer traffic, was yours truly.

Pity the poor record stores? I say good riddance to them, one and all.

This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

April 24, 2008 · 9 comments


The Best of the Press Kits

Who needs reviews? The critics are rarely as entertaining as the press kits. Here are some of the choicer extracts from the reviewer's mailbox this month-- all drawn from press releases and publicity material.

Too many people spend useless amounts of energy defining jazz by what it isn’t. They argue against electric instruments, avant-garde performance techniques, ethnic varieties, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. It is irrelevant, and those who choose these arguments reveal their irrelevancy . . .

I only have one thing to say to that . . . blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda!

Every few years, a new artist comes along with talent and potential so great that it challenges and redefines the common perceptions of what jazz is and where it’s heading. The new light on the horizon may be a compelling vocalist one year, or perhaps an unmatched instrumental virtuoso a few years later, or maybe a brilliant composer a few years more down the road . . . Esperanza Spalding is all these things and more.

And more? Maybe we should ask her to save the IAJE . . .

I don’t believe this has ever been done before in jazz. . . .

And maybe for a good reason.

“I am grateful to have had the support of a great label like Verve, but I am also looking forward to not having to pay for CEO salaries, Time Square office space, Blackberrys and expense accounts with my record sales.”

But other than that, it’s a great label.

In the jazz world today, original songs with lyrics are rare treats . . .

By jolly, you’re right. I haven’t heard one of those in a long time.

I know what you’re thinking . . . ‘Great . . . another rock singer staring down the barrel of middle age has decided to dress up like Dad and mime the Great American Songbook.

For singing, you can’t beat a mime . . . ‘nuff said.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

April 23, 2008 · 0 comments


From the Mailbag: Jazz Singing's recent series of articles on the current state of jazz singing continues to elicit interesting responses. (You can read the article that started it all here.) Ellen Johnson, of Sound Visions Media, offers her thoughts below. You can add your comments at the bottom of our blog page or email them to

I read your most fascinating article about "The State of Jazz Vocals Today" and as a jazz vocalist and educator, I found it to be quite similar to my own impressions. One of my dear friends is Sheila Jordan and I am currently working with her on a book about her life. So I was really happy to hear you give her the credit she so well deserves from many perspectives. She is a woman who has lived jazz music and is always innovative in her approach, while honoring the musicians who have contributed to the history. I have had the opportunity of singing with her and recently recording my latest CD with her, and as a tribute to her contributions.

I'm not so much trying to write about myself as to express this concept of letting singers explore and find their own sound. Your comment about understatement and nuance is exactly what is missing in many vocals, even to the point where, if you do it, you are criticized. Also for choice of materials: if you don't do the "same old" standards people in the jazz world don't know what to do with you. Don't get me wrong, I love the standards and I have recorded them; but I prefer to find songs that have not been over done or songs I can deeply relate to and bring something hopefully fresh and unique.

However, the problem may well be in the education of these new singers because they don't have the same exposure to the mentors that instrumentalists seem to have been able to acquire. If it wasn't for people like Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Nancy King, Mark Murphy and a few others who spread themselves as generously as possible around workshops and summer programs the new singers would have a tough time. Most jazz college and high school programs don't have any place for a solo vocalists to really learn to sing jazz, work with a rhythm section or even understand the true jazz repertoire. I think that is why there is a shortage of really exceptional jazz singers. And yet there are singers who have very good voices and, as you so astutely pointed out, have relied on their beauty and charm to get the gig. Not that "beauty" has not been an issue in the rest of life -- where, of course, the more attractive you are, the more opportunities you enjoy. It just shouldn't be a point of discrimination either way, beauty or not. Our society has always been a bit silly in that way, and it's not any better now.

I have been offering jazz workshops in the LA area for the last 10 or more years, but not as a place to do karaoke as some singers would prefer, but as an opportunity to explore the music and bring an authentic sound to the songs. All jazz singers should know how to improvise on changes. It doesn't mean they have to "scat," but the nature of jazz is about the freedom to explore and be in the moment. That is why we love Ella, Sarah, Betty, Shirley, Mark, Jon and all the incredible voices that left us with such a rich history. The problem is that jazz is not a "drive though" mentality. It is a music of process, patience, endurance and soul searching significance that has been turned into a buzz word, just as you described. Jazz used to be the expression of voices coming together to communicate their deep passions, emotions and ideas. Today it is about getting personal attention more than the music.

There are some wonderful singers and young singers out there. I'm glad there is an independent revolution of sorts so that we can have a chance to hear them and they can still produce their music. But we still need people who can recognize these artists for the sincerity they bring to the state of jazz vocals.

                                                                                                      Ellen Johnson

You can send in suggestions and comments to

April 22, 2008 · 1 comment


Where Were You on Record Store Day?

Some people might think that the day of record stores passed a long time ago. They would be wrong. Saturday was (believe it or not) the official Record Store Day. Was this merely the belated celebration of an endangered and soon extinct species of retailer, destined to join the neighborhood blacksmith and milkman in the pantheon of failed professions? Or can the record store be saved? Is it worth saving?’s Mark Saleski offers his thoughts below. Readers are invited to share their own views by adding their comments or emailing them to   T.G.

My index finger pulled one more album toward me and there it was – a bright yellow backdrop illuminated Miles Davis' hunched-over body, trumpet in its “business position.” The adrenaline shot through me very much like the first time I listened to “Jean Pierre” on the radio. In a little used record shop on a side street in Brookline, Massachusetts, I'd finally unearthed a copy of We Want Miles. Life was good.

Life is still good – but a lot different. As independent record stores banded together this past weekend to celebrate Record Store Day, it seems like a good time to reflect on the future of music sales and promotion, and what it all means for the casual fan, music lover, and the musicians as well.

The current thinking is that physical record stores will be fully replaced by online sales. To a certain extent, this model is gaining momentum. Just recently, iTunes passed WalMart as top music retailer. Tower Records has disappeared. The selection of music at your average Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Borders has dwindled considerably. Inventory policy seems to be turning this into a self-fulfilling prophecy – I've pretty much given up finding anything at those locations as they never have what I'm looking for.

And yet, here we have independent stores gathering together to point out that there are a couple of things missing from the online retail world: knowledge and culture.

Sure, there's plenty of information out there on the Internet, and “smart” software can recommend music you might like, but that's no substitute for a store clerk who has spent years mining the Coltrane vaults.

Culture? Can Web 2.0 replace the feeling of sifting through the bins with a group of like-minded people. I suppose it can, but a future where people never leave their houses seems like no future at all. There are over 2,400 operating independent music stores in this country. On Saturday afternoon, I popped into my local shop to discuss with a friend of mine the merits of Dave Douglas, his upcoming live record, and oh by the way, how was that Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink show you went to? There was a CD that I was looking for, and the store didn't have it in stock. Eric made a recommendation of some group I'd never heard of. It was fabulous stuff. Yes, all of this can be done on the Web, but should it?

The future of music sales is changing so rapidly that it seems foolish to make any concrete statements as to the final outcome. Yesterday I listened to an interview with Adam Duritz, singer of the band Counting Crows. He was plainly astounded and frustrated that the major labels can't see the opportunities afforded by the Internet. Smaller labels seem to “get it,” and do take advantage of viral marketing, MySpace, and the like. There are some pretty inventive business decisions being made out there, including bands releasing exclusive content for games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My inner-Luddite cringes at this but hey, I see what they're trying to do.

Obviously, you're reading this article on the Internet, once part of the future and now fully established as a part of our everyday activity. is doing something at the cross-section of the future and the musical past. Whether people realize it or not (depending on how old they are), the online sales phenomenon has switched us back into a singles-oriented music culture. That's exactly how music was sold before the album came into being. So here we are writing about individual tracks, because that is were we seem to be headed, back to the future.

This blog entry posted by Mark Saleski

April 21, 2008 · 3 comments


Remembering Andrew Hill

Eric Novod, a regular contributor to, shares some thoughts below spurred by the anniversary of Andrew Hill’s passing. Readers may also want to check out Novod’s recent Dozens feature on twelve classic performances recorded live at the Village Vanguard.   T.G.

                 Andrew Hill (photo by Jos L. Knaepen)

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the death of pianist/composer/educator Andrew Hill. After a prolonged battle with lung cancer, Hill passed away at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 20, 2007. He was 75 years old.

As the current generation of jazz greats flower and thrive, from Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel, to Ben Allison and Ben Monder, to the Bad Plus and Punk Bop, musicians from the previous generation who were able to juggle successfully the complexities of free jazz with swing and bop traditions are seen as the true purveyors of compositional influence for many of the finest younger players on the scene. Of course, the historic masters will forever remain the masters, but listening to where the music is headed in the twenty-first century seems to warrant the acknowledgement of a second wave of musicians that act as direct influences on current jazz -- musicians like Paul Bley, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Paul Motian, Sam Rivers, and especially Andrew Hill.

It is therefore gratifying to see that Hill has been awarded and praised throughout this first year since his passing. In early 2007, Hill was made aware of two prestigious jazz awards that were unfortunately awarded to him posthumously. He was named a 2008 NEA Jazz Master and was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music on May 12, 2008. These honors add on to his already significant list of major jazz awards: Jazz Journalists Composer of the Year Award (2000, 2001, 2003, 2006), Down Beat Critics Poll winner (2000, 2001), the Doris Duke Foundation Award for Jazz Composers (first artist awarded), and the Prestigious JAZZPAR Award (2003). wishes to pay tribute to the highly influential life and music of Andrew Hill by presenting a collection of links to browse through. If you have a few minutes to spare, here are some of the many great places to go on the internet to remember Hill and his music.

Andrew Hill reviewed on
"Black Fire" (1963)
"Refuge" (1964)
"Soul Special” (1968)
"Monkash" (1969)
"Dusk" (1999)

Fans might also want to check out Andrew Hill on NPR’s Piano Jazz and YouTube, or tributes by Richard Davis, Nels Cline and a host of others (such as Chris Burnett, Vijay Iyer, Dave Evans III, Roberto Zorzi, James Lambert, Adina Williams, Michael F. Hopkins, and Jim Bennett).

This blog entry posted by Eric Novod

April 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Weekend Track Review Roundup

A few days ago, published its 2,000th review – pretty good for a web site that only opened its doors on December 10. Our team of 33 critics have joined forces on a grand collaboration that aims to cover the full extent of the art form, including major releases, noteworthy indie projects, and historic performances from the past. As a result, we are now publishing more jazz reviews than any other media outlet, in print or on the web.

Unlike the other guides to music available to jazz fans, we review individual tracks, not entire CDs. You can search for specific tracks in our growing database by using the search engine in the left sidebar on our Music page. Every track is evalutated, and given a ranking based on’s proprietary 100 point scale. Reviews also come with full personnel and recording info, as well as a link for fast (and legal) downloading.

We remain committed to our quixotic but noble quest to review all of the great (and not-so-great) jazz tracks recorded since the Duke of Ellington discovered the first blue note. Below are links to a few of the reviews published during the last several weeks.

Miles Davis: Violet
John Handy: Spanish Lady
Lew Tabackin: I Surrender Dear
Chick Corea: Five Hundred Miles High
Michael Brecker: Brexterity
Roland Kirk: Slippery, Hippery, Flippery
Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith: Echoes of Spring
Oscar Peterson: Wheatland
Branford Marsalis: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
Bill Laswell: Lost Roads
Dave Liebman: India
Sam Rivers: Beatrice
Medeski, Martin, & Wood: Dracula
Petite Blonde: Two Price Hit
Thomas Chapin: Drinkin’
V.S.O.P.: Red Clay
John McLaughlin: Hope
Andy Bey: Lush Life
Larry Coryell & the Eleventh House: Birdfingers
Jerry Goodman: Tears of Joy
Terry Gibbs: What’s New
Jaco Pastorius: Continuum
Chet Baker (with Phil Urso): To Mickey’s Memory
Stu Goldberg: Morning Star
Art Blakey: A Night in Tunisia
Pepper Adams: Valse Celtique
John Abercrombie: Long Ago and Far Away
Tony Williams Lifetime: Red Alert
Dinah Washington: All of Me
Wally Schnalle: Shouldn’t Be That Way
Andy Summers: Charis
Jesse Davis: On the Sunny Side of the Street
Carlos Santana: Swapan Tari
Joe Henderson: Take the ‘A’ Train
Art Farmer: Soul Eyes
Toshiko Akiyoshi: Cleopatra’s Dream
Brian Auger: Listen Here
Gerald Wilson: Warm Mood
Russell Gunn: Shiva
Tony Williams: Neptune: Overture
Tal Farlow: Taking a Chance on Love
Jean-Luc Ponty: Mam’ Mai
Charlie Watts: Relaxin’ at Camarillo

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

April 17, 2008 · 0 comments


The Master of Tango Nuevo

Scott Albin is a regular contributor to these pages -- you may have seen his recent articles on Stéphane Grappelli and "Twelve Essential Jazz Guitar Performances." Below he shares his enthusiasm for a memorable Montreal performance by the late master of tango nuevo, Astor Piazzolla, recently released on CD and DVD.

Milan Records in March released the remastered Astor Piazzolla Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, on both remastered CD and DVD. Not only was Piazzolla's New Tango Quintet in great form that night, July 4th, 1984, but the new DVD presents for the first time a video of a complete Piazzolla concert performance. I saw this tape on TV in Montreal while attending the 1987 Festival, and between that and hearing the subsequent Central Park concert his Quintet gave in September 1987 (available on a Chesky CD), which was simulcast on New York Public Radio, I was hooked.

As a jazz fan, I related to the group's jazz-like interaction, the adventurous spirit and improvisations, the sophisticated harmonies and counterpoint, the frequent shifts in tempo and time signature, and the use of dissonance and atonality. I soon learned that Piazzolla met virulent resistance from the tango traditionalists, much in the way that the "moldy figs" were outraged by bebop, and Ornette Coleman had to deal with physical violence in reaction to his innovations.

                   Astor Piazzolla's Montreal Concert

Piazzolla played the bandoneon, a cumbersome button accordian with an unorthodox fingering system, an instrument which his father gave him at age nine while they were living in New York. "If he'd bought me a saxophone, I'd have played jazz," Piazzolla later recalled. "But it was the tango that won." However, he never forgot the jazz he heard while growing up in New York. At the same time, he studied classical piano, and became enamored of Bach. Returning to his native Argentina in the late 1930s, he performed mostly traditional tango and studied Ravel, Bartók and Stravinsky, but his early tango experiments were rejected as too radical. It was while he was studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in 1954 that she encouraged the disillusioned Piazzolla to return his focus to the bandoneon and tango.

Beginning with his Octet, and especially with his first Quintet, formed in 1960, he set out in earnest to redo the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of tango, adding jazz and classical influences. This was "concert tango," more for listening than dancing, and would lead to over 300 Piazzolla compositions, and ballet, theater and film scores. In 1973, Piazzolla suffered a heart attack as Juan Perón returned from exile and political turmoil ensued in Argentina (a military coup resulted in 1976), making Piazzolla's perceived lack of respect for tradition a potential problem. He fled to Italy where he formed his Octeto Electronico, an electric fusion group. Then in 1978 he reestablished his beloved Quintet (adding three new members), with the same instrumentation as before--bandoneon, violin, piano, electric guitar, and bass. This was the group that toured and recorded extensively for the next 10 years, and is heard on this new release. Unfortunately, Piazzolla suffered a major stroke at the height of his popularity in 1990, and died two years later on July 4th, 1992, exactly eight years to the day after the Montreal Jazz Festival concert.

To hear Piazzolla's masterful bandoneon playing on this CD, along with the magnificent violinist Fernando Suárez Paz, the ingenious tango/jazz/classical style of pianist Pablo Ziegler, the formidable bassist Héctor Console, and the subtly effective electric guitarist Oscar Lopez Ruiz, is to be enthralled and uplifted by an unsurpassed ensemble. Better yet, watch them on the DVD, for, as the saying goes, "seeing is believing." Some of Piazzolla's best known compositions are performed, including "Muerte del Angel," "Resurrección del Angel," "Tristeza de un Doble A," and "Adiós Nonino."

One final note: Piazzolla inspired many jazz and classical musicians, and recorded with Gary Burton, Paquito D'Rivera, and Gerry Mulligan. He also received recorded tributes from, among others, Burton (twice), Al DiMeola (twice), Richard Galliano (who also assisted in the remastering of the Montreal concert), Gidon Kremer, and Yo Yo Ma. Meanwhile, Pablo Ziegler's New Tango group continues to follow Piazzolla's path, and on the pianist's recent "Tango and All That Jazz" CD, invited guest Stefon Harris adds his vibraphone to the mix.

This blog entry posted by Scott Albin.

April 16, 2008 · 0 comments


From the Mailbag: Brazilian Music

Below are some responses to's recent blog discussion on Brazilian songs. (Readers are invited to send in suggestions and comments to

First up is Andrea Mann, who recently returned to the UK after the engagement in Malaysia written about in these pages. Mann comments in follow-up to my article on “Great Brazilian Songs Not Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

To add to the list: I have a soft spot for “Baby” by Caetano Veloso (English lyrics by Os Mutantes). I discovered it via Bebel Gilberto's version... it's the beautiful opener on her eponymous album from 2004. And I know it's pretty silly, but “Crickets Sing For Anamaria” by Marcos Valle is really quite fab; and commercial (even Emma Bunton from the Spice Girls released it as a single).

                                                                                                                                            Andrea Mann

One of the most knowledgeable visitors to is Stefano. He is an invaluable source of tips on lesser known music worth hearing, and over the years has pointed me in the direction of many outstanding CDs I might otherwise have missed. Here he provides a thoughtful checklist of Brazilian songs that deserve to be better known.

Joyce: “Feminina” from the 1980 album of the same name. Check out a wonderful live version on YouTube (with Maurício Maestro on bass). Also track down the tune “Clareana” (not jazz but beautiful). Great voice, pitch, rhythm, guitar work.... she's near the top of my list!

Maurício Maestro - Joyce: “Mistérios.” Maurício Maestro is the bass player and a singer for Boca Livre (whose version of this song is excellent). The Joyce version is also on the Feminina album and is gorgeous.

Toninho Horta: “Beijo Partido” (Broken Kiss) There is a bilingual version on his album Diamond Land with English lyrics (and vocals) by Joyce. And if wordless vocals count, check out “Soccer Ball” (Bola De Futebol) from his Durango Kid part 1 album. Finally, listen to “Aqui, Oh!” (Check This Out!) from his self titled album on World Pacific. Co-written with Fernando Brant, it's a delight. You can also here some Pat Metheny influence here, as Pat was getting into the Brazilian thing at the time (1980). Pat is on this album (not this track) and I think they gave a lot to each other. You may recall that Horta was also a Clube Da Esquina member.

Lô Borges: Another Clube De Esquina graduate -- I'm particularly fond of “Nuvem Cigana,” from the 1981 album of the same name (Boca Livre also does a wonderful version of this song), and “O Trem Azul” (co-written by Ronaldo Bastos from the Clube De Esquina album). "Clube Da Esquina No.2" is another excellent composition. It can be found on his A Via-Láctea album from 1979 as well as the version on the Clube De Esquinaalbum. It's fun to hear Borges sing on his own album version (with more complete lyrics too).

Roberto Menescal: “O Barquinho” (Little Boat). Co-written with Ronaldo Bôscoli, this song has been recorded a zillion times -- so pick your version (I like Gilberto's 1961 version off of The Legendary Joao Gilberto collection album).

João Gilberto: “Bim Bom.” Let's not forget that he could write too. “Hô-Bá-Lá-Lá” is another example of his bossa writing. (Both can be found on the The Legendary Joao Gilberto collection album.)

Carlos Lyra: “Maria Ninguém.” Check out Gilberto's 1959 recording from The Legendary Joao Gilberto collection album.

Marcos Valle: “Samba de Verao” ("Summer Samba" aka "So Nice"). Like “O Barquinho” it's another instantly recognizable Brazilian song NOT written by Jobim. Bebel Gilberto does a nice version.

Vinicius Cantuária: The "nova" bossa nova guy. A good cut would be “O Grande Lançe É Fazer Romançe” from his Sol No Cara CD (co-written with Caetano Veloso). A very pretty song. Actually, the whole album is quite good.

Ana Carolina: Great, smokey voice. Check out her song Mais Que Isso. Very catchy both rhythmically and melodically. See/hear it here at YouTube.

Another guy you might enjoy is Lenine. He's written some wonderful pop but he strays away from jazz idioms a bit. If you like Dave Matthews, you'll like him (though he's more melodic than Matthews). Check out the Na Pressão album or his CD with percussionist Suzano called Olho de Peixe. Very rhythmic, syncopated stuff.

Finally, Badi Assad should probably be mentioned for her works involving vocals. Her guitar work is (of course) amazing and she has a fantastic feel for percussive effects. She doesn't hurt the eyes either :-).


Letters to can be sent to

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Is the Laptop a Jazz Instrument?

Eugene Marlow, who recently covered the Bobby Sanabria Kenya concert for, offers his account below of Dave Douglas's Friday night performance at New York's Jazz Standard. Here our estimable critic uncovers answers to new questions. Such as . . . Is the laptop a jazz instrument? Can you get an audience excited about music without telling them the names of the songs? Or, best of all, is it possible to get a live recording to market within a few hours of the performance? In the world of Dave Douglas, the answer to all these queries is an unequivocal yes.   T.G.

No doubt about it. Dave Douglas is a master jazz trumpeter. There’s not one part of the instrument’s range he can’t call up with precision at a moment’s notice. And Friday night, during two sets at New York City’s Jazz Standard, he clearly demonstrated the clarity, focus, spot on intonation and creativity he can muster at will.

During the first set’s five pieces, he spewed a cornucopia of sounds from the instrument—sometimes using the right corner of his mouth--that are not in the standard trumpet sound repertoire. How they are written on the lead sheets (if they are written at all) could be the subject of an interesting class in notating for the instrument. But Douglas’s masterful performance is but the tip of the iceberg in an evening of compelling sounds.

First and foremost, the two sets combined were a musically integrated, tight entertainment, not merely a group of jazz musicians going through the motions of playing a head, solo, solo, solo, head reprise and out. Joined on the stage with Douglas were Marcus Strickland (saxes), Adam Benjamin (Fender-Rhodes), Brad Jones (electric baby bass), Gene Lake (drums and cymbals), and DJ Olive. All these musicians are highly skilled and inventive in their own right. But what made the evening’s sounds all the more compelling was DJ Olive’s performance. Olive doesn’t play an instrument. He plays around with sound. One of his instruments is a laptop. Others included a turntable and an assortment of electronic buttons.

Olive’s contribution to the evening’s entertainment were the various sounds and sound effects elicited from his library of LPs and hard-drive stored effects: sirens, people talking, a woman yelling, the sound of dice (I think that’s what it was), laughter, and fireworks, among others. At one point I thought I heard sound effects from the 1956 science-fiction movie Forbidden Planet.

The introduction of these electronic “instruments” could easily be viewed as gimmicky. Some jazz purists might even point a finger at the commercialism such a “player” represents being on the stage with the rest of the “legitimate” instrumentalists: “Come now, a turntable? Is this a rap concert or what?”

Fact is Olive’s contribution to the music fit right in. Fact is the very first and last “sounds” we heard (at least in the first set) were from Olive’s smorgasbord of auditory offerings. It works. Perhaps it works because, as Douglas told me between sets, he and Olive have worked together for about five years. Clearly, there is a comfort level between the standard instrumentalists and Olive’s “playing.” In fact, in the first piece of the first set—a funky, moderate tempo tune anchored by a bass ostinato—Olive takes a solo. It all seemed quite natural and integral to the performance.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The use of non-standard instruments and sounds has been a “compositional” technique” going back to at least Mozart’s day. The Toy Symphony (there is some debate as to who actually wrote it) uses toy instruments that are highly integrated into the score. Hovhaness’s And God Created Great Whales employs whale sounds. Walter Piston’s The Incredible Flautist incorporates dog sounds. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” features cannons and bells. Eric Satie’s Parade relies on a typewriter, revolver and siren. Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 2 uses a factory hooter. There are many other examples. Musique Concrète—the use of sounds from life--was pioneered by French composer and radio broadcaster Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940s and 1950s, facilitated by developments in technology, most prominently microphones and the commercial availability of the magnetic tape recorder used by Schaeffer and his colleagues for manipulating tapes and tape loops. The method he used to make music starts to transform popular music into electronic music.

On the jazz side of the house, in 1967, trumpeter and composer/arranger Don Ellis began his experimentation with electronics. His pianist started using the Fender-Rhodes electric piano, clavinet, and electric harpsichord. Ellis himself started using what he called the "electrophonic trumpet"; that is, a trumpet whose sound was amplified and often routed through various effects processors. The first appearance of this innovation is on "Open Beauty" from 1967's Electric Bath, in which Ellis takes an extended solo with his trumpet being processed through an echoplex.

In other words, with respect to Douglas’s “Keystone” sextet, what’s old is new again.

From last night’s two sets it is clear Douglas has an affinity for things past. The name of his group alone, Keystone, is a reference to the past—a tip of the hat to the silent movie days early in the 20th century. What the connection is to the music escapes this writer, but to Douglas there is some kind of bond. Several of the musical influences are notable. Both tunes #1 and #2 (all the pieces remained unnamed by Douglas throughout the evening) were funk/fusion influenced. In one piece drummer Gene Lake made a clear reference to Afro-Cuban rhythms on the cowbell; timbale riffs were ever-present. Other pieces reflected R&B and Latin funk influences. Middle-eastern scales were part and parcel of another piece. The psychedelic aura of the 1960s was also in the house. The last piece of the first set was clearly in three, but could have just as easily been in 6/8 and taken for a rhythmically West African bembe construct. Overall, the pieces were minimalistic in their construction, both melodically and harmonically. The first piece, especially, was a two-measure riff, almost montuno in reference. Swing, however, never entered the musical conversation. Collectively, these references resonated with the audience, apparently eager to hear a new context for pre-existing musical patterns.

Parenthetically, of the six players on the stage, only four really took solos: Douglas, Strickland, Lake, and Olive. Strickland provided a more fluid and gentle counterpoint to Douglas’s sharp twists and turns. Drummer Lake played throughout with great wit, orchestral punctuation, and taste -- he invariably made his contribution with the overall piece in mind. Bassist Jones provided the sonic anchor for the rest of the group, while keyboardist Benjamin added riffs and lines that complemented the proceedings. Neither of the latter two took solos in the traditional sense. And this is also apparently part of Douglas’s overall vision. The solos were constructed tongue in groove. Douglas and Strickland exchanging single instrument backgrounds in one piece. The pieces were of a whole. The audience got an impression of sound, an impression of the piece, an impression of the overall musical vision.

Quite apart from Douglas’s well-recognized trumpeting acumen and well-organized sets, he has also figured out the other side of the equation, an aspect that escapes many a musician (fine and performing artists of all kinds, included) and that is the business side of the music business. Douglas has apparently thought it through from beginning to end. It shows in the musical influences and the muscianship; it shows in how he markets his music.

In other words, “What’s new is old again,” the other side of the equation.

What I mean by this is it’s not just the quality of the music that matters. What matters is the music has to be sold. An audience has to come to the live performances; the music has to be bought by consumers who wish to keep a memory of the performance or expand their music collection.

Thanks to engineers from Geoff and Tyler Recording both sets were recorded and made available online within hours of the evening’s completion. The following morning (Saturday, April 12, 2008), each piece from each set were available for download through Douglas’s Greenleaf online label.

What’s new is the mechanism by which Douglas is marketing his product: not only in the club (“CDs for purchase on your way out,” he casually mentions from the stage), but also online, cut by cut. What’s old is selling one’s artistic product, a conundrum with a centuries long history of many failures. Only a few have managed to integrate the creation of artistic output and the financially successful selling of it. Shakespeare was one who comes to mind immediately. The Beatles, Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Madonna, Quincy Jones are others. Perhaps we can add Douglas’s name to this list further down the road.

Is Dave Douglas the jazz trumpeter for the digital age?

This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.

April 14, 2008 · 1 comment


New Feature at Guest Artist Dozens

      Randy Brecker
    By Jos L. Knaepen launches a new feature today with its publication of trumpeter Randy Brecker’s selection of twelve outstanding Freddie Hubbard performances. Brecker offers up a valuable survey, encompassing the full range of Hubbard's artistry, from his Blakey and Blue Notes days, through his CTI and Columbia work, and beyond, and includes both timeless classics and neglected gems.

The Dozens column, as regular site visitors know, is our way of celebrating the jazz heritage by focusing on twelve great tracks built around a theme. In the past we have relied on jazz writers to make the selections and offer up their reviews. But our new “Guest Artist Dozens” will add a new twist – we will now also go to the musicians themselves for their picks and opinions.

True, this is a dangerous concept. If you start asking the musicians for their opinions, what happens to the jazz critics? They might need to start writing restaurant reviews or gossip columns. But we are willing to take that chance. Part of the vision for is to develop its potential as a place where musicians can speak their mind, and share their views -- not just on their own work, but on the music's rich heritage and current state of health. The Dozens is an ideal setting to facilitate this expanded dialogue. (And, yes, we plan to continue publishing Dozens by our stalwart crew of critics. So they don't get to run off to the smorgasbord quite yet.)

Who better than Grammy award winner Randy Brecker to guide us through the illustrious career of Freddie Hubbard? Like Hubbard, Brecker has spent decades blowing his horn in the most high profile settings, from his early days with Horace Silver and Art Blakey, through his Brecker Brothers’ work and many classic leader dates and sideman sessions.

This feature also marks the first appearance of contributor Ted Panken on Panken, who serves as editor for our “Guest Artist Dozens,” is a top notch jazz writer and first rate interviewer. His work has graced the pages of Down Beat and Jazziz, and he is also well known for his popular broadcasts on WKCR-FM. A few months ago, Panken was honored with a much deserved ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his journalism. (For a more complete list of contributors, click here.)

Our “Guest Artist Dozens” complements our other recent addition to the site, “Desert Island Dozens,” which allows noteworthy individuals in the world of jazz to offer their ideal playlist for a tropical getaway. We recently initiated “Desert Island Dozens” by sharing the selections of drummer Peter Erskine.

Stay tuned. More Dozens – of all shapes and flavors – are in the works. For a full list of all our Dozens to date, click here.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

April 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Kurt Rosenwinkel Live

The Remedy, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s first album in three years and his first live release in more than a decade, is finally here, after much anticipation Recorded live at New York’s Village Vanguard in 2006, after he ended his association with Verve, the self-produced 2-CD set has been released, after several false starts, by ArtistShare.

The album was well worth the wait. Rosenwinkel has long complained that studio albums don’t capture the energy his ensembles seek to create on the bandstand. This fire and the enthusiasm it can generate, are on full display on The Remedy.

One highlight is the album’s pairing of Rosenwinkel with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, a longtime collaborator, on tracks such as “Chords.” Each has developed an intensely personal vocabulary, which on its own can raise as many questions as it answers. In this setting, however, the pair are perfectly balanced, and their more abstract moments are drawn back into conversation by the propulsive groove laid down by drummer Eric Harland, with pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist Joe Martin.

Rosenwinkel and Turner are at the head of a tightly knit group of Berklee-trained musicians who moved to New York in the early nineties and found their musical home at Smalls, a subterranean Greenwich Village club around the corner from the Vanguard where Mitch Borden sought to give the young musicians the time and space they needed to develop their ideas. In Kurt’s words, “on those early evenings at Smalls, you could feel the whole place lifting up.”

Recorded in the intimate acoustics of the Vanguard, The Remedy does a good job of recreating some of the magic of those evenings. At 37, Rosenwinkel has already established an immediately recognizable voice as a composer and soloist. Stay tuned to for further reflections on Kurt and his peers, who have already established a presence and influence well beyond their years.

“Chords” from Kurt Rosenwinkel’s The Remedy is currently Song of the Day at Click here for the full review.

This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins.

April 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Revisiting Jazz Classics features A Classic Revisited five day per week. This is our chance to showcase significant jazz performances from the past, tracks widely recognized as masterpieces. The classic performance is highlighted on the homepage (in the middle column toward the bottom of the page), where you will find a link to our review. Each review is accompanied by full recording details, a place for comments by site visitors, and a link for fast (and legal) downloading.

                    Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West (1957)
                    The inspiration for Blazing Saddles?

Today’s featured classic track is “Come, Gone” from Rollins’ 1957 Way Out West session. This LP captures Rollins in a memorable trio setting, but it is famous for more than just its music. The tenorist obliged photographer William Claxton, who came up with the idea of posing Rollins in cowboy attire for the cover image. The saxophonist took some ribbing from his East Coast contemporaries for the photo, but years later the cover had an unintended consequence.

I recently heard Claxton describe how he received an unexpected phone call from someone researching the flim Blazing Saddles. The caller wanted to know if it was true that this LP cover inspired the Mel Brooks comedy hit. The photographer was taken by surprise – this was news to him -- but later managed to check with Brooks, who confirmed the story. Brooks had been captivated by the image of an African-American cowboy stylishly posed in the desert landscape of the Wild West.

A link to the review of the Rollins track can be found below, along with links to the other classic tracks highlighted on the home page over the last several weeks. For a complete list of all the tracks featured as “A Classic Revisited,” click here.

Sonny Rollins: Come, Gone
Chet Baker & Phil Urso: To Mickey's Memory
Stan Getz & Jimmy Rowles: The Peacocks
Charlie Christian: Up On Teddy's Hill
Roy Eldridge & Chu Berry: Body and Soul
King Oliver: Dippermouth Blues
George Shearing: Conception
Keith Jarrett: In Front
Ben Webster: Tenderly
Fletcher Henderson (with Louis Armstrong): Sugarfoot Stomp
Coleman Hawkins: The Man I Love
Dave Brubeck: Over the Rainbow
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Twisted
Bill Evans: My Foolish Heart
Duke Ellington: Jack the Bear
Don Ellis: Indian Lady
Mongo Santamaria: Watermelon Man
Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm
Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower
Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines: Weather Bird
Sarah Vaughan: Lullaby of Birdland
Jimmy Smith: Walkin'
Art Pepper: Round Midnight
Bud Powell (with Fats Navarro): Wail
Wayne Shorter: Witch Hunt
Joe Williams (with Count Basie): Every Day I Have the Blues
Art Blakey: Moanin'
Django Reinhardt: Minor Swing
Lester Young: Lester Leaps In
Benny Goodman: King Porter Stomp
Mary Lou Williams: Clean Pickin'
Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe
Bix Beiderbecke: Sorry
Herbie Hancock: Dolphin Dance
Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
Lennie Tristano: Line Up
Chick Corea: Steps / What Was

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

April 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Remembering Phil Urso (1925-2008)

The public image of West Coast jazz has always emphasized the cool and laid-back aspects of the music. But hot players – such as Clifford Brown, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy -- also thrived in proximity to the California coast.

          Chet Baker & Crew (Urso on far right)

Tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, who passed away yesterday in Denver, combined the best of both sensibilities. He possessed a hard bop intensity, softened by a Lester Young-ish tone, and for a period during the mid-1950s he ranked among the most promising young players on the scene. But Urso's destiny was to become one of those forgotten musicians who, lacking a flair for self-promotion, are eventually relegated to the sidelines.

Drummer John Arcotta, who knew Urso late in life, after the tenorist's move to the Denver area, commented back in 1999: "Even today, I see a lot of animosity toward Phil. I think people take Phil for granted. The guy was a monster -- he'd come out on the bandstand and kick everybody's ass, even his own. Knowing musically what he knows, I think people get a little intimidated."

Urso enjoyed stints with Woody Herman and Elliot Lawrence, and Claude Thornhill, and performed for a short while with Miles Davis. But he is best known for his collaborations with Chet Baker, which began in the mid-1950s and continued sporadically until the early 1970s. In 1954, Baker lost the services of pianist Russ Freeman, and toyed with the idea of launching his own pianoless quartet, emulating his successful unit with Gerry Mulligan. He chose Urso to fill the sax role in the band, and though the pianoless approach did not go far, the tenorist proved to be an inspired front line player, and the two musicians worked effectively together in a variety of settings.

In truth, Urso was a reluctant West Coaster. He was more at home on the East Coast scene, where he frequented Birdland and other NY clubs. When he started gigging with Baker in Los Angeles, Urso stayed at a motel on Hollywood and Western, rather than settle down in a city that was too spread out for his tastes. He preferred the convenience of the New York subway to car culture. But in time, Urso would choose the middle of the country over either coast, gravitating back to Denver, where he had spent much of boyhood.

Urso can be heard to good measure on the Chet Baker & Crew LP, which is one of the trumpeter's more vibrant releases from this period. I remember the trouble I had tracking down this album in the 1980s, when I was researching my book on the history of West Coast jazz. I finally found a copy at collector’s store in Silicon Valley, where I had to trade in around two dozen other jazz albums to get my hands on this rarity. (Some things do change for the better. These days this release is easily found on CD or for download.) Even the cover, showing the band out sailing, conveys a sense of the robustness of the musical give-and-take. William Claxton recently recalled how Chet (who was quite athletic and active despite his addict image) was the only member of the group who enjoyed this contrived photo setting, and hammed it up for the camera. But in the studio, Urso shined, offering up solid solos and providing an effective spur for Baker.

Around this same time, Urso released his debut leader date, The Philosophy of Urso. Although it received a rare five star review in Down Beat, it remains a hard-to-find collector’s item today. If you found it in a store, you would probably need to trade in a box of goodies in exchange. But it would be worth it. Although Urso never became a jazz star, he continued to enjoy a small but loyal following, especially among the more knowledgeable fans who appreciated his artistry.

Urso cherished a letter he received from Baker in 1971, which began: "I have always felt you were and are the most underrated of America's jazz players and composers." And Baker, who had an exceptional ear even by jazz standards, was a discriminating judge of talent. In his final CD, Urso offered a tribute to Baker, returning to many of the same songs they had performed together in the 1950s.

Today, in honor of Phil Urso, is featuring his performance with Chet Baker on “To Mickey’s Memory,” from 1956, as the classic jazz track of the day.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

April 08, 2008 · 5 comments


More on the Kenya Concert

On Friday, we published Tim Wilkins’ account of Bobby Sanabria’s Kenya concert.’s Eugene Marlow, who recently interviewed Sanabria in these pages, was also in attendance and offers his perspective below on an event that is already one of most talked-about concerts of the season. If you weren't there, you will still get a chance to hear this music -- as Marlow reports, a documentary is in the works for PBS, as well as a CD.   T.G.

The John C. Borden Auditorium at New York City’s Manhattan School of Music (MSM), a two-tiered structure capable of holding 846 people, was filled to capacity even before the concert started at 7:40 p.m. Several hundred people were turned away at the school’s entrance. To describe the feeling in the hall as “electric” or “excited” or “with high anticipation” would be an understatement. This was not just another concert by MSM’s renowned Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra (under the direction of multi-Grammy-nominated Bobby Sanabria). This was a milestone “event” long to be remembered as one of the concerts of 2008!

                 The Kenya concert (photo by Jan Sileo)

The occasion was the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1957 recording of Machito (who together Mario Bauzá was a father figure for modern Latin jazz) and the Afro-Cubans’ jazz masterwork Kenya. This was not merely a “legacy” re-enactment of the album, but a re-visit of the Kenya album’s 12 cuts, with contemporary arrangements of the original charts by trombonist Joe Fiedler, trumpeter Andrew Neesley, and baritone saxophonist Danny Rivera. The entire performance was recorded for later CD release.

The concert was dedicated to the Grillo family and the five surviving members of the historic Kenya recording: tenor saxophonist Ray Santos, trombonists Sonny Russo and Eddie Burt, trumpeter Pedro “Puchi” Boulong, and percussionist Candido Camero. Apart from the original charts, outstanding arrangements, and superb playing by the 21 musicians (all in black tux and white bow tie) in the orchestra, the concert was an event to be attended. This was evidenced not just by the full house, but also by the plethora of musical and journalistic luminaries who showed up. In addition to Candido (who also performed), they included two other original musicians on the 1957 album: tenor saxophonist Ray Santos and trombonist Eddie Burt—Burt called Bobby Sanabria the morning after the concert and exclaimed: “They played better than we did on the original album!”

Also in the house were: Mario Grillo (Machito’s son), Mercedes Ellington (daughter of Duke Ellington), The Village Gate jazz club owner Art D’Lugoff, Ana Araya (famed Palladium mambo dancer), jazz journalist Larry Blumenthal, Will Friedwald (New York Sun), percussionist Chembo Corniel, documentary producer Ivana Acosta, Ibrahim Gonzales (WBAI-FM), Marc Myers (covering for Jazziz), percussionist Nicky Marrero, Nina Olson (Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and Raices Latin Music Museum), ethnomusicologist Dr. Roberta Singer, noted historian Henry Medina, and award-winning City Lore folklorist and documentarian Elena Martinez. Also present were six cameramen from WGBH (Boston) who videotaped the entire concert as part of a WGBH/BBC documentary co-production on Latin music. Co-producers Pam Aguillar and Dan Macabe were also on hand. This four-hour documentary will be premiered on PBS and the BBC in 2009.

With video cameramen and still photographers roaming the stage at will to catch every moment of the concert from every angle, MSM’s president Dr. Robert Sirota introduced the concert, describing Bobby Sanabria as an “inimitable force of nature.” Sanabria then walked onto the stage to great acclaim. It may have been 67 degrees outside (unusually warm weather for New York City this time of year), but inside the auditorium it was much hotter—the result of Sanabria’s heat-generating showmanship and the youthful energy of the players on the stage. With Sanabria providing his usual mix of earthy humor and historical reference, the orchestra tore through new arrangements of “Frenzy,” “Congo Mulence,” “Kenya,” “Oyeme,” “Holiday,” “Cannonology,” “Wild Jungle,” “Blues á la Machito,” “Conversation,” “Tin Tin Deo,” “Minorama,” and “Tururato.” In addition, the orchestra performed as an encore the original 1943 arrangement of “Tanga,” considered by cognescenti to be the first true fusion of authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz arranging techniques.

The ensemble work and solos by several of the players—in particular, Justin Janer (lead alto), Michael Taylor (lead trumpet), Anthony Stanco (trumpet), Timothy Vaughn (lead trombone), bassist Billy Norris, pianist Christian Sylvester Sands, and drummer Norman Edwards, as well as the rest of the big band--was as “high order” as you might expect from any professional orchestra in the genre. This is not to ignore the entire percussion section that played with a compelling authenticity. Overall the performances were passionate and precise, a reflection, no doubt, in part of Sanabria’s high standards. He is especially demanding in rehearsal, even stopping a piece 80-90 % played through if something is not quite right and insisting the players perform the entire piece from the very beginning.

Perhaps the most moving highlight of the evening was the presence of Candido Camero, Latin percussion’s elder statesman, now 86 (as of this writing), with a birthday upcoming on April 22. Candido, walked on to the stage by Sanabria’s son Roberto, immediately received a standing ovation. He performed on three pieces: the title track “Kenya” of course, plus “Wild Jungle” (misnamed, according to Sanabria, on the album; it should have been called “Frenzy”), and the finale “Tururato.” Even at 86 maestro conguero Candido can still play up a storm. Best known for introducing multiple congas to both Afro-Cuban music and jazz (he played on three for this concert), Candido entertained with his usual sparkle in the eye and good humor (on the congas). And he can still play. His participation was no mere patronizing salute to this NEA JazzMaster. With fingers on both hands wrapped in tape, he mixed it up with the percussion section and took solos with as much force, rhythmic bite, and wit as you would expect from a 'young lion' player. At the end of the concert a birthday cake in Candido’s honor was paraded in front of the audience. Those who waited patiently got a taste (and perhaps a photo with Candido).

All in all, the 90-minute concert generated a high spirit and reverence for the music that was palpable. As Sanabria stated from the stage and in the program, quoting René Lopez: “It is not just enough to remember the past. We must also honor it.” This April 1, 2008 concert was not only a remembrance in honor of a seminal 1957 Latin-jazz album, it was a concert to remember. It was an honor being in that audience.

This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.

Below is the full personnel for the concert

Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra

Bobby Sanabria, Director

Justin Janer, lead alto
Vince Nero, alto
Pawan Benjamin, tenor
Michael Davenport, tenor
Michael Sherman, baritone

Michael Taylor, lead
Jimmie “J.J.” Kirkpatrick
Anthony Stanco
Jonathan Barnes

Timothy Vaughn, lead
Felix Fromm
Nathaniel Adkins
Timothy “T.J.” Robinson, bass

Acoustic/Electric Bass
Billy Norris

Cristian Sylvester Sands

Bobby Sanabria, drums, timbales
Norman Edwards, drums, bongo/cencerro
Giancarlo Anderson, bongo/cencerro, guiro, maracas, clave
Jake Goldbas, congas, clave, maracas, timbales
Cristian Rivera, congas, bongo/cencerro
Obanilu Allende, quinto, claves, maracas, guiro, bongo/cencerro, congas, shekere

April 07, 2008 · 1 comment


Ben Allison in Concert

It’s hard to make predictions about 2008 when we are barely into April. But I feel safe in asserting that Ben Allison’s latest CD Little Things Run the World will be recognized as one of the finest releases of the year. I know I am not alone in this sentiment. This CD is generating lots of buzz -- supported by that best type of marketing, good, old-fashioned word of mouth.

Now’s Ralph Miriello contributes this review of bassist Allison’s performance with his band Man Size Safe, featuring Michael Blake on tenor, Ron Horton on trumpet, Steve Cardenas on electric guitar and Michael Sarin on drums.   T.G.

In an almost hidden, well appointed, wood-paneled performance room, on the lower level of the main building of the massive Brooklyn Public Library, located at Grand Army Plaza, Carnegie Hall presents a series free to the public concerts. This night it was the fine current band of bassist/composer Ben Allison with his tongue-in-cheek named band Man Size Safe.

The name is a reference to a Wall Street Journal report that Vice President Dick Cheney, apparently a favorite foil of the young bassist, has a man-sized safe in his office for some mysterious purpose. Perhaps the vice president uses it to hide in when some of his hipper staff is eagerly playing the music of this cutting edge group through the hallowed halls of the White House. Nevertheless this was one immensely satisfying performance.

                   Ben Allison & Man Size Safe

The group is made up of what is perhaps the most talented, slightly under-the-radar, band of musicians playing together on the jazz scene today. Each member, in his own right, deserves wider recognition and appreciation for his artistry and musical prowess. Ben Allison is the leader of this particular iteration – a group whose musicians have been playing together in many different combinations and with other equally talented artists for some time now around the New York jazz scene. In this band, Allison is joined by guitarist Steve Cardenas, trumpeter Ron Horton, multi-reed player Michael Blake and drummer Michael Sarin. Together they create a sound that is new, vital and provocative.

To be sure, bassist/composer Allison must be given high praise for his ability to compose such complex yet interesting pieces of music. His music seems to be painting a picture lending itself to visual imagery, but like a fine film score it stands on its own even without any actual pictorial content . He is able to provoke this mind trick because of the unusually symbiotic playing of his troupe. In a discussion with guitarist Steve Cardenas before the show, he commented on how his association with this group was the wellspring for a new song that he was currently working on. Another Cardenas composition “Language of Love” which is on the new album Little Things Run the World was a perfect example of how these musicians communicate so effortlessly and interchangeably. On this particular number Allison was especially animated in his attack on his upright bass, spurred on by the song’s beautiful melody. Throughout the evening the near capacity crowd was treated to the transfer of high intensity energy and enjoyment that was evidently flowing so freely between these musicians. They clearly like playing together and it showed.

Perhaps their disparate backgrounds make all the difference in the world. While each of these players is currently based in and around New York, this group is nonetheless distinguished by its geographical diversity. Sarin is originally from Seattle, Blake from Montreal, Horton from Maryland, Cardenas from Kansas City and Allison from New Haven. Like so many great groups of the past that come magically together by the alignment of the musical stars, this group is now on a path to make jazz history.

The music is compelling, intricate and unique. The rhythm section of Allison, Sarin and Cardenas is in the zone. Sarin’s polyrhythmic use of a relatively small set of traps to create a multitude of percussive colors from seemingly nothing is extraordinary. Horton at times sounding as melodious and tonally pure as the late Art Farmer, can also extract the most eerie human wails from the high register of his trumpet. Blake’s sensual tenor can equally span the range of emotionally evocative to spookily human with its guttural incantations.

On one tune called “Wheezy,” an Allison penned ode to the old sit-com music of the seventies, Blake’s soprano solo was so inspired that his face was crimson with intensity. Cardenas’s playing is slyly understated. His command of the fret board is substantial but he chooses his notes and chording carefully and executes impeccably. In addition to his fine compositions, Cardenas’ discordant comping along with Allison’s infectious bass lines provides the platform for the groups solo explorations. Allison’s enthusiasm as he dances around his bass, prodded on by the musical surprises that come from his band mates, is joyful. He was equally nonplussed by the enthusiastic air-drumming accompaniment of a small child in the front row of the audience. He simply reveled in the musical exuberance so innocently displayed by the young fan.

The show lasted slightly over an hour included four songs from the latest album and one from his previous Cowboy Justice album in addition to the tune “Weezy”. At the conclusion the audience stood clapping enthusiastically for a well-deserved encore.

Musical synchronicity like this does not happen often and when it does it unfortunately has a limited shelf life. For those who want to experience the very best in new and exciting music on the scene today I encourage you to catch Ben Allison’s Man Size Safe while it is touring. They are even more exciting live than on record. I also recommend keeping a close eye on each of these rising stars of jazz whenever and wherever they choose to play.

This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.

April 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Bobby Sanabria Recreates an Afro-Cuban Classic recently published a fascinating interview with Bobby Sanabria conducted by Eugene Marlow. Today, editor Tim Wilkins follows up with an in-depth review Sanabria's Tuesday night performance with the Manhattan School of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. T.G.

What kind of fool would try to update a bona fide jazz classic? And what if the musicians who created that classic were your audience? Who would have the cheek to try this with a band of students, no less?

If this is heresy, then Bobby Sanabria is a heretic, of the best kind - he accomplished this and more when he premiered his Kenya Revisited suite with the Manhattan School of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra on Tuesday night. The suite is Sanabria’s take on Kenya, the legendary 1957 album recorded by the all-star band assembled by Francisco“Machito” Grillo and Mario Bauzá for Roulette Records, with Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and trumpeter Joe Newman on loan from the Count Basie band.

                           Machito's Kenya

The Kenya LP has such status amongst lovers of Latin music that to remake it – with new arrangements and instrumentation, no less – is akin to trying to redo the magic of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, or Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige. No task for the timid.

Adderley and Newman are gone, but veterans of the original session were there, watching Sanabria like a hawk. Trombonist Eddie Bert -- who played with everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Thelonious Monk -- was in the audience, as was Ray Santos, Machito’s lead tenor saxophonist and arranger. Even Machito’s son Mario, an accomplished bandleader in his own right, was there. Tough crowd.

Fortunately for Sanabria, he was joined on stage by one of the key contributors to the 1957 sessions: conga player Candido Camero, who at 86 has more fire in his fingertips than most drummers can ever hope to muster.

It didn’t take long for a verdict to come in: by the end of the first number, "Frenzy," Bert, Santos and Grillo, along with the rest of the crowd, were on their feet. The cheering rarely stopped for the next two hours. “Those kids played this stuff better than we did!” said Bert, beaming, after the show.”Man, coming from him - that’s the biggest compliment you can get,” Sanabria added. Grillo, too, came up to congratulate Sanabria. “My father’s idea was for this music to last forever. Tthank you for envisioning that.”

Sanabria, a Puerto-Rican native of the Bronx, is a tireless advocate for the recognition of Latin musicians in jazz, and especially of Machito and Bauzá, who in 1939 created the Afro-Cubans, the first band to successfully combine the undiluted West African rhythms of the Caribbean with the the era’s most sophisticated big-band harmonies on compositions such as “Tanga.”

Without realizing it, the two childhood friends from Cuba had started a conversation amongst the musical traditions of the African diaspora, a conversation which continues in New York to this day, thanks to musicians like Sanabria. “These guys still haven’t gotten the credit they deserve!” Sanabria said. “What we want to do is to keep expanding the rhythmic possibilities, so that there are no boundaries.”

                    Candido at the Kenya concert
                           Photo by Brian Hatton

In great measure, the original Kenya compositions sought to demonstrate, once and for all, that that Afro-Cuban rhythms are indeed compatible with jazz. While these two syncopated sensibilities share a strong kinship, they are indeed distinct, and navigating the waters between then is not always easy, whether for a soloist or an arranger.

Bauzá and Grillo must be smiling in heaven, if they could hear what we heard on Tuesday night. Sanabria honored the structure of the original twelve songs on the album, but in each case, imaginative touches were added to the arrangements either by himself or by his talented students. Joe Fiedler, a trombonist who plays in the big bands of both Sanabria and Charles Tolliver, wrote the arrangements for “Frenzy,” “Congo Mulence,” “Holiday” and “Tin Tin Deo.” Danny Rivera, a saxophonist and undergraduate at the Manhattan School, did versions of “Oyeme” and “Minorama.” Trumpeter Andrew Neesley contributed his takes on “Cannonology,” “Conversation,” and “Tururato.”

Sanabria could have scored the show himself, but preferred to let these talented young players in on the action, much as as elder musicians like Bauzá and Tito Puente did for him. Their updates, in his view, are in line with with the the original philosophy of Machito’s Afro-Cubans and the Kenya sessions.

“When Ray was writing for the Machito orchestra, Mario just told him to make it as hip as possible, musically,” Sasabria said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, too.”

The original Kenya compositions drew deeply on the blues, thanks to the masterful arranging of Chicago native A.K. Salim and the superb solos of Adderley and the New Orleans-born Newman on tunes such as “Oyeme,” which in Spanish means “listen to me.” Rivera added chord progressions borrowed from Miles Davis’s “Tune Up“ and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to create a broader palate for improvisers.

Of course, Cannonball and Newman left very big shoes to fill, but alto saxophonist Justin Janer and trumpeter John Stanko, both Manhattan School students, were among the evening’s outstanding soloists. Other names to remember from the evening include drummer Norman Edwards and pianist Sylvester Sands, who did a fine job updating the work of keyboard virtuoso René Hernandez, who also wrote four of the songs from the original Kenya suite with Bauzá.

The 1957 version of “Congo Mulence” was a funky twelve-bar blues, spiced up by the rhythms of son, son montuno, and cha-cha-cha. Fiedler added to this mix with a new introduction and ending in the mambo style, and a some sections with the 6/8 bembé rhythm superimposed, just for fun.

Bembé, a West African ceremonial rhythm that survived in Cuba, returned in Neesley’s take on "Conversation," which featured solos by tenor saxophonists Pawan Benjamin and Michael Davenport. Among Neesley’s other outstanding contributions to the evening was his version of "Tururato," which reimagined the mambo as funky New Orleans second line dance, all with a Bronx accent. This prompted Sanabria to don a porkpie hat and raise his umbrelle in an impromptu parade around the stage, dancing and clapping with the audience to make sure the five-pulse clave, which is the heartbeat of Cuban music, ended up back in the second line, where it belongs,

Fiedler offered the evening’s most imaginative arrangements, taking Bauzá’s trademark antiphonic section work and adding harmonic layers to it, such as chorale sections for the trombone section on “Tin Tin Deo” and for the saxophones on “Frenzy.” Fiedler is also a master of metric modulations, contributing a 5/4 center section to the original cha-cha-cha rhythm of “Holiday,” which adds fire to the tune without ever losing its cool.

In the midst of all this metric mayhem, Sanabria presided with a cool head, clapping with the audience and band whenever he wanted to make sure that the downbeat, or the clavé cycle, was heard. Sanabria’s background as a drumkit drummer, and his additon of a kit to Machito’s original lineup, enabled him to lead the band to one rhythmic precipice after another, only to execute the band’s the next surprising turn with absolute precision.

The evening’s greatest virtuosity was contributed by Candido, who took the stage for four numbers, including “Kenya.” A master of tonal drumming and the first to three conga drums simultaneously, he had many oustanding moments, including a reprise of the theme to Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” on the drums. Candido, who turns 87 on April 22, allowed himself the liberty of playing “Happy Birthday” to himself –to which the band responded, laughing, with a full fanfare.

                   Bobby Sanabria’s Kenya concert
                         Photo by Brian Hatton

Bronx bonhomie and good humor enveloped the evening, but don’t be fooled: this music is as serious as it gets, even as it shakes your booty. “One thing I like about this music is the way that it brings old and young people together,” said Sanabria, “because it gets you dancing.”

If you did not have the good fortune to catch this show, itry to track down the CD, which will be released in June to benefit a scholarfhip fund Sanabria started for Latino music students. Sanabria will perform some of these same charts again at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola club in New York on April 14, and in Verona, Italy on June 19th.

Sanabria hopes the CD will qualify for a Grammy nomination. While not a first for a student ensemble, this would indeed be a great achievement and one which in this case would be well-deserved.

This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins.

April 03, 2008 · 2 comments


Was "Kind of Blue" Kinda Fun?

Drummer Jimmy Cobb is the last surviving participant from the great Kind of Blue sessions -- the historic Miles Davis LP that is forty-nine years old this month. No jazz record has been more celebrated or more successful. No working band ever had more talent, pound-for-pound. No collection of instrumental jazz compositions has been more beloved by musicians and fans.

So interviewer Ralph Miriello asks the unexpected question. Everybody knows that this record is a jazz classic, but was it fun to make? Kind of Blue sounds like serious business, but were the musicians really in a blue mood? In short, what was it really like to be on this date?

Cobb replies:

"It was always fun to record with them guys because, you know, look who you got man. Look who you got -- how are you going to make a bad record with them guys? I’m just worried about how I am going hold up with them. I wasn’t worried about them because all of them I knew they were killers, all of them. Then another thing, getting back to Joe [Philly Joe Jones] the music had changed, so I didn’t really have to do what Joe was doing so I could do what I was doing and it fit with what was going on. . . .

"[The session] wasn’t as serious to me as Porgy and Bess … with all them pieces. You know with Gil [Evans] with that twenty-piece band …. That’s serious! This was a like a the genre where we usually played [in]. I just think we went in there and made a good record. Guys always ask me, man: “Did you know when you were making that record it was going to be that big?”… I said no. No, none of us knew. If Miles knew, he would have asked for twelve Ferraris."

Cobb concludes: "I just liked being in the best jazz band in the world at the time."

Ah, how many musicians get a chance to make that claim?

Elsewhere in the interview, Cobb discusses the possible rivalry between John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley in this Davis band, the piano work of Bill Evans, and offers up a host of anecdotes, covering everyone from Fidel Castro to Sugar Ray Robinson. To read more, click here.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

April 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Great Brazilian Songs That Aren't Tall & Tan, Young & Lovely . . .

Yesterday, in discussing Karrin Allyson’s new CD Imagina, I pointed out that, although her recording is subtitled “Songs of Brazil,” ten out of the fourteen tracks were composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I raised the question why the mix was so heavily weighted to this very well known composer.

In fairness to Allyson, I should note that she bypassed many of Jobim's hit songs, most notably "The Girl from Ipanema." Even so, Jobim is where most Americans' knowledge of Brazilian songs begins and ends. Why not expose listeners to some of the other great songwriters from Brazil, composers whose work is admired by musicians, even if it hasn't yet reached the mass market?

With that in mind, I put together a quick list of some of my favorite Brazilian songs not composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I'm sure many of you will want to add your own favorite titles. (You can send in suggestions and comments to

Consider these my starting point if I were called upon to select a song list for a CD featuring the lesser known gems of Brazilian music. A few of these (“Oceano” or “Comecar de Novo”) have had some limited exposure in the US, but these are the exceptions. And none of these songs could be considered well known - certainly not at the level of the Jobim hits. Yet each one on the list has the potential to be a commercial (as well as artistic) success. In a few instances, I have added some YouTube links that I think you will enjoy.

Tribalistas (Carlinhos Brown, Arnaldo Antunes and Marisa Monte): "Já Sei Namorar”

Chico Buarque: “Atras da Porta,” and “Partido Alto” (Click here for a remarkable version of the latter by the late Cássia Eller.)

Dorival Caymmi: ” Você Já Foi à Bahia?”

Djavan: Many of his great early compositions, such as “Estoria de Cantador” and ”Numa Esquina de Hanoi,” as well as his better known “Oceano”, and most of the tracks on the Luz CD.

João Bosco:“Corsário” (Check out this version by Elis Regina.)

Gilberto Gil: “Refazenda”, and many of the songs from the Quanta CD, including the title track and “Dança de Shiva.”

Jorge Ben Jor: “Chove Chuva” or "Mas Que Nada." (For an energetic live performance from 1972, click here.)

Ivan Lins: Certainly the well-known “Comecar de Novo” but even better are “Lembrança” and “Velas Içadas.” (Enjoy a karaoke video of the latter song with sing-along lyrics.)

Milton Nascimento: “Teia de Renda,” “Anima,” “San Vicente” and many of the songs from the Clube da Esquina CDs.

Hermano Silva: “Onde Anda Você”

Toquinho and Vinicius de Moraes: "Como É Duro Trabalhar"

Caetano Veloso: ”Sozinho,” or “Trilhos Urbanos”

I've left out too many good songs, and I already have more than enough material for a double CD. But if all you know about Brazilian music is Antonio Carlos Jobim, you need to check out some of these titles. And if you have favorites of your own that deserve to be heard, let us know.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

April 01, 2008 · 1 comment