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

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.  

Joe Lovano
The Lundvall-produced lineup includes singers Norah Jones and Dianne Reeves, pianists Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes and Chucho Valdés, guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Loeb, and saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Javon Jackson and Joe Lovano, who is bringing his nonet.

All artists performing are playing pro bono. Proceeds from ticket sales going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease. 

Lundvall, 78, has a very personal interest in the cause. He is disabled because of Parkinson's disease, and has moved full-time into Brighton Gardens, the senior assisted living community where the festival is being held. Despite his health challenges, he remains very involved with the Blue Note label.It is great to see so many Blue Note artists rallying around their old boss and helping with this initiative. Tickets are on sale at

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…

Dee Alexander, Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz)

Aspiring young jazz vocalists would do well to check out the approach of Chicago-based Dee Alexander. In short: she’s got the information. She knows how to immerse herself in a song – and make it her own. In this case, songs that her mother loves, performed with her trio and a rotation of special guests on select tracks. The guests include tenor player Ari Brown (“Now or Never” and Junior Mance’s “Letter from Home”), alto player Oliver Lake (“As Long as You’re Living” and the Max Roach-Abbey Lincoln classic “Lonesome Lover”), and trumpeter Corey Wilkes (“Nature Boy”). Her trio includes pianist Miguel Delacerna, bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Yussef Ernie Adams. Alexander’s take brings fresh energy and emotion to Murray Gold’s clever “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which Nancy Wilson turned into a jazz classic decades ago.

Joe Beck Trio, Get Me Joe Beck (Whaling City Sound)
Darryl Tookes and Joe Beck, Precious Child – Love Songs & Lullabies (MGP)

These two recordings present two different sides of guitarist Joe Beck, who passed away six years ago at 63. Get Me Joe Beck, his final recording, was captured in performance at Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley CA on Sept. 14, 2006 with a superb local rhythm mates Peter Barshay on bass and Dave Rokeach on drums. Beck’s health may have been failing, but his playing, humor and insights were in fine form. Favorite tracks: “Stella by Starlight,” “You and the Night and the Music” and “Georgia on My Mind.” A spoken word track in which Beck describes his approach to his instrument (“The guitar is a six-piece band”) is loaded with insights about his crystalline craftsmanship.

Precious Child, a collaboration with singer-pianist Darryl Tokes, is a delightful reminder of something we tend to give little thought: that most musicians are parents, too. The pair dig into an array of standard and original childhood songs and lullabies, giving each a distinctive jazz polish. Songs here that Beck wrote with his own children in mind include “the gospel-tinged “Precious Child,” “Little One” and “Daddy’s Always Here.” Tookes’ tunes (“”Daddy’s Girl,” “Only a Matter of Time,” and “I Love You Too Much”) are also of high quality. His vocals are featured on all tracks.

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, Sketches of Spain [Revisited] (3Sixteen)

How do you honor a jazz masterpiece without parroting it? Such was the challenge facing Chicago-based trumpeter Orbert Davis when considering’ Miles Davis’s 1960 classic Sketches of Spain collaboration with arranger Gil Evans. Orbert Davis decided to be himself on improvised sections of the classic album’s opening and closing pieces, “Concierto de Aranjuez” and the Evans-penned “Solea.”

He stepped away from the three other pieces on Miles’ album to include three different but thematically appropriate works. They are his originals “”Muerte del Matador” and “”El Moreno,” as well as a strings showcase that adapts Isaac Albeniz’s 1908 piano piece “El Albaicin.” All are performed beautifully by the Davis-led Chicago Jazz Orchestra Chamber Ensemble. This is a wonderful update of the Miles original – done with great care and forethought, to update the classic work’s flavor without diminishing it in any way.

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.

The many visible producers and representatives at Newport included Joan Crarach of the Barcelona Jazz Festival, John Cumming of the London Jazz Festival, Bertrand Fleming of Belgium’s Ghent Jazz Festival, Andre Menard of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Carlo Pagnotta of Italy’s Umbria Jazz, and Melanie Pose of the Melbourne Jazz Festival.

The domestic representatives included Tim Jackson of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Willard Jenkins of the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland, Randall Kline of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Don Lucoff of the Portland (OR) Jazz Festival, John Nugent and Marc Iacona of the Rochester (NY) Jazz Festival and Janis Burley Wilson of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.

Newport add jazz have been synonymous since 1954, even during the Wein-produced festival's 10-year absence caused by rioting rowdies in 1960 and 1971.

These producers from around the world, traveling back to the source, underscore that there is a strong future for the festival format. So did the thousands of fans who braved nasty weather last weekend to hear top-flight jazz from many of its finest practitioners. 

The foundation set up by Wein, now 88, is designed to ensure it will last for many years to come. Another 50 or 60 anyone?

Photo caption: European jazz festival producers Fritz Thom (Vienna), Carlo Pagnotta (Umbria) and Hans Zurbrugg (Berne) pose backstage with bandleader Darcy James Argue and Newport Jazz Festival founding producer George Wein for festival photographer Ayano Hisa.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Newport Jazz Festival @ 60: lots of rain, great musical moments, loyal fans [updated]

The Newport Jazz Festival, grandaddy of outdoor music festivals all over the world, marked its 60th anniversary over the weekend in grand, loving and soggy fashion. 

The August 1-3 event was quite the extravaganza, keeping we writers and photographers racing from stage to stage to stage in pursuit of its strong lineups and great music. There were top-flight bands no matter your style preference, and none disappointed.

I'll post updates with links to photo galleries as they are published. Eighteen of those photos are now posted with Bill Beuttler's review at New Orleans-based Offbeat has also published a photo series. I will supplement those offerings with another Postcards from Newport blog bonus over the next week or so.

Less-hardy would have considered Saturday a washout, with heavy rain blasting down on Fort Adams State Park for most of the day. Eight-thousand people bought tickets for the day and 6,000 of them showed up. The festival site was a sea of ponchos and umbrellas. 

The first Newport Jazz Festival in July 1954 had a day of rain at the event's initial home, Newport Casino, and photographs of folks sitting with umbrellas listening to jazz were transmitted around the world and added to the event's mystique. As producer George Wein said 60 years ago: "We're not going to let a little rain stop us." Nor did it stop things in 2014.

Most notable:
Lee Konitz

  • Friday evening's traditional festival event at Newport Casino was the strongest since Wein returned to the International Tennis Hall of Fame home in the 1980s. It featured singer Dee Dee Bridgewater's tribute to Billie Holiday and a superbly programmed set by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
  • Riveting matinee performances at Fort Adams by singers Cecile McLorin Salvant and Gregory Porter.
  • Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's Identities Big Band, the SFJazz Collective, the hard-bop superband The Cookers, a collaboration by saxophonist David Sanborn and B-3 master Joey DeFrancesco, the Newport Now 60 band, Wein's own Newport All-Stars, and closing main stage sets by Jon Batiste & Stay Human on Friday, Trombone Shorty on Saturday and singer Bobby McFerrin's SpiritYouAll project on Sunday.
  • Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, last man standing from 1954's performance schedule (in a performance with pianist Lennie Tristano), was back with his own trio and special guest Grace Kelly, a young alto player making a big name for herself in recent years.

Only disappointment: Dr. John & The Nite Trippers cancelled due to illness. Three of the other main stage bands took up the slack by adding 15 minutes to their sets. It was a wonderful solution.

Everywhere George Wein, now 88, traveled throughout the festival grounds on his golf cart, "The Wein Machine," total strangers were stopping him to thank him for starting the Newport jazz tradition, and finding ways to keep it going. 

Bravo indeed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by the Larry Goldings-Peter Bernstein-Bill Stewart trio, and singers Sherie Julianne and Lisa Thorson ….

Larry Goldings - Peter Bernstein - Bill Stewart, Ramshackle Serenade (Pirouet)

Twenty-plus years of collaborations in their own bands, and others, have bonded Hammond B-3 organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart with a mighty special creative glue. The treats here, layering spunk and subtlety, include Jobim’s “Luiza,” Bernstein’s “Simple As That,” Goldings’ “Mr. Meagles” and Horace Silver’s classic ballad “Peace.” This one will stick with you. 

Sherie Julianne, 10 Degrees South (Azul do Mar)
There is something mighty special about Brazil’s breezy rhythms. The bossa nova and the samba, among many others, can be musically intoxicating – in a good way.
San Francisco Bay-area singer Sherie Julianne has absorbed much from the Brazilian Songbook, and found a way to make it her own. 

Her supporters on this project include one of her musical mentors, pianist-arranger Marcos Silva, who hails from Rio, as well as flutist/saxophonist Mary Fettig, guitarist Jeff Buenz, drummer Phil Thompson and bassist Scott Thompson. Her honeyed voice and her uncanny use of time are great assets here. Favorites: “Bananeira,” “”O Pasto,” “So Many Stars” and Silva’s ballad “Painting.” (This is a July 29 release.)

Lisa Thorson, Lisa Thorson Quartet Live (Birdfeeder Music)

Boston-based singer and educator Lisa Thorson is out with her first recording in over 10 years, and it is a most-welcome display of the no-frills singer’s art. This session was recorded live at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston in 2009. This, her sixth CD as a leader, teams Thorson with her longtime bandmates Tim Ray (piano), David Clark (bass) and George Schuller (drums). They’ve been a team for more than 20 years – and it shows. 

Thorson’s clear and crisp diction, uncanny sense of swing and skillful role as a musical interpreter, with understated scatting at times, come into play here. This is no “chick singer” fronting a band. She’s deeply enmeshed in the collective band sound, and what a sound it is. Favorites: their takes on Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice,” the wistful standard “There’s a Lull in My Life” (kudos here for shining new light on a gem), their moody take on Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," and a medley consisting of guitarist Garrison Fewell’s “Hearing Things Too” (with lyrics by Thorson) and Aldir Blanc’s “Chorado.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Farewell, Charlie...

Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, 
Montreal 2008
It's been a rainy day here in Florida, and such weather gave me a grand opportunity to revisit some of my favorite music by bassist, bandleader and NEA Jazz Master Charlie Haden, who left us last week at age 76 after a prolonged illness.

My clear favorites among the extensive Haden discography include two of his duet projects (Steal Away with pianist Hank Jones and Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories) with guitarist Pat Metheny), any of his eight recordings by the film noir-inspired Quartet West (but particularly Haunted Heart, released in 1992), and 2005's Not in Our Name by the Liberation Music Orchestra that he co-led with pianist Carla Bley.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Newport beckons

The 60th anniversary edition* of the Newport Jazz Festival is fast approaching. My bags and gear aren’t packed yet, but I’m preparing for my 33rd Newport festival in 34 years. (Since the festival returned to the City By The Sea in 1981, I only missed 1983 due to a fellowship commitment in Michigan.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Jeff Colella and Putter Smith, Miles Davis, John Intrator and Sébastien Felix, and the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra….

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz in the summer

The snowbird concert season for jazz may be over in the Sarasota to Naples territory, but there’s still jazz to be found. Most of it is in the form of regular gigs at restaurants that offer jazz multiple times a week.

 They include J.D.’s in Port Charlotte (after its vacation week hiatus ends July 8), The Orange House in Punta Gorda, The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, The Haye Loft upstairs at Euphemia Hay on Longboat Key, and a most-welcome new kid on the block. 

The jazz newcomer (since February), is Chef Charles Mereday’s Alto - Live Jazz, Kitchen in Naples, which offers jazz nightly as a complement to its fine dining (though there is no music on Mondays or Tuesdays for tyhe rest of the summer). It’s located at 492 Bayfront Place in the heart of Naples’ vibrant, upscale Bayfront complex near the corner of Tamiami Trail and Goodlette Frank Road. The lineup changes nightly. It includes a fabulous quintet on Saturdays co-led by trumpeter Dan Miller and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto, with Joe Delaney on piano, Don Mopsick on bass and Patricia Dean on drums. It’s a tight bop unit. If you find yourself in Naples, be sure to check out Alto. It was inspired by Philadelphia’s wonderful Zanzibar Blue, an upscale jazz-and-dining venue in Center City where Mereday was executive chef from 1996-1998. Much to the dismay of Philly jazz fans, Zanzibar Blue closed in 2007 after the landlord proposed doubling the rent. 

Jam sessions or sit-in opportunities remain a staple of the local scene as well. You can find them at Ocean Blues in Sarasota on Mondays, Allegro Bistro in Venice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Cactus Jack’s in North Fort Myers on Wednesdays. Drummer Al Hixon’s Monday night jams at 15 South on St. Armand’s Circle will resume in October, as will the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s jams on the fourth Sunday of the month at Port Charlotte Golf Club.

There is at least one notable jazz concert scheduled this summer, arriving on Saturday, August 23. Pianist Shelly Berg and an all-star student jazz group from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music perform at Riverview High School Performing Arts Center in Sarasota. This is a Jazz Club of Sarasota event, sponsored by The Jazz Cruise. It’s a 7:30 p.m. start.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Jazz Profile: "The Nurturer"

Marcus Belgrave 

Hot House has just published my profile of Marcus Belgrave, the trumpet great who has called Detroit home for more than 50 years, and mentored an amazing array of jazz talents who have come out of the Motor City. 

In the July issue of the magazine, he also talks about the nurturing he received from Clifford Brown, when they were adolescents in a community band in Delaware, and his first road boss – Ray Charles, as well as his take on the fine art of jazz soloing. You can read it here. Belgrave and his band appear July 22-24 at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

We lost a jazz giant

The jazz world is mourning yesterday’s passing of composer, pianist and bandleader and NEA Jazz Master Horace Silver. He was truly one of the greats, helping create the hard bop genre in the 1960s and leaving as his legacy a wonderful trove of soulful, funky and catchy tunes. He was a Stan Getz sideman early in his career, co-founded  the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, and his own band was a wonderful talent springboard over the years.

His best-known composition, of course, was “Song For My Father,” which he penned in 1964 as a tribute to his dad. So it is rather ironic that Silver left us just a couple days after Father’s Day. But there were other great tunes as well – “The Preacher,” Tokyo Blues, “Filthy McNasty, “Doodlin’,” “Blowin’ The Blues Away” and “The Jody Grind.” The list goes on and on.

Monday, June 16, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by five pianists: Francy Boland, George Cables, Ellen Rowe, Jamie Saft and Omar Sosa.…

Friday, June 13, 2014

And the winners are….

The Jazz Journalists’ Association presented the media portion of its 18th annual Jazz Awards this week at the Blue Note in New York. The full list of winners is detailed at (scroll down).
  • Three musicians won crossover honors. Pianist Ethan Iverson was honored for the year’s best blog for Do The Math. Vibes player Gary Burton won Best Book of the Year category for his autobiography, Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton (Berklee Press). Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, the host of the NPR series Jazz Set, received the JJA's Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting. (Burton also won musical honors, announced in April, as Mallet Player of the Year).
  • Veteran author, editor, educator and radio show host W. Royal Stokes received JJA’s Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award.
  • Freelance writer Nate Chinen won the Helen Oakley Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Writing in 2013.
    Benny Golson, by Antonio Porcar Cano
  • Spanish photographer Antonio Porcar Cano was honored for the competition’s Photo of the Year for his wonderful image of saxophonist Benny Golson, taken last July  26 at the  Festival Internacional de Jazz de Peñíscola.
  • Videographer John Moultrie won the Best Short Form Jazz News Video category for "Gary Bartz Talks About Drug Use Among Jazz Greats."
Two perennial winners, JazzTimes magazine and, won again in their respective categories, Best Print Periodical and Best Jazz Website.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A lively jazz afternoon captured for posterity

Mike Markaverich
What do you get when you record before a live audience? In the very best instances - spirited music with no false starts, no retakes and no clams (bad notes). 

Such was the case Tuesday afternoon, June 10 when pianist and singer Mike Markaverich recorded his trio with bassist Ernie Williford and drummer Johnny Moore in the presence of about 50 of their fans at the Venice Art Center.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jazzy numbers

Much focus will be given this summer to this August’s arrival of the 60th anniversary edition of the Newport Jazz Festival (not the 60th festival mind you, just the fact that it’s been 60 years since the very first festival was held in Newport back in 1954). As mentioned in prior postings, this will be the 50th edition of the George Wein-produced festival to be held in Newport.

But there is another very admirable anniversary taking place 12 days earlier on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Jazz in July opens its 30th anniversary run (July 21-31) at the 92nd Street Y. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mingus, Mingus and more Mingus

Kevin Mauldin
The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra  dug deeply into the music of bassist and composer Charles Mingus in a concert Wednesday night at Artis Naples' Daniels Pavilion. It underscored his imprint on jazz as a bassist, composer and social commentator.

The concert included a wide range of ambitious Mingus works, even touching on his early days as an emerging jazz figure in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. The NPJO, actually a sextet, featured bassist Kevin Mauldin for this evening. The band also includes tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, pianist Jerry Stawski, drummer Mike Harvey and violinist Glenn Basham.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs by Eric Alexander, Lori Carsillo, Mike Longo, and Gene Ludwig and Pat Martino.…

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A solid night of jazz, enhanced by two Bostonians

Dean, Bowlby, Evans, Delaney
Pianist Joe Delaney's Wednesday night trio gig at Brew Babies in Cape Coral FL had some added firepower on May 7 when two very fine Boston-area musicians sat in. Delaney invited saxophonist Bob Bowlby to join the merriment, since he was in the Tampa area to visit his daughter. And trumpeter Trent Austin was in town visiting family. Fortunately, he brought his horn when dining at the restaurant with his parents.