The Best Tracks of the Month

I hear jazz fans talking all the time about what how much great jazz was recorded back in 1959. Sonny Rollins was taking a famous hiatus back then—practicing his horn on the Williamsburg Bridge—but everyone else on the jazz scene was apparently focused on recording a masterpiece back in '59. This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Giant Steps, Time Out, and so many other classic albums. The release calendar these days can hardly compare.

 Chris Potter

But in terms of sheer quantity, 2009 beats out 1959 hands down. In 1959, Downbeat magazine received around 500 jazz albums to review during the course of the entire year. Today, some 200-300 jazz CDs are released every month, by my estimate. Can you get too much of a good thing?

Even devoted jazz fans have trouble keeping up with all of this music. To help them out, picks a small number of outstanding tracks every month, and highlights these performances as part of its Song of the Day feature. These tracks are drawn from a wide range of sources—major label releases, indie projects, self-produced disks, imports . . . even from outside the jazz realm, when we encounter a blues, roots or world music release of special merit.

 Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis

Below are the tracks featured as Song of the Day from the last month. You will find some familiar names here—Kurt Elling, Fred Hersch, Ellis Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Chris Potter, Luciana Souza—but also some music you probably wouldn’t hear about unless someone pointed you in the right direction. For example, you could easily miss the outstanding recent CDs by Daniel Santiago, Andy Sheppard and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, but these are three of the finest CDs of the year, and quite worthy of your attention.

Each title is linked to a review, where you can learn more about the track as well as connect to a vendor for legal downloading. So check out some new music, and let us know what you think.

Happy listening!

Featured Tracks: July 2009

Fred Hersch: Insensatez
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Daniel Santiago: Old City
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Anthony Wilson: Mezcal
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

Chris Potter: Facing East
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic: One Thousand Questions: One Answer
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis: Deacceleration
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

JDT: Gastrophysics
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Nicole Mitchell: What If
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

The Low Anthem: Music Box
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Harry Skoler: Piazzolla
Reviewed by Bill Barnes

Elli Fordyce: Where Am I Going?
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Luciana Souza: Tide
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

Ron Mitchell: Smile
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Jerry Granelli: Murder Ballad
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Steve Kuhn (with Joe Lovano): Song of Praise
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Kurt Elling: Say It (Over and Over Again)
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

Sean Nowell: Jamie's Decision
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

Buckwheat Zydeco: The Wrong Side
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Andy Sheppard: La Tristesse Du Roi
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Mike Arroyo: Recuerdos de Humacao
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

Quartet Offensive: The Dirty Dollar
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Joe Bonamassa: The Ballad of John Henry
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

July 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Meeting Big Joe Turner (Part 2)

Below is the second (and final) installment of Walter Kolosky’s account of a memorable encounter with Big Joe Turner. For the first part of this article, click here. T.G.

The walk to the stage literally took five minutes. The applause died down long before he reached his goal. His final steps to the front of the stage were now accompanied only by an eerie silence.

The spotlight that shined on Joe showed what hard living had done to him. I became heartsick when several members of the band, no youngsters themselves, reached down to help lift Joe up onto the stage. There was some doubt whether they could successfully pull him up. After one of the most excruciating moments I can ever remember in public, Big Joe was finally seated on a stool that had been placed for his comfort.

Big Joe Turner

At this point, I felt so bad I had to turn away. I no longer wanted to be part of this cruel charade. I did not wish to witness such a humiliating experience. I was looking at the wall and my friend Chris was doing the same thing as we heard Joe mumble into the microphone. His words were unintelligible. He would laugh after each comment and I could hear the crowd nervously respond with titters of its own. Finally, out of morbid curiosity, I turned toward the stage and tried to make out what Big Joe was saying. I thought maybe I could do so by combining the sounds I heard with some amateur lip reading. I had no luck. It was obvious he had no teeth. I could not make out a single word the man said. Joe seemed to mumble on aimlessly for about five minutes. Finally he turned around to the band and indicated he was ready to begin.

I was in for a big surprise.

The Kansas City Shouter lived up to his name that night. Big Joe knew how to yell, all right. His booming voice rocked the house and he seemed to have boundless energy. I remember calling out to my buddies, “This is great!” The force of his talent was overwhelming. We all had huge smiles of disbelief and joy on our faces.

Big Joe’s stamina was amazing. He had been transformed from a sorry looking hulk into a force to be reckoned with before our very eyes and ears. It seemed as if he didn’t take a single breath during his entire 40-minute set. His smile lit up the room and reached out into the alley. “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Sweet Sixteen,” “Chains of Love” were rocket-shot out of his mouth. It became quite apparent one didn’t need teeth to enunciate “Flip, Flop and Fly”!

Big Joe Turner

We found ourselves singing with the old giant. We were stomping our feet and bouncing on our chairs. We were clapping our hands and pinching ourselves to make sure this was really happening.

To this day, I have never attended an event whose expectations were so low and whose exultations became so high. When Joe finished his set, the full house arose as one and rained thunderous applause upon this jazz/blues legend. The ovation continued as he was helped of the stage. Slowly it died back down as we went back to our overpriced drinks and bad food. The fans’ appreciation ended before Big Joe reached his lonely table again. No one helped him to his seat. I watched paralyzed as I saw this poor old feeble man gently sit down and put his huge hand around another shot glass. I watched for another five minutes. Not a single person went over to greet him or thank him. That included me.

Finally, we had to leave to make room for the next group of exploiters. I walked past Joe as he once again stared off into space. But just before I reached the exit, I turned around and went back to his table. People were filing past him uncomfortable to look him in the eyes. I stood right in front of him. I said, “Hi Joe. Thanks for a great show.” He didn’t even notice I was there.

I realize now that being a music listener is just as important as being a musician. You can’t really have one without the other. So the fact that my friend Chris and I never became famous musicians is no longer a regret. We are still both part of the equation that makes it all work. But more importantly, I learned that night at Tramps that the greatest artists can summon a force from a reservoir of passion that lives inside them to overcome whatever human frailties they me be suffering. That passion raises both them and us. That mutual ascension is the product of the shared experience of human creativity.

I’ll tell you one more thing. Ever since that brief meeting with Big Joe Turner, I have made it a point to let artists know I appreciate them in the here and now. That is why I write.

This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky

July 29, 2009 · 0 comments


Jessica Molaskey Talks About Cabaret and Jazz Singing

Sue Russell looked at the complex—and sometime fractious—relationship between cabaret and jazz singing in a thought-provoking article, published previously in this column. Now she talks to the talented Jessica Molaskey about the vocal arts, and probes many of these same issues. Can these two camps get along? If anyone can answer the question, it is Molaskey, who makes it work at home (her husband is John Pizzarelli) and on stage. She offers her perspectives below. T.G.

Jessica Molaskey is a singer whose work has spanned musical theater, pop, cabaret, and jazz, Her clean, sure sound and musical taste defy categorization. With her husband, jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, she hosts the popular weekly radio show Radio Deluxe, which focuses on the music of the Great American Song Book interpreted by singers and other musicians of the past and present.

Jessica Molaskey

Christopher Lowdon of Jazz Times called Molaskey and Pizarelli “the hippest husband-and-wife team since Louis Prima and Keely Smith.” Ms. Smith has also been a featured guest on the show, as have Margaret Whiting, Ann Hampton Callaway, Stacey Kent, and other members of the talented Pizzarelli clan. Molaskey performs regularly at a wide range of venues, including jazz clubs like Birdland and upscale cabaret spots like Café Carlyle and the Algonquin’s Oak Room. She is also a veteran performer whose credits include featured roles in City of Angels, Crazy for You, and The Who’s Tommy.

A songwriter herself, Molaskey takes a special interest in performing songs by young composers. She has premiered recent works by Ricky Ian Gordon [see below] Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa, and John Bucchino. Her fifth and most recent recording is titled A Kiss to Build A Dream On. I talked with her recently about her wide-ranging musical presence and how jazz fits into that larger profile.

When you went more deeply into singing [from theater], was the jazz singing a part of what you wanted from the start…or more something that happened along the way?

Well, when I came up into the Broadway world, I was in The Who’s Tommy. You kind of had to do everything. I was in Cy Coleman’s show City of Angels, which had a fun jazz score. So I didn’t come out of the ranks of the traditional Broadway people. The world was changing. Microphones had been invented. To me, it’s the difference between making a movie and being on stage in a play. You just have to learn how to mutate things…or mute them and pull them back…or make them larger.

How do you see yourself as a performer now? Does that identity differ as you move between genres?

There’s something about people who come to listen to jazz and the way that they listen. It’s really a pleasure to perform for them. The eyeballs…as opposed to the cabaret rooms where they expect a heightened kind of set of music. But we’ve [the “we” here refers to Molaskey and John Pizzarelli—along with other Pizarellis who are often added to the mix] been really lucky in a weird way because we’re playing jazz in a high-end cabaret room, and we’re not really making any distinctions. We feel like, if you play good music and perform it well it should defy any attempt to categorize it.

When people make a distinction between jazz singing and cabaret singing, what differences do you think they’re seeing?

It has to do with the way their music is presented. A lot of times people who work in cabaret really don’t sing well at all. They might be more of the Mabel Mercer school, where one deconstructs a song or gets to the bottom of it in a way that’s more about text than music. A lot of times in jazz clubs it’s strictly about the music. So I bring a little bit of an actor’s sensitivity into a jazz club, and sometimes I think people appreciate that.

What about improvisation?

Well, that’s the fun of it. Every night it’s something different. You’ve got to listen. We would go into the Algonquin without any rehearsal. People would say to me, “Have you been rehearsing for three months?” and I’d say no, I’m working with a bunch of jazz musicians. They don’t really like to rehearse. They just like me to sing and say this is the key where we’re going to go. I think a lot of times people think that’s a diminishing return for jazz guys…that they’re improvising all the time. It’s controlled chaos. You know how many bars of music people are going to blow on and if they’re blowing really well you let them blow longer. I don’t scat, for one thing. I thing there’s way too many people out there who scat.

What singers are you most interested in listening to, and what do you take from them that goes into your own performances, in terms of song selection and styles?

It’s across the board, really. You just talked about Mildred Bailey [prior to taped interview]. I love Mildred Bailey. I’ve been singing a couple of songs by Mildred Bailey. I’m singing one called “Happy Habit” [by Dorothy Fields and Arthur Schwartz, from the show, The Beautiful Sea] that I heard her sing. It’s really about the music. I love Peggy Lee. I love Joni Mitchell.

It’s looking at a song, often, and asking if this has a beginning, middle, and end. I like songs that feel like little plays. I always take the sheet music out and look at that rather than listening to somebody’s record and copying it. Or even if it’s…like…a Paul Simon song. You have to say, I think I have an idea of what I can do with that song and then I put that record away and start from the page.

Do you feel more like a jazz singer when you have a certain kind of instrumental backing?

Yeah, a lot of it has to do with chord structures and reconfiguring chords. In jazz, I like the possibility that anything could happen. And, as I said before, the audience brings a whole other element. We’re at Birdland this week. I kept looking out last night. People just sit with their eyes closed and listen. And so, musicianship is really appreciated. Right now I’m working on a piece by the American songwriter Ricky Ian Gordon. Yesterday I was learning Ricky’s music all day, which was so dense and so hard but so beautiful. Great music is great music. It appeals to me across the board. I guess he would be characterized almost as a writer of opera now. It’s good writing.

For the singer (as opposed to actor) part of you, who’s influenced you most?

I love Joni Mitchell because Joni is a great writer as well. All of her records are so evocative and filled with feeling. Then, from a jazz standpoint, Kenny Rankin…

[SR--an aside, you know he just died…]

We have this radio show, and [when news of his death arrived] we ran a show that we did with him last year. He came into the studio, and a lot of times people don’t want to play live because they’re very specific and particular about their records. He just came and brought his guitar and sang for an hour. It was the most perfect thing you’d ever heard. The intonation was perfect. I really respond to people who sing in tune and sing in time, like Peggy Lee. She’s right in the middle of the note, right there. I’m all for those guys who at least establish the melody out front. Call me crazy.

Do you ever hear people making disparaging remarks about cabaret singing, and if so, how do you respond?

There’s so many different…There are a lot of places where people call themselves cabaret singers, and there’s just a table and a candle. There are a lot of vanity productions around, especially in New York, which is not to say…I think that any time a person gets up and sings you learn something, and there’s a lot of places where people are learning. Then there’s places you can go and hear someone remarkable like Marilyn Maye. It just depends. There’s a lot of cabaret that’s self-indulgent and self-serving that I really don’t like.

That said, I saw Rosie Clooney in her last couple of years at Rainbow and Stars, Michael Feinstein’s place, and it was some of the finest interpretation you’re ever going to see. There’s something about the intimacy and the space that’s very conducive to some type of magic happening. We don’t make distinctions between what we do because of the room we’re in. When we’re at the Carlyle, say, we do labor more intensively in getting a set that has a flow to it so that parts might make the audience feel something. We pay a little more attention to detail [than we do for a jazz club] to make it a cohesive evening. But then all bets are off. We still play the same music that we’d play anywhere else.

Anything else that you’d like to comment on for this particular audience []?

Coming from the theater world, where every little move of your finger is scrutinized, I’ve felt really profoundly embraced by the jazz community in being able to do what I’ve wanted to do and having people honor it. If they don’t always love it, they at least honor it. There’s a code of ethics in the jazz world that I think is quite lovely. I’ve felt happy to call myself a part of that community.

This blog entry posted by Sue Russell

July 28, 2009 · 0 comments


That Good Ol' African-European-Middle Eastern-American Jazz

World fusion is entering the next stage in the jazz idiom—one in which the geographical scope expands, both in the music and on the bandstand. Eugene Marlow writes below about Moroccan-born and Paris-raised vocalist Malika Zarra, who performed recently at Le Poisson Rouge with her band whose members hail from Switzerland, New York and Suriname. No wonder she describes her music as “a blend of North/South, East/West, African/Arab and Europe/American.” T.G.

Jazz is global. Starting in New Orleans around the beginning of the 20th century, within a few years one could find jazz (as we understand in our current context) practically all over the world, including Europe and China. Today, jazz can be heard all over the planet (except perhaps North Korea), from Russia, to South America, Australia, Japan, and South Africa.

 Malika Zarra

What’s more, the internationalism of jazz has come full circle. In New York City, for example, in the last year alone Baruch College’s Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives concert series hosted a panoply of jazz performers with non-American jazz-root passports: Indian-born jazz guitarist Rez Abassi, Italian-born chanteuse Roberta Gambarini, and Columbian-born jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda. Each performer brought to their respective performances a strong dose of their social and musical roots.

Other examples abound. Last Friday night at the refurbished Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) in New York City Moroccan-born Malika Zarra shared her own multi-cultural, eclectic musical vision of world jazz.

From the moment she stepped on the stage, despite the awkward, self-conscious rock-concert like lighting provided by the Le Poisson Rouge stage crew, Ms. Zarra became a focus of rapt attention. Her exotic physical presence, her engaging eyes especially, brought the audience into her musical world. Saying little by way of introduction, she began to sing. It did not matter whether she explained the meaning of the songs or not. It did not matter that she sang completely original songs in several languages—Berber, Moroccan Arabic, classical Arabic, French and one in English—the presentation was always interesting, always musical, always compelling. It was clear from the start that this 75-minute was not going to include the usual repertoire from the American songbook.

Moreover, there was a tone to the performance that was definitely not American-as-usual. In more than a few moments, the feel of the show was more European than American. There was a sophistication to the presentation that said loud and clear: “Not made in America.” It made for a fresh performance.

The all-original, mostly foreign language lyrics contributed, certainly, to this impression. But it was also the music. None of it was straight ahead in the conventional American sense. It was, on the other hand, a mixture of jazz elements, but you could also hear the Middle-Eastern scale influences, with generous dollops of funk, blues, and fusion. And none of it was a reference here or a reference there. It was a well-proportioned and seasoned blend.

Zarra’s musicians, as well, added to the seamless blend of cultures. Her pianist, Manu Koch, is from Switzerland. Electric bassist Brad Jones is from New York City, and drummer Harvey Wirht, is from Suriname, described by some as a South American multicultural paradise. These were all excellent players in their own right who knew how to work with Ms. Zarra to produce a culturally seamless performance.

This multi-culturism is no accident. According to her bio, Ms. Zarra was born in Southern Morocco, in a little village called Ouled Teima. Her father's family was originally from M'Hamid, an oasis just off the Sahara, while her mother was a Berber from the High Atlas. During her early childhood, there was always music and dancing in the house and Malika sang almost from babyhood. After her family immigrated to a suburb of Paris, she found herself straddling two very different societies. “I had to be French at school yet retain my Moroccan cultural heritage at home,” she recalls

Malika’s interest in music led her to take up the clarinet in grade school. Meanwhile, she was exposed to a wide variety of musical styles. She cites fellow Moroccan Chiha Hamdaouia, the Lebanese-born, Egyptian-based ud virtuoso/composer Farid el Atrache, and Algerian-French singer Warda (Al-Jazairia) as major influences. She also absorbed albums by Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Although her family was not in favor of her pursuing a musical career, Malika nonetheless attended classes at conservatories and jazz academies at Tours and Marseille in France and studied privately with Sarah Lazarus and Françoise Galais.

During her apprentice phase, during which she became a fixture in France and on the Paris scene, Malika performed at a variety of well-known clubs and events, including Festival L’esprit Jazz de St Germain, Sunside, Baiser Salé, Hot Brass, Espace Julien, Pelle Mêle and Cité de la Musique. In the beginning, she interpreted classic material strictly in the original languages -- then a breakthrough occurred. “When I started to sing in Arabic, writing new lyrics for jazz standards, I found people reacted really strongly. There is always more emotion when you sing in your own language because your feelings are more intense.”

I asked Ms. Zarra what was at the center of her performance. She replied: “I grew up in a Arabic/Berber traditional family in France. Naturally, my music is a blend of North/South, East/West, African/Arab and Europe/American. Also, since my younger days I faced tensions and segregation. I’ve always believed that music is a powerful tool for peace and to show how different cultures have adapted and borrowed from each other—how they are interrelated. I see myself challenging the separation between East/West, Europe/America, Africa/Middle-East. I enjoy being all these things at the same time.” From the performance at Le Poisson Rouge it appears Malika has successfully integrated her various cultural heritages.

Furthermore, Ms. Zarra, like many other successful singers, also knows how to bring an audience into the performance. In addition to dancing in a very traditional Arabic manner while her musicians are improvising, on several occasions, particularly in the second half of the set, she invited the audience to clap to the pulse of the songs. Towards the end of the set she even attempted to teach the audience a vamp in Arabic. In this instance, the device was not as successful as it could have been, not because of the spoken sounds but because of the rhythmic pattern of the line. It was a bit too syncopated for the audience listening that night.

Nonetheless, Ms. Zarra is a singer who can write compelling melodies and lyrics. She knows how to arrange them for small ensemble. She knows how to pick musicians to play with who fit her musical aesthetic. She knows how to arrange a set that reaches a climactic moment at just the right time. Most importantly, she has learned how to blend various musical cultural traditions into a weave that makes sense and engages the ear for an extended period of time. All in all, it makes for an entertaining and multicultural experience.

The blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow

July 27, 2009 · 0 comments


How to Keep a Festival Afloat

A few days ago, arnold jay smith reported on the music at the Montreal Jazz Festival. But now he looks behind the scenes, and tells us how a huge jazz festival stays afloat in the current economic crisis. T.G.

Press Room at the Montreal Jazz Festival

                  Press Room at the Montreal Jazz Festival
                                   (Kris King Photography)

“So how do you like our new digs?” That replaced “bon jour” as a greeting by Andre Menard, co-founder and Artistic Director of the Montréal Jazz Festival. “I have been running around this place making sure of everything.” “Everything” included the new press floor in the “Canadian government’s anniversary present to us, an entire building, with a 60-year lease.”

The spacious 2nd floor of this former warehouse just off Place des Arts, the site of the festival is now Festival International de Jazz de Montréal permanent headquarters. There is a new nightclub on the ground floor, L’Astral, where jazz will be presented throughout the year, as well as a restaurant. The club replaces the Spectrum, the converted movie theatre that was torn down last winter. “We leased the [Spectrum] property for 25 years and we wanted to buy it and redevelop it. We spent three years and C$1.5 million to redevelop the Spectrum. We were supposed to be given first refusal, but we somehow got by-passed and lost it to another bidder,” Menard said. The lot is now a mound of rubble, an eyesore of a construction site, as the new owners have run into financial difficulties.

“The plan is to convert the entire street [a block along St. Catherine near Place des Arts] into multi-use living and entertainment, including another tower for Complex de Jardins,” he explained. “But that guy [who owns those properties] is pretty tough; he’s not giving in so fast. It’s all paid for so he’s in no hurry to sell.”

Finances were my main topic of conversation, what with the overcast economic atmosphere. The lead sponsors over the span of time I have been visiting FIJM –more than a decade—have gone the way of government banishment: tobacco (du Maurier cigarettes), alcohol (LaBatt Breweries), or, and finally, General Motors. “Alcan Rio Tinto is our second level sponsor so [we were looking] for a lead sponsor,” Menard explained. They later announced that TD (Toronto Dominion Bank) would be the replacement for GM. “Understand that, as this is the main cultural event in Canada, if we didn’t replace GM a lot of people would have been in trouble,” Menard said.

The FIJM not only set in motion a regular jazz presentation in Montréal, it also allowed clubs to open, music stores selling instruments, CDs and live performances to flourish and eventually encouraged others in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver to support their own festivals. “[Losing FIJM] would certainly cause a serious economic gap,” Menard opined. FIJM is the largest in the world and encompasses about a half-mile square of streets closed to vehicular traffic in the center of town, much more this year if you include Stevie Wonder’s 200,000+ attendance record.

“We have been going through some changes, not only recent economic developments, but the government clamp downs on smoking and beer,” Menard said. When asked if this or any other festival can survive without corporate sponsorship, Menard shook his head vigorously. “Not at all,” he said. “We depend on sponsorship. We can always reduce its size, cut out the big acts. But we are not in the business of downsizing the festival. We strive to keep it the size it is. We can’t grow much in size either. We’ve matured to what we are. There are still corporations who want the identification with us. We have proved that we are a very good vehicle for branding.”

I asked specifically about JVC’s pulling out, a brand compatible with jazz festivals. “Perhaps [the JVC Festivals] just outlived its usefulness [for them] on some level,” Menard said. “After a while a sponsor may think that it is being taken for granted, that they go unnoticed by the public. These corporations do research and the have very precise measurements as to what is profitable and what is not. I can’t analyze it, as it is too far from my reality.”

Save for the vaunted Stevie Wonder Spectacular, attendance was unimpressive to these eyes probably due to regular rainfall for the entire first week. Menard said otherwise. He thought that the box offices were the same as last year. In the final analysis the official boilerplate press release stated that the goal of C$5.1 million was reached, and with “sales of tourist packages, sales at souvenir boutiques and food and beverage kiosks increased.” “Breaking even these days is a major accomplishment,” he quipped. Profits—the festival is a not-for profit—go into a contingency fund against disasters such as a complete rainout. “We have other disaster insurance, such as for the Stevie Wonder,” whom, he said, “did not cost as big dollars as you might expect.” Menard said that the press reports of C$1million for the show, “were not true. It cost us less that half that. It cost us the going rate for a medium size arena [concert], and [Wonder] gave us more. It was good night for us and good night for himself, as well.”

All the United States artists get paid in US$, what with the fluctuating exchange rate this year. “The magic of the festival is that we do two festivals at the same time, inside and out. Inside it’s rehearsed, sound-checked and the artists get to do full sets. Outdoors is more jamming. However, we can’t do it without all the different acts. When we began, even George Wein discouraged us. It was all fusion. Then Wynton [Marsalis] happened. Since then we have diversified and jazz has become more influential. How do we sell it? How do jazz musicians get paid? That’s another story.”

What does FIJM do for an encore? “Joni Mitchell,” Menard snapped back. She is, after all, Canadian.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

July 26, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz Report from Stockholm (Part 2)

David Tenenholtz continues his report on the Stockholm Jazz Festival below. For part one of this article, click here. T.G.

Day three of the Stockholm Jazz Festival, running from Wednesday July 15 through Sunday July 19, presented a multitude of outstanding jazz music. The first show on the large stage was Swedish saxophonist and bandleader Lennart Åberg and his big band. Interpreting a large scope of Jan Johansson repertoire, the set was a particular treat for this writer.

                Lennart Åberg's Big Band (photo by Eva Elings)

With pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Christian Spering and others of Sweden’s finest musicians on hand, the music of Johansson was enlivened. Åberg’s soprano playing on “Generalen Kommer Hem (The General Comes Home)” and “Visa från Järna (Song from Järna)” was mellow and, at times, meditative. Some of the selections, which included “Het Sommar,” “Fanfär,” “Vals från Delsbo,” and “Måndag Kväll” featured collective improvisation from the entire group. This opener was an essential element for a jazz festival in Sweden, as it brought out the flavor of this country’s unique jazz tradition.

Also presented on day three were numerous modern jazz groups from Sweden, such as the high-energy instrumental band Oddjob, featuring the trumpet (with effect pedals) of Goran Kajfeš, alto and baritone saxophones of Peter “Ruskträsk” Johansson, piano and keyboards of Daniel Karlsson, basses of Peter Forss, and drums of Janne Robertsson. Both horn players also played a great deal of Latin percussion, and blew feisty solos on tunes like “Sewerside Blues.” A more laid back selection from their new album Sumo, “The Big Hit” employed a deep 6/8 groove. Karlsson, who later in the evening played in the band at Fasching jazz club, is a rare talent on piano, and Kajfeš has one of the best trumpet sounds around.

Later in the evening, a tribute to Nina Simone including her former musical director Alan Schackman showcased Simone’s songbook with a host of vocal stars. Lizz Wright lovingly presented “I Loves You, Porgy”, and Diane Reeves sounded gorgeous on “I Put a Spell on You” and the standard “But Beautiful” done with Latin rhythmic elements. An attractive blend of cabaret and musical theatre repertoire, the show also featured Lisa Simone Kelly, the daughter of Nina Simone, as well as Angelique Kidjo.

Around 10:30 in the evening, with the sun still lighting up the view of Stockholm’s city center, Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon presented his quartet for a set of originals that harkened back to the days of the Keith Jarrett Scandinavian quartet, while also holding a fresh musical attitude that is adventurous and cathartic. This killing band, featuring tenor saxophonist Karl-Martin Almqvist, bassist Hans Andersson, and drummer Anders Kjellberg, took improvisation to new impassioned heights on the tunes “Human Factor,” “Questions,”“Bubbles,” and the title tune off Karlzon’s new album Heat.

While the stars didn’t align for a transcendental Sonny Rollins performance on the large stage to close out day three, the crowd gave the saxophone colossus a lot of love, and the positive energy from his mix of blues, ballads, and calypso selections earned great applause. After the festival ended for the day, the party moved to the jam session at Fasching. There the hang lasted until 4:00 am, with Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers joining the other musicians for an extended jam on shekere and vocals. The tune was Rollin’s “St. Thomas” with Summer’s intoning an African folksong as well. The vibe at Fasching was also uplifted when Summers quieted the audience before the tune—which included a great many Swedish artists commiserating at the bar—for a toast to Nelson Mandela, who turned 91 years old that day.

                        Anders Widmark (photo by Eva Elings)

Although the closing of day three also meant the closing of much of the jazz-focused presentations at the festival, there were still noteworthy jazz artists over the weekend. Swedish pianist/vocalist Anders Widmark, who has had works composed for him by stalwart big band composer Bob Brookmeyer, featured his group Anders Widmark Transformation. Widmark is a gifted pianist, with a voice similar to Phil Collins, and his positively rocking show effectively blended singer/songwriter and jazz styles into one uplifting set to start day four of the festival.

Altogether, the Stockholm Jazz Festival has had a truly phenomenal blending of gifted international artists, with numerous Swedish working bands like The Jacob Karlzon Quartet, Oddjob, and the Lennart Åberg Big Band leaving a wonderful impression on this writer.

This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz

July 25, 2009 · 0 comments


Random Jazz Notes . . . and a Badly Burned High D

Jared Pauley’s article on the history of the Fender Rhodes electric piano brings back fond memories of my first experiences with this marvelous invention.

 Herbie Hancock

I was never a big fan of plugged-in keyboards—the touch never felt right on most of these instruments, and hitting the keys was like turning on a switch. I wanted gradations of analog sound, and that was the one thing these machines refused to give me.

But the Rhodes was something else, and really in a class by itself. The high register had a sweet “ping” to the tone, and low notes got crunchy in a soulful way. Even though I was a loyal fan of the ebony and ivory, I found something special in the Fender Rhodes back in those pre-MIDI days that no later electric keyboard has surpassed.

I got my first Rhodes off a down-on-his-luck rocker who sold me his beat-up suitcase model on the cheap. I still recall the cigarette burn on the high D, which created a small crater in the center of the key. Was it just my imagination, or did it give that note a bit more heat when I hit it?

It was a fickle machine, and sometimes gave up the ghost. I remember hauling it down to West LA Music one day for a repair. The staff was obliging and giving me all their attention, but promptly deserted me when Larry Coryell (then at the peak of his Eleventh House fame) stomped on to the premises demanding immediate attention for his guitar problem du jour. Enough time for a two-drink intermission and forty choruses of rhythm changes elapsed before they remembered the teenage jazzista and his broken down Fender Rhodes. But if I had been Mr. Coryell, I would have given them high marks for prompt and fawning service.

I wish I still owned that clunky dinosaur. But I needed some cash a few years later—I wanted to buy a vibraphone—and sold my Fender Rhodes to some teenage rocker who was planning his rise to fame supported by a phalanx of keyboards. I imagine it went on to many later owners.

Whenever I see an old suitcase model Fender Rhodes, I look for a cigarette burn on the high D key. If you run across it, let me know.

Another Rhodes memento I wish I had kept: The Fender Rhodes company issued a glossy flyer back in the 1970s that I picked up at my neighborhood music store (remember those?). The flyer came with a flimsy paper-thin plastic disk that you could play on your hi-fi. It featured Herbie Hancock “demonstrating” the Fender Rhodes piano.

My favorite moment: Herbie is grooving intensely on a song (“Watermelon Man” as I recall), and the music seemed to be reaching a climax, when Herbie shouts out over the music: “Now I turn on . . . the VIBRATO!”

I wish someone would reissue this track on CD, but I'm not holding my breath.


I see that Free, the new book by Chris Anderson (of Long Tail fame) is selling for $26.99 on Amazon, while Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap is available for $17.13.

This begs the question . . . Since when is Free more expensive than Cheap?

Anderson’s book has implications for musicians—unpleasant ones, perhaps. Its premise is that giving stuff away can be smarter than charging for it. Unfortunately, this is a career strategy with which jazz players are all too familiar.

But if a jazz musician wrote this book, the title would need to be changed from Free to Playing for the Door.

A few of my favorite worthless non-jazz blog sites:

I feel better about my high school prom photo every time I look at Awkward Family Photos.

Any list of "unnecessary" blogs needs to include The “Blog” of Unnecessary Quotation Marks.

And what kind of person would collect photos of Passive Aggressive Notes?

 The Jazz Composer

Talk about confidence. Not only does Graham Collier publish a book on jazz composition, the newly released The Jazz Composer, but he puts out a CD (in a matching color scheme) showing how it's done . . . featuring his own works.

There are a few precedents here. Back in my student days, I bought a huge book, on jazz composition written by Bill Russo. All the examples in this 850 page book were, as I recall, taken from compositions by . . . Bill Russo.

 Graham Collier

If you were studying Russo's book and wanted to check out some Duke Ellington or Gil Evans charts . . . well, tough luck. But you did get plenty of chances to mull over Russo's Halls of Brass (given the context, I think an alliterative title would have been more appropriate).

But my favorite example of a music writer showing by doing came when Gunther Schuller published a book on the art of conducting, in which he dissected with unforgiving precision all of the tempo problems, mistakes and infidelities to the score of the famous masters of the baton—and then Schuller released a CD showing the correct way of conducting Brahms’s First and Beethoven’s Fifth.

Take that, Toscanini!

Collier’s writing is refreshing, and his basic premise is both provocative and sound. “Jazz is something that happens in real time, once,” he asserts. You might think that this claim would subvert a book on jazz composition from the outset—how can you delineate something that refuses to be pinned down? But his discursive, frank commentary keeps things lively. And (in contrast to Russo’s book) this text can be enjoyed by jazz fans even if they can’t read a note of music. There are a handful of musical examples—yes, from Collier’s own compositions—but this book is more philosophical than musicological.

Collier’s book goes against the grain. Time and time again in this work, the author adopts a bold position and sticks by it. Here is a typical quote:

There is a heaviness in contemporary jazz, created by plodding rhythm sections, too much writing, too many notes in the solos, and by the lack of room in which the performance can breathe. The main reason is that bebop has left jazz with a legacy of a technique-driven music, with little space around it, and seemingly little opportunity for the emergence of less technically inclined players.

As you can see, Collier is not afraid of rocking the boat. And though I am more favorably inclined toward the jazz repertory movement than Collier, I must admit that he scores a few points with his spirited attack.

I enjoyed the book, but I think I would enjoy seeing Collier in a debate even more. On any short list of the most polemical writers in jazz today, he is fighting for the top spot. You'd have to go back to that other jazz writer Collier to find anything comparable. And didn't that bloke get into a public debate with Mr. Marsalis over these same tricky issues of tradition and canon? It may be time for round two.

Art Pepper

More than a quarter century after Art Pepper’s death, Laurie Pepper continues to find first-rate music by her late husband to release on the Widow’s Taste label. I hope she makes more than a widow’s mite off her latest release, Art Pepper: The Art History Project, which is the best yet of her posthumous productions.

This three-disk set is a good place for those unfamiliar with the altoist to sample his wares. It brings together works spanning Pepper’s entire career, starting with Shorty Rogers’s feature number—appropriately named “Art Pepper”—for the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra, and continuing all the way to live tracks from a Fat Tuesday’s performance with Stanley Cowell, Ben Riley and George Mraz recorded only a few weeks before Pepper’s death at age 56.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

July 23, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz Report from Stockholm

David Tenenholtz reports on the Stockholm Jazz Festival below, in the first installment of a two-part article. T.G.

With the downsizing and outright canceling of jazz festivals across the world this past year, there is some hope to be found in the Stockholm Jazz Festival, underway since Wednesday July 15 and running though Sunday July 19. How did the festival deliver such an abundant program in spite of world-wide financial crisis?

                        Allen Toussaint (photo by Eva Elings)

A short answer: Ingvar Jensen. The former owner of Swedish electronics company Elfa, sold the business a few years ago, and in early 2009 bought the festival. Gunnar Lagerman, an experienced director of festival programming in Sweden, made this year’s festival longer by a day, and organized a wide range of events across all five days and nights. Set on the island of Skeppsholmen, the festival featured an assortment of international artists on two stages—one a large amphitheater and one a smaller stage, in addition to an indoor auditorium located within the Museum of Modern Art, also on the island overlooking the city center.

At Skeppsholmen on day one, the vibe was all fun and games from the opening act on the smaller stage, a large funky group called Hazmat Modine, featuring two harmonicas, two guitars, trombone, tube, and drums. Following Hazmat Modine was Swedish tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar and his quartet, fresh from a U.S. tour in June, and here joined by guest vocalists Nina Ramsby, tabla player Suranjana Ghosh, and lap steel guitarist Robert Östlund.

The large stage was anointed by two legends of New Orleans music, first a solo piano (complete with voodoo décor) concert by Dr. John, followed by Allen Toussaint fronting a remarkable band, with bassist Roland Guerin of the Marcus Roberts Trio, here chiefly on electric. Guerin rocked hard on an extended slap bass solo towards the end of Toussaint’s set, and was pushed to the extreme by the huge clapping crowd. Toussaint’s songs such as “Working in the Coal Mine” “Southern Nights” and “Get Out of My Life Woman” are especially energetic, and the arrangements, which included a tribute to Sidney Bechet from the latest recording Bright Mississippi, felt like second nature to the experienced sidemen in the band. One concertgoer hoisted a pole waving the “Louisiana Proud” and Mardi Gras flags high in the air, which received a salute from the jovial Toussaint, whose piano style has great strength while maintaining its prettiness at the same time.

Pianist Jan Lundgren partnered with bassist Lars Danielsson for an exploration of Renaissance choral music comingled with improvisation for a project called Magnum Mysterium, and released an album of the same name in 2007. In the intimate auditorium inside the Museum of Modern Art, the repertoire by Andrea Gabrieli, Orlando Lasso, and William Byrd was presented by the two instrumental soloists and the Gustav Sjökvist Chamber Choir. Danielsson’s improvisations provided explorations far out of the Renaissance tradition, but with a heavenly vocal quality, while Lundgren’s own controlled pianism and focused communication with Sjökvist gave the music proper direction.

                     Richard Galliano (photo by Eva Elings)

Outside on the smaller stage, a quartet of accordionist Richard Galliano, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, electric bassist Richard Bona, and drummer Clarence Penn played tangos and engaged in other flights of fancy. Rubalcaba liberated the band with his own aggressive, at times even bombastic cross-cutting of meter. With montunos and innovative locked hands techniques, along with deft single-note runs, Rubalcaba was just as unstoppable as the accordionist leader, whose command of his instrument is something as transcendental as Coltrane’s command on tenor.

Trumpeter Jon Hassel and his trio called Maarifa Street used their samplers, soft synths, and other gadgetry for a unique, spacy jam that traveled in directions ranging from earthy to cosmic. As the first evening closed, the jazz jam group Little Feat could be heard wailing far away from the island in the center of Stockholm. With the start of day two, American trumpeter Roy Hargrove led an impressive big band through a deeply varied repertoire of modern big band writing with vocal features for the superior Roberta Gambarini. There was plenty of room for intense solos by altoist Bruce Williams, trombonist Vincent Chandler, the youthful pianist Johnathan Baptiste, and others. The only American big band to be featured at the festival, Roy Hargrove’s ensemble killed it on the large stage, and his deft conducting and pyrotechnic trumpet solos were additionally as dazzling as his choice in shoes—black Nike hi-tops with hot pink logo. Unfortunately, I left too soon to hear other groups on day two, and missed some excellent line ups of the McCoy Tyner Trio with Bill Frisell, Swedish saxophonist Magnus Lindgren and his “Batucada Jazz” project, and many others.

Day three’s performances (stay tuned for a forthcoming overview) marked an end to the best jazz programming, and the weekend’s line-up changed over to stars in various genres ranging from hip-hop and R&B such as the Swedish Timbuktu, Meshell Ndegeocello (including the trippy synthesizers and keyboards of Jason Lindler), and the Junior Walker All Star Band playing Motown hits.

This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz

July 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Tony Bennett and Diana Krall on DVD

Thomas Cunniffe, an editor and regular contributor at, reports on two DVDs focusing on jazz vocalists: Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. T.G.

In the quarter-century since he filmed his low-budget masterpiece The Last Of The Blue Devils, Bruce Ricker has become one of the best-known directors of jazz documentaries. One of Ricker’s frequent collaborators is also one of Hollywood’s biggest jazz fans, Clint Eastwood. So, when Eastwood produces a Ricker-directed documentary on Tony Bennett, the budget is big and the expectations are high.

Tony Bennett

The film is titled The Music Never Ends, and you may have seen it on PBS’ “American Masters” series. Now available on DVD through a partnership between Warners Home Video and Ricker’s company, Rhapsody Video, the film is far from definitive on several levels, but it is loaded with magnificent film clips. The jewel is a 1975 “Tonight Show” appearance where Bennett is accompanied by Bill Evans! What we get to see of the clip includes parts of “When In Rome” and a little bit of an interview with Evans. (According to the Johnny Carson website, Bennett also sang “But Beautiful” with Evans and then sang “Life Is Beautiful” and “S’Wonderful” to fellow guest Fred Astaire! Whatever it costs in clearance rights, this episode of “The Tonight Show” is a classic, and it needs to be released on DVD).

My biggest problem with the documentary is the way that the film clips are used. There’s lot of talking over the music, and in several cases, performance clips of the same song from different eras of Bennett’s career are spliced together. What this is supposed to prove is beyond me—is it somehow relevant that Bennett has sung the same repertoire in the same keys over the years? The treatment of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” is even stranger: the song, spliced together from several clips, literally stops for interviews, goes again for a bar or two, then stops again for another talking head. It makes the sequence go on forever.

On the other hand, this film was produced through Warner Brothers, and this gave Ricker access to the MGM and Warner’s library of film musicals. So, when Bennett sings “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”, we cut to the Fred Astaire version from Easter Parade and it looks like Fred is dancing to Tony. The same technique is used with Gene Kelly’s “I Got Rhythm” dance from An American In Paris and Busby Berkeley’s dance chorus on “Lullaby Of Broadway” from Gold Diggers of 1935.

The Hollywood influence also rears its head with the choice of interviewees. Harry Belafonte, Bill Charlap and Jonathan Schwartz are all welcome participants, but Mel Brooks and Alec Baldwin? Are these the best people Ricker could find? Baldwin is only here because of a so-so Bennett imitation he did on Saturday Night Live and Brooks’ presence is tied to his appearances with Bennett on The Tonight Show. It’s nice to have an explanatory interview to accompany the clips, but neither of the clips are necessary, especially when there are no clips of Bennett’s landmark appearance on MTV Unplugged.

Of course, Tony Bennett is there throughout the film, and he is perfectly capable of telling his own life story. Like his music, his career stories are still fresh and relevant, no matter how many times you’ve heard them. There are his experiences with the civil rights movement, his triumph at Carnegie Hall and his phenomenal resurgence over the last two decades, all told first-person by Bennett himself.

The 2-DVD set includes a long interview with Bennett and Eastwood (which is better skipped) and a bonus disc, which captures Bennett in extraordinary form at the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival. Accompanied by his regular band of Lee Musiker (piano), Gray Sargent (guitar), Paul Langosh (bass) and Harold Jones (drums), Bennett sings 14 songs, the highlight of which is an extended version of “In A Mellow Tone” featuring solos by all four sidemen. Bennett is in magnificent voice and every bit the show biz professional. The hand gestures may be corny and the song endings big, but there’s no doubt that Bennett makes every moment count. He is an American treasure.

 Diana Krall in Rio

Diana Krall has toured with Tony Bennett and like the veteran singer, she knows how to effectively program a concert. If you were as disappointed as I was with Krall’s bossa nova album Quiet Nights, you should pick up the DVD, Diana Krall In Rio. Unlike the CD, with its relentless, monotonous program of slow and medium-slow tempos, the DVD presents the Brazilian music as part of a concert. While 9 of the 18 songs on the concert are from the Quiet Nights album, the Brazilian songs are interspersed with lively numbers by Krall’s jazz group: Anthony Wilson (guitar), John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums).

Krall’s haunting version of “You’re My Thrill”—lost amongst the slow numbers on the CD—benefits from its concert placement between the smoking quartet version of “Cheek To Cheek” and the sobering “Let’s Face The Music & Dance.” When Krall sings three Brazilian standards near the end of the concert, the Rio audience sings along in Portuguese. The ethereal effect is quite stunning on the DVD, and it must have been a spine-tingler in person. The production values are superb with beautiful shots of Rio interspersed with the concert footage. Extras include interviews with Krall, the band members and producer Tommy LiPuma, plus a music video of “The Boy From Ipanema” which recycles much of the Rio location footage from the concert video.

TONY BENNETT: THE MUSIC NEVER ENDS 86 minutes plus 82 minutes supp material.

Warner/Rhapsody 118624. Directed by Bruce Ricker. Produced by Clint Eastwood. With Tony Bennett, Clint Eastwood, Harry Belafonte, Gay Talese, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Bill Charlap, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Don Rickles, Martin Scorsese, Alec Baldwin, Danny Bennett, Mel Brooks, Stephen Holden, Arthur Penn, Jonathan Schwartz.

DIANA KRALL LIVE IN RIO 110 minutes plus 24 minutes supp material.

Eagle Vision 30273. Directed by David Barnard. With Diana Krall, Anthony Wilson, John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, Ruria Duprat conducting the Rio De Janeiro Orchestra.

This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments


1,000 Jazz Gigs in Copenhagen is delighted to add Larry Appelbaum to its roster of bloggers. A distinguished writer, broadcaster, promoter, and general expert on all matters jazzy, Appelbaum reports below on the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, one of the most ambitious annual jazz events in the world—with a mind-boggling one thousand events over the course of ten days. T.G.

 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

It's no surprise that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is one of the longest running, most successful festivals in Europe. Denmark has had a strong association with jazz going back to the 1920s and, like many Europeans, the Danes have always considered jazz an art form as well as entertainment. The city of Copenhagen has historically been receptive to American musicians, many of whom lived there and shared their knowledge in the 1950s, '60s and 70s, including Ben Webster, Thad Jones, Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew.

After more than three decades, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival offers more or less what you'd expect from any major jazz festival: 1,000 events over the course of ten days, at 99 different venues all over town. But it also holds a number of surprises, especially for a first time visitor. First, Copenhagen has a fairly small downtown area, which means most venues are within walking distance from one another. In most cases, walking is faster than taxi, though without many metro stops in the city center, it's worth renting a bicycle or learning a few bus routes to help you venture outside the city center or across the lake. Second, while there are quite a few impressive concert spaces, including the Royal Theater, the Royal Library and Skuespilhuset, there are also a number of more unusual performance venues, such as the former Elephant House at the Zoo, various record shops, and an East German fishing trawler, the M.S. Stubnitz. Third, it's worth remembering that every concert and club performance seems to start at least 15 minutes late. That's not a game stopper, but a mental time conversion will help if you're planning to hit multiple shows in the same time frame.

Two more surprises: Despite the current right-wing government and the effects of a contracting economy, there appears to still be public money available for such festivals in Denmark, which speaks to enlightened cultural priorities. This also means that the jazz festival can present music for aesthetic reasons without having to sell out or shill for corporate interests (for example, there are no commercial announcements from any of the stages or tacky merchandising). As for ticket prices, the big name concert seats (James Taylor, Chick Corea, Dee Dee Bridgewater) run between $30-$125, though in most cases, the more interesting shows are found in the more affordable clubs, or scattered throughout the city in free outdoor events. Besides, who goes to a jazz festival to see James Taylor?

 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

One last surprise: The Danish jazz scene is not as musically conservative as its reputation might suggest. Yes, there's a strong, American-influenced mainstream represented by big bands and various prominent soloists and leaders, such as Jesper Thilo, Ole Kock Hansen, Alex Riel, Carsten Dahl and others. But there have always been adventurous players like John Tchicai, Hugh Steinmetz and Pierre Dørge, who've explored freer jazz forms and world music. And there's a newer generation of conservatory-trained players, like Jacob Anderskov, Mark Solborg, Lotte Anker, Anders Christensen and Søren Kjærgaard, who specialize in creative improvised music but who can, and do, play everything.

Speaking of Kjærgaard, the pianist and composer performed throughout the festival in many different contexts, including the highly regarded Optics Trio with Ben Street and Andrew Cyrille. But he displayed more of the range of his personality in a solo appearance at the public library. About 50 people gathered on a weekday afternoon to watch Kjærgaard mix floating, impressionistic chords with triggered samples and loops, extracting speech-like effects from the upright piano's strings. Kjærgaard has a penchant for the absurd (making use of tennis balls, duck quacks and a demented recitative), but his heartfelt versions of Strayhorn's “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” and movements from Ellington's Far East Suite and The Queen's Suite showed a a deep respect, understanding and love of tradition. A closing duet on Beethoven's “Für Elise,” featuring music box and Kjærgaard's twinkling right hand variations, was both amusing and cute.

As expected, there were a handful of American artists on the festival, including John Scofield, Herb Robertson, Steve Swallow, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dave Liebman and Chick Corea. After recent long tours with Return To Forever and the 5 Peace Band, Corea is traveling this summer as a solo pianist and his performance at the Royal Theater displayed his imaginative approach to familiar material; from the shimmering introduction on his own “Armando's Rhumba,” to the romantic rubato of “Waltz For Debby.” A suite of four Monk tunes—“Trinkle Tinkle,” “Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk” and “I Mean You”—flirted with dissonance and polytonality, and made inventive use of Monk's trademark descending, chromatic lines.

After Corea, a 10-minute walk along the water brought me to the M.S. Stubnitz, where John Tchicai held forth in a series of duets with drummer P.O. Jørgens. Though the ship's below sea level decor was industrial/mechanical, the music balanced cerebral expression with strong feelings and emotion. Tchicai, who turned 73 this last April, still plays with the fire of a young man, but he takes his time and lets the music unfold rather than explode. His bass clarinet work was especially beautiful when set against Jørgens's steel drum or balafon. Backed by trap set, Tchicai read some forgettable poetry, but his indecipherable vocalizing was memorably unnerving.

Though there were quite a few vocalists at this festival, the most unforgettable was Norwegian Sidsel Endresen, who held forth in a solo show at Skuespilhuset. Her extended techniques and spooky, improvised word salad, backed by the occasional use of kalimba, cast a spell, combining otherworldly sounds with silence, Sprechstimme and breath.

With any festival this size there are hits and misses. The most absurd, even ridiculous performance came from the Argentine-Uruguayan group Bajofondo. Ostensibly a modern tango phenomenon, this octet was about as tasteful as last week's smørrebrød. Yes, they were all dressed in black and one of them played an amplified bandoneon, but between the smoke machine, the thump-thumping rhythm section and the unnecessarily distracting strobe light effects, there wasn't much tango to hang onto. It was all sizzle and no steak, but the crowd ate it up, every last thump-thump.

Some of the most compelling performances throughout the festival were smaller scale, more intimate efforts. For example, guitarist Jakob Bro and bassist Anders Christensen, while waiting for their drummer to show, played several duet numbers in front of a handful of listeners at KafCafeen. Their “Stella By Starlight” was liquid flow and cliche-free, making use of implied harmonies and the space between notes. Bro, who often works with Tomasz Stanko and Paul Motian, has plenty of technique but he never uses it to show off. He phrases naturally, as if he knows the lyrics to these songs, and on “I Remember You,” he picked particularly thoughtful voicings for his chords. For his part, Christensen played slightly behind the beat, which set up a delicious tension with the guitar, yet his tone was fat and his time steady. He was also fun to watch, as he swayed and danced with his instrument. It's not hard to see why he's such an in-demand bassist.

Another Danish player who works a lot on the international circuit is drummer Stefan Pasborg. He played in many configurations during the festival, notably with Marc Ducret, Delirium, and Ibrahim Electric, but the most joyously rousing was his group Odessa 5 (none of whom, by the way, are from Odessa). They played a couple of sets in a hip, well-stocked little jazz record shop called Jazz Cup, across the street from Kongens Have park. Pasborg, joined by Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen, Lithuanian Liudas Mockunas, and fellow Danes, sousaphonist Jakob Munck and saxophonist Anders Banke, prepared an intriguing repertoire consisting of originals, such as the rambunctious “Fanfare for the Bastard,” the time-shifting, Balkan-flavored “Last Man,” and a danceable calypso-mambo titled “Mambo Royal.” Most interesting were the three medleys, based on music by Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and, perhaps most astonishing, three movements from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

Like Pasborg, pianist, composer Jacob Anderskov appeared in several different groups and collaborations throughout the week. The best of them, however, was his octet Anderskov Accident, which gave an outdoor concert on Frue Plads. These outdoor concerts were not only free, but they gave an opportunity to wander through the audience, soak up some rare sunshine and get a feeling for Copenhagen's jazz community. Anderskov spent a fair amount of time conducting, then sitting at the piano with hands in his lap watching his music unfurl. He writes in structures that breathe; balancing exuberant, often free playing within extended compositional settings.

Other musical highlights at this festival included beautiful ballads played by legendary Swedish saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, the spacey, electric Miles sound of Thunderstrucks, a mind-expanding (if unfortunately named) quartet called Mold, and a nearly telepathic duet between pianist Jacob Karlzon and bassist Mads Vinding. At Jazz Cup one afternoon, a sweat-drenched Danish trio backed Boston-based saxophonist George Garzone in several long excursions through post-Coltrane territory, and drummer Andrew Cyrille gave a late-night, for-insiders-only solo recital in Vesterbro, not listed in the festival program. The concert that held the most promise was trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg performing a new work inspired by his collaboration with Miles Davis. It was something that looked good on paper, and it was extremely well played, but it became repetitive and wore thin after 30 minutes. The most transcendently moving performance featured the Universal Quartet, with 88-year old Yusef Lateef appearing alongside percussionist Adam Rudoph, trumpeter Kasper Tranberg, and drummer Kresten Osgood. The music was intensely spiritual and often playful, and the setting, in one of the Tivoli ballrooms during a raging thunderstorm, only added to the experience.

One of the criticisms leveled at this year's festival is that there were no jazz superstars, such as Ornette Coleman, who appeared in the festival's 30th anniversary edition last year. And it's hard to ignore the fact that the audience for this festival is not a particularly young one, especially for the ticketed shows. Still, with 1,000 events and 200,000 attendees each year, it's hard to knock success. Nearly every style of jazz is represented at this festival, and the bar is set high for both music and production values. Most important is the fact that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival affords the opportunity to delve deeply into the pool of world-class Danish improvisers. For the naysayers, it's worth noting that in terms of growth, the festival has nearly doubled in size in the last 20 years. It's good to know that the quality of local musicians has grown as well.

This blog entry posted by Larry Appelbaum

July 20, 2009 · 0 comments


More on Musicians and Bad Reviews

A few weeks back, Chris Kelsey published an entry here on "Musicians and Bad Reviews." Michael J. West, a regular contributor to, offers a different perspective on this subject below. T.G.

When I posted a Facebook link to Chris Kelsey’s piece on “Musicians and Bad Reviews” on the day it appeared, a rising young musician (who shall remain nameless) reminded me that he and I had had a very similar debate just a few weeks before. At the time, the musician had just read an unfavorable review of a recording he’d done within a jazz collective and was very unhappy. But it wasn’t the critic’s opinion that had made him angry; it was his mischaracterization of the musician’s work.

The critic had insisted that despite the group’s collectivist orientation, one of its other members was actually its leader. That irritated my musician friend; what made him downright angry, however, is that the critic had also dispatched his compositions—on which he’d worked long and hard—as “pretty much throwaways.”

                The Basement of the Invention (2008)
                               Artwork by Jazzamoart

Barring the phrase “pretty much,” which is across-the-board weak journalism, a critic can easily mistake this kind of assessment for valid criticism without realizing the implication. Words like “uninspired,” “insubstantial,” or “dull” may not be terribly nice, but they’re in play when it comes to writing about music. It’s even reasonable to say that a tune “sounds like” or “comes off as” a throwaway, because the music is still the object of discussion. But to state flatly that a composition is a throwaway goes beyond discussion of the music and into claims about the musician’s practices and motivations—which, unless the musician has made them known, are out of bounds.

Kelsey is right when he says that reviews aren’t written for musicians, and aren’t personal. But that doesn’t mean that the critic isn’t duty-bound to be fair to the musician. Classical critic and arts-journalism educator Tim Page writes this month that “We must be reporters first, and nothing undermines the credibility of a critic more quickly and drastically than any misstatement.” His example is of writing erroneously that Beethoven’s Sixth had a saxophone solo, but the warning also applies to less obvious facts: what the artist does, how they do it, and even what they were trying to do. (Yes, in theory, if the artist’s intentions don’t speak for themselves, he/she has failed to realize them; in practice, it doesn’t always work that way.)

There is a message here, then, for both the critic and the musician. To the critic: Your job may be to formulate and express an opinion about a piece of art, but you still trade in facts, too. Whether the music sounds well constructed is a matter of opinion; whether the musician worked hard at constructing it is not. If you’re unclear on some of these facts, check them out—it isn’t forbidden to contact the musician with questions about the work you’re reviewing (as I’ve done more than once). And if the artist states that something works like so—a band’s working dynamic, for instance—don’t claim the opposite unless you have actual facts to support that claim.

To the musician: If critics’ misstatements rankle you, make yourself available to answer their questions, so those misstatements can be prevented from the beginning. Even if you follow Kelsey’s good advice to avoid reviews, help their writers get the facts straight; the dialogue to which they’re adding really is important. But also remember that sometimes the critic will make good faith efforts to understand the music and still won’t—or will understand the music and disapprove anyway.

Finally, while it’s true that complaining about bad reviews probably isn’t productive, it is productive to call out the critics on their bad facts, incorrect assumptions, and mischaracterizations. In fact it’s probably more productive for the critics than for you—pointing out their mistakes may not make you a better musician, but it will likely make them better critics.

This blog entry is posted by Michael J. West

July 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Record Labels Go For the Soft, Personal Touch

The folks at Universal Music have finally figured out why their sales are tanking. It’s those dang reviewers!

In an industry increasingly focused on achieving success through the 3 L’s—litigating, lobbying and legislating—it was about time that review copies of new releases came accompanied by legal threats. Universal Music is jumping to the forefront here. Their music now arrives wrapped in bullying language on the front and the back—as well as a watermark, some technology to prevent copying, and the name of the offending critic printed on the disk.

 Universal Music promo CD

Gosh, I wish they would remember to send me track-by-track personnel and recording info too. And I'd love to have a scan of the cover art to publish with the review. But when lawyers call all the shots, little things like that can slip through the cracks.

I will give Universal Music credit for inscribing my name on to the compact disk. It’s a nice personal touch. I am all the more appreciative of the added expense when I consider how parent company Vivendi’s share price has tanked in the last year. And I am flattered at the words of praise written in small print on the disk . . . something about me being held personally responsible for the spread of their music high and low. Golly, I wish I was that influential, but it’s nice that the folks at the label hold me in such esteem.

It’s funny . . . I still have a nagging suspicion that the folks at Universal don’t much care for me, or the other reviewers they "service" (that's the industry's term, not mine). Sometimes it feels like we are just barely tolerated.

 Universal Music promo CD

Reviewers can take some consolation in the fact that they are not alone. The music business has a long list of enemies these days. They include almost anyone out there disseminating, publicizing or just plain enjoying the music. Internet radio, video web sites, bloggers, students and single moms . . . they are all in the crosshairs of the lawyers.

While other industries focus on how to use emerging technologies to build their businesses, the music industry has worked overtime to slow down new media, constrain emerging technologies, and even take fans to court. Of course, they never liked new technologies—in the old days it was people making home cassette tapes that irked them. Unfortunately now their enemy list has grown so large it encompasses almost every consumer under the age of thirty.

Someone should tell the decision-makers at the major labels that those 3 L’s—litigating, lobbying and legislating—have never been a smart growth strategy. They are in the music business, and their prospects will improve when they start paying more attention to the music, and less to the lawsuit du jour.

For my part, I am not sure whether I can open up the promo CD. I may need to consult a lawyer first.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

July 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Hot New Jazz from Britain

Frederick Bernas recently interviewed Chris Potter for, and also sent us an account of an intriguing jazz-meets-classical performance in Moscow. Now he alerts us to a few of the finest jazz releases in the UK from recent months. T.G.

Led Bib – Sensible Shoes

 Sensible Shoes

Drummer and leader Mark Holub believes Sensible Shoes represents a “coming of age” for the band Led Bib. They’ve certainly succeeded in producing a disc which captures the inimitable firepower and charisma that frequently draws a small army of followers to gigs around the capital. It’s a very natural statement, made in a language that maintains accessibility while occasionally bordering on the extreme—not an easy thing to do without sounding forced or awkward.

If London’s “maverick avant-jazz skronkers” were a politician, they’d put John McCain to shame. But it’s not just skronkadelic mania and wall-to-wall noise: this twin-sax-led quintet presents a thorough exercise in structured collective improvisation, which traverses mood and dynamic with a delicacy that belies the fierce, free energy that so often possesses them.

A prime example is “2.4:1 (Still Equals None),” which features a gentle introduction from the saxes and spinning random keyboard sounds, before bass and drums come in with their own cautious, careful ideas. You wonder what’s going to happen next—will the tune suddenly take off into a stratospheric, gut-wrenching blast of hysteria? No. Situated as it is, perfectly midway through the 9-track CD, this is a welcome and admirable respite demonstrating commendable restraint from a group which clearly loves to play loud.

Seb Pipe’s Life Experience – Shoot For The Stars

 Shoot For The Stars

Altoist Seb Pipe’s new release on 33Jazz has a sparkling effervescence that keeps you riveted. His rich, cultured, talkative tone guides the listener through 11 original compositions, including fresh arrangements of Romanian and Brazilian melodies—the classic “Tico-Tico” is instantly recognisable.

The CD opens with “Yonetsu (Residual Energy).” A sweeping sax line soars over drummer George Hart’s crisp, brisk backdrop, which then segues into “Yo Tico!,” Pipe’s adaptation of the famous tune written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. From there we have the more melancholy “Fortran,” a lyrical nine-minute offering that calms things down before “Balance and Contrast,” a breakneck semi-acoustic-fusion tune which almost seems to be a slower piece played back at double speed. A brief duel between Hart and pianist Arthur Lea is topped off by an unexpected injection of scat from Pipe.

The saxophonist is clearly well versed in his trade, with a wide palette of influences and knowledge. Indeed, the album title itself references a quote by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Pipe comes across as a profoundly positive composer and player, with a lively mind and strong musical instincts—certainly a deserving recipient of the Arts Council England “Jazz Services” recording and touring grant which made this fine release possible.

Phronesis – Green Delay

 Green Delay

Avishai Cohen has heralded Jasper Høiby as a name to watch. It’s easy to see why: these two versatile instrumentalists share a penchant for bass-driven acoustic grooves and syncopated, staccato rhythmic motifs.

“Abraham’s New Gift,” the first track on Green Delay, will find Cohen fans in familiar territory, but subtle differences become ever more apparent as the record goes on. The Phronesis group atmosphere seems a little more open, less tied down; they relax and stretch out, taking a break from rigid charts and settling into their own thing.

Høiby and fellow Dane Anton Eger on drums form a cohesive foundation. The bassist always finds a simple way to anchor the music, not overcrowding his bandmates with too many notes and giving both considerable liberty. Pianist Ivo Neame is able to flow freely when the time comes, reaching impressively understated heights with his canny improvisations. He doesn’t slam, he doesn’t smash, but a clear stream of ideas is detectable through every solo.

“Phronesis” is the Greek intellectual virtue of moral thought, “the ability to think well about the nature of the world.” Prudence. So it’s a fitting name for Høiby’s band, as its three members communicate musically using precisely this kind of mentality. No one jumps to the front. It’s an extended dialogue between equal partners, the outcome of which is pleasurable for any jazz listener.

Kairos 4tet – Kairos Moment

 Kairos Moment

These days in London, it’s not a surprise when a completely unknown name turns up with an accomplished CD. Saxophonist/leader Adam Waldmann does just that with his Kairos 4tet and their debut album—you could be easily forgiven for thinking it was the product of a much longer musical relationship than a group formed only in spring last year.

Waldmann possesses a fluid, commanding compositional voice, asserted boldly on this set of a dozen originals. Singer Emilia Martensson joins the quartet for “Unresolved,” adding her ebullient, airy vocals to an ambient sonic mixture. It’s Jasper Høiby on bass again, with pianist Rob Barron and Jon Scott on drums.

Rippling beats and solid riffs are mixed with Waldmann’s intriguingly differentiating saxes—dreamy tenor; sharp, piercing soprano—and catchy, accessible tunes, delivered with a good degree of wit and guile. There is a contemplative, thoughtful aesthetic and a latent sense the musicians are playing happily within themselves, comfortable and at ease with each other and the material.

This blog entry posted by Frederick Bernas

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz Report from Montreal’s arnold jay smith has been to the Montreal Jazz Festival so many times, he lost count long ago. But, as he reports below, this long-running event—now three decades old—still offers up surprises. T.G.

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM) celebrated year 30. Thanks to their efficient publicity department you already know that. My personal “handler” on the international press desk was the multinational Carola Duran who instinctively knew how to calm our consternation when we asked for tickets to long sold-out indoor events.

Let’s begin with the spanking new physical plant. The new pressroom is in a Canadian government gifted building just off the Festival grounds (Place des Arts). It is spacious and welcoming with a bar serving beer, wine, water, both flat and gaseous, and a new pleasant wrinkle: an espresso machine for coffee, latte and cappuccino, all gratuity. One could spend most of one’s time hanging out speaking with fellow fourth estaters you haven’t seen in a year(s) or perhaps ever. I was there over our Independence Day weekend (July 2-6)—FIJM ran from June 30-July 12—when the rain came and went not daily, but hourly. No exaggeration that.

As most of the events were presented outdoors you’d think this would have posed an attendance problem. FIJM visitors and locals alike simply raised umbrellas; the ever-fashionable Montréalers donned colorful foul weather gear and boots and carried their Starbucks containers. The temps they were on the cool side.

 Stevie Wonder in Montreal

For example, Stevie Wonder gave a —to the public; he got paid—concert before an audience of upwards of a guestimated quarter million souls. FIJM founder, Andre Menard told me that extra police were called in not to quell any unrest, but for safety reasons as more streets had to be closed. I wasn’t there—I eschew large crowds—but I was told by relatives who live nearby that they were sitting so far away that even the allegory of the cave didn’t apply. They couldn’t see the giant screens and the sound was bouncing off Mont Royal north of Sherbrook (the northern boundary of the festival) where viewers were ensconced. Oh yes, my point: it poured, twice. No one went home.

The executives-in-charge said that overall attendance was the same, but I found more room to move about the Place than in years past. (This may have been my 13th or 14th Only one person south of the 48th parallel has more FIJM sorties and that’s WBGO’s Michael Bourne with 17. He also wins with more trips to our favorite food haunt, Pizzadelic.)

For the uninitiated FIJM is the largest Jazz Festival in the world with multiple events talking place in- and out-of-doors simultaneously. You can’t wander anywhere without hearing music. There’s blues, Cajun, klezmer, African, reggae, pop, rock, you name the genre they’ve got it. If you want the many phases of jazz and only jazz you can have that, too.

Between the dark clouds I drifted to the main Alcan Rio Tinto stage, which still bore a GM logo. [It was announced after my departure that TD (Toronto Dominion Bank) would replace GM as the new lead sponsor.] There appeared to be more youth bands than in years past. One particular band, Stageband La Decouverte, contained players so young—how young were they?—they were so young that the girls appeared to be not yet into training bras, and the boys looked like after they played they were going back to complete the signs on their tree houses, “No Girls Allowed.” But they read those stock charts down, let me tell you. Some solos may have been written out for them, but others were not. They swung hard and enthusiastically.

 Miles from India . . . to Montreal

                           Miles from India . . . to Montreal

The indoor, i.e., ticketed, concerts showed off the festive side of the 30th Anny. This weekend Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck were just two of the headliners. (After his concert Bennett was treated to a visit to Pizzadelic with Bourne.) Brubeck played two Canadian concerts despite his son Michael’s death. “I just had to do it for you guys,” he told Menard in a teary moment. Both the Bennett and Brubeck were sellouts in the largest venue, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

As was a concert featuring Al Jarreau with vocalist Molly Johnson as his opener. Johnson does cutesy patter followed by mellower songs, which were pleasant enough. I quickly tired of the patter and the songs went nowhere, for more than an hour. I found out later from some of her Toronto neighbors that she does that same repertoire ad nauseum. Jarreau was not much better. He did his shtick. Now Jarreau shtick is better than a whole lot of others, but shtick it was nonetheless. The packed house dug it; I left early to catch Branford Marsalis next door.

The second largest venue, Theatre Maisonneuve, was home to Marsalis’s quartet featuring Joey Calderazzo on keys. Refreshing straight ahead hard blowing bebop extensions is what this band is all about. Powerful doesn’t cover the topic. Branford announced the mostly unfamiliar music save Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Even those “Rhythm” changes took on new meaning this night. The sold out house was rapt and attentive and knew when to cheer and applaud loudly. It is so heartwarming to see that. It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to FIJM.

Earlier in Maisonneuve was the bus and truck version of Bob Belden’s brilliant and unique conception Miles from India. Some of the personnel on this tour were Nicholas Payton, trumpet, Bill Evans and JJA alto sax winner Rudresh Mahanthappa, saxes, Pete Cosey, guitar, Robert Irving III, keys, drummers Lenny White, Ndugu Chancler and Vince Wilburn plus six Indian musicians, including Badal Roy, on various percussion, sitar and mandolin.

Nicholas Payton

                  Nicholas Payton (Kris King Photography)

The CD does not do justice to Belden’s creation. The Indian musicians are spread out center stage with the western instrumentalists at the edges. The drummers are splayed out in the rear. It is a feast for all the senses as you can feel every pulse. The selections are from Kind of Blue, ESP, Bitches Brew and later electric Miles, all East Indian inflected with ample space for percussive abstracts. This was another “hot ticket” concert with the attendees on their feet clapping rhythmically and screaming for encores.

This was my favorite concert of the weekend.

[An aside here: both the very beautiful and acoustically piquant Wilfred-Pelletier and Theatre Maisonneuve have no center aisle. Each row contains some 30 seats. It appears to me that if you’re in the middle, which I was, you have serious problems in an emergency of any kind. I wasn’t the only one who noticed.]

In other highlights, saxophonist Sadao Watanabe made a rare Western appearance with an all-Japanese band. Watanabe, an early pop-jazz fusion artist, played a set of familiar-sounding things perfectly performed as his is wont. As I had just arrived after a miserably long and wet drive north from N.Y.C., I fell out early.

Guitars were billed as the featured events for the third year. There was a guitar exhibit and many guitarists played. I caught Frank Vignola doing a short string trio—rhythm guitar and bass—set of Django Reinhardt-flavored tunes, as well as a more traditional trio led by Canadian Sylvain Provost. Nice contrast there as Vignola was hot and fleetingly virtuosic, Provost more laid back.

But for me it was saxophones. Lee Konitz played a set of tunes with an Israeli group called Minsarah. Straight out of the book of his old boss LennieTristano, the alto saxist played pure improvs. As Phil Woods said, “You can’t steal a Lee Konitz lick because he hasn’t got any,” meaning he never repeats anything. The acoustic hall Gesu, which is in the basement of a church, is a perfect venue for Konitz. At one point he put a rag in the bell of his horn as a mute. Gesu is an intimate space where you get to know the players real fast. It’s become my favorite.

In addition to Marsalis and Konitz, the pairing of Joshua Redman and Joe Lovano was everything you’d expect. Taking pages from historic tenor duels, the reports from the scalped ticket Gesu was that they blew a hole in the bell tower with “Blues Up ‘n’ Down,” then encored with “Body and Soul.” Talk about fire and ice. Chilean reporter Pepe Hosiasson noted that though he was exhausted from his long flight he would not give up his seat. “I fell into bed a very happy man,” he said the next day.

In the new Festival Headquarters there is a nightclub which replaced Spectrum, the converted movie theatre that was lost to the wreckers ball. Dubbed Astral, it was there I saw a local ten-piece band with the Franglish title, Le Large Ensemble. Its instrumentation includes a couple of drummers/percussionists, guitarists and a frontline of saxes and trumpet re-imagining music of various styles and composers including Miles Davis.

Speaking of clubs, a highlight of my visits to Montreal, fest or no, is always a visit to Upstairs. Slightly off the beaten path this small venue enjoys crowds that are unusually enthusiastic and knowledgeable. (And the Chilean chef is killing.) This time it was Sheila Jordan, with whom I shared a birthday celebration this past November at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center. She turned 80; me 70. Ms. Jordan, who loves to say that she loved Charlie Parker so much she married his piano player (first name Duke), did a wonderful creatively improvised set of scat and vocalese. She was accompanied by the local Jeff Johnston Trio, which kept up with her every nuance. Not easy to do.

If it sounds like I was kept busy during my abbreviated stay at FIJM, mix in dinner with cousins and some hang time on the one sunny day and you’ve got it about right. But I miss that the pressroom was no longer in the hotel where the musicians stay. There I could slap more palms, grab some greeting hugs and exchange road war stories. For me that’s an important part of what jazz life is about.

By the way, you need your passport to get in and out of Canada; drivers’ license notwithstanding.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

July 15, 2009 · 0 comments


The Little Giant Plays in East Harlem

Tomas Peña is a regular contributor to, and twenty of his interviews have been featured on the site. (See the complete list here.) His special area of focus is Latin jazz, an interest which led him to check out Chembo Corniel's recent appearance in East Harlem. Peña's report is below. T.G.

Chembo Corniel and Chaworo kicked off the first in a series of concerts that pay tribute to the masters of Latin Jazz, past and present at Creole Restaurant and Music Supper Club in the heart of New York’s East Harlem.

 Chembo Corniel

According to Kevin Walters, the Managing Director and the driving force behind the Latin Jazz Legacy Series, which runs July through August, Chembo was one of the first artists to perform at Creole when the venue opened it’s doors 4 ½ years ago. On a more personal note, Mr. Walters should be commended for giving Latin Jazz and the artists who create it, a platform and an opportunity to showcase their talents in such a congenial atmosphere.

Chembo was also on hand to celebrate the release of Things I Wanted to Do, his third and in this writer’s opinion, most ambitious recording to date. Prior to the show, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chembo about the making of the album, which features his working group and sixteen invited guests, including Dave Samuels, Jimmy Bosch, David Oquendo, Ruben Rodriguez, John Di Martino and many others. I asked Chembo how he was able to assemble such a prestigious line up of invited guests, to which he simply replied: “They are all my buddies!”

With time running short I asked him about the inclusion of a soulful accordion on the tune, “Swing Street” (played by Ludovic Beier) and an electric guitar solo that is reminiscent of Santana on the title track. “I listened to a lot of rock when I was growing up,” said Chembo. “As for the accordion, I had a French accordionist sit in with the group and lo and behold, it worked!”

As always, Chembo—aka “The Little Giant””—makes it a point to surround himself with musicians of the highest caliber and this evening was no exception. On hand were saxophonist, Ivan Renta, pianist Elio Villafranca, bassist, Carlos DeRosa and drummer, Vince Cherico. For the most part the repertoire consisted of tunes from Things I Wanted to Do; however, the group also performed material from Chembo’s past recordings (The Rest of Your Life, Portraits in Rhythm). Standout moments included the groups rendition of Marty Sheller’s “The Sultan,” Hector Martignon’s “September Cha,” Emiliano Salvador’s “Puerto Padre” and “The New Arrival,” a tune that has become synonymous with the late, great pianist, Hilton Ruiz.

In all, it was a terriffic evening and a precursor of things to come. Stay tuned for upcoming appearances by Steven Kroon Quartet (7/17 and 7/18), The Latin Jazz All-Stars (8/7 & 8/8), A Tribute to Ray Barretto (8/21 and 8/22) and Dr. Mambo Experience and Ensemble (8/28 and 8/29).

This blog entry posted by Tomas Peña

July 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Hentoff on Jazz: A Different Kind of Jazz Outreach Program

In a recent contribution to this column, Nat Hentoff looked at the use of jazz in therapeutic settings. Members of the jazz community often talk about the need for outreach programs, but here is one kind that is different from the rest, yet no less deserving of emulation. Hentoff continues the story below. T.G.

There are around 5.2 million Alzheimer's patients in America, and there will be 16 million by mid-century, with a million new cases every year, according to the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

I hope doctors and caregivers will follow the example of healing jazz Marlina Teich offers patients in the San Francisco area with her Jazzheimers combo, which I described in my column for last month, "The Healing Touch."

 Marlina Teich

Marlina is a singer and guitarist who has taught music at San Quentin State Prison and spent a year touring California's prisons with a female jazz band, performing and jamming with inmates. Obviously, she has no cure for Alzheimer's, but she and the Jazzheimers have an energizing effect on their convalescent listeners, as her husband, Mark, describes.

"There was a gentleman sitting in front of the PA speaker with his head down, looking completely oblivious to what was going on. He began to slowly and painfully look up and rise from his seat. I thought he might be leaving because the music may have been too loud for him.

"He slowly shuffled to the middle of the floor and began dancing with a woman who had been dancing along to all the songs. She took his hand and his face broke into a huge smile. They danced the rest of that song."

Marlina says she hopes to make it easier for audiences to get involved. "I have been calling around to get a wireless microphone they can pass around amongst themselves. Some really like using the one I have, but this will make direct involvement possible – like from a particular patient who has some of Frank Sinatra's phrasing and whose recall of lyrics is quite good."

"It's the music they enjoyed when their memories were intact," says Robert Sarison of the Irene Swindells Alzheimer's Residential Care Center in San Francisco, one of the facilities the Jazzheimers visit, to explain why music therapy is so important for his patients. "It stimulates brain functioning, allowing pleasant and familiar memories to surface – resulting in a state of awareness and pleasure. Also, music is vibrations, and it affects neurobiological pathways. When Marlina brings her band in, I observe more alertness, open eyes, and toes start tapping. Many sing along as well."

The revival of the life force that Marlina's Jazzheimers bring to these patients – along with my research on the Louis Armstrong Department of Music Therapy at New York's Beth Israel Hospital – has drawn me to a remarkable and continually illuminating book, which lifts my spirits about the widely ranging, penetrating possibilities of music as a regenerating force.

Healing Songs, published by the Duke University Press, is by Ted Gioia,'s founder and chief orchestrator. One of Ted's descriptions of how music has helped "unlock the mystery of the body's rhythm," especially reached me—I recently had a cataract operation—with this surprise.

"Opthalmologists use ultrasonic waves to break up a cataract and restore eyesight—a technique, it's worth noting, was invented by musician-surgeon Charles Kelman, who has performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton." For this columnist, who is illiterate in the sciences, Ted writes so clearly that even I can get inside these inventions.

Becoming increasingly curious to actually hear the music Marlina and the Jazzheimers bring to their patients, I asked for an advance copy of the Marlina Teich Band's forthcoming CD for Friscansanto Productions, "My Love Waits There," which will soon be available at Marlina's website and To find out the release date and, if you like, to financially support the Jazzheimers' soul work, you can contact the band at 415-820-1595.

I have already played her CD several times. The warmly sensuous flow of music she sends forth—with alto and tenor saxophonist Jules Broussard, pianist Art Khu, bassist Eugene Warren and drummer Russ Gold—moves me into a groove I hate to leave when I go back to my day job, detailing the growing number of ways President Barack Obama has continued the Bush-Cheney administration's eviscerations of our individual liberties under the Constitution.

Marlina told me how the Jazzheimers started. "In 1983 I performed at a convalescent hospital that was particularly smelly and run-down. After the show, the patients began following me out the door and down the staircase. This was both scary and exhilarating.

"I asked the director what the diagnosis was for these people. He said they had Alzheimer's Disease. When I saw how the music touched them, it touched something in me. I wanted to honor their experience of living long lives. I felt this gave them hope and enjoyment."

Marlina, in more than one way, your music has also touched me—revivifying, as jazz does, my belief in the power of unfettered humanity.

I can hear Louis Armstrong singing and playing with the Jazzheimers.

This blog entry posted by Nat Hentoff

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Meeting Big Joe Turner (Part 1)

Walter Kolosky, who recently contributed an article on Dexter Gordon in this column, shares below a memorable encounter with Big Joe Turner. This is the first installment of a two-part article. (For part two of this article click here.) T.G.

In the winter of 1980 I witnessed one of the most formative musical performances I would ever see. It taught me that music, and art for that matter, can transcend life’s station and circumstances.

Big Joe Turner

My best friend Chris and I decided to visit our mutual pal Buck Sutter in New York City. Buck was a great guitarist and college buddy of mine who had wasted his time trying to teach me to play some decent guitar. He also gamely attempted to help my pal Chris with his playing. Despite Buck’s valiant efforts, Chris and I never went on to jazz or blues fame and fortune. We didn’t even go on stage. We were destined to be listeners.

Buck had promised to be our musical guide for the weekend, so we decided not to plan ahead.

Chris and I were taken aback when we arrived at Buck’s family’s home. It was the first time we had ever visited him. His home was the whole floor of some building on 5th Avenue. The walls were covered with what appeared to be museum-quality artwork that was lit indirectly from underneath by upside down music stand lights. To this day, that is the only private home I have ever been to that had lighted artwork.

Buck, who we now knew was idly rich, was on the couch playing a small acoustic guitar. His financial wealth was confirmed when he told us that he was planning to backpack through Spain in the next year to learn flamenco guitar. Apparently young guitar players live like gypsies traveling through Spain, staying at hostels at night and learning flamenco by running into other players doing the same during the days. He told us that a lot of these flamenco guys were fanatics going to all extremes to live the life. In particular I remember him telling us that some musicians would even melt metal and put it behind their fingernails to strengthen them for playing. He also explained to us that the guitar he was playing was a two-thirds size model so that he could comfortably strap it to his back for those long days hitchhiking in Spain. Since Chris and I were planning to spend our upcoming summer moving furniture for North American Van Lines, Buck’s story of his Spanish adventure thrilled and depressed us at the same time.

Buck had looked at the newspaper before we arrived and determined he wanted us to go to two shows that night. The Latin jazz conga star Poncho Sanchez was playing at a jazz loft at midnight. But first Buck wanted to start the night by catching a set from Big Joe Turner at Tramps nightclub.

Chris and I were familiar with Big Joe. Chris knew him from his blues recordings. Turner had many nicknames. The “Kansas City Shouter” was our favorite. His style was to holler out his lyrics in the Kansas City style of some blues singers. I knew that Big Joe had been a very fine jazz singer as well. I seemed to remember that he even did a stint with Count Basie’s Big Band at one time. In the ‘50s he had some big pop hits such as “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and my favorite, “Flip, Flop and Fly.” Both Chris and I were surprised Buck suggested seeing Big Joe because, quite frankly, we thought Big Joe was long ago dead.

We went to the first set. I was a young man and this was my first experience being in a nightclub that had a minimum food order. So in addition to the money we paid for the ticket, we had to spend another four dollars on something to eat, whether we ate or not. That was a lot of money to me back then. I remember trying my first quiche at that place because the other three items on the menu were even less appealing.

A jazz band, which later turned out to be Turner’s backing band, opened the show. They were very good. I would have been happy just listening to these cats play. But the band did seem to play a long time and I knew there were two sets scheduled that evening. Chris, Buck and I began to wonder if Big Joe was late for the show.

To us it was not a sure thing that Big Joe would show-up. We knew he was a big fat old guy who apparently drank a lot. I guess that is why we assumed he was dead. Perhaps he dropped dead of a heart attack on his way to the first set. Who knew?

Finally, it came time for Big Joe to make his appearance. The emcee took the microphone and told us a little history about Big Joe and asked us to welcome him to the stage. The enthusiastic audience responded with very strong applause. Some time passed. We didn’t see Joe yet. Finally, out of the corner of my eye, there he was, Big Joe Turner. He had been sitting in the crowd at a table only about 10 feet away from us. I had noticed this lonely guy sitting all by himself several times while I had been picking at my quiche. He had been sitting there drinking shots with a big blank stare on his face. I had no idea it was the legendary Big Joe Turner!

He was a very large, but extremely frail man, who had to use one of those four-legged walkers to make his way to the stage. We were not the only ones in that crowd who were shocked. Big Joe looked like death warmed over. His gait was so slow that it appeared he would never make it to the stage. The crowd continued its applause, but it was difficult to sustain it through Big Joe’s 50-foot death march.

I remember instantly feeling very uncomfortable. That feeling turned to guilt within a minute. It was apparent that Turner was a broken-down old man who had to sing for his supper. I know I wasn’t the only one in the crowd that night who felt in some way we were part of the exploitation of poor Joe Turner. We all had just come out for a good time. But it appeared we were gathered to watch Big Joe’s last few days on earth instead. . . .

To be continued. This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky. For part two of this article click here.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments


A 1959 Jazz Playlist

As regular site visitors know, we occasionally feature a batch of track reviews in this column—highlighting a few of the more than 5,000 jazz performances covered by’s crack team of more than fifty critics and guest reviewers.

Today we focus on tracks recorded in 1959.

1959 has come to be viewed by many as the peak year in a jazz golden age, due both to the sheer number of classic albums recorded during that 12 month stretch, and the creative ferment on the scene. Modal jazz and free jazz were literally brand new, while hard bop, soul jazz, Third Stream and other styles were still in their peak years. New releases were constantly breaking new ground, and if you didn’t pay attention to the latest music, you were out-of-date within a few months.

We can’t cover the full range of jazz from 1959 in a short playlist—Fernando Ortiz de Urbina tells me that Downbeat received 500 albums to review from 65 labels in that year. But the list below, in chronological order, covers a least one session from each month, and highlights both familiar tracks and some you may not have heard before.

Each title is linked to a review and a link for (legal) downloading.

Happy listening!

 Horace Silver

Horace Silver: “Cookin’ at the Continental”
Recorded: January 31, 1959
Reviewed by Bill Kirchner

 Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley: “Stars Fell on Alabama”
Recorded: February 3, 1959
Reviewed by Darren Mueller

 Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz: “Subconscious-Lee”
Recorded: February 24, 1959
Reviewed by Eric Novod

 Terry Gibbs

Terry Gibbs Dream Band: “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”
Recorded: March 17, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Miles Davis

Miles Davis: “All Blues”
Recorded: April 22, 1959
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus: “Better Git It In Your Soul”
Recorded: May 5, 1959 Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman: “Lonely Woman”
Recorded: May 22, 1959
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Count Basie

Count Basie: “Counter Block”
Recorded: May 31, 1959
Reviewed by Peter Erskine

 Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk: “Jackie-ing”
Recorded: June 4, 1959
Reviewed by Kenny Berger

 Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck: “Take Five”
Recorded: July 1, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Jimmy Giuffre

Jimmy Giuffre: "The Easy Way”
Recorded: August 7, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Horace Silver

Horace Silver: "Peace”
Recorded: August 29, 1959
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Shelly Manne

Shelly Manne & His Men: “Summertime”
Recorded: September 22, 1959
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 The Jazz Makers

The Jazz Makers: “The Real Funky Blues”
Recorded: September 23, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Chet Baker

Chet Baker: “Lady Bird”
Recorded: September 25, 1959
Reviewed by Matt Leskovic

 Jimmy Witherspoon

Jimmy Witherspoon: “'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do”
Recorded: October 2, 1959
Reviewed by Richard Abowitz

 Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson: “Blues for Big Scotia”
Recorded: November 5, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 Miles Davis

Miles Davis: “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)”
Recorded: November 20, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

 John Coltrane

John Coltrane: “Naima”
Recorded: December 2, 1959
Reviewed by Steve Greenlee

 Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: “Dance of the Infidels”
Recorded: December 18, 1959
Reviewed by Eric Novod

 Bill Evans

Bill Evans: “Spring is Here”
Recorded: December 28, 1959
Reviewed by Marcus Singletary

George Russell

George Russell: “Chromatic Universe (Parts 1, 2 and 3)”
Recorded: December 29, 1959
Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments


New York's Jazz Festival Comes Back to Life!

Here is a glimmer of good news—actually a full sunburst of it, to be honest. New York (and other cities) will enjoy a big summer festival, and the man who made it happen, is the fellow who practically invented the concept. See the details below in a report from’s arnold jay smith. T.G.

Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein has done it again. The founder and producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals has partnered with Carefusion, a soon-to-be-publicly traded health technology corporation, to present jazz festivals around the world. The announcement was made at City Winery (more about that later) before a gaggle of New York press cognoscenti, including a large contingent from Jazz at Lincoln Center. (You may draw your own conclusions from that.)

                  George Wein: The Real Cat with 9 Lives
                          Artwork by Suzanne Cerny

A beaming Wein introduced Carefusion C.E.O. David Schlotterbeck who announced that they wished to expand their public exposure and “what better way to do that than to partner with George Wein and his festivals.” The banner will reflect the new partnership. Beginning in Newport this year, the Wein/Carefusion Jazz Festivals will include Chicago, Monterey, Paris and Manley (Sydney) Australia. Only Newport and New York events will be produced by Wein. The festivals are scheduled for 2009, except for New York, which will take place in June 2010. There is a one-year contract with options for more.

Carefusion will spinoff from the parent Cardinal Health in a presumed I.P.O. Timetable TBA. According to Schlotterbeck the company’s main goal is to eliminate and prevent in-hospital accidents and germ warfare, i.e., patients getting sicker from human negligence and being attacked by unsanitary conditions.

“Music is a healer,” he said. “It has a way of relaxing patients. We plan on broadcasting selected jazz festival music into hospitals."

The press conference was held fittingly at City Winery, the new Michael Dorf-operated restaurant and jazz club in SoHo. Fittingly, because Wein is an oenephile (see Wein’s OctoJAZZarian profile here). According to Dorf—founder of the Knitting Factory—“we actually produce wine here. And now we are going to bring jazz to City Winery on a seven-day basis.” David Sanborn was mentioned.

The news of the demise of New York City’s June jazz festival as sponsored by a Japanese stereo equipment manufacturer hit hard. Not only were the jazz venues blindsided but so to the ancillaries, such as restaurants, hotels, gift shops and the like. Those suddenly un-sponsored events hit other cities as hard, perhaps harder as there may have been no other jazz options. The Carefusion infusion comes as a welcome respite in these troubled times. One is reminded of the 1929 stock market crash when J.P. Morgan stepped up to the plate. This jazz optimist envisions better and continued results.

This may not be Fios, but this is BIG.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

July 08, 2009 · 0 comments


Ugly News on the Jazz Audience

A few days ago, the National Endowment for the Arts published the summary findings of its study on arts participation in the United States. The media has not given much publicity to this report, but for anyone concerned about the state of the arts in America, the results are a warning sign.

And the findings about the jazz audience in the United States are especially troubling.

 NEA survey

Let me share three tables from the survey. The first looks at the average age of attendees at cultural events. The numbers show that the audience for all types of activities is aging, but the change in the jazz audience is so drastic, that one can scarcely believe what the numbers say. According to the survey, the average age of a jazz event attendee in 1982 was 29, but in 2008 the average age was 46. As hard as it is to believe, the age of the typical jazz fan has increased by seventeen years in just two-and-a-half decades.

The most likely—indeed the only plausible—explanation for these numbers is that very few new fans have discovered jazz since the 1980s. The old fans continue to follow the music, but teenagers and twenty-somethings have very little interest in jazz.

 NEA survey

A second chart supports this view. It looks at cultural event attendance for people between the ages of 18 and 24. Except for art museums, all other categories show a decline, but the drop in jazz attendance is enormous—a 58% shrinkage since 1982. The conclusion is indisputable. Jazz has lost most of its younger audience.

This is all the more unsettling, when one considers how much jazz education has expanded during the last two decades. When I was in college, jazz studies hardly existed. African-American music of all sorts was kept out of the curriculum. I still recall the chilly response I received when I played Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" for my freshman piano audition. (The requirement was to play a movement from a Beethoven sonata, or something of the equivalent level of difficulty.) Yet jazz was very popular with the students, even if it rarely showed up in a classroom. Nowadays, jazz is accepted at virtually every institution of higher learning. Yet, judging by the NEA study, the students don't have the same level of interest as they did back when it was excluded.

I recently shared in this column my view that jazz was in a state of crisis. Certainly the NEA study only confirms the worst possible interpretation of recent events. Many of us would like to believe that the current collapse in many long-standing jazz institutions is simply a temporary situation, driven by the overall economic malaise. The NEA study suggests that a more chronic problem exists, and that even a reversal in employment figures and home prices won't be enough to prop up the dwindling jazz audience.

 NEA survey

If there is one positive sign from the NEA study, it comes from the figures on the online audience for music. Close to fifty million Americans have some exposure to music via the Internet each week.

This could be a pathway toward expanding the audience for jazz and other performance genres. But the current attitude in the music business, which tends to view the web as the enemy, is not a promising foundation for building on this platform. For the time being, the industry is using every tool at its disposal—litigation, lobbying, technology, bullying—to slow down the growth of a web-based audience.

Maybe if they play hardball long enough, they will force people to give up on MP3 files and go back to the jazz clubs. But the evidence of this study suggests otherwise.

Only the summary findings of the NEA study have been made public so far. It will be interesting to see what the full results will show.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

July 07, 2009 · 1 comment


Nurturing Jazz in a Tough Town

Willard Jenkins continues his investigations of successful grassroots jazz programs around the United States. In previous installments, he looked at Seattle’s Earshot Jazz and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh. Now he talks to Tom Guralnick who is working to keep jazz alive in the Southwest. T.G.

Back in the early 90s your correspondent was part of a team effort between the New England Foundation for the Arts and the sadly-defunct National Jazz Service Organization as the architects behind the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest National Jazz Network. That effort, seeded by what at that time was an unprecedented (for jazz) $3.4M allocation, brought together seemingly disparate jazz presenting organizations ranging from old warhorses like Jazzmobile to community spaces like Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland, to organizations which had no venue of their own but were doing significant work, like the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, to organizations in seemingly unlikely places. One such organization was Outpost Productions, based in Albuquerque. NM. The founder and director of Outpost, avant garde (his characterization) saxophonist-composer Tom Guralnick soldiers on. Like many do-it-yourselfers in this business of presenting serious music, Guralnick came into it a bit by happenstance.

How did you get started as a presenter?


I didn’t start Outpost until 1986. First I ran the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, that’s how I got into presenting and got into the non-profit presenting world. It was a collective of musicians and they were kind of de-collectivizing as collectives do—all in good spirits—but they were all going in different directions. They weren’t really playing together as much anymore, they had $1000 in the bank and they said ‘why don’t you produce some concerts.’ And at that point I got bitten by the bug and started writing grants and turned it into a presenting organization and moved it to Albuquerque. It was [originally] based in Santa Fe.

How did your work with the New Mexico Jazz Workshop evolve into Outpost?

I left for a few years in ’80-81 to pursue my own music; my whole reason for doing [New Mexico Jazz Workshop] was as a musician/presenter like so many of us are, like Marty Ashby, Randall Kline, Tim Jackson—who else would be so foolish [laughs]? I really wanted to pursue my own music so I left New Mexico and I was studying in Boston, living at my folks’ house. I put out a solo record at that point and I was touring a little bit and then I decided to get a Masters degree at Wesleyan in World Music and do my own stuff. . . . And when I came back to Albuquerque it was to finish up my masters thesis.

I thought I was just gonna be here for 6 months but I literally drove across the border and felt that I had come home and decided to make this my base of operations. I decided I would start an organization that had its own performance space which would be kind of the vision, like many of the small performance spaces I had been to in Europe—where you could have an audience of 40-100 people and it felt very good. I decided to do a non-profit that was an intimate space, and the idea was to present a wide variety of music, more focused on experimental music and world music; but once I got going with it I felt that really my roots and the basis of what I was doing was in the extended jazz world. So jazz very quickly became a part of what we would do at the space. It was very much a kind of artist-run, Albuquerque-style loft.

New Mexico Jazz Festival

Was Outpost pretty much a one-man operation at the start?

It was at the beginning. I had two friends on the board of directors who were very happy to let me get things going and they did all the legal work that needed to be done and we gradually built to a [full] board and a small staff.

Describe those first few years of Outpost.

The first couple of years I actually didn’t have the space yet so I did performances in bookstores, larger theaters. I cooperated with some organizations in town that had some funding and put together world music shows like Los Pleneros De La 21, Indian music with T Viswanathan, a South Indian musician who was a teacher of mine at Wesleyan. I was doing African music, then I did a show with Johnny Shines, Pops Staples and John Hammond. . . . The idea was to do a world music blend, and then I was doing more experimental music in bookstores, which also included my own music and people like Christian Marclay, Jane Ira Bloom. . . and smaller shows along those lines for a couple of years.

Outpost originally operated out of a storefront.

I sold my house and bought the performance space myself and lived in the apartment upstairs and opened the storefront as a performance space. At that point it was a one-man show—selling tickets, running sound, building the stage. . . .

How did you build Outpost into an actual organization?

I had done a lot of grant writing with the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, really at the beginning of grant writing. When I started applying for grants at the NEA and the New Mexico Arts Division, our cohorts were the very young Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Santa Fe Opera. . . so all the organizations were young and the NEA was only four years old [1976]. So I was kind of at the beginning of all that and I just transferred all the things I had learned completely on my own, as most of us in the field then did things, by just learning how to do it. So I had some skills in that direction and I applied for stuff and I think it was about ’93 when I heard about the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest possibilities which radically changed what I thought we could do. At that point presenting nationally-touring jazz acts and actually booking them became a possibility. So that first year we presented Steve Lacy, Roscoe Mitchell, Jeanne Lee, and many others.

Inclusion in the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest National Jazz Network apparently only became an exciting turn for the organization.

Yeah, and almost resulted in the failure of the organization [laughs]. I will never forget the first [Network] meeting that I attended in Chicago when Edsel Matthews [the late director of Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland] said “sounds like a lotta money. . . until you have it”—and I couldn’t believe somebody was saying that [laughs]! We had a $90K budget and we were receiving about $30K from the program that first year. I immediately thought ‘wow, now I’m rich, I can do all these things. . . .’ I went through that money so quickly! When you do concerts in a small space it’s very easy if you pay a lot of money to lose a lot of money fast, especially if the music is challenging. So it was a quick learning experience that Edsel was right.

In 2000 we moved into a 150 seat venue that is about three times the size of the storefront. The performance space itself is about 2500 square feet; we seat 150 in comfortable chairs. It’s surrounded by art gallery walls so we always have a visual arts exhibit. It’s actually set up a lot like the storefront only quite a bit bigger. There are also two offices in the front, an office in the back, and an actual green room, a little refreshment area. . . .

Did you have to physically transform the space?

It used to be an old sheet music store and before we came it was an aikido studio, so it was completely empty. We had to build the stage, build up the offices, the ramps, but there wasn’t a lot of demolition to do.

Does Outpost own this space?

The space is owned privately by me and two partners, to be owned eventually by Outpost, [which] leases at a good rate. . . . We do it for the music.

How has the organizational structure of Outpost evolved?

The staff has grown modestly. I have one person working full-time and two other people working part-time. We also have a lot of people we contract with to teach classes and do sound. We have an ongoing, extensive education program three days a week; David Parlatto is the head of that. We have student small jazz ensemble classes 3-days a week in beginning, intermediate, and advanced level over 30 weeks a year. In the evenings we have adult jazz ensemble classes, four different ensembles.

How do you fund these education activities?

There are local foundations that are very interested in funding it, the city gives us some money, and from all our other funding sources a part of it goes to that. We also do field trips to the space where we have kids come to our performances, and we have an African drumming class. There are many people who are interested in funding those educational activities.

Do your education and concert activities intersect?

For instance the [string band] Carolina Chocolate Drops were here and they played a Sunday night concert and a Monday morning kids’ show. From time to time we’ve had the more advanced youth ensemble open up for our Thursday night series; they’ve opened up for Cindy Blackman, Frank Morgan. We also have youth performance nights, teen performance nights we call Roust the House and we pay the kids to perform.

You mentioned the support you get from community foundations to support your education program; at what point do you feel that Outpost really had a breakthrough in your community?

Its coming [laughs], I know it’s coming. . . . I don’t know if it happened at a particular point, we still have a ways to go in terms of the community really knowing about us. I still think there are people who don’t know about us, which is amazing. At another level many people see us a real institution and something of real value in the community. After the Lila Wallace program we got into the Doris Duke Foundation JazzNet, and after that their mid-size presenting organization initiative. The people who know about us and love us are totally dedicated to the organization and there is a general awareness and respect but there’s still room for developing new audiences and new awareness of us, which we try in every way.

Around 2000 we presented Dave Brubeck which was the first really big jazz concert that we presented and it was a huge success. I view Brubeck as kind of a funder because his fee is so reasonable compared to what he can draw and it becomes a winning situation for every presenter and he has to know that, and I think it’s really admirable. I guess he’s in a position where he can do that, but he also chooses to do it. . . .

So not only having a successful presentation of a large concert but we also feel that we’ve become the main jazz presenter of touring jazz here in New Mexico and we feel that’s part of our mission. By doing these bigger concerts we’ll become better known in the community because in our small space there are people who aren’t going to come to that kind of space, which is non-smoking and not a place to eat and not a club. . . . And there are people who won’t come to what they think of as kind of a funky place, even though it’s quite elegant and nice. So doing larger concerts we hope will raise our profile in the community.

We do them at Popejoy Hall, the Kimo Theatre, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and we’ve also started to present concerts in Santa Fe at the Lensic, we have a great partnership with them. We’re also going into the fourth year of the New Mexico Jazz Festival, which is another high profile event presenting people like Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, McCoy Tyner. . . really top names in jazz and that’s something we’ve done for the last four years as well. It’s a partnership with the Lensic and with Bumblebee Bob Weil’s Santa Fe Jazz Foundation.

So between Albuquerque and Santa Fe you actually operate out of about five spaces?

Yeah, and with this festival we’ve presented at the Civic Center in Albuquerque, at the Outpost, at the Civic Plaza (free concerts), at the Kimo, the Lensic, at the plaza in Santa Fe. . . . The principle of it is to be at least a bi-city festival with the potential to go beyond there if we can.

What’s your typical presenting season?

We present from October to December, March to May, and then in the summer we do a local [Thursday] jazz series plus the New Mexico Jazz Festival. We feel it’s really important to present resident artists so that Thursday night series is dedicated to them. The festival is the last two weeks of July.

The festival is an obvious example of the kinds of partnerships you’ve been able to develop.

Partnerships have been really important to me since I got into this business. I’m involved in the Western Jazz Presenters Network, in the New Mexico Presenters Alliance, and forming partnerships wherever I can. When Bruce Dunlap ran the Santa Fe Jazz and International Music Festival – the precursor to the New Mexico Jazz Festival—I would partner with him constantly, and lately I’ve been partnering a lot with Lee Berk’s Friends of Santa Fe Jazz organization—when I present someone here (Albuquerque) he presents them [in Santa Fe] in a block booking type situation. I’ve just done this from the beginning, I think it’s good for the musicians, it’s good for the presenters because we can make fees more affordable and the musicians get more gigs and they get more of a sense of New Mexico. . . and its fun. Part of this is nobody get’s rich doing it so we might as well have a good time and the camaraderie of partnerships is really important.

Albuquerque is a tough town, there’s a lot going on, but getting audiences out is difficult and in fact in the last few years we’ve really had a hard time drawing large audiences with these larger shows, despite the fact that we get great coverage and do publicity. Santa Fe is a smaller community but it’s a more centered community and there are more people who are ready and able to spend money and go out to concerts, and because there’s less going on its easier to draw a crowd. So this has been a challenge in Albuquerque. The Outpost concerts get more and more crowded and we’re filling the place more than we ever have, but the larger [Albuquerque] concerts are difficult to do.

How many larger concerts do you present a year?

Last year we did seven or eight; we present between 80-100 performances a year. What is happening in that room in terms of community makes me feel really good practically every night there’s a show here. I think as a presenter when I have some input into getting Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy together for a little tour and then seeing Lacy on the stage smiling in a way I’d never seen him smile before when he was watching and listening to Roswell play, seeing old friends with just this joy coming out of it, that was a really great feeling. And because I had some input in suggesting they tour together and out of that tour came that Monk record that was a great moment. The legends that have played here. . . Horace Tapscott showing up on my stage. . . and [musicians] you know wouldn’t play here if it weren’t for Outpost, it really feels great.

This blog entry posted by Willard Jenkins

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments


A Jazz Fest That Puts Jazz First

While many US jazz festivals are canceled or eliminate jazz from their program, European events thrive without diluting their offerings. Stuart Nicholson recently showed up at the Moers festival in Germany, where he was not the only jazz visitor from afar. He was joined by two big bands from New York (led by Darcy James Argue and Guillermo Klein respectively), a 17-piece ensemble from Brazil, an octet from Seattle and assorted combos from around the world. . . . all in a city with 1/20th the population of Pittsburgh! T.G.

Moers is a small town with a population of just under 120,000 situated in the Ruhr industrial region of Western Germany. It owes its place on the cultural map of Europe to its remarkable music festival that’s been held every Whitsun weekend since 1972. Originally a free jazz festival, today it presents a wide range of music, most of which flies past convenient pigeon holes. Some of it is jazz and some of it has characteristics in common with jazz, but all of it is adventurous. The whole attraction of Moers is its eclectic musical diversity, something that is masterminded by festival producer Reiner Michalke, who trawls the globe to create a program that is a triumph of the unexpected.

Eivør Pálsdóttir

                             Eivør Pálsdóttir

This is a festival where there’s no safe middle ground. Absent are the familiar faces that annually do the rounds of the festival circuit and in their place a roster of artists that seem specially selected to provoke an extreme emotional response of some kind or other. You never quite know what to expect, and the audiences, including a large chunk of 15 to 30 year-olds, were up for the musical challenge.

Hard to believe we’re in a credit crunch when a big band from Brazil and two from New York are flown in, each for an hour set. The air fares alone could have given Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a shot in the arm. Add to that an eight piece band from Seattle and six small groups from New York, plus two bands from Norway, one band from the Faroe Islands, one band from Iceland, a trio from Japan, a trio from South Korea, a trio from the Netherlands, a Malawian/French World Music ensemble from Paris plus three groups from Germany and you quickly realise the Moers programme is like no other. Then there’s sixteen small groups (including four flown in from Los Angeles) that appeared at the “Night Session @ Bollwerk 107,” a small late-night space that’s part of the festival programme. Taken together, it adds up to a fascinating snapshot of what is going on around the world today in jazz and improvised music.

Take Eivør Pálsdóttir, for example. She’s a 24 year-old vocalist who lives in the Faroe Isles, and is already a figurehead for the music scene there. The Faroe Islands are rich in Viking mythology and a folkloric history that goes back to Pagan times. “The Chain Dance,” for example, is a 1,000 verse ballad of Pagan origin passed down the generations, and every Faroe Islander seems to have learned a substantial chunk of it, not least Pálsdóttir’s parents. Hardly surprising, then, that she draws on this rich heritage to provide a powerful spine to her music, which is full of mystic folkloric imagery that moves in and out of the darkest parts of the human soul.

Taking simple melodies, she built them into gleaming temples of sound and climaxed them with a stunning falsetto that made every dog in the neighborhood sit bolt upright. A stunning Nordic beauty with long flowing hair, Pálsdóttir’s dress code evoked a Nordic Witch with her long, dark swirling dress and primitive jewellery. A number like “Lushka,” meaning listen, was a wonderful example of creating a memorable performance from very simple melodic materials. Her accompanists, drums, guitar and bass, were totally tuned-in to this powerful, haunting music from across the North Sea.

Bassist Mikael Blak, whose interesting lines gave the band its surging momentum, remained near the back of the stage and, like one of Edgar Allen Poe’s ravens, barely moved, his brooding presence adding to the air of Pagan mystery this remarkable band evoked. After the powerful climax that completed her set, you almost expected Pálsdóttir to be transported from the stage on a chariot drawn by cats, just like the Nordic witch Diana in Norse folklore.

Keyboard player Stale Storlokken is equally given to mystery and hauntingly dark sounds as a member of Supersilent, one of Norway’s music successful contemporary jazz groups. With his band Elephant 9 he revealed a wholly different side to musical persona with a good, old fashioned Hammond B3 trio. But Storlokken is not in the Jimmy Smith tradition, more from a school of players influenced by John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood.

Storlokken and players such as Jeppe Tuxen with Denmark’s Ibrahim Electric are a mixture of rhythmic and musical influences and don’t rely on harmonic complexity or the earthiness of the blues, but more on melodic development over relatively static harmonies and rock influenced rhythms. In other words, the burden of complexity has been reversed from the Jimmy Smith tradition of intricate bebop oriented lines and simple, straight ahead rhythms to simple melodies, often using a pentatonic scale, and complex, rock and hip hop influenced rhythms.

No technical hurdle was set too high for the SpokFevro Orquestra from Brazil. This seventeen piece band began most pieces with a discursive solo from their leader Spok, guitarist Renato Bandeira or bassist Hélio Silva that led into orchestrations with fairly orthodox voicings and part writing that periodically exploded into stunning saxophone, trumpet or trombone solis that made your hair stand on end. Every note was perfectly articulated, every dynamic nuance meticulously observed in these breathtaking feats of Brazilian pizzazz. Solos passed by in a blurr of notes, no more so than when played by Spok himself on alto. One solo began with what might have been a fantasia on “Flight of Bumble Bee” that became “La Cucaracha” that became “Oodles of Noodles” that became “Contrasts” that became—well, I exaggerate but you get the picture. It was a breathless as a Rio carnival, so no wonder most of the audience was dancing by the end.

Saturday’s concerts began with the Wanja Slavin Sextett from Germany and for a moment it seemed as if he had elected to combine the most extreme elements of Arban Berg’s operas Lulu and Wozzcek. The effect on the audience was if it had been hit over the head with a giant rubber hammer. Idadet Ramadani knew how to make an entrance with a wonderful, extraordinary voice that made your ears whistle. Her opening passage gave way to a period of instrumental turbulence before the group—Slavin on sax, Ramadani voice with two guitars, bass and drums—created angular, episodic music that was as puzzling as it was fascinating.

Valgeir Siguroson’s band from Iceland had an unusual line-up, and like Slavin before them, combined voice with instruments, but opted for a more romantic route. Sigurósson was on keyboards and laptop, Sigrióur Sunna Reynisdottir was on accordion and keyboards and Rebekka Bryndis Björnsdottir was the vocalist who added some interesting tonal shading with her bassoon. This was one of those who-is-doing-what groups, with samples and ambient washes swimming through the music. It was music that sounded as if it came from the 21st century, so was a bit of a contrast to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, who followed.

MOPDTK play a kind of freebop, often time, no-changes with a simple head often inspired by Ornette Coleman, to establish key and tempo. Yet their set was curiously unfulfilling. The combination of often driving, straight-ahead rhythms with open forms is 50 years old and it’s difficult not to be boxed in by musical precedent with a trumpet/tenor front line. Certainly drummer Kevin Shea introduced rhythmic variety, but is this enough?

The solos were long and a celebration of virtuosity that often relied on effect to make their point. Trumpeter Peter Evans, who is establishing a formidable reputation in NYC, mixed in earlier styles of jazz and double breathing. There were accelerando passages, decelerando passages, saxophonist Jon Irabagon joined in with periods of abstraction that alternated between intense and less intense, and there were moments of humorous contrast. The crowd loved it.

The problem with freedom is that if you have too much of it and it ultimately becomes limiting. It became the lot of three old pros to show how it can be effectively managed and Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell—The Trio—revealed their secrets slowly. The answer, of course, is that less is more and the way their music quietly and artfully evolved was a delight. Small gestures became grand proclamations, each member responding to the eddy and flow of the music’s purpose with subtly nuanced arabesques and asides in a set that gradually grew and grew in stature.

Eivind Aarset is currently Europe’s most in-demand jazz guitarist, whose sonic legerdemain graces countless albums over the last two decades. A musical painter who uses electronic soundwashes, he is an expert at wringing otherworldly sounds from his guitar. But his alter ego is a bit of a rocker, and with the debut of his Sonic Codex Orchestra at the festival—in essence a double trio of guitar-bass-drums—he began his set with shimmering electronic tones colors while gradually, almost imperceptibly, the two drummers constructed a rhythmic framework for the music that grew and grew in intensity until Aarset reacted with stunning power chords that revealed the Jimmy Page trapped within. Absorbing stuff.

Sunday included a solo set by saxophonist Colin Stenson, who majored on bass saxophone. Fresh from a tour where he opened for the rock band The Nation, he must have driven his neighbours crazy perfecting a technique on bass sax where he simultaneously accompanies simple multiphonic melodies with an ostinato of rhythmic arpeggios in the lower reaches of the saxophone’s register. It was fascinating, but probably for all the wrong reasons. On the quieter passages he succeeded in sounding like an accordion with an annoying leak, while one robust, rhythmically forthright passage evoked a strong programmatic image of a wounded elephant slowly and painfully making his way to the elephant’s graveyard.

On balance, a solo saxophone concert can be as demanding for the audience as it is for the performer, yet there was no doubt the crowd loved it, illustrating how the mundane can be exotic when it is unfamiliar. About sixty years ago, Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts were climaxed by a battle of saxophonists that ended up with grandstanding honks and squeals. It drove the crowds crazy with delight but was panned by the critics. History does have a habit of repeating itself.

Sunday was graced by two elegant New York big bands, each quite different. Pianist Guillermo Klein Y Los Gauchos built a formidable reputation on the New York jazz underground by word of mouth for his performances a few years back. His festival set showed why. His impressive eleven piece band (Miguel Zenon, Chris Cheek and Bill McHenry on saxes, Ben Monder on guitar, Jeff Ballad on drums, Fernado Huergo on bass, Diego Urcola, Richard Nant and Taylor Haskins on trumpet and Sando Tomasi on trombone—who was joined from time to time by trumpeter Taylor Haskins doubling on valve trombone) interpreted Klein’s scores with audible glee and polished craftsmanship.

There was great clarity of purpose in Klein’s writing. His uncongested lines resulted in an organic flow of music that while making room for soloists, most notably Zenon, achieved great unity of purpose. Jeff Ballad, of Fly and Brad Mehldau’s Trio, revealed another side to his musical persona as a both composer and master of Latin rhythms. By the time the band reached their final climactic number, which was realized as much by writing as by interpretation, there seemed nowhere else to go but onwards and upwards, leaving little oxygen for anyone who followed. However, there was an afternoon break of 90 minutes before Darcy James Argue & Secret Society took the stage.

Their Moers concert was the last of three European dates for the eighteen piece big band and represented the first time they had played outside New York. Since their New York debut in May 2005, word-of-mouth, the Internet and latterly the press have created a buzz around Argue and on the strength of the Moers performance, it has been for good reason. Their concert was the highlight of the whole four day event, and it came complete with an encore and standing ovation. It sounded and felt as if an important voice in jazz had arrived.

In their performance of music from the band’s debut album Infernal Machines, such as “Red Eye” and “Obsidian Flow,” the importance of playing together and reaching an internal dynamic balance was crucial to realising the nuances and intricate part writing of Argue’s writing. As both composer and arranger Argue’s handling of structure and form was secure and his thematic material strong. Using ad-hoc song forms and often intriguing developmental passages, the soloists constructed their improvisations around the needs of the composition rather than launching out in pursuit of their own personal muse, finding a voice within the composition that did not alter its meaning. Those featured included Erica von Kleist on tenor ("Obsidian Flow")and James Hirschfield on trombone ("Habeas Corpus") while Ingrid Jensen’s elegant trumpet was assigned the longest solo of all on "Transit" and demonstrated imaginative use of the rising line.

Less inclined to the sweeping textures of Maria Schneider or the ingenious counterpoint of Bob Brookmeyer, he remains informed by both. He is not beyond absorbing influences from beyond jazz and passing them through his own creative prism as well as introducing subtle electronics in the form of looping. Like Schneider, he has found a very personal way of conducting and is precise, often leaning forward as if intent to draw the music out of each player personally. At 34, he seems close to defining a highly original approach to composition and arranging for the large ensemble. It’s no mean achievement, and his encore was well deserved.

The only way to go was in another direction and it was left to the award winning Malawian singer Rokia Traoré to wind-up Saturday night. This was World Music, and Traoré was simultaneously joyous and moving in a way few vocalists today can manage. Underpinned by Christophe Minck on bass and Emilano Turi on drums who constantly toyed with jazz references and allusions, they gave the music an edginess that was compelling. It was a memorable set, as World Music at its best always is.

The final day, Monday, and many of the audience from around the vast camp site where the festival is held were packing up their tents to leave. Among the artists on a shorter program was sOo-Jung Kae, a pianist from South Korea, who presented a set that was full of awkward dissonances, throbbing electronics and things that go bump in the night. Initially the music seemed to hold you at arms length, but a strong musical personality was at work shaping music that gradually revealed its own internal logic, creating its own unique space in the festival program.

The job of winding-up the 38th Moers Festival was given to Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, a quartet comprising Ribot on guitar, Shazad Ismally on bass, Ches Smith on drums and Eszter Balint on violin and vocals. He succeeded in rattling the bars of a few cages with a delightfully unpredictable set of non-genre specific music that at one point seemed to fuse avant-garde musing with thrash rock. He wound up the set with “Postcard from New York” that began with a reflective opening, Balint playing violin and then melodica, before Ribot unravelled the piece in unpredictable directions, climaxing with a bit of good old rock and roll.

It summed up the mood of the whole festival, where most of the time you simply did not know what to expect from one moment to the next. It takes courage to program a festival like this, knowing you are confronting the audience with a series of musical challenges, some of which they will like and some of which they won’t, and make it all work. It is what makes Mores so unique, challenging, exhausting and special.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


The Detectives of Jazz

Will Friedwald continues his series on jazz discographers below. Your software spellchecker may not like "discographers" and try to substitute "disco photographers" in their place. But jazz fans are deeply indebted to these indefatigable researchers who determine who played what, when, where and with who. Think of them as slightly more swingin' versions of Sherlock Holmes, with a cool stereo system instead of a pipe and deerstalker. Click here for the first and second installments of this article. T.G.

Jazz Records, 1897-1942

Brian Rust's Jazz Records is remarkable for its subjectivity; collectors still delight in finding a hot side by a dance band that the author doesn’t list. (One area he largely overlooks is country music: there are plenty of sides by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys with genuine jazz content that deserve to be listed. Another is bands outside of America and England and the Swiss New Hot Players. Tom Lord has made a significant improvement in his online Jazz Discography, for instance, by including all the known sessions by the pioneering Dutch hot band The Ramblers - not just those dates where Coleman Hawkins guest stars).

Published in 1975, The American Dance Band Discography is notable at once for its tight focus, and, at the same time, the sheer scope of its ambition. The ABDB strictly focuses on white dance bands, meaning no singers (except doing band vocal refrains), no small groups, no Afro-American bands (they’re all covered in detail in JR). (He also left out Benny Goodman, explaining that they were covered in detail in two book-length discographies then available from Arlington House.) And even so, it’s enormous – and its very enormity helps put the entire era in perspective, showing that pure jazz represented just a small portion of the big picture of what people listened to even in the jazz age and the swing era.

The ABDB is where Mr. Rust undertook the impossible task of documenting everything recorded not only by working bands, like Whiteman and Isham Jones, who played theaters and ballrooms all over the country, but even “house” bandleaders, like Fred Rich and Victor Young. As opposed to the peripatetic road bands of the period, their sole job it was to stay in one place - the studios - for 12 hours a day and grind out as many discs as it was possible, sending out only occasionally for scotch and sandwiches.

The sheer quantity of all of their output seems incredulous to later generations: both immediately before and after the depths of the depression, the major bands of the era were releasing hundreds of sides a year. Documenting all the dates, song titles, and piecing together all the musicians, and identifying all the band vocalists (even if it seems like the same three guys sing on every record) is the job of a lifetime. As Mr. Rust would say, the effort was “not so much exhaustive as exhausting.”

Hardcore collectors, like John Leifert and the late Jeff Healey, have added in so many corrections that there are more pencil marks on the pages of their copies than there is printing. Yet because the ABDB is the only one of Mr. Rust’s seminal works that has never been revised, I can name a few younger aficionados, who have been born since 1975, who are relying on info that hasn’t been updated for their whole lives. This is due to change this year (2009), when, after nearly 35 years, Mainspring Press (a specialist in this literature, who published the most recent –6tth—edition of Jazz Records) will release a long-awaited new edition of the ABDB.

The new American Dance Band Discography is due to the efforts of another Brit, one Richard Johnson, who has spent several decades overhauling the 1975 work, adding personnel, issue numbers, new vocalists IDs, and adding in more info regarding non-commercial sessions (for transcriptions and film soundtracks, etc). He tells me (in an old-fashioned handwritten airmail letter no less) that the new edition will come in at 5,000 pages, which is two-and-a-half times the length of the original. Among other additions, there will at last be a song index (hallelujah!) and the work will also be available in electronic form on CDROM (double hallelujah!). (I hope to review and discuss the new edition in this spot when it’s released at the end of this year.)

I must confess that in the last few years, ever since Tom Lord incorporated (and expanded upon) most of the information from Rust’s Jazz Records into the various electronic editions of The Jazz Discography (especially the current and invaluable online version), I have tended to spend less time pouring through my old-school hardcover copies of Rust’s Jazz Records. Contrastingly, all of our copies of the 1975 ABDB are literally falling apart from overuse; these are volumes that have spent most of their existence open on our desks rather than gathering dust on our shelves.

Small wonder Roger wanted to gather us all up to visit Mr. Rust in his home in TK, so we could genuflect at his feet. Roger didn’t want Rust to leave this world behind before we could tell him how essential his work is to us. Ironically, Roger died way before Brian, who is very much with us at age 87. Even more than Brian Rust himself, his legacy of research will be around forever, and future generations of scholars will continue to base their lives on his teachings.

This blog entry posted by Will Friedwald

July 03, 2009 · 1 comment


Swedish Jazz at the Kennedy Center

David Tenenholtz is a regular contributor to our site, whose reviews here include coverage of performances by Benny Golson and Dr. Billy Taylor. Below he reviews Jonas Kullhammar's recent appearance at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. T.G.

As a part of the weeklong Nordic Jazz Festival presented at the House of Sweden in Washington, DC, the Swedish quartet led by Jonas Kullhammar closed off the week with a free show on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday. This stage presents free, open to the public concerts at 6:00pm every day, and with help from the House of Sweden (located just a stone’s throw away in Georgetown), there was a crowd of hundreds, overflowing onto the stairs next to another of the Kennedy Center’s numerous theater spaces.

 Jonas Kullhammar

The youthful quartet of Kullhammar on tenor saxophone, pianist Torbjörn Gulz, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, and drummer Jonas Holgersson opened the concert with “Sweet Home Snake City.” This was Kullhammar’s original tune, named after his home town of Orminge. A minor melody supported by fourths voicings from the piano, and a deep pocket of polyrhythms from the drums, this group showed its classicist bent early. The pianism of Torbjörn Gulz is straight up out of the McCoy Tyner academy, and the centered modern sound tenor of Kullhammar is one that often recalls Sonny Rollins but with an even heavier use of the saxophone’s lowest register. Actually, it is a thrilling sound, and Kullhammar on this occasion seemed more influenced by Coltrane and his devotees, namely Michael Brecker. “Sweet Home Snake City” presented the modern tenor approach in this vein, and after a couple minutes into the sax solo, the band was really burning.

I found myself wondering, “Will this hegemonic style that the Swedes demonstrate so well be the way the whole concert goes, or do they have some deeper take on this approach to jazz?” The piano solo by Gulz had nice playing; all very “correct” if seemingly falling short of a focused statement due to some more lick-heavy passages. They captured the style of some brilliant Blue Note albums like Tyner’s The Real McCoy or Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge.

While the band didn’t work too hard to escape these influences, the music was presented with focused intent, and a decent amount of interplay. Kullhammar addressed the crowd in English after “Sweet Home Snake City,” and explained that Friday was a Swedish holiday called Midsummer’s Eve. Jokingly, he mentioned that the tradition states that Swedes dance around a pole and then sing songs, such as one called “Little Frogs,” followed by drinking Schnapps and eating herring. They are too often “totally drunk,” so it was nice the quartet was playing in DC instead. The audience laughed loudly after Kullhammar joked, “Normally you would drink and then dance, but Swedes do it the other way around!”

Pianist Gulz’s tune “Rat Beat,” had a story behind it, and Kullhammar divulged it had been named after a rat Gulz had killed in his home. Indeed, an intro by Gulz made use of lithe fragments and strange dissonances, evoking images of a rat running around a house, finding small nooks to hide in and dart out of. Gulz produced his best “ECM sounds” from the piano before setting up the vamp that entered afterward, which gave a foundation for a surprisingly Monkish theme. “Rat Beat” had a fun melody over an AABA structure, punctuated by syncopated quick leaps in its phrases. Each player diced up slices of beats, before busting into galloping, bluesy changes. The fluidity and deep listening of the drummer, Jonas Holgersson, provided the propulsion the group needed to make this music shine. The piano solo was evenly paced, if a bit cautious, with some choice motifs worked through in succession.

Kullhammar introduced the “handsome” bassist, Torbjörn Zetterberg, as “the best writer of love songs in Sweden.” The ballad “October Is a Long Time Too,” offered more of a relative contemporaneity than the previous selections. In 6/4 time, the plaintive melody gave Zetterberg room to elaborate on his solo with his bow, before slowly turning it into a rustling on the strings, creating a sort of eerie statement. Kullhammar played well above the normal high register on his solo, but with so much confidence that the notes might as well be a grounded part of the instrument.

The final selection in this (on the short side) program, was the rhythmically energetic “Bristol Scream,” the title referring to an unruly bar patron who shouted some unpleasant remarks towards the band during a gig in that city. Thankfully, this audience, packed in tight as they were, remained enthusiastic about the music they were hearing, and awarded drummer Jonas Holgersson with numerous rounds of applause throughout his extended solo workout towards the end of the tune. The audience was respectful of Kullhammar’s young working band that showed where they had been, and hopefully where they were headed. Next month, the Swedes will be included in an extensive international lineup at the Stockholm Jazz Festival.

This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz

July 02, 2009 · 0 comments