Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And what of the music festival scene, Newport and beyond?

Will there be jazz and folk festivals in Newport next summer, and JVC Jazz Festivals elsewhere in the world? If so, who will be producing them? Those are valid questions these days. Questions without firm answers as of this writing.

Dave Brubeck & George Wein, backstage 2006
Two years ago, festival impresario George Wein sold his very successful Festival Productions Inc. to a newcomer on the entertainment scene, Festival Network LLC, for a handsome sum. The new company, which hired Wein and some of his longtime staff as contract employees, had a greater mission beyond merely running the eight JVC-sponsored festivals across the U.S. and around the world and other FPI staples, including the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles.

The new mission was to also create a series of “destination festivals” in exotic resort locations to lure large numbers of music fans to places like Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod or the mountain resort town of Whistler, British Columbia. The theory being – if we build it, they will come. Festival Network also invested in enhanced equipment and amenities for the existing festivals, including the place where Wein started it all in 1954 with the Newport Jazz Festival in coastal Rhode Island.

In the overall scheme of things, spending money willy-nilly on frills in venues new and old, and ignoring the sage advice of Wein’s lower-level staff may have backfired. The high overhead, higher expectations, ever-increasing talent costs and modest-at-best turnouts at its ”destination” events, proved costly in more ways than one.

At the end of 2008, word was out that Festival Network had closed its New York office, either furloughed or laid off employees, and had terminated the contracts of its “contract employees.” Some Newport vendors reported they still are awaiting payment for festival services provided last August. Word was also out that Festival Network’s executives were trying to raise more capital for the company by reaching out to new investors.

What a challenge, given that initial investors may not be thrilled the way their money seemed to go out the door the way water flows down the gutters in a rainstorm. If Festival Network can save itself, it needs to do soon despite the mess in the world economy. It likely will have to scale back on the newer festivals and stick with the tried-and-true festivals that enjoy corporate sponsorship, such as the JVC events in New York, Newport, Los Angeles and Concord, Calif., Chicago, Miami, Paris and The Netherlands (home of the North Sea Jazz Festival), as well as The Newport Folk Festival, which ran in extravagant fashion in 2008 without having a title sponsor.

If Festival Network cannot save itself, one has to believe that George Wein, now 83, will find a way to marshal his loyalists, regain key festival ownership rights, and do his darnedest to make sure the major festivals continue to operate. It is difficult to think otherwise. Music festivals have been in his blood since 1954. Besides, the Newport Folk Festival began in 1959… and there is a 50th anniversary that is ripe for celebration this coming August.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trust the music, not the hype

When Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans came out early in 2008 on Blue Note, considerable attention was paid to two tracks that Evans was working on before his death in 1980, but were not believed to have recorded by him.

One of them, to which pianist Elias added lyrics and titled “Here is Something for You,” became the source for the CD title.

Listening to Bill Evans’ The Complete Fantasy Recordings this fall, a friend with substantial musical ears concluded quite quickly that Evans indeed had recorded what was reborn as “Here is Something for You.”

However, Evans called the tune “The Opener.” It can be found on the Fantasy anthology set. The recording first appeared in 1977 as track 7 on Evans’ final Fantasy trio album I Will Say Goodbye.

Elias’s disc ends with a 2:13 segment of Evans playing the opening of the tune on a rehearsal cassette tape that Evans had given to bassist Marc Johnson, who is Elias’s husband. Johnson worked in Evans’ last trio from 1978-1980, after "The Opener" was recorded.

The other “new” Evans revelation is more likely to withstand the litmus test. That instrumental was completed and arranged by Elias and titled “Evansesque.”

If any of you discover otherwise, do let me know.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The best in jazz recordings in 2008

Here are one writer's choices for the top jazz recordings and reissues of 2008. Always keep in mind that top 10 listings of this sort reflect the reviewer's musical taste at the moment he/she does the evaluations. They only carry significant weight when the same recordings show up on many such lists. That being said, here we go:

The 10 best new jazz releases, listed alphabetically:
- Brian Blade, “Season of Changes” (Verve)
- Randy Brecker, “Randy in Brazil” (MAMA Records)
- Avishai Cohen Trio, “Gently Disturbed” (RazDaz)
- Donal Fox, “The Scarlatti Jazz Suite Project” (Leonellis Music)
- Melody Gardot, “Worrisome Heart” (Verve)
- Generations, “Tough Guys” (ICA)
- The Roy Hargrove Quintet, “Earfood” (Groovin’ High/EmArcy)
- Danilo Perez, “Across the Crystal Sea” (EmArcy)
- John Santos Quintet, “Perspectiva Fragmentada” (Machete)
- The Stein Brothers Quintet, “Quixotic,” (Jazzed Media)

The 10 best new songs of 2008, listed alphabetically:
- Brian Blade, “Stoner Hill” from “Season of Changes” (Verve)
- Jon Cowherd, “Return of the Prodigal Son” from Brian Blade Fellowship’s “Season of Changes” (Verve)
- Taylor Eigsti, “Let It Come to You” (Concord Jazz)
- Tigran Hamasyan, “Leaving Paris” from “New Era” (Plus Loin)
- Virginia Mayhew, “Toe Tickler” from Duke Ellington Legacy’s “Thank You, Uncle Edward” (Renma)
- Pete Malinverni, “Istanbul” from “Invisible Cities” (Reservoir)
- Dafnis Prieto, “Until the Last Minute” from “Taking the Soul for a Walk” (Dafnison Music)
- Marty Sheller, “The Route 40 Flyer” from “Why Deny” (PVR Records)
- Brooke Sofferman, “Da Bull Stops Here” from “Fine Whines” (Summit)
- Bobby Watson, “For Milt” from “From the Heart (Palmetto)

The best jazz boxed set or historic recordings of 2008, listed alphabetically:
- Dave Brubeck, “Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007” (Concord Jazz)
- Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, “Showtime at the Spotlite, 52nd Street, New York City, June 1946” (Uptown)
- Sonny Rollins, "Road Shows, Vol. 1" (Doxy)
- Horace Silver, “Live at Newport ‘58” (Blue Note)
- Nina Simone, “To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story (Legacy Recordings)