Thu, 28 July 2011
Rufus Reid is a living legend on the bass guitar, and has been at the forefront of jazz education for more than forty years, having written the definitive book on bass technique. The Evolving Bassist has won numerous prestigious awards and prizes, and was one of the first books I picked up when I began learning to play the electric bass this year.
His history of collaboration includes taking part in bands led by the likes of Andrew Hill, Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Nancy Wilson, the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band, Jack DeJohnette, and Hank Jones. His lengthy collaboration with Japanese percussionist Akira Tana led to five CD releases.
At the age of 67 he has continued his musical growth and has emerged as a leader and composer of strength and substance to truly overwhelming critical and popular acclaim. His last CD, Out Front went to #1 in the JazzWeek charts and his new CD - Hues of a Different Blue – shows his latest band has continued to grow and mature. His compositional skills have been on display as his three-movement, contemporary orchestra piece, Mass Transit, which he wrote during his Guggenheim Fellowship Project, has been performed in Los Angeles and New York. The Youth Symphony of Dupage, Illinois premiered his orchestral arrangement of “Caress The Thought for Solo Bass” (by retired Chicago Symphony principal bassist, Joe Guastafeste). In early 2012 Rufus Reid will be performing his tribute to the sculptor and American treasure, Elizabeth Catlett, “Quiet Pride”, at The Manship Theatre and Galleries in Baton Rouge, LA, February 20-24, 2012, with an Orchestra made up of students from Louisiana State University. Catlett will be in attendance at this momentous event.
I spoke with Rufus about his busy 2011 last month, and solicited some bass playing advice as well. You can hear the interview in Podcast 222, including musical selections from his career, including:
Rufus Reid – Title Track from Hues of a Different Blue. Rufus’ latest release keeps the trio of Reid on bass, pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca together, and adds solo spots by saxophonists JD Allen and Bobby Watson, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta. Be sure to check out this YouTube video on the making of the CD.
Andrew Hill - “Chilly Mac” from Shades. Twenty-five years ago this month avant-garde pianist Andrew Hill brought a quartet rounded out by Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, Reid on bass and Ben Riley on drums into a studio in Milano, Italy to cut a number of tracks. The result is a true classic of modern jazz.
TanaReid – “When She Smiles Upon Your Face” from Back to Front. Grady Tate lends a vocal to this Reid composition, featuring Reid on bass, Akira Tana on drums, Craig Bailey on alto sax and flute, Mark Turner on sax, and John Stetch on piano.
Wed, 27 July 2011
Jazz musicians need to make a living just like everyone else. For the talented musician, this means taking advantage of opportunities not only in their main love – say, jazz – but also taking gigs in R&B, Hip-Hop, the college campus, the theatre, or anywhere else they can hone their craft.
This is the path that Melvin Jones has taken. His first CD as a band leader, Pivot, was released on Turnaround Records in April, and has been a staple on the Jazz Radio Charts since. For an initial offering, this is no rookie release – Jones has spent six years in academia as the Director of Bands and Instrumental Studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he had the opportunity to direct the world-renowned Morehouse College Jazz Ensemble and Marching Band. Dubbed the “House of Funk,” the marching band has received wide acclaim playing for both local and international events, including a Super Bowl and multiple nationally televised appearances.
He has shared the bandstand with heavies like Don Braden, Clark Terry, Terence Blanchard and Antonio Hart, and was a member of Illinois Jacquet’s last band, which captured his final recording at the Lincoln Center. His trumpet has been heard on recordings by Jennifer Holliday, TLC (their seminal Fanmail CD), the Pussycat Dolls, Pamela Williams and Sonny Emory.
I spoke with Jones has he came off the road from an eight-month-long national tour with Tyler Perry’s stage production entitled “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” We talked about the making of the Pivot CD, Smooth Jazz and its hold on the radio, and the impact his mentor, the world-renowned trumpeter and educator, the late William “Prof” Fielder had on his life and music. “Prof ’s” illustrious student roster includes greats like: Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, David Sanchez, Kenny Garrett, and Jones’ classmate Sean Jones.
Click here to enjoy Podcast 221, including music from:
Melvin Jones – “Flights Beyond“ from Pivot. The core of Melvin’s band is built around Mace Gibbard (who just released an exceptional CD under his own name) on sax and Rodney Jordan on bass, with Louis Heriveaux on piano and Leon Anderson on drums. Here they show their chops on an expressive ballad….
Melvin Jones – title track from Pivot. …and here they are ready to shake it up a bit on the title track.
Rio Negro – “Four” from Self Portrait. Not one to waste any spare time, Melvin has been involved in a Latin-tinged band with friends and classmates. Here they take on the Miles Davis classic, giving it a bit of south of the border swing. Jones is on trumpet, along with Oliver Santana on sax and flute, Kevin "Quino" Johnson on piano, Broderick Santiago and Joey Gonzales on percussion and drums, Eddie Cruz on bass, and Henry Velasquez on timbales.
Pamela Williams – “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” from The Look of Love. Jones played on the 2007 tribute CD to the music of Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, and Hal David led by “the Saxtress”.
Sun Ra – “Watusa” from The Nubians of Plutonia. William “Prof” Fielder was a major influence on Melvin, and here Fielder sits in on trumpet with the Arkestra on a 1959 release that includes Sun Ra on piano and Wurlitzer electric piano, Nate Pryor on trombone, James Spaulding and Marshall Allen on alto sax, John Gilmore on tenor sax and percussion and Robert Barry on drums.
Direct download: Podcast_221_-_A_Conversation_with_Melvin_Jones.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Tue, 26 July 2011
Frank Foster, a saxophonist, composer and arranger who helped shape the sound of the Count Basie Orchestra during its popular heyday in the 1950s and ’60s and later led expressive large and small groups of his own, died today at his home in Chesapeake, VA from complications of kidney failure. He was 82.]
Mr. Foster had a varied and highly regarded career as a bandleader, notably with his Loud Minority Big Band, and he was sought after as an arranger for large ensembles. But it was the strength of his contribution to the so-called “New Testament edition” of the Basie band, from 1953 to 1964, that anchors his place in jazz history.
In his 11 years with the Count, Foster contributed a tall stack of marvelous charts to the Basie book ("Blues Backstage," "Down for the Count," "Blues in Hoss' Flat," "Back to the Apple," "Discommotion," the entire Easin' It album), but none suited the Chief's prerequisites better than "Shiny Stockings." He told an interviewer once:
"I wrote `Shiny Stockings' in 1955 and we had a rehearsal at a place called Pep's Bar in Philadelphia. We had just arrived in town. Everybody was sleepy, tired, hungry, and evil. Nobody felt like rehearsing. We rehearsed `Shiny Stockings' and it sounded like a bunch of jumbled notes, just noise, and I said, `Wow, all the work I put into this, and it sounds so horrible. I know Basie will never play it.' And then something very strange happened.
He continued to play and it came together. Finally, we recorded it and, well, it's the very best known piece that I have contributed to the Basie book.
"Years later," Foster remembers with pride, "Basie gave me the supreme compliment. Every now and then, he'd say about a chart, `Oh, it's very nice, kid,' and then leave it at that. Well, he grabbed me, he said, `Junior, you know that "Shiny Stockings"? You really put one down that time.' You couldn't receive a better compliment from Count Basie.
He returned to the Basie band in the mid-1980s, this time as its leader. (Count Basie died in 1984.) He held the post for nearly a decade and earned something like emeritus status: when the Count Basie Orchestra was enlisted for Tony Bennett’s 2008 album “A Swingin’ Christmas,” Mr. Foster was the arranger.
Click here to listen to a 1989 recording from the Count Basie Orchestra called “The Count Basie Remembrance Suite”, a three part piece arranged by Foster and featuring several riveting solos by him. Among the members of the Orchestra are Freddie Green (guitar); David Glasser (flute, alto saxophone); Kenny Hing, Eric Dixon (flute, tenor saxophone); Danny Turner (piccolo, alto saxophone); John Williams (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone); Danny House (alto saxophone); Kenny King (tenor saxophone); Mike Williams (trumpet, flugelhorn); Bob Ojeda, Melton Mustafa, Sonny Cohn, Byron Stripling (trumpet); Clarence Banks, Mel Wanzo, Dennis Wilson , Robert Trowers (trombone); Bill Hughes (bass trombone); Tee Carson, Carl Carter (piano); and Dennis Mackrel and Duffy Jackson (drums).
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00pm EDT
Mon, 25 July 2011
Monty Alexander has given us an embarrassment of riches. In the past ten weeks, he has released two wonderful new CDs, each featuring a very different side of his musical personality.
Alexander recorded Uplift for John Lee's Jazz Legacy label, leading a piano trio composed of himself, bassist Hassan Shakur, and drummers Herlin Riley (7 tracks) and Frits Landesbergen (3 tracks). It's an elegant romp through jazz classics ("Fungi Mama", "Django", "Body and Soul") and three originals (the best of which is "Hope"). From the introduction of the melody on the opening "Come Fly With Me", we know that it's going to be a smooth flight. In fact, it’s been near the top of the USA Jazz Radio Charts for the past month.
But Alexander is comfortable exploring his Caribbean heritage as well. He's recorded two tribute albums to Bob Marley in the past (Concrete Jungle and Stir It Up) and saluted ska with legendary guitarist Ernest Rangelin. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he brings that sense of "riddim" to Harlem-Kingston Express Live! recorded last summer at Dizzy's Coca-Cola in Manhattan, Jamaica, and Europe for the Motema imprint. As polished and - well, uplifting - as Uplift is, Express has Monty leading an eight piece party band, with most spots on the bandstand doubled on electric and acoustic instruments. The band turns "Freddie Freeloader" into an Island-soaked workout, and leads the audience through a raucous sing-a-long on "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)". Lest anyone think he's lost his chops, he returns for a contemplative duet with drummer Frits Landesbergen on Marley's "No Woman No Cry".
Born in Jamaica in 1944, Alexander is constantly ranked among the top ten piano players of all time (check out Hal Leonard’s 2005 book The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time). He's recorded for over four decades, and brings his unique Island sensibilities to all of his work. In fact, in August 2000, the Jamaican government awarded Monty Alexander the title of Commander in the Order of Distinction for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador.
Click here to listen to my conversation with Monty Alexander, featuring music from these two new releases and a few older goodies, including:
"Could You Be Loved?" from Stir It Up: The Music of Bob Marley. Taking his jazz sound and integrating it with Jamaican rhythms is no small feat, and when you're tackling the Bob Marley songbook, you're really out on a limb. Luckily, this is a real winner, as Monty takes his American core group - bassist Shakur, guitarist Derrick Di Cenzo and drummer Troy Davis - and mixes in Jamaican band Gumption and guest stars from Steve Turre to drummer Rolando Alphonso.
“Sweet Georgia Brown” from Uplift. Only one song is included on both of these albums, and it’s the jazz standard and pop tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics). The Harlem Globetrotters may have made it a cultural touchstone as their warm-up music, but everyone from Ray Charles to Anita O’Day to Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt has made it a jazz classic. This first version is the piano trio of Alexander, Shakur, and Riley, with the latter contributing a driving solo.
“Sweet Georgia Brown” from Harlem-Kingston Express Live! And here it is with a Jamaican slant on the tune, featuring Robert Thomas on percussion. Greg Calvaire and Karl Wright on drums, Yotam Silberstein and Andy Bassford on guitars, and Hodva Simpson on bass.
“Hope” from Uplift. An inspired original, Alexander begins with a classical feel, and then plays a reggae-tinged beat with his left hand while soloing with gusto on his right, drums keeping the beat right along. The song then returns to the slower, more reflective blues sound before drifting off.
Direct download: Podcast_220_-_A_Conversation_with_Monty_Alexander.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Sun, 24 July 2011
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Dr. Billy Taylor, one of jazz's great pianoplayers, educators and ambassadors.He died in December 2010.
I attended a tribute to Dr. Taylor earlier this week at the University of Massachusett's Jazz in July program, one of the many educational programs Dr. Taylor helped to establish. Present for the tribtue was Brett Primack, aka The Jazz Video Guy, who has produced a one hour documentary on Dr. Taylor. An excerpt from that film can be seen here.
Taylor was one of the last musicians to bridge the period from the rise of bebop in the early 1940's, through the heady days of the civil rights movement in the 1960's and beyond. His contirbutions - muscially and personally - will be sorely missed.
Here's a live recording of Dr. T from 1967 will his trio, Ben Tucker on bass and Grady Tate on drums, playing "T.N.T.". It was released as part of I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, titled after his greatest and best known composition.
Sun, 24 July 2011
The death of singer Amy Winehouse is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the amazing train wreck that was her life. She released only two fine CDs during her 27 years, and wasted talent that could have made a significant impact in bridging the worlds of jazz, pop and soul. Her voice will be missed; she will not.
The Smooth Jazz All-Stars released a "tribute" Cd to her a few years ago, and here is their version of a song that becomes even more of a theme song for her tragic life - "You Know I'm No Good." Ironically, I saw Wanda Jackson, the ageless rockabilly star, sing this song last weekend at the Green River Music Festival in Greenfield, MA. At 74 she could really bring it - Amy had nothing left decades younger.
In an additoonal slice of irony, Amy's father, Mitch Winehouse, released a jazz vocal CD this month, entitled Rush of Love to the Heart, while Amy was unable to advance her recorded career. Check out a New York Times interview with him here, and listen to "Please Be Kind" from the CD.
Fri, 22 July 2011
Here in Western Massachusetts the mercury in the ol' thermometer ha hit well over 90 degrees all week, with no relief in sight for the weekend. That won't stop Nancy and me from seeing Lucinda Williams and Amos Lee in a dual-headlining concert Saturday night, though. It's worth pointing out that Lee is signed to Blue Note Records, the home of jazz artists exclusively in the past. However, the label's talent has been widened over the past few years, becoming the home of Al Green, Van Morrison, Norah Jones, Lee, and even Jeff Bridges. There is still plenty of good jazz on the label - Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Cassandra Wilson and others are still laying down cutting edge sounds. Music business economics being what they are, it's hard to blame the label. But one wonders - what would Alfred Lion, the label's famous founder say?
But back to the weather, and a song to enjoy it by. While I could post "(We're having a) Heat Wave", today seems like an appropriate time to bring out Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot", particularly when hearing lyrics like "I'd lile to fool with my baby tonight/Break ev'ry rule with my baby tonight/But pillow you'll be my baby tonight/ 'Cause it's too darn hot."
This version comes from Holly Cole, from her ironically titled 2003 CD Shade. She's recorded albums of standards, as well as an exception album of Tom Waits tunes called Temptation that is well worth checking out. Here she sings, adds a bit of xylophone, and is backed by Aaron Davis on piano, George Koller on bass, Kevin Brett on guitar and Mark Kelso on drums and percussion.
Mon, 18 July 2011
Happy Birthday to my beautiful Nancy! Once again I celebrate the day by posting the song "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)", along with another version of how the song came to be, courtesy of music historian Rick Busciglio:
In 1979, I was working with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen on a TV special with Frank Sinatra and BoB Hope that was never produced. Jimmy told me that one day (circa 1942) he and his lyricist-friend Johnny Burke were working at 20th Century-Fox composing for a film. While Burke was out of their writer's bungalow, Phil Silvers, the comedian, a friend to both, entered and suggested to Jimmy that they write a song for Johnny's wife, Bessie, who was soon to celebrate a birthday. Silvers provided the lyrics, later revised by Van Heusen and Burke.
At the party they sang "Bessie... with the laughing face" It was such a hit that they used it at other female birthday events. When they sang it as "Nancy... with the laughing face" at little Nancy Sinatra's birthday party, Frank broke down and cried thinking that it was written specially for his daughter - the trio wisely didn't correct him. Jimmy assigned his royalties to Nancy after Frank recorded it for Columbia.
This year's version of the standard is by Ike Quebec, from Blue Note sessions recorded from January 1962, way before Nancy was born. Quebec is on saxophone, with a super trio behind him - pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Art Blakey.
Tue, 12 July 2011
Cuba has given us outstanding jazz pianist in the past – Chucho and Bebo Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Hilario Duran and Emiliano Salvador are just a few of the diversely talented performers we’ve had the privilege to hear and see in the USA. With the release of El Pais de Las Maravillas, Harold Lopez Nussa seems poised to join them. This is the art of the piano trio by way of Havana, and it swings, sways and shimmers with all the passion associated with that musical capital.
Recording with a trio composed of brother Ruy Adrian Lopez on drums and Felipe Cabrera on double bass, Nussa presents a variety of sounds and styles over the course of eleven compositions. Saxophonist David Sanchez joins on three tracks, and livens up “La Fiesta Va” with his give and take with Lopez.
Lopez is front and center on “Perla Marina”, caressing the piano over the subtle bass and drums with a style reminiscent of Keith Jarrett. “Pa’Gozar” and “Guarija” swing with a more percussive Latin feel, with percussion sliding in and out of the spaces left by Lopez’s piano.
Recent visa issues have prevented Lopez from appearing the US this summer. Here’s hoping for a quick cutting of red tape to let us enjoy him onstage soon.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Wed, 6 July 2011
When I write about jazz on this blog, Ifind that I'm often talking about musicians who have left this mortal coil. For a don't miss view of why today may be the time of the greatest number of living jazz legends, check out the article Ralph A, Miriello wrote for the Huffington Post: "Celebrating the Living Legends of Jazz."
As he says in the eloquent article:
Many of the jazz legends continue to actively perform, teach and sustain the art through their tireless pursuit of making music and carrying on the tradition. Jazz is a living organism that is constantly evolving. It is arguably the only true indigenous American art form and as such it needs to be nurtured and supported by our active participation, especially in these austere economic times when public funding for the arts is being perilously withdrawn.The best way we can honor them is to continue to support the music by experiencing their "live" performances. Some currently touring or performing artists include Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Randy Weston, Ramsey Lewis, Gerald Wilson, Phil Woods, McCoy Tyner, Gary Bartz, Lew Tabakin, Bunk Green, Charles Lloyd, Gato Barbieri, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock , Archie Shepp and Richard Davis to name just a few.
And Jimmy Heath, who is pictured above.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:39pm EDT