Wed, 24 February 2010
Home recuperating from an illness, I caught The Jazz Baroness on HBO. This documentary, originally made for the BBC, was directed by Hannah Rothschild, the great-niece of its subject, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (1913-1988). An heir to the Rothschild fortune, "Nica" turned her back on Europe and moved to America, where she became a fixture, and then a patron, of the New York jazz scene of for three decades. Charlie Parker died in her apartment; Thelonious Monk was a long-time friend and later a husband. It's a fascinating look at a highly idiosyncratic person who lived life on her own terms.
Nica became so much of a muse and sponsor for jazz musicians that as many as twenty songs were written and recorded in her honor. Podcast 179 features a number of these songs, including, of course, the Monk classic, "Pannonica". Click here to listen to:
Sonny Clark - "Nica" from The Sonny Clark Trio: High Fidelity. Clark made some great recordings for Blue Note from 1957 to 1961, sparked by ensembles including trombonist Curtis Fuller, trumpeter Art Farmer and Saxophonist Hank Mobley. This recording, the only one he made for another label before his untimely death in 1963, features a trio setting with Clark on piano, George Duvivier on bass and Max Roach on drums.
Thelonious Monk - "Pannonica" from Criss-Cross. Monk's first recording for Columbia Records features him on piano, Charles Rouse on saxophone, Frankie Dunlop on drums and John Ore on bass. A true classic.
Horace Silver - "Nica's Dream" from Horace-Scope. This Silver composition had been around for several years but hadn't yet been recorded on a Silver LP when he got the latest edition of his quintet into Rudy Van Gelder's studio. The quintet was Silver on piano, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Junior Cook on sax, Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums.
Gigi Gryce - Title track from Nica's Tempo. This 1955 album is a double-threat of sorts, with six tracks coming from a big band that included Art Farmer and Horace Silver, while four, including this one, come from a quartet of Monk on piano, Gryce on alto sax. Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey on drums.
Kenny Drew Trio - "Blus for Nica" from Kenny Drew Trio. This 1956 recording finds the underated pianist in good company - Miles Davis' bassist and drummer are along for the ride. Paul Chambers chooses the bow on several tracks, while Philly Joe Jones gives the trio a solid rhythm backing. Check out the recordings made by his son, Kenny Drew Jr. as well.
Tue, 23 February 2010
Podcast 177 is a conversation with Patrice Rushen, who many know from her R&B days (“Forget-Me-Nots” ) but who is a crack jazz musician. Skilled in electric and acoustic jazz, she has served as musical director for Janet Jackson’s tour and the Grammy Award Show, as well as composing pop, classical and jazz music. She’s teaching at USC and helping at Berklee in Boston as well, helping educate the next generation of jazz musicians.
She’s passing through my town on Northampton, Massachusetts as a member of the Buster Williams Quartet, playing the Iron Horse Music Hall on February 23 with Lenny White on drums and Mark Gross on saxophone. I talked with her about her recent collaborations with Babatunde Lea and Cindy Blackman, her musical past and influences, and where she hopes to go next. Click here to listen to the conversation, along with music selections:
Babatunde Lea – “Cousin Mary” from Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas. The master percussionist Babtunde tapped Patrice as the pianist/vocalist on his tribute to his friend, collaborator and mentor, the late vocalist Leon Thomas. The band is top notch on this John Coltrane number, with Ernie Watts on saxophone, Dwight Tribe on lead vocals, and Gary Brown on bass.
Cindy Blackman – “Wildlife” from Another Lifetime. Drummer Blackman and Patrice have been friends for years, but never got a chance to record together until this new release, Cindy’s tribute to her mentor Tony Williams. The band is Vernon Reid (Living Colour) on guitar, Patrice on keyboards, Mike Stern on guitar, Doug Carn on organ and David Santos on bass.
Patrice Rushen – “Forget-Me-Nots” from Straight From the Heart. Signign with Elektra Records in the early 1980’s, Patrice pioneered the melding of jazz and R&B/funk that would make crossover stars of her, George Benson and George Duke. Here is her biggest hit, which was refashioned by Will Smith as the theme from “Men In Black” years later. The core band is composed of jazz standouts, including on bass, on guitar, and on saxophone.
Stanley Clarke-Patrice Rushen-Nudugu Cahndler – “Take Five” from Jazz Straight Up. An acoustic trio with the Return to Forever bassist, Patrice on piano and Nudugu on drums shows the more sensitive and refined style Patrice can bring to jazz. A fine reworked version of the Brubeck-Desmond classic.
Patrice Rushen – “Haw-Right Now” from Prelusion. At the tender age of 20, Patrice was leading a session that featured legendary tenor saxophonist , trombonist , and trumpeter , all veterans of the West Coast jazz scene. This fine slice of jazz-funk from 1974 still sizzles. Check out the album cover and dig the classic afro on Patrice!
Tue, 16 February 2010
I've blogged before about one of my favorite music blogs, "Funky 16 Corners", where soul/funk/jazz DJ and crate crawler Larry has been putting up some of the funkiest sounds anywhere on the internet. In addition to individual song or artist posts, he's created full downloads of 10-15 songs thematically grouped. He's up to 81 volumes, and Funky 16 Corners Radio's latest installment is a must have for any fans of electric piano jazz. I should point out that besides haveing excellent taste in his selections, he writes insightful and valuable commentary on every post.
Click here to go to "Funky16Corners Radio v.81 – The Piano Electrified", a brilliant collection of songs from the likes of Eddie Harris, Lonnie Liston Smith, Mose Allison, Bob James and Ramsey Lewis. If you like it, go to his archives and be awed by the treasures that await.
Category:general -- posted at: 7:43am EST
Mon, 15 February 2010
Podcast 176 is my interview with Babatunde Lea, a veteran percussionist who has just released a tribute album to one of his musical mentors, Leon Thomas. Thomas was a shining star of the jazz avant-garde in the Sixties, making memorable recordings with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp, and especially Pharoah Sanders. The pair collaborated on the classic "The Creator Has a Master Plan" , which took up an entire side of 1969's Karma. Forty years later, its impossible not to see the iinfluence of this recording on a generation of musicians who play spiritual music.
Babtunde met Thomas for the first time when Leon was singing in church in Englewood, New Jersey in the late Fifties. Lea migrated westward to the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s, where he was among the first to play what we now call “world Music”, primarily as a member of Bill Summers’ visionary ensemble, Bata Koto. Babatunde recorded sessions with Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, and Randy Weston before meeting up with Leon Thomas once again.
Lea took a regular place in Thomas’ band, and recorded with him and with Pharoah Sanders (Rejoice) a number of times before Thomas’ untimely death in 1999. The two shared a deep friendship, and it has taken Babatunde ten years to finally produce a fitting tribute to his old friend, a two-CD live recording called Umbo Wet: A Tribute to Leon Thomas. The title comes from Pygmy language meaning roughly “This voice is not me, my voice is ancient. This person you see before you is controlled by ego but my voice is egoless."
The CD features Lea on percussion, Ernie Watts, on sax, Patrice Rushen on piano, and Gary Brown on bass. Taking Leon’s vocals is Dwight Trible,That's no easy feat, and he is more than up to trying to sound like Leon. Thomas' trademark yodeling vocals have been credited to an accident. Leon has said: I'd been trying to reach this cat for ages with no luck. I was at home and thought 'I'm gonna make this cat pick up the phone'--mentally. I began my yoga exercises and got to the head stand. With one intake of breath, I planned to walk to the phone upside down, dial his number, and make him answer with this mental projection.
As I crossed the threshold of the bedroom, I transcended. I was one place and my body was another. I dropped to the floor, right on my face and my teeth went into my bottom lip. There was blood everywhere.... so I couldn't do my own show with Pharoah. I had eight stitches in my mouth. I couldn't do anything. Pharoah came by to see me [and he said] you can't pull out.
I couldn't smile. I could hardly open my mouth...but I went along anyhow. I got up on the stage and when it came time for me to scat, this sound just came out. It shocked me. I didn't know where it was coming from."
The musical selections for the Podcast include:
Leon Thomas – “The Creator Has a Master Plan (Peace)” from Spirits Known and Unknown. A slightly different take on the classic song, from Leon’s first solo album in 1969. The band includes Roy Haynes (drums), James Spaulding (flute), Lonnie Liston Smith (keyboards) and Pharoah Sanders, mysteriously credited as “Little Rock”
Santana – “Love, Devotion and Surrender” from Welcome. Santana’s most overtly jazz-rock recording, the album featured compositions by John and Alice Coltrane, and featured Leon as the band’s lead vocalist. The song was the title of Santana’s collaboration album with John McLaughlin, although it did not appear on that record. Band members include Santana regulars like Tom Coster (keyboards), Jose Chepito Areas (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums) along with guest artists like McLaughlin (guitar) and Flora Purim (vocals).
Babatunde Lea – “Boom Boom” from Umbo Wet: A Tribute to Leon Thomas. Leon could sing the blues, R&B or the most complex jazz composition. Here Babtunde’s band covers his version of the John Lee Hooker classic.
Babatunde Lea – “African Tapestry (Prayer For a Continent)” from Umbo Wet: A Tribute to Leon Thomas. One of Lea’s original compositions on the album.
Pharoah Sanders – “The Creator Has a Master Plan(edit) from Karma. The original spans 32 minutes. This nine minute edit should give you an idea of the power of this recording. The band is Sanders on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Hart on drums, Lonnie Listen Smith on piano and Nat Bettis and Leon on percussion. Babtunde Lea – “Nature Boy” from March of the Jazz Guerillas. Babtunde himself picked this track, citing his work on it with Leon, and the way he integrates African drums into a straight ahead reading of the tune, usually taken at ballad pace.
Pharoah Sanders – “The Creator Has a Master Plan(edit) from Karma. The original spans 32 minutes. This nine minute edit should give you an idea of the power of this recording. The band is Sanders on tenor sax, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Hart on drums, Lonnie Listen Smith on piano and Nat Bettis and Leon on percussion.
Babtunde Lea – “Nature Boy” from March of the Jazz Guerillas. Babtunde himself picked this track, citing his work on it with Leon, and the way he integrates African drums into a straight ahead reading of the tune, usually taken at ballad pace.
Sun, 14 February 2010
Perhaps the biggest surprise in jazz last year was the sudden emergence of singer Jackie Ryan. Although she has recorded for years, her appropriately titled CD Doozy came out of no where to top the Jazz Week charts for seven weeks. That represented the second time in the history of the charts that a singer had managed to dominate the field in sales.
Fans who missed her earlier CDs will want to grab Best of Love Songs, a compilation that gathers songs from thee previous releases. A singer who never fails to put together a backing band of top talent, Ms. Ryan has recorded with the likes of saxophonists Eric Alexander and Ernie Watts, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Therefore, the album has a high jazz IQ, something often missing from standards albums these days. Ms. Ryan mixes things up here with classics like “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “The Very Thought of You”, as well as romantic originals like “Once in Everybody’s Life”. She has the vocal chops to take on Billie Holiday’s “Now or Never”, and slides in a bit of Brazilia courtesy of Jobim’s “Luiza”. She triumphs in all formats.
Click here to listen to “Seasons of the Heart”, a romantic number written by Ms. Ryan in collaboration with Leonard Thompson. The backing band for this track is Thompson on piano, John Witala on bass and Omar Clay on drums.
The CD is available only as a download from her website at this time, and will hit the stores on March 16. It’s he perfect Valentine’s gift, so even if you've forgotten that special someone, there's till time to download!
Category:general -- posted at: 4:47am EST
Sat, 13 February 2010
Smooth Jazz saxophonist Jessy J hit the scene last year, and made a mark on this listener with her debut CD Tequila Moon. Heavily influenced by producer Paul Brown, the CD was a cut above most contemporary jazz releases, as she showed her delightful mix of Latin and smooth sounds, with covers of classics like “Mas Que Nada” and “Besame Mucho” interspersed with originals like the title track. Heavily influenced by producer Paul Brown, the sound is never saccharine, and always interesting.
Her follow-up, True Love, allows her to take the next step in her development. With only one cover (the famous “Manha de Carnaval”), the CD is composed her writing in collaboration with Brown and others. The backing band - keyboardist Gregg Karukas, bassist Roberto Vally, drummer Sergio Gonzalez and percussionist Richie Gajate Garcia - continue to grow and stretch out a bit. The romance is still very much there, making this an excellent choice for your Valentine.
I spoke with Jessy as she began a busy week of Valentine’s Day concerts, so click here to listen to the interview, with tracks from her two albums including:
Jessy J – Title track from True Love. Spanish guitar by Paul Brown kicks off the number, and then the band kicks into a shuffling beat that would do Sade proud, allowing Jessy room to stretch out once she sets the melody. A strong keyboard solo by Gregg Karukas helps bring it home.
Jessy J – “Tropical Rain” from True Love. The first single from the new CD, this is the prototypical Jessy J sound – a lilting Latin beat, setting off her sax solo.
Jessy J – “Spanish Nights” from Tequila Moon. One of the standout tracks on her debut CD, it’s written by keyboardist Donald Hayes, who contributed the drum programming as well. Jessy shines on tenor sax, with Ricky Peterson on piano, Paul Brown on guitar and percussion by Richie Gajate Garcia.
Fri, 12 February 2010
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the next few days will feature some brand new releases with songs just right for your sweetheart.
We begin with George Winston’s second tribute album to the pianist nicknamed “Doctor Funk”, Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi Volume 2. Winston came to prominence for his sometimes somnambulant solo piano records for the Windom Hill label, primarily performing acoustic paeans to the changing seasons. He cites as major influences the music of Guaraldi, New Orleans legend Professor Longhair, and Ray Manzerek of the Doors. This listener is hard pressed to see the direct connection between these players and the uber-mellow Winston, but despite these unlikely sources, Love Will Come works very well.
Winston has a real feel for melody, and much of the material he selects is perfect for him. It helps that he eschews some of Guaraldi’s more up tempo numbers, and his latin influences to concentrate on a straight forward, no-nonsense approach.
Since Guaraldi is primarily known to non-jazz fans as the composer and performer of the soundtracks for the many “Peanuts” television shows, click here to listen to Winston play “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:44am EST
Wed, 10 February 2010
Jason Miles is a quadruple threat – artist, arranger, composer and producer. Add to that his experience in organizing benefit and tribute concerts, and you’ve got something of a Jazz Renaissance Man.
Podcast 174 incorporates that interview along with some musical selections, including:
I first heard Jason on his tribute album to Miles Davis, Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis. It went beyond the typical CD of covers, with some inspired new compositions in the spirit of, and in tribute to, the great musician. Since then, I’ve enjoyed his tribute CDs to Ivan Lins (for which he won a Grammy), Weather Report and Grover Washington, Jr., as well as his collaboration with D.J. Logic and production chores for Freddy Cole, Gato Barbieri and Eric Marienthal.
Jason joined me for a telephone conversation about his upcoming participation in the 20th annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest March 20th, leading an elite group of musicians in a concert entitled “Remembering a Legend - Music of Grover Washington Jr.” Among those performing that evening with Jason will be Gerald Albright, Walter Beasley, Chante Moore, Randy Brecker, Jeff Golub, and Ralph MacDonald.
Jason Miles - “Ferrari” from Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis. The album title was inspired by the first time Jason ever met Davis, who sketched a little stick figure on a note pad and autographed it "Miles to Miles" with a little trumpet. This track, co-written with Michael Brecker, gets its title from a high-speed drive that Miles and Jason took up the Pacific coast one day.
Sting - “She Walks This Earth” from A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. Lins was overdue for a tribute album, and Miles played a number of keyboards along with programming synthesizers and serving as producer for this tremendous introduction to the work of the great carioca singer. Co-written by Lins, it was never recorded before this 2000 session.
Jason Miles – “Trouble Man” from What’s Going On. A tribute CD to Marvin Gaye attracted a who’s who of smooth jazz musicians, covering classics like this slinky movie theme.
Global Noize - "A Jam 4 Joe" from Global Noize. Jason’s latest project integrating his keyboards with the turntables of DJ Logic.
Miles Davis - “Don't Lose Your Mind” from Tutu. Credited with piano and synthesizers on this 1985 release, Jason’s friendship with Marcus Miller brought him into contact with one of his heroes. Jason handpicked this track for the podcast.
Jason Miles – “Loran’s Dance” from To Grover, With Love. A rousing finale to a heartfelt tribute to the late, great Grover Washington, Jr. took place when Michael and Randy Brecker teamed up with keyboard greats Joe Sample and Joey DeFrancesco.
Wed, 10 February 2010
Rankin grew up in New York City and absorbed the many forms of music around him like a sponge. He sang a cappella in the hallways of the same neighborhood that Dion DiMucci and Teddy Randazzo lived in. It would be no surprise to his old friends when doo-wop elements surfaced later in songs like "Roll-A-Round" on the Inside album. A Greenwich Village apprenticeship brought Rankin into contact with producer Tom Wilson in '65. At Wilson's invitation, Rankin played rhythm guitar on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm" for Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home.
His songs preceded him into the national marketplace: Mel Tormé recorded Rankin's bright waltz "Haven't We Met" on his A Lush Romantic Album of '65 and Helen Reddy took "Peaceful" to the Top Ten in '73.
Jazz singer Ruth Price booked him many times at her Jazz Bakery performance space in Culver City. She observed a benign shrewdness on Rankin's part: "He liked to be out in the audience as the people filed in; I've never seen anybody else do that. It allowed him to get a real feel for the room and tailor his performances. Price also recognized Rankin's musical worth. "I was a real fan of what he sang," she says. "His intonation was amazing. Most of the time he sang with no vibrato, and when he would jump octaves he'd hit those notes square on the head."
Category:general -- posted at: 5:35am EST
Mon, 8 February 2010
Sir John Dankworth, the British jazz composer, saxophonist and band leader, died on Saturday at the age of 82. Jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine - who married Dankworth in 1958 after meeting during an audition for a spot with his band - announced her husband's death before the finale of an anniversary concert at The Stables, the theatre they founded together.
Born in Woodford, Essex in 1927, Dankworth began his musical career by playing a clarinet bought by his mother.
"I loved music, but I didn't want to be taught music, or learn anything, until my parents gave me up for lost, really, and that was when I was about 15," he told the BBC. "Then I eventually just heard some jazz."
After starting out as a fan of Benny Goodman, Dankworth switched to the saxophone after hearing Charlie Parker play. In the early 1950s, Dankworth was auditioning singers to front his ensemble when he met Laine. They married and had a son, Alec, and daughter Jacqui - both jazz musicians who played the anniversary concert on Saturday evening.
Laine was made a dame in 1997, and Dankworth was knighted in 2006 by the Queen for services to music.
Along with performing and composing - his film score credits include"Darling," "Modesty Blaise" (click here to listen to the theme) and the theme of television's "The Avengers" - Dankworth worked as musical director for jazz greats, including Oscar Peterson, Nat (King) Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:35am EST