Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Thanks, Freddy, for the jazz connection

The fine pianist and singer Freddy Cole died Saturday, June 27, at age 88 at his home in Atlanta. He had been struggling with cardiovascular issues for a while.

His manager, Suzi Reynolds, called him Mr. Magic. "He wove a web of sonic beauty with every note and kept listeners silently breathless with his casual, elegant storytelling...," she reflected Sunday via email.

Freddy Cole
While working for many years in the immense shadow of his far-famous elder brother, Nat King Cole, Freddy had his own powerful vibe. There were smoky vocal similarities between the two men (Nat was 12 years his senior and died in 1965), but Freddy became a jazz vocal master of distinction. He performed here, there, and seemingly everywhere, for well into seven decades.

I had several opportunities to hear his performances through the years. The Cape May Jazz Festival in 2004, Newport Jazz Festival in 2013 (where he opened for his niece Natalie Cole, and with the Naples (FL) Jazz Orchestra in 2014, come to mind. But the most impactful, for me, were the first couple of gigs many years earlier.

This was back in the mid-1960s. My parents took me to a little suburban lounge outside Albany NY. The names of the club and the strip mall in which it was located now escape me. But Freddy was an annual regular there on his performance circuit at the time. A few nights later, or perhaps the next year, I went back with two or three classmates and our dates after junior prom, just to hear Freddy. Not-your-typical after-prom party for a bunch of high schoolers.

Little did I know at the time that this first live jazz exposure, with Freddy performing solo, would whet my appetite for jazz in the way it has. 

But it sure did.

Here's a link to my review of his Naples appearance for JazzTimes.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Still singing the pandemic blues? Aren't we all?

Three months into the pandemic quarantines caused by COVID-19, we have seen our lives changed in so many ways, at least temporarily. And none of us know with any certainty what the "new normal" will be.
What's the future for the intimacy of jazz clubs, or large-scale concerts in performance halls, or outdoor jazz festivals that draw thousands of warm bodies soaking up the sun, the vibes, the music? 

Even event planners and producers lack answers or a quick fix, though they're doing a lot of brainstorming and contingency planning.

The current state of affairs has enhanced the technology skill set of many musicians - and fans. Four months ago, a lot of us rarely heard the word "livestreaming." Now it's top-of-mind, as musicians and their fans try to keep some semblance of artful normality in their lives, despite the enormous economic pain many are facing.

While most of 2020's jazz festivals won't occur, a few hope to press ahead. Some clubs and festivals are livestreaming to reach their musical faithful. There will be no 2020 editions of major festivals at Newport, New Orleans, Monterey or Montreal, among others. The 2021 edition of The Jazz Cruise won't happen, but organizers say its scheduled musicians have all committed to a January 2022 sailing.

So we'll see what happens when we emerge from this very long year. Things won't get back to close-to-normal until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and mass inoculations take place. That's my feeling anyhow.

Let's be thankful for the musicians who have battled COVID-19 and survived it. Those I know about include brothers Dan (drums) and Darius Brubeck (piano), pianist Nachito Herrera, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trombonist Ron Wilkins. Doubtless there are - or will be - more.

Let's also remember the fallen. As of today, my count of jazz-related COVID-19 deaths is up to 38. And I'm quite sure there have been more.

My chronological listing of those passings is posted in two chapters. You can find them here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

Thank your lucky stars that you're still healthy. Let's hope that continues.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Another big loss for jazz

Drummer Jimmy Cobb, for 29 years the only surviving member of trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue sextet, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91 and had been battling lung cancer.
Jimmy Cobb, Tanglewood Jazz Festival, 2011

Cobb was the fourth NEA Jazz Master to pass away in 2020. In addition to the seminal Kind of Blue album, he was the drummer on Miles' Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince Will Come, Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall, 1958 Miles, Jazz at the Plaza, In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk Complete (recorded in 1961 in San Francisco), Quiet Nights, Miles and Monk at Newport; and briefly on Porgy and Bess, and Sorcerer.

His many other major musical affiliations over the years included work with singers Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, pianists Wynton Kelly and Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Nat Adderley, saxophonists Richie Cole and Sonny Stitt, and guitarist Wes Montgomery. The Washington DC-born Cobb, who was pretty much self-taught, also led his own band of younger players, Cobb's Mob.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at CDs by Wayne Alpern, Lynne Arriale, Clairdee, Tim Ray and Dana Sandler…. 

Wayne Alpern, Standard Deviation (Henri Elkan Music)
On this fine project, composer and arranger Wayne Alpern underscores the notion that jazz is a process, not a specific repertoire of songs. Wearing his arranger’s hat here, the New York-based Alpern has taken nine pop songs (some vintage, some contemporary) and given them robust, new instrumental treatments. In each case he has stretched and recast them to celebrate their catchy melodies and rhythms. The band pulling this off with Alpern’s charts includes trumpeter John Challoner, saxophonists Owen Broder and Adam Larson, trombonist Nick Grinder, violinist Benjamin Sutin, pianist Matt Podd, bassist Dave Baron and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. 

The material includes Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Bob Dylan’s “Dear Landlord” and “As I Went Out One Morning,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bobbbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and The Four Seasons’ “Who Loves You Pretty Baby.” Favorite tracks: the band’s takes on “Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and the Temptations’ hit “My Girl.” This is Alperin’s second project recasting well-known pop songs, following up on last year’s Skeleton.

Lynne Arriale, Chimes of Freedom (Challenge) 
Pianist Lynne Arriale’s 15th recording as a leader blends her crystalline lyricism at the keyboard with works inspired by our pre-pandemic troubled times. Specifically, the plight of refugees and dreamers who find obstacles in their path to a better life. As she explains: the material reflects her wish for an America “that offers hope, not scorn, for immigrants who seek a better life. It also acknowledges the sacrifices of refugees who have risked and even lost their lives trying to reach our borders.”

This project teams her with bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer E.J. Strickland. Singer K.J. Denhert joins on the final two tracks: the Bob Dylan-penned “Chimes of Freedom” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Favorite tracks: “3 Million Steps,” which musically captures the image of refugees determined to go the distance between Guatemala to the southern U.S. border, and the more optimistic “Reunion.” The latter tune’s calypso feel celebrates a joyous reuniting of families split by war, famine, poverty and family separation. “The Whole Truth” is a bluesy, swinging salute to the news media who endure daily attacks on their credibility. There is much here to savor for its hope and musical inspiration.
Clairdee,  A Love Letter to Lena (Declare) 
San Francisco-based singer Clairdee’s latest recording is an homage to the late Lena Horne. Not wishing to make it a greatest hits cover, she instead selected music from the Horne repertoire that peaks deeply to her commitments to civil rights and equality. Six of the eight songs are preceded by spoken-word interludes narrated by actress Margo Hall. They are drawn from Horne’s own words gleaned from interviews and biographies.  

Violinist Regina Carter is a special guest on “Something to Live For.” The most powerful tracks include “I Got a Name,” Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” (a poignant duet with pianist and co-producer John Herbst), and “Believe In Yourself.” They set the table for the finale: Clairdee’s powerful take, with a chorus of guest singers, on bassist Marcus McLaurine’s activism anthem “Stand Up” with lyrics by Keva Singletary Youngblood. This is a powerful call to action from the singer and her wide-ranging band. 

Tim Ray, Excursions and Adventures (Whaling City Sound) 
This piano trio gem teams Tim Ray with all-star players (and fellow Berklee College of Music faculty colleagues) Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and John Patitucci on bass. The recording title could well sum up Ray’s diverse career. This mighty inventive Boston jazz stalwart has toured with Lyle Lovett and Jane Siberry, and is now Tony Bennett’s pianist and musical director.

The material they dig into is wide ranging. Each contributes originals (Ray’s “Gone, Not Forgotten” and “Yo 11,” Carrington’s Wayne Shorter tribute “Samsara” and Patitucci’s high-flying, New Orleans-flavored “Messiaen’s Gumbo”). Everything here is superb in its own way. The players keep pushing each other to find new facets in the originals, standard fare and some unusual choices. Their jazz transformations of Billy Preston’s pop hit “Nothing From Nothing” and the Rolling Stones’ classic “Paint It Black” are stunning. 

Dana Sandler, I Never Saw Another Butterfly (Fractamodi) 
Boston-area singer Dana Sandler’s debut recording is a singularly focused project. Her compositions set to music some of the poetry penned by children of the Holocaust. Most of the source material come from “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” a collection of poetry and art created by Jewish children in the Terezin concentration camp. Fewer than 100 of 15,000 children survived Terezin. 

Sandler’s delicate voice is backed here by pianist Carmen Staaf, bassist Jorge Roeder, drummer Austin McMahon (her husband), trumpeter Peter Kenagy, saxophonist Rick Stone and clarinetist Michael WInograd. Sandler dedicated the project to the memory of Friedil Dicker-Brandeis, who organized secret art classes for the children of Terezin, then hid the material in suitcases that were discovered after the camp's liberation. Sandler released the CD on April 21, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is both powerful and exquisite.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

International Jazz Day thoughts about our new world of virtual jazz

The world at-large - and the jazz world as we knew it and enjoyed it - have changed drastically over the past six weeks because of the pandemic. No near-term end is in sight for the challenges it has caused.

Unless they were held prior to early March, none of the 2020 editions of listeners' favorite jazz festivals, are likely to be held this year.The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival have pulled the plug until 2021. So have many others. Clubs and concert venues are shuttered. Nobody knows with any certainty when they can reopen.

But there are some positive things happening. Funds have been started to assist impacted artists. Even though their traditional revenue streams have dried up, musicians have found ways to remain creative and help bring some solace to listeners. 

There is a wide range of virtual concerts and jazz sets streamed live from artists' homes or home studios through the internet's social media platforms.

Those I've tuned into include daily or near-daily performances by pianists Makoto Ozone ("Live From Our Living Room") at home in Tokyo, Fred Hersch ("Tune of the Day") from his piano at home in Manhattan, and Ted Rosenthal from his home in New York, trumpeter Mark Morganelli from Tarrytown NY, Hammond B-3 organ player Tony Monaco from his digs in Columbus OH, and guitarist Nate Najar & singer Daniela Soledade from St. Petersburg FL.

Those same platforms have given artists a new technology tool with which to reach eager ears. Educators have been able to work with their students - including ensembles - remotely. Group performances have been broadcast - with each band member sitting in a different location. Check out the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's "Quarantine Blues," an original composition that the players wrote, arranged, and recorded entirely on their respective mobile phones while isolating themselves in their homes. It's posted right here on YouTube.

Yes, we're in unusual times. We're adapting to it - and trying to get through it as best we can.

Today brings the ninth annual edition of International Jazz Day. This is also the global celebration's first virtual edition. Instead of the planned Global Host City all-star concert and activities planned for Cape Town, South Africa, organizers have scheduled an online all-star concert with many featured artists. Tune in at 3 p.m. EDT at the International Jazz Day website or you can watch it stream on Facebook.

Jazz hasn't left us. It's only a mouse-click or smartphone screen away. It's up to we listeners to support it as best we can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Jazz musicians silenced by coronavirus, Chapter 2 (updated 6-28-2020)

Here is part two of our chronological listing of jazz-related COVID-19 deaths from the novel coronavirus, updated as we receive them. Our profound sympathies to their families, friends and fans as we remember their musical legacies.
Bootsie Barnes, 2007

  • Tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, a Philadelphia jazz legend, died April 22. He was 82. His many musical partners over the years included trumpeters Lee Morgan and John Swana, saxophonist Larry McKenna and drummers Tootie Heath, Philly Joe Jones and (childhood friend) Bill Cosby.
  • Bassist Howard Tweddle died April 22 in Ottawa, Canada. He was 69. The British-born engineer and musician moved to Canada in 1981.
  • Irish saxophonist Frank Cullen died April 27. He was 85. He played in a variety of Dublin-area show bands in the 1960s and '70s.
  • Guitarist Rob Saunders died April 27 in Hopkinton MA, He was 69. He was a gypsy jazz specialist, as well as a fine illustrator.
  • Trombonist Duane Solem of Edina MN died May 2 at age 91. He was in the Bruce Dybvig Big Band, which won Look magazine’s National Amateur Swing Band Contest at Carnegie Hall in 1946. Duane played in jazz and dance bands throughout his adult life.
  • Brazilian singer, drummer, composer, lyricist and writer Aldir Blanc died May 4 in Rio de Janeiro. He was 73. His songs were recorded by Nana Caymmi, Milton Nascimento and Elis Regina, among others.
  • Brazilian samba singer and composer David Antônio Corrêa died May 10 in Rio de Janeiro. He was 82. He died of kidney failure brought on by COVID-19, less than a month after being hospitalized for surgery after he was run over by a vehicle.  
  • The multi-talented trumpeter and singer Joey Giambra died May 14 in Buffalo NY. He was 86. The retired Buffalo Police sergeant detective was also a pianist, actor, restaurateur & chef, filmmaker, poet, writer, historian and one-time mayoral candidate.
  • Composer, guitarist and singer Evaldo Gouveia died May 29 in Fortaleza, Brazil. He was 91. Gouveia composed more than 1,200 songs in his career. He came to prominence in the 1940s' golden age of radio. He had been in fragile health since a stroke in 2017. 
  • Trumpeter and educator Roy Okutani died June 27 in Sweden. He was 60. The Hawaii-born musician became director of Jazz Studies at Birka Folkhögskola in Ostersund in 2006, after 23 years on the faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Here's a link to Chapter 1.