Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Year in Jazz

As 2010 fast approaches, it is time for my annual review of jazz happenings over the past year. The 2009 edition of The Year in Jazz was published today on

There were a lot of noteworthy occurrences during 2009 - some big, some small but noteworthy, quite a few induced in some way by the economy, and there were far too many passings of musicians across the United States and around the world.

Happy holidays - and may it be a happy and healthy new year for all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy holidays to one and all

It certainly has been quite a year for jazz and the economy. I’ll have more details and perspective shortly in the 2009 edition of my annual “Year in Jazz” review for

In the meantime, please enjoy what I consider to be one of the great Christmas-related animations. It may not be jazz – but now and then we must delve into the doo-wop world.

Peace and joy – and jazz be with you,


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The best in jazz recordings in 2009

Here are this writer's choices for the top jazz recordings and reissues of 2009. 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 of 2009, listed alphabetically:
- Lili Añel, “Every Second in Between” (Wall-I Records)
- Big Band Ritmo Sinfonica Città Di Verona, "Restless Spirits" (Velut Luna)
- Seamus Blake, “Live in Italy” (Jazz Eyes)
- Mike Clark, “Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1” (Talking House)
- Bill Cunliffe, “Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2” (Resonance)
- Kat Edmonson, “Take to the Sky” (Convivium Records)
- Steve Kuhn, “Mostly Coltrane” (ECM)
- LeBoeuf Brothers, “House Without a Door” (LeBoeuf Brothers Music)
- John Scofield, “Piety Street” (EmArcy)
- Joe Zawinul, “75” (Heads Up International)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:

- Lynne Arriale, “A Gentle Soul” from “Nuance” (Motéma Music)
- Jeff Ballard, “Lady B” from Fly’s “Sky & Country” (ECM)
- Scotty Barnhart, “Haley’s Passage” from “Say It Plain” (Unity Music)
- Gerald Clayton, “Peace for the Moment” from “Two-Shade” (ArtistShare)
- N. Glenn Davis, “Come Right In” from “Come Right In” (Jazzed Media)
- Richie Goods, “Desert Song” from “Live at the Zinc Bar” (RichMan Productions)
- Fareed Haque. “Big Bhangra” from “Flat Planet” (Owl Studios)
- Sean Jones, “The Ambitious Violet” from “The Search Within” (Mack Avenue)
- Mark Rapp, “Thank You” from “Token Tales” (Paved Earth)
- Greg Skaff, “Willie D” from “East Harlem Skyline” (Zoho)

The best jazz boxed set or historic recordings of 2009, listed alphabetically:
- Dupree Bolton, “Fireball,” (Uptown)
- Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, “The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956 (Prestige)
- Lucky Thompson, “New York City, 1965-65” (Uptown)
- Freddie Hubbard, “Without a Song (Live in Europe, 1969)” (Blue Note)
- Scott LaFaro, “Pieces of Jade” (Resonance)

The best jazz-related DVD of 2009
- "'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris," (Outsider Pictures/Naxos of America)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mabern moments

I had a fascinating conversation with Harold Mabern last weekend in conjunction with the pianist's appearance at the Jazz Standard in mid-January as part of the George Coleman quartet. He's been a regular in Coleman's band for more than 30 years - and they went to high school together in Memphis. Mabern's comments will be a feature profile in HotHouse magazine's January issue. I will post a link when the article is available online.

Suffice it to say, Mabern had much to say - too much, in fact, for the space allotted. One interesting gem: his 9-year-old granddaughter, Maya, who lives in California but will be in metropolitan New York for the holidays, has been a voracious student of the piano since about 3. I wonder where she gets that from? If she has a question about something piano-related, she call's now and then, and Harold will put his own phone on speakerphone, and walk her through the challenge. And something I find most unusual for any 9-year-old today. Mabern said his granddaughter is into stride and boogie-woogie.

Mabern, 73, also seems to be a fixture in former student Eric Alexander's regular band... and is prominent in Eric's new CD, Revival of the Fittest, on High Note. The CD has been in heavy rotation on my player over the past four days. It too goes full circle, with the opening track being George Coleman's tune "Revival."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

CDs of Note...

Norah Jones, The Fall (Blue Note)
The Norah Jones evolution continues. The singer-pianist-guitarist who made such a big splash and became Blue Note’s mega-platinum gravy train in 2002, has moved away from her jazz-tinged roots into an electronic rock sensibility that will also appeal to country fans at times. In doing so, she presents new songs that in great measure are grounded in her move ahead after a breakup with boyfriend and longtime bandmate Lee Alexander. Jesse Harris, who wrote her first big hit, “Don’t Know Why,” is a co-writer on two tunes here - ”Even Though” and “Tell Yer Mama.” My favorites: “Chasing Pirates,” “Light as a Feather,” “It’s Gonna Be” and “Back to Manhattan.”

Wayne Escoffery, Uptown (Posi-Tone)
London-born Wayne Escoffery (Mingus Dynasty, Tom Harrell, Monk Legacy Septet - and a Jackie McLean protege) is a rising mid-generation tenor player on the mainstream jazz scene. His playing is formidable, both in its sense of propulsion and melodic ideas. It also exudes an R&B feel at times. The session consists primarily of originals by the leader or bandmate Avi Rothbard plus Duke Pearson’s ballad “You Know I Care” and a version of Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” that opens in mellow fashion but builds into a burner. The other players in this fine quartet are Gary Versace on organ, Rothbard on guitar and Jason Brown on drums. My favorites: “No Desert,” I Got It Bad” and “Maya’s Waltz.”

Gary Peacock - Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet)
The bassist and pianist have developed a wonderful affinity for complementing each other’s playing and improvising - and love to record together. After Peacock’s appearances on two Copland trio sessions (with Bill Stewart and Paul Motian) for Pirouet, this is their first duo adventure for the German label - and second in their 20-plus years of working together. They let the music breathe and the notes glow and resonate as they trade roles as soloist and accompanist with ease. This truly feels like a musical conversation as they explore a blend of standards and originals. My favorites: their take on Miles Davis’s “All Blues” and “Blue in Green” (a tune generally credited to Davis but likely written by Bill Evans) and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” as well as Copland’s “River’s Run,” Peacock’s “The Pond” and their collaborative improvisation “Late Night.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grammy nomination musings...

The Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is out with its nominations for the 52nd annual Grammy Awards. The full list of nominees is available at the Grammy Web site.

It is encouraging to see that a former jazz categories for so-called "smooth jazz" recordings are listed this time around where they belong - "Pop Instrumental." Finally, we have some truth in advertising.

There are lots of nominations of great merit this time around. I was particularly glad to see the jazz vocal category dominated by mid-career singers who have worked so hard through the years to advance their craft - Kurt Elling, Roberta Gambarini, Luciana Souza and Tierney Sutton - with Randy Crawford joining from the senior generation. Also, kudos to Vince Mendoza for his THREE nominations in the best instrumental arrangement tiers for work on three different projects.

If The Recording Academy had a category for best humorous song title, Paquito d'Rivera would be a shoo-in. D'Rivera is nominated in the best instrumental composition category for his tune "Borat in Syracuse" from his CD Jazz-Clazz.

The Grammy Awards will be bestowed January 31 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CDs of Note

Hal Weary, A Rendezvous with Déjà Vu (Musichal Entertainment)
There’s more than a little influence of Horace Silver on this hard-bop project. This is a good thing, as rarely can you gone with the funky sort of swing that graced the best of Silver’s projects. All right, all of his projects. Weary, a New York-based pianist, has strong support from trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley, saxophonist Stantawn Kendrick, bassist Gregory Williams and drummer Jerome Jennings. All of the playing is stellar. My favorites: “Hangin’ with Horace” and “Outback Blues.” The one non-original is Weary’s Garnerish take on “Tenderly,” which he plays solo for the first half before the full quintet joins in. Weary slips back into solo mode for the coda of this great arrangement.

Mike Longo, Sting Like A Bee (Consolidated Artists Productions)
Pianist Mike Longo has never really grabbed the attention enjoyed by many other first-tied pianists, but he certainly belongs among the elite. Sting Like a Bee is a natural follow to his 2007 CD Float Like a Butterfly. On this one, Longo uses the swinging jazz trio format, with bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash along for the ride, to pay tribute to some of his mentors.
Longo studied with Oscar Peterson in the early 1960s and worked extensively as pianist for trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie starting in 1966; the association spanning a quarter-century and including several years as the band’s musical director.

This CD is a wonderful showcase of Longo’s touch, sense of time and imagination. My clear favorite: the trio’s extended and interesting take on Cole Porter’s classic “Love for Sale.” It is filled with inventiveness and swings hard - for more than nine minutes. Three is much to savor, including a rather delicate take on Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.”

Marbin, Marbin (Marbin)
There’s nothing like consistency. The duo, the recording and the label all carry the same name. This is a collaboration by guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, whose atmospheric sound often is reminiscent of the classic Paul Winter Consort. There is a bit more bite to the playing in spots, particularly on “Mei.” It’s quite an output, considering that except for one track with added vocals by Mat Davidson, this features just guitar and saxophone with some electronic enhancements. The strongest connections to mainstream jazz occur on “Abadaba” and “Rust.” Mainstream purists may not like it all, but this fits the grand scheme of jazz these days in a very pleasant way. No doubt, you’ll get a good chuckle from the cover art.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On the plus side…

After all of the angst and financial mess following the Festival Productions-Festival Network LLC transaction nearly three years ago, one positive has emerged. Ben Ratliff had the details this month in the New York Times in his article Historic Sounds of Newport, Newly Online.

Before Festival Network essentially collapsed from its self-inflicted financial woes, the short-lived new ownership of the Newport Jazz Festival empire sold its audio archives to San Francisco-based Wolfgang’s Vault. It may have been its only good move while or after running George Wein’s successful production operation into the ground. Fortunately, Wein was able to resurrect that - at least for Newport and New York, where his resumes in 2010 after a one-year hiatus under the sponsorship of the health-care company CareFusion.

The audio archive sale price has not been disclosed. But after spending nearly $5 million on audio transfers and mixing, Wolfgang’s Vault (an online concert recording and rock music memorabilia archive) has begun posting free audio streams of performances from the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival.

Many of the tapes likely were made by performers’ record companies. In addition to the free audio streaming, higher quality audio of the concerts can be downloaded at costs estimated between $10 and $13.

The company says it acquired tapes of more than 1,200 individual performances dating back to at least 1955, Newport’s second year. Twenty of the Newport '59 sets are now available - and hundreds more concerts through the years will be posted in the coming months from the jazz festival as well as its companion Newport Folk Festival.

From what I’ve heard so far, the material is terrific. Count Basie’s ’59 Newport set with Joe Williams and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross is top-notch. What a great way to relive key moments in jazz history.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Interesting developments at J@LC

Remember the halcyon days when to be considered a university, you had to have six or seven accredited colleges as well as graduate and professional divisions? In our society’s more recent cavalier and clever language-mashing, it seems anything goes.

It started with Hamburger University, then Dunkin’ Donuts University and probably thousands’ more corporate training initiatives that persist today with the university adjunct. And, of course, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Swing University.”

Grammar cop semantics barb aside as I jump back into blogging after two weeks in the sun, the JALC program is a great jazz education option for adults seeking a greater appreciation or understanding of the music we treasure so much. The program’s Winter 2010 session opens with a free January 5 open house at Irene Diamond Educational Center at Rose Hall in JALC’s Manhattan digs.

Available winter classes focus on Mary Lou Williams (taught by her spiritual guide and later manager, Father Peter O’Brien); drums and the workings of the jazz rhythm section (taught by Lewis Nash); bebop (taught by JALC trombonist Vincent Gardner); and Jazz 101 and Jazz 201 history courses (taught by the indefatigable broadcaster, archivist and jazz historian Phil Schaap).

Details are at JALC’s Web site, Courses from $125 to $200. Single class tickets, from $30-40, are available for cash purchase at the door on the evening of the class. To enroll, visit the site or call 212.258.9786,

Of great note this week is JALC’s announcement, covered in depth in Monday’s New York Times, that the institution is broadening its programming to underscore the close relationship between jazz and popular song. Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein has signed on as director of JALC’s new popular music series. He will create three programs and a family event for the spring of 2011. Stephen Holden has it covered in depth. Read on – about the importance and the many nuances.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

CDs of Note...

Various artists, Coming Together, (Inarhyme Records)
This is a very special recording, both for the emotional performances - and their inspiration. Saxophonist Brendan Romaneck was killed in an April 2005 traffic accident, two weeks after his 24th birthday and two months before this session was planned, with all tunes and arrangements set. It was to have been his recording debut as a leader.

His family decided to proceed with the session with pianist-producer Keith Javors, trumpeter Terell Stafford and bassist Delbert Felix and drummer John Davis. Javors, who taught Romaneck at the University of North Florida’s fine jazz program and also hired him for his own working band, recruited Chris Potter and Steve Wilson to split the saxophone duties.

Romaneck’s spirit lives on through this recording, as do his very fine compositions. The CD also included takes on three standards that he chose for the session: “My Shining Hour,” “Nancy With the Laughing Face” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” My favorites: Javors’ and Potter’s stirring performances on the gorgeous and robust “Dream Behind The Winter” and Wilson’s soprano sax take on “Killing Me Softly…”

Sachal Studios Orchestra, Lahore presents Take Five (Sachal Music)
Timing is everything, and in the 50th anniversary of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out recording, were treated to what may be the most unusual version of “Take Five” that you’ll ever hear. This take on the Paul Desmond tune features the Lahore, Pakistan-based Orchestra of Sachal Studios. This version fuses the tune with Indo-Pakistan classical instrumentation. It’s performed with sitar, tabla, sarod, Spanish guitars, percussion and an ample string section. The Spanish guitar tinge enhances the fusion here. This 5:42 CD single (plus a 3:12 radio mix) is an appetizer for a planned Jazz, Bossa Nova & Samba disc that also includes Jobim’s “Desafinado” and “The Girl from Ipanema,” as well as Erroll Garner’s classic composition “Misty.”

Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen, The Ache of Possibility (Di-Tone)
This is an interesting, genre-defying project - that sounds like the principals got caught in a vortex between jazz and folk concerts/festivals. The Ache of Possibility is the latest effort by Broadway singer Carpathia Jenkins and guitarist/songwriter Louis Rosen, whose biting lyrics contain more of a folk-style message than we usually hear in a jazz context. Parts are reminiscent of 1960’s Freedom Now Suite and and 1961’s The Real Ambassadors recordings. The title track lambastes America’s political climate post 9/11 but also celebrates the hope (“the ache of possibility”) offered by the Obama presidency. Rosen’s lyrics on “The Middle-Class (Used-To-Be) Blues” cleverly take a look at today’s economic mess - (“My shoes need soles / And my soul needs love / But my love needs money like a cold hand needs a glove” etc., etc., etc. It’s not all political. There are also tracks about love and redemption, four of which are poems by Nikki Giovanni that are set to music. The jazz elements in this ambitious project are very good as well. This is a November 10 release.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

I got a chuckle today when reading a Web posting (Kenny G Steps Back Into the Spotlight) by AOL's PopEater entertainment news and celebrity gossip site about the Pied Piper of non-jazz saxophonists. It's an update on his career including work on a track ironically called "I'm Your Daddy" on alternate rock band Weeezer's latest album, Ratitude.

The saxophonist (I get a kick whenever the esteemed New York Times refers to him as "Mr. G" on second reference) also said he is working on an as-yet-untitled album that he hopes will move him in an R&B direction.

"I want more rhythm in my music," PopEater quotes him as saying. "I want my album to have a bit more tempo. Otherwise, I'm going to be lost in the huge smooth jazz array of saxophone players. Half of them don't even need to be making records."


That's a bit harsh from the player who can be considered their musical Daddy. His mega-platinum successes gave birth to a legion of saxophone smoothies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jazz and folk intermingle – paying it forward

Louis Armstrong is credited with saying: "All music is folk music; I ain't never heard no horse sing a song." Another variation on the quote is “All music is folk music, because we're all just folk."Quotations aside, there are some interesting jazz-folk synergies at work this autumn.

Some may have been surprised when 90-year-old folk troubadour Pete Seeger was featured September 19 in a prime-time performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He got a standing ovation when he walked on stage at the festival’s Arena venue.
Yes indeed, this land is our land.

And on the afternoon of Sunday, December 6, Sonny Rollins will take to the stage at Tarrytown NY Music Hall with his band to perform a benefit concert. It will be Rollins’ first fund-raising performance for any cause… And the cause in this instance is the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater – an environment-focused vessel and nonprofit founded 40 years ago by singer Pete Seeger.

"Pete Seeger and I have the same heroes and beliefs. We are in the same family. He is my brother", says Rollins.

Besides brother, you say add neighbor. Rollins has called the Hudson Valley home since 1972.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CDs of Note...

Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Detroit (Mack Avenue Records)
At a time when it seems difficult to keep a big band afloat, composer and arranger Gerald Wilson has the luxury of keeping two big bands on call, one in Los Angeles, the other in the Big Apple. He used the L.A. band to produce the cornerstone of this ambitious project. It’s a six-part suite written in honor of the Midwest city where he spent five of his musically formative years, from 1934 to 1939. Detroit was bustling and publicly integrated, and that to Mississippi native Wilson meant freedom.

Each of the six parts can stand alone quite admirably with great moods and the harmonically solid and imaginative writing for which Wilson excels. You can feel aspects of the city’s energy throughout. My favorites are the Latin-tinged “Before Motown” and the rippling blues, “The Detroit River.” There is top-notch soloing throughout the project by tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trumpeter Sean Jones (a guest from the N.Y. band), trombonist Eric Jorgensen, guitarist Anthony Wilson (Gerald’s son) and violinist Yvette Devereaux, and by trumpeter Winston Byrd on “Miss Gretchen,” which Wilson wrote in honor of label owner and jazz patron Gretchen Valade. Wilson’s equally top-notch New York band recorded the two non-suite pieces, “Everywhere” and “Aram,” that close the disc.

Arturo Stable, Call (Origen Records)
Percussionist Arturo Stable and his bandmates have created a gem in Call, which blends the Afro-Cuban rhythms of his homeland with other strong influences from around the globe, but most notably the bebop tradition and intensity that remains the bedrock of jazz. His bandmates are Aruan Ortiz on piano, Edward Perez on bass, Javier Vercher on brass and reeds, and Francisco Mela on drums, with special guest Ian Izquierdo on violin on the title track. The music on all 10 originals is riveting and bubbles with beautiful energy and ideas. Favorite tracks: “Call,” “African Sunrise,” “Spider Web.” and “Old Memories,” which features a gorgeous piano solo by Ortiz.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Keeping the faith, growing the jazz faithful

There are examples here and there of jazz clubs, jazz festivals and jazz musicians doing their part to increase the audience and give the jazzfaithful an economic break in these difficult times. Some do it low key, some even anonymously.

Wynton Marsalis is doing his part. The trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director will give back to his fans next mont when he opens the doors of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29. Gratis.

According to a JALC news release , more than 100 fans will be invited to join Marsalis and his quintet. Free tickets will be distributed randomly to Wynton Marsalis e-newsletter subscribers. And one lucky grand prize winner will receive a two-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental, New York. Additional winners will receive invitations to the quintet's sound check, gift certificates to Gabriel's Bar & Restaurant and tours of Jazz at Lincoln Center's House of Swing. Fans can sign up for free and view full details and rules at

And what's Wynton's take on this?

"My fans have stuck with me through many styles of music - from modern burnout to standards to New Orleans music to baroque and beyond. They have embraced all of my bands - from small groups of various sizes to the big band, and they have celebrated the diverse personalities of those ensembles. My fans are of all nations and kinds, ages and beliefs. Every day, I recommit to creating a better music for their enjoyment.

"I strive to justify, through my work, the unwavering faith and trust they have shown through these years," he said. "At every performance and sometimes just in the streets, someone gives me the inspiration and confidence to become a better musician and person. It is a blessing."


Monday, October 12, 2009

When music meets science

In addition to their strong musical interests, John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood share interests in biology and science. The longtime bandmates melded those interests philosophically with their latest, and perhaps most ambitious project, The Radiolarians Series. It is named after the Radiolarian, a type of single-celled marine organism with a very intricate exoskeleton.

MMW took an organic, evolutionary approach to the tour and the recordings that have resulted in Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set, which is being released November 24th by Indirecto Records.

The Radiolarians Series was designed to move away from the traditional music-industry cycle of write/record/tour in a way that would keep their music fresh. Here's how the process worked:

MMW got together for brief writing retreats, performed only that new material on tour and recorded the material immediately after getting off the road. The band repeated that process three times while touring in different regions of the United States and South America. MMW and Indirecto Records released this music on three separate CDs that came out over the course of the past year.

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set compiles Radiolarians I, II, and III in the same package - plus three previously unreleased bonus tracks; a special edition, high quality audio, double vinyl pressing of highlights from the three Radiolarians albums; a 10-track disc of remixed music featuring contributions from nine different DJs and producers; a previously unreleased 70-minute live album; and a Billy Martin-directed DVD feature film entitled Fly In A Bottle. That's quite an ambitious boxed set.

German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel’s beautiful Radiolarians drawings were featured on the covers of all three Radiolarians records - and were a visual inspiration for the trio’s music throughout the project. Haeckel is credited with discovering and naming thousands of new species and popularizing the studies of Charles Darwin in Germany during the late 1800s.

You can call this a musical salute to evolution... as Medeski, Martin and Wood pushed its music in new, experimental directions - energized by new challenges rather than tiring after 19 years together.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

CDs of Note...

Amanda Carr and the Kenny Hadley Big Band, Common Thread (Original Music)
This disc is terrific on a number of levels. It captures swinging singer Amanda Carr at her finest. It marks the hopeful rebirth of the Boston-based Kenny Hadley Big Band after a seven-year absence, featuring many of the area’s finest jazz soloists. And it shines new attention on more than a dozen great big band arrangements crafted for this unit and Carr’s pleasant and direct delivery. And there’s another bonus. They stay away from the so-called “tired tunes” in the Great American Songbook, choosing instead to bring freshness and introduce new ears to a lot of under-performed gems. My favorites -”Something Wonderful Happens in Summer,” “I Understand” and Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On).” There’s also a wonderful instrumental showcase for trumpeter Rick Hammett, who arranged the rarely heard Dizzy Gillespie-Walter Fuller tune “I Waited for You.” (This is an October 20 release.)

Also worth noting: Carr and Hadley have started American Big Band Preservation Society, Inc., a pending 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is “to preserve and promote American big band music through the preservation and performance of the great American songbook with an emphasis on acquiring, preserving and making publicly available unpublished big band arrangements.” The Web site is: http://

Sharel Cassity, Relentless (JLP, Jazz Legacy Productions)
Iowa-born, Oklahoma City-raised, New York-based Sharel Cassity is a young alto sax player to keep both ears on. This second CD as a leader is a dandy. And its title describes Cassity’s approach to her music. She’s a skilled writer, bandleader and player, as shown on this sextet session with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer E.J. Strickland plus three guests on several tracks. The band is tight and the music is well-developed. My favorites: “Song of Those Who Seek” and “No Turning Back.” The latter is a high-flying bop tune with a blistering and memorable solos from Cassity and Pelt.

Robert Kyle, Bossalicious (Dark Delishious Music)
The breezy blend of the tenor saxophone and Brazil’s enchanting rhythms have captured our fancy ever since Stan Getz put his stamp on the combination that fueled the bossa nova craze. On this quartet project with guests on two tracks, Californian Robert Kyle adds his own contributions both as a player (tenor sax and flute primarily) and a writer adding kindred material that stands up well alongside his interpretations of works by Jobim (“Favela” and “A Felicidade”), Lobo, Barroso and others. Favorites: his own “Carolina,” “Inspiração” and “The Long Goodbye,” guitarist Roberto Montero’s “Bossa Pra Um Bom Dia”, as well as their intriguing bossa take on “Nature Boy.” There’s also a beautiful extended version of Dori Caymmi’s “Amazon River.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Summertime... and the competition is confusing"

Let's see if I can make sense of this. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has won the right to host the Summer Olympics in 2016, besting Chicago and other cities. That's fine and perhaps long overdue.

The Olympiad is scheduled in August 2016. As I understand it, when it is summer in Northern Hemisphere, it is supposed to be our equivalent of Winter south of the Equator. I can't imagine the equivalent - Boston or New York, for example, hosting the Summer Games in January.

But, hey, maybe I ponder the unponderables far too much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CDs of Note...

George Colligan, Come Together (Sunnyside)
Pianist Colligan long has been in demand as a sideman for a wide range of jazz greats, from Cassandra Wilson to Buster Williams and Christian McBride. While far from a newcomer as a leader (this is his 19th CD as a leader since 1996), Come Together may make more listeners take notice of his powerful skills as a player, composer and bandleader. It’s a session in which most of the tunes have either heart-felt inspirations or interpretations. The take-no-prisoners capabilities of bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards are a perfect fit here. My favorites: Colligan’s cover of the Lennon/McCartney title track and two originals: “Have No Fear” and the wistful ballad “Open Your Heart.”

Lili Añel, Every Second in Between (Wall-I Records)
This one has been exercising in my CD player for a week - and doesn’t want to leave the musical gym. New York born and raised and now calling Philadelphia home, singer-songwriter-guitarist Lili Añel has been plying and perfecting her jazz- and folk-tinged craft for some 30 years. Her wisdom and experience are the foundation for her music, which revolve a lot around the concepts of independence, empowerment and roots - and her percussive approach to the guitar that she credits to her Black and Cuban heritage. The only tunes she didn’t write in full are the ballad “So Far Away,” co-written with her identical twin sister, Barbara Añel, and her cover of the Nina Simone-associated “That’s All I want From You.” Grammy-winning producer and engineer winner Glenn Barratt produced this gem. My favorites: all 11 tracks.

Ron Jackson, FlubbyDubby (Roni Music)
This is principally a guitar-organ-drums trio session, which guitarist Ron Jackson recorded live at Cecil’s Jazz Club in New Jersey. It’s a terrific spotlight for the leader’s versatile playing, and perhaps even more for B-3 player Kyle Koehler. There’s something mighty special when guitar and organ get into a groove, and they do here throughout. Drummer Otis Brown III completes the trio’s soulful, funky sound. Saxophonists Don Braden and Bruce Williams stop by to blow riffs on two tracks. My favorites: “One for Melvin,” which Jackson wrote for session producer Melvin Sparks, the title track “FlubbyDubby” and their thoughtful take on the ballad “Stars Fell on Alabama.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

A must read: Wynton Marsalis's Enduring Opus

The Thursday, September 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal contains a terrific piece by Larry Blumenfeld taking a close look on the positive impact that Jazz at Lincoln Center has had on the New York and national jazz scene since its founding in 1986 and principally since moving into its own three-venue performance space five years ago. The range of its impact, with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis as its highly visible, deeply engaged and perceptive artistic director, is considerable. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tanglewood Jazz Fest in-depth

My complete review of Tanglewood two weekends ago has now been published on the JazzTimes Web site,, along with several photos.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CDs of Note…

James Moody, Moody 4A (IPO Recordings)
At 84 he might be entitled to coast a bit musically, but James Moody never does. This gem was recorded on the first of two days of recordings with a sublime quartet that teamed the saxophonist with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash. Day two's results will be released at a later date as Moody 4B. There is much here to enjoy. My clear favorite: his stunning duet wit Barron on “East of the Sun.” The quartet’s version of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” captures Moody at his uptempo best. This tasty project swings. Oh, does it ever.

The Michael Thomas Quintet, Live at Twins Jazz, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (JazHead Entertainment)
Hard bop lives. You’ll find disciples in geographically diverse pockets across the United States and around the world, including metropolitan Washington, D.C., which trumpeter Michael Thomas and his long-standing band call home. Thomas released these two separate CDs simultaneously, not as a two-CD package. Together, they capture his band in full force on two consecutive nights at Twins Jazz, a club in the nation’s capital. Volume 2 includes a special guest, tenor saxophonist Andrew White. There is only one duplicate tune on the two discs, dramatically different version of Thomas’s heated “Mike’s Blues.” Volume 1 also features two staples from his repertoire: his original “Blues #9” and his take on the pop tune ”Candy,” which Lee Morgan transformed into a classic bebop cover, as well as Thomas’s poignant version of Benny Golson’s classic “I Remember Clifford.” Volume Two’s highlights include a toe-to-toe tenor battle between White and Zach Graddy on “Mike’s Blues” and White’s solo on Thomas’s “The Little Individual.” Live is the way to go when you want to absorb hard bop energy. A live recording is just right for a band that burns, and swings mightily, in the solid Jazz Messengers tradition.

Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet, Twelve Pieces (NYC Records)
Marnix Busstra, a guitarist from The Netherlands, was the catalyst for this project, which teams vibes player Mike Mainieri with Busstra’s band, fleshed out by bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast. It is a stunning session in which the vibes and guitar blend and offset each other to create a wonderful sonic energy. It swings, and the melody rules on 10 Busstra compositions, one track (“All in a Row”) from Mainieri and “Kannada,” an adaptation of an Indian children’s song. Busstra also brings an electronic sitar into the mix on to add an exotic touch to “Lost in Little Spain” and “Kannada.” There is much here to savor. Favorites: “Lost in Little Spain,” “Don’t Break Step” and “Old Fashion.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good business to take care of

(see contact update at the bottom)
The jazz community has learned how to take care of its makers - past, present - and way in the past. The greatest examples come out of the the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund, which is run out of New York by a jazz angel named Wendy Oxenhorn. She and the JMEF step in when they hear about a musician, or retired musician who can’t make a rent or mortgage payment, is threatened with eviction, needs medical help or had an instrument stolen - his or her livelihood - and no funds to replace it. The work they do is nothing short of amazing.

Two events are coming up in early October that will either help JMEF continue its critical business or fulfill an unaffiliated, long-overdue need that has the very same spirit.

On Tuesday evening, October 6, Joe Lovano and John Scofield will host and lead an all-star jazz benefit (two sets) at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, which is located at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The program will remember late colleague Dennis Irwin, a bassist who died of cancer last year. The event will also raise money for Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund. Lovano and Scofield’s “Playing Our Parts” concert also will include players Joey DeFrancesco, Jim Hall, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Konitz, Matt Penman, Cedar Walton and Matt Wilson.

Two days earlier - Sunday, October 4, Small Jazz Club will host a symposium and series of solo piano tributes to James P. Johnson, the father of Stride piano, who died in November 1955. If nothing else, you likely know him for composing “Carolina Shout.” It’s being billed as “James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party” - referring to a rather prevalent tradition many decades ago in which musicians held jam session-style apartment concerts - charging admission to literally pay the rent that week. And Johnson no doubt played at many of them.

This event one returns the favor. Johnson is buried in an unmarked grave in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens NY. The all-day rent party is designed to help raise money so the James P. Johnson Foundation can buy a monument that will bring this historic jazz great a bit more posthumous recognition. Pianists scheduled to play at Smalls that afternoon and evening include Ehud Asherie, John Bunch, Aaron Diehl, Conal Fowkes, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Mike Lipskin, Ted Rosenthal, Terry Waldo, Spike Wilner and others not yet announced.

These are great events. If you can’t get there in person, support them in spirit - or more.

Playing Our Parts: If you are unable to attend the concert but wish to make a tax-deductible contribution, make checks payable to: The Jazz Foundation of America
MAIL TO: The Jazz Foundation of America, 322 West 48th Street, 6th floor New York, NY 10036
ONLINE: Donate online at

James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party: Send a check, payable to The James P. Johnson Foundation, and mail it c/o Smalls, 183 West 10th street, NYC 10014

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CDs of Note...

Joel Frahm and Bruce Katz, Project A, (Anzic Records)
Many efforts to cover non-jazz material as a concept don’t cut it. This instrumental tribute to Aretha Franklin is strong right from the opening bars and never lets up. Hammond B3 player Bruce Katz brings out the soulful side of tenor ace Joel Frahm like most of us have never heard him. This was their first project, but I doubt it will be their last.

They tackled nine tunes associated with the Queen of Soul, including the self-penned “Spirit in the Dark” and “Rock Steady.” There is strong support here from guitarist Chris Vitarello, bassists Marty Ballou and Jerry Jemmott, and drummers Lorne Entress and Ralph Rosen, as well as appearances on three tracks by Jay Collins on baritone saxophone and Kenny Rampton on trumpet.

Frahm and Katz passed over the best-known tunes “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” Freeway of Love” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in favor of other equally soulful gems. Favorites: “The House That Jack Built,” “Rock Steady” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which features Vitarello on slide guitar.

Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet, Underdog, and other Stories…, Summit Records
Don’t tell Ted Kooshian that jazz can’t have a sense of humor. He knows how to have good fun with his Standard Orbit Quartet. Seriously. Underdog, and other Stories… primarily consists of songs that are very familiar, just not in a jazz context. This is a second edition of the pianist’s project of recording jazz versions of cartoon, TV and movie theme music -with interesting and unusual rearrangements - featuring his spirited quartet.

A zany take on the “Sanford and Son” theme song (written by Quincy Jones) is here, complete with slide whistle added to saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s arsenal. Quite fittingly, cartoon music king Raymond Scott is represented, as are the themes from “Underdog,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “The Odd Couple,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and a soulful, gospel take on “Wild Wild West.” The theme from the “Little Lulu” cartoon show is even embellished with drummer Warren Odze’s use of an inverted plastic bucket like those employed by so many street drummers. A fresh take on Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” is a great choice just for its name. Ellington described the exuberant tune, also recorded as "Angelica" in his small group session with John Coltrane, as a "ragtime cha-cha." Enjoy the creative levity here, and the wonderful playing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tanglewood Jazz Festival - many great musical moments

I’ve submitted my take on this year’s Tanglewood Jazz Festival to JazzTimes. I’ll advise here when it is published. In the meantime, suffice it to say that overall it was another interesting and exceptional festival with only a couple of disappointments. Fortunately, the great musical moments more than compensated for them.

Paquito d’Rivera opened the weekend on the highest note, and the bar he set may have been matched here and there, but was not exceeded. He truly understood – and responded to the festival’s move to blend jazz and classical influences in more of its programming.

John Pizzarelli and his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, taped their program “Radio Deluxe” at Tanglewood, much like Marian McPartland taped “Piano Jazz” here in the Berkshires for the past seven years.

Daughter Madeleine catches up on "Harry Potter" during the Pizzarellis' taping of "Radio Deluxe"...

The Saturday night “Dreaming The Duke” concert had some nightmarish qualities, that were more related to arrangements and music choices. The singers and most musicians were not the flaw here. It felt like an early stage of a work in progress.

Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller...
Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller provided an afternoon of dual piano interplay that was exquisite in all respects.

Jon Faddis’s “Majesty of the Trumpet” set with Sean Jones and Wallace Roney, and Dave Holland’s octet were strong closers.

Young singer Kat Edmonson was a highlight at the Jazz Café, a tented pre-concert venue just up the hill from Ozawa Hall. This singer from Austin, Texas takes jazz chestnuts and even more recent pop songs and embraces them in a way that they sound like originals. Keep an eye on her – and both ears, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Newport festival names back where they belong

It sounds like the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival names are back in use by producer George Wein, starting with the 2010 editions.

When Festival Network LLC bought Wein's longstanding company, Festival Productions Inc., less than three years ago, it acquired the rights to use the two names, as well. After Festival Network closed its doors this year due to financial problems, Wein produced his own Newport events under different festival names - George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 and George Wein's Folk Festival 50.

Going forward, we can expect to see Wein using Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival once again.

Here's the explanation from Wein's new firm, New Festival Productions:

"George Wein and his original service company, Festival Productions Inc., are - and have always been - the exclusive owners and licensors of the federal trademarks, Newport Folk Festival® and Newport Jazz Festival®.Although Festival Network acquired certain of Wein's company's assets in 2006, Wein retained his exclusive ownership of the registered marks, and instead gave the new promoters a conditional license. That license automatically expired when the new venture closed down earlier this year. "

Somehow the lyrics "Come lift us up where we belong" fit this legal tune. And "we" - in this case ''they" - have arrived back home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A jazz piano plus

When some things in jazz have been in retrenchment mode this year - festivals, magazines - here's a positive note for the future.

Randy Weston will be featured in a solo piano concert October 12 at the Somerville Theater in Somerville MA, kicking off a series of annual concerts celebrating the legacy of Thelonious Monk (who would have been 92 on October 10).

Pennsylvania-based World Piano Summit ( is sponsoring the metropolitan Boston jazz series, which it says will continue until the centennial of Monk’s birth on October 10, 2017.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jazz travelers

To what lengths will fans go to hear great jazz?

Depending on where you live, sometimes it's right around the corner or across town. Sometimes you drive for hours as part of a vacation trip, or fly many miles.

This holiday weekend brings out all of those facets, as jazz festival goers are out in force in Chicago, Detroit and several other cities, and right here in western Massachusetts' Berkshires at Tanglewood. Wherever you are, be sure to enjoy it live, on CD or on a simulcast.

It soothes, it inspires, it brings out the best in us.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

CDs of Note...

Randy Brecker, Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz Suite (Summit Records)
Three words come to mind after a listen to trumpeter Randy Brecker’s latest project: stunning, poignant, breathtaking. This is a homecoming project of great importance. Last summer, Brecker made an emotional journey to Tykocin, the area in Poland where his grandfather lived before emigrating to the United States. It was pinpointed when Randy and other family members were looking for eastern European bone marrow donors who might be a match for his brother Michael, two years before the saxophonist lost his battle with a very rare form of leukemia.

Polish composer and pianist Wlodek Pawlik wrote this homecoming suite, and performed it with Brecker and the Symphony Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Bialystok, Poland. The blend of classical orchestra and jazz quartet is seamless and feels natural. Highlights: Brecker’s intense soloing on “Nostalgic Journey,” “Let’s All Go to Heaven,” “Magic Seven “and “Blue Rain” - and his strong musical empathy with Pawlik’s excellent trio. This one may go down as one of the finest and most important works in Brecker’s extensive discography.

Edward Simon Trio, Poesia (CAM Jazz)
This is the second recording by the Venezuelan pianist, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade (the latter pair being members of the Wayne Shorter quartet since 2000). Like the 2006 predecessor Unicity, this is very strong. The trio’s energy and improvisation is at full throttle on Simon’s “One for J.P.,” written for Patitucci and a canvas for his electric bass, the title track “Poesia” and their artful exploration of Trane’s “Giant Steps,” which merely implies the original melody as the tune becomes a launching point for further means of transportation. Simon, an artful pianist who uses space creatively, shines on solo versions of his “My Love for You” as the disc opens with the ballad and closes with an alternate take.

Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (ArtistShare)
The musical fruit didn’t fall far from the tree for this pianist, the son of bassist John Clayton and nephew of saxophonist Jeff Clayton. He is one of the more interesting pianists on the newest generation to emerge on the New York scene. This wide-ranging session teams Clayton with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown. Highlights: the funky energy and interplay on “Boogablues,” the solo ballad segue into trio and back on the blended elements of “Peace for the Moment,” the vibrant “Love All Around,” the classical underpinning of the adventuresome “Sunny Day Go,” and his beautiful solo reinvestigation of Dizzy Gillespie’s classic ballad “Con Alma.”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

September spirit

There is a lot of programming diversity going on near and far for jazz and jazz venues in September. These caught my interest. I know I will catch at least one of them in person. And it is a great time to confirm that jazzlives#

September 2 - Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles - The original members of Return to Forever reunite for a concert that will open Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White’s first worldwide trio tour. For this one show, they will be joined by RTF’s original guitarist Bill Connors, as well as special guests Chaka Khan and Jean-Luc Ponty. Connor's appearance will mark the first performance of Return to Forever's original electric lineup since 1974.

Labor Day Weekend

September 4, 5 and 6 - Tanglewood Jazz Festival, Lenox MA - This year, in addition to several straight-ahead performances, is blending some classical works into some of its sets at Ozawa Hall. See this earlier post for details.

September 4, 5 and 6 -
Chicago Jazz Festival - This annual free event takes place on three stages in Grant Park. The Dave Holland Big Band is Saturday night’s headliner at the Petrillo Bandshell.

September 4, 5, 6 and 7 - Detroit International Jazz Festival. This huge free, outdoor event is marking its 30th year with events on five downtown stages. It opens with a concert by Hank Jones as the festival honors one of the great families in jazz. the Clayton Brothers, Dave Brubeck and the Brubeck brothers, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Larry and Julian Coryell, The Heath Brothers, Pete and Juan Escovedo, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, and T.S. Monk in “Monk on Monk” - a performance honoring the musical legacy of his father, Thelonious Monk.

September 18 to 26 - Boston’s Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival will showcase more than 20 bands at various clubs and venues. The free, six-block-long outdoor extravaganza along Columbus Avenue on Saturday the 26th will include Donald Harrison, Joe Louis Walker, Jane Bunnett, and the Defenders of Groove with Melvin Sparks, Ernie Andrews and Plas Johnson.

September 26 -
Singer Barbra Streisand performs at New York’s historic Village Vanguard - the world’s most famous jazz basement - for a performance three days before the release of her new jazz/cabaret album Love Is the Answer, which features the singer with the Diana Krall quartet and Johnny Mandel. According to her Web site, this will be Streisand’s first club appearance since 1961, when she opened at the Vanguard for Miles Davis. There is a catch. This is a free show for winners of a contest for those who pre-ordered the CD from her site.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jazz is vibrant? - help prove it, Twitter style

You say you don't buy the tired old saw "jazz is dead"? It's time to show it's not so, and today's social networking craze is the way to help. Yes folks, it's Twitter time. #jazzlives

Thre's a movement afoot to dispel the impression, which received substantial mileage through Terry Teachout's recent Wall Street Journal piece, that the jazz audience is fading. It was published in early August - the same weekend, in fact as George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 in Newport where there were lots of enthusiastic, young people packing all three stages.

Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, and others are encouraging the use of Twitter to show that lots of people are listening to live jazz - in person at events or live on the radio.

The instructions are simple, says Mandel. Here's what he is suggesting - and why.

Is the audience for jazz aging and diminishing, as Terry Teachout wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently? I don't believe it and don't think you buy it completely either, despite the NEA's 2008 survey data. I think that survey overlooked a significant segment of the vital audience for live jazz today, and propose a small social networking experiment, asking tech savvy listeners to tweet #jazzlives, who & where, in 140 characters.

Over the next couple weeks there are myriad big jazz events, starting in NYC the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest this Saturday and Sunday), continuing to the Labor Day weekend fests at Tanglewood, Chicago, Detroit, Aspen, Los Angeles, Vail, Philly, Chapel Hill, etc., then on through Monterey and the Beantown (Boston) fests (we'll keep the campaign going, as long as it works).

The music needn't be heard at a fest, of course -- it can be at a stand-along concert, a gig, live-jazz-broadcast on radio or online, in the subway or street, at a party, whatever.

If you Tweet, use hashtag #jazzlives. If you have a Twitter account, please help kick things off TODAY with a tweet that includes #jazzlives, who you heard most recently and where (venue and/or locale). That way, you (or anyone) will be able to track these tweets with a Twitter search and on TweetDeck and similar services.

We have created a special "widget" for blogs and websites that will show all #jazzlives tweets in real tim e- which is sort of the fun of it for those who like these things, and will collate all the tweets so we can count them, hopefully to prove how many of us there are.

MOST BRIEFLY, here's all anyone has to do to participate:
1) Write in a Tweet WHO you heard and WHERE (venue, locale, whatever fits)
2) MOST IMPORTANT: include hashmark #jazzlives.
EXAMPLE: I heard Vanguard Orch at Tanglewood, super! #jazzlives
EXAMPLE: I heard Hank Jones, solo at Detroit Int JF, mighty fine #jazzlives

Include links to your blog or website in your Tweet if you like, like this -
EXAMPLE: I heard Eubanks 5 be great at Blue Note NYC, full revu at #jazzlives

That's it. These initial tweets will seed the project by getting the #jazzlives out there and giving us some initial content for our widget. We hope this will build to a noticeable surge. Could we get as many tweets and postings as there were people at Woodstock?

Please note: Tweets with #jazzlives are NOT intended to publicize upcoming events or for comments on recordings you're listening to, but rather for reports on LIVE jazz you've actually heard recently. If you heard it live over the radio, that counts!

Our initiative's main aim is just to see how we can use new features of social networking to give all styles of jazz -- defined however you want -- a higher profile by showing how many of us listeners to live jazz there are.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Berklee honoring Brubeck at Monterey

On September 20, jazz great Dave Brubeck will have something in common with Bonnie Raitt, Sting, Loretta Lynn and Gloria and Emilio Estefan - an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee for their contributions to music and humanity.

The Boston-based Berklee College of Music will present the pianist and composer with an honorary doctorate just before his performance that evening at the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival.

“It feels fitting to make this presentation to Dave for his many contributions to jazz, orchestral and sacred music, and to education, with the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific, and at the Monterey Jazz Festival, where he has so many strong connections and associations,” said Berklee President Roger Brown. “The 50-year anniversary of the release of Time Out also seems like a perfect moment to thank Dave for all he’s done for the world, and the world of music.”

Berklee began bestowing its Honorary Doctorate of Music, for contributions to music and humanity, in 1971. Duke Ellington was the first recipient. Other jazz recipients have included Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Tito Puente, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Chick Corea, Quincy Jones, and Elvin and Hank Jones. Actor and producer Clint Eastwood is scheduled to take part in honoring Brubeck. In 2007, Eastwood received a Berklee honorary doctor of music at Monterey, for his efforts to popularize jazz through his films and film music.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CDs of Note…

Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, The Comet’s Tail (MAMA Records)
Tampa-based Chuck Owen is directs the University of South Florida’s Center for Jazz Composition. He also runs his own mighty fine, high-flying pro big band, The Jazz Surge. This project features his band performing new robust arrangements of a wide range of compositions by late saxophonist Michael Brecker (from his Steps Ahead days in the 1980s through his final recording, Pilgrimage). It’s an outgrowth from, and features the winning entry in, the Center’s International Jazz Arranging Competition in Honor of Michael Brecker (more than 80 arrangements were entered), along with other arrangements by Owen, CJC colleague Dave Stamps, and guest contributors Vince Mendoza and Gil Goldstein.

Guest musicians for the recording and a series of related concerts include Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Adam Nussbaum, violinist Rob Thomas, saxophonists Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano and vibes player Mike Mainieri. Highlights: “Peep,” the competition-winning arrangement by Fred Stride of Vancouver, British Columbia; “How Long ‘Til The Sun” featuring Randy Brecker and Rob Thomas; the frenetic “Itsbynne Reel,” the Mendoza-arranged “Slings and Arrows” and the poignant “Everything Happens When You’re Gone,” which features Lovano. Other standout soloists include pianist Per Danielsson, guitarist LaRue Nickelson and tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins.

Ralph Bowen, Dedicated (Posi-Tone)
Tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen recorded this forceful CD of original material as a musical thank you to six mentors who played key roles in his musical and career development. The Canadian first emerged on the New York scene in the 1980s as co-leader of Blue Note Records’ sextet Out of the Blue. This new CD teams him with guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Antonio Sanchez and trumpeter Sean Jones, who guests on one track.

Everything here is a gem, showcasing Bowen’s muscular tenor and strong credentials as a composer and improviser. Favorites: Rogers’ soloing and comping on the opener “Canary Drums,” the spirited Bowen-Jones interplay and unison on “Mr. Bebop” and the beautiful ensemble work on “Prof.” (The six tracks are dedicated to the late Keith Blackley, Pat LaBarbera, Jim Blackley, David Baker, William Fielder and Eugene Rousseau.)

Carol Bach-y-Rita, What Love Is (Arugula Records)
This is an intriguing mix of Brazilian and American jazz and pop standards - shifting between English and Portuguese - from Los Angeles-based singer, dancer, actress, voiceover artist Carol Bach-y-Rita. This debut CD has a lot going for it, including its most-musical, sensual and laid-back feel. Her interpretations of Jobim’s “Corcovado” and Johnny Mandel’s ”A Time for Love” are as cool and soothing as a pitcher of caipirinhas on a sweltering summer afternoon. Her backing quartet features bassist Trey Henry, pianist Jamieson Trotter, drummer Mike Shapiro and saxophonist/flutist Robert Kyle. The Bach-y-Rita-Henry duet version of “Don’t Explain” is exquisite. A beautiful version of “Lazy Afternoon” closes the session.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Newport 55 detail - AAJ

My full review of George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 in Newport was published today on It continues to be an adventurous jazz summer. Next stop: the Tanglewood Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tanglewood twist

This Labor Day Weekend’s Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Lenox MA has tweaked its programming a bit to further bridge jazz and classical music forms in this most likely spot to do so - the idyllic summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The move began last year when Boston jazz pianist and composer Donal Fox presented a weekend-highlight-level performance of his Scarlatti Jazz Project.

This year’s programming includes the usual varied assortment of Latin, straight ahead jazz, vocals and emerging talent - with a few more classical twists.

  • On Friday night, September 4, clarinetist Paquito d’Rivera performs pieces from his Latin jazz and classical repertoires.

  • On Saturday night, September 5, jazz violinist Carter and her quartet will perform material from her Paganini project plus music from Mali, Senegal, and Uganda.

  • After Carter’s set, jazz singer Nnenna Freelon and classical singer Harolyn Blackwell are featured in “Dreaming the Duke,” a program that celebrating the Ellington legacy with innovative solo pieces, duets with chamber and jazz quartets and intimate vocal-piano selections. The set will include selections from Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige Suite.”

Whether you prefer listening inside Ozawa Hall or on the lawn, you'll find the music at Tanglewood always draws a crowd...

Tanglewood has added one new guest artist for the weekend. Singer Kurt Elling will join the lineup for John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s Saturday afternoon taping of "Radio Deluxe” for later broadcast on more than 60 stations nationwide. Their other Tanglewood guests include guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, violinist Aaron Weinstein and saxophonist Harry Allen.

Sunday afternoon features a piano duet set of improvisations by Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, followed by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. The festival will close with a Sunday evening program that includes Jon Faddis with guest trumpeters Sean Jones and Wallace Roney in a celebration of the role of the trumpet in jazz throughout the past century; and end with Dave Holland’s all-star band.

The festival’s Jazz Café, just up the hill from Ozawa Hall, will showcase emerging talent before each main stage event. This year’s performers are saxophonist Benny Reid, singer-pianist Michael Kaeshammer, pianist Evgeny Lebedev, singer Steven Santoro and violinist Ben Powell. All Jazz Café events are free with a ticket to the main stage event.