Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jazz In The Key of Light

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, “Jazz in the Key of Light” (Eighty of our Finest Jazz Musicians Speak for Themselves, is now on press and will be self-published in a limited edition on October 15. 

This is not your typical fine art photography book. Images of the featured artists, in performance or moments of personal reflection, are paired with illuminating quotes from interviews I had with those musicians in assignments for a variety of mainstream and music publications over the past 30 years.  
The spotlighted musicians range from legends Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan to a variety of today’s rising stars. Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein wrote the Foreword. 

“Ken has leveraged his backstage pass to bring jazz fans closer to the music’s human source. Jazz In The Key of Light’s connection of words and images is a powerful complement to the music, since listeners often have no other statement from artists besides their art. As a result, we feel closer to the musician as a person.” 
        – Al Basile, poet, songwriter, and jazz & blues cornetist

“Jazz in the Key of Light,” published in hardcover format with dust jacket, retails at $59.95 (plus tax where applicable, and $5.99 shipping and handling). It also will be available for purchase through starting in mid-October.

Pre-publication orders for signed or inscribed copies can be made directly, payable by check or through PayPal. Contact me for details at or through PayPal.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Moving from the disco ball to the jazz supper club

Singer Evelyn Thomas, best known for 1980s hit songs in the disco and Hi-NRG dance club genre, is revisiting her roots as a singer. While not abandoning her dance music work, she has gone back to jazz. And she’s loving it.

Thomas made her local jazz debut Saturday night, September 13, at JD’s Bistro & Grille in Port Charlotte FL with her backing trio. She drew an enthusiastic audience for her blend of material from the canon of jazz standards, the Great American Songbook, and what we might call new standard fare: pop-associated material richly deserving of jazz treatments. Last night, JD’s had the feel and temperature of a fine New York supper club, a venue where Thomas and her backing trio plan to be Saturday night regulars.
Thomas’s spot-on vocals and her approach to her material reveal her influences from her early years as developing singer: particularly Nancy Wilson. The second set included Murray Grand’s haunting, lovelorn ballad “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which was a jazz vocal hit for Wilson in 1960. Other treats: her takes on the Shirley Horn- and Joe Williams-associated “Here’s to Life,” and one of those newer standards, “When October Goes” a 1984 Barry Manilow hit that combined his music with lyrics by the late Johnny Mercer.

Chicago-native Thomas has lived in southwest Florida for the past 21 years, using Port Charlotte as home base for her occasional disco-related tours to Europe as well as U.S. gigs. But she hadn’t immersed herself in the rather healthy local jazz scene – until now.

 “I still love that world (disco and Hi-NRG),” Thomas told me. “When they call, I’ve got to go (back to the world of dance clubs and disco balls), but I’m loving this too. I never left jazz, but now I’m doing more of it."

Thomas’s trio included her husband, Anthony Simpson (piano), Mark Fitzpatrick (electric bass) and Bob Ryan (drums). Their support was excellent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jazz in the Catskills

As a native son of Woodstock NY, best known to many over the past five decades as the namesake of a rock music festival that was held 60 miles away as the crows fly, an announcement this week came as welcome news.

A Woodstock Jazz Festival is scheduled the evening of October 4 at the Bearsville Theater. It’s an appropriate, but long overdue, re-addition to the cultural fabric of this Catskill Mountains town, an idyllic home for all sorts of artists – actors, musicians, painters, sculptors and writers – dating back to the late 1800s. Woodstock has a thriving presence as a summer arts colony.

 A significant roster of jazz musicians have called Woodstock and its surrounding cities and villages home in recent decades. They include drummers Brian Blade, Jimmy Cobb and Jack DeJohnette, composers Karl Berger and Carla Bley, guitarist Pat Metheny, keyboard player John Medeski, and its most recent major addition to that list, saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

The town hosted a one-time Woodstock Music Festival back in 1981 as a 10th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Creative Music Studio by Berger and Ornette Coleman. That show featured Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny and Miroslav Vitouš, among others.
Here's a look at this year's schedule. Drummer Jack DeJohnette will be back in the lineup October 4 in a quartet with John Medeski, guitarist John Scofield, and bassist Larry Grenadier. Drummer Ben Perowsky, saxophonist Chris Speed and Medeski will perform in their trio project Red Cred. Pianist Uri Caine will complete the program with a solo piano set. The festival is presented by the local broadcast station Radio Woodstock (WDST).

The one-night event is something that the co-producers – Perowsky and locally based artist manger Liz Penta hope to turn into an annual event with multiple venues and an educational component. As Perowsky sees it: “This town was made for a festival like this…. Liz and I are both dedicated to creating a festival that will spark a new musical dialogue amongst generations."

Long may it live – and thrive.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida 2014-15 jazz season approaches

Here’s a preview of some of the more interesting jazz events in the Sarasota to Naples territory. The 2014-15 concert season hits full steam in October.

Dave Pruyn
  • Monday, October 13 – The Dave Pruyn trio (with Pruyn’s Mel Torme tribute, Notes in Velvet) and Paulette Pepper & Fine Thyme open the 2014-15 Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 
  • Thursday, October 16 Saturday, October 18 – Four appearances apiece by the Pedrito Martinez Group (Cook Theatre) and the Vijay Iyer Trio (Sainer Pavilion), Ringling International Arts Festival, Sarasota. Both groups appear at 5 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday. 941-360-7399.
  • Thursday, October 16 – Sunday, October 19 – The 35th annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday. This year’s lineup at Coachman Park includes the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Spyro Gyra, Dr. John and Trombone Shorty, as well as Earth, Wind & Fire. It’s a pleasant surprise to see jazz-related acts back here as headliners.
  • Wednesday, October 29 – Vibes player Jason Marsalis (son of Ellis and younger brother of Branford, Delfeayo and Wynton) is the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra’s special guest for this concert. Daniels Pavilion, Naples. 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 10 – Pianist Johnny Varro’s Swing Seven. Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Friday, November 21-Sunday, November 23 – The 24th annual Suncoast Jazz Classic pretty much takes over two Clearwater Beach hotel resorts (the Sheraton Sand Key and the Marriott Sand Key) for its annual traditional jazz bash.

A few local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers and Alto in Naples) offer jazz steadily, and there will be a variety of varied afternoon concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and South County Jazz Club.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by The Cookers, Theo Croker, Laura Dubin and Rotem Sivan ….

The Cookers, Time and Time Again (Motéma)
If you miss the robust, take-no-prisoners sound of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, you’ll dig the hard-bop collective The Cookers. While Blakey’s band was an incubator for young musicians and future bandleaders, The Cookers is a superband of savvy veterans who have released four CDs together since forming seven years ago. These jazz heavyweights include saxophonists Billy Harper and Donald Harrison, trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss (also the bandleader), pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart.

Most of the players penned material for Time and Time Again. Harper provided a pair of new tunes plus a fresh arrangement of “Sir Galahad,” which dates to his 1973 debut album Cara Black. Other gems here: Cables’ “Double or Nothing” and his elegiac Mulgrew Miller tribute “Farewell Mulgrew,” (also on Cables’ 2014 release Icons and Influences), and McBee’s “Dance of the Invisible Nymph.” There’s not a weak track here, and the playing is quite something. Time and Time Again is a most-worthy successor to their prior CDs, Warriors, Cast The First Stone and Believe. [Here's a link to the band's new promotional video.]

Theo Croker, Afro Physicist (DDB/Okeh)
Trumpeter Theo Croker is riding high in visibility these days as a key member of singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s band. His newest CD, Afro Physicist, was produced by Bridgewater. She sings on two of the disc’s dozen tracks: the standard “Save Your Love for Me” and “I Can’t Help It,” which Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green wrote for Michael Jackson in 1979. Vibes player Stefon Harris guests for an instrumental version of another Wonder tune, “Visions.”

Croker’s spirited playing and skilled writing shine through this mostly edgy CD, which has one foot in the classic jazz tradition as he boldly strides into the future in a wide range of band settings (solo trumpet, quartet, quintet, sextet, and, on a couple of tracks, as many as a dozen players). The core band includes pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Michael Bowie, drummer Karriem Riggins and guitarist David Gilmore. Fittingly, the classic jazz is right up front. The opener, “Alapa (For Doc),” is a gorgeous solo trumpet dedication to Croker’s grandfather, trumpeter Doc Cheatham, who performed from the 1920s until his death in 1997. His horn was silenced a week before what would have been his 92nd birthday. Check it out.

Laura Dubin, Introducing the Laura Dubin Trio (self-produced)
Rochester NY-based pianist and composer Laura Dubin has chops and then some. This debut CD of is all over the lot stylistically, which makes most sense for an introduction. Her versatility means she can perform in just about any jazz setting. The trio includes bassist Sam Webber and drummer Antonio H. Guerrero, who is her husband and CD co-producer. Favorite tracks are “Barcelona” and homages to three of her piano heroes: Horace Silver (“Silver Lining”), Oscar Peterson (“Ode to O.P.”) and Dave Brubeck (“Thank You For Your Time.”) The latter is a gem.

Rotem Sivan Trio, For Emotional Use Only (Fresh Sound New Talent)
As a modern guitar player, Jerusalem-born Rotem Sivan has absorbed much from the jazz masters, but remains much the individualist. His translucent sound is often understated and shimmering on his many originals and his approach to standard fare. For Emotional Use Only finds him in his favorite performing context, a trio with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Mark McLean. Their simpatico is marvelous. Finest moments: the title track and the exotic closer, “Blossom,” as well as the two standards included here. They are “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s “Cinderella” soundtrack (a beauty that’s rarely heard in a jazz context), and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Useless Landscape.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Another jazz postcard from Newport

Even in fine weather, the logistics are mind-boggling. Three stages running simultaneously, with jazz to savor set by set or as a smorgasbord. Forty-three different acts over three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park, and two evening sets at historic Newport Casino, better known today as the International Tennis Hall of Fame. 

The fans turned out despite heavy rain on Saturday, August 2 and intermittent drizzle on Sunday. This was the 60th anniversary edition of producer George Wein's first festival - and the sea of colorful umbrellas, ponchos and rain suits added to the ambience. The mud, not so much.

Newport Casino was home to the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. That first year it was called the American Jazz Festival and it quickly became the model for summer outdoor music festivals. This was my 33rd festival in 34 years, covering for various employers and freelance assignments. This year, it was for JazzTimes and are a few more visual memories.
Saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr.'s extended opening night solo on the  of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" as Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra honors the great Duke Ellington-Paul Gonsalves 1956 moment.

The SFJAZZ Collective front line

Django Reinhardt Festival All-Stars
Larry Grenadier, Newport Now 60 band

Keeping them dry

Drummer Brian Blade

Pianist Vijay Iyer's sextet

As George Wein said in 1954: "A little rain can't stop us"

Percussionist Roman Diaz takes a selfie
Darcy James Argue signs CDs
Snarky Puppy on the Quad Stage

Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks

Trombone Shorty fans in a Second Line strut

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stepping up mightily

Joe Lovano
The jazz community has a proud tradition of jumping in to help out a great cause, particularly when it involves one of their own. They’re doing it again this weekend in northern New Jersey.  

Blue Note Records Chairman Emeritus Bruce Lundvall, the man who revived Blue Note as a powerful jazz label in 1984, has organized an all-star concert called the Sunrise Senior Living Jazz Festival. It is being held the afternoon and evening of Sunday, August 24, at Brighton Gardens of Saddle River.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jazz postcard from Newport

Here is some more color, memories if you will, from the 60th anniversary edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, August 1-3. This was my 33rd festival in 34 years, covering for various employers and freelance assignments.

Jonathan Batiste and Stay Human
Saxophonist Donald Harrison and pianist George Cables
 after their set with the hard-bop superband, The Cookers.

Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews)

Allen Toussaiant, listener not performer

Aaron Diehl, accompanying singer
Cecile McLorin Salvant

Three stages, and two days of rain,
kept veteran festival piano tuner Bill Calhoun
mighty busy.

Anat Cohen and Lew Tabackin
Newport All-Stars

B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco
 with David Sanborn

View from the CB Harbor Stage photo pit: Lee Konitz,
last man standing from the first NJF in 1954

Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks

Dick Hyman, Jay Leonhart, Howard Alden

Gregory Porter

Drummer Clarence Penn
Newport All-Stars

Overflow crowd checks out
the SFJazz Collective

Umbria Jazz presented.
 pianist Stefano Bollani and mandolinist
Hamilton De Holanda

Alto saxophonists Lee Konitz and Grace Kelly

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Dee Alexander, Joe Beck, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble…

Friday, August 8, 2014

Love and reverence for a jazz tradition

The 60th anniversary edition of the Newport Jazz Festival turned into a weekend of love and reverence toward its founding producer, George Wein. He started the event in 1954 with backers Elaine and Louis Lorillard, a high society couple who wanted to liven up the summer social season.

More than a dozen jazz festival producers from venues across the U.S. and around the globe were on hand last weekend. Many of them introducing bands of the three festival stages at Fort Adams State Park, all of them thanking Wein either publicly or privately for starting the jazz festival tradition in which they are all now involved so deeply.

Wein’s current operation, The Newport Festivals Foundation (nonprofit successor to his long-running Festival Productions Inc.), is one of 16 or so members of the International Jazz Festivals Organization. Its members work together to develop synergies and to keep an eye on emerging talent the world over. They meet four times a year, with the U.S. meeting usually taking place in New York in September. This year, they adjusted their schedules to meet in Newport in August.