The Best Jazz Tracks for July

The Song of the Day is a regular feature at that aims to call attention to the best tracks from recent CDs. We cast a wide net. Our reviewers will highlight music from major label releases, indie projects, self-produced CDs, and deserving disks from far-flung parts of the world. The predominant focus is jazz, but we sometimes dip into blues, world music or other styles. The one common denominator is excellence. By highlighting these tracks, hopes to call attention to outstanding music you might otherwise miss.

Miles in India

Today’s Song of the Day is a new take on a familiar classic. Jazz fans will be quite familiar with “All Blues” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue album. But when was the last time you heard it played in 5/4, and with sitar mixing it up with the saxes? Of course, it’s always a treat to find Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb in the rhythm section, but how often do you get to hear them alongside the renowned ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram? In other words, this is exactly the type of music we like to feature on Song of the Day: fresh and different; informed by the tradition, but not held back by it.

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

Miles in India: All Blues
Lee Konitz & Grace Kelly: Alone Together
John Ellis: Tattooed Teen Waltzes With Grandma
Gunther Schuller: Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra
David Murray & Mal Waldron: Soul Eyes
Brian Beninghove: Tape Side Up
Marc Rossi: Hidden Mandala
Adrián Iaies & Michael Zisman: 'Round Midnight
Susie Ibarra: Drum Sketches
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Kids Are Pretty People
Gene Harris: Misty
Antonio Ciacca: Squazin
Jeff Coffin Mu'tet: Bubble Up
Yellowjackets: Double Nickel
Emilio Solla: Conversas
John Beasley: Bedtime Voyage
Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson: Stardust
Al Foster: The Chief
Gustavo Assis-Brasil: The Same Day
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Just a Closer Walk
The Stein Brothers: Quixotic
Ahmad Jamal: Back to the Island

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

July 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Hank Jones at Ninety

Hank Jones celebrates his 90th birthday tomorrow. Tonight he is (no surprise) working on the road . . . at the Hollywood Bowl, where Jones shares the stage with Gerald Wilson. Wilson is a comparative youngster – he doesn’t turn ninety for another five weeks. But the marketing department couldn’t resist a newsworthy angle, and are promoting this event as the “90 + 90” concert. I won’t quibble.

Hank Jones

The first jazz recordings were made only a year before Jones was born, and this artist's personal history is almost a chronicle of the evolution of the art form. A list of the musicians Jones has accompanied on record is virtually a Who’s Who of jazz, and includes Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Artie Shaw, Anthony Braxton and several hundred other names that would be familiar to jazz fans. And the great collaborations continue to the present day, with Jones working his magic alongside Joe Lovano, Roberta Gambarini and other current day stars. No other living jazz musician has more illustrious associations.

Hank Jones

The range of these associations testifies more eloquently than anything I could say to Jones’ ability to fit perfectly into any setting. It’s one thing to work with Bird and Dizzy, and quite another to get hired by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Getting the call from Lady Day and Ella is impressive, but to also do dates with Anthony Braxton and Charlie Haden is another thing entirely. Jones crossed divides between swing and bop, new thing and pop, that most players of his generation found to be insurmountable.

We could never do justice to such a diverse career in a short article. After all, this artist has participated on around one thousand recording sessions since his early dates with Andy Kirk and Hot Lips Page back during World War II. But below are a few of the tracks featuring Jones, in either a leading or supporting role, that have been reviewed at

Hank Jones (with Charlie Parker): Star Eyes

Hank Jones (with Lucky Thompson): Deep Passion

Hank Jones (with Kenny Dorham & Sonny Rollins): I’ll Remember April
Hank Jones (with Curtis Fuller): What Is This Thing Called Love

Hank Jones (with Cannonball Adderley & Miles Davis): Love for Sale

Hank Jones (with John Coltrane & Milt Jackson): Three Little Words

Hank Jones (with Wes Montgomery): One for My Baby
Hank Jones (with Rahsaan Roland Kirk): You Did It, You Did It
Hank Jones (with Anita O'Day): I Want to Sing a Song

Hank Jones (with Johnny Hartman): These Foolish Things

Hank Jones (with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band): Big Dipper

Hank Jones (with Tal Farlow): Fascinating Rhythm

Hank Jones (solo piano): I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan

Hank Jones (with Charlie Haden): Wade in the Water

Hank Jones with Cheick-Tidiane Seck: Sarala

Hank Jones (with Joe Lovano): I’m All For You

Hank Jones with Joe Lovano: Alone Together
Hank Jones (with bass and drums): Bemsha Swing

Hank Jones (with Roberta Gambarini: Lush Life

Site visitors are also encouraged to check out arnold jay smith’s interview with Jones, published as part of’s OctoJAZZarians series.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

July 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Response to "Is Bird Dead?"

Paris-based Thierry Quénum, a regular contributor to, offers his comments below on the recent blog articles on “Is Bird Dead?” (You can find them here and here.) Quénum has been writing for the leading European jazz journals for two decades, and is a jury member for the Django D'Or (France) and the European Jazz Prize (Austria). Be on the lookout for his forthcoming interviews in with Jean-Luc Ponty and Martial Solal. T.G.

                                         The Open Door Quartet, artwork by Michael Symonds

(1) Bird was a searching musician, like Trane. They both tried to find their own way by getting away from influences, after having absorbed them and challenged them. How many searching musicians do we really have today? I don’t blame current day musicians: once someone’s been looking for the Northwest Passage, and has eventually discovered it, what is there left to do for others as far as that type of deep searching is concerned?

For example, Bird was interested in the music of Stravinsky, Varese and other composers of his day. How many of his followers (from Phil Woods to Jessie Davis) have shown a deep interest in contemporary classical composers? How many Trane followers have explored Indian modal scales, to the extent he did? So, it’s a full time job to follow these geniuses without sounding like just one more follower. No wonder lots of young musicians prefer a more obvious, fashionable and easy way.

(2) Some early Bird (or Trane) followers have made the steps of the original geniuses hard to follow. Look at the way Bird’s legacy has been reduced to a few bop licks, taught in jazz schools and played in jam sessions (whereas Bird was also a deeply rooted and highly inventive blues player, which is largely ignored or minimized). On the other and, how many musicians or jazz educators have really been interested in the way Lennie Tristano, for example, analyzed and taught Bird’s art of improvising to his students ? Or in the way Eric Dolphy, then Anthony Braxton, then Steve Coleman actualized his phrasing up to now (even if one may not like their music)?

Besides, look at the way Trane’s revolutionary “Giant Steps” has been emptied of its initial power. Nowadays it can become anything from a vain exercise in virtuosity to a nice little ballad on an intricate chord pattern. Remember that Coltrane went elsewhere after he recorded it, and never played it again (on record, anyway, as far as I know) after he’d constructed this landmark that showed how much hardbop could be a dead end.

(3) Let’s face it : Bird or Trane (somewhat like some 17th or 18th century European philosophers / scientists who mastered all of the knowledge available in their time in the Christian world) lived in a period when they could synthesize all that had been done before in jazz music, then go forward and open new doors. Today, young musicians are flooded with such a huge amount of superficial information (that they get according to fashions and fads more than through the needs of their own search) that it’s almost impossible for them to go deep. And even if they tried, wouldn’t they be confronted with one of the problems of modern humans: their jaws have slowly become so narrow for lack of chewing on consistent food, that they wouldn’t be able to eat mammoth meat. That’s why dentists often have to extract what are usually called our “wisdom teeth” while we are still teenagers . . . because jaws are not large enough to house them. Nothing to blame modern man for: that’s the “easy way” of technological evolution. In the same way, you can’t both have the peaceful scholarly educated music-makers of today and the junkie ever-searching geniuses trained the hard way of yesterday. But don’t be surprised if you see younger players munching on cheeseburgers in a downtown diner instead of chasin’ mammoths or giant primitive birds out in the wilderness.

(4) Sound (good or bad) is something that you get used to. If you’re not familiar with old scratchy-sounding Django Reinhardt LPs, because the radio stations don’t play them or because the technology to clean the original sound and reissue them has not been developed yet, guess what? There’s a good chance you won’t like them when you do hear them, at least not at first. You and I (as youngsters) had ears that could go beyond the defects of these great recordings, or maybe we appreciated them because we didn’t know the sound could have been better. But if I can agree with you that modern day listeners can prefer modern sounds, I think that a musician who gets stopped by that sound problem is not a real musician.

A classical piano player who cannot appreciate the touch of Rudolf Serkin, Samson François or Clara Haskil on a vintage mono recording still needs a couple of years of tuition, from my point of view. And if young wannabee jazz players prefer a well-recorded solo by so-and-so to a stunning Bird chorus on an old LP, I pity them. When we stand in front of the Egyptian pyramids or any Greek temple, do we say: “Too bad they didn’t have concrete back then!” or “Gosh, how could these guys build such wonders without the technology that we have now?” You cannot learn from geniuses if you cannot admire them first, and to do so you have to be humble enough to go beyond the shallow viewpoint of the time period where you were born and raised, however technologically evolved this time period may seem to be.

This blog article was posted by Thierry Quénum.

July 29, 2008 · 1 comment


Remembering Johnny Griffin

Ted Panken shares his thoughts on saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who died in France on Friday. Panken recalls below his 1990 interview Griffin, conducted at WKCR while the tenorist was in New York for an engagement at the Village Vanguard. We are also publishing Panken's in-depth interview as part of's tribute to this much loved soloist. T.G.

                Johnny Griffin, by Jos L. Knaepen

“Johnny Griffin was always a little ahead of us,” Andrew Hill once said of the sui generis tenor saxophonist, like Hill a native of Chicago’s South Side, who died on July 25th. He was 80, and he died at home, a stone chateau in Availles-Limouzine, a small village located several hundred miles from Paris in France’s west-central Vienne district. He moved there in 1984, 21 years after relocating to Europe from the United States.

A glance at Griffin’s discography at the time he moved gives a sense of his position in the jazz firmament.. Then thirty-five years old, he had led thirteen albums for Blue Note (3), Argo (1), and Riverside (9). He co-led another ten in the previous three years with the popular Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis-Johnny Griffin “tough tenors” quintet. He played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (they’d been tight since 1945, when their paths—Blakey was touring with Billy Eckstine, Griffin, then 17, was with Lionel Hampton—crossed in Los Angeles) on seven 1957 sessions, and on another two with Thelonious Monk—another good friend—documenting the Five Spot Quintet.

Griffin also stamped his singular tonal personality on a half-dozen classic LPs of the period: Clark Terry’s Serenade To A Bus Seat, Wilbur Ware’s The Chicago Sound, Philly Joe Jones’ Blues for Dracula, Randy Weston’s Little Niles, Tadd Dameron’s The Magic Touch, and Wes Montgomery’s Full House.

Indeed, in 1963, no conversation about the state of the tenor saxophone could be complete without mention of Griffin’s name. As the discography indicates, he was a child of bebop, a harmonic polymath, an unsurpassed changes player, equally comfortable conjuring melodic paths through the gnarliest sequences Monk could offer, bleeding your emotions to the limit with a romantic ballad, or romping through blues ditties that blended South Side rawness with Kansas City swing, like Muddy Waters playing bebop tenor. Like Joe Williams and Gene Ammons, both South Siders of similar sensibility, Griffin knew how to sell those melodies, transforming his metal instrument into an analogue for the human voice with formidable presence and dramatic weight. Nicknamed “the Little Giant” for his jockey frame, he had a gigantic sound, which he was able to sustain and inflect with timbral nuance and inflection at tempos machine gun to rubato. His tonal personality was all about joie de vivre and communication.

Some on-line tributes to the late Johnny Griffin

"Made in Chicago Tough Tenor" by Howard Reich (Chicago Tribune)
"Johnny Griffin, Saxophone Giant, is Dead at 80” by Jeff Tamarkin (Jazz Times)
"Johnny Griffin (1928-2008)" by Marc Myers (JazzWax)
"Johnny Griffin, 80, Jazz Saxophonist Dies” by Ben Ratliff (The New York Times)
"Johnny Griffin RIP" by Doug Ramsey (Rifftides)
"RIP Johnny Griffin" by Darcy James Argue (Secret Society)
”Johnny Griffin, 80; Sax Player Known for Hard, Fast Sound” by Adam Bernstein (Washington Post)

Why did Griffin move? There were personal reasons—tax issues, marital troubles, frustration with the roadblocks attendant to the life of an itinerant black jazz musician, a little too much lush life. Perhaps because he had been so far ahead of the curve, a mature stylist and bandleader when Coltrane and Sonny Rollins were still finding their voices, Griffin was not inclined to follow the uncharted pathways that defined the cusp of the ‘60s zeitgeist. The infrastructure that had sustained him—the national inner city nightclub circuit—was beginning to fray, and perhaps he saw that future pickings would be increasingly slim

In any event, Griffin enjoyed forty-five happy, productive years in Europe—first Paris, Bergambacht in the Netherlands, Availles-Limouzine. During the ‘60s, he had steady work at the Paris Blue Note and toured the continent as a saxophone gunslinger with various rhythm sections. Within a few years, he had a steady job in the saxophone section of the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band, calling upon a full complement of musical skills learned at Chicago’s DuSable High School, where bandmaster Walter Dyett started him on clarinet and oboe. Happy as a giant—well, “little giant”—fish in the European pond, he would not perform in the States again until the fall of 1978, when he recorded with Dexter Gordon (Great Encounters), made the first two of five domestic studio recordings for Galaxy, and assembled a New York based working quartet with the late pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington, a unit that he began to bring to Europe. As the '80s, progressed, pianist Michael Weiss and bassist Dennis Irwin joined the mix, and would remain his American partners for the next decade-plus. They have a lot to do with the aesthetic success of The Cat and Dance of Passion [Antilles], which kicked off Griffin's last series of well-produced ensemble recordings, in the early '90s.

It became Griffin's custom to schedule homecomings during his April birthday week, which he would spend with family in Chicago, monetizing the trip with engagements at Chicago's Jazz Showcase and New York's Village Vanguard. He was beginning night two of a week-long Vanguard run on April 18, 1990, when he joined me on New York's WKCR for an edition of the "Musicians' Show," selecting and remarking upon the music that inspired his formative years. Never before published, his remarks offer a window into the sensibility of one of the singular jazz individualists.

During the course of this this radio interview, Johnny Griffin played the following recordings:

Bud Powell, “Tempus Fugit”
Elmo Hope, “Happy Hour”
Monk, “Ask Me Now”
Elmo Hope, “Carvin' the Rock”
Ben Webster, “Chelsea Bridge”
Johnny Hodges, “Passion Flower”
Lester Young “D.B. Blues”
Charlie Parker, “Ko-Ko”
Philly Joe, “Blues For Dracula”
Gene Ammons, “Nature Boy”
Dexter Gordon-Wardell Gray “Move”

This blog entry posted by Ted Panken. See also Panken's interview with Griffin here.

July 28, 2008 · 2 comments


Life at the Gypsy Jazz Camp (Part One)

When’s Bill Barnes told me was running off to Gypsy jazz camp, I had visions of rugged but glamorous days spent in caravans and romantic evenings by the campfire listening to inspired string music. The camera pans back to show bow-top trailers and a dark woods in the background.

Okay, I admit it. I grew up near Hollywood, and it probably shaped my impressions of the life of the Romani people. As I later learned, Bill's Gypsy jazz gathering took place at Smith College, and there wasn't a single bow-top trailer anywhere in sight. But if it didn’t look like a scene from a movie, the music lived up to the highest expectations.

More interesting, this event is another sign of the remarkable resurgence of interest in the music of Django Reinhardt and his modern-day heirs. Make no mistake about it, Django is hot right now, and seems to be getting hotter all the time. Barnes tells us more about this fascinating subject below, and fills us in on the real happenings at a modern Gypsy jazz camp, in the first installment of his article below. Click here for part two of Bill's report. T.G.

Driving down Interstate 91 en route to Northampton, Massachusetts, my brand new, untempered Selmer-style acoustic jazz guitar in the back seat and Django Reinhardt blaring away on the CD player, I’m feeling very much like a kid on his way to Camp Gitchee Mojo-werken, missing only the nametags sewn into his underwear. Destination: Django in June, an annual week-long Gypsy jazz seminar held at Smith College.

So why, you may ask, is a middle-aged jazz guy with two grown daughters and decades of professional experience going back to school to immerse himself in the technique of a guitarist who has been dead for over fifty years?

Lingua Djanca:
A brief introduction to Gypsy jazz terminology

Romani term for non-Gypsy.
Spanish-based Romani.
Grande Bouche:
French for ‘large mouth.’ The original Selmer jazz guitar designed by Maccaferri, with a large, D-shaped sound hole. This design is still preferred by rhythm players in jazz Manouche ensembles.
Gypsy jazz:
Genre of music evolved after American jazz came to Europe, created by Romani musicians living around Paris in the 1930s, notably Pierre “Baro” Ferret and Django Reinhardt. Also called Hot Club swing, after Django’s first jazz ensemble, le Quintette du Hot Club de France.
Jazz Manouche:
More widely accepted term for Gypsy jazz, from the French branch of the Romani people, the Manouche.
Petite Bouche:
French for ‘small mouth.’ The Selmer acoustic jazz guitar preferred by Django, featuring a small, oval-shaped sound hole for more intense solo projection. Only around a thousand Selmer petite bouche guitars were ever built.
La pompe:
The rhythm technique used by Gypsy guitarists in Hot Club swing music. In English, it means “the pump.” This distinct pulse allows one or two guitarists to take the place of drums and keyboard in a traditional Hot Club group.
Roma, Romani:
Proper name of the ethnic group commonly known as the Gypsies. The Romani people are believed to have been displaced from Northern India around 1,000 A.D.
Parisian musical instrument company which produced Django Reinhardt’s favorite guitar, originally designed for Selmer by Italian luthier Mario Maccaferri. Production on these guitars stopped in the early 1950s.
Also Cinti. Romani people primarily based in Germany and the Netherlands.
Special handcrafted guitar pick made by Dutch artisan Michael Wegen. Formed from synthetic material resembling natural tortoise shell, this plectrum is universally preferred by jazz Manouche guitarists across the globe.

The answer isn’t that simple. It begins, of course, with a reawakened awareness of Django Reinhardt, who until about a year ago had been deeply buried in some forgotten corner of my Id. As a child I had heard a few of his surviving recordings but my undeveloped musical mind had dismissed his playing as an aberration, a scratchy curiosity from a bygone era. To a kid struggling to understand Brubeck, Django’s playing was sensory overload, technical sorcery, a pinnacle as unassailable as Mount Everest. Eventually, after years of listening to and emulating Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Howard Roberts, Tal Farlow, John McLaughlin, George Benson and all the other great guitarists who have been my inspiration, I found myself compelled to seek out the spirit of the Romani enigma who, along with Charlie Christian, had fathered jazz guitar.

If the proliferation of Django Festivals across the planet over the last ten years is any indication, I’m not alone in this sudden awakening. Often referred to as ‘the Hot Club Swing Revival,’ this resurgence of interest in Gypsy jazz has resulted in the formation of hot club groups all over the world. Top jazz Manouche players attract thousands to festivals held on both sides of the pond, bars and nightclubs in major cities hold increasingly popular Gypsy jazz nights and films such as Sweet and Lowdown, Swing Kids and Head in the Clouds offer glimpses of Django Reinhardt’s influence on our culture. From the musical score of Ratatouille to the background ambience of a Chase Manhattan Bank television commercial, jazz Manouche is revitalizing today’s auditory landscape. This begs another question: Why now? What cultural paradigm has shifted to spark the interest of so many who, a decade ago, were barely aware of his existence?

Part of the answer may be found in the history of the Roma, for whom music is such an integral part of daily life. After being driven from their homeland in India over a thousand years ago, Romani musicians have been on the road ever since, assimilating influences from different cultures along the way. In a changing world, with its vanishing borders and globalized economy, this eclectic approach to music may be key to understanding its newfound appeal.

It was perhaps inevitable that American jazz, still in its infancy when it arrived in France, would capture the fecund imagination of a young Romani musician named Django Reinhardt. According to author and biographer Michael Dregni, the first time Django heard a Louis Armstrong recording, tears welled in his eyes and he cried out, “My brother, my brother!” From that point on, jazz became a part of the Romani musical tradition.

Following Django’s death in 1953, his musical contribution had been relegated to a side note by many jazz historians. In fact, after collectors snapped up his prolific recordings on 78s and LPs, his music almost completely disappeared for a couple of decades, aside from some poorly mastered and barely listenable anthologies which hardly did him justice.

                      Djammin' (photo by Frederic Moretto)
L to R: Gonzalo Bergara, Mathieu Chatelain, Adrien Moignard

Resurrected on CD in the last decades of the twentieth century, his musical legacy had been rediscovered and brought back from the brink of oblivion by new generations of Romani musicians such as Bireli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, Jimmy Rosenberg, Dorado Schmitt and others, along with a new wave of Gadje (non-Gypsy) players. While these artists have maintained the technical standards of the master, they are not merely imitators and preservationists peddling museum shtick, but innovators in their own right. They have helped forge a new movement with a growing legion of enthusiasts, many who not only want to hear this music, but want to participate in its creation.

In this respect, Django festivals differ from all the others. Imagine a Newport Jazz Festival where half the audience shows up with saxophones, trumpets, guitars, pianos, basses and drum kits, setting up impromptu jam sessions within yards of the concert stages. What outrage and pandemonium would ensue! But this is exactly the scenario with Gypsy jazz fests from Samois-sur-Seine to San Diego, where many attendees bring their upright basses, mandolins, accordions, violins and Selmer-style acoustic guitars, to join in the peripheral jams that have become part and parcel of these events.

Musical magic can often be heard among the myriad campfires. In such an informal setting at Samois, Adrien Moignard, the brilliant young standout guitarist of the Selmer 607 project, was discovered. This year, he is being reunited with his Selmer 607 recording partners on the concert stage at Samois, along with his current group, L’ensemble Zaiti.

In addition to the various concert venues and festivals honoring Django in Europe, there are Django Fests all over the United States, from San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado, to Madison, Wisconsin and New York City. But there is only one event in North America exclusively devoted to clinics and master classes in jazz Manouche: Django in June, the brainchild of guitar instructor Andrew Lawrence. Originally inspired by his first pilgrimage to Samois, Andrew organized a one-day event at Smith College featuring the Robin Nolan Trio and a few instructors. Now in its fifth year, Django in June has grown into a week-long session offering instruction in this unique genre from one of the most impressive groups of such players assembled in an academic setting.

This is the end of the first part of Bill Barnes’ blog article. Click here for part two of "Life at the Gypsy Jazz Camp."

July 27, 2008 · 1 comment


Is Bird Dead? (Part Two)

In the first part of this article, I described my surprise at how seldom I discern the influence of Charlie Parker in the work of the younger generation of jazz musicians. I called attention to the changes in how phrases are shaped by improvisers today, as well as to the different techniques employed in incorporating chromatic "color tones" into their melodic lines. In these, and other improvisational elements, we can hear a dramatic loosening of the almost mesmerizing hold that Bird once exerted on aspiring jazz artists.

Also, it is hard not to notice a pervasive modal mind-set today, even when (and this is the surprising part) the songs themselves aren't modal. The distinctive interval leaps and patterns that came out of modal playing now impose themselves on chord-based improvisation. When I listen to the CDs of up-and-coming performers -- and so far this year I have already checked out several hundred -- I hear more Brecker than Bird in the solos, certainly more 'Trane and Wayne; more hard bop than bebop. I hear more Metheny and Monk and Mingus in the overall conception of the performance; also more Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Bird appears, now and again, in a cameo role, but what a come-down for an artist who once put his stamp on every aspect of modern jazz.

                                                         Rara Avis
                                            Artwork by Martel Chapman

'Tain't nothin' wrong with any of this. But it is a dramatic departure from the mindset of the previous generation. And one that has hardly been discussed by critics. Bebop was once the language of modern jazz. Now it is more like Latin or ancient Greek, a language that may survive and even have adherents. But it is no longer the vernacular tongue.

Of course, there are other aspects of Parker's legacy that are disappearing. I find that many improvisers today have a tendency to play their notes with perfect evenness, hitting each one dead center in the middle, almost as if a jazz solo were a scale or technical exercise. I have even started calling this (for want of a better name) the "new way of phrasing." If one wants to measure its dissemination on a map, one might find a tell-tale pattern that traces its major lines of influence back to a hypothesized epicenter in Boston, at a place called Berklee. (But that is a story for a different day.)

Needless to say, this absolutely clean-&-even-&-precise way of soloing has little to do with Bird's legacy. Everything he played had an ebb and flow, and articulation points within the phrase that made them more supple, more organic. This aspect of Parker's style was part of his inheritance from Kansas City jazz and Lester Young. (Of course, Kansas City jazz is even more passé than bebop, although I daresay many younger players might be surprised by how much they could learn from a summer immersion program in Basic Basie-ology.)

A metaphor I find useful here is the contrast between digital and analog. When I was growing up, my house—in fact, all houses— had very few on-off buttons. Except for the light switch and the power button on a few (very few) appliances, everything was controlled by dials, by gradations, by infinitely divisible continuums. Today my house must have hundreds of buttons. Everything is either on or off, with no gradations or gray areas. This is what I hear in the "new way of phrasing." The note is either on or off, and don't mess with "Mister In-Between."

We have come a long way from "analog-type" improvisers, such as Ben Webster and King Oliver, who would have rejected an even, clearly defined, on-or-off style of note production. They probably would have seen it as antithetical to the essence of jazz. And you didn't just find this approach in Kansas City or New Orleans. One of the great joys of avant garde players of a post-Ayler bent was this assertion of the primacy of sound over notes, analog over digital. But the influence of Ayler and his followers also seems to be on the wane. Instead, the new, digital manner of solo construction is in the ascendancy. (Interesting exception from the current jazz scene . . . Wynton Marsalis, who started out as a young man in the digital camp -- listen to his note-perfect work with Blakey and on the early Columbia albums -- has now completely embraced the analog, hundred-ways-to-play-a-single-note philosophy.)

One dramatic result of this shift is the 'Death' of Bird. Finally, more than a half-century after his passing, the influence of the legendary altoist is winding down. When I hear a CD by younger players who explicitly draw on Parker's sax vocabulary (such as the recent release by the Stein Brothers), it stands out from the crowd. Whereas only a few years ago, this type of approach would hardly have been noteworthy.

Of course, the question remains: Why? My answer may surprise many. I tend to think that technology is the key driver here. And not just the analog-to-digital switch in our households. Parker, like so many jazz artists who recorded before the rise of high-fidelity stereo sound, is losing out because of the poor sonic quality of his legacy.

You are skeptical? So was I, until recently. I have always loved the old jazz recordings, and never let poor sound quality prevent me from appreciating the grandeur of the music. But I find increasingly, when talking to jazz fans, that there is dividing line in their knowledge of the history of the music—and it comes somewhere around 1956 when the sound quality of recordings began to match that of live music. Jazz fans today are very aware of the music from the late 1950s onward, but have nowhere the same familiarity with jazz recordings from the 1930s and 1940s.

I cannot avoid concluding that a huge number of jazz fans are influenced by sound quality when they choose CDs for listening and study. Even the younger generation of jazz critics seem to be following the same pattern. Once you get to the late 1950s, everybody is on familiar, comfortable ground, but only a small number of people in Generations X and Y have more than the most superficial knowledge of earlier jazz.

In a situation such as this, Charlie Parker is bound to lose out. He died in 1955 right before the next leap forward in recording technology. I suspect that, if he had lived another decade, he would be much more influential now. Not because Bird's playing would have improved — I find that hard to believe — but simply because the recordings would be more pleasing to modern ears. Audiences in the new millennium want their CDs to sound as good as a live concert.

These issues may help explain why I have been so interested in technologies, such as the work of Zenph Studios, that promise to restore this pristine sound quality to old performances. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need technological breakthroughs in order to preserve interest in the early jazz tradition. But we do not live in a perfect world, and based on what I see on the jazz scene, we run a risk of forgetting much of our music's heritage. Bird loses out in this equation, as do a host of others who passed away right before the big leap forward in recording technology -- towering figures such as Clifford Brown and Art Tatum and Fats Navarro, whose music is nowhere near as well known as even second-tier artists from later decades.

Stay tuned for future commentary on this subject. Also look for a series of blog articles, starting next week, on one exception to the pattern noted above . . . an old jazz tradition that seems to attracting large numbers of young fans.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

July 24, 2008 · 8 comments


The Coltrane Fantasy Fusion CD contributor Walter Kolosky frequently discusses his favorite musicians and recordings in these virtual pages. Now he offers up some musings on great recordings that might have been. T.G.

If they were to play today, would the 2008 NBA champions the Boston Celtics beat the 1957 champs, the Boston Celtics? Of course they would. First of all, the players would be over 50 years younger. (Yes, that’s an old joke). But seriously, the 2008 Celtics would win because today’s athletes are better trained, bigger, stronger and faster.

Such questions, most often asked in sports, are popular and harmless exercises. But they have no basis in reality. The answers can never be proved. Asking such questions about artists and, specifically for this blog, about jazz players does have merit however. It is not uncommon for a 70 year old jazz musician to be playing with a musician who is 50 years his or her junior. Due to their ages, they may not speak exactly the same musical language. But the history of the jazz tradition has prepared them to meet some place in the middle.

We’ll never know what it would have been like for Johnny Unitas to throw a bomb to Jerry Rice because by the time Jerry was around, Johnny couldn’t throw that far. (There I go again). But in the world of jazz, we know what drummer Elvin Jones sounded like when he played with organist Joey DeFrancesco – 44 years his junior – because he did.

Technology allows for duets between Natalie Cole and her dad Nat. Recently Lisa Marie Presley did the same thing with her father Elvis. What if we were to take things even a step further? What would happen if jazz artists never died? What if they were available for all gigs?

I have created several fantasy jazz bands composed of individuals, had they all been alive and in their primes at the same time, could have played and recorded an album together. I then review the albums as if I were a music writer in that theoretical day and age. From time to time I intend to post these reviews at under the blog title Walter Kolosky’s Jazz Fantasy Review.

More so than most other musical forms, jazz provides many opportunities for musicians of disparate styles and cultures to play and spontaneously create together. I realize I am taking things huge steps farther by having some people who have left us join in. But in jazz music because of the continuum of influences this is a question that can be contemplated in a serious way. (We always seem to be taking ourselves too seriously anyway.)

You must suspend disbelief. You must ignore the very obvious fact that the dead people are dead. This should not be that difficult. After all, there are millions who believe Elvis is still alive. And, in fact, both he and John Lennon enjoyed hit songs long after they passed away! You also must assume that I carefully considered musical styles and personalities in the creation of these bands. You must also accept that I have chosen a particular period of each artist’s development in order to make the music work.

I hope you enjoy these jazz fantasy reviews. Here is my first.

Coltrane, McLaughlin, Young and Jones Past Lives (Columbia 1442)

Past Lives

Having heard rumors that this album was going to be recorded, this reviewer was of two minds. One was filled with the anticipation of four legendary musicians at the top of their games going into the studio to produce some new hybrid of jazz and rock music. The other mind doubted these stars would be able to create and present a singular vision. Historically, these all-star get-togethers usually don’t work out too well.

My doubt was tempered a bit by the knowledge that Elvin Jones has famously provided the beat for John Coltrane and that the underrated Larry Young was an important part of John McLaughlin’s early career. On separate occasions McLaughlin and Young had also both worked with Jones. I also knew that Young had spent many hours jamming with JC at Coltrane’s house. Despite this knowledge, I still could not quite imagine the group performing as a cohesive unit.

Of course, there’s also the leadership question. A lack of musical focus due to the generosity of respectful players has ruined many an all-star outing. Coltrane and McLaughlin, as the leading composers, would be the candidates for taking the reins. But it would be a mistake to think that McLaughlin’s well-known admiration of Coltrane meant that he would cede any leadership role. After all, a musical vision is a strong force to back away from. And both players hold very strong spiritual beliefs. Would those views help or hinder the music’s direction?

As it turns out, Coltrane and McLaughlin take turns trading and serving as each other’s foils. It also turns out that Past Lives is unlike anything we have heard in jazz before. Of course, Coltrane and McLaughlin are monsters. They abuse the limits of their instruments to such an extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to junk them afterwards.

Already legendary among his peers, maybe this album will bring Young the due he deserves from the public at large. On this project he does everything. He supplies the bass lines and the atmospheric sounds of the esoteric passages. But his whirling dervish soloing is phenomenal. His clearly is a unique instrumental voice.

Jones is also a powerhouse. Thud. Thud. Thud. Crash. Growl. His strength is put to good use here and his tender side is exposed several times as well.

The quartet recorded six new pieces, three each authored by Coltrane and McLaughlin. In addition, McLaughlin’s “Birds of Fire” and Coltrane’s “Naima” are covered.

While Coltrane plays his tenor throughout, McLaughlin employs his Rex Bogue double-neck and a Gibson ES-345. The group sound is overwhelmingly loud and electric. The group’s message is delivered through minor scales and chords, abrupt rhythm changes, Eastern and Western sensibilities and some good straight-ahead jazz playing.

McLaughlin’s playing is clearly influenced by Coltrane’s tenor lines and this is especially evident on Coltrane’s originals. But Coltrane does enter McLaughlin’s world from time to time even playing with some feedback occasionally.

Both players share an affinity for the music of India, so it is no surprise that Coltrane’s new composition “Joy of India” opens up the album. Young provides a low-hum drone and the rolling bass line while Coltrane and McLaughlin trade Eastern modes over a bombastic Jones beat. The trading becomes so furious that the tune threatens to dissipate into pure bliss. McLaughlin’s “Lost Planets” features a beautiful otherworldly intro from Young’s B-3 and builds to a wonderful tapestry of minor chords and screeches from the upper registers of McLaughlin’s double-neck and Coltrane’s horn. The tune ends abruptly just at the point you think you are going to locate those lost planets!

McLaughlin’s opening arpeggios on his “Birds of Fire” are the same as his original, Jones even opens up with a gong, but once the tune starts in earnest, you better stand back and grab hold onto to something solid. McLaughlin, Coltrane, Young and Jones propel this composition into the realm of the Armageddon. Playing the head arrangement in unison, Coltrane and McLaughlin take it beyond its limits.

The other tunes on the album are equally as impressive. To wind down after a particularly hectic day at work the album ends on the calming note of Coltrane’s wonderful “Naima” which features only the two Johns.

Past Lives has set a high and holy water mark. It’s merging of cultures and styles and its use of the entire sonic palette is a divine experiment. It will be the album to which a lot of future jazz will be compared. In retrospect, I can see this was something that had to happen. It is a communion. And now nothing else will ever be the same.

Past Lives: Joy of India; Lost Planets; Building Bridges; Birds of Fire; Sunrise; Fade Out; Fade-In; Naima

Personnel: John Coltrane (tenor sax) John McLaughlin (guitars), Larry Young (organ and synthesizer), Elvin Jones (drums)

This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky.

July 23, 2008 · 0 comments


This Stamp is First Class

Even if jazz musicians aren't making much money, they soon will be on your money -- be on the lookout for the Duke Ellington quarter. Not to be outdone, the US Postal Service has issued a series of stamps featuring the regal Duke and other icons of African-American music.'s arnold jay smith reports on the recent ceremony to commemorate their release. T.G.

Duke Ellington stamp

Keeping to their penchant of honoring black Americans, the United States Postal Service issued five stamps celebrating movies with all black casts. Three of the five feature jazz or jazz-related icons Duke Ellington's Black and Tan, Louis Jordan's Caldonia, and Josephine Baker's Princess Tam-Tam. The remaining two are The Sport of the Gods, a silent film by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and Hallelujah.

Family members spoke at ceremonies held at the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ. In addition, actor Lynne Whitfield, who starred in the Baker bio-flick, hosted the event. She was wearing a white summer dress sans Baker’s bananas, who wore not much else.

The movie's title tune, “Black and Tan Fantasy,” is a jazz classic, and the movie also includes two other tunes and features Fredi Washington with Ellington's Cotton Club Orchestra. This short film has been available for some time and it is an excellent teaching tool showcasing the band with it’s phalanx of stars. Two of Ellington’s four grandchildren, both Duke’s son Mercer’s children — Paul Mercer, who leads the current version of the DE Orchestra, and Mercedes — stepped to the podium to thank the USPS for so honoring their grande pere.

Duke Ellington stamp (1986)

It was the second such honor bestowed upon Duke by the USPS. The first came 1986 as part of the Black Americans series. (It was the last 22 cent stamp issued by the USPS. As a postage increase had already been announced there was never a second printing; it proved to be hard to get.) A very early Ellington composition was called “Three-Cent Stomp.” Mercer adapted an Ellington-Strayhorn tune and called it “22-Cent Stomp.”

Ellington appeared in movies with Amos ‘n’ Andy (Check and Double Check), James Stewart (Anatomy of a Murder), and wrote a score for Paul Newman, Sidney Portier and Louis Armstrong (Paris Blues) as well as many short films under his own name.

Multi-faceted Louis Jordan, who has been called “the other Louis in jazz," was much more than that. Whitfield noted that Jordan was an actor, a dancer, a singer, a forerunner of rap, rhythm & blues and its successor rock and roll, not to mention that he could play any and all reed instruments. And, oh, could he swing! Not only that, Jordan was a crossover juke box favorite who made records with Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and seemingly everyone else on the then hugely popular Decca Records label with arrangements by Sy Oliver. His recordings were charted hits and his music was made into a London West End and Broadway show called “Five Guys Named Moe.” The late actor Ronald Reagan, who went on to greater fame in another field, once appeared with him as a backstage host for a revue. Like Ellington, Jordan made many movies and when their names appeared even under the titles late night crowds gathered. At the stamp ceremony, Jordan’s widow Martha spoke eloquently of him.

Sometimes called “sepia movies,” the flicks played theatres in both white & black neighborhoods often late at night tacked onto the features. Baker’s was another story; she was a bone fide star. The lithe movements and exotic visage of this dancer, plucked from a chorus line, established her as an instant attraction. Jean-Claude Baker, one of the dozen “rainbow tribe” adopted children of Baker, gave an emotional dedication. “Contrary to popular belief Josephine was not drummed out of her country,” he said. “She left voluntarily because she felt freer to do the things she most desired.” However, I seem to remember that there was a tax matter. Baker went on to say that she was given many medals by France, her adopted country, for her work in the WWII resistance underground. “She died a French citizen but never formally renounced her U.S. citizenship, a country she truly loved,” he concluded.

Baker’s dances would be considered flamboyant, perhaps even racist, by today’s standards. She danced nude save that belt of bananas and appeared in African tribal settings. The walls of Jean-Claude’s restaurant, Chez Josephine on West 42nd St. in NYC, are festooned with her likeness including the Princess Tam-Tam movie poster. Dubbed “La Belle Africaine,” Baker occasionally appeared with Ellington. I always felt that Duke’s “Les Plus Belle Africaine" was dedicated to her.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

July 22, 2008 · 3 comments


The Festival of a Thousand Gigs

Imagine a jazz festival with almost 1,000 performances in more than 100 venues, all crammed into ten days of musical mania. Thierry Quénum reports on the jazz riches at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival – the latest in’s on-going coverage of important musical happenings around the globe. T.G.

Ornette Coleman

Can you imagine a European capital city of 1.3 million inhabitants whose city center displays Ornette Coleman’s face in black and white, on large upright hanging flags on a good many of its lampposts? If you had been in Copenhagen, Denmark, during the first half of July you wouldn’t have had to imagine it, you’d have witnessed it!

In fact, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (CJF) is very proud to have Ornette on its program for its 30th edition. The CJF may be the biggest and strangest festival I have yet to encounter. It’s my second time here in 5 years, and I’m still impressed by the size, the stylistic diversity (70% Danish groups, from dixieland bands to free improvisers, 30% foreign); as well as by the efficiency of the organization and quality of the program.

It’s Denmark, some will argue, one of those Scandinavian countries where the governments, regions and cities have a strong interest in jazz and culture at large, and are willing to support them financially. Obviously true: how could the CJF otherwise program almost 1000 concerts over 10 days in 101 venues?

“Of course, some of these venues are in charge of their own program,” remarks Christian Dalgas, one of the festival executives; although he adds that the venues subsequently refer to the festival’s office for centralized support and promotion. “But the big concerts of the Giant Jazz series — like Ornette Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Brad Mehldau or Charles Lloyd — held in prestigious venues like the Copenhagen Opera or the Glassalen, in the world famous Tivoli amusement park, are organized by the festival office, just like the seventy some open air events (Maceo Parker, Marilyn Mazur, Chaka Kahn , Esperanza Spalding), the concerts in museums and public libraries, and the Jazz for Kids program.”

In other words, for ten days it’s almost impossible to ignore that Copenhagen hosts a jazz festival. Even if you are here for the summer retail sales or on a quiet weekend by the Baltic sea, there’s a good chance you’ll come face to face with Ornette Coleman -- looking down at you from a lamppost, or in the show window of almost every second shop you’ll enter.

As far as I am concerned, I had come to the CJF mostly to hear Danish jazz, and I had only three days to spend here. A little organization was then necessary and, after having carefully studied the city map and the program, I immersed myself, on a rented bike, in Copenhagen’s peaceful flow of urban cyclists in order to reach my jazz destinations.

I didn’t have to go far to see one of the most interesting concerts of my stay: Megaphone, a most European band that features Danish drummer Stefan Pasborg, Lithuanian tenorist Liudas Mockunas, as well as Marc Ducret on guitar and Paul Brousseau on keyboards, both from France. They played for free in mid-afternoon, just outside the Pumpehuset, close to Tivoli. This was an ideal setting for such a highly inventive quartet, whose range goes from Balkanic to rock and free jazz influences, with touches of electronics. But the band’s main asset is the high level of musicianship of its members, who’ve played with each other for years. At the end of their set, the audience was still there, and enthusiastic, in spite of the slight rain that had started falling.

Since the program of the CJF allows some musicians to play several times in the same place or in different venues, I was to see more of Pasborg, whom I’ve known for some years and who definitely is one of the young drummers and bandleaders to keep an eye on in Denmark. At the Studenterhuset, close to the city center, he led his Odessa 5 quintet, completed by four horns that play a mix of brass band music and free improv, in front of a full house. The same applies to what is arguably Pasborg’s most popular band, Ibrahim Electric, a trio with organ and guitar that maintains a steady, thick groove, halfway between the rock and jazz traditions of the sixties. The Stengade 30, in the cosmopolitan northern district of Nørrebro, housed them for three nights on end.

Another young and upcoming Danish musician might be better known by non-Danish readers, since he’s played a lot with American musicians: guitarist Jakob Bro. With its intimate, intense music, his trio filled a café in the Christianshavn district, close to the famous ‘free commune’ of Christiania. Bro’s open chords, airy melodies, and laid back version of “Love Me Tender” obviously were attuned to the peaceful mood of their devoted Danish audience. His Nonet — that played two days later at the Jazzhouse, right in downtown Copenhagen — includes his trio, but is of course a much more powerful unit, with its two bassists and two drummers. Still, it can aptly handle the soft toned tunes that the guitarist favors. But when it plays full strength, especially behind a fiery soloist such as George Garzone, lovers of peace and quiet better beware.

By the way, Bro’s Nonet features another young interesting Danish musician: Kresten Osgood, one of its two drummers. He was also to be heard in several settings during the CJF, the most interesting of which was a beautiful duet with Ed Thigpen. Some may not be aware of the fact that Thigpen, presently 77, has settled in Copenhagen in the early seventies and serves as a father figure for all Danish drummers and many other musicians. Even though his gait is a bit wavering nowadays, the former Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald sideman displays a remarkable fitness as soon as he sits at the drums. It was perhaps a rather bold gesture from Osgood to play a duet with such a master, even on a beautiful afternoon, in the friendly outdoor setting of the Zum Biergarten café, not far from the Tivoli. In fact, the young Dane chose to play in an aptly sober yet very personal way beside the ever musical and tasteful drumming of his elder, whom he obviously admires and who never tried to overdo his mastery. This was a beautiful example of trans-generational comradeship and mutual respect.

In the evening of the same day, Danish guitarist Mark Solborg and his MS4 quartet had their frequent guest Herb Robertson join them for a great performance at the Borups Højskole, a cultural center close to the Royal Palace. The obvious common feeling between the American trumpet player and Danish tenorist Anders Banke (like Solborg, a former member of Mold, a local quartet that is considered as a landmark in contemporary Danish jazz) produced beautiful unisons and great interaction. The hornplayers were supported by a very efficient rhythmic team, and the music was marked by sparse guitar chords and contrapuntal single lines.

The next day, again at Zum Biergarten, Solborg and Robertson were joined by Lotte Anker on tenor, alto and soprano saxes and Peter Bruun (again a former member of Mold) on drums for a fine hour of adventurous music, full of contrasts between Anker’s deep, beautiful sound and Robertson’s use of his set of mutes and plungers and his half valve technique as elements of surprise. Anker is one of the few women on the Danish improvised music scene, and her dedication to creative playing is always impressive to see, whether she performs with Europeans such as Marc Ducret or Django Bates, or with Americans Craig Taborn or Marilyn Crispell, not to mention Danish fellow citizens Marilyn Mazur or Stefan Pasborg.

But it would be unfair not to mention a few non-Danish groups that I couldn’t resist listening to, with great pleasure or with mixed feelings. The David Murray Black Saint Quartet, for example, is obviously a fine band and its international fame earned it a spot in the Giant Jazz series at Tivoli’s Glassalen. But the pattern of the tunes it plays is always built on the same solo rotation, and the leader’s extrovert tenor style has not evolved in years so that his use of the same rise to climax on each of his choruses can often become paradoxically tedious.

The same goes for the alto summit that veteran Danish drummer Alex Riel had assembled at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse to celebrate his jubilee. Who would want to criticize Phil Woods, Bobby Watson, or their excellent younger Danish partner Benjamin Koppel? But for five decades Riel has played with a great diversity of soloists. It’s then difficult to be satisfied to watch Riel show up at a concert to celebrate his half-century as a drummer, only to find him relegated to a rhythm section — along with French bassist Pierre Boussaguet and Kenny Werner — where he merely supports a series of bop licks played on standards and blues, no matter how great the instrumental mastery of the hornplayers.

Finally the most satisfying non-Danish band was Mark Helias’s Open Loose trio with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. Brilliant, inventive, open and loose, thanks to three beautiful musicians whose interplay has reached a stunning level along the years, while feeding on other music in various groups. These three should have been invited to play all around Copenhagen, just to spread the good news that American jazz can build a groove, convey a melody and still remain “the sound of surprise.”

This blog entry posted by Thierry Quénum.

July 21, 2008 · 1 comment


Herbie Hancock & Gerald Clayton in Italy

Ted Panken continues to report on exciting happenings at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. Below is his fourth update from the festival, which includes accounts of performances by Herbie Hancock and Gerald Clayton. See also Panken’s first, second, and third dispatches from Perugia, with his coverage of concerts by Sonny Rollins, Cassandra Wilson, Charles Lloyd, Pat Martino and others. T.G.


The proceedings commence at 6:30 every evening in the Sala Cannoniera (Cannon Room), a barely embellished, brick-walled chamber located in the upper reaches of the Rocca Paulina, a massive fortress constructed in the free city-state of Perugia in 1543. Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, the father of three children and grandfather of two Cardinals, who were teenagers when he appointed them at his assumption of the papacy in 1534) ordered it built to show the town’s staunchly anti-clerical citizens—who had battled for autonomy against Papal authority since the 11th century—who was boss. To emphasize the point, Farnese, then 75, commanded that 138 buildings belonging to the Baglione family be razed to the ground.

This year, Sala Cannoniera is the Umbria Festival’s de facto nightclub, presenting bills that mix the vernacular (the rollicking blues and boogie-woogie pianist Jo Bohnsack, and New Orleans singer-guitarist Chip Wilson) with hardcore jazz. Representing the latter, Harry Allen, the tenor saxophonist, and Joe Cohn, the guitarist, co-lead a quartet in which they dialogue on challenging mainstream to postbop repertoire that occasionally strays off the beaten path, while vibraphone master Joe Locke helms a commanding quartet (pianist Robert Rodriguez, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez, and drummer Jonathan Blake) that is equally comfortable with meters spanning swing, clave, and post-MBASE 9's, 11's and 13's.


So is Gerald Clayton’s superbly interactive young trio (Joe Sanders, bass; Justin Brown, drums), who allow the 24-year-old pianist to bring forth an apparently bottomless well of reference while navigating repertoire that spans Ray Bryant-style soul jazz, the standards songbook and bebop, the Euro-Classical canon, and his own originals, which embrace the harmonic complexities of the modern lexicon. Even among a generation of technical wunderkinds, Clayton stands out for his musicality—the nuance of his touch, the precision of his articulation, his ability to communicate a story in his solos. He’s one of a handful of pianists of his generation—Taylor Eigsti is another who immediately comes to mind—whose approach would not have been out of place at Bradley’s, the iconic Greenwich Village saloon-salon where from 1971 to 1996 New York’s finest 88'ers gathered after their own gigs to cheer each other on, transforming the room from a place where musicians met to hang and imbibe into an oral repository of the tradition.

On more than one occasion, Clayton has substituted for Hank Jones as Roberta Gambarini’s pianist, and he could probably parlay his off-the-hook chops and intimacy with the tradition into a comfortable career. At 1:45 a.m. or so early in the week at Sala Cannonieri, he played a Duke Pearson song, “Is That So,” which was a Bradley’s staple of John Hicks, who heard it as a medium swinger; Clayton played it almost rubato, fragmented his lines, and during the swing section incorporated a quote from Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues” into his flow. But it’s evident that Clayton’s aim is to be in touch with 21st century imperatives.

Umbria’s organizers take pride in “breaking” young talent to the international stage, and cite Brad Mehldau (1994) and Diana Krall (1996) as examples; that they may regard Clayton as next on this list was evident at Santa Giuliani Arena, where his trio opened for Herbie Hancock before a crowd of some four thousand, who demanded an encore—Clayton obliged with an up-tempo romp, signifying upon and offering his own extensions of Hancock’s long-assimilated vocabulary of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

On a marathon tour supporting his Grammy-winning The River, Hancock has assembled a caravan comprising two singers (Amy Keys and Sonia Kitchell) and a sort of super-group comprising Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Dave Holland on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drumset. Hancock emcees and guides the flow from the acoustic piano and assorted keyboards. The show, tailored for arenas, feels more like a vaudeville program in which different acts show off their individual talents than a cohesive concert. Sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes it’s funk, sometimes it’s pop, but each tune stands by itself, with no connective flow.

For one thing, Kitchell saw fit to treat the Joni Mitchell repertoire—“River” and “All I Want”—as though she were channeling Janis Joplin, eliminating the simmering emotion and fluid phrasing that Mitchell’s lyrics demand For another, Keys, assigned to sing a blues and a Donny Hathaway song, has a stirring, but not particularly flexible voice—she sounds more suited to be lead singer in the back-up chorus than to front this kind of band.

There is no better fusion-rock-funk drummer than Colaiuta, whose mega chops make him an idol of under-35 drummers of every aesthetic persuasion (backstage, Justin Brown was ecstatic at his execution of some particularly difficult figures). Yet, Colaiuta does not place much air into songs where air is called for. Nor was there much room for Dave Holland to contribute—when playing acoustic, Colaiuta overwhelmed his sound in the mix, while on the fusion repertoire, Holland played electric bass for the first time since his 1990 tour with Hancock, Pat Metheny and Jack DeJohnette, and played it competently, but with insufficient muscle to really project Hancock’s funk a la, say, Paul Jackson. That said, no living bassist can match the mojo Holland put on a characteristically virtuosic, poetic solo feature, nor the panache with which he nailed the preceding group instrumental, Loueke’s “Seventeens,” so named for its 17-beat structure. A little later, Benin-born Loueke had his own solo turn, using real-time electronics to transform his voice into a harmonious African choir and to create guitar loops, placing bits of paper between his guitar strings to transform the instrument into a musique concrete device, melding the techniques into a seamless narrative arc in the most organic way.


Hancock played superbly, setting up orchestrations with his various electronic keys, exploiting the dynamic range and augmented bass register of the Fazioli acoustic grand piano, moving effortlessly from funk to rubato to jazz feels. On the final setlist tune, as if to remind us that he is, after all, Herbie Hancock, he offered a playful abstract solo introduction that gradually resolved into “Cantaloupe Island,’ launching Potter into an extended solo flight. The crowd again demanded an encore—they got two.

This blog entry posted by Ted Panken

July 20, 2008 · 1 comment


Sonny Rollins & Charles Lloyd in Italy

Every summer, jazz stars descend on Perugia, Italy for the Umbria Jazz Festival, now in its 35th year. Ted Panken sends in his third update, below, covering exciting performances by Sonny Rollins and Charles Lloyd. (Click here for Panken’s first and second reports from the festival.) Check back soon for his final dispatch from Italy.T.G.


Jazz obsessives often indulge in a form of fantasy baseball about the movers and shakers of the music they love: Wouldn’t it be great if so-and-so played with so-and-so instead of such-and-such for this-or-that event?

Such thoughts came to mind at the Umbria Jazz Festival on Sunday night, when Sonny Rollins brought his group—Clifton Anderson, trombone; Bobby Broom, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Kobe Watkins, drumset; Kimati Dinizulu, hand drums—to the Santa Giuliani Arena to play the Umbria Jazz Festival. Perhaps 5,000 souls paid 80 Euros a ticket to hear the 78-year-old legend fulfill the operative trope of his singular career—to execute the impossible by shaping cogent, poetic musical architecture on the tenor saxophone while navigating the high wire of tabula rasa improvisation.

Already in town since the previous Thursday, Rollins, a striking figure with his white beard, flowing red shirt and white pants, was rested and ready for feats of derring-do. This was apparent on the set-opener, “Here’s To The People,” on which, over a powerful Afro-Funk groove, Rollins swung the vamp for five minutes or so, probing the contours of the line, facing Broom to set up a motif here, facing Watkins to develop another there, walking one end of the stage to the other to get in the flow. At the exact moment that it occurred to the listener that he might worry the vamp all night, Rollins shifted gears, beginning a 20-minute tour de force on which he roared like a lion from the top to the very bottom of the horn, building momentum to a point where it seemed impossible to take it further, but then ratcheting up the flow even more, crossing the right hand over the left to find tones that only he could play, and finally winding down to a collective holler of approbation from the accumulated voices that faced him.

Sonny Rollins in Umbria

No other living improviser can generate such catharsis—intellectual abstraction at the highest level projected with the arena energy of U2 or the Rolling Stones. To sustain such energy for a full concert at 78 is another question, and Rollins retreated to first gear on Noel Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You,” which appeared on the B-side of his iconic Riverside album, The Freedom Suite with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach. Rollins finds it painful to listen to most of his recordings, but he likes this one, as was evident last October when we played the recording on New York’s WKCR, where he joined me to publicize a much-anticipated Carnegie Hall concert with Christian McBride and Roy Haynes. Earlier in our three-hour encounter, Rollins had asked that the monitors be turned down while his music was going over the airwaves, but for this he smiled and swayed his shoulders as he and Max Roach threw melodies and rhythms at each other on the final section of the song.

On this evening at Perugia, fifty years after the 1958 recording, Rollins played it straight, caressing the melody of this love song with a heroic, romantic, quasi-operatic tone in the manner of his idol, Coleman Hawkins. Then he signaled for exchanges with drummer Watkins, and fantasy baseball began, as Watkins dissipated the mood, responding to Rollins’ postulations over the next five minutes or so with the same unrelenting beat and power chops that had fired the previous piece. Hank Jones likes to say that every song has one correct tempo, and this was not it. There was no air, no texture, no space in the flow. Nor did Rollins provide even a sketchy arrangement by which Watkins could orient himself. I was reminded of Jack DeJohnette’s remark several years ago that “Sonny likes to have the time solid, so that he can juxtapose playing across or under or through it. He is complete; he hears the drums, bass and piano in him, and he plays by himself.”

At the time, Rollins himself cosigned that remark: “As abstract as I often like to get, I've always liked to contrast abstraction against something steady," he told me. “I play a lot of different stuff—Caribbean things, straight-ahead, a little backbeat—and I need a drummer who has a little bit of range, who isn't locked into one style of playing. A lot of jazz drummers are great at straight-ahead, but if you want to go into something else the feeling is not quite as genuine. I demand that the basic pulse and the chord structure be present throughout; I always have the song in mind regardless of what I do."

Watkins showed his range on the subsequent Rollins calypso, nailing the groove for Rollins’ powerful but attenuated declamation, which followed lengthy solos by Anderson and Broom. He and Dinizulu put a ‘70s lounge sound on “In A Sentimental Mood,” which began with a 7-minute Cranshaw solo, followed by another 6 minutes by Broom and 5 minutes by Anderson, while the feel on “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful” was a relentless, bassy four-to-the-floor, with no ride cymbal air to give flight to Rollins’ ebullient variations, which included heart-stopping quotes from the Lester Young lick book placed in the most improbable spots. The crowd spontaneously poured up to the lip of the stage to soak Rollins’ spirit-raising “Don’t Stop The Carnival,” and compelled an encore, in this case a ‘40s or ‘50s pop song with the quality of an Italian aria whose melody Rollins, now rejuvenated, bellowed operatically for ten minutes or so, before tearing into “Now Is The Time” with singular momentum.

Rollins maintains the equilibrium that he needs to do what he does by creating an environment in which he himself generates his challenge, an approach that generates no small amount of dead space in a two-hour concert. While he can’t approach Rollins’ mastery of sound projection, rhythmic impeccability, and harmonic imagination, Charles Lloyd, recently turned 70, has over the last 15 years surrounded himself with improvisers whose strong tonal personalities will intersect with his own to create a flow based on mutual dialogue, an approach he used to great effect between midnight and 2 a.m. on Sunday at the Morlacchi Theater.


In regard to tone, Lloyd blends the Lester Young-Stan Getz approach (following Prez’s example, he blows into the tenor at an angle, from the right side of his mouth) with that of Ben Webster, while in matters of vocabulary he is a descendant of late ‘50s Rollins and John Coltrane circa 1959 to 1965. Prodding him were pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland, an up-to-the-second rhythm section, who kept the rhythms varied and modern, the pulse grounded, and the harmony polytonal and abstract. Lloyd started off tentatively, picked up steam with a Websterish “Come Sunday,” and played with ever-greater strength as the wee hours encroached. He finished for good at 2 AM, even as the full-house called for more.

This blog entry posted by Ted Panken

July 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Jazz Update from Italy (Part Two)

Below is Ted Panken's second dispatch from the Perugia, Italy, where he takes time out from the vino rosso and musica fantastica to send us this update on the Umbria Jazz Festival. He reports on some memorable guitar music, as well as a performance by Cassandra Wilson. For Panken’s first dispatch from Umbria, click here.T.G.


Every day at 12:30 and 7:15 in the dining room of the Sangello Hotel, a four-star facility with all the modern amenities, located atop Perugia’s formidable city wall constructed around 1300 (give or take a century), the members of the Coolbone Brass Band, Rockin’ Dopsie’s zydeco band, The Good Fellas (Gangsters of Swing), and singer-songwriter-guitarist K.J. Denhert’s band, join an assortment of press junketers and journeyman tourists to dine from a buffet table. The spread is set up, as my wife noted, the way her relatives did it in Sicily when she was a teenager. There is a soup, a roast (usually pork); a prepared dish of chicken and/or fish; a pasta with a different sauce each day; grilled vegetables; roasted peppers in olive oil; beets, artichokes, and eggplant in olive oil; plates of such salumeria meats as brasiole and mortadella; a selection of cheeses with cantaloupe; a three-tiered server containing apricots, peaches, pears and plums, next to a plate of watermelon; a custard; and bottles of vino rosso, vino bianco, and aqua minerale, either naturale or frizzante. Intriguingly, the coffee and cappucino is instant Nescafe.

Food is food and music is music, but one so inclined might analogize the contrasts contained within this daily feast to the assortment of musical flavors presented during nights two, three and four of the 35th annual Umbria Jazz Festival.

For example, the organizers decided to turn Teatro Pavone—the older (1740) of the two tiered theaters deployed for mid-size concerts (it was originally the theater of the nobility; the ceiling looks like a giant sunflower)—into guitar-lover heaven by booking Pat Martino and Bill Frisell at different times. No jazz lover needs to be told that both are virtuosos with diametrically opposite approaches to their instrument, but it is another thing to hear it in such an acoustically pristine environment.

On Monday, Martino, jockey-thin, dressed in a white shirt, black vest, and black pants, led his quartet, which includes the first-class pianist Ricky Germanson, through seven tunes. Barely moving a muscle, he spun out a series of jaw-droppingly high-degree-of-difficulty solos, each a little sculpture of its own, marked by flawless articulation, an unfailingly plush tone, attention to melody, and an enviable sense of form. He didn’t announce titles, but the first five tunes—two of them based on “Impressions,” John Coltrane’s “So What” variant that was a favorite of Wes Montgomery, Martino’s early hero—sounded like originals. Martino tore through the swingers and created high drama on the ballads; you’d have to hear him again to determine whether the solos are setpieces or spontaneous inventions. No such questions obtained for “Round Midnight” and “Oleo,” on which Martino cracked the smallest smile as he wove a rich harmonic web. Ascending the stairs after the concert, a guitarist from another band shook his head at the futility of it all and said, “I’m going to go back to the hotel and throw away my guitar.”

While Martino’s band is there for support and interpolation, Frisell—who is seemingly able to call up guitaristic vocabulary from Hendrix to Mali at a moment’s notice with his fingers and pedals—goes for the equilateral triangle effect, simultaneously feeding information to and drawing it from bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson. The repertoire comprises songs and decisive melodies, spanning vernacular pop—Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come,” Hendrix’ “Band of Gypsies,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” “You Are My Sunshine”—to hardcore jazz—Monk’s “Misterioso, “Skippy” and “Jackie-ing,” Lee Konitz’ “Subconscious-Lee,” a variant on the Charlie Christian solo on “Benny’s Bugle.” The band displays implacable patience, grabbing sounds, constructing lines, creating musical flow from the environment the way the architects and painters who created the look of Perugia between the 13th and 18th centuries conjured their images and structures in response to the tones of Perugia’s sky and the planes of its topography.


That guitarist Marvin Sewell, Cassandra Wilson’s musical director, belongs in the same conversation with the aforementioned maestros, was abundantly clear throughout Wilson’s Monday night performance at Santa Giuliana Arena. Wilson is touring Europe in support of her strong new Blue Note date, Loverly, with all her cohorts from the record—Sewell on guitar; Herlin Riley on drumset; Lekan Babaola, out of Nigeria, on percussion and handrums; and Reginald Veal on bass—excepting pianist Jason Moran, replaced this summer by 21-year-old New Orleans-born pianist-keyboardist Jonathan Batiste. Wilson is the voice and the star, but, whether the repertoire is blues (“St. James Infirmary,” “Dust My Broom”), pop (“Wichita Lineman”), or the songbook (“A Sleepin’ Bee,” “Them There Eyes,” “Till There Was You”), she functions as one of the band. The vocalist weaves in and out of her extraordinarily tight, creative unit, driven by the drummers and Veal, who function interchangeably as an interlocking Afro-Gulf Coast coro and a swing rhythm section, and by the creative soloing of South Side Chicago native Sewell on acoustic and two different electric guitars, and Batiste, who seems to have liberated his imagination on this tour, as evidenced by his investigations on the piano strings as well as his strong New Orleans to the future pianism.

This blog entry posted by Ted Panken. For part three of his report from Italy, click here.

July 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Is Bird Dead?

One of the most surprising developments in the jazz world in recent years has been the declining influence of Charlie Parker. This shift has not been studied by jazz writers, as far as I can tell. But it is clearly one of the most significant changes of the last thirty years.

                  Charlie Parker at Birdland (1951), photo by Marcel Fleiss

The change is all the more remarkable since Parker was the dominant force in the jazz world during his lifetime, and his impact seemed hardly diminished in the aftermath of his death in 1955. His presence loomed so large that jazz fans held on to the phrase "Bird Lives" as a mantra and talisman long after the altoist's passing. Few things in the jazz world seemed more certain than the central place enjoyed by this exceptional artist.

When I was coming up, Bird was the cornerstone of a musical education for an aspiring jazz player. I was no different than many of my peers in this regard. I studied transcriptions of Parker's improvisations, and highlighted key passages. I made private tape recordings of his solos at half-speed—slowing them down so that I could hear what was happening more clearly—and listened to them over and over again. As a teenager, I not only listened to every studio recording, but I also tracked down all of the alternate takes (I found them in the archives of a local college library), and even listened to the incomplete takes. (You might be surprised by how many Bird studio performances ended within ten seconds. Parker clearly liked to have everything click into place right out of the starting gate.) Like the rest of my generation, I knew dozens of his compositions, and frequently called them at jam sessions.

And here is the kicker. I did all of this even though I had no desire to play in the style of Charlie Parker. My personal aesthetic vision took me in a different direction. Yet I felt that it was essential to study and assimilate Parker in order to develop my own sound. But inevitably (as always happens) bits of his musical thinking entered into my playing as a result of this period of study. I saw this as a natural development. You can't escape the pervasive influences of your time and place. The best you can hope for is to adapt them to your own personality and emotional temperament. As I saw it, coming to grips with Parker was a key step toward that goal, and part of what being a jazz musician in the modern day was all about.

I don't think this happens any more. Certainly not to the same extent it did three or four decades ago. I could name a half dozen jazz musicians who have more influence than Bird on the current crop of players.

Why do I believe that Parker's influence is on the wane? First and foremost, I need to point to the evidence that is literally on the record. I listen to new releases by jazz artists every day—I have probably listened to more than 300 new jazz CDs since the start of the year —and the evidence is overwhelming. The younger generation of improvisers has largely abandoned Bird and the bop vocabulary that was so pervasive just a few years ago. I don't hear Bird on the surface of this music, or under the surface, or even hiding off in corner. Bird has flown the coop. Newly minted jazz players are now looking elsewhere for inspiration.

Other role models from the past are far more dominant. Who are the historical figures with the most influence today? Based on my listening, I would highlight some of the musicians who played with Parker (Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis) or rose to fame shortly after his death (John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans). Each of these artists appears to exert more influence than Charlie Parker on the current crop of jazz players. In an odd twist of history, several of the sidemen who accompanied Bird have seemingly nudged him aside in the pantheon of jazz greats.

Some of the most popular current role models are quite surprising—for example, Chet Baker, who led a marginal existence in the jazz world during his lifetime, but seems to exert a potent posthumous influence on European players. Others current-day icons are hardly unexpected—who can be surprised to hear the spirit of Sonny Rollins and Keith Jarrett in the work of the up-and-coming soloists. In some instance, a set of musical values espoused by a record label (Blue Note, ECM) is shaping the sensibilities of twenty-something improvisers. But the bottom line is that Bird is not a central figure in this process. He has lost much of the mesmerizing control he had once exerted over the jazz world.

You can hear this in how the younger players shape phrases. Or perhaps it might be better put: how they don't shape phrases. Bird's phrase-ology possessed a marked ebb and flow. He is often remembered for playing lots of notes, but the power of his solos also came from how he punctuated them with pauses, how he started and ended his phrases. Compare several typical 32 bar choruses by Parker with those by Coltrane, and pay attention to the rests and breaths. You will see a marked contrast. Today, the Coltrane-inspired approach reigns supreme. It is not uncommon to hear improvised phrases in which the listener hardly notices how they begin and end—since so much happens in between! By comparison, Bird seems almost succinct on his classic Savoy and Dial sides—perhaps not as conversational as, say, a Lester Young solo, but still with a degree of concision that one rarely hears nowadays.

Even more surprising is the gradual disappearance of Parker's distinctive approach to chromaticism. Parker had developed countless devices for bringing non-scalar notes into his phrases. He had his patented ways of incorporating flat fifths and sharp fifths, or for placing major sevenths against a minor seventh chord, and so on. This vocabulary was borrowed and ransacked by later generations, and for a time you couldn't go to a jam session without hearing everybody dipping into Bird's bag.

And now? A certain modal-flavored style of phrasing is much more popular, and although this approach also brings unusual and unexpected notes into the phrases, it does so in much different ways from bebop. Even more interesting: this modal style of phrasing is frequently used today by improvisers in non-modal songs. The saxophonist can be flying over a standard set of changes and launch into a modal pattern (which often sounds like it was carefully crafted in the practice room) that fits, more or less, with the underlying harmonies. And, even if it clashes a little with the chords, this is okay—since the conflict between the changes and the pattern adds an exotic flavor to the solo. Some soloists are quite skilled at deliberately setting up a "train collision" of this sort between a melodic pattern and a looming chord change, and have a host of ways of either avoiding or increasing the impact at the last moment.

This style of playing can be very exciting . . . but it sure ain't Bird! You will find none of these techniques in the music of Charlie Parker. Although Bird is viewed as the ultimate free spirit of his era, the man who broke all the rules, the fact remains that his own playing followed a strict and unyielding set of precepts, almost mathematical in their rigor. Many later developments—for example, the popular pattern-based approach, with lots of fourths thrown in for spice (hey, I sure hope the Woody Shaw estate is collecting royalties on these licks)—would have been anathema to Bird. Parker, for all his modernism, would take a blues note over a perfect fourth any day of the week.

Should we be concerned with this? I have no desire to go on a nostalgia kick—and I will be the first to admit that the current crop of jazz artists is, in many ways, the most skilled and best trained in the history of the music. Yet it should always be a cause of concern when a valuable body of knowledge from the past no longer finds devotees who will master it and pass it on to the next generation. What is happening in the jazz world is no different than a post-Einstein generation forgetting their Newtonian physics. Inevitably, neglecting the towering figures of our past will diminish our future.

To some extent, the jazz world is undergoing what Thomas Kuhn called a "paradigm shift." One of Kuhn's most interesting findings, based on his study of scientific revolutions, is how slowly these transformations gain momentum. Paradigm shift is not an overnight affair. Usually one or two generations must elapse before it is completed. Perhaps this is what we are seeing now in the jazz world. Certainly it is sobering to consider that, in a music so frenetic and fast-paced, some regime changes happen so gradually that we often fail to understand their full implications until our world is already altered irrevocably.

For part two of "Is Bird Dead?" click here. In this next installment, I I explore some of the reasons for the these changes, and define the essence of the "new way" of improvising that appears to be on the rise.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

July 15, 2008 · 11 comments


Jazz Update from Umbria

Ted Panken, a regular contributor to, sends in this dispatch from Perugia, Italy. Panken reports on the sights and sounds of this lovely locale, home to one of the largest jazz gatherings in the world, the Umbria Jazz Festival, an annual event now in its 35th season. Check back soon for his next update. T.G.

Twelve years ago, a few weeks before my daughter was born, when I still had the time and stamina to do such things, I spent most of a three-day visit to Madrid absorbing the contents of the Prado, watching the visual history of post-Humanism Western civilization unfold, room after room. You’d proceed through a hallway lined with 10 Caravaggios and a half-dozen Zurbarbans, enter an enormous three-gallery suite with a hundred Titians, then another two with 120 El Grecos, another with 40 Raphaels. A hundred or so Velasquezes and a couple of hundred Goyas awaited. You could spend a year there, and only soak up a fraction of the nuances.


Among other things, this bounty of riches offered a singular opportunity to examine the way these masters of line, color, and perspective addressed identical material—to be specific, Catholic saints and various Biblical scenes—with completely different visions, shaped by their own respective positions in the timeline, their own influence tree, their own inner vision. For this jazz-obsessive, this effect was not dissimilar to exploring the different ways that Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane developed their innovative vocabularies by working with and refining the same 12-bar blues and 32-bar Tin Pan Alley forms.

It’s hard not to think of these things in Perugia, a city of 160,000 situated between Rome and Florence carved into a mountain near the Tiber River, where a certain level of craftsmanship and refinement is built into the texture of daily life. This is so in the buildings, which date from the 12th through 18th centuries; in the proportions of the public plazas and snaky medieval warrens; and in the food, which is prepared with consistent excellence, and is never overdone.

Perugia is the capital of the state of Umbria, and hosts the annual Umbria Jazz Festival, which launched its 35th season on Friday. The events transpire atop the hill. Like 18th grand dukes putting together entertainment for a massive pageant, the organizers match sounds with spaces.

New Orleans marching (Coolbone) and Zydeco (Rockin’ Doopsie) bands, swing units, and singer-songwriters perform on a terrace outside the Hotel Brufani, a converted palazzo that overlooks the valley. In an exquisite drawing room inside the hotel, singer Allan Harris performs his “Tribute to Nat King Cole.” Two 18th century theaters, both with the aspect of an exquisite jewel-box, host other major acts that depend on sonic nuance—among them this year, Bill Frisell, Enrico Rava, Charles Lloyd, Gianluca Petrella, Stefano DiBattista, Charlie Haden, Enrico Pieranunzi, Brad Mehldau, Maria Schneider, Pat Martino, and Peter Bernstein. Other first-rate groups—pianist Gerald Clayton’s trio, vibraphonist Joe Locke’s Force of Four (with pianist Robert Rodriguez and drummer Jonathan Blake), and the Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet—alternate at a bar-nightclub constructed in an unembellished underground chamber in a 16th century fortress built by the Papacy (which saw the city as a strategic outpost, and imposed the Vatican there for several consequential periods between the 13th and 17th centuries) to defend itself against Perugians enraged by the Papal boot, and demolished 138 buildings owned by the Baglione family (they invented zabaglione) to do this.

The only structure that is not ancient is the floored-over soccer field just outside the medieval city walls that contains the Arena Santa Giuliani. Here the headliners—among the bookings are Sonny Rollins, Stefano Bollani with Caetano Veloso, Alicia Keys, Cassandra Wilson, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny-Gary Burton—play on a huge outdoor stage in gentle breezes below the moon and stars. I have never heard such good sound in an outdoor space.

By Friday evening, Perugia’s streets and squares were packed with revelers young and old. Not so the alley in front of Teatro Morlacchi, the younger of the theaters, a five-tiered, horseshoe-shaped, 785-seater with ceiling frescos that was constructed in the late 18th century by a consortium of merchants out of an abandoned nunnery as an answer to Teatro Pavone, a smaller space closer to the town center where the local nobility gathered. Such spaces—indeed such acoustics—do not exist in New York City, where the oldest inhabited building dates from the 1830s.

The room was full for Carla Bley and Lost Chords (Britain’s Andy Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Yale’s Steve Swallow, bass; New York A-lister Billy Drummond, drums; and Italian trumpeter-flugelhornist Paolo Fresu) backing the new WATT-ECM release Banana Suite. They opened with a 45-minute version of the title track, a kaleidoscopic 5½-part suite, bedrocked on compelling ostinato. There was much ebb-and-flow, much dialogue, and fluent monologues from all members. It was my first in-person experience with Fresu, who played a lot of flugelhorn, which unfailingly did his bidding—left leg forward, right leg bent down like a javelin thrower, neck slightly atilt, he played clear, ringing melodies with a vibratoless golden tune, in contrast to Sheppard’s gruff declamations.

Sophisticated, ironic, refined, raw—in short, Italian. Bley established an apropos tone for things to come.

This blog entry posted by Ted Panken. For part two of his report from Italy, click here.

July 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Open Letter to Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen & Bill Cosby

Jazz fans have long enjoyed a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. We appreciate the jazzy soundtracks and are delighted when a famous director gives the nod to a jazz bio-pic. But the end results are never pure enough for the purists, and every fan has a personal gripe or pet project needing urgent attention. (When will George Lucas get off his duff and make that film about Darth Vader's other son? . . . . Working title: The Sun Ra Story.) Into this breach jumps regular contributor Walter Kolosky, who offers up a host of fresh ideas in this open letter to jazz’s best friends in the film industry. T.G.

I hope someone close to devoted jazz fans Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby reads this blog and sends them here to read it.

jazz film poster

Jazz needs a big favor. Clint, Woody and Bill – God bless you all for the support you have given jazz music over the years. I would be hard-pressed to find any other celebrities of your stature who have done as much to bolster a music form they love. But do you think you could take another step even farther and raise a little money and get involved with producing a jazz movie that actually celebrates jazz music? We have seen enough jazz movies tell the story of some drunk or drugged out musician who dies a tragic death. I don’t think depressing jazz movies do a lot to help the music attract more fans. And, let’s face facts – most of the movies are depressing. Looking at some of the most famous ones bears this out.

Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight is one of the best movies ever made about jazz. Saxophone great Dexter Gordon starred as Dale Turner, a falling-down drunk American expatriate jazz legend. The movie would have been even greater if Tavernier had cut 20 minutes and Turner had kicked his habit. His character could have led a musical revolution instead of becoming just another victim of the jazz lifestyle. I don’t care what the book the movie was based on said.

Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues is another jazz movie more about gambling addiction and thugs than a celebration of the music. I know it ends on a hopeful note but do all jazz movies have to be about suffering? Apparently so.

jazz film poster

Frank Sinatra starred in The Man with the Golden Arm. He played a jazz musician with – you guessed it – a drug problem. Steve Allen played Benny Goodman in The Benny Goodman Story. While on the surface this movie wasn’t about drugs or alcohol, Allen’s amazingly sleepy performance indicated he or Benny may have been on downers after all. What the heck did Donna Reed see in that guy? There is also The Glenn Miller Story. They should have stopped that one before the plane crash. And then there is the poor junkie Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story. It just goes on and on.

jazz film poster

Clint, you have been a major jazz supporter for many years. Your involvement with the Monterey Jazz Festival has been a great help. But you also directed the drug downer movie Bird about Charlie Parker. It was actually a very well made movie. But, it was so depressing. Years ago you starred as a jazz disc-jockey in Play Misty for Me. Wouldn’t you know it; you are stalked in that movie by psychotic killer Jessica Walter. Clint, you should have known better. I must confess that since that movie I have always associated the classic tune “Misty” with a knife-wielding Jessica Walter kneeling on top of me in my bed. While aspects of that vision still intrigue me . . . it has not made me go buy more jazz music. Clint, I think you may owe us.

Bill you are a great supporter of jazz music. You frequently host the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Although I must in all honesty say I think you talk too much over the music at that event; I am grateful for all you have done to promote jazz over the years. In your old Cosby Show you made it a point to sneak your love of the music into many episodes. You got involved in producing a few jazz albums as well. This has all been helpful to the cause.

jazz film poster

Woody you are a big fan of the New Orleans jazz style. In your reel life movies you often feature New Orleans jazz music in the soundtracks. In your real life you play a good clarinet in a New Orleans style band and you were in a documentary about the band’s travels throughout Europe. It was quite good. But still, the director didn’t quite go for the exciting and joyous angle I wished she had.

As I write these words there continue to be rumors that movies about jazz superstars, and famous drug users, Miles Davis and Chet Baker are about to be made. The rumor about the Miles movie, this time with actor Don Cheadle connected, has been around for almost two decades now. But no one ever seems to pull the trigger. I can assure you that if these flicks are ever produced – they will not be funfests.

Yes I have some uplifting jazz movie ideas! Some of them are as follows. I will not sue anyone who uses them:

Return of the Jazz Men: Starring Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby. Three aging but sober and non-drug addicted black expatriate American jazz musicians return to America in 1973. Morgan Freeman plays the part of God and a mean sax with Echoplex. Fun and hilarity ensue as the trio tries to adjust to jazz-fusion music and the unexpected fame their attempts at playing it garner them. In one particularly funny scene the guys run into a young Ken Burns and ignore him.

Horn of Plenty: Starring John Goodman, Delta Burke, Howard Hesseman, Miley Cyrus and Spike Lee as himself. Trombone player Jumbo Plenty is the mayor of a 1960’s southern town. He metes out criminal and social justice during the day and swings it on stage with his jazz band at night. A young Spike Lee comes to town to film an 8mm project for school. Spike is heavily made-up for the role.

Rebel without a Gig: Starring Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Harry Connick Jr., Diane Keaton, Barbara Hershey, Carol Kane, Tony Roberts, Shelley Duvall, Dianne Wiest, Gene Hackman, Jessica Walter, Martin Landau, Jennifer Tilly, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson. Also making guest appearances are Kyle and Alison Eastwood. Woody Allen is a bumbling clarinet player who finally finds his way by channeling the spirit of Sidney Bechet. This film should be directed by Clint Eastwood. Morgan Freeman makes a cameo appearance as God.

Mutiny on the Band Stand: Starring Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jason Timberlake, Diddy, Branford Marsalis, Donnie and Marie Osmond, Clare Danes and Larry David. A hip-hop group makes millions of dollars sampling the music of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. Their manager (Larry David), a closet jazz fan, convinces them to play their own modern jazz music instead. The group becomes destitute but they are happier playing jazz.

Close Encounters of the Third Stream: Starring George Clooney, Charlize Theron, Lucy Liu or Lisa Ling, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé. A writer who has just written a blog about how there should be some positive movies made about jazz music is aggressively pursued by four or five amorous international jazz-loving beauties who turn out to be space aliens who want to repopulate their dying world with jazz and classical music fans to please their planet’s new leader, the recently kidnapped Gunther Schuller.

So c’mon Clint and Bill, Woody or anyone else with the money or the ability to raise it, please make a movie that truly celebrates jazz. I know you have given a lot to the cause already. But the jazz community may need you now more than ever. (That is assuming jazz is dying. But that is for another blog.)

This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky.

July 13, 2008 · 18 comments


Revisiting Jazz Classics

Five days per week, highlights a classic recording from the past. This feature, called A Classic Revisited, is our way of celebrating the jazz heritage. It is a companion to our Song of the Day, which focuses on the best of current releases.

Keith Jarrett

Our selection for today’s ‘classic’ was recorded thirty-five years ago this weekend. At the time of his July 12, 1973 concert in Bremen, 28 year old Keith Jarrett was far from a household name. His breakthrough hit, The Köln Concert, which would become one of the biggest selling jazz recordings of all time, was still two years in the future. Of course, serious jazz fans knew about this artist, but mostly through his sideman work with Miles Davis and Charles Lloyd, supplemented by a very brief stint with Art Blakey and a handful of largely unheralded leader dates.

Two years before the Bremen concert, Jarrett had enjoyed a stint with the Columbia label that was so short it could almost be measured in hours. In the aftermath, Jarrett went to the opposite extreme. Sent packing from the largest record label in the world, the pianist hooked up with a then little-known European outfit, called ECM. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher with an investment of 16,000 DM, less than $5,000 in US dollars, ECM was following the unpromising path of putting fastidious care into projects few major labels would even consider releasing.

At the time, this looked like a disastrous career move for the pianist. In retrospect, it was a turning point not just for Jarrett, but for the jazz world as a whole. ECM would legitimize an entirely different approach to the jazz idiom, one in which a wide array of other traditions -- folk, world music, classical, minimalist -- would mix with more familiar elements of the jazz vocabulary, creating exciting new hybrids.

None of Jarrett's previous efforts had prepared jazz fans for the concert recording he made that day in Bremen. Jarrett had been working on the concept of largely improvised solo piano recitals, without the usual breaks between tunes . . . . in fact, without any “tunes” in the conventional sense. Different musical interludes flowed seamlessly into each other, and Jarrett relied almost completely on the inspiration of the moment to guide him through the course of a performance. The only certainties of a Jarrett solo concert were that the artist would be on stage with a piano, and there would be an intermission midway through the proceedings. Besides these predictable factors, virtually anything might happen.

The style of Jarrett's playing was as much a departure from the norm as these innovations in formal structure. Put simply, this music often didn’t sound like jazz. Jarrett would often go for long stretches without the familiar syncopations or phraseology of the jazz idiom; much of his solo work seemed to draw on classical antecedents, or involved brave new styles of the pianist’s own devising. He might even crawl into the piano and start plucking the strings. Yet just when you thought that Jarrett had abandoned the blues for Béla Bartok or Henry Cowell, he would break into some devastating über-funk that made clear his deep jazz credentials. Thirty-five years later, the Bremen concert still surprises us, captivating listeners with Jarrett's breadth of conception and depth of imagination.

For the full review of this memorable performance, click here. Below are links to the reviews of tracks recently featured as A Classic Revisited.

Recent Jazz Classics Featured at

Keith Jarrett: Bremen, Part I
Louis Armstrong & Jimmie Rodgers: Blue Yodel #9
Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines: Four or Five Times
King Pleasure: Moody's Mood for Love
Frank Sinatra (with Count Basie): I Believe in You
Woody Herman: Four Brothers
Charlie Parker: A Night in Tunisia
Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang: A Handful of Riffs
Pee Wee Russell: That Old Feeling
Jelly Roll Morton: Black Bottom Stomp
Kenny Burrell: Chitlins Con Carne
Stéphane Grappelli: Body and Soul
Claude Thornhill: Yardbird Suite
Dizzy Gillespie: Groovin' High
Carmen McRae: Love is Here to Stay
Jackie McLean: Melody for Melonae
Hampton Hawes: Broadway
Bobby Hutcherson: For You, Mom and Dad
Frank Trumbauer: San
Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin'
Glenn Miller: Moonlight Serenade
Dinah Washington: There is No Greater Love
Grant Green: Ain't It Funky Now
Hot Lips Page: Lafayette
Shelly Manne: Summertime
Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Sandu
Lionel Hampton: Flying Home
Jimmy McGriff: Back on the Track
Al Cohn & Jimmy Rowles: Them There Eyes
Peggy Lee: Cannonball Express
Gerald Wilson: Out of This World
Miles Davis: On Green Dolphin Street
Billie Holiday: What's New
Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'
Art Farmer: Jubilation
Thelonious Monk: 'Round Midnight
Bob Florence: Bebop Charlie
Tina Brooks: Star Eyes
João Gilberto: Estate
Modern Jazz Quartet: Django
Hank Mobley: I Should Care
Bill Holman: You Go to My Head
Betty Carter: Mean to Me
Art Tatum: Sophisticated Lady
Charlie Parker: Parker's Mood
Freddie Hubbard: Here's That Rainy Day
Horace Silver: Song for My Father
Frank Sinatra: The Way You Look Tonight
Larry Young: The Moontrane
Miles Davis: So What
Jimmy Giuffre: Propulsion
Ella Fitzgerald: Mack the Knife
Tony Bennett: Sometimes I'm Happy
Chico O'Farrill: Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite
Charles Mingus: Better Git It in Your Soul
Andrew Hill: Refuge
Jim Hall: Concierto de Aranjuez
Nat King Cole: Route 66
George Russell: Concerto for Billy the Kid
V.S.O.P.: One of a Kind
Cecil Taylor: Tales (8 Whisps)

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Where Copyright Goes Wrong's ever-vigilant resident curmudgeon, Alan Kurtz, has a typically contrarian take on copyright laws. Corporate-driven "enhancements" to this hoary hand-me-down from English common law have, claims Kurtz, allowed bottom-line driven companies to control the rights to classic jazz recordings that they can't be bothered to actually release on CD. Meanwhile jazz standards must assume aliases to permit lyricists to collect royalties. Readers are invited to share their own intellectual property by adding comments below or emailing them to   T.G.

Anti-copyright Logo

Copyright is out of control. If you accept the proposition that creative artists deserve to be compensated by consumers, then laws protecting such rights merit obedience. But in practice, the issue is seldom so cut and dried. Often those who created a work of art no longer own its rights. Perhaps the artist sold them to the highest bidder, bequeathed them in an act of charity or passed them on to heirs. In such an exchange, the creator is rewarded by, if nothing else, satisfied intentions. But the new owner, who may not be the slightest bit artistically inclined, now demands to be compensated for someone else's creativity. Is that fair?

Well, the reasoning goes, since the creator voluntarily relinquished interest, consumers should honor the arrangement by compensating whoever owns said rights, even if it's a person or organization far removed from the act of creation.

Yet what if those goods are willfully and indefinitely withheld from the open market? It's hard to sympathize when a humongous corporation cries foul because some pipsqueak pirate has violated a dusty copyright that said Humongous Corporation has heretofore shown no interest in exploiting. Don't custodians of artwork protected by public law have an implicit responsibility to share it with the public?

Not when it comes to classic jazz tracks, obviously. Case in point: the great 1949-52 recordings by the George Shearing Quintet. These are among the most luminously pleasurable tracks in jazz history, yet shamefully have never been suitably restored and reissued. Why not? In a word: ©-P-Y-R-I-G-H-T.

George Meets the Lion

Formed in January 1949, the GSQ first recorded 8 sides for Discovery, a small indie label that, as Shearing joked in his autobiography Lullaby of Birdland, "had distribution from Hollywood & Vine to Sunset Boulevard—which was a gross exaggeration of the distribution it really had." Subsequently reissued by Savoy, these 8 sides were an aperitif. GSQ began serving their main course when Shearing joined major label MGM, leading off with a glorious "September in the Rain." Over a 4-year span, GSQ recorded four dozen instrumental sides, mostly gems, and others backing a vocalist. In the fullness of time (as lawyers like to say), MGM's copyright passed to Verve, was next acquired by PolyGram and ultimately gobbled up by Universal Music. Along the way, haphazardly strewn reissues have come and gone with, at best, lackluster remastering.

Once the millennium turned, this neglectful situation promised to improve. As UK copyright, which unlike U.S. protection lasts a mere 50 years, began to expire on the GSQ recordings, British firms (Sir George is after all an Englishman, knighted in 2007) issued partial compilations that were, alas, royally mediocre. Proper Records came closest to a comprehensive anthology with From Battersea to Broadway (2002). Yet this 4-CD box opens 10 years before GSQ's formation, meaning the classic quintet does not appear until the 10th track of Disc 3, which is a long wait. Moreover, by adhering to the UK's 50-year copyright limit, the set terminates prematurely, excluding GSQ's signature "Lullaby of Birdland" (1952).

The label played catch-up with its cursory A Proper Introduction to George Shearing (2004), adding GSQ's 1952 sides plus some previously omitted 1951 tracks. While Proper's CDs are affordable to budget-minded collectors, this scattershot approach requires buying often superfluous and redundant packages. And once you do find an essential track, audio can be abysmal, to wit the lovely "Indian Summer," rendered virtually unlistenable by Proper's wretched reproduction.

But don't blame the Brits. Since Humongous Corporation still jealously guards their original masters, overseas producers must rely on such inferior audio sources as secondhand shellac discs that fail miserably to do justice to GSQ's shimmering soundscapes. From the U.S. consumer's point of view, copyright protection protects us from hearing this music fully restored as it so richly deserves.

The Brits are, however, indirectly to blame insofar as American copyright stems from 15th-century English common law. Yet as usual, we American Cousins have carried this Limey tradition to grotesque extremes in our quest to, as the U.S. Constitution puts it, "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, and provide for Everlasting Corporate Welfare."

The Wondrous World of Sonny & Cher

And when, in the fullness of time, the Constitution no longer suffices, do not despair. We got Congress, babe. Under the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, copyrighted works produced from 1923 onward will not enter the public domain until 2019 at the earliest. Moreover, in 2005 the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that performance copyright survives in perpetuity regardless of a recording's country of origin. Eventually federal statutes will preempt state law, but not until 2067. As an attorney for the losing side in N.Y. groused, "The ramifications are that anybody who ever did a musical piece from the time of Thomas Edison has common law rights and can come forward and sue anyone who uses their music, whether it is lost in time or not."

The Act's namesake, record producer-turned-Congressman Sonny Bono (1935-1998), would've been gratified by these developments. Perhaps his tombstone inscription ought to be re-chiseled from "The Beat Goes On" to "The Copyright Goes On"—and on and on, forever—except that epigraphs too may enjoy copyright protection, making them eternally sacrosanct in more ways than one.

Another, even more outlandish by-product of copyright overreach involves the practice of renaming jazz standards when adding lyrics to the original tune. This wasn't always the case. In 1961, when Abbey Lincoln put words to "Blue Monk," she did not tamper with Thelonious's eponym. Likewise in 1968, when Jon Hendricks vocalized "In Walked Bud" on Monk's Underground, the song was not redesignated "Every Hip Stud Really Dug Whatshisname."

Over ensuing decades, however, the Great Blob Copyright has consumed more landscape than alien invaders in a 1950s sci-fi flick. By 1988, for her album Carmen Sings Monk, Carmen McRae presented a baker's dozen switcheroos. "In Walked Bud" became "Suddenly," "Ruby, My Dear" got simplified to "Dear Ruby," and Abbey Lincoln's "Blue Monk" was now "Monkery's the Blues." Only the venerable "'Round Midnight" escaped the indignity of identity theft.

Karrin Allyson: Footprints

The titular gelding of jazz classics continues to this day. Karrin Allyson, for one, wielded the scalpel of name-change surgery for her 2006 CD Footprints. With six other trans- nomenclature victims, John Coltrane's "Equinox" now had "A Long Way to Go," Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" was "Something Worth Waiting For" and Duke Jordan's "Jordu" turned into "Life Is a Groove." The album's chief lyricist, Chris Caswell, described this in his liner notes as "a detail that has to do with royalties."

"What's in a name?" besought Shakespeare's Juliet in 1597. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Beyond her gift for stating the obvious, Juliet begged the question: What's the point of calling a rose anything else?

Admittedly, it's possible that Coltrane did not personally christen "Equinox." Jazz musicians have often recorded untitled tunes and left naming to the record company. On the other hand, maybe Coltrane—an exceptionally thoughtful man with a wide-ranging curiosity—very deliberately titled "Equinox." If so, then that was part of his original intent. And in any case, it's disrespectful to rename a composition that has over the past half century earned recognition from jazz fans worldwide.

Don't misunderstand. Songwriters are entitled to make a buck. But when "a detail that has to do with royalties" compels them to deface classic jazz compositions, copyright has gone woefully wrong.

I could rail on in this disputatious vein, but you'll have to excuse me now. I must return my attorney's call. She's filing for copyright registration of my latest literary endeavor, a brilliant set of lyrics added to Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk." I've re-titled it "Groovy Footprints Have A Long Way to Go but Are Worth Waiting For." Needless to say, it may not be performed or quoted from for the next 10,000 years without my express written permission.

This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

July 09, 2008 · 3 comments


Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson: Can Country Music and Jazz Peacefully Co-Exist?

Today Blue Note releases an unusual collaboration between Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson. The CD, entitled Two Men With the Blues, represents a unique moment in both artists’ careers, and spurs some reflection on the rich history of jazz-and-country collaborations.

Cowboy jazz

Well, to be honest, this history is not very rich. Jazz and country stars rarely meet up – not in the saddle, not in the saloon, and certainly not in the recording studio. You probably never really considered Willie Nelson a likely Blue Note recording artist. Close your eyes and try to picture Willie hanging out with Rudy Van Gelder in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Nope, I can’t either.

But don’t underestimate Mr. Nelson, who has made a career out of breaking through stereotypes and genre clichés. Check out his “almost lost” reggae sessions or his recording of Gospel Favorites to get an idea of this artist’s willingness to stake out new territory. Of course, Nelson’s Stardust is one of the best selling albums of American popular song standards ever recorded.

There are a small number of happy precedents for the Marsalis-Nelson collaboration. Back in 1930, Louis Armstrong got together with country legend-in-the-making Jimmie Rodgers to record a memorable blues. This song, a rarity in both artists’ discographies, is especially noteworthy for Armstrong’s decision to play an under-stated solo that reminds us of the work of his mentor Joe ‘King’ Oliver. Rodgers, for his part, was an effective blues singer . . . and could yodel much better than Bessie Smith. This collaboration promised a glorious future for the union of jazz and country.

Cowboy jazz

Ah, that promise has rarely been realized in later years. Listen to Bing Crosby tackle “The Last Roundup” three years later, and it's hard to keep a straight face. (To give Crosby his due, he did a better job with country songs in other settings.) Most of the leading jazz singers simply avoided material of this sort. The vocalist with the greatest potential to bridge the worlds of jazz and country, Ray Charles, never really committed to either camp, although he lingered in both. Charles’s personal reinvention of country music shows how African-American currents could invigorate the Nashville sound, yet his work in this vein stands out mostly as a curio in the annals of American musical history.

Cowboy jazz

The single most promising movement to merge country and jazz remains the Western Swing craze of the 1940s. Bob Wills “New San Antonio Rose,” from the start of the decade, was a million seller, and inspired follow-up hits by Wills and a host of imitators. This style effortlessly blended down-home fiddlin’ with big band swingin’, and with so much success that exciting new developments seemed just around the corner. If big band jazz could merge with country music, what about country hard bop or Nashville cool jazz or other hybrids of this sort? Western Swing pointed to an exciting new union between the jazz and country traditions -- something more than just a passing fad or short-lived novelty sound.

Yet this style faded from the scene during the Truman administration. No, not completely . . . its lingering influence can still be occasionally felt in a later recording. But, for all intents and purposes, its promise of a world-changing détente between two very different musical styles was never completely realized.

Cowboy jazz

By the time Louis Armstrong recreated his Jimmie Rodgers collaboration forty years later, on October 28, 1970, with Johnny Cash (you can watch it on video here), things had hardly progressed much beyond where they stood back in 1930. The 1970s would prove to be a great period of jazz fusion, but the fusion would be with rock and not country. Yet one wonders what might have happened if Miles had concocted Bitches Moonshine instead of Bitches Brew; if John McLaughlin had moved to Nashville for a year; or if Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter had invited Chet Atkins to join Weather Report. (Okay, I'm kidding . . . but not entirely.)

Now we have one more intriguing collaboration between jazz and country, with the most famous exponent of each style stepping forward to share the same stage. The results are . . . surprisingly entertaining, and very relaxed. Hearing Nelson and Marsalis together is “good fun” (as my British friends would say). And as some of you may remember, I have long been an advocate of the “Fun Principle” in jazz (see my more philosophical comments on the subject here). There are no hidden agendas, or unhidden agendas here – just two artists letting loose and having a good time. And that, after all, was the starting point for both the jazz and country traditions. It only got heavier and heavier with the weight of the passing decades.

Too bad this CD didn’t come out in time for Fourth of July. I would have recommended it for the holiday BBQ. But it’s never too late for fun. With that in mind, “Stardust,” from the new Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson CD, has been selected as the Song of the Day at Read the full review here.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.

July 08, 2008 · 4 comments


Diary of a Jazz Musician: Final Installment

Recently published portions of Frøy Aagre’s diary from her tour of the US. These two widely-read installments (click here for parts one and two) rank among the most honest accounts of the jazz life that I have encountered.

Aagre depicts the harsh realities of life on the road -- showing us how musicians are paid (if at all), how are they treated, and the obstacles they face as they travel from gig to gig. Aagre's exposé is all the more illuminating, since this artist can compare the situation in the US with the much different circumstances in her native Norway. Below is the third and final extract from this journal. T.G.

Frøy Aagre



Loft party at the Bushwick Department of Public Works. Deal: Played for free, got 4 beers each. Admission: free. Audience: 50. CD sales: 0. Concert length: One set of 50 min. We made nothing.

We met at Bushwick Department of Public Works, to play at the Moduna Loft Event, arranged by Addtract Consortium, the musicians collective founded by Lily Maase. She and six other people share the entire loft of Bushwick Department of Public Works and every sixth week they arrange a party where lots of artists appear. This time the theme of the party was robots. We were supposed to be robots and wear red clothes. This was very suitable for me as my stage dress happened to be red and with a robot image on it. I was lucky there!

Since there were no piano, Kris played a Fender Rhodes. As a result, the concert was very different than Lily Pad, which was on the softer side. It made a difference to have the Rhodes instead of the piano. We went into some adventurous free sections and the energy level was very high.

After my band went home, I was really struggling to stay awake for the rest of the party. I didn’t sleep the night before. The party was cool, lots of artists, alternative people, even one dressed like a fish. Lots of musicians from the Dave Douglas’ Jazz Workshop at Banff, Canada in 2005. I wish I wasn’t so tired…

However, this has been a fantastic tour both musically and socially. It has been a very sober tour too, maximum 1.5 pint of beer a night! Tiring too, since we have driven about 21 hours in 3 days… Kris, Jeff and Michael really enjoyed it and are keen to do more. I’m so honoured to hear that and we’ll try to do something in December. Generally we have found the audiences very enthusiastic and we’ve got lots of great feedback and appreciation. Hoorah!


The trip home back to New York went fine. It gave me time to reflect. The tour has made me realize how lucky we are in Europe. The jazz education in the universities and the colleges is free while the jazz scene is subsidized by government as part of national and regional cultural politics.

Frøy Aagre

Playing for the door is something that hardly happens in Europe and we are used to promoters paying for hotels, transport, providing sound engineer and equipment and paying us properly. However, I realise the gigs I’ve played may be considered low profile and they may not be representative of better paying gigs in bigger venues where the big names play.

But I’m surprised about the fact that really established musicians still have to play for the door, especially in New York. Since a lot of venues don’t pay, the bandleaders must pay their musicians from their own pockets instead. So they often loose money when playing their own music. Since there is no government funding available, how can you develop your music when you’ve got to take on two, sometimes three gigs a night, often playing music you might not enjoy, just to pay the rent?

When I did my sums I found that this tour cost me almost $6,000 and I made about $1,000. My expenses include musician fees (the amount was agreed on before the tour), hotels, travel costs and food. Even though I was fortunate to get half of it funded by my government, I still got a taste of what it’s like to be a bandleader here.

I don’t know how the situation for contemporary jazz musicians in USA can possibly get worse. I wonder how long they can survive on the kind of money they receive and how long students with big ambitions will continue spending a fortune on jazz education that probably will result in a full time teaching job with badly paid gigs on the side?

It seems like the idea of being a full time touring musician is only a distant dream for most people. However, despite the bad situation, the daunting economic and social factors and the closing down of many mid-level venues, I am very impressed by the musicians.

The people I have met here are so welcoming, encouraging and curious to play with new musicians. I find it so exciting that the musicians are so into doing sessions, meeting up to play each other’s tunes. Last but not least, the level is so high. Since the competition is so hard, they really have to be on top on their instrument and be really professional at all times.

The musicians I’ve met work so hard; they teach, they play lots of gigs, they arrange sessions, they hang out, they compose, they book gigs and last but not least bandleaders often end up paying their band from their own pockets, as well as flights and accommodation when touring. They really have great courage and a willingness to sacrifice for their music. We can learn from this in Europe.

This blog entry posted by Frøy Aagre.

July 07, 2008 · 1 comment


The Future of Jazz Radio

One of the most pressing issues facing the jazz world is the gradual and seemingly irreversible disappearance of jazz radio, and the almost total exclusion of jazz from other forms of mass media. Frequent contributor Eugene Marlow reports below on a small cadre of jazz advocates who gathered to discuss the the current state of jazz broadcasting at the JazzWeek Summit in Rochester, New York. T.G.

As a performing artist and producer of four original music CDs, I came to listen and learn from jazz radio programmers firsthand. It was clear almost from the opening comments that the JazzWeek Summit (similar to other performing arts groups) was a microcosm of what I had seen at the National Performing Arts Convention mega-meeting in Denver the previous week. [For the report on NPAC, click here.]

Day #1, morning #1. Ed Trefzger, stalwart publisher of JazzWeek magazine, the Top 50 JazzWeek chart, and single-handed organizer and master of ceremonies of the JazzWeek Summit (he received numerous plaudits), made the following comment in his opening remarks: “The music publishers think the role of jazz radio programmers is to sell CDs, the jazz radio programmers think it’s not their role to sell CDs.” From the outset it seemed clear that just like many of the stakeholders in the jazz industry, just like many of the participants in the much larger performing arts community, there is structural fragmentation, i.e., a lack of internal mission consensus, a lack of collaboration, and a lack of community outreach, to the detriment of everyone.

The JazzWeek Summit reflected many of the issues facing the larger performing arts community as expressed at the Denver NPAC meeting. It was also in sharp contrast to the NPAC. This meeting attracted about 50 people (NPAC about 4,000). The JazzWeek Summit was held in one room in the Clarion/Riverside Hotel in downtown Rochester. NPAC was held in the Colorado Convention Center, the site of the forthcoming Democratic nominating convention.

On the other hand, there were similarities: NPAC had world-renowned singer Diane Reeves. The JazzWeek Summit had world renown vibraphonist Joe Locke. No accident. The timing of the JazzWeek Summit coincided with the Rochester Jazz Festival, geographically located on the campus and surrounding environs of the Eastman School of Music, one of America’s leading music schools.

The JazzWeek Summit also included discussion themes that paralleled the NPAC. A session on “Community Involvement” was scheduled on the last day but never held because other sessions from previous days ran over. This was unfortunate. The description of the session was: “How can a [radio] station make itself an integral part of the jazz, arts, and education community? What have stations done to become an important and welcomed factor in the fabric of their markets?” This was a central NPAC question with respect to the larger performing arts community, but one un-addressed at the JazzWeek Summit.

Other parallel topics included a panel on New Media: “How can we take advantage of music streaming and other online content? How does having information on the web affect how we program mic breaks?” Another session dealt with “Integrating Latin Jazz, World Music and Other Sounds.” Clearly, this session was in recognition of the need to bring the larger world of music into the jazz radio fold. Other sessions focused on the role of the music director, "Mediaguide Monitoring," and several "Jukebox Juries."

Similarly, while the several thousand NPAC attendees participated in a last day Town Hall meeting, the several dozen or so JazzWeek Summit attendees held their own last day Town Hall meeting. Almost immediately, the topic of how to grow the annual meeting’s attendance and where to hold next year’s meeting bubbled to the surface. Chicago was suggested as a possible location for JazzWeek Summit 2009.

Some Observations

The microcosm of the Rochester, New York JazzWeek Summit in the context of the Denver NPAC meeting is not a singular example. The recent demise of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) and the several responses to this occurring in various parts of the United States, and the steep financial and audience building challenges being faced by many performing arts organizations are all signs of a common malaise: the performing arts have declined in value in this country and it has been a steady decline over a period of at least a half century.

Technology is partly to blame. From one breakout NPAC session I learned that with the introduction of electricity into theatres—with the concomitant ability to dim the house lights and raise the stage lights--show producers now had the ability to separate an audience from the stage performance. Prior, audiences were very much a part of the show.

Second, with Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the gramophone and the ability to record one’s voice and other sounds, such as music, as these devices became more prevalent and the technology of sound recording became more sophisticated, the production of live music in the home, as in chamber music and family songfests, diminished. Can we remember when most homes had at least an upright piano and other instruments in the living room as a matter of course regardless of economic status at the beginning of the 20th century?

And as author Kabir Sehgal points out in his excellent, recently published book Jazzocracy (Better World Books 2008), many in our younger generation think that what’s “new” in popular music is therefore hip, a notion that is, of course, a gross misperception.

The de-valuation of the performing arts in this country and its positive socializing effects are also results of the decimation of music, dance, and theater activities in our public schools. And we’re paying the price for it now with a younger generation that has little sense of cultural history. Another piece of evidence is the almost weekly announcement of the elimination of an “arts” critic from a leading newspaper in a moderate-sized and large market. This, even in the face of thriving or growing arts activities in that same market. Shrinking profitability is the usual reason given.

We now live in a world that has both mass marketing and niche marketing, with a strong leaning towards the latter. Growing the audience for the performing arts or selling tens of thousands of CDs has become close to a miracle in the classic world of the performing arts. As Quincy Jones once quipped “A hit jazz CD is one that sells less than 20,000 copies.” Jazz performers and labels would be ecstatic to get close to selling 20,000 CDs. It is worth noting that, in the music segment of the performing arts world, opera is thriving, followed by classical music, followed by jazz at the bottom of the chart. Opera is probably thriving because it is multi-dimensional theater, incorporating all elements of the performing arts. There’s a clue in that, I think.

It is time, quite clearly, for the performing arts world to pull together at the national, local, individual and group levels. The performing arts in the United States need to turn a corner. To do so, however, requires a collectivity of action. The individualistic philosophy that is the cornerstone of this nation’s founding has been pushed over the line: people seem only to care about themselves and to hell with the larger community. The concept of community is well embedded in China’s long history and look what it is doing now economically. It is not a new lesson that there is a direct relationship between the positive socializing effects of involvement in the performing arts and economic development.

It has been said that when a country spends more and more money on military things (when it doesn’t need to) and ignores the socializing benefits of the arts, this is a sure sign of a nation in decline.

While the 20th century was surely America’s century, the 21st century will be known as China’s century, or at least “The Rise of Asia.” This can be balanced, not through military force, but by the force of the pen, the note, the voice, and the body. It is time for those in the performing arts to take action together.

This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.

July 06, 2008 · 1 comment


Monk in Morse Code; Bill Evans with Hiccups

Stuart Nicholson is the Indiana Jones of jazz, constantly on the prowl for hot music in hidden places. In recent weeks, he has briefed us on great jazz we might otherwise have neglected in Dublin, Bremen, Oslo, Moers and Estonia. Mr. Nicholson now returns to Norway, and fills us in on exciting happenings at Bergen, where he enjoyed salmon-on-a-bun (Stuart clearly doesn't hang out at the local McDonald's) while digging a jazz festival held in a former sardine factory.

NatJazz logo

And what an intriguing line-up. Stuart checked out performances by Close Erase, Epic and All Ears, All Scars . . . and other acts billed as “Monk in Morse code, Bill Evans with hiccups" or “the rawest desert blues on earth.”

JVC Jazz Festival, eat your heart out!

Of course, even the intrepid Mr. Nicholson knows his limits. He missed the set by Public Enema (let's hope that's just an unfortunate typo on the marquee). But I think I would have taken a precautionary rain check too. Even so, what he heard was worth emailing home about -- thank goodness Stuart makes occasional stops at internet cafés on his journeys. His full report is below. T.G.

Bergen loves its reputation as one of the wettest cities on Norway’s Atlantic coast. On my first visit there I was told how unlucky I was that it had rained the whole time I was there, “After all,” said my host, “it’s only rained twice this year. Once from January to March, and the second time from April to June.”

In fact, rain once fell every day from October 29, 2006 to January 21, 2007 – 85 consecutive days in all. In a classic case of making a positive out of a negative, precipitation is often used in marketing the city and actually features on postcards for the tourist trade. So it was something of a culture shock to return this year and find the city swathed in the kind of sunshine typical of the Mediterranean.

It transformed the city, the second largest in Norway. Instead of gray, windswept streets there was color everywhere. The Bryggen, the famous tourist attraction and World Heritage site comprising a row of waterfront houses whose seaward facing gables represent a building tradition that dates back 900 years, looked stunning in the sunshine. A matter of yards away the open fish market on the inner harbor of Vågen was a focus for locals and tourists since there is no faster food on a sunny day than a large slice of freshly smoked salmon in a bun.

Martin Kütchen

The harbor is the focal point of Bergen. In the Middle Ages, the Hanseatic League established it as thriving port for international trade while today, much of its prosperity comes from the oil trade and fishing. So it is entirely appropriate that Bergen’s Nattjazz festival takes place in a former sardine factory in the old harbour district. Now converted into the USF Verftet, a multi-performance arts centre, it has an excellent restaurant with harbour-side tables that have stunning seascape views across the Bergen inlet.

Over the last ten years, Nattjazz has built up a reputation as one of the most important showcases for contemporary jazz in Europe. Its proud boast is that it has been host to several key bands when they were virtual unknowns, such as Bugge Weseltoft’s New Conception of Jazz and Supersilent. Held over eleven days, a remarkable diversity of jazz was presented, from bands such as Medeski, Martin & Wood, Sex Mob, Scott Henderson, David Binney, Mike Stern, Ray Anderson, Jon Hassell and William Parker’s Raining on the Moon from the US, and countless large and small ensembles from across Europe and Scandinavia.

I arrived for the final two nights as the festival reached its climax. Angles is a Swedish band made up of key members from Atomic, Exploding Customer and School Days under the stewardship of saxophonist Martin Kütchen (pictured above). Mattias Ståhl on vibes replaces keyboards in the rhythm section and it gave the impression that the band floated on air. However, the inclusion of a trombone alongside trumpet and sax posed some interesting questions. While it gave depth and resonance to the ensembles, it made you wonder if this is the only role left to it in jazz since very few players can play solos on the instrument that move beyond the predictable.

Maria Kannegaard Trio

However, any band with Magnus Broo on trumpet comes with a certificate of quality, and he and Kütchen were risk takers in a set that never lost momentum and at times provided moments of genuine excitement. The Danish native and now Norwegian resident Maria Kannegaard (pictured on the right, between percussionist Thomas Strønen and bassist Ole Morten Vågan) has been around a while and has been refining her idiosyncratic approach to the piano keyboard. Her billing as “Monk in Morse code, Bill Evans with hiccups,” prepared you for a deconstructionist approach, but her style seemed to have its roots in Herbie Nichols. Her jump-start melodies and oblique flourishes were the product of wit and an inquisitive musical mind that almost broke free of her formative influences as she reached for her own voice.

In contrast, All Ears, All Scars didn’t mess around with oblique anything. Featuring Norwegian drum wizard Paal Nillsen-Love, a DJ and vocalsist Maje Ratke who doubled on electronics, they did what it says on the packet – an ear bursting, scar inducing free improv session. Ratke is a charming young lady who might be mistaken for a missionary nurse in another walk of life, but turns out to be a ferocious sound-freak whose concerts are a close approximation of Armageddon. Shock and awe doesn’t come into it, you’re too shocked to be awed and too awed to be shocked. I guess their soundchecks are measured on the Richter Scale by how much the earth moves, but with gradual acclimatisation they turned out to be highly sophisticated; incredibly detailed electronic textures and pulsating rhythms coalesced around Ratke’s voice, which seemed to mediate the ebb and flow of this primal, ugly yet strangely beautiful music.

The All Ears, All Scars session threw the music of Eple, a Norwegian piano trio, into sharp relief -- since the sound of a pin dropping during their set would have been considered a boorish intrusion. Pianist Andreas Ulvo owes much to the pensive melancholy of the visionary Scandinavian pianist Jan Johannson (1931-1968), who drew on folkloric influences and favored a less frantic approach to improvisation. Ulvo is clearly a talent to watch out for, his improvisations unveiled long melodic lines that were stark in their simplicity, yet came invested with great meaning. World Music wound-up the Friday concerts, but Tinariwen from Mali, “the rawest desert blues on earth,” didn’t really engage the crowd, many of whom drifted in, and drifted back out again, like me.

In contrast, there were long lines for Saturday’s headliner Beady Belle and they weren’t drifting anywhere. She continues to grow in stature combining well written originals with dynamic performances and her next step must surely be the big festival stages of Europe. Pianist Christian Wallumrød appears on six ECM recordings, including three under his own name. They are all beautifully considered works, introspective and thoughtful they repay careful listening. But he has a slightly mad alter ego who is the pianist in Close Erase whose penchant for full throttle spontaneous improvisation with bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Per Oddvar Johansen on drums is a million miles away from his ECM personna. There was no eye contact, this trio were all ears and were never in a hurry to make their point; this was music that gained its greatest immediacy by drawing out the moment. These musicians are at the top of their profession in Norway, and it showed in the exposition of their spontaneously conceived compositions that often assumed the kind of organic unity associated with formal composition.

Winding up the festival was bassist William Parker’s Raining on the Moon ensemble, which took its name from the title of a 2001 album. This was post-bop given an interesting spin by the addition of Leena Conquest’s wordless vocals, which brought to mind the ensembles of Doug and Jean Carn on the Black Jazz label in the 1970s. Enlivened by the impressive Hamid Drake in what was largely a straight ahead context, the slightly under rehearsed ensemble cohered around the forceful drumming. Eri Yamamoto comped in a wildly exotic style, often paraphrasing each soloist who had the slightly unnerving experience hearing bits of their solo flung back at them seconds later from the piano. Raining on the Moon may have been retro, but it was a stirring reminder of jazz’s core values and if at times you got the feeling that the music’s past was in danger of becoming its future, then there was enough interesting moments to suggest that this remained a promise deferred.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson.

July 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Buddy Bolden on the Holodeck

Recent articles on have raised troubling questions about new technologies that, not content to merely improve the sound of old recordings, employ the latest advances in computerization to robotically re-create the original performances. (See previous blog articles here and here to get up to speed.) Roused from one of his periodic slumbers by these developments,'s resident curmudgeon Alan Kurtz falsely concluded that, behind his back, our web site had pulled a switcheroo from jazz to science fiction. Desperate not to be left behind, Alan frantically jumped into the fray. (Has Mr. Kurtz ever seen a fray he hasn't jumped into?)

We suspect that Alan's contribution below is the result of an overheated imagination and a troubled childhood spent with Forrest J. Ackerman as his babysitter. But one never knows, do one? Readers are invited to share their own views by adding their comments or emailing them to

What was it Rod Serling used to say? "Submitted for your approval . . ."   T.G.

screenshot Frankenstein (1931)

Hackneyed or not, it was a dark and stormy night. My meeting with the Mad Scientist, as I'd begun to think of him, had been scheduled after hours to accommodate my day job as an actuarial archivist. Arriving 20 minutes late, I nearly drove past the secluded entrance, which under even ideal atmospheric conditions might be described as dimly lit and poorly marked. "Got an appointment?" demanded the security guard at the front gate, his face hidden beneath the hood of a yellow slicker dripping rain from every crease.

"I'm Kurtz," I hollered cheerily from the cozy confines of my sedan. The sentry motioned for me to roll down the window. "Kurtz," I reiterated against the blustery wetness now dampening my countenance but not my enthusiasm. "The jazz writer. I'm here to interview Dr. Cabman."

Without a word, the hulking figure retreated to his roadside shack, where he could just barely be seen to consult a clipboard. Momentarily, the wrought-iron fence separated automatically and he waved me through without again leaving his shelter. I never did see the man's face. For all I know, it could have been the Mad Scientist's latest experiment in reanimation.

Well, okay, that's unfair. Cabman Laboratories is a respected cutting-edge software firm, not Castle Frankenstein. Even so, something about the place gave me the creeps.

I parked as close as possible to the main building and dashed for its lobby. One advantage of after- hours meetings, I'd long ago discovered, is plentiful parking space. Since the regular receptionist had left for the day, I was met instead by a second security guard. This one had a face. After signing me in and inspecting my attaché case, he led me through several corridors and up a short staircase to the executive suite, where he transferred custody to a private secretary. With polite efficiency, she offered me a choice of coffee or tea and, once I'd served myself a cup of brisk Earl Grey, seated me on a couch while she left to inform the Director, as she called him, that I was waiting.

Ten minutes later, I was ushered into the Mad Scientist's office, a tastefully furnished but by no means sumptuous setting for an immaculately groomed, secretive man in his mid-30s who, had he ever been photographed, would've probably looked exactly like his picture. Proffering a perfunctory handshake, he motioned me to a chair opposite his desk, behind which he settled with a noncommittal assurance likely calculated to intimidate less seasoned visitors. Naturally that stuff won't work on me.

"Now see here," I got straight to the point. "What's this about reanimating Buddy Bolden?"

Dr. Cabman cleared his throat and affected a look of strained patience. "We prefer the term 'simulate,'" he corrected me.

Buddy Bolden 1905

"Fair enough," I conceded. "But what gives?" This was significant. As any schoolchild can tell you (or could if we had a half-decent educational system in this country), Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) was jazz's first truly mythic African-American cornetist, dominating New Orleans proto-jazz from the turn of the century until 1907, when he was certified insane and committed to the Louisiana state asylum at Jackson. Confined there for his remaining 24 years, Bolden died long forgotten and was consigned to a pauper's grave in The Big Easy. He left no known recording, but his loudness was legendary.

"It's true," Dr. Cabman allowed. "After years of basic research and a substantial investment in supercomputers, our team has simulated 'Buddy Bolden's Blues' to a confidence level of 97%, plus or minus 2% to account for transient anomalies."

"'Buddy Bolden's Blues,'" I sought to clarify. "You mean 'Funky Butt,' right?"

Dr. Cabman's strained patience this time expressed itself in a fleetingly perceptible wince. "That is another name for it, yes."

"But how on earth?" I honed in. "Don't tell me you found that long-lost wax cylinder he supposedly once recorded."

"Unnecessary. Historical documentation is not required, nor would it be of much use even if available. Our simulations are entirely software driven."

"You don't say! Can you be more specific?"

"Well, I'm contractually precluded from divulging trade secrets, but speaking broadly, we apply necro- retrograde engineering. In Bolden's case, we minutely analyzed jazz cornet and trumpet styles from King Oliver to Louis Armstrong to Roy Eldridge to Dizzy Gillespie, then mathematically extrapolated preceding styles through regression analysis and recursive algorithms back to Bolden. Voila!"

"So it's different, then, from what Zenph Studios did with Art Tatum."

"Child's play," Dr. Cabman said indulgently, leaving no doubt he meant Zenph, not Tatum. "Putting a high-tech player piano in the middle of a stage, no matter how dramatically lit, is like inviting audiences to look at a motion picture projector set up at the front of a theater, with no film. People want a show, not a prop."

"But how can you show them Buddy Bolden? The man died before Prohibition was repealed."

"Holography," declared Dr. Cabman matter-of-factly. "Our patented virtual reality systems offer not just audio replications, but artificially intelligent imagery to match the music's every note." After letting this sink in for a moment, he invited: "Would you care to see a demonstration?"

Open Source Sine Curves

Would I! The doctor conducted me through a door at the far end of his office that opened directly onto a bare room where ceiling, floor and all four walls were paneled with a strangely glowing lattice-like surface of embedded light- emitting diodes arranged in continuous parallel sine curves. Millions of expectant little LEDs, pulsing with potential. "Our holodeck," said Dr. Cabman, proud as a papa showing off his newborn. "Welcome to the future of jazz."

Producing a remote control from his vest pocket, the doctor punched its buttons faster than I can speed dial, and the room metamorphosed into what I took to be a faithfully reproduced fin de siècle New Orleans dancehall (possibly the enshrined Funky Butt Hall itself), 3-dimensionally realistic down to its last detail. With a few more button presses, the deliciously disreputable ballroom was populated by a lively crowd of tawdry denizens, men and women in various shades of black and tan and in different stages of inebriation. I was not shocked to find that gambling was going on here, that members of opposite sexes were propositioning one another with brazenly good-natured gusto, and that the air—only a moment ago crisply and impersonally climate-controlled—had suddenly turned sultry with the odors of booze, bodies and bayou vittles. What astonished me, however, was that I could see, touch and smell this luxuriant funkiness as distinctly as if I'd been transported by H.G. Wells's time machine back to the Crescent City with everyone partying like it was 1899.

As we snaked our way to an unoccupied bench, Dr. Cabman explained in techno-babble how he'd mastered the labyrinthine maze of recombinant matter and kinetic energy for this unprecedented interactive simulation. I'm sure he mentioned graphically interfacing positronic replicators, extreme high-definition photon lenses, multiphasic tachyon particle accelerators, inverse filtered graviton equalizers, adaptive force-field tractor beams and dynamically calibrated inertial dampers. But it was all geek to me. "I should add," he added, "our holodeck includes safety protocols to protect users, although we cannot completely insure against minor injuries such as muscle strain or dislocated joints sustained while dancing or—how shall I put this?—otherwise exercising."

"First do no harm," I interposed. "Asimov's First Law of Robotics."

"Primum non nocere," the doctor concurred. "And now," he announced, punching more buttons on his remote control and shifting glibly from Latin to French, "le pièce de résistance."

Buddy Bolden & Band 1905

Right on cue, Buddy Bolden and four sidemen flashed onto the holodeck, mounting a small bandstand and brandishing authentic period instruments. To the customers' raucous cheers, the band opened with Bolden's signature "Funky Butt," a tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) paean to flatulence that included the hilarious refrain "Funky butt, funky butt, take it away!" The crowd went wild.

On this and subsequent numbers, I found audio quality nothing less than sensational: state-of-the-art 21st-century digital fidelity as vividly true as a live performance. And as for the holographic imagery, it went beyond spectacular, rocketing into the realm of metaphysical singularity.

Simulated art? Bosh. This was the real deal, and purists be damned. I was particularly impressed with the programmers' canniness in seamlessly weaving mistakes into the performance. "Verisimilitude," Dr. Cabman confirmed when I commented on the clarinetist's occasional clams. "Turing suggested as early as 1950 that the inherent perfectionism of computers would need to be deliberately impaired in virtual reality systems. Otherwise people feel so inferior, they cannot enjoy the experience."

Wagging my head in amazement, I considered the legal implications of what I was witnessing. "How did you get clearances for these likenesses?" I wondered aloud. "The clientele might be fictitious, but these five musicians were real people."

"Real," Dr. Cabman somewhat testily replied, "but long dead."

"Even so," I quipped good-naturedly, "their rightful heirs and assignees may have lawyered up."

Dr. Cabman was not amused. "I was led to believe you are a serious journalist," he dourly observed. "Perhaps I was misinformed." He abruptly shut down the holodeck and guided me back to his office.

Figuring I'd better cut the crap, I inquired respectfully about his next project. Would it be King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, with the youthful Louis Armstrong on second cornet, at Chicago's Lincoln Gardens in 1923? Diz & Bird with Bud, Max and Mingus at Toronto's Massey Hall in 1953? Ornette, Don Cherry and Paul Bley at L.A.'s Hillcrest Club in 1958?

"J.S. Bach," the doctor looked determined, "concertizing the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1742 at Leipzig's Thomaskirche, just atop what would in due course become his final resting place beneath the altar floor."

Somehow the longhairs always get the last laugh. Still, 2008 was shaping up as Buddy Bolden's best year since 1906. Not only was Cabman Laboratories set to spring this stunning holographic recreation on an unsuspecting public, but Anthony Mackie has enacted the title role, with executive producer Wynton Marsalis providing original music, for the indie biopic Bolden! now in post-production and slated for a 2010 release.

I thanked Dr. Cabman for his time and commended his achievement, speculating that perhaps the Pulitzer Prize in Music might be in order. Without demurring, he summoned the guard to escort me back to my car, and I was soon on my way home.

movie poster The Body Snatcher (1945)

Gradually, though, after the demo's initial impressiveness wore off, something again started gnawing at me. Later that night, with storms abating, I slept uneasily, dreaming not of Anthony Mackie in Bolden! but of Boris Karloff in The Body Snatcher prowling the Louisiana state asylum at Jackson in search of fresh corpses upon whom might be visited unspeakable scientific investigations. When I awoke with a start at dawn, an accusatory couplet had lodged stubbornly in my mind. "I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say," it went, over and again for the remains of the day. "Funky butt, funky butt, keep that Cabman away!" What do you suppose it could mean?

This blog entry posted by Alan Kurtz.

July 02, 2008 · 7 comments


4,000 Arts Advocates Meet in Denver

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, there are approximately two million people in the United States involved in the performing arts: in music, dance, and theatre. In fact, there are more people who list 'artist' as their profession, than lawyers, doctors or farmers.

Yet one would hardly guess this when looking at support for the arts at the national and local level. Why has involvement in the performing arts been eradicated from our elementary educational systems? Why is there so little media visibility for the performing arts? Why are the potential benefits for lifelong learning in the performing arts not being recognized and fostered? Why are many segments of our communities effectively shut out of our leading performing arts organizations? And what can those in the performing arts world do about these challenges at the national, local, individual, and group levels?

These were some of the issues dealt with at Taking Action Together: The National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC), held in Denver last month. Gene Marlow, a frequent contributor to these pages (see his interview with Andy LaVerne published earlier this week), reports on the proceedings below.


Inspiring. Productive. Energizing. . . . These are the three words that come immediately to mind following the conclusion of what was an historic gathering of approximately 4,000 performing artists, executives of 31 national service organizations in the performing arts, and exhibitors at Colorado’s Convention Center, Denver, Colorado, June 10-14, 2008. Partly what made this an historic event was the fact that this was only the second time this convention had convened. The first was in Pittsburgh four years ago. It took three years to organize the most recent convention—and it showed. We have all been to conventions of one kind or another. Some you enjoy, many you don’t. This was the first time in my recent memory that a convention was so engrossing and compelling that I didn’t want it to end.

First, take a look at some of the 31 participating organizations: American Composers Forum, American Music Center, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Chorus America, Dance/USA, Early Music America, International Society for the Performing Arts, League of American Orchestras, Meet the Composer, Music Critics Association of North America, The National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, and Opera America.

And look at some of the guest speakers: Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, prize-winning actress, writer, activist and teacher Anna Deavere Smith, Bill Rauch of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Good to Great author Jim Collins, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, internationally renown Senegal dancer and teacher Germaine Acogny, award-winning conductor Marin Alsop, and La Sistema innovator Jose Antonio Abreu of Venezuela. In between all this, participants were treated to a preliminary presentation by Joan Jeffri, Director of the Program in Arts Administration and the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University. Her report, “Taking Note,” covered some of the emerging demographics of the performing arts world. The full report will be distributed later this year.

The proceedings on the fourth day were topped off by a 15-minute performance by Diane Reeves (who lives in Denver) accompanied by guitarists Romero Lubambo (of Trio da Paz fame) and Russell Malone (of Diana Krall fame).

The centerpiece of the proceedings, however, was the consensus-building “process” organized and executed by AmericaSpeaks. For more than a decade, AmericaSpeaks has used a 21st Century Town Meeting® model to bring together more than 130,000 citizens in deliberations about critical policy issues, and then connect the results to decision-makers.

Imagine the challenge of extracting a consensus among 4,000 attendees that would lead to a statement of national and local strategies and tactics dealing with the problems and issues surrounding the performing arts in the United States, and doing this in four days! This is exactly what the AmericaSpeaks leaders, together with a host of facilitators, accomplished. At the conclusion of the four days we all stood up to acknowledge our group effort and our commitment to take action together.

The first day all attendees were divided into four large groups. Each group was divided into round tables of 6-10 people. A facilitator hosted each table. On day #1 the attendees were presented with a draft “mission” statement regarding the needs of the performing arts in the United States. We were then asked to articulate three ways the so-called performing arts community has been “. . . most successful in reaching our vision as a community” and three ways it has been “. . .least successful in reaching our vision as a community.”

Everyone at each table was encouraged to participate. Opposing views were noted. At the conclusion of the 90-minute session, the facilitators met to compare notes. That evening all the notes were summarized for presentation to the entire group the following day.

The summaries of each question contained contradictions as well as consensus. For example, at the top of the list for the first question was: “We’re getting better at demonstrating value and advocating for the arts as a public good.” But at the same time, the first answer to question two was: “Failure to communicate and connect the relevance and value of the arts to the larger community.”

At the second caucus--everyone was directed to a different room with different people-- the results of the previous day’s summaries were presented. Apparently, the AmericaSpeaks executives worked well into the night to organize the summaries and publish them into a well-edited, printed document, titled The Daily Caucus. This was done on each successive day.

At the second caucus we were all asked: “Based on where we have been most/least successful, and looking to the future, what are the three most important opportunities/challenges our community needs to address in order to better reach our vision?”

The third caucus focused on this question: “For each of the highest priority opportunities/challenges, what are up to three of the most important strategies we need to follow in order to advance our vision (including actions at national and local, and individual organization levels)?

On the last day of the conference we were all gathered into a ballroom as one group to read and talk about the summary of the summaries. While previously we were divided randomly into rooms and tables, in this room we were divided into regions, the Northeast contingent being the largest.

Over the course of four days and much discussion three issues had bubbled to the surface among the several thousand attendees. They were as follows:

#1. Our communities do not sufficiently perceive the value, benefits, and relevance of the arts, which makes advocacy and building public support for the arts a challenge at every level.

#2. The potential of arts education and lifelong learning in the Arts is under-realized.

#3. The increasing diversity of our communities creates an opportunity to engage a variety of ages, races, identities and cultures in our audiences and organizations.

For each of these three central issues, three sub-sections dealing with enacting tactics at the national, local, and organizational/individual level were articulated. In turn, under each of these three sub-sections were anywhere from five to eight very specific actions to be taken.

At this closing session we were all given push-button keypads and asked to vote then and there on the specified “action” tactics. Within moments we could all see on large screens the results of the voting and what “action” tactic seemed to appeal the most and the least.

And action was the key word. After all, the convention itself was titled “Taking Action Together.”

There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that the mere action of creating this four-day gathering was in itself an impetus for a call to arms. For example, in the middle of the convention, Chamber Music America (CMA), through the leadership of CEO Margaret M. Lioi and CMA Program Director Susan Dadian, convened a breakfast meeting of all those at the convention involved in jazz. The meeting of about two dozen or so people (only about one percent of the convention attendees were involved in jazz) presented Ms. Lioi with a laundry list of actions CMA could take to replace some of those activities now absent as a result of the demise of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). In the next few months I’m certain CMA will outline what it intends to do to add to its already extant activities in the jazz area.

In addition to the speakers, caucuses, and exhibitors, the Denver convention was also a huge opportunity for networking with people whom you would not have otherwise met. It was also an opportunity to bump into friends one had not seen for some time. For me, the convention led to the realization that all performing arts groups, whether in music, dance, or theatre, need to move towards three objectives for future growth and survival: (1) internal organizational consensus building with regard to mission, (2) collaboration with other performing arts organizations, and (3) community outreach. These may seem like “duh” observations, but the focus of the NPAC provided the necessary environment and energy to get down to specific tactics that could be executed immediately at the local level—and it is at the local level that performing arts individuals and groups can do the most good, while the national service organizations (NSOs) are the ones to come together to attempt policy changes at the national level.

The NPAC was a meeting I wished many more could have attended. It was that productive, energizing, and inspiring.

During and after the NPAC I found myself making notes and writing suggestions for further action for each of the performing arts organizations I am involved with once I returned to New York in late June. They include: the Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives concert series at Baruch College (New York City) that I curate together with a committee of my peers; the New York Composers Circle of which I am Director, Media Relations; and my own performing group, The Heritage Ensemble, a quintet devoted to the in-concert performance of Hebraic liturgical music in various jazz forms.

I had, though, another convention to attend the week following the NPAC: The JazzWeek Summit in Rochester, New York, a meeting of jazz radio programmers, promoters, and artists, which will be the subject of a follow-up article next week.

This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.

July 01, 2008 · 1 comment