The Best New Music of the Month

Christian McBride

Five days per week, highlights an outstanding track from a recent release as part of its Song of the Day feature. These tracks are drawn from the hundreds of new CDs coming out each month, with the goal of pointing site visitors in the direction of some outstanding current music they might otherwise miss. The featured tracks come from a wide range of sources—high profile releases from major labels, small indie projects, self-produced CDs, imports from distant lands, and even an occasional foray outside of the jazz realm into blues, world music or other areas where some hidden gems might be found.


Below are links to the tracks featured during the month of August, and the cover a wide swathe of territory. Names such as Terence Blanchard (today’s featured artist), Bill Frisell, the Heath Brothers and Christian McBride will be familiar to jazz fans, and they each have new CDs on the market. The Frisell release, Disfarmer is an especially interesting project, and ranks with this artist’s finest work. But there are other first rate artists on the list whose names will almost certainly be new to you.

Gretchen Parlato

The Gretchen Parlato CD is creating quite a buzz, and deservedly so. This is one of my favorite jazz vocal albums of the year. I have always been a fan of understated, whispery phrasing—putting on Chet Baker and Astrud Gilberto CDs while others reach for stronger brews—and Parlato is the great new champion of the low-key. Singing with this degree of relaxation is often (in my experience) accompanied by intonation problems, but not with this engaging artist, whose notes and phrases are picture perfect. I especially like the understated production, which is well suited to Parlato’s style.

 Joe Higham and Al Orkesta

We usually throw in some odd outliers in our song choices, and this month’s winner for outré performance goes to Joe Higham and Al Orkesta, whose music reviewer S. Victor Aaron describes as a cross of “Sun Ra, Miles Davis circa Get Up With It, Gong, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Balkan folk dance beats and Arabian flourishes.” Runner-up is Fanfare Cioc?rlia, which I summed up as “what the Dirty Dozen Brass Band would sound like if its members had grown up in northeastern Romania instead of New Orleans.”

In other words, there’s something here for every set of ears. Each review comes with a unimpeachable testimony from one of our team of reviewers, full recording info, a score from 0 to 100, and a link for (legal) downloading.

Happy listening!

Terence Blanchard: A New World
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Fanfare Cioc?rlia: Cioc?rlia
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Luis Bonilla: Uh, Uh, Uh...
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

Judy Niemack: Beautiful Love
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Gretchen Parlato: Butterfly
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Joe Higham and Al Orkesta: Simple Dan(ce)
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

The Monterey Quartet: Treachery
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Dee Alexander: This Bitter Earth
Reviewed by Scott Albin

Bill Frisell: Disfarmer Theme
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Louis Sclavis: Aboard Ulysses's Boat
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

John Primer: Moanin' at Midnight
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The Heath Brothers: The Rio Dawn
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Miroslav Vitous: Variations on W Shorter
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Will Matthews: Count on Swingin'
Reviewed by Bill Barnes

Warren Smith: One More Lick for Harold Vick
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Matt Wilson: That's Gonna Leave a Mark
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Andy Milne & Benoît Delbecq: Divide Comedy
Reviewed by Mark Saleski

John Surman: Haywain
Reviewed by S. Victor Aaron

Sacri Delfino: Luna de Hortaleza
Reviewed by Bill Barnes

Christian McBride: Theme for Kareem
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Tim Kuhl: King
Reviewed by Bill Barnes

Donny McCaslin: Uppercut
Reviewed by Ralph A. Miriello

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Steely Dan in Los Angeles

Steely Dan was once the ultimate studio band. But now they are a seasoned road troupe in the midst of their Rent Party '09 tour.'s Marcus Singletary caught their performance in Los Angeles and reports below. T.G.

Rent Party '09

The final of four Steely Dan performances at the Gibson Amphitheatre in 2009 was packed with an abundance of killer tunes. Although the group began with an awesome one-two punch of "Black Friday" and "Aja" (and likely due to the "greatest hits" nature of the song choices), what followed would instantly mine a less spontaneous yet more crowd pleasing path. The dynamic, letter-perfect "Hey Nineteen"—which included a Walter Becker rap extolling the virtues of Cuervo Gold—managed to retain much of its original charm, and it's tough to argue with tunes such as "Peg," "Josie," and "Bodhisattva."


                    Donald Fagen and Walter Becker

During what was essentially a reunion of Baby Boomer freaks, hipsters, and high-heads, the Dan paid homage to their own catalog of masked marauder tales and wry urban ruminations. Becker's agile solo turn on Aja's "Home at Last" proved that, as a player, his talents are on par with legendary session guitarist Larry Carlton, the evening's "special guest." Unfortunately, while longtime member Jon Herington was on fire all night, Carlton did not step out front much. With three guitarists in tow, however, the triple threat ensured that all notes fretted and otherwise would consist of some measure of worth.

Although lead singer Donald Fagen admitted that the group's musical direction was currently focused on "impressions of LA in the 70s" formed in the second half of the initial phase of their career, the group did manage to offer a few tracks from their debut CD, Can't Buy a Thrill (1972). "Do It Again" and "Dirty Work" were transformed into steamy ballads and, as the former seemed less confident and was abruptly aborted, "Reelin' in the Years" concluded the show with a bang by retaining its instantly familiar zest.

Fans exited the venue having also witnessed Becker singing (and sounding better on) "Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More"; Carlton recovering from soloing errors during "Kid Charlemagne" to add something completely different to its essence; a rare, elongated bari-sax solo on a sparklingly tight "Black Cow"; and, lamentably, Draconian security guards keeping tight reins on audience members by preventing them from dancing during the set. That the "problem" persisted through one of the band's slowest tracks ("Rikki Don't Lose that Number") is interesting, but, nevertheless, this was a gig that could have turned a casual Steely Dan listener into a diehard.

Personnel: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards, melodica), Walter Becker (vocals, guitar), Larry Carlton (guitar), Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Jim Beard (keyboards, piano), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), Roger Rosenberg (baritone saxophone), Walt Weiskopf (saxophone), Tawatha Agee, Carolyn Leonhart, Catherine Russell (background vocals).

Set List: Black Friday, Aja, Hey Nineteen, Peg, Dirty Work, Bodhisattva, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Home At Last, Doctor Wu, Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Do It Again, Babylon Sisters, Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More, Black Cow, Josie, Don't Take Me Alive, Kid Charlemagne, Reelin' in the Years

This blog entry posted by Marcus Singletary

August 30, 2009 · 0 comments


The Disciples of Lester Young: A Recommended Playlist

I was in my 20s, and giving a lecture on Lester Young to a large assembly of Stanford students, when Stan Getz strolls through the door and sits in the front of the classroom.

                        Lester Young, photo by Herb Snitzer

My first reaction was to ask Stan to teach the class. No musician of the postwar generation studied Young more closely than Getz, or took what he learned so far. For all his individual successes, Getz will always be linked in the minds of jazz fans with the great pioneer of Kansas City jazz. But Stan—who was serving as artist-in-residence at Stanford at the time—was shy around students, especially large audiences of them. So I continued with my lecture.

Stan looked with interest at the transcription I handed out to the students of Lester Young's solo on "Lady Be Good." I knew that Getz knew this solo intimately, but I doubt he had ever seen it written out before. The whole idea of a classroom of college students studying Lester Young was clearly satisfying to him, especailly so since Getz was self-conscious about having dropped out of high school (despite encouragement from teachers that he was destined for Juilliard) and never getting to college. Seeing Prez in a syllabus and studied as though he were Mozart or Beethoven must have struck him as a validation of his own life choices. And at one point, Getz even offered some comments for the students—a rarity in these types of settings. (Although Stan would later become more comfortable in a classroom, as a general rule the more intimate the setting, the better he was.)

After the class, I bantered with Stan about Lester Young. I asked him which Lester Young recordings had impressed him most as a young man, and he cited the impressive but all-too-short Young appearance on Count Basie's "Song of the Islands" from 1939 (which is today's Classic Revisited on in honor of Young's 100th birthday). I then asked him if it was true, as I had heard, that Getz had quit Stan Kenton's group after the bandleader made a derogatory remark about Lester Young. Getz not only confirmed the story, but even did an entertaining impression of Kenton dissing Young for me.

There are other questions I wished I had asked him back then, when we were seeing each other almost every day. (For example, was there any truth to the rumor—that I only heard later—that Miles Davis asked Getz to join the Davis band in the late 1950s.) But I was always pestering him with questions about various other jazz musicians—and, at least, there is plenty that he said back then that I still mull over and helped me in my own development. In particular, I have fond memories of the wide-eyed enthusiasm he shared for Lester Young. Stan almost seemed as young as the college students around him when he was talking about Lester.

A lot of tributes are circulating about Lester Young on the occasion of his birthday. (I especially recommend Ethan Iverson's mind-expanding efforts here.) But let's also take out some time to remember the disciples of Prez—those great followers in Young's wake who also made outstanding music of their own.

Below is a suggested playlist of tracks by saxophonists inspired by Young, with a link to a full review for each performance, where you can find a critic's assessment, complete personnel and recording info, a rating from 0 to 100, and a place to go for a (legal) download.

Happy listening!

 Brew Moore

Brew Moore:
"I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me"

Reviewed by Scott Albin

Brew famously claimed that "anyone who doesn't play like Prez is wrong."

 Zoot Sims

Zoot Sims:
"Does the Sun Really Shine on the Moon?"

Reviewed by Bill Kirchner

In this fine sax-with-strings setting, arranged by Gary McFarland, Zoot shows his deep roots in Prez.

 Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker:
"Lester Leaps In"

Reviewed by Marcus Singletary

Charlie Parker built his bebop superstructures on the foundation of Lester Young's Kansas City style. Here Parker performs one of Young's feature numbers from his Count Basie days.

 Al Cohn

Al Cohn (with Jimmy Rowles):
"Them There Eyes"

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

This is six-and-a-half minutes of sheer fun. Too bad it costs $150 to buy this album nowadays.

 Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray

Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray:
"The Chase"

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Both Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray studied their Lester Young recordings, and Dexter even ditched school when Young came to town so he could hear Prez in person. Here these friends and rivals engage in a classic tenor battle from 1947.

 Stan Getz

Stan Getz (with Woody Herman):
"Early Autumn"

Reviewed by David Franklin

This popular 1948 track did more than any other record to signal the arrival of new generation of postwar Lester Young devotees.

 Paul Quinichette

Paul Quinichette:
"Paul's Bunion"

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

His style was so strongly reminiscent of Young's, that Paul Quinichette was inevitably dubbed the "Vice Pres."

 Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz:
"Tenorlee / Lady Be Good"

Reviewed by Chris Kelsey

If you don't believe that the modern jazz players went back and studied—and in this instance memorized—solos by Lester Young, this track should convince you. Konitz channels Young's first Basie recording on this perfomance.

 Gerry Mulligan

Gerry Mulligan (with Chet Baker):

Reviewed by Eric Novod

The West Coast jazz movement of the 1950s was greatly indebted to Lester Young, and even a baritone saxophonist could not escape the pervasive influence.

 Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins:
"Softly as in a Morning Sunrise"

Reviewed by Walter Kolosky

Rollins is often viewed as the antithesis to the cool school Prez disciples of the 1950s, but his thematic approach to improvisation reveals strong roots in Young's conception of solo construction.

 Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond:

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Desmond's conception of saxophony stands firmly in the Young tradition of relaxed phrasing and coherent melodicism.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 27, 2009 · 0 comments


Why Live Jazz Thrives in Europe

Below we continue Thierry Quénum’s eye-opening report on the funding of jazz in France. Here you will encounter many wonders unknown to Americans: a city that allocates 23% of its budget for cultural events? a government agency devoted to assisting the export of homegrown music? a tax on CDs that is funneled back into supporting live music? a jazz promoter who becomes the city mayor? This is the second and final installment of this two-part article. (Click here for part one.) T.G.

Historically, most of the French jazz festivals flowered in the early eighties, when the newly elected left wing government of François Mitterrand launched a new cultural policy that saw, among others, the birth of the nationwide “Fête de la Musique” (Music Day, on June 21st), a Museum of Rock, and a Bureau of Jazz and Innovative Music at the Department of Culture.

Eiffel Tower

Elated by this whiff of fresh air from Paris, many “associations” got born with the goal of starting a festival most anywhere in France, with the support of their local mayor and some sponsors. Those who had already started years earlier usually profited by this new spirit too. It’s only when some of these festivals became bigger, more famous, and covered by the national press that the Régions started to get interested in them and to open their wallet to make sure these cultural events taking place on their territory would be associated with the banner of the local political power.

Thus, in a small town like Coutances (10,000 inhabitants), a couple of miles from the D Day beaches and 100 kms from Caen, the main city of the Région Basse-Normandie (Lower-Normandy) the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival (Jazz under the Apple Trees) became the biggest cultural event of the entire Région. No wonder that the Conseil Général de Basse-Normandy’s (the local political authority) has steadily sponsored it for more than two decades. Even more significant, further South, the Jazz In Marciac (JIM) festival, in the big village of Marciac (5000 inhabitants) made famous by its permanent host, Wynton Marsalis, also became the biggest event of the Département (an administrative section of a Région) du Gers, otherwise renowned for its “foie gras” (fat goose or duck liver) and Armagnac (grape brandy).

As the size and reputation of JIM grew, the director of the festival (whose day job was headmaster of the local lower high school), progressively became mayor of the village, then member of the Conseil Général. The Ministry of Education allowed him to start a jazz class in his school (guess which trumpet player opened it, surrounded by TV cameras?). Thanks to the heavy sponsoring of the Département and the Région, JIM is the only jazz festival held in such a small place yet that can cover the walls of most French big towns with its king size posters—including the walls of the Paris underground stations.

But bigger towns have their jazz events too. Strasbourg, for example, by the German border, which hosts its Jazzdor festival in November, started small—its activities restricted to three days in a jazz club, some 23 years ago. Now it lasts two weeks and programs 40 bands in 18 different places in and around Strasbourg, including some across the Rhine river, where it has developed a partnership with neighboring German cities. Says its Director, Philippe Ochem: “Our actual budget is 500,000 €, which is three times what we started with 23 years ago. Beside other local institutions the City of Strasbourg (250,000 inhabitants) has helped us right from the start and its help has increased consistently over the years. It can be noted that this city devotes 23% of its budget to culture at large, which is huge compared to other French cities.”

Maybe because Strasbourg is proud to host the European Parliament, the city is Jazzdor’s first sponsor, followed by the Département du Bas-Rhin, then the Région Alsace, and finally the French State (whereas in most other festivals the State is the 2nd sponsor). Behind the general idea of “public money”, there lies indeed a complicated network of local and national political and financial choices made by people who’ve been elected or hired on different basis. Some cities or départements, for example, will grant a very limited support to their local jazz festival(s) because they chose to favor theatre or ballet.

Of course, like the ONJ or the regionally sponsored orchestras, the festivals have obligations that go with their being sponsored by official institutions. These duties might include organizing master classes, workshop or residences in local music schools for some of the internationally renowned musicians programmed in the festival. Or they can involve featuring a certain amount of local players in the festival’s program; or organizing concerts in culturally disfavored suburbs or small villages; or having a certain percentage of “creations” (concerts with newly written music — often commissioned — or bands with special guests, etc.). . .

As one sees, one of the main goals of the various institutional sponsors is to educate the audiences as far as musical diversity is concerned, and to spread live music in places where it is scarce. Besides, they often want to promote “new” challenging music as opposed to commercial music—which can also be programmed during festivals, but doesn’t need any public money to attract audiences. These “cultural actions” are of course not totally devoid of personal interests: they are good for the image of these institutions as “patrons of the arts.”

Even more complicated is the sponsoring of the Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin festival that Ochem has been directing for three years in the German capital. It is partly sponsored by the City of Strasbourg, which considers it good for its image, but was originally devised by its main sponsor, the Bureau Export de la Musique Française (French Music Export Bureau). This institution draws its funds from both public and private sources: the National Departments of Culture and Foreign Affairs, the record producers and the SACEM (more or less the French equivalent of BMI or ASCAP in the US). Its job is to help French record labels sell their products abroad.

One last thing about French Jazz festivals: around 30 of them have united in a powerful “association,” the AFIJMA, that allows each of them to have more power in negotiating with the various potential institutional sponsors, including the State, the Régions, the Départements and the Cities, the “institutional associations” and the “sociétés civiles,” of which the SACEM is an example. The AFIJMA works as a network, and though each of its members is independent, some of them often decide to get together and help a musician or a group by supporting a “creation” and having it tour some of their festivals.

I’m not sure there’s an equivalent to the French name “société civile” in English. The SACEM is more than a century and a half old and doesn’t only collect and distribute composer’s copyright money. It also favors musical “creation,” gives awards to artists and does a lot of sponsoring. The SPEDIDAM is only half a century old and does about the same as the SACEM for the rights of the performers, with support and sponsoring actions too. The ADAMI, the most recent of these “sociétés civiles,” was born thanks to a state tax that was set in 1985 to cope with the private copying of records or concerts on tapes, CDR and DVDR. The State doesn’t collect directly the money brought in by this tax (which is included in the price that each buyer of one of these products pays at the shop). It’s the ADAMI that collects it and it uses part of it to foster artistic projects, or support festivals that invite creative musicians.

So one sees that this idea of “government money” that’s often used by foreign observers to explain the flourishing of jazz in Europe doesn’t do justice to the diversity of “patrons of the art of jazz” that France hosts. In a country that is more and more decentralized as far as administration and political power are concerned, the function that was formerly devoted to the kings, emperors or presidents has been extended to almost any local elected representative of the French Republic’s institutions, and to a couple of non-profit organizations all of whom seem to want the best for the audiences and the artists who play for them.

How much freedom to evolve artistically in their own right is left to the musicians in these conditions? It’s hard to tell, but the reproach that’s sometimes made to young French jazz players that some of them tend to behave like employees clutching to a secure income rather than like adventurous followers of the pioneers of jazz is far from being untrue. As for their elders, given their behavior and relationships with the powers that be, some of them could well be considered like present day heirs of the counts, dukes, marquees and barons who moved in the fashionable circles of the king’s court, hoping to grab the sovereign’s attention and the fame and fortune that went with it.

This blog entry was posted by Thierry Quénum.

August 26, 2009 · 0 comments


Feinstein's Opens Its Doors to Jazz

Eugene Marlow, a regular contributor to this column who recently wrote about vocalist Malika Zarra, now turns his attention to the DIVA Jazz Trio. The trio's appearance last week at Feinstein's marked a rare move by this cabaret room to embrace more jazz-oriented fare. Marlow fills us in on the details below. T.G.

Feinstein’s at Loews Regency—61st Street on Park Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, in one of the more posh sections of the city—is a plush supper club dedicated to the presentation of the Great American Songbook. Co-established 10 years ago by pianist/singer Michael Feinstein and the Tisch family, Feinstein’s has embarked on an “experiment,” according to John Iachetti, the room’s affable Director of Entertainment: to present straight ahead, mainstream jazz groups in addition to its traditional panoply of Great American Songbook piano/singer duos.

DIVA Jazz Trio

One such group is the DIVA Jazz Trio, featuring drummer Sherrie Maricle, bassist Noriko Ueda, and pianist Tomoko Ohno. The trio performed single sets on two evenings (August 18 & 19) with a rundown of its debut collaboration, a CD (on the Arbors Records label) entitled Never Never Land.

The Feinstein venue was fitting. Numerous cuts on the highly musical, entertaining 10-track album are drawn from classic Broadway shows, films, and television programs, among them: “If I Only Had a Brain” (The Wizard of Oz), “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady), “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music), “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” (Oklahoma), and the title track “Never Never Land” ((Peter Pan).

DIVA Jazz Trio

What makes for a compelling and entertaining musical performance? For me a major part of the answer is (1) did the performers transcend their environment, and (2) did they draw the audience into the performance. It is legendary that showman/impresario Florenz Ziegfeld of the early part of the 20th century once remarked to comedian/entertainer Eddie Cantor (when the latter first appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1917) “Make me forget about the beautiful [and scantily clad] girls.” Cantor did. (Following his successful debut, Cantor is alleged to have remarked, “It took me 25 years to become a hit overnight!”)

Feinstein’s is probably one of, if not the plushiest of supper clubrooms in the city. Capable of seating 120-130 patrons, the raised stage is replete with a Steinway Grand, an excellent lighting and sound system, and a soft, lit backdrop. The chairs are comfortable. There’s adequate spacing among the tables. The wait staff is well groomed, knowledgeable, and courteous. The food is well prepared and entertainingly presented. The overall ambiance is enough to keep your attention—as are the prices: $30+ cover charge, for example. This room demands class, the kind of class the DIVA Jazz Trio offered with a performance that made you forget about the “beautiful” surroundings.

Drummer Sherrie Maricle, who served as the trio’s engaging interlocutor, is well known for her participation in the Stanley Kay initiated 16-year-old “Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Big Band” and more recently the New York Pops. Bassist Noriko Ueda has been the DIVA Big Band bassist for about eight years, but has also performed with Grady Tate and many others. Pianist Tomoko Ohno is also a regular with the DIVA Big Band. The advantage of an intimate group, such as a jazz trio, as well as one of its more intimidating aspects, is that a performer has an opportunity to take center stage, not only as a player, but also as a composer and arranger. All three in this group have the chops for these challenges. All three contributed to the evening’s arrangements.

As a bassist, Ms. Ueda has a solid command of her instrument. Often, bass players have good intonation when “comping” behind others, but when it comes to a solo, their note accuracy falls apart. They might have speed or some mastery of “musical effects,” but you can still hear the lack of tonal quality. Not so with Ms. Ueda. Never one to overplay, Ms. Ueda performs with thoughtfulness and an ear to the overall context of the piece. Not surprising. She is not only a strong player, but also an experienced big band composer and arranger.

Pianist Tomoko Ohno has range. Capable of playing behind Ms. Ueda with well-placed and tasteful Bill Evans-like chords, Ms. Ohno is just as adept at playing with Oscar Peterson-like speed. And fun. There is “entertainment” in her playing. While there are jazz pianists who take their playing with the seriousness of brain surgery, Ms. Ohno reaches out to her listeners with rhythms and runs that are both familiar and fresh. She smiles as she plays. That smile in her playing puts a smile on your face.

Sherrie Maricle provides the trio’s rhythmic glue. What impressed me most was her sharp brush playing. The first cut of the evening’s set (as well as the first cut on the CD), “If I Only Had a Brain,” has her starting with brushes, then moving on to traditional sticks. In the intimate setting of the room, the brushes were an appropriate musical choice. It was also appropriate for the piece.

Clearly, Ms. Maricle has the chops to move from brushes to sticks, and from straight ahead to samba, for example, with ease and seamlessness. She is a highly experienced drummer/percussionist who plays with not just technique, but also taste. There are, oh, so many drummers who perform in intimate settings with the sensitivity of a sledgehammer and the musical interest of dental floss. Perhaps because of her extensive big band experience with its inherent “chart/arrangement” character, Ms. Maricle plays in this trio with an “ear” to the overall performance and instrumentation.

Individually and collectively, the DIVA Jazz Trio is a highly accomplished group and exemplary of what it takes to become a successful jazz performer in today’s “performing arts” environment. Ms. Ohno (born in Toyko, Japan) graduated from Rikkoyo University with a degree in law and politics. She then entered the jazz studies program at William Paterson University (New Jersey) where she studied with Harold Mabern and Rufus Reid, among others. Ms Ohno has led her own group, releasing three CDs on the Japan-based Tokuma label.

Ms. Ueda (born in Hyogo, Japan), studied classical piano when she was four years old. She started playing electric bass at 16, studied classical voice at the Osaka College of Music, and at age 19 learned the acoustic bass. She majored in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music where she received a degree in 1977. She had an award-winning tenure with the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.

Ms. Maricle (born in Buffalo, New York) studied clarinet and cello in fourth grade, but switched to snare drum in sixth grade. At age 11 she heard jazz great drummer Buddy Rich perform and that changed her life. Since then she has earned several college degrees, including a doctorate in jazz performance/composition from New York University (2000).

No wonder the overall performance of this trio, both in the “live” setting and recorded context, was a highly integrated, musically interesting experience. The DIVA Jazz Trio is entertaining, compelling, and playful. Yes, playful. The trio performs with much musical playfulness. And this is what makes the group worth listening to. The Great American Songbook choices were good choices to begin with, but they also play around with the selections in ways that keep you listening. For example, the final cut of the album, and the closing piece of their set, is “Love For Sale.” How many times have we heard “Love For Sale”? Their version is fresh. First, the head is arranged in measures of seven with a Brazilian rhythm-flavor underneath. That alone draws you in. Then they perform the bridge in a burning double-time in four. The contrast keeps your attention. In this way (and others) the trio transcended its beautiful surroundings at Feinstein’s throughout the almost 90-minute set.

Only a year-old, the DIVA Jazz Trio has more ahead. Never Never Land is just a beginning.

This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow

August 25, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz's Guardian Angel

Nat Hentoff, a regular contributor to this column, writes below about that greatest of rarities: a safety net for jazz artists in need. Below he profiles the Jazz Foundation of America and Wendy Oxenhorn. Their efforts deserve to be far better known and more amply supported. T.G.

When I was a very young reporter in Boston, key advice I heard from my elders was, "To make sure a story is read, put a face on it!" That's what I'd like to do for the Jazz Foundation of America and its rhythm section, headed by Wendy Oxenhorn, which bring abandoned musicians back to life and jazz. She recently described one of her customary gigs to me:

Wendy Oxenhorn

"A very great musician (name and instrument omitted to respect his privacy) moved to New York last week. In a far-off state, he'd lost his house, studio, equipment, his neighborhood. He is also blind. A very independent person, he has never asked us for help."

Wendy called him, and found that "he had no basics. He needed everything from trash baskets, food, sheets, pillows, a desk, broom, dishes, drinking glasses." She then went shopping for hours, and came back with "a mop, broom, dust pan, batteries, trash bags, a quilt, hand soap, toilet papers and more."

As she points out, this wasn't "one of those life-and-death moments or poverty situations we sometimes have, but just the kind of story representing what we do daily. This time, I never realized just what a hardship it is to go shopping, even for food, when you're blind and you're alone, having lost the world where you knew every step to get around."

Wendy shopped and brought batches of provisions to the musician's new home in New York. But how had he found an apartment?

"A wonderful human being – he was at our last 'Great Night in Harlem' concert at the Apollo Theater – had been a fan of this musician for years, and got him into an apartment at an affordable rent, because he owned it and gave it to him for half price. He even left a beautiful bed, a leather couch and a table and chairs."

At the apartment, Wendy continued, "we were both exhausted after five hours of cleaning, putting sheets on the bed, moving things. Neither of us had eaten, so we found a great West Indian restaurant. If you could have seen his complete joy for this homemade food and fresh ginger drink. I got some extra food to bring home in case he got hungry at night, since neither of us had any strength left to grocery shop."

That was just a start. "When there's a need," she told me, "we call one of the younger musicians who are always in need of work, pay them ten dollars an hour, and pair him or her up with someone, like this newcomer to town, who needed assistance. I told my new legendary friend he'd soon have another friend.

"It never fails when this kind of contact is made. As soon as they spend any time together at all, they're talking music, exchanging CDs, the mentoring process begins, and they start to collaborate."

The day after Wendy's first shopping expedition was Sunday, and of course, she was back at work. "The young musician brought his girlfriend, and the three of us went to an enormous store that has everything under the sun. We got a bath mat so he wouldn't slip, a small vacuum cleaner, and of course, the right forks that had sharp points – because I noticed that when he eats, he stabs at his food, and that's how he gets it in the fork."

When they arrived at the new New Yorker's house, "We pretended it was 'Let's Make A Deal,' and we showed him what was behind door number one, then two and three!

"He kept feeling his new items, and the smile on his face was bigger than the one on mine. He was so happy, kept thanking us, and said it was 'Christmas in July.' By the time we left, he had everything he needed: dishes were washed and in the cupboard, clothes hung in closets, the quilt cover was on the blanket, the place had been dusted. Except for the desk we bought, because we couldn't carry it, he had every basic he needed to begin his new life."

Of all the people I've written about and gotten to know – a homicide detective, a Supreme Court justice, and a few school principals – among them, no one has been as totally and ceaselessly committed to her vocation as Wendy Oxenhorn. Dig how she helped welcome this musician to his new world.

"We also got menus from the area, and I left him a message on his machine. Knowing he could never read the menus, I gave him the number to each – how much the food was and what they had – so he could program it all into his computer in the program we had gotten him that allows the blind to record information as well as to compose music!

"I also walked him through the apartment and let him feel where everything was, and described the stove and went over it carefully so he'd see how to use it and how to find everything we had stored in the cabinets, and which closet we put the vacuum in, et cetera.

"I called him last night to make sure he had all he needed. He was so happy, you could hear his smile. You know how people sound when they are smiling so much you can hear it over the phone?"

Wendy finished her chorus: "It's these small individual life-saving moments that make the difference. Sometimes it doesn't even cost more than ten dollars to make a little magic."

If you want to add to this magic, contributions can be made to the Jazz Foundation of America's website or by mail to 322 West 48th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY, 10036, phone: 212-245-3999.

Still to come, says Wendy: "A Players' Residence, so they can leave those awful, broken-down rent-controlled apartments they've had for 40 years (like a fifth-floor walkup after having a hip replacement or emphysema). They wouldn't be isolated, they'd live in and around the music, and watch over each other."

Or, in an emergency, call Wendy.

This blog entry posted by Nat Hentoff

August 24, 2009 · 0 comments


Why Lester Young Matters

Lester Young, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated on Thursday, exerted far more influence on later generations than most jazz fans realize. They don't appreciate his significance because—unlike, say, Coltrane's or Mingus's—it often loomed largest outside of the jazz world.

 The Birth (and Death) of the Cool

The cool aesthetic that Young defined in the 1930s and 1940s was much more than a jazz movement. As I show in my forthcoming book The Birth (and Death) of the Cool, it eventually came to permeate the broader contemporary culture. In time, the cool worldview shaped how average Americans dressed and acted and spoke—often borrowing hipster phrases originated by Young himself. In fact, we have good reason to believe the very meaning of the word 'cool'—in its modern signification of a fashionable hipness—originated with this unconventional saxophonist.

Lifestyle choices and behavior patterns that started with Young and a small number of jazz cats, became the de facto way of life for the 1960s generation. This strange process, which I outline in my book, is all the more surprising when one considers how unusual Young was in the context of his own generation. During his military service, Young was diagnosed as "a constitutional psychopath" and branded as a misfit due to his "drug addiction (marijuana, barbiturates), alcoholism and nomadism." Because of his effeminate ways, Young was sometimes thought to be a homosexual—today he would be typecast as a "metrosexual" and it would probably enhance his music career, but in the context of the 1930s jazz world, Young was an outlier . . . both in this regard and on any other bell curve you might care to chart.

Oddly enough, almost all of his eccentricities—linguistic, behavioral, psychological—became part of the American way of life in the years following his death. This is the secret history of "the cool": it was the process by which people in Middle America started acting like jazz musicians. And no musician of his generation set the tone for this future development more completely than Lester Willis Young.

                        Lester Young, photo by Herb Snitzer

In other words, Lester Young was a sociological force as well as a musical one.

But even in the realm of music, Young's influence was far greater than even his fans realize. This is because Young's approach was perfectly suited for assimilation by those outside the jazz scene. If you were a pop arranger or soundtrack composer, you could borrow from Young in a way that you could hardly do from Bird or Trane. His lithe, melodic approach with its understated sense of rhythm—less syncopated than Louis Armstrong's, less wedded to the downbeat than Coleman Hawkins's—could be applied in almost any musical setting. His way of phrasing and choice of notes, less chromatic than Charlie Parker's and more reliant on color tones (especially sixths and ninths), was suitable for both jazz and other commercial styles. In short, Young's approach was more flexible than any of his peers' during 1930s and 1940s, and the easiest to adapt to new uses.

Where do we find the impact of Young's aesthetic vision (as opposed to his behavior patterns and mannerisms) during the second half of the 20th century? In this regard, too, Prez is encountered almost everywhere. His influential style played a prominent role in the West Coast movement of the 1950s. It was studied by Tristano and Konitz and other representatives of the East Coast cool school. It was transferred to the big band in the form of the "Four Brothers" sound of the Woody Herman band. It was assimilated by Brazilian music around the time of Young's death in 1959, and helped shape the bossa nova style.

Whenever you hear a sax behind a pop singer you are hearing echoes of Young's seminal body of work accompanying Billie Holiday. When a classical music piece requires a saxophonist, odds are the sound will be closer to Young than to Coltrane or Rollins or Brecker. Even elevator music shows Young's stamp. Almost every sax player on those Muzak charts is pursuing an ideal sound that comes from Lester as refracted through Stan Getz (the most famous of Young's followers).

In other words, jazz fans have a hard time measuring Lester Young's influence because it has traveled so far and spread so widely. Yet I sometimes fear that Lester Young, for all his importance, is one of those grand figures from the past who has fallen off the radar screen of today's jazz listeners. As I have described elsewhere, music consumers of the new millennium have little patience with the poor sound quality on those old recordings. And almost all of Young's greatest recordings date from the pre-hi-fidelity era. No matter how much the engineers clean them up, they still sound like what they are . . . old records.

As a result, modern-day fans are more likely to know Charles Mingus's tribute to Lester Young ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") or even Joni Mitchell's tribute to Mingus's song than to have heard those great Young Kansas City Six recordings or Prez's solo on "Lady Be Good" (which was once memorized by aspiring saxophonists).

So a hundredth birthday is a good time to celebrate the life and times of Lester Young. But it is also a perfect opportunity for those who haven't heard this artist's finest works to seek them out. (Michael J. West's article here is an excellent starting point.) Whether people know it or not, they have been listening to imitators of Lester Young all their life. Now they ought to check out the real thing.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 22, 2009 · 0 comments


101—Count 'Em!—Classic Tracks

 Tenor Madness

I give you some credit. Every day you take your vitamins, go to the gym for a workout, take the dog for a walk, and get a dose of classic jazz.

Okay, I’m exaggerating—sometimes you skip that workout. But there is no excuse to miss out on the jazz. Especially since highlights a classic track five days per week. Today's classic track is "Tenor Madness," a never-to-be-repeated 1956 studio encounter between John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. (You can always find the current incumbent and complete list of previously honored classic songs here.)

 His Master's Voice

                  "Hmm...Is that Coltrane or is it Rollins?"

How are these tracks selected? The rules for inclusion are simple. The track must be older than Lebron James (born December 30, 1984)—or it just isn’t old school enough. And it needs to be a work of exceptional merit as judged by my local homeowners' association (sorry, they call all the shots around here). Besides that, almost anything goes. We even occasionally step outside the jazz arena into other related musical styles, but never for very long.

Below are the last 101 tracks featured as A Classic Revisited at Click on the link to find a full review by a credible critic, complete personnel and recording info, a ranking (on’s almost-patent-protected 0 to 100 scale), and a link for a (legal) downloading.

Enjoy the music. I’m off to take the dog for a walk…but I'm bringing my iPod.

101 Classic Tracks

Sonny Rollins (with John Coltrane): Tenor Madness
Bud Powell: Just One of Those Things
Charlie Barnet: Over the Rainbow
Dexter Gordon: Fried Bananas
Ted Heath: Henry IX
Weather Report: Palladium
Count Basie: I Left My Baby
Freddie Keppard: Stock Yards Strut
Charlie Ventura: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles
Red Norvo: Dance of the Octopus
Modern Jazz Quartet: The Golden Striker
Django Reinhardt: Djangology
Charles Mingus: So Long Eric
Louis Armstrong: Heebie Jeebies
Don Ellis: Hey Jude
Garoto: Nosso Choro
Julius Hemphill: Reflections
Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency
Phineas Newborn, Jr.: Lush Life
Gerald Wilson: Dissonance in Blues
Adrian Rollini: Beatin' the Dog
Terry Gibbs: Nose Cone
Hubert Laws: Amazing Grace
Raymond Scott: The Penguin
Aníbal Troilo: Quejas de Bandoneón
Fletcher Henderson: Variety Stomp
Jan Garbarek: Witchi-Tai-To
Carla Bley: Utviklingssang
Nancy Wilson: Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Cotton Tail
John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman: Lush Life
Andrew Hill: Compulsion
Nina Simone: Mood Indigo
Cab Calloway: Pickin' the Cabbage
Paul Desmond: Wendy
Cal Tjader: When Lights Are Low
Earl Hines: Warm Valley
Ali Farka Touré: Sidi Gouro
Henry Mancini: The Pink Panther Theme
Gigi Gryce: Minority
Archie Shepp: Consequences
Jimmie Lunceford: Harlem Shout
Pat Metheny: The First Circle
Charles Mariano: Avoid the Year of the Monkey
Bill Evans: Solo - In Memory of His Father
Al Haig: All God's Chillun Got Rhythm
Stan Kenton: The Peanut Vendor
Thelonious Monk: Well You Needn't
Horace Silver: Señor Blues
Jimmy Giuffre: Blue Monk
Richard Twardzik: I'll Remember April
Sonny Stitt: I Got Rhythm
Shuggie Otis: The Time Machine
Art Blakey (with Freddie Hubbard): Blue Moon
Stanley Turrentine: Buster Brown
Pepper Adams: I've Just Seen Her
Fats Waller: African Ripples
Stanley Clarke: Rock 'N Roll Jelly
Albert Ayler: Four
Gary Burton: Blue Comedy
Grover Washington, Jr.: Mister Magic
Chick Corea: Song for Sally
Bud Powell: Un Poco Loco
Paul Bley: King Korn
Benny Carter: NIghtfall
Red Mitchell & Harold Land: Catacomb
Roscoe Mitchell: Music for Trombone and B Flat Soprano
Clifford Brown: Joy Spring
Gary McFarland & Steve Kuhn: St. Tropez Shuttle
Lars Gullin: Silhouette
Claude Thornhill: Snowfall
Sun Ra: Future
Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray: The Chase
Stevie Wonder: Golden Lady
Warne Marsh: Moose the Mooche
Charlie Parker with Machito: Okiedoke
Benny Goodman: And the Angels Sing
George Benson: Plum
King Oliver: Riverside Blues
Fats Navarro: Nostalgia
Red Garland: He's a Real Gone Guy
Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith: How High the Moon
Elvin Jones: Gingerbread Boy
Herbie Nichols: The Gig
Miles Davis: Flamenco Sketches
Ada Falcón: Yira Yira
Zoot Sims: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
George Lewis: Homage to Charlie Parker
John Lewis: The Golden Striker
Benny Carter: Blue Lou
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Magg Zelma
Harold Land: The Fox
Joe Pass: Darn That Dream
McCoy Tyner: Blues on the Corner
George Shearing: East of the Sun
Julie London: Cry Me a River
David Murray: Coney Island
Bud Shank: Casa de Luz
Mary Lou Williams: The Scarlet Creeper
Terje Rypdal: Per Ulv
Jack Teagarden: I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments


How Jazz is Funded in France (Part 1)

Many US jazz fans wonder where all the money comes from to support the thousands of European jazz festival that seem to be growing each year while American events are canceled or downsized. Thierry Quénum, a leading jazz critic based in Paris, tells us how this works in his home country. This is the first installment of a two-part article—one that has some surprising twists and a few perspectives that might be worth the consideration of US-based jazz event promoters. T.G.

The idea that jazz in Europe—unlike in the USA—is widely supported by “government money” has been written about a lot lately. But if we want to tackle this subject as far as France is concerned, we should first go back to two historical facts : France has been a country with a heavily centralized administration for centuries and, in spite of some dramatic changes of political regimes through revolutions and riots, the idea of the “grandeur” of the country has lingered on.


Expressing this “grandeur” through art, among other cultural domains, has been a mainstay of most governments from the time when king Francis the 1st, after his victories in the early 16th century Italian Wars, brought back painter Leonardo Da Vinci to France. The latter remained famous for his Joconde, the portrait of a smiling lady which is still considered one of the gems of the Louvre museum in Paris which, by the way, was the former royal palace.

Jazz has been considered an art in France ever since the post-World War I era, when writers like Jean Cocteau or painters like Fernand Léger raved about this new music or got inspired by it. It’s no wonder, then, that a present day head of the Department of Culture of the French Republic should officially give jazz musicians like Roy Haynes, Ahmad Jamal the medal of Commandeur des Arts et Lettres (Commander of Arts and Literature).

The second historical fact is that in France, since 1901, a law allows any group of three persons to start an “association”—a non-profit organization that can deal with almost any type of activity, that can have an unlimited number of members, and that can be sponsored privately and publicly provided its activity is considered useful by official institutions. Sports teams are organized in “associations”; there are stamp collectors “associations” and others devoted to spreading the art of lace making in obscure country districts way out in the mountains. And of course there are cultural “associations,” some of whom (apart from private sponsoring, which is not today’s subject) are heavily sponsored by the central state, the Régions (more or less the equivalent of the States of the Union, with less autonomy, though), and then some. It’s essentially through these “associations” that jazz in France (and not only French Jazz) gets sponsored.

The French “Orchestre National de Jazz” (ONJ), that’s unique in the world and may, given its name, be thought to be directly financed by the government, is actually managed by an “association” called AJON. The leader of the ONJ—who chooses the members of the band and the repertoire—is renewed every three years. Most of the former bosses of the ONJ have had a hard time recovering from the ideal working conditions (nice wages, paid rehearsals, no need to worry about concerts and tours, neither home nor abroad: the AJON takes care of everything — etc…) they experienced during their tenure.

Vibist and composer Frank Tortiller, who led the last ONJ until December 08, was wiser: “Some colleagues had warned me about the post-ONJ lag, so I thought things out right from the beginning and founded an ‘association’ designed to manage my orchestra after it would lose its ONJ label. This association developed a partnership with the Région Bourgogne (Burgundy), where I come from. This allowed me to maintain the same orchestra, which is now sponsored by Burgundy and called The Orchestra/Franck Tortiller, while the new ONJ has now been taken care of by the AJON, as a matter of course.”

Indeed, if each Région doesn’t sponsor its own orchestra, quite a few of them do. Of course there is an obligation for the sponsored orchestra to play at home, to organize master classes and other teaching projects within the boundaries of the Région, and to spread the reputation of their sponsors in the rest of the country and abroad. What the Régions also do is sponsor jazz festivals. These have become so popular and numerous in France that no Région could stand the shame of not having one on its territory.

This is the end of part one of Thierry Quénum’s report on the funding of jazz in France. Check back soon for part two.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments


A Fitting Epitaph to Mingus's Big Score

When jazz fans discuss the really big compositions of the past, a small number of controversial classics dominate the conversation: including Ellington's Black, Brown & Beige, Marsalis's Blood on the Fields, and Mingus's Epitaph. A new video gives Thomas Cunniffe the opportunity to revisit the latter work, and consider whether it was an ambitious failure or the culmination of the composer's career. T.G.


A critic once asked Duke Ellington if his music had influenced Charles Mingus. Ellington replied, “Well, that what he says”. Perhaps the source of Ellington’s myopia was a simple case of presentation. Both men fought deadlines to have music ready for performances, but Ellington could make any piece sound complete, even if he had further revisions in mind. Mingus wasn’t always able to create that illusion. While Ellington’s recorded legacy sounds like one polished masterpiece after another, Mingus’ discography is littered with musical experiments that were not fully thought-out and never properly realized. Of course, Mingus had plenty of musical projects that were total successes, but for every Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus or East Coasting, there was a disaster like the 1962 Town Hall concert.

The Town Hall concert seemed doomed from the start. Someone should have known that moving up the date of a live recording by 5 weeks would be a major problem, especially when the project involved 30 musicians and a program of newly-arranged music. Mingus should have insisted on a postponement, but instead he tried to meet an impossible deadline. By the time of the concert, he had hired a team of arrangers and an entire firm of copyists (some of the copyists were onstage writing parts as the concert went on!). Mingus’s overwhelming stress led to an argument with Jimmy Knepper. Mingus punched the trombonist in the jaw, causing major damage to Knepper’s embouchure. Knepper was unable to play the concert as scheduled, and he sued Mingus for assault.

On the night of the concert Mingus apologized to the audience, telling them that what would follow would be an open recording session. Since the event had been advertised as a regular concert, Mingus encouraged the audience to ask for their money back. Overall, the music was sloppily played. While there were a few musical highpoints (including brilliant solos by alto men Eric Dolphy, Charles McPherson and Charlie Mariano), there was no sense of completeness, as Mingus usually cut pieces off before the end.

The United Artists LP of the concert was poorly engineered, and several of the compositions were mistitled and shortened. If Mingus’s intention was to assemble the parts in the editing room, he never got the opportunity. Alan Douglas, who produced the recording, was fired by UA shortly after the concert, and George Wein, with whom Mingus had had words with during the concert, was put in charge of the editing. In 1994, Brian Priestly assembled all of the surviving concert tapes, which were remastered and restored by Blue Note. The results were issued as The Complete Town Hall Concert. Unfortunately, the music was still a mess. While the CD sound was much better than the LP, the original balance problems could not be fixed (the original recording engineers were not able to see the concert as it was recorded, and with no monitor speakers onstage, the musicians couldn’t hear each other.) Worse yet, there were not sufficient directions left over from the session to create some semblance of Mingus’ musical intentions.

Of course, it’s hard to say just what those intentions were. Did Mingus want to create some sort of career retrospective? After all, the program included pieces from various parts of his career. But would United Artists have agreed to a multi-LP set of a mammoth concert (assuming, of course, that there could have been a fully-prepared concert instead of an open recording session)? Several of Mingus’ biographers note that he came back to this music after the concert, adding more pieces to create the suite Epitaph. Perhaps Mingus was hoping for a second chance for this music. That didn’t happen until ten years after his death.

In 1985, while cataloguing all of Mingus’ written music, musicologist Andrew Homzy discovered the ”Epitaph” score. As might be expected, it was not a complete score: several pieces were missing endings, there was no definitive finale for the work, and one piece had to be literally cut and pasted together to make a performing edition. However, it was clear from the instrumentation that the work was Mingus’ post-concert suite. Gunther Schuller edited the work and on June 3, 1989, the final work was premiered by an all-star group (with Schuller conducting) at Alice Tully Hall in New York. The concert was videotaped for Britain’s Channel 4, and the audio from the tapes were used for Columbia’s 2-CD issue of the concert. After 20 years, the video has finally been released on DVD by Eagle Eye Media.

While the complete recordings of the Town Hall concert would not be issued for another five years after the Epitaph concert, Schuller did an admirable job in transforming the fragmented piece into a unified whole. Where the endings were missing, he segued into another piece (Mingus left some instructions of this sort in the score) or created a new ending in Mingus’ style. The band featured several Mingus veterans, including George Adams, Jack Walrath, Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, Paul Faulise, Snooky Young, Don Butterfield, John Handy and Jerome Richardson (Woodman, Bert, Faulise, Young, Butterfield and Richardson all played at the Town Hall concert).

The music sounds like classic big band Mingus and—whether the composer meant it or not—it acts as a career retrospective. There’s a 1939 Mingus composition called “Chill Of Death” that was originally conceived as a classical piece, a re-working of his arrangement of “Body and Soul” originally made for the Lionel Hampton orchestra, an atonal mambo, remakes of classic Mingus works like “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” and “Pithecanthropus Erectus” and even an arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wolverine Blues” (featuring a jazz bassoon solo!). However, it’s also a lot of extremely dense music packed into a little over 2 hours. The barn-burning small group version of “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” offers needed contrast, and it’s a shame that more of that side of Mingus’ music is absent from this concert.

The video production is clean and understated, but the camera crew missed shots of several soloists, and the video fails to show multiple images when several levels of music occur simultaneously. The DVD has no extras, and while the booklet includes the CD liner notes by Schuller, they are not the complete notes, but a severely truncated version. I can understand cutting the notes because of printing costs, but still frames take very little space on a DVD, and all of Schuller’s notes plus a biography of Mingus could have been included as extras.

CHARLES MINGUS: THE COMPLETE TOWN HALL CONCERT Blue Note CD 28353. Original recording produced by Alan Douglas & George Wein. Reissue produced by Brian Preistley. Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young, Richard Williams, Rolf Ericson, Ed Armour, Lonnie Hillyer (trumpets); Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson, Willie Dennis, Eddie Bert, Jimmy Cleveland, Paul Faulise (trombones); Don Butterfield (tuba); Romeo Penque, Eric Dolphy, Charlie Mariano, Charles McPherson, Buddy Collette, Zoot Sims, George Berg, Pepper Adams, Jerome Richardson, Danny Bank (reeds); Warren Smith (vibes, percussion); Toshiko Akiyoshi, Jaki Byard (piano); Les Spann (guitar); Charles Mingus (bass, vocal); Milt Hinton (bass); Dannie Richmond (drums); Grady Tate (percussion). New York (Town Hall); October 12, 1962.

CHARLES MINGUS: EPITAPH Eagle Eye DVD 39171-9/Columbia CD 45428. Directed for video by Humphrey Burton. Produced for television by David Woolf. Concert produced by Sue Mingus. Randy Brecker, Wynton Marsalis, Lew Soloff, Jack Walrath, Joe Wilder, Snooky Young (trumpets); Eddie Bert, Sam Burtis, Paul Faulise, Urbie Green, David Taylor, Britt Woodman (trombones); Don Butterfield (tuba); John Handy, Jerome Richardson, Bobby Watson, George Adams, Phil Bodner, Roger Rosenberg, Gary Smulyan, Michael Rabinowitz, Dale Kleps (reeds); Karl Berger (vibes, percussion); Roland Hanna, John Hicks (piano); John Abercrombie (guitar); Reggie Johnson, Edwin Schuller (bass); Victor Lewis (drums); Daniel Druckman (percussion); Gunther Schuller (conductor). New York (Alice Tully Hall); June 3, 1989.

This blog entry posted by Thomas Cunniffe

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Blues Notes from All Over

Even if you haven’t heard of Jim Dickinson, who passed away on Saturday at age 67, you have heard him. If you’ve ever listened to the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” or Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” or various other tracks by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Carmen McRae, Ry Cooder, and a long list of other stars, you have enjoyed his supple, bluesy piano work. Dickinson was also deeply immersed in the musical traditions of Memphis and North Mississippi, and was the closest thing you will ever find to a walking, talking history lesson in those parts of the country.

 Jim Dickinson

I ran into Dickinson a few months back when I was invited to talk and play piano on the Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast out of Oxford, Mississippi. I was happy to oblige the request to perform some blues music on the airwaves—until I learned that I would be replacing Jim (the house pianist) on the keys. I thought it was sacrilege for me to fill in for this much-larger-than-local legend. But Dickinson was friendly and obliging, and I ended up playing some music and also having the chance to meet this fascinating individual whose work I had long admired.

I also spent much of that evening seated next to his wife Mary. But she was more interested in talking about her children than about her husband. And who can blame her? Their sons Luther and Cody Dickinson are famous in their own right. The “kids’ band,” the North Mississippi Allstars, is as fine an electric blues band as you will hear anywhere these days, and this group has enjoyed a well-deserved crossover success with many young fans who have little or no previous exposure to blues music. Moreover, Luther Dickinson’s recent decision to join on with the Black Crowes gives him access to a larger audience than any blues musician can dream about—that band has sold more than 20 million records.

So Mom (and Dad) had good reason to be proud.

When I met Jim Dickinson, he was working on his autobiography. I’m not sure how far along he got. But what a story—or rather a collection of stories—that would be. Jim knew all the old Memphis blues pioneers back in the day, and then later shared the bandstand with a veritable who’s who of blues and rock. He will be missed, and can't be replaced.

Chicago Blues

Blues musicians often can’t decide whether they want to celebrate the past or charge into the future. Sometimes they try to do both at the same time—and end up failing at both.

Yet a new double CD, Chicago Blues: A Living History shows how it is supposed to be done. The 21 songs featured here are proven classics, and the comprehensive and smartly-done liner notes will tell you why they are so important. But the versions on the CD are new ones, performed by a top notch cast. The personnel changes from track to track, but includes Billy Boy Arnold (whose recent Billy Boy Sings Sonny Boy made my list of the best blues CDs of 2008), John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell.

This is deep blues indeed. Primer learned his craft under the mentorship of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, and shows here how deeply he immersed himself in the Chicago tradition. Billy Boy Arnold, for his part, got his first harmonica lesson at age twelve from Sonny Boy Williamson, and later gigged with Bo Diddley. The rest of the cast is excellent, and the end result is a lock for this year’s list of best blues releases.

A track from this CD is featured as the current Song of the Day at

I enjoy the music of that great poet of early Mississippi blues, Skip James—even when a moose is doing the lip-synching.

When I want to know what a puzzling blues lyric means, I go to my friend Stephen Calt. He wrote a guide to the “idioms of Robert Johnson” years ago that has proven invaluable to researchers in the field as well as casual fans—Calt helps the uninitiated understand those odds phrases such as “I’ll do the Breakaway on your liver” or “I woke up this mornin’, my biscuit roller was gone.”

 Barrelhouse Words

These blues lyrics can be surprisingly complex. I sometimes feel that it would be easier to unravel the significations of "A" by Louis Zukofsky than determine the meaning of some of these old tunes. Great progress has been made in the field—some years back it was hard enough to figure out what syllables were being sung on many of these 78s, let alone what the words meant—but there are still numerous areas of disagreement, contention and sheer puzzlement.

When researching my book Delta Blues, I learned that Calt had done extensive research for a comprehensive dictionary of blues terminology—a project he had started decades ago, but had put aside unfinished. I prodded and encouraged him to return to this work, and even offered to help out myself if need be. From what I saw of his research, it was far more detailed than any of the other works out there. Indeed, it was so far ahead of them, that there really wasn’t any comparison. I can’t tell you how gratified I was when I learned that he decided to finish the book.

As it turned out, my help was not necessary here, and Calt on his own has completed an impressive guide, one that is every bit as good as I had hoped. Finally we have our Rosetta Stone, a single source that unlocks the meaning of these great old blues. This author not only knows the blues field inside and out—Calt is author of excellent biographies of Charlie Patton and Skip James and has met and interviewed many important blues artists who are no longer with us—but he also has dug deeply into language-related research material few blues writers even know about it. This gives him a rare, if not unique ability, to unravel the arcane significations of the past blues masters. He shows historical antecedents to these phrases that will surprise the experts, but also writes this guide with enough panache that even casual fans will enjoy it.

The book, entitled Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary, won’t be out for several more weeks. But can be pre-ordered here. Check it out . . . but don’t mess with my biscuit roller!

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Jazz Outreach in Harlem

Willard Jenkins has investigated a series of of successful grassroots jazz programs around the United States for In previous installments, he has looked at Albuquerque’s Outpost Productions, Seattle’s Earshot Jazz and Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh. Now he talks to Loren Schoenberg of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. T.G.

The focus of our series of conversations with folks who set the stage for jazz in their locale this time takes us to the mythical jazz Mecca, New York City—specifically to uptown Manhattan and the burgeoning National Jazz Museum in Harlem. This project is an example of community development with a capital J[azz}. And it is an unusual project in that it’s co-directed by two first-call jazz musicians, bassist Christian McBride (whose latest record is Kinda Brown on the Mack Avenue label) and saxophonist-educator Loren Schoenberg. The latter is the primary 9-5 administrator of the project, so we got the inside perspective straight from the erudite Schoenberg.

Talk about the origins of the National Jazz Museum project, and why it is centered around Harlem?

 National Jazz Museum in Harlem

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem was founded in the mid-1990s by Leonard Garment. The thought was there was really no community that resonated with jazz the way that Harlem did. The operative analogy we use is overtones and undertones; if you strike a low note on a piano and hold the sustain pedal down you’ll find that other strings start to vibrate at the same time, even though they haven’t been physically struck, sympathetic vibration. In terms of creating a museum to celebrate jazz’s legacy it seemed as though Harlem was the place that really reverberated and resonated with that idea. The entire community of Harlem is a living museum in a sense of jazz. The project gained traction around 2000/2001. I came aboard as director in 2001 and I brought Christian McBride in as my co-director in 2004 and its been uphill ever since.

When you talk museum there’s an edifice expectation. Where are you with that essential piece of the puzzle?

We were designated by the New York City Economic Development Council two months ago to be the lead cultural component in a redevelopment project that will be across the street from the Apollo Theatre. It’s called Mart 125 and it will be a combination of affordable housing that will also have culture. We will be on the ground floor at 125th. We’re being given 12,000 square feet by the city—2,000 we will lease to another cultural organization—and we’ll have 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. There’ll also be a restaurant and a small performance venue.

What will visitors see and experience when they enter this proposed space?

 National Jazz Museum in Harlem

We’re going to have both, rotating and permanent exhibits. Early on we spent a lot of time with Ralph Appelbaum’s group; they are exhibit designers. They did the Newseum, the Holocaust Museum, the Civil Rights Center, the Constitution Center, the Clinton Library, the Rose Planetarium. . . . We spent a lot of time with him when I first came onboard determining what our approach to exhibits would be and now it’s a matter of adapting them to the current reality.

What’s the targeted launch?

Probably late 2012 would be fair.

In the interim you’ve seemed very busy with developing a presence for the museum project itself in Harlem and really kind of working to develop a sense of ownership on the part of the community with the museum. You’ve been doing that out of a temporary operating space in East Harlem. What’s been your intent as far as developing these initial programs and public forums?

I’ve studied the successes and failures of various museums around the world, some of which have brilliant programming but failed when it came to bricks & mortar; some that succeeded when it came to bricks & mortar but didn’t have great programming. I’ve seen museums imposed on a neighborhood that couldn’t support them either financially or culturally. . . . So we started out on the grassroots level of just trying to build a program that was worthy of the music and worthy of the community. We’ve built from there. We opened our visitors’ center last July and it’s packed with school groups, college groups, people from elder homes, and people from the New York Public Library. It’s the second room in our office space, about 1200 square feet. If you look at our website, you’ll see that there are a lot of photos and we have a visitor’s gallery and you can see the kind of people that we attract, they’re from all over the place. I like to think that we have a slice of the demographic cultural pie that I know is unique.

When I used the term ownership, I meant developing a sense of ownership with the community in terms of the community owning the museum.

I understand. . . well then, yes you are correct. . . . Well actually I don’t know, I don’t know about the word own, I’d have to think about it.

I mean ownership in this respect: something that the community values to the point where once you have that edifice in place there will be a familiarity with your mission and people will think of this as our place.

Yes, absolutely. . . .Here’s a representative anecdote along those lines: there is a foundation that we are seeking support from and the foundation said they don’t do museums, they don’t do culture, they don’t do music. . . . but outside of that ‘good luck.’ So I went and read their mission and came back to some of the people here—we have a staff of 2.5 and we do over 150 events a year, so we have a very close group. It turns out that we satisfy the prerequisites of this foundation because you could really look at what we do as socialization for elders, and also for people who live in a community where there are financial challenges and is underserved in many ways.

Broaden that for me…

A lot of the people who come to our events I don’t think are coming because they’re Jazz fans with a capital J, they’re coming because it’s a nice community event, because we attract interesting people, and I take it as a significant marker that when we take intermission at our interviews, our classes, or our concerts, you cannot stop the people from intermingling and socializing. And at the end of the evening we have to virtually kick people out because it’s late and the super wants to close the building [chuckles]. So I think ultimately what we have built here is a real community organization that is socializing for people and jazz is the common denominator, but we’re not preaching to the choir and we’re not even really looking for the jazz fans.

 Loren Schoenberg

So you are developing audience…

That’s one way to quantify it…

And are you finding that people come to your programs who may not necessarily patronize other jazz activities around town?

I think a lot of the people who come to our programs are people who want to have an interesting evening, or an interesting event, or meet interesting people, or experience an interesting performance, concert or lecture. And it happens to be jazz…

So people who are coming to your programs are not necessarily folks you might find at the Vanguard?

We hope it’s everyone you’d find at the Vanguard plus…

Detail your programs, their thrust and content.

We started with a program called Harlem Speaks, which is an extended oral history interview, 2-3 hours, and we do it every two weeks. We interview mostly musicians but people for whom jazz has played a significant role in their lives; we can have clubowners, authors, lawyers, and promoters. . . . all kinds of different people. We’ve had Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Roy Haynes, Clark Terry, Representative Charlie Rangel and well known people like that, but for the most part we try and celebrate people whose lives have not been celebrated and have not been interviewed to death and just spit out the ossified anecdote. We try and find fresh [folks] so to speak. We make the audio from a lot of these events available on our website.

After Harlem Speaks we went to what we call the Harlem Speaks Education Initiative, in which we took some of these great elders like Joe Wilder, Grady Tate… and take them into the public schools and do a program that lasts anywhere from one-two weeks up to eight weeks, in which we introduce the students to this great elder, then someone interviews them, then the kids watch the interview and comment on it, and then the students interview the person the following week. So they have a videotape of it for their archives.

This program has many different forms; one is the interview format, the other is we’ll send a great young musician like [trumpeter] Keyon Harold or Jason Marshall or Aaron Diehl or Jonathan Batiste into a school and just let them mentor the kids for a few weeks. Out of that grew a Tuesday night series called Jazz for Curious Listeners, which came from the title of my NPR book, and that’s just a class for lay people that I teach pretty much every Tuesday night. We have guest instructors; we’ve had everybody from Stanley Crouch to Nat Hentoff to all these wonderful young musicians who I encounter. Then we branched out from there to Jazz for Curious Readers, which is an interview series with authors that’s once a month. We’ve had James McBride, Nat Hentoff, Gary Giddins, Ira Gitler, Herb Boyd and others.

We have a program called Jazz in the Parks that we do with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. We have another program that we do with the Central Parks Conservancy; we have a children’s band that we do with the Children’s Aid Society. Not bad for a staff of 2.5!

You also have a relationship with the Rubin Museum?

Yes, that’s the only program we do for which admission is charged. It’s called Harlem in the Himalayas

Where’d that name come from—the curious Himalayas part?

The Rubin Museum was founded by Donald Rubin, who is a devotee of Himalayan art. I met with them and we were trying to find something that we could do together and I came up with this idea in which we would have jazz musicians—and a lot of the musicians we hire are from Harlem, or live in Harlem or play in Harlem a lot—play a concert and part of the concert would be writing or performing a piece of music that dealt specifically, in a serious fashion, with Himalayan art and culture. The results have been phenomenal! We’ve had such a wide range of artists appear there: Roswell Rudd, Gene Bertoncini, Marc Ribot, Randy Weston, Grachan Moncur, Ray Bryant, Jack Walrath, Jonathan Batiste. . . . I can’t even begin to name all the people who’ve played there; you can look on our website and see the list. It’s a very broad thing that we do there, and it’s very successful. That’s Friday nights 7-8:30 and we do 25-30 concerts a year.

So it’s one of those kinds of programs that people can attend right after work.

That’s exactly the kind of programming that we want to build into our permanent home in Mart 125. In our Harlem Speaks and the various classes that we do we always try to create an intimacy. When you come to our events you sit right near the people that are doing the thing. If there’s one thing we try and get away from it’s the standard relationship between an audience in chairs removed and people up on a stage and somehow physically and emotionally removed from the audience; we try and get right down there with it. And that’s something about Harlem in the Himalayas, they are on a stage but it’s a relatively small hall and it’s a relatively intimate chamber feeling. So much of jazz is so intimate but the performance scale is so out of whack. It’s like when your hear a string quartet in Carnegie Hall, it can be a wonderful experience but it’s not all it could be because that music was written for an intimate setting and should be experienced where you can hear and feel the actual overtones and vibrations of the instrument in the floor.

The funding atmosphere here in the 21st century encourages community partnerships. What kinds of community partnerships have you forged?

We have profound, deep and lasting community relations. First and foremost with the Harlem Arts Alliance, founded by the leader of culture in Harlem, Voza Rivers. We are a proud member and very, very involved. We’ve done programs at the Apollo Theater, the Museum of the City of New York; we’ve run programs at our expense at the Thurgood Marshall Academy and the Frederick Douglas Academy, and at the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts; we are in constant discussion with Jazzmobile. . . . I’m proud of what we’ve done in our neighborhood community programming and sharing, and I’m proud that we’ve been accepted and are a serious member of the Harlem arts community.

In an ideal world what will the National Jazz Museum in Harlem become?

Most people who come to New York to visit, or even come to the States to visit, are shocked that there is not a jazz museum in New York City. So I guess in an ideal world we would have this place for all these people to come visit. We think of ourselves as a spoke in a wheel. In other words you come to the Jazz Museum and you are spun out, to the Lenox Lounge, to Jazzmobile, to the Schomburg Center, to the Apollo, to the Vanguard, to the Library of Congress, to the Smithsonian, to the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City), to the Experience Music Project (Seattle). . . . We’re just one of many, but we’re proud of the fact that we’re a Smithsonian affiliate and we are in the process of creating our first external exhibit. We’ve been commissioned to make an exhibit that will be opening at Jazz at Lincoln Center in May 2010.

I want to acknowledge the influence of Christian McBride as co-director. Our philosophy of how to build an entity that relates to contemporary culture has been profoundly influenced by the guidance of Christian in many ways. I’m kind of like home director and he’s the traveling director, and wherever he goes in the world he’s helping spread the message and bringing feedback to us from all the countries that he visits.

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This blog entry posted by Willard Jenkins

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Remembering Les Paul (1915-2009)

The music world is mourning the loss of guitarist Les Paul, who passed away earlier today at age 94.’s arnold jay smith, who played a key role in luring Paul out of retirement and back on to the stage, shares his recollections below. T.G.

One evening in the late 1970s I received a call from a friend who was to begin booking shows at a cellar club in Gramercy Park called Fat Tuesday’s. He was young and had little experience in either running a club or anything to do with jazz, period. Seems his father had bought him the room.

 Les Paul

“AJay.” His voice had an urgency to it. “I’m booking Fat Tuesday’s and I know you did some publicity here. I need someone with ideas as to talent. Do you want to join me?”

The first bookings were your usual jazz-ers, nothing spectacular. But we were getting good notices. Not too long into the gig he asked me what I thought of Les Paul, who had been retired for some time. I wasn’t encouraging until he said that Gibson wanted to sponsor a month of Monday’s and would offer a Les Paul model guitar as a weekly door prize. I jumped at the chance to bring young non-jazz people into the club. Most guitar players—especially those who played the Gibson Les Paul—were rockers. There was a catch, however.

“Les needs to be encouraged. He’s reluctant to come out, what with his arthritis and all,” I was told. I only knew him casually from a New York City tour he did years prior with George Benson. But I called and he answered.

The obituaries and appreciations say that it was Les who was looking for a small boite to play in, make all the mistakes he would and still, in effect, come out of retirement.

“Yeah. OK, A month of Mondays for Gibson works for me,” Les told me. No question of what he would or would not be paid, only, “Would I be picked up and returned home? I go to sleep early these days.”

That weekly gig lasted until Fat Tuesday’s closed years later and was followed by the Iridium gig until he went into the hospital for the last time. Along the way we celebrated his birthdays to ever increasing crowds. The lines spilled onto Third Ave and around the corner in all kinds of weather. Les would not leave until everyone of his young fans got into the small club. He would affably sign posters, guitars, programs, napkins, LPs. (I once saw him sign a cast on a guitarist’s plectrum arm.) He had a joke for everyone who said something nice. Oh, yes. He changed his sleeping habits.

If there weren’t causes for celebration we would invent them: the (fill in the blank) anniversary of some recording, LP, or tune. We’d get ASCAP, or BMI to join us in presenting Les Paul with a plaque for the occasion. We once got Mayor Ed Koch to declare a “Les Paul Day,” The occasion? The first anniversary of hs first gig at Fat Tuesday’s. And the fifth. Tenth.

During one of a phalanx of telephone conversations made to keep Les interested in working through his pain we talked about Mary Ford and their collaborations. “Do you think there’s an anniversary in there somewhere,” I asked. “When did you two first get together in your garage to do the overdubbing?” Les gave me the date which was a couple of years short of a round number. “Do you think it was 40 years ago that the two of you first talked about it over breakfast.” Silence . . . then: “You know it was 40 years ago that Mary and I first thought of overdubbing.” He got it. It was a grand celebration with more plaques, politicos, and a cake, shaped like a Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty. The topping was pure bittersweet chocolate. I can still taste it.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Lives of the Great Trombonists

A few days ago, one of the music discussion forums mulled over whether the trombone is dead. The topic was hotly debated, and though defenders of the bone made their points, readers were left with a vaguely disquieting sense that (in the words of one poster): “The trombone isn't dead, but it is on a downward slide.”

The Trombone

Fortunately no one has told’s Alex W. Rodriguez, who has been chronicling the masters of the trombone in a series of first rate reviews and encyclopedia entries for our site. When he is not writing here, he can be found cogitating at his own blog Lubricity. You can tell you have arrived at Alex's jazz blog if you see a photo at the top of (you guessed it) a trombone—played, in this instance, by the great Jack Teagarden.

Alex has been on a tear recently, and has written a whole batch of mini-bios of great trombonists for the encyclopedia. It would be easy to miss this collection—which serves as a great intro to the trombone tradition. So I am sharing links to a dozen of these articles below. In other words, if you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Kid, Trummy, Miff, Tricky and all the rest, now is your chance.

The Trombone Family

Lawrence Brown: Lawrence Brown rounded out Duke Ellington's innovative trombone trifecta in the 1930s and 1940s, and he played in a virtuosic, highly decorated style. His distinct instrumental voice made him one of Ellington's preferred soloists for nearly two decades….Read more here

Tommy Dorsey: Tommy Dorsey was one of the first jazz trombonists to convey meaning and intention with every note he played. Best known for his pure tone, impeccable vibrato, long phrasing and ease in the upper register, Dorsey was also one of the few trombonists - or jazz musicians, for that matter - of his generation to achieve both fame and financial success…. Read more here

Bennie Green: Trombonist Bennie Green kept pace with the innovations of bebop while maintaining a deep closeness to the blues and popular song. His style combines a bright, full sound with sharp articulation and clarity in the upper register, reminiscent of his idol, Trummy Young, with the bebop phrasing and chromaticism later perfected by J.J. Johnson…Read more here

Jimmy Harrison: Trombonist Jimmy Harrison was the rare instrumentalist who developed a personal vocabulary for jazz which was distinct from, and preceded, the influential approach of trumpeter Louis Armstrong. His fluid improvisation, instrumental range, rhythmic articulation, sense of humor and huge sound earned him wide respect among his peers on the 1920s New York City jazz scene….Read more here

J.C. Higginbotham warmup book

J.C. Higginbotham: J.C. Higginbotham brought a uniquely bombastic element to jazz trombone playing, making a career as one of the Swing Era's most memorable musical architects. Higginbotham was one of the first to apply wide lip trills and upper-register glissando techniques to the jazz aesthetic, always adding excitement to the bands with whom he played, including Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb and Louis Armstrong….Read more here

Miff Mole: Miff Mole was one of the first to bring the tailgate style of Kid Ory and other New Orleans trombonists to his hometown of New York, and he made some of the first jazz recordings. In doing so, he added his own, more soloistic approach to the instrument, which was characterized by wide leaps in pitch and clear, rhythmic articulation. This virtuosity prompted Tommy Dorsey to call him "the Babe Ruth of the trombone."…Read more here

Benny Morton: Morton's trombone sound is characterized by a wide range and facility in all parts of the instrument, a soft, smooth tone and roots in the early "hot" trombone styles that sometimes feature glissandi and blues effects. Morton was also an excellent "tailgate" player when the situation called for it, as was the case later in his career when he performed with a number of Dixieland revival leaders….Read more here

Tricky Sam Nanton: Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, a member of Duke Ellington's famed trombone section for nearly two decades, exemplified and advanced the plunger-mute style of early trombone playing. Nanton's playing usually featured very simple melodic phrasing and a level of expressivity unrivaled by most of his contemporaries. Nanton was able to produce a wide variety of expressive effects on the trombone beyond the "wa-wa" tradition, including horse-like whinnies and a "ya-ya" effect which very closely imitated the sound of the human voice…. Read more here

Kid Ory: Kid Ory was the original "tailgate" trombonist: his enormous brassy sound, audacious glissandi and loud sense of humor came to define the New Orleans trombone sound. A key element in the groups of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, Ory led the first African-American ensemble to record jazz, and he composed many early jazz hits, including "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Muskrat Ramble." In the 1940s, he was a leader of the Dixieland revival movement….Read more here

Jack Teagarden: Trombonist and singer Jack Teagarden may have been at ease in the tailgate style of his generation, but he was the first to step out of that role and stand on his own as a melodic improviser. Where his trombone playing was highly decorative and technical, his singing was understated, a subtle baritone coated with very light vibrato. But both, while different in timbre, achieved the same goal: they convey a deep melancholic sadness rooted in the blues…. Read more here

Juan Tizol: Juan Tizol, one of the first prominent jazz musicians of Hispanic descent, brought his Puerto Rican heritage and excellent valve trombone technique into the Duke Ellington orchestra, where he helped plant the seeds of Latin jazz. Best known for composing the jazz standard "Caravan," Tizol was the most extensively-trained classical musician in Ellington's orchestra, and could execute a "legit" or "straight" melodic concept when called upon to do so.... Read more here

Trummy Young: Trombonist Trummy Young developed a bright, energetic sound with unprecedented facility in the upper register which opened new opportunities for the trombone in jazz music. His work in reshaping the role of his instrument beyond tailgate lines provided a key resource for future generations. As a vocalist, his tenor voice was characterized by a breathy, joking quality….Read more here

For other bios (of trombonists or other jazz artists), visit our Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians here. It is still a work-in-progress with a few missing entries, but in the last few days, editor Tim Wilkins published the 1,800th entry, and he is adding more every month.

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Summer Jazz in Paris

Anyone who keeps tabs on the thriving jazz scene in Europe can't help comparing the diversity and excitement of their festivals with the watered-down crossover fare that is now dominating the US festival circuit. Thierry Quénum reports below on the latest Paris festival, where the promoters aren't afraid of taking chances. T.G.

Among the hundreds of jazz festivals that France hosts during the summer (only second to Italy, as far as Europe is concerned), there is one that deserves to be singled out, and not only because it takes place in the capital. The Paris Jazz Festival possesses many idiosyncrasies that make him a special case, and with a new managing team at its head for the next few years, it has even increased its singularity.

Paris Jazz Festival

First, it is not restricted to a one or two week period but takes place every weekend during the months of June and July. Second the concerts are not scheduled at night but in the afternoon, two (sometimes three) each Saturday and Sunday. Third, in spite of its name, it isn’t really located inside Paris but in the beautiful Parc Foral de la Ville de Paris, just outside of the Bois de Vincennes, facing the huge, historical Château de Vincennes with its famous dungeon—where some 18th century philosophers used to be offered a cool lonely vacation when our beloved kings didn’t find their writings appropriate.

Would the kings or the philosophers have appreciated the sound of jazz music coming from the Parc Floral? Maybe not more than the roar of the metro that brings thousands of listeners to the Paris Jazz Festival every weekend, and especially so when the sun shines. For the PJF takes place outdoors, as you’ll have understood, and is free once you’ve paid the 5 € entrance fee to the Parc Floral. This will allow you to walk along the lanes and enjoy the fragrances of a great diversity of flowers and blossoms, or to picnic with your friends or family, or to take a nap on the lawns while listening to live music. In a city like Paris, where public parks are rare and tiny, that’s a bargain you can hardly refuse, whether you’re a local enjoying his weekend break or a tourist visiting the capital.

This summer, the daring new team that was chosen by the Paris Cultural Authority to program the PJF made a bold move as far as musical choices are concerned. A move that might have been made much earlier, given the privileged situation of the PJF: heavily sponsored, close to two airports and several railway stations where speed trains run to and from international destinations, liable to welcome the jazz fans of a city of several millions and of its surroundings, plus hundreds of jazz buffs visiting the world capital of tourism.

What did this programming team do, then? They invited European neighbors to play in a French summer festival! Take a look at the program of your typical French jazz festival during the summer, be it held in a small village away from the main roads, in a beach resorts like Vannes, in Brittany, or in Vienne, close to France’s second biggest city, Lyon, right on the motorway that tourists from Northern France, and Northern Europe at large, take to reach their sunny goals on the French Riviera, the Languedoc coast, or even Spain. On these programs you’ll find US blockbusters, of course, French veterans and some young and upcoming national stars too, you’ll have a gospel mass on Sunday and a blues night sometime during the week because you cannot forget the roots. You’ll have some world music too since it wouldn’t be politically correct to forget the “cousins” from Africa, Asia, or the Balkans. You’ll have some Gipsy jazz too because everybody likes it even if they don’t particularly like jazz, and there’s good chance you’ll have a “Vocal Jazz Night” for the same reasons.

So, after all, it’s not difficult to program a French jazz festival: just look at the DTP (Diary of Tours in Progress) and mark the groups that correspond to the above mentioned categories and will drive or ride by your French country village/beach resort/big town on their way to another French country village/beach resort/big town. Make sure, of course, that they don’t play their next gig closer than, let’s say 200kms from your festival during the same week, and the trick is done.

One sees, though, that with this type of festivals European musicians who are neither Gypsy nor from the Balkans had better find work at home during the summer if they don’t want to starve to death. As for the audiences who, by some summer miracle, become receptive to live jazz as soon as they are on holiday, there’s good chance that they’ll come back home with clichés making them believe that the only people who produce jazz music are the US, the French and the Gypsies.

Of course the PJF didn’t devise an exclusively European program. One can both be daring and original and indulge in some crowd-pleasing type of music. But one can do it intelligently. Among the eight weekends that the PJF lasted, one was devoted to Gypsy music, another one to African music and a third one to the blues. But each time the groups chosen or the mix of the afternoon was stimulating: US lap steel guitar player and singer Pura Fé played before French harmonica wizard Jean-Jacques Milteau, French gypsy guitar hero Bireli Lagrène before the Kocani Orchestar, a very rooted dance band from Macedonia, and French drummer Stéphane Huchard played his “African Tribute to Art Blakey” — that added two African hand percussionists to his hard bop quintet — the day before Malian keyboardist and arranger Cheick Tidiane Seck stepped on stage with a modern African group that was close to those he gathered to record and play with Hank Jones or Dee Dee Bridgewater a couple of years ago.

How about European jazz, then? Everything started with a Belgian weekend that gave a large room to French and US artists (Belgians are traditionally open, and the PJF hosted some American musicians too, you see). 26 years old saxophonist Robin Verheyen, who hails from Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) but presently lives in New York, displayed his beautifully creative tenor and soprano sound fronting the trio he leads with Bill Carrothers: a tightly knit combo completed by Carrothers’s usual rhythm team when he plays in Europe — and Verheyen’s fellow citizens — bassist Nic Thys and drummer Dré Pallemaerts.

Maria Schneider often comes to Europe alone for master classes or to conduct local bands that want to play her music. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra is one of her favorite, and the Belgian big band — one of Europe’s best — obviously acquires a new sonic dimension under Schneider’s leadership. This band not only hosts some of Belgium’s best instrumentalists (altoist and musical director Franck Vaganée, Kurt Van Herck and Bart Defoort on tenor sax, Bo Van Der Werf on baritone sax, Serge Plume on trumpet or pianist Nathalie Loriers — all of them leaders on their own right) but it has specialized in playing the repertoire of invited soloists or composers like Philip Catherine, Bert Joris, Kenny Werner, Michel Herr or Toots Thielemans. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra’s PJF concert with Maria Schneider confirmed its high level of musicianship and its adaptability.

On Sunday, a musician that one often hears but seldom on his own was scheduled, and having him play his music in trio truly was an original choice. Dutch pianist Diederik Wissels has lived in Belgium since his teenage years and has been associated with singer David Linx from then on. They have played and recorded so much together that one tends to forget that Wissels is not only a great accompanist but has his own impressionistic musical world. He showed it in a very convincing way on the stage of the PJF. The following group, Octurn, has often played Paris, but never during a summer festival. It is a perfect example of Belgian/French cooperation with an original repertoire composed by the members of the tentet that includes Gilbert Nouno, a specialist in electronics applied to music who, like some other members of Octurn, worked with Steve Coleman during the last few years.

Two weeks later, Italy was the star of the PJF, and not the most famous bands either nor those playing the most clichéd music. Trombonist Gianluca Petrella — who won a Downbeat critic’s poll a couple of years ago — is a star in his country and records on the Italian branch of Blue Note. He’s not unknown to French audiences, but each time his trombone/tenor quartet plays its half rough half mellow mix of originals and standards that seem to encompass the whole history of jazz, it wins new followers. Indeed, it’s hard to resist the instrumental bravado with a Mediterranean edge of this Indigo 4tet. Pianist Rita Marcotulli’s Italian-British band displays less of a typically “south of the border” (from a French viewpoint) sound, but it’s especially evident when this artist pays an homage to the music of the Pink Floyd. Musica Nuda is an Italian vocal & bass duet that’s so popular in France that the local branch of Blue Note recently signed it. It also has lot of pop music in its repertoire, from the Beatles to the Police, but the way it deals with it is so far from jazz that one sometime wonders about the relevance of their presence in a jazz festival.

On the contrary, young trumpet star Fabrizio Bosso (again a member of the Italian Blue Note stable) and veteran piano/accordion wizard Antonelo Salis are rare gems who cross generations, boldly blending tradition and daring modernity with a matching gift for pyrotechnical virtuosity and a typically Italian sensitivity. Francesco Bearzatti, who’d played tenor the day before in the Indigo 4tet, was to be heard again on this Sunday afternoon with a French/Italian organ trio that he’s had for a couple of years with keyboardist Emmanuel Bex and drummer Simon Goubert, two mainstays of the French jazz scene who are bathed in the hard bop to modal idioms and never say no to a new adventurous musical endeavor.

Two weeks later, again, Austria was the invited European country. Though the Saturday’s first group was hip cornet player and vocalist Médéric Collignon’s quartet playing an homage to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew— interesting, but again an homage which seems to be what nowadays young musicians favor most — the greatest expectation was raised by the Vienna Art Orchestra’s new program, titled “Third Dream.” Arguably the most famous European large orchestra, the VAO didn’t really try to revive the “third stream” of Gunther Schuller or John Lewis, but its new line up mixed jazz and classical musicians who played a virtuoso and often beautiful, but sometimes rather stiff original music, sounding half way between jazz and classical music, and composed by its leader Mathias Rüegg.

The classical influence was again present the next day with the Radio String Quartet, a Viennese ensemble that’s at ease with classical, contemporary and jazz music, and has recorded and played a lot — as it did on this Sunday afternoon — with Austrian accordion virtuoso Klaus Paier. The last band of this week end was French again, but its leader is very familiar with Mathias Rüegg and has even recorded some of his compositions in the past. Pianist and arranger Jean-Christophe Cholet has led his Diagonal tentet for about ten years and made its repertoire evolve from Balkanic music through British/Irish sounds to the present “French Touch” program, which it recorded last year. Diagonal is obviously one of the most original and interesting semi-big bands in the country, and it was high time it played a big summer festival.

The rest of the month was mostly devoted to French bands as diverse as trumpeter Erik Truffaz’s groove oriented quartet, cellist Vincent Courtois’s band that mixes acoustic instruments, voice and electronics, sax player and arranger Alban Darche’s big band Le Gros Cube playing a double homage to film noir and to the music of pop band Queen—or the highly innovative and iconoclastic drums/cello duet Bumcello, whose members Cyril Atef and Vincent Segal invited for the occasion Nathalie Natiembé, a vocalist from the French Reunion island, way out in the Indian Ocean. These sounds rejoiced the casual audience of the Parc Floral, but yours truly cannot tell you much about them: he’d gone south to check on other trees, plants and flowers, growing on the mountains and by the sea, and — for a change — away from the familiar noise of jazz music.

This blog entry posted by Thierry Quénum

August 12, 2009 · 0 comments


If the Music Industry Manged Our Healthcare . . .

Sometimes the music world has a solution to share . . . and not just a problem. Everyone is complaining that healthcare represents a growing percentage of the GDP, and that this trend will be disastrous if it continues unabated. To fix it, I propose imitating a business model that has proven its ability to shrink its share of the GDP—and do it every year. Look no further than the record industry.

To help you understand how this works, I have imagined a world in which music industry execs managed our healthcare system. T.G.


When the doctors started getting better and better looking, everyone was happy—at least at first.

“He looks so dashing in a white coat,” said Aunt Tillie when she came back from her colonoscopy. “And what lovely hair! He reminds me of that nice George Clooney in the movies. . . . . I do think I will need a follow-up appointment.”

The deans at the medical schools, who had been paying close attention to the appearance of their candidates for admission, were delighted. At first, the modeling portfolio (required with every application) was only a small part of process—and dwarfed by grades, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation and such. For a while the doctors were better looking, and still knew a smidgeon about medicine. But that didn’t last for long.

Gradually, schools that bent the rules got the more glamorous students. The turning point came when Yale and Johns Hopkins—on the same day—announced that MCATs were no longer required for admission, and hardship cases could get early acceptance without having completed an accredited pre-med course. “That next year,” griped an anonymous dean at a Midwest med school, “the Yale entering class looked they were ready for a bloody photo spread in Vanity Fair.”

Many medical practices refused, at first, to hire these glamour docs. But resistance gradually disappeared. Payola scandals sometimes made the newspapers, but usually went unreported. The head of one independent “placement agency” was heard to boast: “I have connections at the 100 largest practices in the country. With the right combo of payoffs, hookers and drugs, I could get Paris Hilton appointed as head neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic.”

Even back then, demand for healthcare was starting to decline—slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. Critics of the industry pointed to rising mortality figures and other gloomy statistics. Few members of the general public paid much attention to these numbers, but everyone had heard anecdotes about patients refusing to have a much-needed operation when they saw that their surgeon looked like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Even the dumbest patients seemed to figure out that their doctors couldn't spell the names of their ailments, let alone cure them.

The American Medical Association conducted a comprehensive study, and discovered the root of the problem. “People are using the Internet to bypass their doctors,” a spokesperson announced at the press conference. “They are researching their medical conditions themselves, and self-diagnosing.” The relentless violation of intellectual property horrified the medical establishment. Patients were accessing databases, downloading documents, even checking out double-blind clinical studies from medical journals no layperson should ever be allowed to see.

“This has got to stop,” the medical professionals all agreed.

The general public didn’t take the AMA’s threats seriously at first. But when eight senior citizens in a retirement community were sued, and forced to pay a settlement of $2.9 million—for downloading extracts from the Physicians' Desk Reference off the web—people knew that the docs were playing hardball. Just two weeks later, a spinster in Minneapolis was taking away in handcuffs for having pdf files of three issues of The New England Journal of Medicine on her hard drive.

But, strange to say, the patients did not go back to their doctors. The medical industry now pulled out all the stops, and built their strategy around the three L’s—litigating, lobbying, legislating. But healthcare demand continued to decline each month, each quarter, each year. Lawyers were now calling the shots in the medical field. “I should have gone to law school instead of medical school,” doctors were heard to grumble. “Then maybe I would have some influence at this damn hospital.”

Focus groups were held, and revealed that the general public had no sympathy with the beleaguered doctors. “I would rather take out my own appendix than go to one of those bimbos in white coats.” “Giving a scalpel to that idiot is like letting a German Shepherd drive a schoolbus.”

To boost their image in the public eye, the medical establishment pulled out all the stops. A high profile reality show, American Intern, was even launched on the Fox network. Aspiring doctors selected at auditions held around the country competed, performing a different procedure on camera every week, with only the best ones surviving to compete again on the next episode. (The best interns, that is; the number of patients surviving to the following week was a secret zealously guarded by the network.)

Ratings went through the roof. But, strange to say, even the most devoted fans seemed reluctant to volunteer to serve as patients on the show.

Medical schools redoubled their efforts. Deans of admission who had served valiantly for decades were fired summarily and replaced with pimply 17-year-olds who “had their fingers on the pulse of the youth demographic.” Medical knowledge was now a liability in these institutions, and even a rudimentary grasp of organic chemistry was enough to get you demoted or dismissed. But the faculty and students had never looked better. Even so, healthcare demand continued to drop.

Finally the profession gave in, and set up their own online alternatives. “Download your own medical degree and treat yourself,” their pop-up ads proclaimed. “It’s not as profitable as the old ways of doing business,” one mogul told the New York Times, “but you can’t fight progress, huh?”

This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments


100,000 Fans Flock to Small Town Jazz Festival (Hint: Not in the US)

In a series of articles in this column, Stuart Nicholson has reported on various European festivals that attract a large, young audience that few US jazz events can approach—and without watering down the jazz content, as has become almost de rigueur in the States. Is there something the Yanks can learn from these examples? Now Nicholson journeys to Molde in Norway, where 100,000 people come to a city with a population of only 25,000, to hear the music. T.G.

Molde Jazz Festival

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the jam sessions at the Molde Jazz Festival were the stuff of legend. At around midnight when the festival concerts had finished, musicians and a small number of fans and festival volunteers drove up to Varden, a small café in the mountains overlooking Molde town, where sessions lasted until dawn.

“When I first came to the festival in 1971/1972 young enthusiasts were able to sneak in there,” says Jan Ole Otnaes, who is now the Festival Director. “In 1972 I heard Keith Jarrett on drums, Miroslav Vitous on bass, Zawinul on acoustic piano, Berndt Rosengren, the Swedish saxophonist, and Wayne Shorter. People still talk about one memorable night when Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon battled it out until daybreak. Everyone who experienced that still talks about it! Another was in ’65 when Jan Garbarek sat in with local musicians. I’d love to have heard that as he was just seventeen years old and they say he was an amazing player even then!”

Molde Jazz Festival

Situated on the West Coast of Norway, Molde has been host to Norway’s largest jazz festival for almost fifty years. It is one of the longest running festivals in Europe and is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty that includes the highest waterfall and highest sheer mountain face in Europe. Molde itself has a population of some 25,000 people and during the festival week attracts an incredible 100,000 visitors. “All the big names in jazz have played here—Dizzy, Miles, Ornette, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny,” continues Otnaes, “In 1989 we started to do outdoor concerts presenting artists like Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Erykah Badu, Loren Hill, Sting, Elvis Costello, Mary J Bligh, Allen Toussaint, there’s been a bunch of big names.”

The festival headliners, this year including Jamie Cullum and Leonard Cohen, appear on an outdoor stage nestling in the natural contours of the mountainside above the town, with each concert attracting over 10,000 fans. The remaining concerts were held at venues around the town, and it was striking that at every venue, including the outdoor stage, the sound and lighting were of a very high standard.

This year’s Artist in Residence was trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who is on course to become one of Europe’s major jazz attractions. He seemed to be everywhere, from performing a major concert each day of the festival to patiently working with children at the daily kid’s music workshop. He had begun his concert series on Monday with a performance of music from Cartography, his recent debut album on the ECM label, but I was there for the final three days of the event, catching his Thursday night performance with the group Supersilent. The band was formed several years ago when Henrikesen, Ståle Storlokken on keyboards and Helge Sten on guitar were jazz students at the Trondheim music conservatory, and their work is documented by Oslo’s ultra hip Rune Grammofon label.

Now its a trio following the recent departure of drummer Jarle Vespestad, with everybody doubling on electronics, and Henriksen also doubling on drums from time to time. As the textures of their music ebbed and flowed, there was a moment when, hunched over their laptops, they seemed like telephone operators fielding other-worldly ringtones from distant planets. Yet Supersilent’s spontaneously conceived music forced you to leave a world with which you are familiar and immerse yourself in their alternative musical universe, which frequently coalesced around moments of true organic creativity before dissolving into wrong-end-of-the-telescope images of Bitches Brew or the Zawinul Syndicate. Despite often implicit rhythms from Henriksen’s drums, the trio version of the band seemed lighter on their feet and able to respond to each other’s creative impulses in a way that suggested a fresh new chapter in their development was beginning.

Mathias Eick, also an ECM recording artist and trumpet player, has quite a different take on his instrument to Henriksen. He prefers a more orthodox rhythm section, but his music seems to progress in a series of sighs. This is not urban, big city music but music of space and rural chastity. Eick’s tone and approach is distinctive, yet he is not one to force his sound on you, rather gradually envelop your senses with the pervasive, story-telling logic of his solos.

Huntsville were another band not given to grand gestures, despite the abstract disposition of their music. Comprising Ivar Grydeland on guitars and banjo, Tony Kluften bass and percussion and Ingar Zach drums and percussion, they use conventional instruments in unconventional ways. Their less-is-more ethos combined with an ability to shape drones, mysterious sound textures, ambient washes and spontaneous interaction into a cohesive musical identity. The result was a music that achieves its end through a series of modest surprises and understatement.

There was nothing understated about accordionist Richard Galliano and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, doing their rounds of the European circuit. Their music spoke from an age now passing in jazz when virtuoso technique was admired as a thing in itself. Notes were scattered like confetti, raining down on a contended audience but as with all mass production techniques, something is often lost in the manufacturing process.

Daniel Herskedal, who is from Molde, and his ensemble Some City Stories presented a series of programmatic postcards inspired by cities around the globe. A tuba player, conceptualist, composer and arranger, Herskedal is a musician to watch. He exploited the tonal resources of his small ensemble (trumpet, saxophone and electronics, guitar, drums and tuba) by using every possible permutation of instrumentation—and then some. Saxophonist Sissel Vera Petterson turned out to have a beautiful soprano voice, while trumpeter Per Jorgensen responded with a remarkable falsetto contralto. Herskedal’s used these unusual tonal resources in surprisingly original ways, and with Terje Isungset’s ability to colour the music with a remarkable range of percussive effects (the Ice Man has indeed cometh), the result was music of rare originality, substance and depth.

Another memorable set came from one of Holland’s finest ensembles, Bik Bent Braam’s big band, which presented a set that deservedly had the audience on their feet demanding more. Their range, by contemporary standards, is remarkable, signifying on every era of jazz without condescension or incongruity. Traditional big band fare of antiphonal riffs dissolved into sandstorms of amplified huffs and puffs through their instruments, then, as if guided by some unseen hand, a powerful blues episode rose up and climaxed in a spectacular cascade of splintered motifs. Through it all, the inscrutable figure of Braam sat at the piano, immaculately groomed and a study in nonchalance. His most extravagant gesture during the whole performance was to sip a mouthful of water from a plastic bottle. With moments of Willem Breuker-inspired humour it was wonderful theatre. The late Spike Milligan, a devoted jazz fan and arch humorist, would have loved it.

On Saturday, Marilyn Crispell performed an eloquent solo set that was at times pensive and often percussive while tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby’s time-no-changes set with Double Heart was an edgy affair. Malaby has a fine tone on saxophone, but the open-ended forms tempted him to travel too far with his solos, so they wilted towards the end.

Like the amp in Spinal Tap that was turned up to eleven, The Crimetime Orchestra, comprising some of Norway’s finest young musicians, brought to mind Nigel’s comments to Marty in the film, “You see, most blokes will be playing at 10. You’re on 10, all the way up. . . Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. What we do if we need that extra push is…eleven. One louder.”

The main talking point on Saturday was the return of Jaga Jazzist. Now it’s probably fair to say that many outside Scandinavia never knew they went away in the first place, but in their original incarnation in the early 2000s, this band had audiences queuing around city blocks to see them. Pulling together jazz improvisation, electronica and the rhythms of jazz and rock, their debut 12 inch single “Going Down” was earmarked as a key single of 2002. It was followed by two CDs, Living Room Hush and The Stix, using brass, woodwinds, vibes, Stereolab-style keyboards, bass and guitar mediated by Martin Horntveth’s power drumming.

Horntveth, his brother Lars, and sister Line are the heart of the band, around whom the ensemble was built. Complex arrangements with shifting textures demanded almost everyone in the band double on several instruments. Lars, for example, plays tenor, soprano, bass clarinet (giving the band its distinctive sound signature), guitar and keyboards; while his sister Line plays tuba, flute, percussion, melodica and adds wordless vocals. Their sets could last some ninety minutes without a pause for breath or a piece of sheet music in sight. At their best they seemed as if they could move mountains and suddenly they were gone.

A comeback is usually a fraught affair and like the film of the book, is never quite how you remembered it. But approaching the Bjornsonhuset Konsert complex, the portents looked good. The long queues of young, expectant fans were back and Jaga Jazzist did not disappoint them. No longer one uninterrupted set, the individual compositions (some new some old) were introduced by the eldest of the three siblings, drummer Martin and what emerged was a much tighter fusion between contemporary rock rhythms and jazz producing a refreshingly contemporary take on good old jazz-rock. Trumpet solos were by Mathias Eick, demonstrating a range that took him from the thoughtful, moody disposition of his own music to the exuberant energy and vitality projected by Jaga Jazzist. It was a powerful musical experience and the young crowd, some 5,000 strong, loved it.

In contrast was Arve Henriksen’s final concert of the festival at the Molde Domkirke, a beautiful modern church in the town’s centre. Combining with Trio Mediaeval, keyboard player Ståle Storløkken and DJ Jan Bang, Henriksen’s singing trumpet tone provided the link between the three part harmonies from Mediaeval times and the futuristic ambient sound washes from Bang and Stroløken. This haunting, captivating, non-genre specific music underlined what an important—and accomplished—musician Henriksen has now become.

Nicola Conte, the Italian DJ, conceptualist, composer, lyricist and guitarist has a passionate love of jazz which he wants to share with younger audiences. He believes they are all jazz lovers at heart, if (i) they only knew it, (ii) could hear jazz in a world dominated by popular culture and, (iii) could dance to it. His midnight concert winding up the festival provided a chance to test his theories. He mixed his own originals with his well crafted lyrics (he subtly makes and original like “Karma Flower” an anti-war protest) sung by the talented Veronika Harcsa from Hungary with sprightly jazz originals by European jazz musicians, such as Dusko Gojkovic’s “Macedonia,” and it was fascinating to watch his all-standing audience of 18 to 30 year-olds gradually begin moving in time to the music—and finally start dancing to it. The key was a combination of infectious Brazilian beats and top notch jazz soloing from Pietro Lussu of Italy on acoustic piano and Timo Lassy from Finland on tenor saxophone. Yes, this music was accessible but it was also swinging and had an integrity that young audiences responded to. Neither cop-out or sell-out—Lussu on piano and Lassy on tenor saw to that with several powerful solo statements—it represented one man’s crusade to bring jazz to the one constituency that is fast beginning to desert it: younger audiences.

Yet Conte’s late night concert was framed within the context of a festival that equally sets out to do draw younger audiences into jazz. Its wide ranging program embraced every style, from New Orleans through to jazz of the future. Audiences buy a festival pass and are encouraged to go from venue to venue and discover the music for themselves. With year round outreach programs into local schools and a parade at 11AM each morning of the festival by school kids, it came as no surprise to see so many young faces in the audience, especially when almost a thousand enthusiastic young volunteers work for the festival in exchange for free concert tickets.

Without a doubt jazz in Molde has become firmly embedded in the community. Where else will you find a free dawn concert on the open hillside attracting an audience of over 1,500 people, many of whom had brought breakfast picnics to enjoy the event. Called “Break of Day in Molde” after a song recorded by vocalist Karin Krog, who was inspired to write the lyrics after emerging from an all night jam session at Varden in the early 1970s, this year’s event was given by Arve Henriksen who seemed as taken by the concept as the audience.

With the sun rising over the 222 mountain peaks, many still snow-capped in July, that surround Molde (somebody from the Tourist Board with time on their hands actually counted) it was impossible not to reflect how far jazz had travelled from its origins in the bordellos and speakeasies of early 20th century America. It really is a remarkable music, here celebrated by a remarkable festival.

Check back soon for an upcoming blog “An Anatomy of a Jazz Festival,” an interview with Jan Ole Otneas, Festival Director of the Molde Jazz Festival, who talks about the mechanics of running one of Europe’s oldest and most successful jazz festivals.

This blog entry posted by Stuart Nicholson

August 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Litchfield's Makeshift Festival

With a population of fewer than 9,000 souls, Litchfield, CT is not the most obvious place to support and sustain a jazz festival—especially when one considers the big city galas that have collapsed in recent times. Yet Europe has shown that the small town jazz fest can work, and a number of US communities have maintained their annual jazz events even in a dicey economic environment.’s arnold jay smith traveled to the Litchfield Festival to check out the action—but found that much of the improvising there was taking place offstage. T.G.

“The town (Kent, Ct.) asked us if we would like to bring our Jazz Camp to their school [the Kent School, an exclusive Prep.],” Arthur Muir, husband of LJF director Vita West Muir, told me on the middle day of the three-day Litchfield Jazz Festival event, July 31-Aug. 2. It turned out to be the only dry day as the terribly wet weather the Northeast has been plagued with continued. A pond –no, a lake—formed in and around the performance tent so the music was moved into the hockey rink. An ad hoc sound system was set up to feed the music, but not the view, outside. I was told that it had been hastily configured in five hours as the rains pummeled the tent. That lake was so deep that the youngsters who frolicked in it had water up to mid thighs.

Litchfield Jazz Festival

The arts-y crafts-y town of Kent seemed to enjoy the fact that there was a Jazz Festival, but participation was lackluster. The owner of a bed & breakfast, Peter Starbuck, one of the cheerleaders, tried to rally the other hoteliers, but I was told that they seemed to raise prices rather than reduce them to entice more people to stay over.

The festival itself –in its 14th year and fourth location—exists to support the Litchfield Jazz Camp, a four-week long study-performance with pros such as Don Braden, director, Claudio Roditi, Ted Rosenthal, Junior Mance and Charli Persip, who celebrated his 80th birthday there. [When I asked one rather accomplished pre-teen named Dakota Austin, who was prominently featured in the program, and who had played with Dave Brubeck at last year’s Festival, whether he was going to be a sax player, his reply was, his reply was, “Wotta ya mean going to be?”]

About the weather, Arthur Muir said, “Think what would have happened had we not had this indoor venue.” Festival director Vita West Muir seemed pleased about the move to Kent as well. But she was not her usual busy beaver self as she has been in the past confident that her family and an army of cheerful volunteers were handling things nicely, thank you.

I was told that the rink held more people than the tent. I was not convinced. In addition, there seemed to be fewer people encamped outside. And they couldn’t see the performers. Seemed unfair to charge them. When I got home there was an e-mail from the Litchfield people advising me to bring a tarp or canvas floor “to insure comfort.” We all have those hanging around the house, don’t we?

The kiosks selling crafts and food were not as busy either. One potential vendor said, “Why should I pay their increasing fees when I can’t make that much?” The grounds surrounding the vendors were a marshland.

But we were there for the music, supposedly. Saturday‘s fare included the Brazilian Trio Da Paz with singer Leny Andrade, the clever Wycliffe Gordon-Jay Leonhart group, with Ted Rosenthal on piano, virtuosity in the hands of Benny Green and Bucky Pizzarelli, OctoJAZZarian vocalist Bill Henderson, who had a fall recently and was in pain and having a reaction to meds. The concluding act was the ever-popular Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Sunday’s fare was Ted Nash’s Mancini Project, Lionel Loueke, Houston Person and Pancho Sanchez. Jane Monheit highlighted opening night with Lewis Nash the warm-up set.

The standout set for me was Henderson’s on Saturday. His rhythm section was Dena DeRose on piano, who was scheduled to play on Sunday with Roditi, Avery Sharpe, bass, and Winard Harper, drums. Henderson’s rich baritone hasn’t lost its timbre or his distinct emphatic pronunciation of the lyrics. The PHJB pleased the crowd. During their oft-played set I left for the afters celebration, a first for Litchfield, at the Fife ‘N’ Drum restaurant in town. High-energy excitement was the fare. The place was packed with cheering throngs who actually got what the musicians were saying: modality a la John Coltrane. I was impressed. There was more excitement there than in the rink.

As I was leaving the festival grounds and while at the Fife I heard comments from veteran LJF attendees. “A non-event.” “Poorly planned.” “Not well thought out.” While these same patrons said that they enjoyed the musical offerings, there were comments about the sound as well as the wet grounds. “Why hold the event in a flood plane?” one obviously well informed local remarked. “They know it rains up here this time every year.” There were also questions about the dearth of the BIG names as in past years. Where were they, indeed?

Publicity Director Lindsey Turner, however, elicited these informal comments;

"Just wanted to let you know that the Festival was great this year, a revelation in fact. The line up was inspiring, the master classes were amazing. I went all three days because I was in Kent. I bought so many CD's and am listening to them right now. Also bring back Lionel Loueke; he was a transformational musician."

"I was there on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, the highlight for me was listening to music from both venues (inside the hockey rink and on the lawn [student groups]). On Sunday, the caliber and diversity of the artists themselves was stellar…that, and the lobster! Kudos to all who worked so hard to overcome the challenges the weather created."

"You guys did a phenomenal job at a new site and with unprecedented bad conditions [the weather]. I am so very impressed and grateful. Terrific lineup."

The Fife got a bit over crowded and noisy –it’s a pub after all—so after about an hour I split; they were calling up the amateurs as I left. I had a long drive ahead of me to Brooklyn. Mercifully, the rain didn’t return till Sunday morning.

This blog entry posted by arnold jay smith

August 09, 2009 · 0 comments


A Batch of Track Reviews

As regular visitors to the site know, reviews individual tracks not entire CDs. A team of more than 50 writers has been working toward the perhaps unrealistic yet honorable goal of reviewing all the important performances in the history of jazz.

As of this morning at 9 AM, some 5,359 tracks had been reviewed. But more are arriving every day! (You can always find out the latest and most popular reviews by checking the sidebar on's Music page—which we may rename as the Tal Wilkenfeld Sidebar at some future point.)

Below are a few of the tracks reviewed during the last several weeks. Each title links to the review, where readers can find a full assessment of the music, a snappy judgment (in the form of’s proprietary 0 to 100 rating scale), full personnel and recording info, and a link for legal downloading.

Happy listening!

 Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins: “Hawk's Variation Parts 1 & 2”
Reviewed by Kenny Berger

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker: “K.C. Blues”
Reviewed by Marcus Singletary

 Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis: “Black Codes”
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

 Roy Eldridge

Roy Eldridge: “Melange”
Reviewed by Scott Albin

 Freddie Keppard

Freddie Keppard: “Stock Yards Strut”
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

 Horace Silver

Horace Silver: “Que Pasa”
Reviewed by Jared Pauley

Stan Getz

Stan Getz: “I Can’t Get Started”
Reviewed by Bill Barnes

 Billy Eckstine

Billy Eckstine: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

 Les Brown

Les Brown: “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”
Reviewed by Jeff Sultanof

 Jack Teagarden with Louis Armstrong

Jack Teagarden with Louis Armstrong: “Stars Fell on Alabama”
Reviewed by Alex W. Rodriguez

 Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich: “Cardin Blue”
Reviewed by Scott Albin

 Toshiko Akiyoshi-Charles Mariano

Toshiko Akiyoshi-Charles Mariano: “Deep River”
Reviewed by Scott Albin

 Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy: “Body and Soul”
Reviewed by Chris Kelsey

 Andy Kirk

Andy Kirk (with Mary Lou Williams): “Walkin’ and Swingin’”
Reviewed by Kenny Berger

Mal Waldron

Mal Waldron: “Rat Now”
Reviewed by Eric Novod

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments


More Amazing Jazz Tattoos!

Some months back, I devoted this space to a celebration of jazz tattoos. (Check it out here). John Rogers, a photographer, musician and jazz aficionado, was featured in that article, and he now shares with us more of his jazz-oriented body art. He is a true one-man-band with the makings of a dream ensemble vividly depicted on his epidermis.

First up, here is Charlie Parker.

And here is Lester Young, from several angles.

And wherever there is Prez, Lady Day is nearby.

And finally, trumpeter Clifford Brown.

Future additions to this dream band? John is considering Jeanne Lee, Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins and Yusef Lateef.

And Jack Lefton sends us this photo of a John Coltrane tattoo, circa A Love Supreme.

Downbeat eat your heart out. This is one area of jazz coverage where we have staked out a leadership position. Dang, we may even conduct a readers & critics poll to determine TDWR (Tattoos Deserving Wider Recognition).

This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Stolen Moments with Mark Murphy

The fans of singer Mark Murphy were justifiably alarmed when a recent email went the rounds, claiming that "time is running short" for the much beloved vocalist. Murphy hasn't commented on his health, but he continues to perform. Will Friedwald, a regular contributor to this column, caught his Saturday show at the Kitano, and reports that the singer is still delivering the goods in performance. Check out his review below. T.G.

Mark Murphy at the Kitano

            Mark Murphy at the Kitano (photo by Gary Brocks)

Back when it was hip to be hep, to paraphrase Dave Frishberg’s famous lyric, Mark Murphy was hep. But beyond that, the legendary jazz singer is so overwhelmingly hip, so devastatingly hip, so torrentially hip that he could be hep if he wanted to and suddenly hep would be hip all over again. Murphy’s all-pervasive hipness is one of those ineffable facts of existence that’s so obvious it’s not even worth arguing over, like the crying of children in Iowa and the coming of complete night that blesses the earth.

The major question regarding Mark Murphy right now is not how hip he is, but how long can hipness endure? The last time I saw him—and I believe his last big gig in New York—was at Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center in March 2007, to celebrate the release of his latest album, Love Is What Stays, and, although he didn’t mention it at the time, his 75th birthday. Up to that point, Murphy was a marvel of longevity: with his footballer’s physique and famously big hair, he looked exactly the same as when I first began seeing him in clubs 25 years earlier, a time traveler who appeared to have stepped directly out of the age of hepness and hipness (let’s face it, no one is even “hip” anymore either, unless they’re really kicking it old school, dawg).

(His most recent recording appears to be four tracks on Songs from the Last Century, by the French piano and bass team Guillaume De Chassy, Daniel Yvinec, and also guest-starring Paul Motian. Murphy sounds remarkably strong here, recorded in March 2008, according to Lord, and available for download here.)

Then, all of a sudden, rumor had it that time was catching up with La Murph. In May of 2009, a mass email was circulated that announced “time is running short to spend time with Mark before his Alzheimer’s overtakes him.” Obviously, this news caused a great deal of speculation and concern amongst the singer’s friends, since he knows practically everyone in the jazz world (Lord knows how many contemporary singers are his former students). There was no confirmation or denial from Murphy himself, but the general absence of upcoming gigs on his website was certainly not a good sign. In fact, he currently has only three shows on his schedule: Chicago in May, the Kitano in New York at the end of July, and San Francisco in October.

So with anticipation running high, my wife and I reserved a seat at the Kitano (a Japanese-owned hotel on Park Avenue and 38th Street that features jazz several nights a week). By early in the week, all four shows scheduled for Friday July 31 and Saturday August 1 were already sold out; fortunately we muscled our way into the late show (after catching the brilliant Freddy Cole at Jazz Standard).

As another sage named Mark once wrote, reports of Murphy’s demise were exaggerated. Although he now walks with a cane and sings sitting down, he looks really good: he’s let his beard go white, and has given up the infamous high hair for a tasteful knit cap, and he’s neither gained nor lost any weight. His chops are in terrific shape, although his concentration isn’t entirely what it used to be. He sang with a trio led by pianist Jon Cowherd (best known as a member of Brian Blade’s Fellowship), Muscovite bassist Boris Kazloff (introduced at least once by Murphy—for a laugh—as “Boris Karloff”), and drummer Willard Dyson.

After Cowherd’s opening instrumental (Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” —a cool tune for the first of August), Murphy took the mike and led us through what can only be described as an extended meditation that involved five songs: “Night and Day,” “Señor Blues,” “Photograph,” “Stolen Moments,” and “Too Late Now.” He started with Cole Porter, phrasing the tune in an extravagantly swinging, exaggeratedly staccato fashion; he spends a lot of time scatting, and, beyond that, making wildly nonsensical sounds, but, as always, Murphy extracts more coherent meaning and emotion out of scat phrases that most contemporary singers do with actual words.

From Porter, Murphy took a Mexican Hayride into Horace Silver’s famous south of the border excursion, which he sings in the first person, referring to himself as “Señor Blues” (in this case it’s also “Senior Blues”) with a Mel Blanc accent rather like Peggy Lee doing “Mañana.” In addition to scatting again and ululating in a vaguely Hispanic fashion, he also comments on his own Irishness. Traveling further south, he took us to Brazil for “Photograph,” a rare Jobim tune that isn’t done to death.

Stolen Moments

At this point, we gradually became aware that Murphy was in the middle of a spoken monologue with trio accompaniment that segued in and out of the remaining songs. He began his own lyric to “Stolen Moments,” but gave it up halfway through for more wordless communication, and then launched into “Too Late Now.” Throughout this whole final segment, he kept rambling about the heroes of the film Brokeback Moment and how they had to steal moments together (“out washing sheep in Mon-f**king-Tana” as he put it) and how curious it was that “Too Late” was written for a girly soprano like Jane Powell (in Royal Wedding). I’m herewith organizing Murphy’s thoughts for him in a rather pedestrian and linear way; the way he did it at Kitano, drifting from a stretch of lyrics into a spoken observation, then back into song, was mesmerizing.

After being on for 50 minutes or so, Murphy abruptly stopped, took a small bow and walked off. He was, understandably, exhausted after four shows in two nights. (The next day, a Murphy fan emailed me a recording of the earlier Saturday show, which was only slightly longer but included seven different songs, one of which was his own beautiful torch tune, “Before We Say Goodbye,” which, as far as I can tell, he’s only recorded in an electronic, acid-jazz setting.)

Overall, Murphy sounded great, and it was one of the most moving of all the dozens of performances of his that I’ve attended. I was tempted to end by saying it’s too late now and all our moments with Señor Blues feel like stolen ones. Instead, when I talk about this—and I will—I’m not just being kind when I say that although I can’t deny that Murphy has started to lose it, he still has a lot left—more than nearly anyone else singing today. Like, I’m hip.

Postscript: Videos from this engagement can be seen here

This blog entry posted by Will Friedwald

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Remembering Don Ellis (Part 2)

Jeff Sultanof continues his look at the innovative bandleader Don Ellis in the second and final installment of his two-part article below. (For part one of this article, click here.) T.G.

Ellis showed that he was a born showman and promoter—he asked his audiences to begin a letter-writing campaign to convince the producers of the Monterey Jazz Festival to book the band. Ellis’s September 18, 1966 appearance at the festival sent shock waves through the show business world. That performance was released on a Pacific Jazz album, and another live album from two other live performances from 1966 and 1967 was even better. Ellis’ book included his own compositions, his settings of standards such as “Angel Eyes” and “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and contributions from Jaki Byard and Hank Levy. Eventually band members such as Sam Falzone and Fred Selden would write important music to add to the repertoire.

Don Ellis

Ellis signed with Columbia Records in 1967, quite a statement when one considers that Columbia was dumping jazz artists and long-time performers from their roster and signing Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, and Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin). The Ellis band recorded its first studio-recorded album, and even with John Hammond as producer, “Electric Bath” is somewhat of a disappointment, as it fails to recreate the excitement of a live performance. And that was part of the band’s legend. Ellis knew how to whip up his audience into a frenzy via exciting music and soloists, then change mood with something more meditative. Listeners (I was one of them) walked out of an Ellis concert exhausted yet hyper at the same time.

The Ellis band is proof that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Like Stan Kenton, to whom he was often compared, he was a striking figure who knew how to sell his product, and his often flamboyant presentation drew all sorts of listeners. He appealed to many older big band fans as well as young jazz and rock players. He shared the stage with such diverse groups as the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Mothers Of Invention, and played rock clubs, where the audiences danced to music in 7, 9, 13 and even 33. Ellis incorporated electronic devices such as the echoplex and tone splitters to his own trumpet playing before Miles Davis tried them. Electronic keyboards such as the Clavinet and the Fender Rhodes were heard by many listeners for the first time. Adventurous high school and college big bands played some of his music, spreading the message even further.

Shock Treatment, Ellis’s next album, was screwed up badly by the label, I suspect by producer Hammond. Ellis turned in the master and was shocked to find that it had been tampered with upon release. The album turns up in three different versions, but the CD release on Koch Jazz is definitive thanks to Ellis historian Nick Di Scala.

Don Ellis

Columbia was having a great deal of success with Blood, Sweat and Tears, and label head Clive Davis suggested that BS&T producer Al Kooper work on Ellis’ next album. This release was split between live and concert performances. The band now included legendary saxophonist John Klemmer, who sounded like John Coltrane on acid (Klemmer’s solos with Ellis band at Fillmore West can be heard on a CD reissue of the double LP). Ellis must have been selling records in nice numbers, as Columbia was known as a label that dumped artists and bought out their contracts if their sales were bad.

One of the most important musical contributors to the Ellis band was ex-Kenton saxophonist, Hank Levy. In 1970, Stan Kenton asked Levy to compose material for his band, which was entering a new level of success in concerts and clinics at colleges. After the first rehearsal, the Kenton musicians were so dispirited at being unable to play Levy’s music that they wanted to throw both Kenton and Levy off the roof of their hotel. They continued to work on the music, and could eventually play it quite well. Levy wrote for both Ellis and Kenton for a time.

In 1971 Ellis put together a new band with a string quartet, amplifying them with attachments made by Barcus-Berry, another innovation. The band’s performances at this time were ‘happenings’ comparable to performances by the Grateful Dead. I believe that this was Ellis’ musical high point, and other writers such as Bill Kirchner have agreed. This band blended symphonic music, rock, multi-ethnic sources, jazz and Brazilian music into a compatible, beautiful mix. Ellis worked on his drumming so that he could join in three-way drum solos with the other percussionists.

If you buy one Don Ellis CD, Tears of Joy, (another live album originally issued as 2 LPs) is the one to get. Ellis welcomed a new pianist/composer all the way from Bulgaria, Milcho Leviev, who had sent him a folk song that Ellis adapted as “Bulgarian Bulge.” Certainly one of the most difficult pieces the Ellis band ever played, Leviev’s improvisations held audiences of all ages and backgrounds spellbound. “Strawberry Soup,” another Ellis composition was so intricate that it has been the studied in Masters and Doctoral dissertations.

Ellis’s star continued to ascend. He was asked to write the score to William Friedkin’s The French Connection, winning a Grammy award for the theme. He also wrote music for the sequel, The French Connection II, but it was clear that the man and his music were too unconventional for Hollywood. He insisted on using his own orchestra to record the soundtrack, which did not endear him to contractors, and further scoring opportunities just were not forthcoming. No longer with Columbia, Ellis made two albums with the German label MPS, one with the band, one with a string orchestra.

In 1972, Ellis was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, and had a near-fatal heart attack in 1975. After recovering, Ellis went right back to leading a band, and signed a new contract with Atlantic Records. The first album was a disappointment as it was branded as too commercial, but the second was another live album that was very impressive. Ellis did not have the time to savor his ‘comeback’; he died on December 17, 1978. Educational jazz organizations such as the IAJE totally forgot him soon after he died (although this was hardly unique; they forgot Woody Herman and Stan Kenton as well). His music stopped being played. It was time to move to the next new thing.

While there is a lot of information and some good interviews (including those by Ellis himself) in John Visuzzi’s documentary on the artist, we do not really grasp why all of this was so important. The context in which Ellis created his music is totally missing—viewers may not understand that interest in big bands were at an all time low in 1966; that a new one would be formed in the United States and tour Europe was unheard of then, let alone share stages with the top rock acts of the era. To this day, no one but Ellis has been able to fuse so many disparate musical elements and a big band instrumentation and make a unique musical statement understood by so many from all age groups, and actually make money doing it.

There also needed to be a lot more concert footage in the documentary; the music presented is good and much of it is in fine shape visually and sonically, but there are not enough examples showing the diversity of Don’s music. Luckily there is a stunning version of “Bulgarian Bulge,” which includes one of Ellis’s wonderful spoken introductions.

The documentary is also much too short. Perhaps this was due to budgetary constraints, but if you want to tell the world of this visionary man and his amazing band, it simply can’t be done in a little over an hour. And then there are the things that really disturbed me: Hank Levy, who played a great part in Ellis’s ensemble and later Stan Kenton’s is simply identified as “legendary composer.” Levy had quite a story as well, and to have him barely mentioned here was not a good decision (ironically, there is a documentary on Levy on DVD. He was a fine musician and excellent teacher). Interviewee Gunther Schuller compliments Ellis while reminding us of his own importance, as if he really needed to do that.

And yet I ask you to purchase this DVD, or at least rent it, because the disc has over 150 minutes of extras (longer than the movie!?!?). More interviews (why weren’t more of these incorporated?), another Ellis performance, and rehearsal and concert footage of an Ellis band reunion in 2005 directed by Milcho Leviev may be found. (I must confess that even though this concert was well-meaning, it takes more than a couple of rehearsals, even with Ellis alumni, to get this music to really sound the way it could.)

Thankfully the original albums are available on CD. The Ellis book is slowly being made available in critical editions—as someone who prepares this type of work myself, I find this is wonderful news to hear. Ellis’s music can be difficult, but with a sympathetic and knowledgeable bandleader/educator and excellent musicians who like to be challenged, the results are magical. “Indian Lady” should be in every college big band book; even the college band I led for two years was able to play it, and the musicians told me they wanted to play more of the same, as hard as it was. It is still a great concert closer.

Ellis is finally getting his due for the many contributions he made, and while the documentary qualifies as a ‘nice try,’ it is good to have for all the extras and a memory of the man. And if you haven’t heard the Ellis ensemble, hopefully these words will inspire you to explore his many musical worlds.

This blog entry posted by Jeff Sultanof

August 03, 2009 · 1 comment


Remembering Don Ellis (Part 1)

On any short list of exciting, innovative bandleaders of the 1960s, Don Ellis deserves a prominent spot. Yet fans today seldom encounter the name of this visionary artist who combined odd time meters, world music, electronics, microtonalism—and any other new and exciting effect he could find—into hot, swinging big band performances. You’ve heard of extreme sports? Well, how about some extreme music. Jeff Sultanof tells us why we should remember Don Ellis below, in the first installment of a two-part article. T.G.

Don Ellis and band

Don Ellis had one of the finest big bands in the history of the ensemble, and his was one of the most popular groups in the late sixties-early seventies. He was a composer who knew no limits; his music incorporated concert music, jazz of all eras, rock, unusual time signatures, electronics, Brazilian and Indian music.

But today with his albums reissued, he is almost entirely forgotten except by the faithful. So when it was announced some years ago that filmmaker John Visuzzi was raising the money to make a documentary on Ellis—now released as Electric Heart: Don Ellis—The Man, His Times, His Music—we who love music applauded and gave him moral support.

Ellis fans hoped that this would be a major statement about a musician who extended the vocabulary of twentieth century music, and who left an unforgettable mark on all of us who experienced his message.

Oh, well! And yet if you are a fan of big bands and eclectic musicians, this should be in your library.

Visuzzi had the help of the Ellis estate. He interviewed key players in the story: Maynard Ferguson (who’d hired Ellis for his own band) and important contributors to the Ellis ensemble such as Fred Selden, Milcho Leviev, and Sam Falzone. He interviewed people who had a little bit to do with Ellis, such as Gunther Schuller. He interviews someone named Emilie Robertson whom we discover in the DVD extras was Ellis’s lady in his later years.

Who was Don Ellis? Was he truly equal to the hyperbole used in the documentary?

Yes, he was, and he deserves a full discussion in this article. He was one of my heroes when I was a music student and continues to inspire me and many others for whom music has no limits.

Ellis was born in 1934. Originally he wanted to play the trombone, but was instead given a trumpet by his pastor father. He became a true virtuoso on the instrument and wrote music as well during his teen years. He studied at Boston Conservatory where he received a thorough music education, studying composition with Klaus George Roy and orchestration with Gardner Read.

Around the corner from his apartment was the Schillinger House (later called the Berklee School of Music) where Ellis would jam with the jazz players of the day who came up to Boston for gigs and to have jam sessions with the jazz students. Ellis played for such leaders as Claude Thornhill, Woody Herman, Sam Donahue, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson and even the Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Ray McKinley. By the early sixties, he had played with Charles Mingus and George Russell (his stints with both modern composer/artists are not mentioned in this documentary, a shocking omission).

Having experienced what was considered the jazz ‘avant-garde’ and finding it lacking, he became interested in other sources of music. By the mid-sixties, he was taking ethnomusicology courses at UCLA and studying privately with Hari Har Rao, one of Ravi Shankar’s students. Rao opened up an entire world of rhythmic patterns and permutations in Indian music, and taught him how to develop new patterns. Because some of these patterns and time signatures were also used in Greek and Turkish music, Ellis became a “world music” artist before the category was coined.

As if this wasn’t challenge enough, he went to the Holton Company and asked them to design a trumpet that could play quarter tones (briefly, music has evolved into a language of whole and half steps. Evans wanted to play a trumpet that could play in-between the half steps, which has rarely been done in Western music). This of course took Ellis to new discoveries in musical pitch and harmony, and he became a master at using these new sounds. His own improvisational style ran the gamut: from Dixieland through the most modern musical utterances.

Ellis started a rehearsal band to perform his compositions in unusual time signatures. The musicians found this music very hard to play, but Ellis was patient with them, and they soon became very adept at playing these unique, swinging pieces Ellis brought to each rehearsal. The band had a regular Monday night gig at a Hollywood club named Bonesville, and word began to spread about this new band. Stan Kenton was a member of the audience at times, invited by Ellis trumpeter Glenn Stuart who also played for Kenton.

This blog entry by Jeff Sultanof is the first installment of two-part article on Don Ellis. For part two of this article, click here.

August 02, 2009 · 0 comments