Sunday, December 25, 2011

A new NEA Jazz Master talks

I had a long conversation with trumpeter Jimmy Owens in preparation for a feature in the January issue of Hot House, which is just out. He had far more to talk about than there was space for in the profile. He’s getting the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy at the NEA Jazz Masters event January 10 at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.
It is very well deserved. Owens’ involvement as an advocate regarding the rights of jazz artists led to the founding of the Jazz Musician's Emergency Fund, a Jazz Foundation of America program that helps individual musicians with medical, financial and housing assistance. He is also actively involved in issues related to pension benefits for jazz artists. Earlier, he co-founded The Collective Black Artists Inc., which kept 18 musicians working - touring up and down the East Coast and as far west as Chicago and Detroit. He also taught a business course on things that made a difference economically and control-wise for their lives.

Speaking off health issues, here’s what he also has to say about the current health of the jazz recording industry:

“There are no real jazz record companies and the majors call a few artists ‘jazz’ now and then,” Owens told me. “Artists are now saying, ‘I’m not going to wait any more. I’ll make my own.’ Now we have some really great self-produced recordings, and some pieces of shit. It is relatively inexpensive to make your own CD and press 500 or 1,000 copies. Sometimes they are really good, sometimes they are mediocre, and sometimes they are really bad. This is the state of the record industry and jazz. It’s not a very good state that we’re in today.”

Some would argue that the points he makes extend far beyond jazz.

Feliz Navidad

Joyous holiday wishes to each of you on this special day.

It feels a bit odd to be celebrating away from the usual white carpet of snow in upstate New York or New England... but I'm starting to like the concept of Christmas-lighted palms and certainly the 80-degree weather in this new environment.

May 2012 bring an abundance of swinging music and fulfillment of dreams for each of you, not necessarily in that order.


Friday, December 23, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Rene Marie, Black Lace Freudian Slip (Motéma)
Rene Marie is not a “chick singer” covering standards. Even the thought of that at this stage of her career likely would drive her batty. The singer-songwriter is a lady with attitude. This is a good thing; it enhances her music by making it personal. On track two, “This is for Joe,” she admits as much: “I can’t compete. I can’t be a good girl and sing standards all nice and sweet.” The heart-on-her-sleeve song is a dandy, except for the opening sentence. She has proven that she can compete.

The creative gem here is the clever title track, which delves into the challenges of being an artful singer. Marie even throws a jab towards the critics among us: “Ah, the media and the critics blah-blah-blah in my ear. Oh I’ve sat out there but have you ever stood up here?” …. You get the picture. Her oldest son, Michael A. Crone, joins her on vocals on his original, the blues “Deep in the Mountains.” Check out this fine recording. There is much to savor. Understand going in that you’ll find no standards, not tired tunes, no covers. Hallelujah.

The New World Jazz Composers Octet, Breaking News (Big and Phat Jazz Productions)
Saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith formed the octet in 2000 as a vehicle for recording and performing material by the Boston area’s many fine jazz composers. This is the group’s third recording, and it is robust both in the range of quality material and in the performances of those nine compositions. The band often sounds more like a full big band than an octet. Lovers of hard bop will dig the blistering and funky title track, which trumpeter Walter Platt wrote as a tip of the hat to Horace Silver and Shorty Rogers. Saxophonist Ted Pease provided a diverse trilogy paying homage to three of his favorite composers: “Thad’s Pad” for Thad Jones, “Strays” for Billy Strayhorn and “Willis” for Bill Holman. The depth and the nuance throughout Breaking News are a combined joy to behold.

Matt Wilson, Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (Palmetto)

Holiday jazz recordings are odd in several ways - mostly their weird shelf life. Some become timeless and surface on various samplers for decades. (Think Louis Armstrong’s “’Zat You, Santa Claus?” and Ella Fitzgerald’s clever “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney.”) Some are so fine that it is likely they will be dug out each December for years and years.

One strong candidate is Matt Wilson’s cleverly titled 2010 recording that featured the drummer (and cover photographer) with two longtime collaborators, saxophonist Jeff Lederer and bassist Paul Sikivie. They put a spirited spin on 14 Christmas tunes – all classic in their own way (ranging from standard fare to “The Chipmunk Song,” “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” “Mele Kalikimaki” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special). The treatment of these is anything but traditional. The music is intense and the solos are wild at times, playful at others, as Wilson & Co. present this swinging musical Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Looking to the past reveals how the music has changed - and hasn’t has just published my review of Monday night’s concert by Bill Alllred’s Classic Jazz Band at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte, Fla. This was a Charlotte County Jazz Society event that primarily brought the audience on a musical trip back to the first four decades of jazz. As a new resident of Florida, I found equally fascinating the under-told story of the night – the way in which circumstances in Orlando enabled the members of this group to come together more than 20 years ago, as did other groups, involving geography, opportunities and changes within the music industry. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

The Bill King Trio, Five Aces (7 Arts/Slaight Music)
Pianist/producer/jazz photographer Bill King has taken a trip back to his musical roots with this trio project. It’s a celebration focusing on the blues’ intersection with classic R&B. There’s a bit of gospel, a bit of soul and a touch of jazz on this session with bassist Collin Barrett and drummer Mark Kelso. American-bred, Toronto-based King digs mightily into four soul classics – Odis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” the Marvin Gaye hit “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You),” James Brown’s “There It Is!” and the Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper classic “634-5789.” Shifting between piano and B-3, he also shares eight originals that pack the same flavor and power. Among the standouts, “Come Walk With Thee” is Southern gospel all the way and “Stax ‘em High,” a tribute to the Memphis soul sound, while “I’ll Chase that Rainbow” affords King a chance to dig into the bluesy side of a gospel-tinged ballad. The title track and “Inception Blues” are other proof points about our timeless love for this classic sound.

Emmet Cohen, In The Element (Bada Beep)
What a terrific debut for this pianist, a Miami native whose musical maturity far
eclipses his tender age. Emmet Cohen was 20 when In The Element was recorded in August 2010. Cohen is backed by bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Rodney Green, with trumpeter Greg Gisbert joining on three tunes: the poignant “Good Morning Heartache,” “3 O’Clock in the Morning” and Cohen’s “Just Deserts.” Four of the 10 tracks are Cohen originals. None of the standard fare included on the CD was drawn from the “tired tunes” category that can be maddening to more than a few listeners.

While Cohen finds new facets in each standard he explores (his version of Frank Foster’s classic “Simone” is a gem), he really cuts loose on his originals, including the high-flying “Resentment (Without Reason),” “The Swarm,” “Just Deserts” and the title track. The touch, the phrasing, the time, the harmonic choices on each tune and the simpatico with the other musicians all reveal what a significant player he is. Imagine the potential for Emmet Cohen (who finished third in this year’s Thelonious Monk Competition) with another 10 or 20 years experience. It will be great fun to see his continued development.

The Curtis Brothers, Completion of Proof (Truth Revolution Records)

If you love hard bop, a la Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, chances are you will very much dig this second recording co-led by bassist Luques and pianist Zaccai Curtis. The Connecticut natives developed musically in the Jackie McLean-led Artists Collective in Hartford. While studying at different music schools in Boston, they got their first significant exposure as sidemen to Donald Harrison and Ralph Peterson. This project features the Curtis brothers with trumpeter Brian Lynch and drummer Peterson on all tracks, with saxophonists Harrison, Jimmy Greene and Joe Ford, and percussionists Pedro Martinez, Rogerio Boccato and Reinaldo De Jesus joining on select tracks embued with an Afro-Latin vibe. Zaccai Curtis wrote all of the music here, much of it inspired by events and trends in the world. You can dig into that as further appreciation, or just dig the hard-driving musicality on this self-produced CD for its emotional excellence. And it swings like crazy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A two-year adventure

Swedish pop-folk singer Sofia Talvik has just started a two-year United States tour, in which she plans to bring her fine music - mostly originals - to various locales as she hopscotches the continent in a refurbished old RV. The tour began here in Florida.

One of the early stops was last night at Warm Mineral Springs' Evergreen Cafe here in North Port. The Drivin' & Dreaming tour includes a stop in mid-March at SXSW (the highly regarded South by Southwest Music Conference, an industry showcase held annually) in Austin, Texas. We wish Sofia and her husband, Jonas, well on this adventure.

Warm Mineral Springs, is a natural wellness destination with an underground spring that provides some 9 million gallons a day of pure water containing 51 minerals.The springs, which is on the Natural Register of Historic Places as explorer Ponce de Leon's long-sought "Fountain of Youth," is now owned by Sarasota County.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The best of 2011 - my take

'Tis the season for the outpouring of Top 10 lists, and their many variations, for jazz, world events, etc.

The jazz lists tend to have a lot of variation depending on the individual reviewer's personal tastes, as well as what he or she had a chance to hear during the year.* Bottom line, they are very subjective. Some do numerical rankings, some do alphabetical.

In recent years, I have gravitated toward the more-democratic alphabetical format, though some polls require numerical choices (including Jazztimes and (the latter a Francis Davis-produced poll that until this year was published by The Village Voice.)

As I begin preparing my review of significant events an trends in jazz in 2011 for posting on, I thought I'd share my "best of 2011" lists. *Always keep in mind the above caveats.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2011, listed alphabetically:
· Lynne Arriale, Convergence (Motema)
· The Cookers, Cast the First Stone (Plus Loin Music)
· Fred Hersch, Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
· Julian Lage Group, Gladwell (EmArcy)
· Brian Lynch, Unsung Heroes (Hollistic MusicWorks)
· Roberto Magris Quintet, Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan,
Vol. 1
· Bill O’Connell, Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge)
· Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (ObliqSound)
· Kenny Werner, Balloons (Half Note)
· Yellowjackets, Timeline (Mack Avenue)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:
· Lynne Arriale, “Dance of the Rain” from Convergence (Motema)

· Pedro Giraudo, “Duende Del Mate” from Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra, Córdoba (Zoho)
· Tom Harrell, “Dream Text” from The Time of the Sun (HighNote)
· Donald Harrison Ron Carter and Billy Cobham, “Treme Swagger” from This is Jazz (Half Note)
· Lisa Hilton, “Blue Truth” from Underground (Ruby Slippers)
· Julian Lage, “233 Butler” from Gladwell (EmArcy)
· Mike Longo, “A Picture of Dorian Mode” from To My Surprise (CAP)
· Roberto Magris, “Lee-Too” from Roberto Magris Quintet, Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan, Vol. 1 (JMood)
· Vince Mendoza, “Beauty and Sadness” from Nights on Earth (Horizontal)
· Ralph Peterson, “Outer Reaches” from Outer Reaches (self-produced)

2011's best debut recording:
· Emmet Cohen, In The Element (Bada Beep)

The best historical/reissues of 2011:
- Miles Davis Quintet, Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy)

- Duke Ellington, The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra (Mosaic)
- Bill Evans, The Sesjun Radio Shows (Naxos/Beeld en Geluid)
- Jaco Pastorius. The 60th Anniversary Collection (Warner Music Japan)

The best jazz-related DVDs of 2011:
· Miles Davis, The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection, 1973-1991 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
· Stan Kenton, Artistry in Rhythm (Jazzed Media)
· Ray Charles, Live in France 1961 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)

The best jazz-related books of 2011:
- John Swenson, “New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans” (Oxford)
- Norman Granz, “The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice” (University of California Press)
- Clark Terry with Gwen Terry, “Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry” (University of California Press)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jazz at the end of the dirt road

(updated with times and Web links)
Regulars turn out in large numbers for a free three-hour Tuesday night jazz jam, at Snook Haven in Venice, FL. The no-frills restaurant, footsteps from the scenic Myakka River, is literally at the end of a dirt road canopied by Spanish moss. In its storied past, the venue was a smugglers’ hideout during prohibition, a speakeasy and brothel and the jungle setting for some Hollywood films. Snook Haven was formally established in 1948 as a fishing camp. Today it features the small restaurant, a variety of indoor and outdoor musical events, cabins, boat launch and tours of the Myakka River and Charlotte Harbor.
Fanning, Felman, Mancini, Miro

The jam sessions are the weekly glue for the South County Jazz Club, which was formed in July 2010 to support musicians and provide live listening opportunities for fans in and around Englewood, North Port and Venice on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Jazz Club president Morrie Trumble says the organization has swelled in less than 18 months from its five founding board member to more than 200 people. The club sponsors some 70 events a year. They include the jam sessions, 11 formal concerts at the Venice Art Center, and seven Eat to the Beat concerts held one Sunday afternoon a month October through April) at La Stanza, an Italian restaurant in neighboring Englewood.

Boffa, Goodman

Trumble says Snook Haven management offered the rustic venue as a jam session home last year and the weekly event (from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.) has proved to its busiest night on average. Some of the participating musicians are year-round residents and some are so-called snowbirds who reside here in the winter months.

Last night’s fine rhythm section included pianist Tommy Goodman, 86, a veteran jazz arranger and conductor who once worked for Benny Goodman (no relation); busy local bassist Dominic Mancini; and drummer Dane Hassan, a retired Connecticut state trooper who now calls Florida his home. Goodman recently changed his status from snowbird to full-time resident.

The three-hour jam featured a changing cast of musicians performing standards from the American Songbook, jazz chestnuts and Brazilian repertoire. (“Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Besame Mucho,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Pennies from Heaven” among the many offerings this night.

The Myakka River

Participants included Tony Boffa, a guitarist, singer and bandleader from the Portland, Maine, area, who splits his year between northern New England and southwest Florida; jazz club secretary Jack Fanning, a two-mallet traditionalist on vibes; clarinetist Bob Felman; violinist Elisa Miro, who leads a band called KlezMania On The Gulf; saxophonist Ron Drischel (who often plays alto and tenor simultaneously); and valve trombonist Jim Fitzpatrick.

"I like this kind of scene,” guitarist Boffa said between sets. “It’s a great vibe. And Dominic is as good a bass player as I’ve ever heard.”

The jam was a great opportunity to savor the skill of Goodman, a former New Yorker whose subtle and inventive comping illuminated the arranger’s touch he brings to his improvisation.

Clarinetist Felman called the weekly jams “a great break from my real job.” (He’s a local gastroenterologist.)

Snook Haven is an informal room where the regulars and the wait staff know each other by first name. The stage is flanked on the left by a taxidermist’s delight, including a skunk, a small bear and even an alligator’s toothy head, which Goodman used as a hat rack for the night.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A pleasant surprise

Today’s mail brought a terrific surprise…a copy of the latest Miles Davis compilation, Warner Brothers’ European division’s five-CD boxed set Miles Davis The Warner Years: 1986-1991, which was released this fall in Europe. This project was first planned in 2001 with Rhino as a six-CD set. That was shelved due to legal and licensing issues. It is now out minus a bit of the originally planned material.

The surprise? The cover and spine of the box feature a Miles photo that I took at a jazz festival appearance in 1987. I had been in contact with Rhino folks about providing some imagery back when the initial project was in the works, but hadn’t even heard of the project's revival. As serendipity would have it, Warner Music France obtained the image through Dalle, a stock photo agency in Paris to which I have been submitting music photography for many years.

The Warner Years offers the complete albums Tutu (1986), Amandla (1989), Live Around the World (1996), the historic Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux (1991), on which Davis revisited his 1950s repertoire with Gil Evans for the first time in decades at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and Doo-Bop (1991), plus seven elections from the soundtrack of Dingo (1991) and five from Siesta (1987). Disc 5 includes four previously unreleased songs and performances on which Davis accompanied Scritti Politti, Cameo, Chaka Khan, Zucchero, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller and Shirley Horn.

There is much here to enjoy from Miles’s final creative phase when he further blurred the jazz star/pop star boundaries.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Activism and artistry

What do Diana Krall and jazz festival regulars Bettye Lavette, Lucia Micarelli and Angelique Kidjo have in common with Pete Townshend, Maroon 5, Miley Cyrus, Sugarland, Ziggy Marley and Marianne Faithfull? (The correct answer is not “they’re musicians.")

They’re among the 80 artists who will be featured on a new four-disc compilation being released January 24 to support the work of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization Amnesty International.

The project is called Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. More than 80 musicians contributed new or previously unreleased recordings of Dylan tunes. The performers range in age from teenage pop star Miley Cyrus, 19, to folk music legend Pete Seeger, who, at 92, recorded Dylan's poignant "Forever Young" with a children's chorus.

Project producers Jeff Ayeroff and Julie Yannatta said in a news release this week that they consider the project “a powerful fusion of the music community's respect for Amnesty's life-affirming work and for Bob Dylan's enduring brilliance.”

The participating musicians are diverse, ranging stylistically from diversity of the musicians and musical genres - from rock, rap, hip-hop to pop, folk, country, jazz and blues. Seventy songs were recorded especially for this release. All of the artists, session musicians, arrangers, engineers, producers and recording studios worked pro-bono to support the project.

The 2012 release is quite appropriate, and will resonate with those who look at things like milestone anniversaries. In 1962, Amnesty International evolved from a one-year campaign to free political prisoners into a worldwide movement fighting for justice, freedom and human dignity. In March 1962, Bob Dylan's debut album was released, launching an unparalleled recording career. The project will be available in pysical (four discs) and digital release through Fontana Distribution.

Track list:

Disc 1
01. Raphael Saadiq – Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
02. Patti Smith – Drifter’s Escape
03. Rise Against – Ballad of Hollis Brown
04. Tom Morello The Nightwatchman – Blind Willie McTell
05. Pete Townshend – Corrina, Corrina
06. Bettye LaVette – Most of the Time
07. Charlie Winston – This Wheel’s On Fire
08. Diana Krall – Simple Twist of Fate
09. Brett Dennen – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
10. Mariachi El Bronx – Love Sick
11. Ziggy Marley – Blowin’ in the Wind
12. The Gaslight Anthem – Changing of the Guards
13. Silversun Pickups – Not Dark Yet
14. My Morning Jacket – You’re A Big Girl Now
15. The Airborne Toxic Event – Boots of Spanish Leather
16. Sting – Girl from the North Country
17. Mark Knopfler – Restless Farewell

Disc 2
01. Queens Of The Stone Age – Outlaw Blues
02. Lenny Kravitz – Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35
03. Steve Earle & Lucia Micarelli – One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)
04. Blake Mills – Heart Of Mine
05. Miley Cyrus – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
06. Billy Bragg – Lay Down Your Weary Tune
07. Elvis Costello – License to Kill
08. Angelique Kidjo – Lay, Lady, Lay
09. Natasha Bedingfield – Ring Them Bells
10. Jackson Browne – Love Minus Zero/No Limit
11. Joan Baez – Seven Curses (Live)
12. The Belle Brigade – No Time To Think
13. Sugarland – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (Live)
14. Jack’s Mannequin – Mr. Tambourine Man
15. Oren Lavie – 4th Time Around
16. Sussan Deyhim – All I Really Want To Do
17. Adele – Make You Feel My Love (Recorded Live at WXPN)

Disc 3
01. K’NAAN – With God On Our Side
02. Ximena Sariñana – I Want You
03. Neil Finn with Pajama Club – She Belongs to Me
04. Bryan Ferry – Bob Dylan’s Dream
05. Zee Avi – Tomorrow Is A Long Time
06. Carly Simon – Just Like a Woman
07. Flogging Molly – The Times They Are A-Changin’
08. Fistful Of Mercy – Buckets Of Rain
09. Joe Perry – Man Of Peace
10. Bad Religion – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
11. My Chemical Romance – Desolation Row (Live)
12. RedOne featuring Nabil Khayat – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
13. Paul Rodgers & Nils Lofgren – Abandoned Love
14. Darren Criss featuring Chuck Criss and Freelance Whales – New Morning
15. Cage the Elephant – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
16. Band of Skulls – It Ain’t Me, Babe
17. Sinéad O’Connor – Property of Jesus
18. Ed Roland and The Sweet Tea Project – Shelter From The Storm
19. Ke$ha – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
20. Kronos Quartet – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Disc 4
01. Maroon 5 – I Shall Be Released
02. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Political World
03. Seal & Jeff Beck – Like A Rolling Stone
04. Taj Mahal – Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
05. Dierks Bentley – Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) (Live)
06. Mick Hucknall – One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
07. Thea Gilmore – I’ll Remember You
08. State Radio – John Brown
09. Dave Matthews Band – All Along the Watchtower (Live)
10. Michael Franti – Subterranean Homesick Blues
11. We Are Augustines – Mama, You Been On My Mind
12. Lucinda Williams – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
13. Kris Kristofferson – Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)
14. Eric Burdon – Gotta Serve Somebody
15. Evan Rachel Wood – I’d Have You Anytime
16. Marianne Faithfull – Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Live)
17. Pete Seeger – Forever Young
18. Bob Dylan – Chimes Of Freedom

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The value of partnerships

Two announcements this week underscored the importance of partnerships in building or sustaining the jazz audience - and keeping the music fresh. That approach - including the role of corporate sponsorship - is something vital in the arts. George Wein was a pioneer in this area for jazz and, indeed, the performing arts, when he developed naming rights opportunities for sponsors at his jazz festivals in the early 1970s. So it is not surprising that Wein figures in one of the newest developments.

In brief:

· The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has awarded a $50,000, 29-month Arts Program grant to the Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc. support presentations by DDCF grantees at the Newport Jazz Festival® from 2011 to 2013. The source of the funding is not a surprise here since the late Doris Duke was a regular, low-key Newport Jazz Festival attendee from the 1950s into the early 1990s.

It is interesting that this announcement came after the first round of support. Composer / drummer / bandleader John Hollenbeck and saxophonist Miguel Zenón debuted new works or arrangements, commissioned by this grant, at the 2011 NewportJazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management. PercussionistDafnis Prieto has been commissioned to write a new piece for his sextet to debut at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival, which is set for next August 3 to 5. (
Read more here)

Jazz at Lincoln Center revealed plans to expand abroad, creating a new jazz club in Doha, Qatar, and four other cities as part of an unusual partnership with the St. Regis luxury hotel chain. The new club is scheduled to open in Qatar’s capital city next April. J@LC has been sending its musicians abroad on tour for years, but this is the first time the NY-based nonprofit has established a permanent subsidiary abroad.

The 120-seat club in Doha will be modeled after the Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola that is part of the Lincoln Center complex on Columbus Circle in Manhattan. J@LC Executive Director Adrian Ellis said the agreement with St. Regis Hotels and Resorts includes opening four more clubs in new hotels being built around the world over the next five years, though deals on specific sites have yet to be negotiated. (
Read more here)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jazz in the SW Florida spotlight

Allan Vaché Quintet

Charlotte County Jazz Society
Clarinetist Allan Vaché may be best known for his 17-year stint (1975-1992) with
the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, a San Antonio-based classic jazz/early jazz outfit that received heavy exposure on NPR’s “Riverwalk” weekly broadcast. That experience must seem like ancient history, since Vaché set out on his own as a solo artist 16 years ago. He’s based in Orlando FL, travels extensively for festivals and concerts, and has made a dozen recordings for the Arbors Jazz label.

Vaché displayed his stylistic range and strong chops Monday night with a quintet appearance at the acoustically marvelous Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte FL. It was his second performance in three years as part of the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s annual concert series. His band included cornetist Davey Jones, pianist Jeff Phillips, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Ed Metz Jr. All of the players received significant spotlights.

The evening’s two sets included some updates on early Swing jazz, with Vaché also blending other styles. There was a bit of bop (“Bernie’s Tune”), obscure standards, chestnuts from the American Songbook, the Duke Ellington songbook, Nat King Cole (complete with Vaché‘s vocal take on the clever lyrics to “Straighten Up and Fly Right”) and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s beautiful boss nova “Look to the Sky.” The evening wound down with a blistering take on “Caravan” featuring Metz - with Phillips adding a twist with his clavé comping.

Vaché’s clarinet playing is marvelous, particularly as he digs in and shares the passion he finds within a tune. In that regard, he seemed at times to be channeling the emotional style of his clarinet hero, the late Kenny Davern. It was most evident on “Bernie’s Tune,” “After You’ve Gone,” the Jobim bossa nova and “Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me.”

As the leader introduced the band, he told telling the audience of about 300: “If you like me, my name is Allan Vaché. If you don’t like me, my name is Warren Vaché.”

There likely will be a lot more such sibling humor on March 9 when the Vaché Brothers Swinging Quintet, featuring Allan on clarinet and Warren on cornet, performs up the road at the Sarasota Jazz Festival. It will feature the same rhythm section.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting acclimated

Postings from the transplanted Jazz Notes Central are diminished a bit as the unpacking and reorganizing here in Southwest Florida three weeks after our move to a warmer climate. There's nothing quite like a fresh grapefruit from the backyard tree, and reading the local paper on the lanai, to jump start the morning.

We escaped New England a week before the awful late October snows. We're glad about that, but astonished at the damage and inconvenience with which our former region had to deal.

Immersion in the area jazz scene has not yet begun but I hope to rectify that in small steps beginning this week. We'll still keep a long distance eye on national and northeastern doings, but just add more of a southern flavor to the goings on. Oops, there's another box awaiting some decisions. Gotta go. Dig the area scenery and architecture in this image taken yesterday on a brief shopping excursion.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Milestone month

Life’s milestones can result in momentous occasions. Such is the case with Chick Corea’s 70th birthday, which was on June 12. The extended fanfare continues for the pianist, who tonight opens a four-week “birthday celebration” engagement at New York’s Blue Note.

Over 23 nights, ending on November 27, Corea will perform in 10 different musical contexts that reflect his diversified career. Check out the club’s website for full details, and you’ll find the range of participating musical partners to be fascinating. Acoustic Chick, electric Chick, a nod to Miles Davis, as well as an unplugged version of Return to Forever, duos, trios and three nights (November 18-20) billed as “Chick’s Flamenco Heart,” which will explore the pianist’s love of Spanish and Latin music with a new quintet.

The duos are particularly fascinating, teaming Corea at various points with singer Bobby McFerrin and pianists Marcus Roberts and Herbie Hancock (the latter a generational peer at age 71). There’s also a duo collaboration of sorts with vibes player Gary Burton (augmented by the Harlem String Quartet. [photo: Chick Corea at Newport, 2010]

Each night, indeed each set, should be fascinating. There will be no coasting for Corea. Not that there ever is.

Friday, October 14, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Tierney Sutton Band,
American Road (BFM Jazz)

Singer Tierney Sutton’s latest project with her band of 18 years finds them on a cultural, geographic and stylistic road trip across America. They hit a fascinating early groove with beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Amazing Grace,” as well as “Oh Shenandoah” and The Water is Wide.” “America the Beautiful” was
another natural. There’s a wonderful jazz meets Americana feel with a true Sutton spin. Then the road trip, to my ears, spends a bit too much time on Broadway, mining six tunes by Sondheim, Bernstein Harburg/Arlen and Gershwin. Those sound like they could have been more effective on - or the germ for - a separate project. Musical choices aside, this is also a celebration of one of the most cohesive groups around, particularly the uncanny simpatico between Sutton and pianist Christian Jacob. With two bassists aboard (Trey Henry and Kevin Axt), it sounds droning and bass heavy in a couple of spots, but that’s a minor quibble.

Vince Mendoza, Nights on Earth (Horizontal Jazz)
Keyboardist Vince Mendoza has been one of the finest arrangers in the jazz and pop scenes over the past decade, garnering two Grammys and 25 nominations as he put his stamp on work for the likes of Joni Mitchell, Björk, Sting and Melody Gardot. This project finds Mendoza sharing his own compositions, directing all-star collaborators (including Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo, Peter Erskine, Larry Goldings, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Alan Pasqua and Christian McBride) along with members of the Netherlands’ Metropol Orkest, which Mendoza has conducted for six years. The compositions shimmer with beauty and subtlety. Favorites include “Otoño,” “Poem of the Moon,” “Beauty and Sadness” and “The Night We Met.” Bravo.

George Benson, Guitar Man (Concord Jazz)
George Benson’s smooth voice and adult pop star status for these many decades has tended to overshadow his wonderful skills as a guitarist in Brother Jack McDuff’s early 1960s organ quartet, his initial job on the jazz circuit. The aptly named Guitar Man brings Benson back to his musical roots. There are vocals on just four of the 12 tracks. On two of the instrumentals, the opener “Tenderly and “Danny Boy,” Benson flies solo. The improvisational liberties he takes with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Paper Moon” are a treat to hear. His touch is sure, his distinctive sound is warm and good friends, including Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Lenny Castro and his musical director, David Garfield, surround him.
Ted Rosenthal Trio, Out of This World (Playscape)
Pianist Ted Rosenthal has great skills, a super imagination and keen sense of humor. He is a master of digging deep into standard fare to reimagine and rearrange tunes with fresh harmonies and/or rhythms. He calls the process (here’s the humor) “deranging” them. This CD teams Rosenthal with bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Quincy Davis. Together they rework 10 tunes from the American Songbook. The gems include “So In Love,” People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Lotus Blossom.” This is a joy to hear – and keep on “repeat.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Melissa Morgan - retro romantic at Scullers

In her Tuesday night debut at Scullers jazz club in Boston, singer Melissa Morgan proved that she's an ambassador for romance. Her voice is strong, confident and polished, reflecting a maturity that extends far beyond her chronological years.
Her material was drawn in part from her Telarc debut CD, Until I Met You (released two years ago) and reflected the many facets of love and romance - as penned by the great songwriters of the 1950s and '60s principally, but stretching a decade in either direction.

The selection and the delivery were impeccable. The baker's dozen songs included "Our Love is Here to Stay," "A Sleeping Bee," "The Very Thought of You," "The Lamp is Low," "Dancing Cheek to Cheek," a Brazilian take on "No More Blues," as well as "Save Your Love for Me" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"

The coolest moment of the evening? Morgan mentioned that she had begun a telephone and email friendship with bassist and composer Richard Evans, whose tune "He Loves Me I Think" is on her debut recording. She told the crowd they'd never met in person but she knew he was there that night. It turned out the Berklee College of Music professor was sitting at a front table an arm's length away from Morgan. They hugged, he waved, and - with a lump in her throat - she nailed the tune Evans wrote for Dinah Washington.

Morgan is working on her second CD. I can't wait to hear it.

I've been frequenting Scullers for 25 years and still consider it the finest club in Boston, and one of the finest environments in the land for singers. I'll miss it dearly as I continue to prepare for a move to Florida later this month. With some scouting around, I hope to find other venue treasures.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Update on a master bebopper

My profile/update on pianist Hod O'Brien is included in the October issue of Hot House, which is now posted online.
O'Brien, influenced for many years by the late Dave McKenna, is now in the solo and duo piano comfort zone after many years of trio and quartet work.
The profile was prompted by his October 8 two-piano gig with Gerald Clayton at Klavierhaus in midtown Manhattan.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The fellowship of jazz, so to speak, keeps growing

Congratulations are in order for drummer Dafnis Prieto, the jazz community's latest winner of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, the $500,000 so-called "genius grant." He and each of this year's 21 other winners from the arts and sciences will receive $100K a year for five years, no strings attached.

The MacArthur Foundation said the 37-year-old New York-based native of Cuba is "infusing Latin jazz with a bold new energy and sound."

It said his "dazzling technical abilities electrify audiences and (his) rhythmically adventurous compositions combine a range of musical vocabularies." It said he "melds modern jazz harmonies, Cuban clave rhythms, other Latin and African influences, and funk-inspired arrangements to create works of great stylistic diversity that evoke a broad spectrum of moods."

[Photo: Dafnis Prieto at the 2010 Tanglewood Jazz Festival].

Prior fellowship winners from the jazz world include a wide range of musicians... violinist Regina Carter, pianists Ran Blake and Cecil Taylor, drummer Max Roach, composer and bandleader George Russell, and saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Ken Vandermark, Miguel Zenon and John Zorn.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

CDs of Note – Short Takes

We're on a B-3 roll this time out.

Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonderful! (Origin)

At its best, the jazz organ trio is the epitome of hard-driving, soulful swing. The groove is intoxicating. And that’s the case with this Chicago-based outfit, which features guitarist Bobby Broom, B-3 player Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham. On this project, they mine nine gems from the stellar songbook of Stevie Wonder. Their approach is terrific and their take on “My Cheri Amour” is the finest example. They dig into the Wonder classic slowly and deeply for about four minutes, each revealing a lot of melodic nuances in their improvisational exploration, before Foreman ramps it up into a spirited romp for the second half. The gospel-blues-drenched “Jesus Children of Americ” is another gem, If you’re a B-3 fan, or a likely convert, this is one to treasure.

Ralph Peterson's Unity Project, Outer Reaches (Onyx)

Drummer Ralph Peterson’s first recording project since 2004 gives us, for the most part, a sense of what Art Blakey’s band might have sounded like if the Jazz Messengers had included a B-3 rather than a piano. This hard-driving project teams Peterson with B-3 player Pat Bianchi, trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Jovan Alexandre. The session is billed as an homage to organist Larry Young’s classic 1965 Blue Note recording Unity. The stars of the show here for the most part are Peterson and B-3 rising star Pat Bianchi. Highlights include the band’s takes on Shaw’s “Katrina Ballerina,” Young’s “Ritha” and Peterson’s “Beyond My Wildest Dreams,” which is one of the leader’s three originals on this session. The dynamics change radically when freewheeling guitarist Dave Fiuczynski joins for Woody Shaw’s “Zoltan” and John McLaughlin’s “Spectrum.”

Mark Rapp’s Melting Pot, Good Eats (Dinemec)

Trumpeter Mark Rapp is out with a dandy, a CD that is a tribute to the music and funky spirit of Lou Donaldson. Rapp nails it, primarily on his three brass instruments (trumpet, flugelhorn and cornet) but also on didgeridoo for robust effect, check out his intro to “Brother Soul.” Joe Kaplowitz enhances the funky sound here with his B3 work. Guitarist Ahmad Mansour also digs into the spirit in his many solo showcases. Saxophonist Don Braden is aboard for six of the 11 tracks. The band’s versions of Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” and “Pot Belly” are standouts. So is Rapp’s own brief but spirited tribute tune, “Good Eats,” a trumpet and shuffle-beat drums duet with Klemens Marktl.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Report from Tanglewood

My coverage of the 24th annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts has just been posted at

The five final main stage acts at Seiji Ozawa Hall (Saturday night through Sunday night) were all top shelf with Sing The Truth! providing a closing set that TJF regulars will be talking about for a long time.

Photo: Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright of Sing The Truth!

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.