The Best Jazz Tracks for June

Reptet

Some of the best CDs of 2008 are releases you might be afraid to buy. The cover to Reptet’s Chicken or Beef?  is unsavory enough to turn loyal burger-meisters into vegans. And today’s Song of the Day comes from a CD with the unappetizing title The Birth of Hip Bop,and featuring cover art vaguely reminiscent of what a kindergartener brings home from school.

But at jazz.com, we don’t judge CDs by their covers. We even gave a listen to Chicken or Beef, because we know some of the best jazz today comes in strange packaging. For example, my favorite CD last month arrived courtesy of a little known vocalist performing the Joe Raposo songbook.

You don’t know Joe Raposo? Ah, you are showing your years, my friend. Mr. Raposo wrote his most famous songs for Sesame Street, Electric Company and other children's TV fare from the post-Romper-Room era. Okay, I didn’t recognize the name myself until I encountered this CD, but now I am a committed Raposo-nista, and an even bigger fan of singer Yoon Sun Choi.

The Birth of Hip Bop

But we also have some familiar faces in our featured tracks for June. We gave the nod to new CDs from old friends to our turntable (or is it a turn-drawer these days?) such as Cassandra Wilson, Vijay Iyer and even Sergio Mendes. We also took a liking to new tracks from Brian Blade, Martial Solal and George Schuller. And (sad to say) there were a hundred or so CDs we checked out this month that did not make the cut.

In other words, we try to do the hard work for you, tasting the less appetizing dishes to find the culinary masterpieces you might otherwise miss. Five times each week, jazz.com highlights a Song of the Day, drawn from the best of the current crop of releases. We hunt far and wide for the finest new tracks, covering not just well known artists and major labels, but also listening to small indie releases and self-produced CDs, as well as deserving overseas projects too often neglected by the US-based jazz media. (Did I mention that our featured tracks this month cover the music of four continents?) Sometimes we even dip into world fusion or blues or (horrors!) classical music CDs that we believe would be of interest to jazz fans. But for the most part, we like our music hot and swinging and shaken (not stirred).

Below are links to the reviews for all the tracks selected as Song of the Day during the month of June. Click here, for a complete list of all the recordings featured as Song of the Day since the inception of jazz.com.



Tracks Featured as Song of the Day: June 2008

Too Blue Lou & the Groove: Blue in Green
Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks
Mario Pavone: Hello Again
Reptet: Danger Notes
Franco Ambrosetti: Frasi
Orchestra Baobab: Pape Ndiaye
Sean O'Bryan Smith: Tapestry
Gene Bertoncini: You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To
Robin Nolan: Once in a While
Sergio Mendes: The Look of Love
Ben Wolfe: No Pat No
Cassandra Wilson: Lover Come Back to Me
Vijay Iyer: Comin' Up
Don Immel: Long Way Home
Yoon Sun Choi: Somebody Come and Play
Gary Morgan & Panamericana!: Moragatu
David Sánchez: Manto Azul
Martial Solal: Here's That Rainy Day
George Schuller: The Survivors' Suite
Brian Blade: Omni
Jamie Baum: Solace
Andreas Öberg: Uptown Downtown


This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 30, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Jazz Network Takes Off



The word "community" has taken on many new meanings since the rise of the Internet. Certainly the often fragmented world of jazz has benefited enormously from new media's ability to bring fans and musicians together in virtual communities. Alan Kurtz looks below at one of the more exciting jazz communities on the web, a new site that has attracted almost 3,000 members in less than a year.

Readers are invited to share their own views by adding their comments or emailing them to editor@jazz.com.   T.G.


Collage on De Chirico's The Seer (1915)

In The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Howard Rheingold writes: "My 7-year-old daughter knows that her father congregates with a family of invisible friends who seem to gather in his computer. Sometimes he talks to them, even if nobody else can see them." Given the Internet's ever-expanding reach, such invisible families are now multiplying faster than rabbits on fertility-enhancement drugs. While face-to-face contact remains essential for both our most intimate and our most superficial encounters, online interaction increasingly occupies the middle ground of meaningful social exchange unencumbered by proximity. Overcoming the mind/body disconnect that preoccupied worrywart humanists in times past, we have redefined the Real World to embrace mentality and materiality with equal ease.

Like Father - Like Daughter: Chubby Jackson and Jaijai Jackson

Even that musical centenarian called Jazz has quickened its step into virtual communality, as shown by a web site launched half a year ago and already thriving with nearly 3,000 members and a homepage hit counter that recently spiraled past 150,000 with the dizzying determination of prices at your neighborhood gas pump. The Jazz Network is the brainchild of Jaijai Jackson, daughter of bassist Chubby Jackson (1918-2003). Born into show biz, Jaijai strutted her stuff at age 6 on her dad's popular kiddies show telecast locally in New York City during the early '60s. From such formative experiences, Jaijai "felt the pulse of the business," as she puts it. Adulthood found her running a recording studio and representing jazzmen through a family booking firm before joining the Willard Alexander Agency, where she coordinated tours for Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and other big-name artists. Later, under her alias "Woman of Jazz," Jaijai conducted an Internet radio jazz show. And now, applying her expertise to The Jazz Network, she helps fledgling and established artists alike find affordable new ways to connect with fans worldwide.

Screenshot: The Jazz Network

Of course, you don't have to be a musician to join this dynamic virtual community, chock-full of member-posted photos, audio tracks and video clips that will delight nonprofessionals no end. The focus, though, is definitely on the artists, who have quickly made The Jazz Network's innovative showplace their own. Jazz.com contributor Marissa Dodge, for example, treats Jazz Network visitors to generous samples of her singing & keyboard playing, songwriting, poetry, stories from her ongoing memoirs, banter from admirers, and a slideshow of Marissa mugging for the camera. (Her balancing a baby grand piano on one hand – with eyes closed – is not to be missed! Eat your heart out, David Copperfield.)

Once hooked, you'll naturally want to set up your own page. No degree in computer science is required, you'll be glad to know. The Jazz Network makes it easy as cake. (Piece of pie?) Covet a slideshow like Marissa's? Simply click the Make Your Own button and be whizzed off to Photobucket, where you can drop your pix into a slideshow "100% free and 100% fun."

Or how about one of those constantly updating Maps To See How Far We Are Networking? Click the link to NiftyMaps.com to customize a map for your own web site or MySpace page that tracks your visitors' locations down to street level. Another free toy or tool, as the case may be, courtesy of The Jazz Network.

Given such an open and welcoming environment, it's no surprise that The Jazz Network has attracted such familiar names as David Benoit, Alex Bugnon, Onaje Allan Gumbs and Lenny White to its member roster, and earned accolades from the likes of fellow members Billy Cobham, Will Downing, Alphonse Mouzon and Buster Williams.

Mikayla Gilbreath

Yet it's not only established artists who hang out together over this electronic backyard fence. There are plenty of tomorrow's aspiring stars as well, such as 15-year-old jazz saxophonist and journalist Mikayla Gilbreath. "I heard Sonny Rollins," she says, explaining her passion, "and I just loved it. I loved the way it sounded, and I wanted to play jazz instead of just music." Has anyone of any age ever put it better? Jazz instead of just music.

Jazz.com takes pride in saluting an appealing, engaging and downright useful web site that has obviously struck a responsive chord in jazz's virtual community. Way to go, The Jazz Network!


This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

June 29, 2008 · 6 comments

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Radio France Pulls the Plug on Jazz



American Jazz fans might be surprised at how much the art form relies upon support from Europe for its continued health. Many musicians would struggle financially without the decent paydays from European festivals and concerts. (For an economic comparison between U.S. and Europe gigs, see Frøy Aagre sobering jazz diary, a recent and continuing feature in these pages.)

It is no coincidence that Jazz receives media attention in many of these countries far beyond what one finds in its land of origin. Check out how many YouTube jazz videos come from European television broadcasts. When is the last time you saw a major jazz artist on U.S. network TV?

But now we see the same dumbing down of coverage and marginalization of jazz in European media that long ago afflicted the American music scene. Tim Wilkins reports on a shocking move by Radio France to fire the four hosts who have provided most of its jazz coverage in recent decades. Read below for more details.

Those who wish to express their support for the Radio France jazz hosts are encouraged to sign the petition at www.martinepalme.com or send an email with the subject line "petition france musique" to Martine at initiales@martinepalme.com. T.G.



Jazz fans in France have been dealt a harsh blow. Four Radio France jazz hosts - Philippe Carles, Claude Carriere, Jean Delmas and Alain Gerber - were abruptly fired by the state broadcasting company. Together, they have produced the bulk of the network's jazz broadcasts since the seventies, thousands of hours of programs.

Why were they fired? Not because of the quality or popularity of their programs, which are high, but because of their ages: all four are older than 65. No comment yet as to whether jazz programs will continue on the network, only that Radio France wants to "be younger," according to chief executive Jean-Paul Cluzel. The announcement comes on the heels of the BBC's controversial decision to shake up its jazz programming last year.

Philippe Carles

Mind you, these four are no Moldy Figs. All have been tireless advocates for all varieties of jazz in many venues. In addition to his late-night show, "Jazz Against the Current." Philippe Carles (pictured left) is the author of a respected jazz encyclopedia and editor-in-chief of France's Jazz Magazine. Carriere, a pianist, author and record producer, has received many awards and with Delmas has broadcast live from jazz clubs across Europe every Friday night since 1982.

Their show captured classic live moments with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Kenny Barron among others, and introduced young artists such as Brad Mehldau and James Carter. Gerber's show presents classic jazz in a narrative form, which reflects his own background as a prizewinning novelist.

In contrast to the BBC, Radio France has made its jazz programs available to listeners around the world via streaming audio on the Internet.

The first the four heard of this "age limit" was via registered mail two weeks ago, which announced their forced retirements. No mention had ever been made of it in their contracts. This is ironic, given that France's government currently encourages seniors to postpone retirement and extend their working lives.

So, should there be an expiration date on jazz? Or on the lifetime one spends gaining an appreciation of it? To be sure, jazz has never been a ticket to full employment. Critics, even in France, have no right to expect this, especially when so many master musicians struggle to make ends meet. And jazz never needs critics who consider their own opinions more important than the music.

But all four of these - Carles, Carriere, Delmas and Gerber - are public intellectuals any nation should be proud of, and France is fortunate to have had national institutions like Radio France that until now have supported jazz as a cultural treasure. It would be a shame to see this support become a thing of the past.

While the network's decision to remove the four appears irreversible, blogger Martine Palmé has created an online petition to urge Radio France to continue its commitment to jazz programs. Anyone who wishes to add their name to this petition can visit www.martinepalme.com or send an email with the subject line "petition france musique" to Martine at initiales@martinepalme.com.

This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins

June 26, 2008 · 2 comments

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Art Pepper Lives!

The appearance of unreleased recordings by alto saxophonist Art Pepper is certainly a cause for celebration, but especially when they come from his triumphant comeback years. Art Pepper, who died in 1982, saved his best music for last. He was forced to do so, having spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in prison and rehab. Pepper was granted a short period at the end of his life to recapture his glory years of the 1950s, and he was determined to make the most of it.

Art Pepper

I saw the band featured in the new CD Unreleased Art: The Croydon Concert May 14, 1981 during the same 1981 UK tour, at an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s. I was finishing up my philosophy degree at Oxford and getting ready to return to California. This trip to London was a good way of celebrating the completion of my program. I made the journey to London with alto saxophonist John O’Neill –- we frequently performed together in a quartet during that period, and were both excited about seeing Art Pepper in the flesh. We rustled up a sympathetic friend who had a car, a local record store owner who also dabbled in producing jazz albums, and arrived early to secure seating close to the musicians.

Pepper had come to England the previous year and had created a tremendous buzz with his performances. He was experiencing a great resurgence of popularity among US jazz fans during this same period, but his following in the UK was, if anything, even more devoted. The word of mouth reports of his 1980 appearances were extravagant in their praise. Around this time, the British magazine jazz Journal featured him on its cover and, if I remember correctly, even named him jazz musician of the year.

I know how much these honors meant to Pepper. I had the opportunity to talk with him a few days before he died – in what turned out to be his last interview. He dwelt at length on his unfulfilled hope to someday see himself on the cover of Down Beat. For this artist, who received so little validation from the US critics during his life, the accolades garnered overseas, in the UK and Japan where he felt respected and even loved, were important to his self-esteem and sense of having made his way back into the limelight. Even more than most jazz artists, Pepper wanted recognition for his body of work, for a career that he had almost destroyed through his own excesses.

Pepper could only blame himself for his almost complete absence from the New York scene, where jazz reputations are (then as now) made. His first appearance as leader in a NY club did not take place until he was fifty-one years old! (However, this Village Vanguard gig from July 1977 resulted in no fewer than three brilliant albums, one for each night of the engagement, and a later boxed set.) Of course, during the prime of his life, this altoist hardly showed up on any scene. Pepper’s drug addiction and the criminal activity it required to support – outlined with exceptional candor in his autobiography Straight Life (highly recommended) – could easily have killed him back in the 1950s. The altoist survived, but spent too many years in prison or Synanon or out on the street scuffling for drug money.

When he tried to make a comeback in the late 1970s, all the odds were against him. Art Pepper was largely forgotten in the jazz world, his best known recordings almost two decades behind him. Even old fans of his were forced to confront a new artist, who had assimilated John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and now leavened his sweet alto sound with anguished, angular phrases that were completely unlike anything he had ever recorded back in the 1950s. Fans of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (1957) or Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics (1959) would hardly recognize the soloist who now stood before them. But even as Pepper’s playing changed, so had the jazz world – and not for the better. Jazz on the West Coast had been in decline during all the years Pepper was off the scene. Clubs were shutting down. The audience was shrinking. In an age of loud rock, jazz was just a whisper.

Admirers also were shocked by his ravaged looks – you could make a convincing anti-drug scare message out of a side-by-side comparison of cover photos of the 1950s-era releases, featuring a handsome and dashing young musician, with the pallid, bloated visage on the front of Art Pepper Today (1978). Stay away from heroin, kiddies, or it might do this to you!

Despite all these obstacles, Pepper made a successful comeback. And for only one reason: he was playing like a man possessed. Very few jazz artists reach new peaks in their music and solo conception beyond the age of fifty. Jazz is an art form best suited for twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, drawing on their vitality and ambition and irreverence. Yet here was a fellow ready for the AARP playing with fire and intensity night after night, on record after record. If you only heard the records, and didn't see the beaten-down looking man who made them, you would assume it was some young lion ready to take over the scene.

Much to my disappointment, I had not seen Pepper on his 1980 UK trip. But I would not miss him on his return. From his first notes, he mesmerized the audience at Ronnie Scott’s. (Not always easy to do – I have always been surprised and frustrated by the number of noisy tables at this famous club. For some reason, people who want to jabber or close business deals are willing to pay the high cover charge for the privilege of doing so with famous jazz musicians serenading in the background.) But Pepper was showered with love, and he responded by letting down his own guard. At one point, he even pulled out his clarinet, and performed an endearing old standard on this horn, even while admitting to the audience that he was hardly ready to play it in public.

But it was on the more intense combo numbers that Pepper took full flight. Apparently the altoist thought that pianist Milcho Leviev was too forceful in his comping. But the result was that Pepper raised his own energy level in response. You can hear that on the Croydon CD, where he starts “Patricia” as a dreamy ballad, but gets tougher and rougher in response to prodding from the keyboard. Pepper liked to impart an edgy quality to this song – check out the moving coda to his 1977 studio version – but Leviev would sometimes push Pepper over the edge.

There are many aural delights in late vintage Pepper. I can’t think of another altoist who is better at mixing gentle lyricism and bitter anguish in the same solo. Pepper’s ability to shift moods in mid-chorus is almost a calling card of his work from this period. I would also call attention to his masterful phrasing. Every Pepper phrase has a clear shape, and a memorable passage from beginning to end. This may sound like a truism, but many sax players today, even well known ones, could learn from Pepper. Shaping a phrase is almost a lost art, circa 2008. For his part, Pepper never tossed out mindless strings of sixteenth or thirty-second notes, or played practice room patterns.

Above all, I was struck back in 1981 -- and still today -- by the great emotional candor in Pepper's playing. I am not sure how he achieved this. Sometimes I have speculated that he had some personal technique, much like those who studied Method Acting under Lee Strasberg, of channeling feelings from intense moments in his past into his performances. This is just my suspicion. But Pepper's potent autobiography, a searing confession that makes no attempt to prettify a seamy life, seems to suggest that he could vividly re-inhabit incidents from his earlier years. Could it be that the power of a performance like "Patricia" is due to deep emotions triggered by his relationship with the daughter after whom the song was named? Perhaps I reach too far for an explanation, but the searing intensity of Pepper's performances and his frank personal disclosures in print and in person during these years, seem to invite this very type of speculation.

In the final analysis, we only have the music now, the artist now departed from the scene for more than a quarter of a century. The arrival of The Croydon Concert brings back many fond memories to those of us who had a chance to see Pepper during this period. And for those who never got the chance, this double-CD, a complete live performance, is the next best thing to being there back in ’81.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

June 25, 2008 · 4 comments

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Jazz Journalists Hand Out Awards



The annual Jazz Journalist Association award ceremony is an increasingly important event for an art form that recently lost the IAJE and fell off the radar screens of the major media some time during the last century. Even better, the jazz writers not only take time to celebrate the musicians, but even give themselves a few awards -- how 'bout that? For once, the pen is almost as mighty as the horn!

But not for long. The stars of jazz were out in full force, and a few celebrated performers managed to steal the show -- including one pianist who passed away more than fifty years ago. Jazz.com's arnold jay smith reports on the event. T.G.



The Jazz Journalists Association presented awards for excellence at their annual luncheon ritual at Jazz Standard in New York City on June 18. What makes these awards unique, set apart even from the annual jazz mags' critics polls is that we –in the spirit of full disclosure I’m their Treasurer— present awards to our colleagues in addition to the musicians we write about.

The Standard provides a warm informal atmosphere far from JJA’s former setting, B.B. King’s. With JJA prez Howard Mandel presiding, all the award presenters can be seen and, more importantly heard, over what was formerly not a nightclub murmur but a loud disconcerting din from the rear of B.B.’s. The Awards luncheon remains a solid hang where friends reacquaint with each other. (You may obtain the results from the JJA website www.jazzhouse.org.)

Let’s talk hanging with the audience. "Pianist of the Year" Hank Jones sat with Frank Wess and "Percussionist of the Year" Candido Camero. At the next table were Sue (Mrs. Charles) Mingus and double awardee, drummer Roy Haynes. Joe Lovano worked the room, stopping only to work the stage in duet with Hank. Their efforts silenced the throng with "Alone Together," "I’m All For You" and "How High the Moon"/"Ornithology," seriously the highlight of the afternoon despite some humor by the presenters and recipients alike. Haynes was surprised that he beat out some heavies. “So if I’m the best drummer, come out to see me,” he quipped. I don’t think he was kidding.

Sitting there minding the ceremonies were Billy Bang, A-Team (for activists, among other meanings) awardees Valerie Capers and Dana Gioia, George Wein, who toasted Gioia and Marian McPartland, this year’s Lifetime Achievement winner, Sy Johnson, Giacomo Gates, Joe Locke, Anat Cohen, multiple winner (again) Maria Schneider, Marty Sheller, Mark Soskin and Matt Wilson.

“God was in the house” is a paraphrase of an old LP title, from an utterance by Fats Waller when Art Tatum walked into a club on 52nd St. while Waller was on the stage. Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here is a recreation of a long-forgotten and badly recorded Tatum concert on a digitally enhanced piano. Alas, without the piano, or better yet the real thing, the design concept was lost to the audience. Tatum’s brilliance was well appreciated, however. (So wot’s nu?) In that regard I question the veracity of the project although mixed reviews of the Apollo Theatre playlet based on it have filtered to me.

I do not mean this to be self-serving, but a bit of a nice back story emerged some days afterward. I was asked to present the award for Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting: The Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award. The nominees were some of the in-the-trench-workers such as Leigh Kamman in Minnesota and Linda Yohn in Michigan. Also nominated was the year-plus and loudly discontinued NPR “Profiles in Jazz with Nancy Wilson,” which won. While that was terrific for my recently back-in-harness friend, I thought it kind of odd. Upon expressing that opinion to WBGO Program Director Thurston Brisco I was informed that there has been such demand for the show that it was re-installed as a weekly prime-time-special.

Take that NPR!

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

June 24, 2008 · 1 comment

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Remembering Esbjörn Svensson (1964-2008)



Few jazz writers have demonstrated a deeper understanding and appreciation of the late Esbjörn Svensson than Stuart Nicholson, a frequent contributor to these pages. Nicholson was one of the first to sing the praises of Svensson, writing about the pianist and his group e.s.t. in The New York Times and elsewhere at a time when few fans in the U.S. knew about this exciting ensemble.



Following this band from afar was not easy at first. I remember having to hunt out From Gagarin’s Point of View during a visit to Italy – intent on finding this brilliant CD which, for whatever reason, hadn’t been released in the U.S. at the time. Stuart graciously sent me other e.s.t. releases that hadn’t yet made their way across the Atlantic – recordings that I found tremendously vital and exciting. I suspect that many other jazz fans first heard about this music through his smart commentaries.

Stuart was also the first to relate the tragedy, a distraught email arriving before the news services picked up the story, that Esbjörn Svensson had died in a diving accident at age 44. The jazz world is still reeling in the aftermath of this unexpected loss.

Below Nicholson contributes an eloquent tribute to this exceptional artist, who left us when he still had so much to share. T.G.



On a warm night in May, 2006 e.s.t., which had begun life as the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, played Lyon, the third largest city in France. For the past two or three years the group, with Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Öström on drums, had been creating a rising buzz of excitement wherever they played in Europe. Standing ovations, countless encores and wild applause had become common. But this particular night it all seemed to come to a head.

As the group walked onstage it was as if the clock had been turned back to the days of Beatle-mania. Young girls in 1,500 audience, and there were plenty, burst out screaming. The rest of the audience were whistling, shouting, stamping and applauding. The noise was deafening. And they hadn’t even played a note of music.

e.s.t. were finally entering the big time. Years of constant touring --100 to 200 gigs a year were not uncommon -- were finally paying off and there was a universal belief among those involved in the European jazz economy that it could not have happened to three nicer and more hard-working guys. They were praised for their professionalism, their unfailing punctuality, their cheerful disposition whatever the circumstances (and things can and do go wrong at festivals), their rapport with audiences, and their willingness to stay on after concerts for as long as it took signing autographs.

EST Live 1995

They had come a long way since their album E.S.T. Live '95, when as unknowns outside their native Sweden they were recorded performing during a tour of small towns such as Möndal, Nyköping, Uppsala and Århus (where Svensson plays an upright piano on two tracks). But even then the trio, which had been formed three years earlier, had already begun to forge a collective voice, a hallmark of their style.

It’s probably fair to say the success of e.s.t. may have taken some outside the jazz economy by surprise – such as the mainstream media who were forced to sit up and take notice at the remarkable success of a jazz group – but the one person who never had any doubt the band would make it was Esbjörn Svensson.

A dynamic and immensely personable young man, he was classical graduate of the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, who quickly established himself on the Swedish jazz scene as a rising star. His early influences were Thelonious Monk and Keith Jarrett (from his Facing You period) and, just as important, yet seldom remarked, were the influence of local heroes Bengt Hallberg and the visionary pianist Jan Johansson. Underpinning it all was his love and affinity for classical music – indeed, e.s.t’s 2006 album Tuesday Wonderland was inspired by Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. All these elements together formed the basis of a wholly original style.

Svensson’s compositions often had more in common with the structure of contemporary pop tunes than the American Popular Song. Many contained beautiful, almost sensuous melodies that were imbued with the pensive melancholy of the Nordic Tone, an important if largely misunderstood voice within jazz.

A couple of years experience playing in pop and rock bands before he formed e.s.t. taught him the value of presentation, and from the very beginning they made financial sacrifices to carry sound engineer Åke Linton (known as the fourth member of the trio) with them whenever they could. Lighting was also an important consideration at their concerts, and a lighting engineer was added to their entourage when finances permitted. “Some musicians think standing in front of a microphone in a white spotlight is all that you need, and that’s okay. Not for us though,” said Svensson.

When the group signed with Siggi Loch’s ACT label and Burkhard Hopper became their manager, e.s.t. began to take off following the release of From Gagarin’s Point of View in 1999. With fresh, original material and imaginative presentation, the group began to win fans beyond the usual jazz constituency. As they built a broad fan base in Europe, the buzz surrounding them began to spread to the United States.

EST

In 2002 they embarked on a three week tour of the US which was followed in 2003 by a tour playing support for k. d. lang. Subsequently, they toured annually, prompting Down Beat magazine to proclaim in 2006 that "Europe Invades": “The Esbjörn Svensson Trio Leads The Breakthrough Of New, Adventurous Jazz Musicians Coming From Across The Pond.” It was the first time in Down Beat’s entire 72 year history that a European jazz group had been featured on the magazine's cover.

On 21 June this year e.s.t. was due to appear at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York. At 44, Svensson had accomplished so much, yet he offered so much more. One of the most influential artists in recent jazz history, Jon Newey, editor and publisher of the UK magazine Jazzwise called him “The single most important artist to emerge in jazz in the last ten years.” A new album Leucocyte had been completed and plans were already in hand for extensive touring to support its release.

A devoted family man Esbjörn Svensson is survived by his wife and two young sons.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson

June 23, 2008 · 4 comments

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Behind the Scenes at the Jazz Encyclopedia Project

Regular site visitors to jazz.com are probably familiar with our Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians. But they might not be aware of the constant flurry of activity behind the scenes at the Encyclopedia. Under the leadership of editor Tim Wilkins, this on-line reference work is constantly evolving, expanding its scope and improving its coverage.

The encyclopedia was founded by Dr. Lewis Porter, and originally focused on currently active jazz musicians. Porter made great strides by actually approaching the musicians themselves, and thus achieved a level of accuracy and depth of coverage that set his work apart. When the encyclopedia moved to jazz.com this last December, it was comprised of around 1,500 entries, and included many artists not covered adequately – or sometimes not dealt with at all – in other reference works. In short, the encyclopedia was a unique and valuable resource, and we were delighted to be able to share it with jazz.com's visitors.

The web allows publishers to constantly tinker and improve in a way that would not be possible with a printed work, and we were determined from the out-set to continue to develop and expand Porter's pioneering project. In particular, we planned to expand the focus beyond currently active jazz musicians. To help in that effort, jazz.com has enlisted the assistance of a team of outside scholars and experts to help us fill these gaps. Tim and his crew are now gradually covering important historical figures as well as current day artists who, for one reason or another, had not provided biographical info for inclusion in earlier versions of the encyclopedia. This group has added around one hundred entries so far this year, and Tim hopes to incorporate 200-300 more over the next 12 months.

The team’s goal is to provide more than just standard biographical sketches. We are especially excited by the potential benefits of integrating the encyclopedia material with the thousands of reviews, interviews, photos, paintings and other content on the jazz.com site – seamlessly linking everything together to provide an unique overview of artists. In other words, a visitor to the entry on Billie Holiday will find that songs mentioned in the entry link to our various critics' analyses of the specific tracks; or that other relevant material on jazz.com is just a click away.

Below are links to a small sampling of the recently published entries in the Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians. Feel free to send your comments or queries to Tim Wilkins, at reference@jazz.com.

Albert Ayler by Eric Wendell
Count Basie by David Tenenholz
Tina Brooks by Eric Novod
Jaki Byard by Jared Pauley
Charlie Christian by Darren Mueller
Stanley Clarke by Jared Pauley
Nat King Cole by Jared Pauley
John Coltrane by Darren Mueller
Peter Erskine by Jared Pauley
Bill Evans by Jared Pauley
Maynard Ferguson by Dave Krikorian
Bill Frisell by Eric Novod
Stan Getz by Jonathan Dryden
Dizzy Gillespie by Mark Lomanno
Benny Goodman by Jared Pauley
Grant Green by Scott Homewood
Herbie Hancock by Jared Pauley
Andrew Hill by Eric Novod
Earl Hines by Jared Pauley
Keith Jarrett by Eric Wendell
Elvin Jones by Eric Novod
Carmen McRae by Sue Russell
Brad Mehldau by Jared Pauley
Thelonious Monk by Jared Pauley
Wes Montgomery by John DeCarlo
Lee Morgan by Dave Krikorian
Paul Motian by Eric Novod
Jim Pepper by Ratzo B. Harris
Sam Rivers by Matt Miller
Archie Shepp by Brad Farberman
Cecil Taylor by Jim Allen
Henry Threadgill by Greg Campbell
Cootie Williams by Dave Krikorian
Teddy Wilson by Jared Pauley
John Zorn by Eric Wendell

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 22, 2008 · 1 comment

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Weekend Track Review Roundup

It’s not your typical Juneteenth around jazz.com. Like beaming parents, we are celebrating the arrival of our 2,500th review. I am not sure which makes us prouder – the milestone or the fact that the author is tenor titan Joe Lovano.

Check back in a few days to read it . . . as part of Mr. Lovano’s guest Dozens, where he selects and discusses twelve favorite John Coltrane tracks. This article will mark the latest in our “guest artist” Dozens series, edited by the estimable Ted Panken, who recently brought you Randy Brecker’s overview of Freddie Hubbard tracks and Eric Reed’s survey of the work of Ahmad Jamal.

In the meantime, we present links below to a sampling of jazz.com reviews published during the last three weeks. As always, our goal -- quixotic, yet noble -- is to cover all the great (and not so great) tracks recorded by jazz artists since the first tawdry story came out of Storyville. We aim for a fairly even balance between covering new music and old music. Five times each week, we highlight a Song of the Day drawn from the best of the current releases. We also offer a daily retrospective glance at a jazz masterpiece, as part of our A Classic Revisited feature.

All reviews come with fair and judicious appraisal that would make Learned Hand proud, and a ranking based on our proprietary 100 point scale. We also include, whenever possible, links for fast (and legal) downloading. And site visitors can add their own concurring or dissenting opinions at the bottom of each review.

Dizzy Gillespie & Stan Getz: It Don’t Mean a Thing
Keith Jarrett: The Survivors’ Suite
Esbjörn Svensson: Somewhere Else Before
Chick Corea: Compadres
Ornette Coleman: First Take
John Coltrane: Afro Blue
Wynton Marsalis: The Majesty of the Blues
Queen Latifah: I Love Being Here With You
Keith Jarrett: Death and the Flower
Eddie Daniels: Falling in Love With Love
Django Reinhardt: Improvisation No. 2
Sonny Rollins: We Kiss in Shadow
Miles Davis: Bess, You Is My Woman Now
Charles Mingus: Dizzy Moods
Lennie Tristano: Background Music
Sauter-Finegan Orchestra: These Foolish Things
Art Pepper: Star Eyes
Wynton Marsalis: Stardust
Warne Marsh: The Nearness of You
Weather Report: Black Market (Live)
Allan Holdsworth: Velvet Darkness
Tete Montoliu: Straight No Chaser
Chubby Jackson: A Ballad for Jai
Bud Powell: Just One of Those Things
Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: Just Friends
Ahn Trio: My Funny Valentine
Lenny White: Mating Drive
Gong: Soli
Pat Martino: Line Games
Benny Carter: A Foggy Day
Stan Kenton & June Christy: Prelude to a Kiss
Chico Freeman: It Never Entered My Mind
Von Freeman: Portrait of John Young
Stanley Clarke: Lopsy Lu
Elli Fordyce: Dindi
Jack DeJohnette: Minority
Jack DeJohnette: One for Eric
Mark Levine: I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
Miles Davis / Bill Laswell: In a Silent Way
Shakti: Face to Face
Jean-Luc Ponty: Is Once Enough?
John La Barbera: Walk on the Wild Side
Sonny Rollins: Grand Street
Jean-Luc Ponty: New Country
Teddy Wilson: More Than You Know
Toben Waldorff: Squealfish
Jackie McLean: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
John Coltrane: Chasin’ Another Trane
James Blood Ulmer: Jazz is the Teacher
Jackie McLean: Melody for Melonae
Billy Cobham: Life and Times
Weather Report: Volcano for Hire
Jean-Luc Ponty: Demagomania
David Sancious: Suite (From the End of An Age)
Benny Carter: I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
Paul Gonsalves: I Surrender Dear
Soprano Summit: Chalumeau Blue
Tim Hagans: Over and Back
Hugo Díaz: Milonga Triste

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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New Technology Shakes Up the Jazz World



Earlier this week, I discussed the remarkable (and controversial) new recording from Sony that recreates a 1949 piano recital by Art Tatum using innovative technology from Zenph Studios, a North Carolina start-up. Put simply, Zenph is able to bring an artist’s music back to life note-perfect, for concerts and recordings, long after the performer is dead.



            Recording Art Tatum when Tatum's not around


Below is my recent conversation with Zenph President and founder John Q. Walker, who provides more background on this technology, and discusses where it might lead. (Hint: Zenph has more than just piano music in its sights.)

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which your curious blogger lists some old jazz recordings he would like to see rejuvenated in this manner, and speculates on some other implications of this technology. You can email me your thoughts at editor@jazz.com.



How did Zenph Studios come about?

I have a Ph.d. in software engineering and a piano degree. I wanted to tackle a very basic problem: how do we go from the recording to the notes themselves. It’s an immense technology problem, but if you have the notes you can do anything.

And you have started with the piano?

But eventually we will be all music, all genres.

What would you say to critics who claim that this music is not the real Tatum?

Well, in the course of our work we found out a lot about the real Tatum. Do you know that the original recording of the Shrine Auditorium concert is at the wrong tape speed?

We spent weeks trying to figure whether it was sharp or flat. Fortunately we could compare the Shrine version of “Humoresque” with one of Tatum playing the same piece of one of his few surviving videos. In fact, it was quite amazing to compare the two. There are long stretches where Tatum’s playing at the Shrine and on this video were absolutely in sync.


        Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                        Photo by Marcel Fleiss

But some have described this CD as “test tube Tatum” or “Bizarro Tatum” – sort of like what Dolly the cloned sheep is to Mary’s little lamb. What's your response?

It’s Tatum playing. Tatum’s playing is the original. We have simply separated the original from the medium on which it was originally recorded.

We played this music for Oscar Peterson before he died, and he said, ‘That’s my friend Art Tatum playing, and I haven’t heard him in fifty years.”

What else did you learn about Tatum while doing this project?

We have a recital hall here that seats around 65 people. We were working on Tatum over a series of months, and when I heard the music it always sounded too loud. But then I realized that Tatum was playing this music for a crowd of six thousand people. When we got to the Shrine Auditorium to record this music in concert, I could see that he was playing with this very performance space in mind. In the context of the Shrine, every note, every pedal movement, everything was perfect.

I cried. Maybe just in relief. But I cried.

How are you able to identify and quantify the pedaling techniques used on these recordings? That would seem to be quite a challenge.

Art Tatum

In terms of analysis, when the dampers are up they create different harmonics and overtones. You can quantify it. The most important point in pedaling is the half point, which is when the hair of the felt touches the string. That point needs to be precisely coded, and then you need to understand how the pianist accelerates through that point.

So you are drawing on a substantial amount of data here, and not just making judgment calls.

Absolutely. We held a recital series for three years, and brought in different pianists – classical, jazz – and microscopically recorded what they did. We needed to understand what humans do at the piano.

I understand that you were able to identify a splice in Glenn Gould’s “Aria” from The Goldberg Variations because there was a sudden acceleration that, according to your analysis, would not have been done live by a human pianist.

That’s correct. I couldn’t hear it on the original recording. But we could tell from our work here.

How did you decide on the Tatum Shrine Concert as a follow-up to your Glenn Gould recording?

We have a contract with Sony, and this is the Tatum recording that they had the rights to.

Well, it was an inspired choice. It features Tatum at his very best, but the sound quality on the original has always hampered people’s appreciation of this music. What other piano projects are you considering?

There are so many. For jazz, there are Duke Ellington solos and Fats Waller. James P. Johnson. Dave Brubeck playing solo in his home in 1955. Erroll Garner. In the classical music field, we have Rachmaninoff, the young Horowitz. . . .

I would love to hear you work your magic on Jelly Roll Morton’s piano solo from his Library of Congress recordings. Another example of great music marred by a poor recording.

I am having a meeting with Sony on Jelly Roll Morton next week.

You are now working on other instruments? What’s next.

The bass. It’s not perfect yet, but we are about 94% of the way there.

What are the challenges of tackling the bass?

With the piano there are about a dozen things we need to take into account for each note. But for the bass there are multiple dozens of factors. We need to get every finger nail click, and popping the strings against the fretboard, every pitch bend, and all the other factors.

And we’ve got it.

[Author's Note: Apparently they do. As a follow-up to our interview, Walker sent me unreleased recordings of Zenph's recreation of Ray Brown's bass, and the true-to-life quality of the sound was impressive.]

What is the playback mechanism for the bass? For the piano, you are using the Yamaha Diskclavier Pro, but how do you handle string instruments.

Our bass is completely software driven.

What instruments do you plan to tackle after the bass?

Next is drum kits, percussion and saxophone.

It would be fascinating to hear the Charlie Parker recordings from the 1940s.

Or think of all the piano trio albums. For example Erroll Garner’s Concert by the Sea.

It’s a classic recording, maybe Garner’s finest moment, but as I mentioned in a recent review, it is marred by sub-par recording quality.

Every week I get a request from someone for us to take on that very recording.



For my comments on the Zenph Art Tatum CD, click here. Also, New York-based fans can hear the Tatum performance “live” at the Apollo Theater on June 22 in a benefit concert for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

Check back soon for my personal wish list of old recordings with poor sound that I would like to hear in pristine new Zenph-a-sized versions. If you have nifty suggestions, or contrary opinions, send them to me at editor@jazz.com.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.



June 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Saga of David Benoit: How Smoooooth Can You Get?

Over the years, I have encountered two different philosophies on sequencing tracks on a CD. One view is that an artist needs to “mix it up.” The tracks should provide a variety of tempos and beats. Each song should be in a different key from the previous number. In essence, the decisions made in programming a recording are treated much like those involved pacing a concert. Contrast and diversity are essential.

The other approach is to establish a single mood that continues for the entire duration of the CD. You couldn’t get away with this in concert. Try playing twelve ballads in a row, and watch your audience drift off to the Land of Nod. But when used in sequencing a recording, this same approach has produced some of the most cherished classics in the jazz pantheon.

Among recent CDs, James Carter’s PresentTense is a striking example of the former approach. Carter moves around from horn to horn, showing off his skills on tenor and baritone and soprano and flute and bass clarinet. And his song choices encompass the famous and obscure, dipping into tunes by Django Reinhardt and Gigi Gryce and Dodo Marmarosa, along with standards and originals and tribute numbers.

David Benoit

On the other hand, we have David Benoit’s new CD Heroes. Mr. Benoit modestly claims that he picked out songs he enjoyed by artists who had influenced him. But he is selling himself short here. Mr. Benoit clearly did a net present value calculation, adding up the cumulative lifetime earnings of various compositions, then discounting the total into current dollars. He was then able to select songs that had the highest potential financial impact when covered on a jazz CD.

Pretty nifty, huh? And you thought David Benoit was just a pianist.

This clever mathematical analysis came up with a track list that goes from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” to Elton John’s “Your Song.” Then stops at the Doors “Light My Fire” and then goes on to the Beatles and other hit artists. Of course, some jazz songs are a necessary evil on a jazz CD. So what creative choices Benoit makes here! . . . with “Song for My Father” and “Waltz for Debby” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Oh, and did I forget his version of Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance” – now that is one song that we haven’t heard enough, huh?

I’m not sure how “The ‘In’ Crowd” and “The Girl from Ipanema” and Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” got left off the playlist. But I guess you always need to save something special for the sequel.

More jazz artists should follow Mr. Benoit’s lead. Imagine all the pain and heartache they could avoid. They could play entire concerts knowing with confidence that their audience was familiar with every song. Even your grandparents and in-laws will hum along with smiles on their faces. Jazz, that bristly and imposing art form, can now be as warm and cuddly as a teddy bear straight out of the microwave.

But Benoit takes it one step further. He constructs these cool diatonic solos that get rid of all that ugly chromaticism. All those sharps and flats that have been holding jazz back for decades . . . whoosh, they’re gone! Gosh, it's about time that some brave jazz artist returned to chord tones as the basis for a solo. Charlie Parker tried to convince us that an improviser could use any note against any chord. But what sounds better than the tried-and-true pentatonic scale? If it was good enough for Stephen Foster, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

But, of course, Kenny G is still ahead of the game. After all, the inimitable Mr. G. once held an E flat note for 45 minutes. Face it, you can’t get any smoother than that.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.



June 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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A New Technology to Bring Old Jazz Recordings Back to Life

Over the years, experts have struggled to take old recordings and make them sound like new. But none have been as ambitious as the folks at Zenph Studios, a high tech start-up in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Art Tatum

Zenph does not try to clean up the sound of the old records. They bypass the recordings completely, and try to recreate the sound of the original instruments that made the music. Their work so far has focused on piano, but I have heard an unreleased recording of their recreation of a jazz bass – in essence, an attempt to present Ray Brown on the bass . . . but without Mr. Brown or even a bass. The sound is entirely software driven.

John Walker of Zenph tells me that the bass recording I heard wasn’t ready for release yet – it is only 94% ready, in his opinion. (My full interview with Walker will be published in this space later this week.) But my ears couldn’t detect the missing 6%. I would challenge any jazz fan to pinpoint the ways in which this software-driven sound falls short of the real Ray Brown. We have notes, bends, finger clicks, strings slapping against the wood, dynamic shifts, and above all the distinctive sound that was this artist’s trademark.

Whoa, this is like the old "Ella or Memorex" dilemma to the order of ten.

("Golly gee, Mr. Science, are you saying we can enjoy a jazz band recorded without any humans? Have you checked with the musicians' union on that one, Mr. Science?")

Through their partnership with Sony, Zenph released their debut project last year, a recreation of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of The Goldberg Variations. I know the original very well, and (like many fans) distinctly prefer it to Gould’s 1981 version, made shortly before the pianist’s death, despite the stereo sound and digital recording quality of the latter. The only disadvantage of the 1955 version is the (comparatively) poor sonics. But Zenph’s reworking, using Yamaha's Disklavier Pro technology as an interface, is both true to the original, and absolutely up-to-date in its audio quality.

You can imagine my excitement when I learned that Zenph’s follow-up project aimed to do the same for Art Tatum’s 1949 live recording at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I have cherished this performance ever since I first heard it on LP back when I was in high school. I know this recording intimately. In my opinion, it presents Tatum at his absolute peak. The artist was clearly inspired by the rare opportunity to move out of the smoky, noisy nightclubs where he typically worked and present his music in front of a large audience at a real concert hall.

The sound quality on the original Tatum recording is, alas, abysmal. Even by the low standards of 1949, the audio is disappointing. Back when I first heard this recording – I was probably sixteen years old at the time – the murky sound bothered me. But over the years, I have listened to so many old recordings, many far worse in their audio distortions, and hardly even think about these matters any more. I have come to accept the limitations of pre-high-fidelity recordings, and try to get beyond the surface noise and flat, cloudy ambiance and into the music itself.

Even so, the chance to hear what Zenph had done with this famous concert got me quite excited. And the Zenph Tatum CD (released earlier this month) did not disappoint. Indeed, I was stunned and deeply moved. It was as if I had been listening to this Art Tatum recording for years from afar, two rooms away, with walls between me and the piano, and then – all of a sudden -- I was invited into the concert hall where the performance was underway. (In fact, the Zenph recreation was recorded before a live audience at the Shrine Auditorium, in an attempt to match the original concert in every particular.)

For all his rapid-fire virtuosity, Tatum was an artist whose greatness cannot be reduced to sheer speed and dexterity. Yes, it’s true, this artist was much more than just finger-busting scales and arpeggios. The music-inside-the-music is what sets him apart: the chord constructions and passing harmonies, the intricacies of his left- and right-hand interaction, his tone control, his dynamics. These come through on the Zenph CD with a vividness that cannot be matched by any original Tatum recording. Even an old Tatum fan like me, who thought he knew everything that this Shrine concert had to tell me about the pianist, heard things I had never noticed before.

Some have already objected to this technology. Marc Myers admits to "mixed feelings" about the recording, and tosses out the term “Bizarro Tatum.” He conjures up images of Dolly the Sheep, suggesting that this is more clone than original. Another blogger argues that this CD "lacks soul" and "in-the-moment" creativity. I suspect that many other jazz purists (and we all know how finicky they are!) will express similar views.

But is this “purist” attitude a fair one? After all (as Walker points out in our forthcoming interview), the original recording of Tatum at the Shrine was made at the wrong speed, dramatically distorting the music. Who can claim that this old technology with its misrepresentation of Tatum's performance is more authentic than Zenph’s high tech effort to recreate the original sounds that the pianist played? Remember, no recording is an “original” – every CD is an intermediary between the listener and the performer. The real test of any recording technology is how closely it matches the performance. From that perspective, Zenph is light years ahead of the folks who made the Shrine Auditorium recording back in April of 1949.

Despite these advantages, there is a certain risk that this technology will meet the same fate as colorized black & white motion pictures. But I think that analogy is not an appropriate one. The colorized films distorted what the artists originally intended. The Zenph recreations, in contrast, are (to my ears) absolutely faithful to the music as it was originally performed.

And I can’t help pointing out the similarity between the issues at stake here with those relating to non-human intelligence and the parameters of the so-called Turing test. Alan Turing suggested that our objections to a technology’s authenticity become meaningless if educated observers cannot identify specific ways in which the constructed reality falls short of the original. To my mind, the Zenph recordings pass the Turing Test. Given this, I would suggest that objections to it fall into the realm of fuzzy metaphysics.

And I will take a good jazz recording over fuzzy metaphysics any day of the week.

But the future implications are rich with philosophical implications. What happens when this technology can handle entire jazz bands, with all of the major instruments replicated? What if the audio technology is married to artificial intelligence? Could we have software that creates brand new solos indistinguishable from historic ones by Bird or Prez? Could we put together different jazz musicians from different eras, and watch them work their magic? Would you like to hear a cutting contest between Louis Armstrong, circa 1930, with a 1945 Dizzy Gillespie – and toss in Brownie, Wynton and Miles for good measure?

Click here for my interview with John Walker, President and founder of Zenph. Also, New York-based fans can hear the Tatum performance “live” at the Apollo Theater on June 22 in a benefit concert for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.



June 16, 2008 · 1 comment

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Life on the Road: More from Frøy Aagre’s Tour Diary



Recently jazz.com published the first installment of Frøy Aagre’s fascinating journal of her experiences touring the US. This candid document gives insight into the harsh economic realities of life on the road. Here we see first hand how musicians are paid (if at all), how are they treated, and the various surprises that await them as they move from gig to gig. Below is a further extract from this journal. Click here for the third and final installment of Frøy Aagre’s tour diary. T.G.



Frøy Aagre

FRØY AAGRE'S TOUR DIARY

DAY EIGHT: Twins Jazz, Washington DC Deal: 100% of the door money. Food and one free drink. Admission: 10$. Audience: 39. CD sales: 4. Concert length: Music from 8 to 12. Three sets at 50 min each. We made $240.

The venue was nice, but we were in for a surprise; the piano was horribly out of tune. The worst piano Kris has ever played on. We were shocked! This is one of the main jazz clubs in Washington DC with concerts every day and they don’t tune the piano!! Kris had to leave out all the melody lines and unison part with the bass. Instead she played with lots of aggression.

We got a lot of energy from her, so the concert turned out to be very interesting. In a way she saved the concert. I was really struggling with the tuning and I felt lost in this “out of tune” universe. We all went into really free playing with lots of energy, and that was the only way to get through the concert. No room for ballads with that piano! This was the most aggressive concert so far. We played the first set and there was great response from the audience. A guy shouted, “Norway is amazing!” Very funny.

When I booked the gig, I was told to play two sets between 8 and 12. However, it turned out we had to do three sets instead. The third set was really hard, we didn’t have any energy left and we had to play some of the tunes again, as we didn’t have any more repertoire.

Twins Jazz had a doorman who wanted a tip for grabbing people from the streets. After the concert the doorman came up to me and said that he had got about 39 people in there. I presumed he meant it was 39 paying guests. He wanted a $30-40 tip so I gave him $35.

When I went to the owner Kelly, she said there were only 32 paying people including a party of 15 people who had booked tables, so she only charged them half price (she hadn’t told me about this). I had 7 people from the Norwegian Embassy on the guest list. So that’s 22 people out of 39 who were there anyway.

Frøy Aagre

I felt doorman showed a bad attitude by pretending he had done a better job than he actually had, in order to get a bigger tip. Oh well. You live and learn. Kelly wanted me to wait all the way to the end for the door money and when we said we had to go, she couldn’t give us our cash. She had to write a check, which she hadn’t told me.

No good for me, a Norwegian without a bank in America. We tried to convince her to give us cash, since we were leaving before the banks opened the next morning. She said she didn’t have cash as all was on credit card, but Jeff was nice and asked her to put it in his name so he can give me the cash later.

Also, right after the gig, just as I put down my instrument, this guy from Texas came up, saying it sounded great and wanted to play a bit of piano. We said, sure, and told him how badly the piano sounded. He just took over playing honky tonk piano exclaiming, “I don’t know what you are talking about, the piano sounds good to me.” And he continued to play and getting singers up as the whole situation quickly became absurd. We were all shocked as he showed us no respect. However, I’m sure we’ll soon laugh about it. Maybe we’ll make jokes about a lot of the things that happened this unforgettable evening…who knows!

We got back to the hotel around 1:30 AM, slept for 4-5 hours and hit the road again 6 o’clock in the morning. This way, we avoided traffic jams in Washington D.C, New York and Boston. It took us nine hours to get to Cambridge, but we had great fun in the car.

It seems like I have found very open minded musicians. Jeff and Michael are both modern men, who don’t mind having a female bandleader. I believe most musicians don’t care about what sex you are but rather about how you play. However, it’s a fact that most musicians play with their friends and people they know.

And since guys tend to hang with other guys, it is sometimes difficult for girls to enter that male clique. In the States it’s much more common with female players and I remember it was really inspiring for me to hear all the great players at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in 2001.

In my country, there are very few female players but it’s getting better. I’m used to being the only girl in most of the bands I play with, and I’m so happy to have another girl in the band on this tour. I have never been on the road with an equal number of each sex and I think it’s ideal because then you get a nice social balance in the group.

DAY NINE: Lily Pad, Cambridge, Boston Deal: Room rental: $135. 100% of the donations. No food or drinks. Admission: suggested donations $10. Audience: 25. CD sales: 0. Concert length: Two sets at 50 min. We made $ 200.

We got to the hotel at 4 P.M. and managed to have a nap before heading off to the venue. The Lily Pad is just a room. No bar and no alcohol served. They have a great Yamaha grand piano, which was tuned yesterday and they didn’t charge me for it (normally costs $40). Phew!

It was so nice in comparison with Twins Jazz. We are a part of the festival “Jazz Week 2008” in Boston and are even featured in the program WITH A PHOTO!!!! Hooray!!! When the concert started there were 25 people there, which is half full since the venue is small. I was happy so many people came, the band that played before us had an audience of five people.

The audience was fantastic, quiet, involved and attentive. It was a great sounding room and no one talked through our concert. It’s much easier to explore the softer dynamics when the audience is listening, and that’s what we did. The dynamic range here was tremendously different from Twins Jazz, where we were very loud and aggressive. It obviously made a big difference to have a decent piano. And a huge relief!!!

The band sounded great, organic and the improvisations had many nice and unexpected turns. To me, this was the best concert so far. They really know the tunes now and so we are able to play around with them. Also it helps to be able to hear each other, having decent equipment and a listening audience.

After the concert this shy guy came up wanting me to sign the Lily-Pad program, since he couldn’t afford the CD. He seemed very humble, and was nervous talking to me. I thought it was so charming, so I gave him a promo CD for free and signed it. He was overwhelmed and so thankful, and didn’t know what to say. So perhaps I have got one fan in Cambridge now...

This blog entry posted by Frøy Aagre. Click here for the third and final installment of Frøy Aagre’s tour diary.



June 15, 2008 · 1 comment

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A Fitting Memorial for Eddie Harris



Jazz.com is delighted to introduce a new contributor, Neil Tesser, a leading jazz critic and broadcaster for more than three decades. Tesser has written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Jazziz and Jazz Times, among other periodicals, and was the first jazz critic for USA Today. Neil's liner notes have appeared on more than 300 releases, and he earned a Grammy nomination for his essay accompanying the Stan Getz box set Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years. Below he shares his commentary on a recent gathering to unveil a new memorial stone and resting place for the late tenorist Eddie Harris.


On May 31, on the first really warm weekend of the year in Chicago, about 25 people gathered at a medium-sized cemetery on the south side of Chicago to celebrate Eddie Harris. Not that any of us who knew Eddie – or anyone else who just loved his music – ever needs an excuse to celebrate: with its contagious rhythms and unique technique, its glittering melodies and funky soul, Harris’s music is a celebration all its own. And for those who knew him offstage and remember his lacerating wit and tribal-elder advice, his presence still serves to counsel and advise. I don’t think a week has gone by since his death (in 1996, at the age of only 62) that I haven’t missed our conversations.



                 Eddie Harris, artwork by Suzanne Cerny


But this time, the occasion for remembrance was the unveiling of an elegant memorial stone to mark Eddie’s new resting place: a vault to which his remains had been moved, earlier that morning, from its crypt elsewhere on the grounds. The stone sits on a little rise at the Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 E. 67th Street, maybe ten miles south of the city center: from the front office you walk toward a pathway named Sunrise within the cemetery, and it’s just ahead and to your left. Technically it is a mausoleum, since the body is above ground; but when I hear that word I think of a tomb as large as a small house, with pillars and an entranceway, and that image doesn’t really fit the smaller (and far more tasteful) medium-gray resting place. Eddie himself would have appreciated the fact that they used a word correct in its definition, but I’m guessing he would also have giggled at the use of such a high-falutin’ name.

The ceremony had been organized by Sally Harris (his widow) and his daughters, and the loosely structured proceedings had that easy lope that typifies both Eddie’s music and social events in Chicago’s African-American community. (No surprise there: Harris grew up on the south side of Chicago, where he lived here until the 1960s, when he moved to California.) At about the time the ceremony was to have started, workmen brought out a portable sound system, and a tinny reproduction of Eddie’s music began to fill the area – “Listen Here!”, “Hey Wado,” “Freedom Jazz Dance” – as a local disc jockey offered desultory commentary. The official event began about 30 minutes past its scheduled start, after various old friends had made their way to the velvet-draped temporary seating area. Journalists and unaffiliated onlookers were noticeably absent.

Eddie Harris

Eddie’s younger daughter welcomed the attendees, accompanied by the granddaughter Eddie never met (but whose impish behavior suggested that Eddie’s spirit has indeed been passed to future generations); a minister spoke; and then comments were solicited. Here came an older gentleman, in a worn, old-fashioned medium-blue suit and a small straw Borsalino hat, who’d known Eddie when both worked for the postal service in the 1950s; as he spoke about those days, he held the microphone stiffly in his hand, far from his mouth – as if it were a scepter that conferred upon him the right to speak, rather than a device for amplification. Redd Holt, the longtime Chicago drummer, and his wife both came up; they had worked and partied with Eddie and his wife before the Harrises moved to California, and they sketched a lovely portrait of the jazz life back then. The disc jockey, Gil Daspit, said the sort of things that disc jockeys say. Deep emotion won out over artful expression, and no one seemed to mind.

When they had all finished, Sally Harris spoke movingly about her husband, and thanked the assembled for their kindness, and then they pulled away the cloth covering the stone to unveil its craftsmanship. On the left, the inscription marking Eddie Harris’s final resting place; next to it, on the right, his widow’s name carved and waiting; and along the top and bottom, an exquisite embroidery of musical staff lines revealing the musical notation for “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Like the rest of the event, and like Eddie himself, it hit all the right notes.

This blog entry posted by Neil Tesser.

June 12, 2008 · 2 comments

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Smooth Jazz Obits Are Premature



Editor's Note: Alan Kurtz, jazz.com's resident curmudgeon, is our fledgling site’s most widely read and fiercely debated blogger. Wherever he goes, he kicks up a storm, and we feel the reverberations around here for days afterward. Say what you will about Alan, you can’t accuse him of not taking his curmudgeonly responsibilities seriously. I thought he might be going too far when he made unkind insinuations about Elvis. After all, a million people visit Graceland every year, and I was worried they might do to jazz.com what the King did to a displeasing TV show. I had unsettling visions of Mr. Kurtz following in the unfortunate footsteps of Robert Goulet.

As it turns out, Elvis fans were hardly fazed by our flagitious blogger. Yet when Kurtz criticized the fraternity of bass players, you could hear the fuss all the way from here to low E. Who would’ve thunk it? Those quiet unassuming folks who hang out with that big piece of furniture over by the drummer . . . they turn out to be high-strung. (Hmm, I think there is a paradox somewhere in that sentence.) They even organized a concerted attack on Kurtz via underground bass web sites (yes, there are such things) and (here’s the kicker) managed to get bass players of the past to rise from the dead to join their cause. Hey bass players, how low can you go? (There may be a bad pun in that sentence.) I know I'll think twice before saying anything against Mr. Bassman again. Start doing that and you will find yourself on (the chords to) “A Slow Boat to China,” when all you want are the changes to “C Jam Blues.” And that is not just an instrument they are playing . . . it is a potentially lethal weapon.

Thank goodness, Mr. Kurtz has finally found something he loves and admires. We can now show jazz.com visitors his warm and fuzzy side, as Alan sings the praises of . . . Smooth Jazz. Readers are invited to share their own opinions by adding their comments or emailing them to editor@jazz.com. But please . . . no correspondence from the afterlife. It gives me the spooks.   T.G.


Kenny G Greatest Hits

Gloating is unbecoming. Journalists, though—by nature a loutish breed—have lately been at full gloat over the alleged demise of Smooth Jazz. The New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff, for one, observed with barely concealed satisfaction in February that a New York radio station boasting Smooth Jazz's biggest U.S. market share has succumbed to a rock format. Moreover, saxophonist Kenny G—whom Ratliff sarcastically dubs "Regent of the Smoothiverse"—sells fewer records these days and, "as a consequence" has been demoted from headlining arenas to performing at such paupers' dens as Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Times even supplies an unsolicited epitaph for Smooth Jazz: "For 20 years it has appealed across race and class and gender," Ratliff writes, "partly because it asks so little. It is a physical presence but an intellectual absence. It is an unverified claim." The Times does not divulge what said claim might be, only that it's unverified. And note the casually dismissive nod to Smooth Jazz's decades-long appeal across race, class and gender. Intellectual absence or not, that is no mean feat.

Not to be outdone, PopMatters.com's Will Layman soon chiseled a headstone with "R.I.P. Smooth Jazz, 1985-2008?" By then, a Smooth Jazz radio station in Washington, DC, had met the same rocky fate as its New York counterpart, prompting Washingtonian Will to laud the "ongoing demise" of Smooth Jazz as "a hopeful sign for our civilization." Thus buoyed, Layman unabashedly paraphrases The Times' characterization of Smooth Jazz as "an unverified claim," by calling it "an answer without a question." Ridiculing Smooth Jazz's "overriding aesthetic of cheesiness," Layman scoffs at Smooth Jazz as a mere "product, an assembly line of Twinkies. Easy to eat, hard to digest." But, unable to settle on quite the right mercantile metaphor, he also calls it "nothing more than aural air freshener." Please don't eat the cheesy air freshener. It's harder to digest than Twinkies.

Mark Twain

The scribes doth protest too much, methinks. Gloating at a funeral is rude enough, but it's downright churlish to lower the casket while its occupant is still warm. We are reminded of Mark Twain, who after protesting that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, lived for another 13 years. Most premature obits result, like Twain's, from misinformation. Others stem from wishful thinking by those proclaiming the anticipated demise. The current celebrations of Smooth Jazz's "ongoing demise" are clearly more wishful than misinformed, which only makes them worse. Such self-congratulatory "I Told Ya So" smugness ought to be beneath even the marginal ethics of music journalism.

Besides, what the hell is (or was) Smooth Jazz's biggest sin? One-word answer: popularity. Attracting the masses across race, class and gender lines is lowbrow, and therefore makes Smooth Jazz unfit for critical consumption. Pretentious institutional jazz, by contrast, has snob appeal. Don't get me wrong. Jazz is a great institution. But who wants to be confined to an institution? (Henny Youngman, 1953)

Songbird Journeys

True, Smooth Jazz has exceeded its wretchedness quota. But so has every other subgenre of jazz. Is Kenny G's "Songbird" really more excruciating than, say, John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things"? Hearing "Songbird" is on a par with undergoing root canal without anesthetic. Trane's "My Favorite Things" is like undergoing root canal minus anesthetic while enduring bag- pipes on headphones. At least "Songbird" is over in 5 minutes. "My Favorite Things" drones punishingly on for nearly a quarter of an hour. Yet despite its excesses, Smooth Jazz kept a brand name before the public for two decades during which jazz might otherwise have gone the way of Green Stamps, Pan Am, Nash Rambler, Tandy and LSD.

Elevator Music

There is also something to be said about the virtues of background music. Generally speaking, elevator music has been given the shaft. (Okay, it's an unforgivable pun. But, hey, I'm talkin' about Shaft!) According to Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, music was first piped into these claustrophobic enclosures in 1922 to calm riders for whom the elevator was a new and unproven technology. Obviously, music that does not scream for undivided attention is subliminally more reassuring than distracting fare. (Do you really want to hear Sun Ra in the elevator?) Smooth Jazz is thus part of a socially useful tradition, which is more than can be said about jazz critics.

Dracula

There is, of course, a more sinister possibility—namely a hoax. That would not be unprecedented. In 1999, pianist/prankster Friedrich Gulda faxed a bulletin to the Austrian News Agency reporting that he had only moments before died at the Zurich airport. Following publication, he announced that he was very much alive and, to prove it, would be staging a Resurrection Recital accompanied by go-go dancers. At this point, perhaps the only thing that could annoy the critical establishment more than Smooth Jazz itself is for Kenny G, like Dracula at sundown, to spring upright in his coffin, shake the cobwebs from his curly locks, and commence a Resurrection Recital of "Songbird." Payback is a kitsch.


This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

June 11, 2008 · 3 comments

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Letters: More on Bill Finegan



In response to Jeff Sultanof's tribute to the late Bill Finegan, Ray Hoffman shares these warm recollections (passed on to jazz.com by arnold jay smith). T.G.



Jamie Finegan, who was there (when I was only there on rare occasions), would know this story much better than I, but one of the most interesting things that I can tell you about Bill is the way he maintained a very active telephone contact with a number of people over his last decade...mostly from his living room sofa in Monroe, Connecticut.

First and foremost on this list of his correspondents was Bob Brookmeyer. As Bill's wife Rosemary started going downhill about a decade ago, Brookmeyer (who had been a friend since the '50s, and in fact wrote two uncredited arrangements on the last Sauter-Finegan album) started calling him daily. And as far as I know those daily calls (from most anywhere in the world that Brookmeyer might have been) continued to the very end. Several times when Bill's health and/or spirits were in serious jeopardy, Brookmeyer seemed to be able to give Bill a recharge; to get him going after prolonged periods of inactivity. I remember one incident in particular . . . as recounted to me: Just prior to the birth of Bill's lovely grandaughter Julia, Brookmeyer bucked him up with a lot of "Do you want to live or not?!!!" talk. Without Brookmeyer (along with the loving support of his son Jamie and his daughter Helen), I believe Finegan would have left us years earlier.

The other regular correspondents (that I know of) were Jim Hall, Ruby Braff, James Chirillo, and Clare Fischer . . . who put things in motion for what would be Bill's final arrangement, a version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" for the chorus Chanticleer. Other regular visitors were Eddie Sauter's son Greg (a talented composer-arranger who spent his professional career in real estate), Warren Vaché (in the last year or so; Finegan wrote three charts for Vaché's recent CD with a Scottish string ensemble), and Bill's music-and-fishing compatriot Wally Kane, who has been the woodwind voice of Sesame Street since the very beginning. At 19, in 1952, he was the baby of the new Sauter-Finegan band. Now, a few days shy of 75, he's one of only a handful of surviving members, and (at least during the time I was there at the funeral), he was the only one who could attend the funeral. The only other surviving members I can think of (at least in terms of the organized road band) would be Sonny Russo (in Oregon), Don Ashworth (in LA), Joe Venuto (in Reno), Sperie Karas (in Germany), and Harvey Phillips (in Indiana, I think).

To me Bill was a fearless man, a great storyteller, and a loving husband, father and grandfather. He also was a magnificent pianist, and I'll never forget one night a few years ago when Bill dragged himself off the sofa and went into a back room in which a great grand piano had been somehow situated. He sat down and (with probably somewhat arthritic hands) played the most lyrical, and most harmonically-intelligent version of Autumn in New York that I have ever heard.

And . . . I can think of no greater oversight, within the realm of recordings, than the way the Sauter-Finegan orchestra is so grudgingly and sparsely represented on CD. That's especially so, when you consider the particular magnificence of the music. To say it merits a Mosaic box is an understatement.

Ray Hoffman
The Wall Street Journal Radio Network
WCBS Newsradio 880, New York

PS -- Just remembered: I spent an afternoon with Sy Oliver about a year before he died, and he said Finegan's chart on "April in Paris" was "the greatest arrangement I've ever heard."

June 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jazz.com is Six Months Old

Six months ago, on December 10, jazz.com opened its doors. More than a year of preparation had gone into the site. A team of around forty contributors had been working behind the scenes allowing us to launch with more than 3,000 pages of unique content.

We opened cautiously. No marketing or publicity campaign announced our launch. We didn't take out any advertising. We had no gimmicks at our disposal — we didn’t even have videos or music or flash animation on the web site. Those of us involved in designing and launching jazz.com were operating mostly on our instincts, driven by a love of the music, and a passion for sharing our enthusiasms with others.

We sent out a few emails, and hoped for the best. Then we sat back and watched. (Well, actually we went back to listening and writing and editing — since jazz.com publishes around ten new articles every day.) It was up to word of mouth to do the rest.

The response has been heartening. Our audience has grown rapidly, and jazz.com is now attracting 600,000 unique visitors on an annualized basis. Moreover site traffic continues to increase around ten percent each month. At this pace, we will soon surpass one million visitors per year.

This is more than a validation of jazz.com. It is also eloquent testimony to the health of the jazz community. At a time when most of the mainstream media has forgotten about this art form, it is encouraging to see these signs of vitality and interest. Television and radio and print media may have marginalized us, but the music itself is supported by legions of fervent fans and practitioners.

In my opinion, jazz may eventually find itself strengthened, in some paradoxical way, by the dumbing down of mass market entertainment. There is so little sustenance in most of this fare, that the folks behind it are unwittingly creating a hunger for a richer type of artistry – an appetite that their own overly packaged and commoditized products will never sate. As commercial radio continues to decline, and TV music becomes increasingly beset by American Idol-atry, the more restless and astute will turn elsewhere. And jazz is one of the first places people look when they want to expand their musical horizons.

Jazz.com responds to this in a very simple way: we focus on the music. We review tracks, not entire CDs. And we review a lot of music – we already have almost 2,500 track reviews on the site. (You can search through our review database here.) We supplement this with in-depth interviews, relevant features and reference materials — and try to integrate all of this content in way that will gently guide new listeners as well as enlighten experienced jazz lovers.

We call attention to excellence wherever we find it — on a new release out this week, or on a classic track from fifty years ago. We also want to make it easy for others to share in the fun. So our reviews have, whenever possible, a link for fast (and legal) downloading. We have thousands of these links on the site.

But all of this gets even better when it is a two-way (or three-way or hundred-way) dialogue. All our reviews have a place for comments and criticisms. We also encourage our site visitors to submit their own reviews.

This type of spontaneous give-and-take is very much part of the jazz ethos. Jazz is all about group interaction, whether on the bandstand or out in the audience. Moreover, jazz, as an art form, is blessed with some of the smartest and most informed fans around. Honestly, I would bet kroners to Krispy Kremes (okay, make it ‘dollars to donuts’) that a double blind study conducted by a team of MIT scientists would find that jazz has the highest percentage of musicians in its audience of any type of music. The people who can play, gravitate to jazz when it is time to listen.

On a final note, let me stress that diversity is a core value here. Our contributors are geographically dispersed, and if you could plot opinions on a globe, they too would be all over the map. Many viewpoints co-exist on these pages. This has allowed us to be the home of the Free and the Trad, sampling domestic and imported in a single gulp, featuring well-known and self-produced, Latin and mainstream, electric and acoustic, old and new, borrowed and blue. We don’t have a lot of baggage or ideology here. We don't fret much about what jazz is or should be. We prefer to take good music as it comes to us, and celebrate excellence wherever we find it.

And if you don’t think we are living up to these commitments, let us know, and we will try to raise the level of our game in the next inning.

Thanks for visiting us during the last six months. Stick around, because the best is yet to come.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 10, 2008 · 1 comment

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A Festival That Avoids the ‘J’ Word



Stuart Nicholson reports below on a festival that breaks all of the rules. It presents Jason Moran and John Zorn, yet carefully avoids the word "jazz" in its name. It promotes its music on its own radio station, publishes a newspaper, and draws on an audience of campers who flock to a circus-type venue. But the result is a fresh program full of surprises, and thousands of young fans who tell our writer that they would never go to a jazz event. T.G.



Moers

Set in Freizeipark Moers, a large public park on the outskirts of Moers town in northern Germany, the Moers Festival is presented in what is thought to be the biggest circus tent in Europe. Comfortably seating 2,500 the big top, or Festivalzelt, is hired-in annually for the event by Moers Kultur GmbH and rises up like a huge medieval castle amid a village of tiny tents, which house some 10,000 to 15,000, campers, dotted around the festival field.

Now in its 37th year, this is the third successive festival produced by Reiner Michalke, the internationally respected boss of Cologne’s Stadtgarten, one of the biggest jazz clubs in Europe, who has succeeded in reinvigorating the festival with new creative energy. One of his first moves on taking over was to drop the term “jazz” from the festival’s title, so it became the Moers Festival as much to avoid arcane debates among the jazz police as to what is and what isn’t jazz as to appeal to an audience beyond the normal jazz constituency (on the basis that labelling can exclude as many as it includes).

It’s a strategy, in tandem with the festival’s ambitious audience development program in schools and colleges, which seems to have worked -- resulting in a healthy proportion of young fans in the audience. I asked a group of five teenagers if they were enjoying the event. Yes, they nodded, they were. They were fascinated, they said, with styles of music they never knew existed. They were equally clear when I asked if they would have come if it was called a “jazz” festival. “No” was the unanimous response.

That kind of reflex response to jazz is typical among the young. Pop culture, promoted with ruthless efficiency by the big music corporations, fills the spaces around them. MTV is their gateway to a musical world that does not include jazz. To them, jazz is music that their parents, or even grandparents, enjoy. They are intimidated by its “artsy” connotations and believe you have to “know” about music to “get” it. They get bored by long solos, dismissed in the rock press as, “a bunch of notes in search of a melody.”

Moers breaks down such preconceptions. By avoiding the “J” word, audiences have to deal with the music on its own merits. Young minds are opened to the limitless possibilities of music; and with one of the most diverse and interesting programs on the European festival circuit, Moers gives young audiences plenty to sink their teeth into once they give the music a chance.

The festival even has its own local radio station on 93.7 MHz, mostly for the campers. The station passes on dedications and mixes jazz and pop, so audiences don’t feel they entering alien territory. There are pod casts and a daily festival newspaper Moerser Morgen, edited and printed overnight with all the latest festival news, as well as a daily weather forecast. On the festival field there’s an incredible range of food and drink on offer, and when it all gets too much you can take boat out on the Freizepark lake to chill out. It’s a complete festival experience.

The core of the festival is experimental music, some difficult to love -- indeed, it would take a rare bird to like it all. But the sheer diversity of the program kept the audience engaged. If they didn’t like band A, then chances are they would like band B that followed. The ethos of the festival is to open up minds to new and or original music. The result is an event that’s put this small town of 109,000 onto the cultural and artistic map of Europe. It’s deservedly become a source of civic pride, as Norbert Balhaus, the Bügermeister of Moers makes clear in opening pages of the festival program.

The event opened with s strong performance by the European Jazz Orchestra, comprising young, up-coming musicians from Ireland, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, France the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovenia, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Latvia and Norway. Made possible by the European Broadcasting Union, it was the final night of a tour for the Class of 2008. The EJO was led by the young composer and arranger Niels Klein, who balanced elegant orchestration (inspired by Shostakovich, Radiohead, György Ligeti and Massive Attack) with freedom. Featured trumpeter Eivind Nordseth Lønning from Norway was clearly a star in ascendance.

Their music was in stark contrast to musikFabrik & Yannis Kyriakides, the latter described on his MySpace site as a “sound artist, composer and improviser.” Born in Cyprus, Kyriakides moved to the UK, studied musicology at York University, then moved on to the Netherlands, where he now lives, to study at the Hague Conservatory. His collaboration with the German ensemble musikFabrik, a thirteen piece unit, was impressive. Here music categories made little sense; this was through composed music of startling breadth and imagination. Voice, electronics, woodwinds and brass created other-worldly sound textures which you’ve never heard before and probably will never hear again. Who cares whether this music has a name or not?

Ttukunak

Ttukunak was something else again. Two petite young girls from Spain, they played – well, uh . . .metal pipes. Their “instruments” went missing during their flight, so they simply went to a local plumbing shop, had several lengths of metal pipe cut to size (about six feet), carved wooden plugs to place in one end as a tuning device, and then carved two baseball-like mallets each with which to play them. All this was done in the festival field. It seemed like mission impossible, but these girls are made of plucky stuff. It was quite astonishing the results they got. Virtuosos, their performance suggested that maybe there’s not too much to do in their home town for young girls, with acquiring skills in whacking metal pipes preferable to watching Spanish soaps on TV.

The festival newspaper Moerser Morgen hailed alto saxophonist John Zorn as a “jazz superstar.” Really? I hadn’t realised. At Moers he went back to his early days in the 1980s and solo concerts, climaxed by duck calls made with his saxophone mouthpiece in a cup of water. It’s fascinating how many sounds you can get out of a saxophone over the course of an hour when you really try. They say history doesn’t repeat itself, but you couldn’t help get the feeling that the enfant terrible of the old Downtown scene had gone full circle, arriving back where he started. Joined by Ttukunak for an encore, it was as if an angry, squawking bird had got caught-up in wind chimes.

Perhaps the exploitation of freedom today demands a little more tonal variety than a solo saxophone recital can offer. The form has been over exploited over the years and like a reading of Paradise Lost, it is no doubt good for the soul, but as Dr. Johnson once said, no one ever wished it were longer. Certainly Gunda Gottschalk Crossroads showed how important varying musical textures can be in more abstract forms of music; her voice was accompanied by Xu Fengxia on guzheng, Barre Phillips on bass and a legend of the former East German free scene, Günter “Baby” Sommers on drums and percussion.

Gottschalk’s expansive and central role within her ensemble was contrasted by Anne-Lis Pols with the Free Tallinn Trio with Anto Pett and Jaak Sooäär on guitar and electronics. Pols was a superbly accomplished vocalist and the trio produced an integrated, rounded performance. She wove her detailed onomatopoeia into textures created by piano and guitar, contrasted by staccato passages and whispers that came haloed in Sooäär’s electronics. It was one of those fascinating, hypnotic performances that seemed to make time stand still.

Big bands, once functional, originally played music for dancing but inevitably became “jazz orchestras” with the increasing sophistication of arrangers. Today, we have learned to expect ingenious tonal variations, billowing ensemble colours and shimmering textures from composer and arrangers like Maria Schneider, whose compositions and orchestrations are things of great aesthetic beauty, best appreciated in the concert hall and art houses of the world. However, there are a couple of young big bands in Europe who have developed a far less esoteric perspective, and have returned to the basic principals of providing music for dancing. They give it a contemporary spin by exploiting volume and rock rhythms, and go beyond the traditional “jazz” repertoire to create music that fulfils the function of pop and rock music in club culture.

The New Cool Collective Big Band in Holland is one, and Samúel Samúlsson’s Big Band from Iceland is another, operating in the bawdy world of the everyday, where art gains its greatest immediacy, and they succeed in supporting the counter intuitive notion you can go out to listen to jazz and party. Samúelsson’s set had the 2,500 Moers audience up on their feet, doing just that. It was a reminder that some of the best jazz ever made, you could dance to.

However, the festival highlight was provided by vocalist Sidsel Endressen and Punkt (Jan Bang electronics, Erik Honoré electronics). She improvised a whole set to samples taken from earlier concert performances plus a few ambient sweeps and mysterious sounds Bang and Honoré threw into the mix. It was an astonishing performance, where every interior detail appeared to have been worked out in advance. It wasn’t – just three intuitive minds producing a work of evanescent beauty that even made the sampled steel pipes of Ttukunak sound interesting.

The Saturday night performances were climaxed by Jason Moran & The Big Bandwagon’s presentation of In My Mind – Monk at Town Hall 1959. This multi-media presentation began with archive images on a screen at the rear of the stage and the classically trained Moran joining in duet with a Monk soundtrack. The project was an exploration of Moran’s relationship with Monk, who inspired him to take up jazz.

The Moran trio, joined by a five piece British horn section, worked to a backdrop of grainy archive images and video art. They performed tunes written by Moran and inspired by Monk, and the occasional Monk classic, such as “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Thelonious” and “Crepuscule with Nellie.” Halfway between concert recital and a university tutorial, it was an important reminder of where the music came from. At one point the band left the stage, and let a videoed interview with Monk take over.

After a while the crowd became restless, after all they had come to hear music. A slow handclap brought the band back onto the stage, but although Moran took Monk’s harmonies to interesting new destinations before returning them to their familiar settings, this was music of the past rather then the present, a feeling underlined by grainy iconography of 1950s America, Cadillac’s and all.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson.

June 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Remembering Bill Finegan (1917-2008)



Jeff Sultanof is a regular contributor to jazz.com, who periodically enriches our site with his deep appreciation for the jazz heritage – and especially with his advocacy for that endangered species, the big band.

Regular visitors may have read his Dozens features on Gerald Wilson and Stan Kenton, or his many reviews. Below he reflects on the life and career of composer / arranger Bill Finegan, who passed away last week at the age of ninety-one.

Jeff studied briefly with Finegan and has collected his own personal archive of Finegan scores. His comments add a valuable perspective on this artist whose work is much admired within the jazz arranging community, and deserves to be far better known by the current generation of jazz fans.T.G.



Bill Finegan was one of the most gifted American composers in our history. I do not make this statement lightly. If we consider that someone who changes, adds to, and improves every song he sets for some ensemble somewhere, then Finegan joins that rarefied list that includes Evans, Farnon, Sauter and a very few others.

His first recorded arrangement, "Lonesome Road" for Tommy Dorsey was so good that T.D. allowed it to take up two sides of a 10" 78. For someone who was only 21, this was a great achievement. Finegan gave Glenn Miller some of the bandleader's earliest hits, such as "Little Brown Jug", and some of the most beautiful arrangements Miller had in his book, like "It's Always You" and "A Handful of Stars." Bill was always pushing the limit with Miller, who edited him unmercifully. I hope that the estate still has the many pages that Miller cut from Finegan's scores to make them more commercial. That could be the subject of a doctoral study.

Similarly, his work for Dorsey after his experience with Miller was often profoundly beautiful even as it swung up a storm (I'm thinking of "Wagon Wheels," another gem). Dorsey clearly loved Bill's writing; Bill said that that Tommy never changed anything he wrote.

Bill agonized over arrangements, even of pop tunes that didn't deserve that much attention. One song that did, became one of his finest arrangements, the standard "The Continental." Bob Farnon told me that he visited Finegan in France when Bill was writing this classic setting and was trying to figure out an ending. He told Bill to finish the thing already, perhaps not realizing that what was easy for Farnon was often madness for Bill. "The Continental" is one of the finest arrangements for big band written by an American, an arrangement I have analyzed when I've taught arranging. After hearing it many hundreds of times, it still surprises me.

The ensemble Finegan led with Ed Sauter from 1952-57 was a great adventure that few people really understood. It is no wonder that Bill had very mixed feelings about what happened to it. He told me that the band should have remained a studio ensemble that never toured, and he fought hard to have his way, but lost. Bill Kirchner has long suggested a complete box set of this band's works, and it is criminal that this was not done while Finegan was alive.

A concert in honor of his 90th birthday was performed by the Gotham Wind Symphony, and included a new march Bill had composed. It is wonderful to know that Bill was still writing and I'd love to hear this piece. I hope other ensembles dig in to his compositions and arrangements. Although many are not easy, they are worth the effort to learn and play properly.

I was fortunate to take a lesson with Bill. He was opinionated and a bit of a maverick. He could tell you precisely why he wrote something the way he did, and since I knew a great deal of his music, my meeting with him that day was something I will always treasure. He pointed out that when he arranged "The Continental" for Dorsey, he left out part of the song -- and no one ever noticed. Of course he was right: go back to the recording and check this out for yourself. He couldn't say enough good things about Ed Sauter; it was clear Bill considered him one of his favorite composers.

He liked the music I showed him and encouraged me. I feel sorry now that I did not continue working with him.

Over the years, I've accumulated about 30 of his scores, and I've learned from every one of them. Technically, they are assured and showed rare mastery of his materials. They are some of the finest examples of what music can be. Some pieces like "Bingo, Bango, Boffo" and "Pussy Willow" can be appreciated by young children, and yet they have mysteries that professionals can appreciate if they listen closely.

And there are treasures of his still to be discovered. I understand that his arrangements for the British bandleader Geraldo have been archived. Very few of them have been heard on this side of the Atlantic.

Bill Finegan was a major influence on me and I am sorry he left us. Moreover, I'm sorry he was not fully appreciated during his lifetime, although he knew that there was interest in his work. I know he is in a better place, and I will continue to listen and to treasure his music.

This blog entry posted by Jeff Sultanof.

June 08, 2008 · 5 comments

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Pat Metheny and the Fort Apache Band in Puerto Rico



Earlier this week, jazz.com presented Tomas Peña’s account of day one at the Heineken JazzFest in Puerto Rico. Today we follow up with his review of JazzFest performances by the Pat Metheny Trio and the Fort Apache Band.


JazzFest

Saturday’s show was an historic event. It marked the first time Pat Metheny had performed in (or visited) Puerto Rico, and also represented a unique opportunity to see the Pat Metheny Trio and the Fort Apache Band on the same bill. As I met and spoke with many musicians and jazz aficionados, I learned that there are droves of Metheny fanatics in Puerto Rico. It seemed like every guitar player on the island felt compelled to show up.

The festivities commenced with Metheny performing on the baritone guitar ("Make Peace"), electric guitar (a lengthy improvisation on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s, "How Insensitive") and the Pikasso 1, a three-necked, 42-string, custom made guitar ("The Sound of Water"). For the remainder of the performance, bass player Christian Mc Bride and drummer Antonio Sanchez joined him onstage.

The Pat Metheny Trio is poetry in motion. From the outset it was obvious that each musician is a master in his own right, but it’s the camaraderie and telepathic virtuosity that comes from being on the road for five years that really grabs your attention.


                 The Pikasso 1 guitar custom made for Pat Metheny


The repertoire seamlessly weaved Metheny classics with newer material. Metheny played music from the trio’s recent Day Trip, as well as compositions from Still Life (Talking), 80/81, Bright Size Life and Question and Answer. In all, the trio took the audience on a musical journey that defied description or categorization. The music contained elements of jazz, bop, fusion Brazilian and folk music. But at the end of the day it was the high level of musicianship that towered over the material and captivated the audience.

In the end, the Trio received a well deserved standing ovation and demands for an encore, or as we say in Puerto Rico, Otra!, Otra! ("One More, One More!") The Pat Metheny Trio exceeded everyone’s expectations, including the many musicians who marveled at Metheny’s brilliance.

But this festival was about much more than featuring name acts from the mainland. Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band were also on the bill. I offer my congratulations to the organizers of the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival for having the vision to honor Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, two living legends and Puerto Rican icons.

While Jerry’s trumpet and flugelhorn reflect the influence of Miles and Dizzy, he never strays far from his Puerto Rican roots. As he explained to The Detroit News, “I am bilingual, I speak Spanish and English. I can play the blues and I can play the rumba.” Bass player Andy Gonzalez is considered by many to be the premiere Latin (Puerto Rican) bass player on the planet. Suffice it to say the band's influence, individually and collectively, extends far beyond the boundaries of Latin and jazz.

As always, The Fort Apache Band came to play. The sophistication of the band lies in their ability to bring a jazz flexibility to the Latin rhythm section and breathe new life into jazz classics. In keeping with that, Fort Apache breezed through Larry Willis’ "Nightfall," Art Blakey’s "United," Monk’s "Little Rootie Tootie" and a beautiful ballad by Duke Ellington.

Fort Apache’s music is always hip, uncompromising and unpredictable (think Miles and Machito rolled into one). Moreover, the success and historical relevance of the Fort Apache Band can be attributed, in large part, to its longevity and consistent line-up, which has been in place since 1990: Jerry, Andy, pianist Larry Willis, saxophonist Joe Ford, and drummer Steve Berrios. The evening’s festivities closed with an award ceremony and a scorching rendition of Pedro Flores’ "Obsesión."

At the concluding award ceremony, Jerry and Andy received a framed memento, artist Dennis Mario’s logo for this year’s festival. Tres player Nelson Gonzalez commented on Jerry and Andy’s influence on him as well as on many other artists who have gone on to become leaders in their own right: Dave Valentin, Hilton Ruiz and Arturo O’ Farrill, among others.

The Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival is one of the most important festivals of its kind because of its “bi-cultural” approach to music, its ongoing commitment to music education, and the fact that it has and continues to pay homage to the greats: Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdez, Carlos Patato Valdez, and Chick Corea, to name a few. The festival is an annual event which has been traditionally been held during the last week in May for eighteen years.

For those of you who have not experienced The Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival, I highly recommend it. Hope to see you in 2009!

This blog entry posted by Tomas Peña.

June 05, 2008 · 2 comments

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Revisiting Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet"

How odd! Imagine trying to record Keith Jarrett's more complex compositions from the 1970s with an ensemble that doesn't even include a piano. Yet this is exactly what George Schuller is attempting on his new CD Like Before, Somewhere After .

But maybe this isn't so odd, after all. Schuller draws on the works of Jarrett's so-called American Quartet, and one of the peculiarities of this combo was how creatively it undermined the typical conventions of piano-led bands.

Death and the Flower

At times, Jarrett seemed almost ambivalent about the keyboard when playing with this ensemble. On "Death and the Flower," the piano doesn't appear until six minutes into the track. On The Survivors' Suite almost nine minutes elapse before we hear the first piano note. On the opening track to Fort Yawuh, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1973, Jarrett drops out completely mid-song, almost as if he would rather listen to his sideman than play himself. When he returns later, he is playing soprano sax in the front line, the piano a forgotten piece of furniture on the bandstand. Various other recordings from this period, find Jarrett reaching inside the piano to pluck the strings, or tinkering with various percussion instruments or blowing on a wood flute—almost anything that would relieve him from actually putting his fingers on the Steinway keyboard.

Fort Yawuh

Yet everyone of these tracks is exhilarating. Although Jarrett today is viewed almost solely from the perspective of his pianism, he showed time and time again on these early LPs, that he could impose a potent musical vision that was more than just an extension of his keyboard mastery. This was all the more surprising when one considers that Jarrett's other persistent creative outlet during this period was his solo piano work, as demonstrated by live recordings at Bremen, Köln and elsewhere, as well as his seminal solo studio session Facing You.

Even Jarrett's choice of bandmates reflected this desire to subvert the traditional role of the pianist in a jazz band. Bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Dewey Redman had worked closely with Ornette Coleman in settings where no piano was allowed, and conventional chord voicings an endangered species. These players didn't need cues from the keyboard. They were perfectly happy to float along or thunder vociferously without any input from Jarrett. And Keith, for his part, seemed quite content to see them move with confidence and independence through his compositions.

The Survivors' Suite

In short, Jarrett was a remarkably ego-less combo leader back in the early and mid-1970s. Before the music started, he may have acted like the ultimate control freak—fretting about cameras, coughs, the sound system, audience etiquette, illegal recording devices, you name it. But once he embarked on a sonic journey, he served the music rather than force it to serve him.

As I listen again to this body of work, some of it so familiar to me after years of acquaintance, I am constantly reminded of the ritualistic aspects of Jarrett's American quartet. The opening moments of so many these performances sound almost like the invocations that signal the beginning of some vision quest or primitive ceremony. The impassioned solos remind me of possession dances, akin to what a field worker might find in a distant and unfamiliar culture. Perhaps it is going too far to seek a metaphysical or spiritual dimension in these works, yet the listener is constantly aware of levels of signification in the music that cannot be reduced to lead sheets and transcriptions.

George Schuller

George Schuller and the other musicians who join him on his Like Before, Somewhere After project seem especially sensitive to this aspect of Jarrett's music. They get past the notes on the page, and into something deeper, an elusive transcendence that defies even this glib critic. Some aspects of music, alas, resist all of our words.


Jazz.com has selected The Survivors' Suite by George Schuller's Circle Wide band as Song of the Day. For a review of this track and link to a download, click here. Also, visit this page for a list of all the tracks featured as Song of the Day since the launch of jazz.com.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Life on the Road: The Journal of a Traveling Jazz Musician

Editor's Note: Although much is written about jazz, little of it captures the gritty economic and psychological realities of life on the road. Below is the first installment of Frøy Aagre’s tour diary, an account that will give you a much richer (and often dispiriting) perspective on the workaday plight of most jazz musicians.

Here it is all laid out. How much do you make from playing for the take at the door? How often are musicians forced to do this? How are jazz artists treated with at venues, especially musicians who are not household names? What is the road life really all about? How does touring in Europe compare with the situation in the US?

Jazz.com wants to thank Frøy Aagre for sharing this frank journal with our readers, and Stuart Nicholson for his help in bringing this account to light. For part two of this article, click here.



Frøy Aagre

FRØY AAGRE TOUR DIARY

DAY ONE

I’m sitting in my hotel room in New York and my heart’s bumping and I feel slightly giddy. I’m 1,200 miles from home and I’m about to do my first tour in the United States. My crazy dream is about to come true. Tomorrow I meet up with my band for rehearsals and then it’s all go.

I’m Frøy Aagre and I’m a saxophonist and composer from Norway. (You can read all about me on my website.) I’ve released two CDs, Katalyze (2004) and Countryside (2007), and I have toured a lot in Europe and know pretty much how the jazz economy works there so it will be interesting to experience at first hand what, if any, differences there are here in the United States.

I’m also curious to see how my Nordic, lyrical jazz style will go down with American audiences. In addition to my jazz influences, my music draws inspiration from classical music, and one of my aims is to bring improvisation and composition closer together by soloing within the “language” of the tunes. In other words, I like to blur the distinction between the written and the improvised.

Getting a good group-sound is also very important. For me, this is more important than showing off “technique.” Since I have a very melodic approach to improvisation and am not one for “technical” fireworks it will be interesting to see my how approach is received on this side of the Atlantic.

This is my third trip to the USA. My first visit was in May 2001 when I received a scholarship to study with Dave Liebman. The second time was in October last year, when I played some concerts in New York with percussionist Annette Aguilar and her band Stringbeans, pianist Kris Davis and my fellow countryman and New York resident, bassist Eivind Opsvik. I’ve been fascinated by the scene ever since my first visit and I’ve had this distant dream of touring in the States with my own band, despite the fact that everyone tells me the best paid jobs are in Europe.

When I was here last time I talked to guitarist Lily Masse about organizing an East Coast Tour for my quartet. She sent Countryside to venues such as Firehouse 12 in Connecticut, Ars Nova and Chris Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, but no one seemed interested in booking a bunch of unknown Norwegians.

However, we managed to get several door gigs, but since this can be risky financially, especially after taking four return airfares into account, I decided to leave my band at home and ask my new friends in New York, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeff Davis, if they’d care to join me. A huge sigh of relief when they said yes! Thanks gal and guys!

I first heard Kris and Jeff at the Oslo Jazz Festival in August 2007, and we played together during my New York stay last October. I felt we created a good chemistry together and I wanted to continue the collaboration. I knew Michael Bates from Dave Douglas’ Jazz Workshop in Banff, Canada, which I attended in 2005. So I’m really looking forward to touring with these musicians.

Nervous? You bet…

DAY TWO

I have just had my first rehearsal with the band. I was impressed. Some of my tunes are hard but they were well prepared and got the vibe of the compositions right away. Wow! This is really a rare experience for me. They told me that The New York Times had written about our upcoming concerts in the jazz listings. Yes!!! This could be an exiting week.

DAY THREE

More rehearsals. The band chemistry is good and they’re really getting into my music.

Frøy Aagre

DAY FOUR

Lunchtime concert at the Norwegian Seamen´s Church, New York. Deal: $400 (our only paying gig). Audience: 40-50. CD sales: 5. Concert length: 50 minutes. Nice room with great acoustics. Good grand piano. Good atmosphere and friendly staff.

We were supposed to play our concert after the service but the whole service was delayed 30 minutes so it was a bit annoying because people who came for the concert had to wait. Some might even have left. But once we started there were about 40-50 people in the audience. Relief!

I was happy there were so many people there. I didn’t know anyone in the audience, and it turned out most of them had read about us in The New York Times. The concert went well, we got through the hard tunes and there were some interesting interactive things happening in the band. As we needed to run through all the tunes, we didn’t stretch the solo sections. The response from the audience was very good. The musicians are all very creative, flexible and have got open ears so I believe we’ll get a great group sound during this tour. It is also interesting to discover how the tunes will develop.

DAY SIX

Cornelia Street Café, New York - Double bill with a New York band called The Suite Unravelling.

Deal: Door money. They take money for the first five people. 20% off food and one free drink. Admission: $10. Audience: 25. CD sales: 0. Concert length: 50 min (one set). We made $75 for the whole band.

I love Cornelia Street and I’m really excited to be playing here. It’s such a nice venue, very narrow and intimate with about 55 seats. When I got there, I went up to the bar guy with the ASCAP royalties form and asked him to sign. I was very surprised when I realized that he didn’t know what it was! The musicians told me that the clubs don’t pay for royalties in the USA. Even if I did get them to sign, they wouldn’t pay for it. I was surprised since royalties are an important strand of my income and musicians here don’t get any money at all. That’s too bad.

The staff at the Cornelia Street said 25 people in the audience were very good for a Tuesday night. Tonight we only played half the number of tunes so we could stretch out the solo sections. The concert went really well. It was so fun, lots of exciting and unexpected turns, and we went into some sections of free improvisation too. I felt that they made me play better than I have for a long time. It was a real kick for me. It seemed like the audience liked it, but they didn’t really give that much away. It was difficult to read them. Usually I get some kind of communication with the audience when I talk between the songs – maybe didn’t like my jokes…! But everyone stayed through the set, so I guess that was a good sign. Got some great feedback from the musicians in the audience afterwards. Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

This blog entry posted by Frøy Aagre. For part two of this article, click here.



June 03, 2008 · 3 comments

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JazzFest in Puerto Rico (Day One)



Recent reviews in this space have covered jazz happenings in Norway, Estonia, Ireland, Brooklyn, Germany, New Orleans, and Queens, among other exotic locales. Now jazz.com's Tomas Peña offers his first-hand account of the Heineken JazzFest in Puerto Rico. Below is his report on day one of the festival. T.G.



JazzFest

DAY 1 – ANDY GONZALEZ AND RUMBAJAZZ

Rumbajazz is the brainchild of Jerry and Andy Gonzalez. At its core, the group was created as a vehicle for the Fort Apache Band and Cuban tenor saxophonist (and violinist) Jose “Chombo” Silva. Alas, Chombo’s passing forced the group to alter the concept and led to the making of Rumbajazz: Tribute to Chombo Silva, where the Gonzalez brothers teamed up with saxophonist David Sanchez (who sat in for Chombo), percussionists Anthony Carrillo, Angel Cachete Maldonado, and vocalist Jerry Medina among others. The group’s repertoire drew on tunes commonly associated with Silva, such as “Guajira at the Blackhawk,” “Perfidia” and “Perdido,” as well as “Trio Puerto Rico” and “Blues for Chombo,” sleek post-bop tunes with a touch of rumba.

Though smaller than its predecessor, the new incarnation of Rumbajazz, led by bassist Andy Gonzalez is no less adventurous. Case in point, the band's repertoire ranged from the breezy sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim to rumba inspired by Beethoven! Andy, along with pianist Luis Perdomo, percussionist Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez, saxophonist Ivan Rentas and drummer Jimmy Rivera form a tight unit who are not shy when it comes to strutting their stuff. There were a number of special moments that stood out: Ricardo Davila’s soulful violin solo on “Para Ti,” as well as a scorching version of “Little Sunflower” featuring special invited guest, Jerry Gonzalez. Without question, Pedrito Martinez deserves special mention for his polyrhythmic wizardry. In short, Rumbajazz was the perfect vehicle for kicking off the festival.

Next the Dave Valenin Quintet burst onto the stage with exuberance! In fact, I got so caught up in the momentum that I neglected to take notes. No matter, what’s important is the chemistry between the band members: flautist Dave Valentin, pianist Bill O’Connell, bass player Ruben Rodriguez, percussionist Ritchie Flores and drummer Robbie Ameen. But never fear, the repertoire can be be heard on Triple Play (Savant Records), a recently released, take-no-prisoners collaboration between Valentin, O’Connell and Flores.

One of the ongoing “missions” of the Festival is to build on its association with The Berklee College of Music in promoting jazz and nurturing new talent. With that in mind, Dave Valentin presented a group of young (and I do mean young), up-and-coming flute players, ranging in age from eight to sixteen, who dared to trade licks with Valentin on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” Suffice it to say each student was more amazing than the last. And if that weren’t enough, percussionists Pedro “Pedrito” Martinez and Paoli Mejias joined in the festivities for a descarga (jam session) that shook The Tito Puente Amphitheater to its core!

On another note, Charlie Sepulveda and the Turnaround celebrated the release of their new self-titled release at the world famous Viera Disco (La Casa de Coleccionista) in Santurce.

Stand by for an update on Day 2, when saxophonist Marco Pignatero and Jazz Set, the Ahmad Jamal Quintet and Jerry Gonzalez y Los Piratas del Flamenco are scheduled to grace the stage.

This blog entry posted by Tomas Peña.

June 02, 2008 · 2 comments

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Indiana Jones & Me

Young Indiana Jones

From the Department of Shameless Plugs: Believe it or not, your indefatigable blogger can be found on the new DVD release, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones (Volume Three: The Years of Change).

No, I am not chasing Nazis with archeological artifacts or exploring the Temple of Doom. Rather, I am a "talking head" in a documentary on jazz that is one of more than two dozen historical features included on the boxed set (among overviews of Louis Armstrong, Harlem, and other topics of interest to jazz fans).

My only disappointment is that I didn’t get to wear a brown fedora hat and carry a bullwhip.

But I did do all my own stunts.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Best Jazz Tracks for May

Five times each week, jazz.com highlights a Song of the Day, drawn from the best of the recent releases. We hunt far and wide for finest new tracks, covering not just well known artists and major labels, but also listening to small indie releases and self-produced CDs, as well as deserving overseas projects too often neglected by the US-based jazz media. Sometimes we even dip into blues or world music releases that we believe would be of interest to jazz fans.

Below are links to the reviews for all the tracks selected as Song of the Day in May. Click here, for a complete list of all the recordings featured as Song of the Day since the inception of jazz.com.

Kenny Neal: Louisiana Stew
James Carter: Bro. Dolphy
Marc Copland: Like You
Wolfgang Haffner: Star
Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows
Arturo O'Farrill: Humility
Pat Metheny: At Last You're Here
Hilde Hefte: For Heaven's Sake
Steve Elmer: Sister Joan
Dr. Michael White: Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Piers Lawrence: Reza
Dianne Reeves: Just My Imagination
Adrien Moignard: Impressions
Esperanza Spalding: Ponta de Areia
Taylor Eigsti: I Love You
John McLaughlin: Five Peace Band
Ted Kooshian: Top Cat
Norma Winstone: The Mermaid
Thom Rotella: Who Dat?
Bobby Broom: Body and Soul
Marcin Wasilewski: Cinema Paradiso
Nicholas Payton: Chinatown


This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia



June 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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