Fri, 6 January 2017
Serendipity - the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. No word can better describe the series of events that brought singer Kendra Shank and pianist Geoffrey Keezer together a few years back.
A cancelled flight prevented Ms. Shank's regular pianist, Frank Kimbrough, from making a West Coast gig. Learning Keezer was in town, and with just 30 minutes to spare before hitting the stage, the pair showed instant chemistry, and wowed the audience.
Fast forward to two January’s ago, and again Kendra needs a pianist, this time on the East Coast, and Keezer is in town playing a run of shows with Chris Botti. They played a duo performance in a friend's apartment, which fortunately was recorded and now is available as Half Moon (Ride Symbol recordings).
Kendra Shank has been a “musician’s singer” for year. Rather than just wrap herself around a classic tune, she uses her musical training on guitar, piano and percussion to drive her vocal interpretations. Her mentors include Bob Dorough, Shirley Horn, and especially, Abbey Lincoln. Since 2000 she has lead a working quartet of first call musicians, including pianist Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tony Moreno. Their three recordings – sometimes supplemented by guitarist Ben Monder and reedman Billy Drewes - and have mixed Kendra originals and classic tunes, bridging the Great American Songbook with the Singer-Songwriter oeuvre of the Sixties and Seventies (Ms. Shank herself began as a folk singer-guitarist in Seattle).
Half Moon gives listeners a chance to experience Kendra in an intimate setting, highlighting not only her vocal prowess, but her musicality, as she improvises with Keezer on standards like “Alone Together” and newer tunes like Jeremy Siskind’s “Kneel”. Her wordless vocals on Cedar Walton’s “Life’s Mosaic” shows she can match anyone on the scene today in her ability to wring nuance and emotion from a jazz tune.
Podcast 557 iis my conversation with Kendra Shank, as we discuss her background, her approach to tunes, and why she and Geoffrey Keezer have developed such great rapport. Musical selections from Half Moon include the title track, “Healing Song”, “Kneel” and “When Love Was You and Me”, the last of which comes from a chart written by Abbey Lincoln. The medley “Reflections in Blue/Blue Skies” comes from her 2008 album Mosaic, with her quartet, Drewes and Monder.
Kendra Shank and Geoffrey Keezer will perform two sets at Mezzrow in New York City on Monday January 9, 2017, at 8:00 and 9:30.
Direct download: Podcast_557-_-_A_Conversation_with_Kendra_Shank.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Sat, 31 December 2016
To all who are traveling on an evening that often becomes "amateur night" take extra care and pick that designated driver!
A perennial favorite song for New Year's Eve, and the Official SNC Song of the evening is Frank Loesser's classic, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" It was written in 1947, when Loesser was already an accomplished songwriter, having co-written hits like "Two Sleepy People" and "Spring Will Be a Little Late this Year".
However, his greatest work was just before him - in 1948 he was asked to score "Where's Charley?" for Broadway, which ran for more than two years. Buoyed by this success, Loesser turned out hits like "Guys and Dolls", "The Most Happy Fella" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". He won two Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for these works. In between, he won an Academy Award for the holiday standard, "Baby It's Cold Outside" from the film "Neptune's Daughter" (1949). Regrettably, Loesser died from cancer at the age of 59 in 1969.
This year's singer is Nancy Wilson. Check back to previous year's New Year's Eve postings for other renditions.
A happy and healthy New Year to one and all. 2017 HAS to be a better year than 2016, right?
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Tue, 27 December 2016
You’ve been reading the “best of” lists for the past few weeks in the press and online, but here at Straight No Chaser we take a slightly different approach to list making. Rather than presume to match artist against artist, album against album, we try to give you a list of those 2016 releases that made the greatest impression or were in the heaviest rotation throughout the year.
I created five different categories within which to share my favorite things with you. It seems only fair that the work of a new artist – say the Hot Sardines – should not be matched up against that of an experienced veteran like Fred Hersch for purposes of comparison. And given that 2016 was the Year of the Resonance label treasure trove of unreleased recordings from the likes of Bill Evans, Larry Young and Sarah Vaughan, how can those masters of the genre be compared with the genre-busting work of Donny McCaslin and Theo Croker?
So, here are a few of my favorite things from 2016:
Great New Things from Old Friends
Avishai Cohen – Into the Silence
Herlin Riley – New Direction
Warren Wolf – Convergence
Donny McCaslin – Beyond Now
Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night at the Vanguard
New Artists and Those Hitting Their Stride
Theo Croker – Escape Velocity
Julian Lage – Arclight
The Hot Sardines – French Fries and Champagne
Daniel Freedman – Imagine That
Marquis Hill – The Way We Play
Memorable Reissues, Compilations, and Posthumous or Archival Albums
Larry Young – Larry Young in Paris: The Ortf Recordings
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays
Sarah Vaughn – Live at Rosy’s
Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest
Erroll Garner – Ready Take One
Tribute Albums of Note
Miles Davis & Robert Glasper - Everything’s Beautiful
John Beasley – MONKestra, Volume One
Dave Stryker – Eight Tracks II
Catherine Russell – Harlem on My Mind
Brian Lynch - Presents Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Interpretation On The Music Of Woody Shaw
Reunions and Collaborations of Note
Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matt Garrison – Movement
Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loeuke/Eric Harland – Aziza
Phil Woods and Greg Abate – Kindred Spirits
Ron Carter and Vitoria Maldonado – Brasil L.I.K.E.
Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling – The Upward Spiral
I traditionally chose a "Most Valuable Player", meaning someone who has either appeared on multiple albums or released multiple works that show their abilities as leader, sideman, composer or arranger. This year the "MVP" is Wadada Leo Smith, for his outstanding collaboration with Vijay Iyer, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, both as a recording and for the great live performances they gave together, and for Smith's sweeping jazz work America's National Parks, with his Golden Gate Quartet.
Jazz finishes 2016 in surprisingly good shape. Jazz was in the movie theatres more than ever, with documentaries on John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in the art houses, and with fictional films based on the lives of Miles Davis and Chet Baker at the multiplex. David Bowie’s final album, while not a jazz release, brought the Donny McCaslin Group in as a perfect backing band for the Thin White Duke’s final musical statement. Hip-Hop artists continue to find inspiration in jazz, and jazz artists are bringing the freshness and excitement of Hip-hop to the their music, just as their predecessors did with rock music in the late Sixties. Veterans like John Scofield and Bill Frisell reached for Country music roots on their latest CDs, and Dave Holland’s super group Aziza brought back the fury of fusion. Norah Jones released a jazz-based album that will hopefully bring Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade to millions more music lovers. Henry Threadgill on a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for music. Artists like Terence Blanchard and Tyshawn Sorey stretched jazz and opera into a new hybrid. Wynton Marsalis finished a symphony that will debut in New York next month.
While far too many of the jazz masters of the past are going to that Great Bandstand in the Sky, younger players are moving in and up to take jazz in some new and exciting directions. From pre-teen Joey Alexander to new Young Lions like Kamasi Washington and Marquis Hill, the music seem to be in good hands. If you did not read Nate Chinen's insightful piece in the Sunday New York Times a week or so back, check it out here - he makes a good case for where the music has come from, and where it might go and why. Furthermore, the Black Lives movement, and the racist overtones of the new Trump administration may be lighting a fire under jazz musicians just as the Civil Rights movement did in the late Fifties. What that will mean remains to be seen, but it is greatly anticipated in the new year,
Podcast 556 features musical selections from each category, including:
Donny McCaslin - "Warszawa"
Hot Sardines - "People Will Say We're in Love"
Larry Young - "Trane of Thought"
Dave Stryker - "Time of the Season"
Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Telling - 'Doxy"
Direct download: Podcast_556_-_A_Few_of_My_Favorite_Things_2016.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Mon, 26 December 2016
2016 has been the most devastating of years in recent memory, and not just because of the horrendous results of the October US elections. More great musicians have passed away this year than I have ever recalled, and their loss is felt daily in my life. Our annual Noted in Passing feature is far too long.
In a category beyond jazz - indeed beyond popular music itself – were the losses of Prince and David Bowie, Maurice White and Sir George Martin. I honor their memories still, and you can listen to tribute Podcasts where highlighted.
Also gone in 2016 were pianist Paul Bley; trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros; organist Alan Haven; Tower of Power’s trumpeter and founder Mic Gillette; pianist Bryce Rohde; saxophonist Harald Devold; trumpeter John Chilton; bandleader Joe Cabot; arranger Claus Ogerman; percussionist Naná Vasconcelos; drummerJoe Ascione; trumpeter Sidney Mear; singer Roger Cicero; and symphonic jazz composer David Baker.
Also, producing legend Rudy Van Gelder; trumpeter Joe Shepley; singer Don Francks; saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya; saxophonist and educator Pete Yellin; guitarist Doug Raney; trombonist Buster Cooper; trumpeter Paul Smoker; drummer Randy Jones; pianist Willy Andresen; keyboardist Bernie Worrell; bandleader Mike Pedicin; saxophonist Charles Davis; guitarist Roland Prince; bassist Dominic Duval; and saxophonist Allan Barnes (BlackByrds).
Also bassist Bob Cranshaw (pictured); pianists Don Friedman, Derek Smith, and Connie Crothers; vibes master Bobby Hutcherson; guitarist Louis Stewart; harmonica legend TootsThielemans; pianist Karel Růžička; trumpeter Mike Daniels; pianist and singer Mose Allison; singer Shirley Bunnie Foy; saxophonist Gato Barbieri; singer Natalie Cole and drummer Joe Harris.
Outside of jazz, individuals whose lives had impacted mine in some way or another include boxer Muhammad Ali; hockey player Gordie Howe; newscaster Morley Safer; poet-composer-singer Leonard Cohen, soul men Billy Paul and Mack Rice; rockers Scotty Moore; Rob Wasserman; Greg Lake; Paul Kantner; Leon Russell; Keith Emerson; Dan Hicks; George Michael; and Glenn Frey; country singers Merle Haggard and Guy Clark; conductor Neville Marriner; NPR broadcast Craig Windham; sportscasters Jim Simpson, Craig Sager and Joe Garagiola; actors Gene Wilder; Alan Rickman, Patty Duke, Fyvish Finkel; Florence Henderson; and Kenny Baker (R2D2); singer Marnie Nixon, the dubbed-in voice of great movie musicals; basketball coach Pat Summitt and point guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington; Golfer Arnold Palmer; writers Michael Herr; Harper Lee; Pat Conroy; Umberto Eco and Elie Wiesel; and playwright Edward Albee.
Perhaps most deeply felt was the loss of my father-in-law Alfred Dellapenna, who would regale me with stories of seeing the original big bands in western Massachusetts dance halls. He will be greatly missed by all who knew “Big Al”..
Category:general -- posted at: 1:51pm EST
Sun, 25 December 2016
Merry Christmas to you all. I am a practicing Jew who does not celebrate Christmas as the birth of the messiah. However, I can appreciate the universal themes of peace, love and understanding that are prevalent this time of year, and so the Official Straight No Chaser song of Christmas Day is "Peace" written by Horace Silver, and sung by Norah Jones. This year we have a new version recorded by Norah from her latest CD, Day Breaks, which marked her return to creating a jazz sound. Avideo of Norah playing "Peace" cab ne found here.
Considered one of the finest ballads of the hard bop era, "Peace" has a timeless message for us all, as the last few lines of the song show:
When you find peace of mind, leave your worries behind
Silver first recorded this classic fifty-one years ago, on his Blowin' the Blues Away album, one of the last to feature his classic quintet lineup of trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Louis Hayes.
A Merry Christmas to one and all.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EST
Sat, 24 December 2016
The Eight Crazy Nights of Chanukah are upon us, and so I bring you some jazz for the occasion – Don Byron’s take on “Dreidl Song” from his 1993 album Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz.
Katz – who was born Meyer Myron Katz in 1909 - was a legendary musician and comedian specializing in the type of humor that would eventually characterize the “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills. A meeting with Spike Jones in 1947 led Katz to make a career decision that proved fruitful:
Katz soon decided to make an English-Yiddish comedy record. Having written the lyrics to Haim afen Range years ago, he had it approved by RCA. He quickly wrote another song for the flip side, Yiddish Square Dance, and had his friend Al Sack sketch out the melody for it and set Haim afen Range to music as well. The original run of 10,000 copies released in New York City sold in three days, and RCA received orders for 25,000 more. Katz then went on to parodize Tico, Tico with Tickle, Tickle, and backed this new record with Chloya, a parody of Chloe. He then hired a manager in Los Angeles, and in 1947 performed in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights, a largely Jewish- and Mexican-American neighborhood. In Katz's words, he was a "double-ethnic smash."
The death of Yiddish culture on a wide scale basis in the 1950’s forced Katz into broader humor, and he wrote parodies and performed until he passed away in 1985. His son is the award-winning actor Joel Grey, and his granddaughter is Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing fame.
The band is Byron in clarinet; Richie Schwarz on drums and percussion; Uri Caine on piano; Dave Douglas on trumpet; Steve Alcott on bass; Mark Feldman on violin; Josh Roseman on trombone; and J.D. Parran on flute.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00pm EST
Sat, 24 December 2016
It's December 24, which means that once again it's time to break out the Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Eve. It's not really a song, actually, but Louis Armstrong reciting "Twas the Night Before Christmas", in his inimitable raspy voice.
Recorded on February 26, 1971 at his home in Queens, New York, this ended up being the final recording Armstrong made, before succumbing to a fatal heart attack on July 6th.
The poem, written by Clement Moore, is technically titled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", was first published in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. A wonderful article by Peter Christoph tells that St. Nicholas was likely little known outside of the Dutch community when he published the work, setting into motion a cultural tradition still alive today. Further, I was surprised to learn it was Moore who first named the reindeer!
Here's hoping you'll be nestled all snug in your beds soon....
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EST
Fri, 23 December 2016
My friend Frank found this for me, and I wanted to be sure to share it with you. Originally published in Mad Magazine #52 Jan 1960.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the pad,
Not a hipster was swinging, not even old Dad;
The chimney was hung in the stocking routine,
In hopes that “The Fat Man” would soon make the scene;
The moon and the snow were, like, faking together,
Which made the scene rock in the Day People weather,
When, what to these peepers should come on real queer,
But a real crazy sleigh, and eight swinging reindeer,
As sidemen in combos pick up as they stomp,
When they swing with the beat of a Dixieland romp,
So up to the top of my bandstand they flew,
With the sleigh full of loot, and St. Nicholas, too.
His lids-Man, they sizzled! His dimples were smiles!
His cheeks were like “Dizzy’s,” his break was like “Miles!”
His puckered-up mouth was, like, blowing flat E,
And his chin hid behind a real crazy goatee!
He blew not a sound, but skipped right to his gig,
And stashed all the stockings, then came on real big,
And flashing a sign, like that old “Schnozzle” bit,
And playing it hip, up the chimney he split;
And then, in a quick riff, I dug on the roof,
The jumpin’ and jivin’ of each swinging hoof.
As I pulled in my noggin, and turned around fast,
Down the chimney came Nick like a hot trumpet blast.
The tip of a butt he had snagged in his choppers,
And he took a few drags just like all cool be-boppers;
He had a weird face, and a solid reet middle
That bounced when he cracked, like a gutbucket fiddle!
He was wrapped up to kill, Man, a real kookie dresser!
And his rags were, like, way out! Pops! He was a gasser!
A sack full of goodies hung down to his tail,
And he looked like a postman with “Basie’s” fan mail.
He was shaking with meat, meaning he was no square,
And I flipped, ‘cause I’d always thought he was “longhair!”
But the glint in his eye and the beat in his touch
Soon gave me the message this cat was “too much!”
He flew to his skids, to his group blew a lick,
And they cut out real cool, on a wild frenzied kick.
But I heard him sound off, with a razz-a-ma-tazz:
“A cool Christmas to all, and, like all of that jazz!”
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Fri, 16 December 2016
For years, I’ve combed through album after album of Christmas songs to bring you podcasts of both beloved and fresh jazz for the holiday. One thing I have noticed during the course of my investigations is the number of tunes that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas holiday. So many of the most included tunes on Christmas jazz albums – I’m looking at you “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – are seasonal in nature. They celebrate the winter cold, whether frolicking outside or cuddling inside before a fire.
Others take pop songs with appropriate themes - "Get Here" certainly fits the "I'll Be Home for Christmas" mood; "My Favorite Things" - gift giving and receiving. Some artists just choose downright odd selections on their holiday albums. I can see Chet Baker selecting the gospel "Amen", but how did Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" end up on a Chris Botti CD? Or "Scarborough Fair" on Al DiMeola's?
Therefore, Podcast 555 is the first of two “Very Jazzy Xmas” podcasts. This one is “The Secular Mix”, and only contains songs that have been included on Christmas albums, but have no mention of Santa, the Nativity, Mistletoe or anything else that smacks of Christmas.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Musical selections include:
Jimmy Smith – “Jingle Bells”
Harry Connick Jr – “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”
Dave Koz - "Get Here"
Norman Brown – “Skating”
Chris Bauer- "My Favorite Things"
Diana Krall - "Sleigh Ride"
Jo Stafford – “Moonlight in Vermont”
Ray Charles and Betty Carter - "Baby, It’s Cold Outside"
Ramsey Lewis Trio -“Snowfall”
Michael Franks – “Watching the Snow”
Billie Holiday – “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm "
Al DiMeola - "Midwinter Nights"
Rosemary Clooney – “Suzy Snowflake”
Direct download: Podcast_555_-_A_Very_Jazzy_Xmas_-_The_Secular_Mix.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Thu, 15 December 2016
Fabian Almazan won the 2014 Downbeat Critics Poll for Rising Star Pianist, and has worked steadily as a core member of Terence Blanchard’s groups since 2007. Born in Cuba, he began playing classical piano at an early ag4e, but when he and his family fled Cuba, he found himself exposed to new and different music as well. A product of the Brubeck Institute and Manhattan School of Music; Fabian has been mentored by the likes of Kenny Barron and Jason Moran.
His two CDs as a leader – Personalities and Rhizome – point to a growing interest in harmonic invention and an intriguing integration of Latin rhythms and more avant-piano sounds. The latter album even added a string quartet to the piano-based band. Carefully taking control of his musical output, Almazan has announced the creation of Biophilia Records as an outlet for his work, and those of meaningful, imaginative musicians.
“Biophilia” means “love of living things”, and label has a distinctly environmental approach to its packaging and distribution. Their artists collaborate with organizations that specialize in conservation, sustainability and outreach initiatives, regularly volunteering in community events. The first release from the label will come in December. from the Awakening Orchestra, with interlude: Atticus Live! - the music of Jesse Lewis.
Podcast 554 is my conversation with Fabian, as we discuss the Rhizome Project, his goals for Biophilia, and what it’s like to hold down the piano chair in Terence Blanchard’s band. Musical selections include "The Adventures of Dirt McGillicudy" from the Awakening Orchestra release: "Hugs (Historically Underrepresented Groups)", an Almazan composition on the Terence Blanchard album Choices; and "Take Off" from the Blanchard composed soundtrack of Red Tails.
Direct download: Podcast_554_-_A_Conversation_with_Fabian_Almazar.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST