Saturday, August 20, 2022

A life well-lived, and then some....

Someone's impact on others is a more meaningful measure of a life well-lived than the number of years they spend on the planet. That notion was reinforced today when we received word that Dan Miller died unexpectedly yesterday (Friday, August 19). He was just 53.

Dan was passionate about a lot of things - auto racing and other sports, fine food, and his family. Most of us knew him best through his many contributions to the world of jazz. He was a high-octane trumpeter, blessed with a bright, soulful sound that graced the ranks of many a band through the years. 

His sudden passing came just a few days after he and his sweetheart, Judi Woods, returned from their regular 12-day vacation trip to New Orleans. On this visit, he caught up with many longtime musical friends and former band mates, and sat in one night at Preservation Hall.

The Chicago-area native worked with Maynard Ferguson, Harry Connick Jr., the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Tom Jones, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and others. It seemed he could do it all - and do it well. He was as passionate about teaching as he was about performing, maybe even more so. 

Dan was a fixture on the New York jazz scene until 2004 when he began spending part of the year in Southwest Florida. He moved here permanently about a dozen years ago, quickly making an indelible impact on the region's music scene - as a performer, educator and mentor.

In addition to leading or co-leading groups, frequently with NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Lew Del Gatto, Dan was on the Jazz Studies faculty at the University of Central Florida and also taught privately. He traveled the country frequently as a guest clinician at high school and college jazz programs. He was a Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician for more than 30 years.

He taught late pianist Barry Harris's principles of jazz improvisation to students of all instruments. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz players and their recordings - not just the trumpeters whose work he studied in analytic detail. He shared that knowledge freely - and eagerly.

He started and directed the Naples Philharmonic Youth Jazz Orchestra, and led a Naples-based community big band concert series on Sunday afternoons during the snowbird season.

Here's what Wynton Marsalis shared today on Facebook about what he termed his "inexpressible grief" over Dan's death:

“Dan was the essence of our music: soulful, original, virtuosic and consistent. He was a great great educator and even better student. Most importantly, he was deeply engaged with humanity and how it could best be expressed in our interactions with each other, and through the trumpet. Big sound, big spirit, his sudden passing is shocking and a wake up call for us all to savor every moment down this road. Rest In Peace.”

If you want to read more about Dan's impact on jazz here, there and seemingly everywhere, here is an appreciation of his work that I wrote last September.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A third postcard from Newport

Here are more favorites from the 2022 edition of the  Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the  jazz festival. The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Rhode Island in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus.

This year's festival brought a new addition: a small venue called the Foundation Stage near  the edge of the expansive Fort Stage lawn. It featured a variety of bands that played briefly during some of the main stage set changes. They included Sunday's mid-afternoon trio performance featuring trumpeter Michael Dudley. The Cincinnati native was a 2022 winner of an ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. He performed with drummer Eliza Salem and guitarist Robert Papacica. Dudley teaches in the jazz department at SUNY Potsdam.

Jazzmeia Horn

Theon Cross
Dan Wilson

Christian McBride

Christian McBride, Mike Stern, Brandee Younger

Turtle Island String Quartet (w/Terence Blanchard's band)
Shabaka Hutchings
Randy Brecker



Vijay Iyer

Marilyn Crispell

Lewis Nash

Anat Cohen


The Michael Dudley Trio
Neal Caine

Michael Dudley

Eliza Salem, Michael Dudley, Robert Papacica

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Another postcard from Newport

Here are more favorite images from the 2022 edition of the storied Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the festival. 

The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus. He died last September, so this was a quite the tribute weekend. Might I see you there in 2023?

Jon Faddis adjustss Lew Tabackin's wristband

Nubya Garcia

Gary Bartz

Doug Carn

Henry Franklin

Alexa Tarantino

Antonio Sanchez

Norah Jones

Christian McBride's Newport Jawn

Brandee Younger
Jaleel Shaw

esparanza spalding

Friday, August 5, 2022

Postcard from Newport

Here are a few more favorite images from this year's edition of the storied Newport Jazz Festival, held July 29-31 at Fort Adams State Park. This was my 41st consecutive trip to historic Newport to cover the festival. The streak started when producer George Wein brought the event back to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year hiatus.

"Be Hip" is implied
Pasquale Grasso
Norah Jones

Jazzmeia Horn and Samara Joy

Samara Joy

The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra


Ron Carter

Sullivan Fortner, Melissa Aldana
Joe Lovano

Pianist Hiromi at Sunday's finale


Takuya Kuroda

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Saving the best for last

The 2022 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival is now in the history books. And what a chapter it wrote. It had the usual smorgasbord of jazz and other things, with R&B and hip-hop-laced acts sprinkled among the jazz offerings to help attract younger listeners.

But the jazz was plentiful – and the three-day festival at Fort Adams State Park an exhausting whirlwind for someone dashing from photo pit to photo pit. Between Friday’s opening and Sunday’s grand, grand, grand finale, there were 54 acts on the three stages from July 29-31. And that total doesn’t include the 10 less formal mini-acts presented under a pop-up tent called the Foundation Stage during main stage (Fort Stage) changeovers.

Giveton Gelin

For this writer-photographer, it was a chance to hear a lot of fresh faces at Newport. They included young trumpeter Giveton Gelin, hailing from Nassau, Bahamas, and edgy Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, British saxophonist Nubya Garcia, British drummer Yussef Dayes, and singer Laufey, originally from Iceland, now living in Boston.

A substantial New Orleans presence throughout the weekend included trumpeter/keyboardist Nicholas Payton’s trio; trumpeter Terence Blanchard, whose E-Collective band was augmented by the Turtle Island String Quartet; plus pianist Sullivan Fortner, the Nth Power, Tuba Skinny, P.J. Morton, the Soul Rebels Brass Band and Trombone Shorty. Drummer Joe Dyson was a member of Gelin's quintet.

         My coverage for OffBeat magazine is posted here.

Doug Carn and Gary Bartz

Among the more powerful individual sets: guitarist Dan Wilson, bassist Carlos Henriquez’ Latin nonet, pianist Emmet Cohen’s trio, the R&B band Lettuce, and the jam-style performance of the Jazz is Dead project with Katalyst that featured spotlight performances by bassist Henry Franklin, B-3 player Doug Carn and saxophonist Gary Bartz. 

 Artistic director Christian McBride’s power-packed Newport Jawn set on the main stage teamed the bassist with pianist Vijay Iyer, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Mike Stern, harpist Brandee Younger and drummer Makaya McCraven.

Emmet Cohen
Samara Joy
There was too much music to fully describe, from big bands to headlining singers. I will say that my favorite weekend set was young singer Samara Joy’s performance with her quartet, featuring Italian guitarist Pasquale Grasso. Close your eyes, listen close and you might swear that Sarah Vaughan had been reincarnated. 

Ron Carter
At age 85, Ron Carter was the eldest performer, appearing on Sunday with his quartet in a truncated main stage set that began 30 minutes late. The band apparently got stuck in traffic.

And what Newport be without a surprise walk on or two. Dan Wilson brought up singer Nigel Hall. When Wilson realized they were both in the same place on the same day, he said he couldn’t resist the opportunity to share the stage together. They explored Leon Russell’s classic ballad “A Song for You.” A couple hours later, Nicholas Payton sat in with the Lettuce band for a tune.

The Wein Machine
This long weekend of music was capped by a loving tribute to the late George Wein. The festival’s founding producer passed away last September, three weeks shy of his 96th birthday.

Reminders of Wein's impact seemingly were everywhere at the festival. Inside the main gate there was a perfect tribute: his “Wein Machine” golf cart was on display. It had moved Wein between stages and his backstage trailer for more than a decade.

The Wein celebration was both poignant and powerful. It began with several numbers featuring members of Wein’s recent Newport Jazz Festival All-Star groups: trumpeters Randy Brecker and Jon Faddis, tenor saxophonist Lew Tabackin and clarinetist Anat Cohen, backed by pianist Christian Sands, bassist McBride (who succeeded Wein as the festival’s artistic director a few years ago), and drummer Lewis Nash.
Cecile McLorin Salvant

Then came the 75-minute set’s special guests and band permutations. Sands, Nash and bassist Jay Leonhart backed singer Cecile McLorin Salvant’s take on “Thou Swell.” Cohen's version of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," clarinet soaring and swooping, was exquisite. Energetic pianist Hiromi took the stage for one solo number, then accompanied Faddis on a stunning version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with subtle backing from Leonhart and Nash.

Trombone Shorty joined the celebration, playing trumpet and singing on “The Sunny Side of the Street” with support from Hiromi, McBride and Nash. Then Scott, Leonhart and Nash backed him on the New Orleans jazz staple “St. James Infirmary,” with Shorty shifting to trombone.

Trombone Shorty

The closing number, Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail," had all of them back on stage, with powerful solos from the horn players, Hiromi and Sands tossing the melody back and forth with some four-handed piano wizardry, and Leonhart and McBride mixing it up on bowed bass interludes. Giveton Gelin sneaked in for a solo after fellow horn men Brecker and Faddis.

It was quite something.

I'll be posting more festival photographs in the days ahead.