Mon, 25 May 2015
Today is Memorial Day in America, a time to pause and reflect on those in our armed forces who paid the ultimate price in serving their country. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.
Other than arrangements of certain military anthems and patriotic songs, there are not a lot of appropriate songs to post on a jazz blog for this solemn day. So, in the spirit of world-wide empathy, here is Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and "The Ballad of the Fallen".
Recorded in 1982 and released the next year, this avant-garde big band recorded their version of songs from the Spanish Civil War and other 20th century civil conflicts in Latin America, including the controversial revolutions in Chile and El Salvador. “The Ballad of the Fallen” is a reworked version of a folk song from El Salvador, which includes a song by Sergio Ortega called “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”, with an original introduction penned by Carla Bley.
The album was the winner of Down Beat's 1984 Critic's Poll as Best Album of 1983. Band members included Carla Bley (piano); Charlie Haden (bass); Don Cherry (pocket trumpet); Jim Pepper (flute and saxophone); Paul Motian (drums); Dewey Redman (tenor sax); and Mick Goodrick (guitar).
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00 PM
Wed, 20 May 2015
One of the great joys I have in writing this blog and preparing podcasts is the friendship that I sometimes strike up with jazz musicians. I am proud to say that Bob Belden was my friend, and it is with great sadness that I report his passing of a massive heart attack. He was 58.
I had spoken to Bob just a week ago, and recorded two lengthy podcawsts with him, about his trip to Iran and his new CD. And now he is gone.
It will take me a while to sort out my feelings about his passing, so in the meanwhile, here is a wonderful obit from Jazztimes.
I will miss Bob Belden.
Category:general -- posted at: 8:43 PM
Wed, 20 May 2015
Bruce Lundvall, the former CEO of Blue Note Records and a man with an uncanny ability to identify talent in jazz music, died May 19, 2015. He was 79 years old, and had been living in a senior assisted living center in New Jersey for complications related to his battle with Parkinson's disease.
Lundvall is credited with signing acts as varied as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz in jazz, and Natalie Cole, James Taylor, and Anita Baker in pop and soul. He helped revive the moribund Blue Note label in the 1980’s by re-signing veterans like Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner and bringing into the fold contemporary jazz artists such as Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Michel Petrucciani, John Scofield, Charlie Hunter US3 and Medeski Martin & Wood.
His tenure at Blue Note was not without criticism, as for every Greg Osby, Jason Moran or Ambrose Akinmusire he signed, there were more commercial artists like Amos Lee, Willie Nelson and Al Green coming to label known and prized by so many for its jazz artistry. His signing of Norah Jones, hardly a jazz heavyweight, nevertheless allowed much needed exposure to the revived label, culminating with Ms. Jones’ winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003. He resigned from Blue Note in 2010, eventually replaced by musician Don Was, who has continued the practice of signing non-jazz artists.
He was the subject of a 2014 biography by Dan Ouellette, entitled Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear. Lundvall is survived by his wife and three sons. A private family service will be followed by a forthcoming public service, details will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:05 PM
Wed, 13 May 2015
When the write the history of popular music composers of the late 20th century, only a handful of names will appear repeatedly. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Lennon & McCartney, and Laura Nyro will surely be there. Cases can be made for Smokey Robinson and Randy Newman, and perhaps Tom Waits. And in my humble opinion, above them all, there is Stevie Wonder.
In one very complete package you can find someone who excelled in a wide variety of musical writing styles, performed with the incredible musicianship of a one-man band, wrote memorable melodies, complex harmonies and groundbreaking rhythms, and sang in a variety of moving vocal styles. Can any of the singer-songwriters above claim to have done all of this? I think not.
So Happy 65th Birthday Stevie, and thanks for all the years of memorable music. This “Wonder-ful” Podcast 482 of more than 70 minutes features jazz tributes to Stevie on tunes like:
Johnny “Hammond” Smith – “Higher Ground”
Ramsey Lewis – “Living for the City”
Ronnie Foster – “Superwoman”
Lee Ritenour – “You Haven’t Done Nothin’”
Grover Washington Jr. – “Overjoyed”
Keiko Lee – “Too Shy to Say”
Najee – “Black Man”
Joshua Redman – “Make Sure You’re Sure”
Roy Ayers – “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”
Alicia Olatuja featuring Gregoire Maret – “Stay Gold”
SFJazz Collective – “My Cherie Amour”
Sun, 10 May 2015
I had much more difficult time picking a song to celebrate Mother's Day than I did for Father's Day. The latter has a natural winner - Horace Silver's "Song for My Father". But Mother's Day was another story entirely.
I could have done like Marc Myers on his JazzWax blog and chosen "16 for Mother's Day." Neil Tesser did a good job here as well with multiple tunes. But I like to choose just one, and so I went with one a bit on the schmaltzy side, but more appropriate to my culutral background - Billie Holiday singing "My Yiddishe Momme".
Now one look at these lyrics will tell you that this is NOT my mother, who ran a women's clothing boutique and could never be identified with a "wrinkled brow" or as "old and grey". But the sentiments remain, and I offer them to you and your mother as well:
My yiddishe momme
Fri, 8 May 2015
May 8, 2017 is Keith Jarrett's 70th Birthday, and I wanted to celebrate the day with a repost of my review of his 2009 release of Paris/London: Testament. I spent a bit of time talking about my admiration for Jarrett, so here is a repost:
Last month celebrates the 40th anniversary of ECM Records, and I offered a number of postings featuring music from this iconic label, including a new CD by Jan Garbarek. For me, one artist represents ECM better than any other - Keith Jarrett.
Jarrett had learned his craft playing with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, before joining Miles Davis as one of two electric keyboard players in his band that recorded Jack Johnson and played at The Cellar Door concerts in December 1970.
When Jarrett left Miles, he rebelled against electric music, recording several significant albums of Impulse! Records with his "American Quartet" of Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums) and Dewey Redman (saxophone). In 1975, he signed with ECM, where the bulk of his recordings have been released. He has chosen basically three different ways of recording at ECM. His "European Quartet" of Jan Garbarek (sax), Palle Danielsson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) served as his outlet for avant-garde music, while his solo records (most notably the sublime The Koln Concert) and his "Standards Trio" records are far more accessible.
It's not possible to document the importance of Jarrett's piano playing on today's Jazz musicians in one podcast. His style is impressionistic, yet he can take standards apart and re-arrange them in new and exciting ways. His solo performances are legendary and his improvisational concert recordings have become classics. I had the pleasure of seeing one of his improvisational performances in 1980 at the University of Massachusetts, and I count it as one of my favorite concerts.
His lastest solo recordings comes in a 3 disc package entitled Paris/London: Testament. Liner notes to the album indicate that Jarrett was under the serious strain of a recent separation from his wife when the concerts were recorded in late December 2008. The results are two very different improvised recordings, both of very high quality.
The Paris concert is a languid, sometimes dissonant affair, allowing Jarrett the time and space to cover the length and breadth of the keyboard. His playing is as active as ever here - his left hand finds a groove he likes and stays with it for stretches at a time, while his right hand explores.
London is different. It's a more reflective, and at times bluesy. Click here to listen to the third section of the concert, and you'll know what I mean. It is followed by a fourth section that has a dizzying display of right hand, and a series of short sections that bring the crowd to their feet with their feeling and dexterity.
Category:general -- posted at: 12:10 PM
Wed, 29 April 2015
In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is chaired and led by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. The Institute is the lead nonprofit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing this annual celebration.
International Jazz Day is the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month, which draws public attention to jazz and its extraordinary heritage throughout April. In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly formally welcomed the decision by the UNESCO General Conference to proclaim April 30 as International Jazz Day. The United Nations and UNESCO now both recognize International Jazz Day on their official calendars.
Rich in history and culture, the City of Lights is a fitting choice for this year’s host celebration given its historically vibrant and innovative jazz scene. A daylong series of performances and education programs, including workshops, master classes, jam sessions and panel discussions, will take place across all 20 city districts, with several modules to be webcast live. An array of French and international artists will participate, ensuring that the streets of Paris will ring with the sounds and sights of jazz from morning until night on April 30.
In conjunction with UNESCO’s 70th Anniversary celebration, a spectacular All-Star Global Concert will take place at UNESCO headquarters on the Place de Fontenoy, featuring more than 20 extraordinary artists from around the world. The cast will include pianists John Beasley (Music Director), A Bu, Antonio Faraò and Herbie Hancock; trumpeters Till Brönner, Ibrahim Maalouf, Hugh Masekela and Claudio Roditi; vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Al Jarreau, Rudy Pérez and Dianne Reeves; saxophonists Igor Butman, Ravi Coltrane, Femi Kuti, Guillaume Perret and Wayne Shorter; bassists James Genus and Marcus Miller; guitarist Lee Ritenour; drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and harmonica player Grégoire Maret. In attendance will be numerous figures from the diplomatic, cultural and artistic communities, as well as representatives from the French government.
The concert will be webcast live beginning at 7 pm local time, and will be available for on-demand viewing later in the evening. The Paris celebration will be one part of a massive worldwide observance of International Jazz Day, with events once again anticipated in all 196 UN and UNESCO member states.
Podcast 481 celebrates the wonderful diversity of jazz music and musicians with an hour plus of music for some of my favorites from around the globe. Included for this year are:
Tineke Postma (Netherlands) and Greg Osby (USA) - “Where I’m From”
Gebhard Ullmann's Basement Research (Gebhard Ullmann and Pascal Niggenkemper (Germany); Steve Swell and Gerald Cleaver (USA), Julian Argüelles (England) – “Gulf of Berlin”
ICP Orchestra (Netherlands) – “Der Jofelen Pels Slip”
Avishai Cohen Trio (Israel) – “Lost Tribe:
Jakob Bro (Denmark) – “Come Marching”
Wolfgang Haffner (Germany) – “Django
Angelique Kidjo (Benin) – “Samba Pa Ti”
Anat Cohen (Israel) with Romero Lubambo (Brazil) - "Bachiao"
Roberto Menescal )Brazil) - Inverno
Omar Sosa (Cuba) – “Old Afro a Babe”
Abdullah Ibrahim (South Africa) – “Kalahari Pleiades”
Aki Takase (Japan), Alexander Von Schlippenbach (Germany) - “The Prophet”
Tomasz Stanko (Poland) – “Polin"
Thu, 23 April 2015
As an English major at Clark University (Class of '77) I spent many a fond moment with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Virginia Vaughan discussing the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare's birthdate is unknown, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23, St. George's Day. He was born 450 years ago today.
And whither, you might ask, does this great writer intersect with Jazz? Look no further than the 1964 album by Cleo Laine, Shakespeare and All That Jazz, arranged and written for her by her husband, Sir John Dankworth. Dankworth adapted sonnets and portions of the plays to create an artistically satisfying work. Many of the tunes are written by Dankworth, but he also picks from the Ellington-Strayhorn canon for "My Love is as a Fever (Sonnet 147)" a portion of the suite they composed entitled Such Sweet Thunder. Of particular interest are the tracks which feature Kenny Wheeler on trumpet.
For those interested in an updated take on this album, check out Christina Drapkin's version.
Mon, 13 April 2015
1965 was in many ways just another busy year in the life of Lee Morgan. He had established himself as a major talent in the late Fifties, lending his trumpet talents to classic albums like John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s Moanin’, and Johnny Griffin’s A Blowing Session. He began the Sixties appearing on Wayne Shorter’s initial release, backed by the Miles Davis rhythm section; and with a number of top Hank Mobley sessions. He continued to contribute as a vibrant member of the Jazz Messengers, most notably on The Freedom Rider.
1963 was the turning point in the Philadelphia born trumpeter’s career, when he recorded the Blue Note release The Sidewinder. The memorable title track became that rarest of jazz things, a hit single, and Chrysler used it as the background for television commercials during prime World Series coverage. Lee Morgan had become a star.
But he never forgot his work ethic. He appeared on seven albums released in 1964, notably Stanley Turrentine’s Mr. Natural. And that was just the warmup for 1965, when he recorded four albums under his own name (three were released; Infinity was held back until 1972); released two more as a Jazz Messenger, and sat in, in the great Blue Note tradition, for multiple sessions with Hank Mobley and Jackie McLean.
He also participated in what is now a legendary concert, memorialized forever by the album title of the night’s recording, The Night of the Cookers. Playing at a small Brooklyn club fifty years ago today, Morgan squared off with Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding for an outrageous blowing session. Originally released in two volumes, it stands as one of the high points of the Hard Bop sound.
Perhaps Morgan played so hard and so often because he knew his time was not long. Morgan was killed in the early hours of February 19, 1972, at Slug's Saloon, a jazz club in New York City's East Village where his band was performing. The victim of a gunshot from his common-law wife Helen, he bled to death when bad weather delayed him from arriving at a hospital. He was just 33.
Podcast 478 celebrates the body of work that the great trumpet player left behind from his performances in 1965, with a selection from some of the year’s work in chronologic order, featuring:
Freddie Hubbard Septet – “Walkin’” from The Night of the Cookers – Volume One. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute) Harold Mabern (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Pete La Roca (drums) Big Black (congas). Recorded at "Club La Marchal", Brooklyn, NY, April 10, 1965.
Lee Morgan Quintet – “Speedball” from The Gigolo. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 1, 1965.
Lee Morgan Sextet – “Most Like Lee” from Cornbread. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 18, 1965.
Jackie McLean Sextet – “Soft Blue” from Jacknife. Lee Morgan (trumpet), Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Larry Willis (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 24, 1965.
Hank Mobley Sextet – “Third Time Around” from A Caddy for Daddy. Lee Morgan (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone) McCoy Tyner (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Billy Higgins (drums). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 18, 1965.
Thu, 9 April 2015
The hoopla surrounding Billie Holiday’s Birthday Centennial gives us the change to have some musicians of differing styles, fame and sexes release tribute CDs to Lady Day, each one interesting and highly listenable in its own right.
Jose James' third CD for Blue Note is entitled Yesterday I Had The Blues - The Music Of Billie Holiday, and it follows the sound he laid down so well in his debut CD a few years back. James comes across primarily as silky-smooth blues singer, and he covers tunes like “Fine and Mellow” and “Lover Man” with a strong blues approach. Tunes like “God Bless the Child”, his band, which includes Eric Harland (drums), Jason Moran (piano) and especially John Patituci (bass), come across particularly well. “Strange Fruit” is given a near-acapella performance, taking the famous song to church with great effect.
Pianist Lara Downes doesn’t usually move in jazz circles, but her solo piano work A Billie Holiday Songbook suggests that she might want to do so more often. If at times her performances are a bit too respectful, at other times – most notably on up-tempo tunes like “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” or “Them There Eyes” – she brings some down-home style to the material. Her classical chops make the ballads shimmer, with her version of Marian McPartland’s arrangement of “Willow Weep for Me” especially poignant.
Cassandra Wilson brings her seemingly boundless imagination and vocal dexterity.to any project she takes on, and Coming Forth By Day is no exception. She and a tune of mostly rock musicians reimagine tunes associated with Ms. Holiday, many of them well-known standards. “The Way You Look Tonight” allows her alto voice to float over the orchestral arrangement; “You Go to My Head” has a soulful bounce that is kicked along by drummer Thomas Wydler. “Good Morning Heartache” is given an ominous arrangement, all dissonance and dread, as if the thought of another day of personal pain is too great to bear. “Strange Fruit” ends in a blast of guitar and strings cacophony, bring its message of murder home. The album’s coda, “Last Song (For Lester)” was written by Ms. Wilson in Lady Day’s voice, based on the real-life incidents that marred her attending the funeral of her longtime collaborator and friend, Lester “Prez” Young. This is great singing and great arranging - great musical performances all around.