Thursday, August 25, 2011

Has it really been 20 years?

The reissue phenomenon has been so steady and so strong when it comes to Miles Davis, that it almost masks the fact that the influential trumpeter, composer and bandleader died almost 20 years ago… on September 28, 1991.

On September 20, Legacy Recordings will release Miles Davis Quintet - Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol.1. It is the first offering in a series of rare and previously unreleased live recordings from around the world.

Another project is in the works that is a bit different… because it is aimed squarely at the younger, digital and social-media fan base.

On August 1, Legacy Recordings launched The Miles Davis Fan Project, an innovative online initiative designed to introduce his music to a digital audience via Facebook ( and Davis's official website,

Throughout August, 40 classic Miles tracks spanning the post-bop cool of Kind of Blue through the ferocious fusion of Bitches Brew and other Davis explorations are being featured on Facebook via the social sound sharing platform SoundCloud. The tracks feature an active "like" button that enables fans to vote.

The 10 recordings receiving the most "likes" from fans online will be assembled for Blue Flame. Given the premise of this project, the fan-selected, digital-only album could have been alternately titled As You Like It. According to the label, the title Blue Flame was nominated through an onlne Facebook poll.

By mid-August, more than 20,000 "likes" had been cast on Facebook with some songs grabbing more than 2,500 "likes." More than 35,000 plays have been racked up between the various contenders for final inclusion on the album.

In a news release, Legacy Recordings General Manager Adam Block said this is the first time the label “has put the music of an artist of this stature in the hands of fans via social media and asked them to create a collection of songs as a new release. That so many fans have chosen to engage, and to utilize the new technologies available to them, testifies to Miles' enduring appeal and eternal 'nowness.'"

Online fans are also being encouraged to create the official artwork for the release and describe what Miles and his music means to them in personal testimonials to be featured in a digital booklet coming with the online release.

Blue Flame’s release will coincide with the 20th anniversary of Davis's passing on September 28. The final track listing, sequencing and artwork for Blue Flame will be revealed two days earlier. The Miles Davis Fan Project has been endorsed by Miles Davis Properties, LLC.

[Above is a Ken Franckling photo of Miles, taken in April 1986 at his apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How do you measure a nonprofit's impact on its community?

In the case of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, you do it one class at a time, one student helped at a time, one workshop or master class at a time. For more than 40 years, MCG has been a multi-disciplined arts and learning center that fosters a sense of belonging, interconnections and hope within the urban community. Its state-of-the-art facility on Pittsburgh’s North Shore contains visual arts, design, ceramics and photography classrooms, a dining hall, auditorium/concert hall, and gallery to showcase creativity and craftsmanship in learning.

The MCG Jazz program, now in its 25th year, is preserving, presenting and promoting jazz music to increase its intercultural understanding and appreciation in western Pennsylvania and around the globe.

MCG President and CEO Bill Strickland recalls giving Dizzy Gillespie a tour of the school when he visited and performed in 1989. Gillespie told him: “You know... you are a great jazz musician yourself. This place is our instrument, man, and everything that happens here is your song.”

The MCG Jazz concert series, drawing thousands of visitors to MCG each year and resulted in a steady stream of quality live performance recordings, has tangible numbers are quite staggering.

  • 515,970 attendees
  • 1,638 concerts
  • 40 albums
  • 4 Grammy Awards

Kudos go out to MCG Jazz Executive Producer Marty Ashby and his dedicated team as they ready for the 25th anniversary season, which includes 16 concerts between late September and mid-May 2012. It opens with the Bob Mintzer Big Band and concludes with Kurt Elling Swings Sinatra.

Others on the bill include Pat Metheny with bassist Larry Grenadier; Pancho Sanchez; Take Six; Jon Faddis; the Count Basie Orchestra with the New York Voices; Chick Corea performing solo; and Toots Thielemans with Kenny Werner.

Pittsburgh is blessed to have such a vibrant arts force in its midst.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The musical highway is a two-way street

In his two current overlapping projects, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has added a new lane to the musical bridge between the jazz world at large and his native Puerto Rico.

The initial project was developed with some of the resources from his 2008 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” He organized and funded Caravana Cultural, a program in which he brings bands, generally quartets or quintets, to perform free jazz concerts in rural communities in Puerto Rico, with a pre-concert talk before each performance. His mission: to eliminate any social or political stigma that could be tied to jazz “while also taking this music to places where the public has had little or no exposure to it.”

The first two concerts, held in Barranquitas in February and Yauco in June, focused on the music of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker respectively. Zenón returns October 2 for a concert in Adjuntas that will feature the music of Ornette Coleman. For this one, his band mates will be tenor player Mark Turner, bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. More such concerts are planned in 2012.

The second project revolves around his newest recording, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, which will be released August 30 on the Marsalis Music label. Zenón adapted 10 classic popular songs from his native Puerto Rico for his jazz quartet. For the recording, he added a 10-piece woodwind section, which played backing arrangements by Guillermo Klein. That full band, with Klein conducting the woodwinds, made its first live appearance last weekend at the Newport Jazz Festival. (see photo)

Both projects approach the same issue from different directions.

“Even though people know about jazz in Puerto Rico, there is a certain perception or taboo that it is only for the elite,” Zenón told me this week. “Now, where I am using music so connected to the people there, it opens the door for their curiosity, and lets them dig a little deeper into what jazz is all about.” He said the new recording “gives an immense sense of pride among the people in Puerto Rico to see that their music is being brought to people who didn’t know it before.”

The MacArthur grant has given Zenon the resources to move the music forward in his vision – and to be selective about the side gigs he takes.

“I’m just enjoying where I am right now,” he said. “I’m enjoying the ride.”

Next stop: New York’s Jazz Standard next month, where his quartet will perform selections from Alma Adentro for four nights.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Newport a musical success - wet or dry has just posted an extensive variety of my photos, and three by my daughter, Heather, (see one of her's here of Charles Lloyd) documenting the 2011 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival. It was a terrific all-around weekend despite horrific downpours and steady rain for more than of Sunday's finale, for which the festival had sold about 5,000 tickets, but between no shows and early leavers, the crowd likely totaled no more than 2,000 toward day's end. But as sometimes happens at Newport, the rain was just another challenge that adds to the emotional atmosphere for the musicians, who persevered through it all.

Relative youngsters Esparanza Spalding, Hiromi and Trombone Shorty performed both days and 19-year-old alto player Grace Kelly teamed with 79-year-old Phil Woods in what turned out to be festival highlights, though there was plenty of music for all ages and stylistic tastes on the three stages at Fort Adams State Park.
As posted earlier, Saturday was a spectacular day both for the music and the dry, comfortable weather, drawing some 7,500 attendees.

Kudos to George Wein and his team for their programming this year, and resolve to keep the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival going well into the future under the aegis of the new nonprofit Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc. Show your support.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Newport is under way [updated]

Time flies when you're having fun. Consider this: George Wein's original Newport Jazz Festival ran for 17 years (1954 to 1971 with one year off after street disturbances in Newport). After a flourishing decade in the Big Apple, it returned to its home base in 1981.

So that makes this year the 30th anniversary of the festival's homecoming. And what an auspicious start, dominated by up-and-coming artists. I'm there again this weekend doing photography for JazzTimes but couldn't resist jotting a few lines at midpoint.

Wynton Marsalis opened the weekend at the International Tennis Hall of Fame (aka Newport Casino, the festival's original home) on Friday evening, followed by crooner-pianist Michael Feinstein, who brought Marsalis back to the stage for two tune during his own set.

Saturday at Ft. Adams State Park was a day for younger talent to shine, though veterans like Eddie Palmieri, Phil Woods and Randy Weston also held the crowd's interest. The biggest crowds, away from the main stage, were drawn by Trombone Shorty and Esparanza Spalding, both of whom are featured in prominent roles both Saturday and Sunday. Shorty (New Orleaans native Troy Andrews) had the audience rolling from the opening moments of his Quad Stage set with his hard-driving take on modern funk, but Spalding (pictured at right) had the larger audience. The attraction may have resulted from those curious to see the woman who won New Artist of the Year at this year's Grammy Awards, besting teenypop darling Justine Beiber and others. The more radical, yet interesting Mostly Other People Do the Killing opened the day at the Quad Stage.

Young met old when octagenarian Phil Woods was featured with 19-year-old alto sax player Grace Kelly's band on the Alex & Ani Stage. Main stage talent included Regina Carter, Hiromi (solo today, with a trio on Sunday), firecracker pianist Michel Camilo, Marsalis and guitarist Al DiMeola. The guitarist was a curious choice for a closing act. It was a duo with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, rather than a full band, as Rubalcaba wound up filling in for the other members of World Sinfonia, who missed the gig.

It will be interesting to see if Trombone Shorty's exuberant style translates as well to its closing spot on the main stage Sunday as it did Saturday inside the fort.

Eddie Palmieri ... >