Saturday, February 13, 2021

Sharing some thoughts - and visuals - on Chick Corea

Has there been a more dominant, restlessly creative jazz explorer over the past 50 years than Chick Corea? I think not.

Chick Corea, Newport, 1998
The Clearwater FL-based pianist, composer, bandleader and educator passed away last Tuesday, February 9, from a rare form of cancer that his family said had only been diagnosed very recently. He was 79. Check out his Facebook posting, which includes a parting message.

The sheer variety of his compositions and band projects still astounds me. After he left trumpeter Miles Davis's band in 1970s to forge his own musical path, Corea's journey took many winding twists and turns. He continued exploring the electronic frontiers of jazz fusion with Return to Forever, and later, his Elektrik Band. 

He kept one foot in tradition but also aimed toward the future with his Akoustic Band, his powerful New Trio with bassist Avashai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard, his band Origin with Ballard, Cohen and other daring, young acoustic players, and his Chick Corea & Friends tours with a variety of jazz all-stars. One of the latter, was his 1996 tour and recording with drummer Roy Haynes, bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Joshua Redman celebrating the music of late bebop pianist Bud Powell.

Then there were his duo collaborations with fellow pianist Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Gary Burton (Crystal Silence), and singer Bobby McFerrin (Play). More recently, 2020's recording Antidote with his Spanish Heart Band won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. It was his 23rd. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2006.

His longtime yearly residencies at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club were legendary. He'd perform for three or four weeks straight, changing the roster and context of his band every night or two. Every time he took to the stage, wherever he played, was a musical adventure. 

Chick at Chick Corea Way
Corea always was creative, right until the end. And all of us were shocked by his unexpected passing. I heard Chick live more than a dozen times over the years. Seven were at the Newport Jazz Festival. Others were in Boston (clubs and festivals), at JazzFest in New Orleans, and Freihofer's Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs NY.

One of those memorable Boston concerts was his 1985 duet tour with Burton. Another Boston-area opportunity to see and hear Chick, without piano, was on May 20, 2001. His hometown, Chelsea MA, honored him that day by renaming one block of Everett Avenue between Arlington and Walnut Streets as Chick Corea Way. Chick was there for the dedication, along with scores of relatives and longtime friends.

Here are some favorite images taken over the years.

Newport 2013, from Jazz in the Key of Light

The New Trio with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard
Saratoga Springs NY, 1998

With Elvin Jones backstage at Newport, August 1982

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Pasquale Grasso visits the other Naples

Italian guitarist Pasquale Grasso grew up in the mountain town of Ariano Irpino, just 49 miles  northeast of the nearest major city, Naples. He's been playing guitar since age 4 and has developed a jazz- and classical-influenced mastery of his chosen instrument that is something to behold.

That talent brought him to another Naples, in southwest Florida, on Wednesday, February 10 for a concert showcasing his swinging artistry. He was special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra as part of the sextet's All That Jazz series at Artis-Naples.

Guitar players were not the primary musical influence on young Grasso, who grew up in a southern Italy household that loved jazz. He was inspired by the sound of bebop pianists, including Bud Powell, Elmo Hope and Barry Harris. He won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in 2015, just three years after moving to New York City, where he has enjoyed a busy career as a performer and educator. Pat Metheny, a jazz guitar god for many, is one of Grasso's biggest fans.

Pasquale Grasso
Now 32, Grasso shows a command of his instrument well beyond his age. His warm sound, complex harmonic lines, dexterity and improvisational skills blend into a masterful musicality.

All of those skills were on full display as he and the NPJO dug into nine wide-ranging jazz standards. The resident band includes artistic director Lew Del Gatto on tenor sax, Dan Miller on trumpet, Glenn Basham on violin, Jerry Stawski on piano, Kevin Mauldin on bass and Mike Harvey on drums.

He kicked things off with Powell's bop chestnut "Bouncing With Bud." After the band's romp through Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," the night heated up even more on "Hey George," a contrafact that Powell built over the chord changes to "Sweet Georgia Brown." It was billed as a drum feature for Harvey, but Grasso's teasing, blistering playing kept pace.

Mauldin, Del Gatto
The band's subdued take on George Gershwin's "Soon" was a beautiful feature for Del Gatto, whose  tenor solos are always thoughtful, never overdone. They then dug into Hope's buoyant "Happy Hour." Basham was in the spotlight with a gorgeous exploration of Mercer Ellington's "Moonbeam."

Grasso treated the audience to some beautiful solo guitar as he put his own creative stamp onn the Richard Rodgers- Lorenz Hart ballad "My Heart Stood Still." While it was written in the 1920s, it retained a beautiful freshness in the 2020s in the guitarist's hands.  

Dan Miller, Mike Harvey

They closed the evening with a strong trumpet feature for Miller on "Star Eyes," followed by an all-hands-on-deck take on the playful "Tea For Two."

Safe seating in Hayes Hall
Because of the pandemic, this season's series was moved from the cozy confines of 275-seat Daniels Pavilion to the 1,700-seat Hayes Hall next door, with room for about 200 attendees with safely-distanced seating, masks required.

Stawski, Grasso, Mauldin, Del Gatto, Miller, Basham

Thursday, February 4, 2021

2021 - Jazz Musicians Felled By Coronavirus, Chapter 4 (updated 3-2-2021)

Here is part four of our chronological listing of jazz-related COVID-19 deaths from the novel coronavirus, updated as we receive them. Our profound sympathies to their families, friends and fans as we remember their musical legacies. Parts one, two and three contain 2020's 63 known losses.
  • Violinist, singer, arranger and educator Zoran Džorlev died January 2, 2021 in Skopje, Macedonia. He was 53. His music ranged from folk and pop to classical and jazz.
  • Latin Grammy-winning bandoneon player and composer Raul Jaurena died January 5. He was 79. He was a master of the button squeezebox that is the quintessential tango instrument. His music was a hybrid of the traditional tango of South America and tango nuevo. He moved from Uruguay to the United States in the 1980s, settling in the New York City area.
  • Trombonist, singer, bandleader and writer Burt Wilson died January 6 at age 87. Wilson started Sacramento’s Silver Dollar Jazz Band in 1949. The band helped incubate the area’s trad jazz scene, which led to formation of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society and the Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee. Wilson also was a political activist, playwright, and former advertising executive. He moved from his native Sacramento to upstate New York in 2015. He died in a nursing home near Binghamton NY.
    Burt Wilson
  • British pianist, singer and vintage jazz expert Keith Nichols died January 21 in a London hospital. He was 75. He contracted COVID-19 after going into the hospital for unrelated issues.
  • Salt Lake City pianist, composer, singer and educator Courtney Isaiah Smith died January 25. He was 37. The prolific northern Utah musician’s career bridged the jazz, gospel and soul genres. He led his own quintet, worked in other bands and taught jazz piano at Utah State University, The University of Utah, Weber State and Westminster College.
  • African guitarist, singer and songwriter Wambali Mkandawire died January 31 in Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawii. The jazz and afro-beat musician was 70.
  • Czech composer, bandleader, multi-instrumentalist and singer Ladislav Štaidl died January 31 in a Prague hospital. He was 75. Štaidl wrote the music for 80 television and feature films, and composed some 200 songs. 
  • Pianist, composer and educator Uli Rennert died February 5 at age 60. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Rennert had lived in Graz, Austria since 1987, and became an Austrian citizen in 1993. He taught at the Jazz Institute at the Arts University of Graz and was also an artist in residence at Basel University in Switzerland. 
  • Trumpeter and bandleader Pauly Cohen died February 10 at home in Tamarac FL. He was 98,. Cohen played lead trumpet with the Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie orchestras. He led his own 18-piece big band in south Florida into his nineties.
  • Austrian concert promoter, tour manager and DJ Erich Zawinul died February 12 in a Vienna hospital at age 55. He was the son of late jazz keyboardist and bandleader Joe Zawinul. He brought a wide range of jazz, pop, rock and country stars to perform in Austria over the years. 
  • Saxophonist Richie Perez, a Bakersfield CA jazz fixture for 70 years, died February 16. He was 86. The Texas-born musician moved with his family to California at age 9. At 15, he auditioned for blues legend Muddy Waters in a Bakersfield motel room for a show that night at Rainbow Garden — and he got the gig. His parents wouldn’t let him go on the road after that singular performance.
  • New Jersey-based saxophonist Sal Spicola died on February 22. He was 72. He started playing saxophone professionally at age 15 for Chuck Berry, and by 19 he was touring with Lionel Hampton’s band. He was an alumnus of the Boston Pops, Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, and the Mike Treni Big Band. He made multiple Broadway shows and tours, including “Cats,” “Me and My Girl,” ”Miss Saigon” and “Starlight Express.”
Here are links to Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Vincent Herring sears and swings in Naples

The Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra's socially distanced concert series at Artis-Naples didn't miss a beat on Wednesday, January 20 when the sextet was joined by special guest Vincent Herring. The alto saxophonist replaced tenor player Billy Harper, who had been scheduled until pandemic concerns scuttled his travel plans.

Vincent Herring
Herring has been based in New York since 1982.  His soulful, swinging style was heavily influenced by the late Cannonball Adderley. Herring worked for nine years with trumpeter Nat Adderley. After Nat's death, he formed the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band with drummer Louis Hayes. He last played with the Naples sextet in 2018.

For this concert,  the material pretty much alternated between four jazz covers and three of Herring's varied originals. Artistic director and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto penned arrangements for the sextet. The band also included trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey. 

Herring, Stawski, Del Gatto
After opening with a romp through Wes Montgomery's "Fried Pies,"  Herring put a new twist on "That Old Devil Moon" with some fleeting "Killer Joe" melodic references to honor composer Benny Golson. His exhilarating original "Koba's Delight" featured Miller and Harvey, who set and sustained its double-time pace.

In contrast,Herring and the resident sextet featured violinist Basham on a laid-back cover of Stevie Wonder's "You are the Sunshine of My Life." Herring's tune "Dudli's Dilemma" had a decided hard bop feel. He joined the rhythm section to explore Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" with a bit of melancholy, no doubt reflecting most jazz musicians plight after a year with little touring and minimal work.

They closed things out with another original, the gospel/R&B-tinged "Preaching to the Choir," which Herring wrote in tribute to drummer Carl Allen, with whom he has performed and recorded.

For this season, the sextet's concerts were moved out of the more intimate 275-seat Daniels Pavilion. The more than 200 audience members were masked and distanced within spacious Hayes Hall.

There are four concerts left in the sextet's 2020-21 concert season. It performs February 10 with guitarist Pasquale Grasso and celebrates the Charlie Parker Centennial on March 3. Alto saxophonist Dick Oatts is the March 31 special guest. Singer Denise Donatelli, originally scheduled in early March, joins the NPJO for its season finale on May 12.

Herring, Stawski, Del Gatto, Miller, Mauldin, Basham, Harvey