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Preview: Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Published: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:00:00 +0000

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:01:10 +0000


Podcast 615: Jazzin' Into Spring

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:00:00 +0000

While Winter may officially be dead today, it sure doesn't seem like Spring in my neck of the woods. Here in Western Massachusetts we're bracing for another heavy winter storm tomorrow, the fourth in the past month. It seems like the song of the day will be "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year". Or maybe "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"? I think it's Michael Franks' recording of "Why It Ain't Spring" that fits my mood best.

But here is an hour of jazz with Spring themes to enjoy and make you think of fonder, softer, warmer days to come. All of the previously mentioned tunes are here, along with some with which you might not yet be familiar. Podcast 615 features:

Tony Bennett - "Spring is Here"

Kenny Dorham - "Poetic Spring"

Stanley Turrentine - "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"

Meredith D'Ambrosio - "Spring in Manhattan"

Ramsey Lewis - "Blue Spring"


Sarah Vaughan - "It Might as Well Be Spring"

Donald Brown featuring Wallace Roney - "You Must Believe in Spring"

Larry Coryell & Michael Urbaniak - "A Quiet Day in Spring"

Sarah Vaughan - "Spring Will be a Little Late this Year"

Kenny Dorham - "Passion Spring"

Ellen Honert - "Spring"

Michael Franks - "Why It Ain't Spring"

Diane Reeves - "Some Other Spring"


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Podcast 614: A Conversation with Kurt Elling

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 16:00:00 +0000

A new album from vocalist Kurt Elling always gives his listeners a chance to follow him further on his unique musical journey.  The 13-time Grammy nominee (he won in 2009 for his tribute to the classic album John Coltrane and  Johnny Hartman, entitled Dedicated to You) never fails to go deeper into the musical canon in search of tunes to interpret, as well as instrumentals for which he can add lyrics. A student of poetry, philosophy and religion, as well as of jazz history, Elling’s latest release, The Questions allows his to delve into issues which affect him - and us – in his special way.

While it didn’t start out that way, The Questions became an album of songs that alternately ask and attempt to answer existential questions that have always been at the core of human thought. When he records his version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, the questions asked and enigmatic answers given seem to be ripped from today’s headlines, and then are followed by the seemingly incongruous “A Happy Thought.”  The give and take of the themes may be the philosophical core of the album, but its Elling’s way of adding a lyric, interpreting a song, or allowing his band and guest soloists room to shine that makes The Questions a triumph.

Perhaps no tune on the strong album better illustrates Elling’s talent that his version of Jaco Pastorious’ well-known tune “Three Views of a Secret”, first recorded on Jaco’s Word of Mouth album in 1981. In Elling’s hands it’s now “A Secret in Three Views” with his lyrics inspired by a poem from the 13th century mystic Rumi. His voice is the lead instrument in more than ways that the typical singer, as he moves from his baritone to higher ranges and back as if he were a saxophone, and the musical tension and release does the late bass master Jaco proud.

Podcast 614 is my conversation with Kurt Elling, as we discuss the new album; his continued collaboration with Branford Marsalis that began with last year’s The Upward Spiral; and how the current political climate influenced his work. Musical selections include “A Secret in Three Views,” plus his take on Peter Gabriel’s “Washing of the Water” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”

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Podcast 613: A Conversation with Bill Frisell

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 01:28:11 +0000

You don’t pass up and opportunity to speak with Bill Frisell. The legendary guitar player has been among the most talented and versatile musicians of the past twenty years, performing in almost any jazz idiom, his trademark telecaster creating a sound that is uniquely his.  Most of Frisell’s recorded output for the past few years has been composed of albums written by others (All We Are Saying, Guitar in the Space Age!) or larger scope pieces like the string-laden Big Sur or The Mockingbird with the Gnostic Trio. His last release, Small Town, a moving series of duets with bassist Thomas Morgan recorded live at the Village Vanguard for ECM, may have been a hint that even more intimate work was forthcoming.

Music Is (OKeh/Sony) is the first solo album for Frisell in almost twenty years, and gives us a chance to hear his re-imagining of memorable early compositions like “Pretty Stars” and “Rambler” is a stripped down setting. Whether it’s just Frisell on his telecaster or an acoustic guitar, or whether he adds the pedals, delays and loops that were his early calling card, the result is an album of startling beautiful music.

I say “startling” since the wonderful clarity of sound allows the silence to be as important a sound as any loop effect. Frisell approaches the tunes with an honest simplicity, that “sit and pick on the front porch” feel that belies his harmonic complexity. His newer tunes – most notably “Go Happy Lucky” – are standouts, as is the new take on “Ron Carter.”

In our conversation, Frisell revealed that the choice of tunes and setting was not so much a mid-life crisis or intentional re-examination of his catalogue as it was the result of a series of nights played at the soon to be closed The Stone in the East Village of New York. Intent on allowing himself to take chances and play music he had put aside or ignored for years lead him to book

Time in old friend Tucker Martine’s Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon, and brought favorite collaborator Lee Townsend in to produce.

Podcast 613 is our conversation, showing Bill Frisell to be a modest and unassuming musician, even after all his years of success. Musical selections include "Rambler', "Go Happy Lucky" and "Pretty Stars."

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Podcast 612: A Jazzy Valentine's Day

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 15:00:00 +0000

Whether you think its a commercial enterprise or a day for the expression of true love, you have to admit - Valentine's Day is everywhere. So on a day like this - and it's mid-week this year, making celebration just a tad harder than usual - how about an hour of jazz guaranteed to bring out the lover in you and your partner(s)?

Then Podcast 612 is for you - and the musical selections include:

Steve Tyrell - "A Song for You"

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra - "Lover Man (O Where Can You Be?)"

Jackie McLean - "I'll Keep Loving You"

Tamuz Nissam - "Just Squeeze Me"

Fred Hersch Trio - "The Star Crossed Lovers"

Stan Getz - "Soul Eyes"

Norman Brown - "Sending My Love"

Horace Silver - "Kiss me Right"

Roy Haynes Trio - "Prelude to a Kiss"

Keith Jarrett - "When I Fall in Love"

Kate McGarry Trio - "My Funny Valentine"

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Podcast 611: Mardi Gras 2018

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:00:00 +0000

It feels earlier than ever, but Mardi Gras is sweeping New Orleans with the greatest party in America once again. The great food, great crowds, parades, costumes, liquor... and the music! Oh that music!

Which brings once again to the time to bring you an hour plus of New Orleans' finest in Podcast 611. Bon Ton Roulez!

Musical selections include:

Jambalaya Brass Band - "Congo Square"

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - "New Orleanian Love Song"

Donald Harrison - "Cissy Strut"

Dirty Dozen Brass Band - "Bongo Beep"

Lee Dorsey - "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further"

Galactic (featuring Allen Toussaint) - "Bacchus"

Irvin Mayfield - "Ninth Ward Blues"

Trombone Shorty - "In the 6th"

Harry Connick Jr - "Oh My NOLA"

Hot 8 Brass Band - "New Orleans, After the City"

Allen Toussaint - "Po' Boy Walk"

Nicholas Payton - "Wild Man Blues"

The Gaturs - "Gator Bait"

Rebirth Brass Band - "What Goes Around Comes Around"

Wynton Marsalis - "Down Home with Homey"



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Podcast 610: A Conversation with Kate McGarry & Keith Ganz

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 17:00:00 +0000

With six critically acclaimed CDs and a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal CD Kate McGarry has become recognized as a jazz artist who brings authenticity and vitality to every song regardless of genre. Downbeat Magazine cited McGarry as 'Rising Star' vocalist for the past 9 years, including a recent  #1 Rising Star Female Vocalist. In addition to her own work, her 2013 collaboration with John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, Songs I Like A Lot, was lauded as a milestone in contemporary vocal jazz, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Arrangement For A Vocalist. Collaborations with Ryan Truesdel and Jeremy Fox have resulted in great learning opportunities as well as additional Grammy nominations, awards and accolades. 

Kate currently lives in Durham North Carolina with husband/guitarist Keith Ganz. The couple have teamed with Gary Versace as the Kate McGarry Trio to release The Subject Tonight is Love, an ambitious exploration of love in different ways and moods. Mixing a variety os sounds, and textures, and featuring Ms. McGarry’s always beguiling vocal story-telling, the CD is among her finest moments. The Trio will play two sets at the Jazz Standard in New York on Valentine’s Day, in what is sure to be a very hot ticket.

I spoke with Kate and Keith by telephone from their home in Durham, where they were digging out from an unusual winter storm. We talked about the ways The Subject Tonight is Love came together, how they approach classic tunes, and about her work with great arrangers like Hollenback, Fox and Truesdell. Musical selections include “Mr. Sparkle/What A Difference a Day Made”, “Secret Love” and “Climb Down/Whiskey You’re the Devil” from The Subject Tonight is Love and “Wichita Lineman” from John Hollenbeck’s Songs I Like A Lot CD.

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Podcast 608: A Conversation with Bobo Stenson

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 01:04:32 +0000

One of the oft-overlooked stars of the ECM roster is pianist Bobo Stenson. The Swedish composer-performer has been the anchor of a series of outstanding piano trios over the past forty years, and his latest band has produced one of his finest recordings yet, Contra la Indecision mixes originals with 20th century classical music re-imaginings, all with that distinctive ECM sound. Stenson has been working with Anders Jormin (Double Bass) and Jon Fält (Drums) for more than a decade, and they continue to create music that uses their instruments not in the proto-typical hard swinging style, nor in the sometimes bombastic approach of groups like the Bad Plus. Instead, this is well thought-out introspective jazz, moving with a pulse rather than a crash.

Bobo has played with most of the heavies of the ECM canon over the years, including Jan Garbarek, Don Cherry, Paul Motian, and Tomasz Stanko. He was a key member of the group that rejuvenated Charles Lloyd, making five great albums from 1989 to 1996, Bassist Jormin played on four of those releases, most notably the stirring Canto.

I spoke with Bobo on the day Cancion Contra la Indecision was formally released, and we talked about how the trio records and how he integrates pieces by Bartok and Satie into the album, He spoke warmly of his time with Charles Lloyd.

Podcast 607 is my conversation with Bobo Stenson, featuring musical selections from  Contra la Indecision, including “Doubt Thou the Stars” and “Wedding Song from Poniky ”, along with Anders Jormin’s “Little Peace” from the Charles Lloyd Quartet’s All My Relations CD.

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Podcast 609: A Conversation with James Weidman

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:44:00 +0000

We kick off Black History Month with a conversation with pianist-organist-composer James Weidman, who plumbs the depth of the Negro Spiritual, the "sorrow songs" of slavery on his new album Spiritual Impressions. "Impressions" is an important word, as he and his band, featuring vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd, spin new and different arrangements for familiar tunes. In the hands of this group, even a classic like "Wade in the Water" comes off as something new.

Weidman has a long history of working with spiritual music, including the fine duet album he made with Jay Hoggard a few years back Songs of Spiritual Love. An original member of Joe Lovano's US 5 group, and accompanist for Abbey Lincoln, he has played many roles, and continues to grow and hone his art.

Podcast 609 is our conversation, with musical selections "Wade in the Water" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" from Spiritual Impressions, plus a track from Tamuz Nissim's new CD Echoes of a Heartbeat, "Melody Shade", on which Weidman played piano.

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Podcast 607: A Conversation with Jimmy Katz

Sat, 20 Jan 2018 19:38:20 +0000

Renowned photographer and recording engineer Jimmy Katz is launching Giant Step Arts, an innovative, artist-focused non-profit organization with a very simple goal - to help jazz musicians get the support they need for their most creative work. Giant Step Arts will launch with two nights at New York City’s Jazz Gallery on January 21-22, presenting four sets by The Johnathan Blake Trio featuring saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Linda Oh

Giant Step Arts will present unique live performances by some of today’s most innovative jazz artists, sharing their Intimacy and emotional intensity with the audience. A renowned engineer, Katz will also record the concerts, print CDs and provide digital downloads directly to the musicians to sell themselves. In addition, the musicians will be well-compensated for their performances and own their own masters.

Photography will also play a key role in every Giant Step Arts presentation with supporting slideshows or gallery exhibitions that will be focused on visually revealing the inner nature of each artist.

I spoke with Jimmy as the project was coming close to fruition.  As an award-winning photographer he is no stranger to the jazz scene, having documented the lives and music of the most illustrious jazz musicians performing in New York City over the past two and a half decades. We talked about his lifetime love of jazz, and how he hopes Giant Steps Arts will be the catalyst for some of the most memorable and exciting music of the future. Giant Steps Arts is a nonprofit organization and can donate through Fractured Atlas.

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Song of the Day: "Martin was a Man, a Real Man"

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 17:34:46 +0000

To honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King on the anniversary of his birth, here is the Official Straight No Chaser song of the holiday - “Martin was a Man, a Real Man” as recorded by Oliver Nelson in 1969. The band for the recording included Nelson, Pearl Kaufmann and Roger Kellaway (piano); Chuck Domanico (bass); John Guerin and Roy Haynes (drums); Frank Stroizer and John Gross (sax) and Bob Bryant (trumpet).  Perhaps no time in recent memory is it more necessary for all Americans to consider Dr. King's legacy, and state of race relations in the United States than today.

“Martin was a Man, a Real Man” was released on Nelson’s Black, Brown and Beautiful album in 1970 on the Flying Dutchman label. Considered to be one of Nelson’s hippest releases, the album continued Nelson’s move from blues-based jazz arrangements to cinematic, nearly stream-of-consciousness concept albums. With tracks with titles like “Lamb of God” and “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come”, and the sounds of sirens, rioting and unrest, the album comes across as a deeply felt response to Dr. King’s assassination. Even hipper – and more controversial – was the completely nude torso of a lovely black woman on the cover, coming close to a full frontal reveal.

For a previous podcast tribute to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, click here. For a 2008 podcast of tunes from Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra, Grant Green, Cecil Payne, Horace Silver, and the Blind Boys of Alabama that are appropriate for the day, click here., and for a 2014 Podcast, click here.

The Official Straight No Chaser Song of New Year's Day

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 17:00:00 +0000

New Year's Day - a day of hangovers, resolution writing, college football games, and general recovery. Nancy and I are off to her Cousin Jimmy's open house for an afternoon of family, cut-throat board games, college bowl games that actually matter, and polite grazing of potluck.

A happy new year to one and all - let's toast 2014 with a verse or two of "Let's Start the New Year Right" by Irving Berlin, sung here by that great crooner (and underrated influence on all jazz singers), Bing Crosby:

One minute to midnight, one minute to go
One minute to say good-bye before we say hello

Let's start the new year right, twelve o'clock tonight
When they dim the light, let's begin

Kissing the old year out
Kissing the new year in

Let's watch the old year die with a fond good-bye
And our hopes as high as a kite

How can our love go wrong if
We start the new year right?

The Official Straight No Chaser Song of New Year's Eve

Sun, 31 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

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 Lea DeLaria, who may be best known  to you as a member of the stellar cast of Orange is the New Black. Her album Be A Santa is well worth a listen during the holiday season. Check back to previous year's New Year's Eve postings for other renditions.

A happy and healthy New Year to one and all. 2018 HAS to be a better year than 2017, right? Of course I sais that last year about 2017.  Optimism!!!

Noted in Passing 2017

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

2017 has again been a cruel year for musical passings. The jazz world lost more than its share of  legendary artists, including singers Jon Hendricks, Keely Smith and Al Jarreau; pianist Muhal Richard Abrams; drummers Sonny Murray and Ben Riley (Thelonious Monk); pianist Geri Allen; producer-arranger David Axelrod; flautist Dave Valentin; drummer Mickey Roker (MJQ); saxophonist Arthur Blythe and pioneering electric guitarist Larry Coryell.

Others noted in passing include trombonist Roswell Rudd; producer George Avakian; singer-pianist Barbara Carroll; guitarist Chuck Loeb; singer Della Reese; bandleader Larry Elgart; Brazilian percussionist Laudir de Oliveira (Sergio Mendes, Marcus Valle); drummer-singer Grady Tate; DJ Helen Borgers; trombonist Wendell Eugene; trumpeter Rod Mason; photographers Terry Cryer and Chuck Stewart; percussionist Charles “Bobo” Shaw (Black Artists’ Group); and South African singer Thandi Klaasen.

Also, producer Tommy LiPuma; writer Nat Hentoff; pianists Fumio Karashima, Avo Uvezian, Egil Kapstad, and Graham Wood; producer Eric Miller; bassists Don Payne, John Shifflett, and Sal Cuevas (Fania All-Stars); and singers Aloysius Gordon, Chris Murrell (Count Basie), Ray Phiri, and Frank Holder.

Also, guitarist Bern Nix (Ornette Coleman); drummer Bill Dowdy (Three Sounds); trumpeter Phil Cohran (Sun Ra, AACM); saxophonist-educator Andy McGhee (Lionel Hampton); saxophonists Stan Robinson, Dave Pell, Lou Gare, and Atle Hammer; drummer Kim Plainfield; avant-garde pianist and composer Tom McClung; guitarist Errol Dyers and pianist Theo Bophela.

Among those non-musical individuals who left this mortal coil and had an effect on my life during their time here were: poets Derek Walcott and John Ashberry; playwright Sam Shepard; journalists Jimmy Breslin and Lillian Ross; authors Michael Bond (“Paddington Bear”) and  Robert Pirsig (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”); actors Adam West (“Batman”), Mary Tyler Moore, Robert Guillaume, Nelson Ellis (“True Blood”),Bill Paxton, Joseph Bologna, Miguel Ferrer, John Heard, Roger Moore, Dick Gautier (“Get Smart”), John Hurt, and Harry Dean Stanton; musicians Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, J. Geils, Walter Becker (Steely Dan), David Cassidy, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Malcolm Young (AC/DC), Glen Campbell, Barbara Cook, Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks (Allman Brothers Band) and Clyde Stubblefield (drummer for James Brown); film director Jonathan Demme; baseball players Don Baylor and Roy Halliday; comedians Jerry Lewis, Dick Gregory and Don Rickles; game show host Monty Hall; magazine publisher High Hefner; and essayist John Berger (“Ways of Seeing”).

All will be missed.


The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Day: "Peace"

Mon, 25 Dec 2017 15:00:00 +0000

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 live version recorded by Norah from the Deluxe version of her latest CD, Day Breaks, which marked her return to creating a jazz sound. A video 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
Don't say that it can't be done
With a new point of view, life's true meaning comes to you
And the freedom you seek is won
Peace is for everyone

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.

The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Eve

Sun, 24 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

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....

The Jazzbo 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

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!”

Podcast 606: A Few of My Favorite Things 2017

Sun, 17 Dec 2017 19:57:46 +0000

It’s time once again for me to close out the year with my annual “A Few of My Favorite Things” podcast. This is the chance I get to go back through the music I have had the privilege to listen to during the year, and present some of my favorites to you. I prefer not to think of this as a true “Best of” list, but rather a way of commenting and making recommendations to you on those that caught my fancy and earned repeat playings on my stereo in 2017. I created five somewhat arbitrary categories for my presentation to allow me to highlight veteran performers, newcomers, tribute albums or projects, special collaborations, and reissued or archival releases. This year was especially difficult, and I think  you’ll enjoy my choices. And they are: New Things from Old Friends Matt Wilson – Salt and Honey: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg Sean Jones – Live from Jazz at the Bistro Jimmy Greene -  Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 Jane Ira Bloom – Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition - Agrima Those Hitting Their Stride Tyshawn Storey - Verilisimitude Brian Landrus Orchestra - Generations Noah Preminger – Meditations on Freedom Linda May Han Oh – Walk Against the Wind Christian Sands - Reach Tributes to Musical Greats John Beasley’s Monk’estra - `Monk’estra, Vol. 2 Organissimo – B3atles: A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, feat. Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis – The Music of John Lewis Various Artists – For Oscar, With Love Gregory Porter – Nat King Cole & Me Reissue or Archival Jaco Pastorious – Truth, Liberty & Soul – Live in NYC: The Complete 1983 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording Wes Montgomery – In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording Stan Getz Quartet – Newport Jazz Festival 1964 Alice Coltrane - World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane  Thelonious Monk - Les Liasones Dangeruese Collaborations Omer Avital and Avi Avital – Avital Meets Avital  Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte with Iggy Pop – Loneliness Road Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau - Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonclaves- Outra Coisa  Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield – Hudson 2017 was also the year that JazzTimes magazine’s readers chose “Straight No Chaser” as Best Podcast for the first time. This was an honor beyond anything I had hoped when I started this project more than a decade ago. To me, it means that I’m doing something right on my end, and I hope I can keep doing it well into the future. A Happy New Year to you all! Musical selections for Podcast 606 include: Matt Wilson - "As  Wave Follows Wave" from Salt and Honey: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg Brian Landrus Orchestra - "Arise" from Generations Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, feat. Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis – "Spanish Steps" from The Music of John Lewis Alice Coltrane - "Rama Rama" from World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane  Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield – "Up on Cripple Creek" from Hudson[...]

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Podcast 605: The Annual Nuthin' But Christmas Podcast - 2017 Edition

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 15:00:00 +0000

Straight No Chaser is getting into the holiday spirit with this Podcast post! I don’t call it “Nuthin’ But Christmas” for nuthin ‘ – here’s an hour of Christmas themed jazz for you to enjoy while running those holiday errands, decorating the house, or best of all, sitting before a fire and sipping a cocktail with a loved one.

This year’s mix includes tracks from some new Holiday releases like Champian Fulton’s Christmas with Champian and Leslie Odom Jr.’s Simply Christmas; a pair from recent takes on the Great American Songbook (Seal’s Standards and Gregory Porter’s Nat King Cole & Me) and a bunch of my favorites from over the years, from Sidney Bechet to Chet Baker to Eric Reed. I even include a few tracks that don’t necessarily scream “Christmas!”, like Ted Rosenthal’s “Snowscape”. We’ve got pianos and we’ve got vocals, a bit of gospel and some Nawlins spice from Dr. John. I think you’re going to enjoy it!

In case you want to queue up a plethora of past Christmas podcasts, going all the way back to 2009, click through here to get Podcasts 555, 512, 511, 400, 324, 248, 199 and 172.

This year’s Podcast includes:

Champian Fulton – “Christmas Time is Here”

Wycliffe Gordon - “Greensleeves (What Child is This?)”

Ted Rosenthal Trio – “Snowscape”

Dr. John – “Silent Night”

Paul Bley with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

Leslie Odom Jr. – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Sidney Bechet – “Spirit Holiday”

Stan Kenton – “We Three Kings of Orient Are”

Warren Barker – “Itty Bitty Baby (A Christmas Spiritual}”

Seal – “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”

Diana Krall with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra – “White Christmas”

Benny Green – “A Merrier Christmas”

Jimmy McGriff – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

Chet Baker – “Winter Wonderland (78 Take)”

Eric Reed – “Santa Baby”

Gregory Porter – “The Christmas Song”

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Christmas Gifts, Stocking Stuffers and More

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:27:17 +0000

Whether you are looking for a stocking stuffer, an Eighth Night of Chanukah gift, or just want to give yourself a cool present, here are some newly released holiday CDs that are worth parking under the tree or in the shadow of the menorah:

Podcast 605 will givr you a listen to Champian Fulton’s Christmas, With Champian which allows the underrated vocalist a chance to lend her talents to some Yuletide staples. I also give you a taste of Leslie Odom, Jr.’s Simply Christmas, which features the Hamilton alumnus in a soulful mood.

Dave Koz & Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas is the sixth holiday CD the smooth sax player has released. Joined by long time collaborators Rick Braun, Peter White and especially David Benoit, Koz has again carved out a special place in the jazz holiday pantheon.

If you like his sound let me point you toward Luke Sellick’s Christmas EP. The Canadian multi-instrumentalist is joined by singer Sheena Rattai for a few tunes, and the sole problem with the release is that it’s too darn short! C’mon Luke – let’s have a full CD next time! This is way too enjoyable for just a handful of tracks.

Herb Alpert has enjoyed something of a revival these past few years, and he brings together a 45 piece orchestra and 32 voice choir for The Christmas Wish. If it’s not the jazziest Herb has been, it is nice to hear that familiar trumpet sound on Christmas classics.

Lastly, Ultimate Christmas is not a new collection from Frank Sinatra, but it is a great sampler of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ holiday tunes. Particularly enjoyable are lesser played tunes like “I Wouldn’t Trade Christmas” and “A Baby Just Like You” That will be sure to make spirits bright.

But wait - a Chanukah Jazz CD? Really? Oh yes – Eyal Vilner and his Big Band have recorded a wonderful mix of Jewish, Afro-Cuban, Middle Eastern and Brazilians sounds on Hanukkah, an album that uses traditional Hanukkah tunes as jumping off points for musical exploration. A real winner.

Podcast 604: A Conversation with Jane Ira Bloom

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

The use of poetry by jazz artists as inspiration or collaboration is one of the most welcome trends of the past few years. There is often a great link between the poet and the musician, as they play with shaded tones and meanings, textures and allusions, following or breaking rules as suits their artistic goals.  Jane Ira Bloom’s Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson matches one of our great soprano sax players with the timeless poetry of one of America’s greatest – and most enigmatic – poets, with great success.

Ms. Bloom has found inspiration of her music in the visual arts and dance before, and the written word suits her as a leaping off point for composition and performance. Backed by her long-time band - Dawn Clement on piano; Mark Helias on bass; and Bobby Previte on drums – the new music has much of the bouncing sounds we have come to expect from Jane, sometimes playful and at other times with a sense of meditation. Her rhythm section steps it up on tracks like “Big Bill” and “Mind Gray River.” It all comes together perfectly with “Hymn: You Wish You Had Eyes in Your Pages,” with each instrumentalist “preaching” their say to great effect.

Wild Lines wisely comes as a double CD set, with actress Deborah Rush providing narration over the tracks to make a different listening experience, one that enhances the music and brings home the thematic elements perfectly. For me, this is one of the best releases of the year.

Podcast 604 is my conversation with Jane Ira Bloom, as we discuss the project, her life-long connection with the soprano sax, and she tells the story of the time the band performed this music in Emily Dickinson’s home, with moving results. Musical selections from Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson include “Hymn: You Wish You Had Eyes in Your Pages,” ”One Note for One Bird,” and with Deborah Rush, “A Star Not Far Enough.”

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Podcast 603: A Conversation with Adam Rudolph

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Adam Rudolph continues to create new and wonderful soundscapes with every project in which he gets involved. This year has seen him finish his trilogy that began with U: Vibrational presents The Epic Botanical Beat Suite, by releasing Morphic Resonances and The Glare of the Tiger. While each of these three albums has a different vibe, and is performed by different musicians, there is a commonality in the music’s spirit, yearning quality and intellect. This is modern music written and played at a very high level, whether performed by string quartets and solos in Morphic Resonances, or his post-fusion electric band Moving Pictures in The Glare of the Tiger.

Rudolph has been mixing what we might call World Music with jazz and Western Art Music for years. His study of African drumming and Indonesian music led him to become a top hand drummer, bringing third world sounds to the music in his head. What that actually is can be hard to describe.  Liner notes for The Glare of the Tiger reference the works of Ornette Coleman, Yosef Lateef, Roy Haynes, Don Cherry, Sam Rivers, and even Jon Hassell as leaping off points for its content, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you heard a little electric Miles Davis, Shakti and even Brian Eno in there as well.  Our conversation touches on a wide variety of musical influences, from the music of the Mbuti pygmies of the African rainforest, to the late Muhal Richard Abrams and the A.A.C.M. to his long-time friend, the late Yusef Lateef.

Podcast 603 features our conversation as well as selections from The Glare of the Tiger including "Rotations" and "Dialogics" and “Coincidentia Oppositorum” from Morphic Resonances. I think you will find this a heady, if stimulating,  conversation.

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Podcast 602: A Conversation with Roswell Rudd

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Roswell Rudd is an undisputed master of the trombone. For me, he is that rare musician who can simultaneously straddle two wildly different musical worlds. He can keep one foot firmly in the musical school where he started, playing Dixieland and Standards; while at the same time being able to play Free Jazz with the wildest cats out there today.  As he moves through his Eighties, he is still a force to be reckoned with.

Now with the RareNoise label, and recording at Avant-wizard Jamie Saft’s studio in the bucolic Upstate New York, Rudd has participated in two excellent new albums. The first is the Free Jazz inspired and highly improvised quartet release Strength & Power. Roswell seems right at home with pianist Saft, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Bazals Pandi, players young enough to be his actual children, as opposed to his musical children. It’s an album that grows on you with repeated listenings, as it becomes clear how well the four listen and respond to one another.

Embrace goes in another direction entirely. Recording with double bassist Ken Filiano, and pianist Lafayette Harris in a drummer-less trio, he has singer Fay Victor to carry the melodies of eight classics, ranging from Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” to Ellington and Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” to “House of the Rising Sun.” All seem to follow in a traditional manner, yet the arrangements, particularly Rudd’s solos and Ms. Victor’s readings of the lyrics, make them stand out.

Podcast 602 is my conversation with Roswell Rudd, as we talk about the two albums, and he remembers his classic records with the likes of Archie Shepp. Musical selections include “Something to Live For,” "Can't We Be Friends," and “Pannonica” from Embrace, the "The Bedroom" from Strength & Power.

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Podcast 601: A Conversation with Dave Bennett

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Dave Bennett’s first album for the Mack Avenue label, Don’t Be That Way, established the clarinetist as a talented throwback, the kind of player who could still get you excited to hear “Sing. Sing, Sing” for the umpteenth time. A great entertainer, where he shows his prowess on guitar and piano, Bennett still had to show me that he could do more than bring swing into the 21st century.

Blood Moon, his latest release, does just that, and more.  More than half of the CD is made up of Bennett compositions, written with his long-time arranger Shelly Berger. They range from the moody “Heavy Heart” and the title track to the delightful Nawlins infused “Down in Honky Tonk Town”, they show Bennett stretching himself, and becoming a more fully rounded artist. His covers are of tunes that are all too often recorded – did we really need another “Hallelujah”, even if there hadn’t been one for clarinet? Nevertheless, he and his band find a way to make even “In My Life” fresh.

Podcast 601 is my conversation with Dave, as we talk about the new CD, the audience he has developed, and how he came to love swing music. Musical selections from Blood Moon the title track, “Heavy Heart,” “Down in Honky Tonk Town,” and “In My Life.”

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Podcast 600: A Conversation with Rudresh Mahanthappa

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 18:55:19 +0000

I can’t think of a musician with whom I’d rather celebrate Podcast 600 than Rudresh Mahanthappa. Long one of jazz’s top saxophone players, he has helped build a jazz program at Princeton University, while helping raise a young family. He’s also extremely articulate, and a delightful person with whom to have a give and take conversation.

Rudresh toured steadily behind his last CD, Bird Calls, which was universally praised. I chose it as one of the best releases of 2015, and have been patiently waiting to see what he would do next. So, it’s a thrill to see that he has returned to his collaboration with Rez Abbasi and Dan Weiss known as the Indo-Pak coalition.  They released Apti in 2008, and have played live, but not recorded as a trio since then.

Agrima is their new release, and it reflects the musical growth the three players have experienced over the years. The Indian beats and sounds are still there, but now electronic effects have made Rez’s guitar and Rudresh’s alto sound like a myriad of instruments. Weiss, already a tabla master, has added drum kit to some of the tracks, bringing a more Western sound. When Rudresh says he wants people to listen to Agrima as if it were a rock record, he’s not far from the truth.

Podcast 600 let’s Rudresh explain how the group works together, and how they arrived at this modified sound. Musical selections from Agrima include the title track, “Snap” and “Revati.”


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2018 Grammy Nominees Announced

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 01:49:08 +0000

Hearty congratulations go out to those who were honored with Grammy Award nominations today. In the Jazz categories, the nominees are: Best Improvised Jazz Solo • “Can't Remember Why” - Sara Caswell, soloist • “Dance Of Shiva” - Billy Childs, soloist • “Whisper Not” - Fred Hersch, soloist • “Miles Beyond” - John McLaughlin, soloist • “Ilimba” - Chris Potter, soloist Best Jazz Vocal Album • The Journey - The Baylor Project • A Social Call - Jazzmeia Horn • Bad Ass And Blind - Raul Midón • Porter Plays Porter - Randy Porter Trio With Nancy King • Dreams And Daggers - Cécile McLorin Salvant Best Jazz Instrumental Album • Uptown, Downtown - Bill Charlap Trio • Rebirth - Billy Childs • Project Freedom - Joey DeFrancesco & The People • Open Book - Fred Hersch • The Dreamer Is The Dream - Chris Potter Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album • MONK'estra Vol. 2 - John Beasley • Jigsaw - Alan Ferber Big Band • Bringin' It - Christian McBride Big Band • Homecoming - Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne • Whispers On The Wind - Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge Best Latin Jazz Album • Hybrido - From Rio To Wayne Shorter - Antonio Adolfo • Oddara - Jane Bunnett & Maqueque • Outra Coisa - The Music Of Moacir Santos - Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves • Típico - Miguel Zenón • Jazz Tango - Pablo Ziegler Trio   Jazz-related nominations in other categories included nods for Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, Jeff Lorber Fusion and Antonio Sanchez in Best Contemporary Instrumental Album; Chuck Owen, John Beasley, Nate Smith and Chris Walden in Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella; and Jorge Calandrelli, Joel McNeely, and the team of Shelly Berg, Gregg Field, Gordon Goodwin & Clint Holmes in Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals. Jim Anderson, Darcy Proper and Jane Ira Bloom grabbed a nomination for Surround Sound Album for Early Americans, and Anat Cohen picked up a second nomination for World Music for "Rosa Dos Ventos" from her collaboration with Trio Brasileiro,[...]

The Official SNC Song of Thanksgiving Day - "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)"

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 15:00:00 +0000

We all have much to be thankful for today, and so let us begin the day by sharing the sentiments of this song, written by Irving Berlin and sung here by Diana Krall, the Official Straight No Chaser Song of Thanksgiving Day:

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

The Official Straight No Chaser Song for the Day Before Thanksgiving - "Giblet Gravy"

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 15:00:00 +0000

Twenty-four hours to go before the big Thanksgiving feast! What would go better with some turkey than some "Giblet Gravy", courtesy of guitarist George Benson.

Those who only know Benson from his smooth jazz or Top 40 recordings don't realize that he was one of the funkiest and fastest guitar slingers in his early days. Here he plays with a team of top notch musicians in 1968 sessions, including Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Pepper Adams (sax) and Billy Cobham (drums). It's worth noting that three of the four - and Benson as well - are all Miles Davis Alumni.

Click here for a tune well suited to those last minute preparations around the kitchen. Cue it up and let the gravy fly!

Podcast 599: A Conversation with Gary Meek

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 17:00:00 +0000

When you look at Gary Meek’s name on this podcast, you might wonder if you had heard him play before. The answer is an emphatic yes – a session and sideman par excellence, Meek has spent most of his career playing saxophone and other reed instruments for the likes of Airto Moreira & Flora Purim, Jeff Lorber, Brian Bromberg, and Dave Weckl. As a leader, he now has six albums to his credit, the most recent of which, Originals, has given him an opportunity to not only showcase his chops, but his song writing abilities.

Meek was able to call upon his many friends and connections to put together a top-notch band to interpret his tunes. It begins with drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, a fellow teacher at Monterey Jazz programs, and continues with bassist Bromberg, pianist Mitchell Forman, and guitarist Bruce Forman. Throw in guest spots by Randy Brecker, Michael Lent, and Airto and you’ve got a killer lineup playing great tunes.

Podcast 599 features my conversation with Gary as we talk about his new CD, his use of local musicians from the Monterey area for live gigs, and even how he came to contribute a solo for Green Day’s Warning album.  Musical selections from Originals include “What Happened to My Good Shoes?”, “Suite for Maureen” (dedicated to his wife), and “Mr. D.G.”, a tribute to the late Dave Grolnick.  From his days with Airto and Flora Purim comes “Banana Jam”, a track from the star-studded Killer Bees album, a disc that featured Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Mark Egan, Stanley Clarke, Hiram Bullock - and Gary Meek.

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Podcast 598: Spooky Songs for Hallowe'en

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 16:00:00 +0000

After something of a hiatus, Podcast 598 marks the return to Straight no Chaser of another set of Spooky Songs for Hallowe’en. Some years I’ve focused on a theme (2014 had a Devils theme), and other years it’s just been a grab bag of musical tricks and treats. If you are interested in checking out previous year’s selections for a Hallowe’en soundtrack, you can download Podcasts 452387 309 , and 240 . 

Here’s hoping all your candy is chocolate, your tricks are few, and your treats many. Musical selections include the very spooky:

Nina Simone - "I Put a Spell On You"

Jackie McLean - "Frankenstein"

Albert Ayler - "Ghosts"

Rosemary Clooney - "The Wobblin' Goblin"

Troy Roberts - "Trick or Treat (Featuring Jeff Tain Watts, Silvano Monasterios & Chris Smith)"

Medeski, Martin & Wood - "Dracula"

Dom Minasi - "The Vampire's Revenge"

Dick Jacobs & His Orchestra - "The Horror of Dracula"

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Podcast 597: A Conversation with Hilary Gardner

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:00:00 +0000

If you are a fan of the female trio Duchess – and readers of this blog know that I am among them – you know that the three talented ladies who make up the band also have solo careers.  One of them, Hilary Gardner, has just released a set of duets with pianist Ehud Asherie on Anzic Records entitled The Late Set.

The title is apt, as the record is permeated by that late night club feel, as the signer and her accompanist make beautiful music. Hilary and Ehud have carefully chosen selections by the masters of the Great American Songbook – Rodgers & Hart, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin – but have chosen tunes that are often hidden gems.  When was the last time you heard “A Ship Without a Sail” by Rodgers & Hart, or the lesser known Arlen-Truman Capote collaboration “I Never Has Seen Snow”? Both are here, and they both are given first-class treatment.

Hilary is currently on tour promoting The Late Set, and working with Duchess for an early December gig at the Jazz Standard in New York. Here’s hoping there’s more exciting music coming our way.

Podcast 597 is my conversation with Hilary Gardner, including musical selections from The Late Set, including yearning takes on “After You’ve Gone” and “I Never Has Seen Snow”; and the witty “Everything I’ve Got.” For good measure, there is a tune from the latest Duchess CD Laughing at Life featuring Hilary’s lead on the Ray Charles cover “Hallelujah I Love Him So.”

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Podcast 594: Dizzy Gillespie 100

Sat, 21 Oct 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Someone on my Facebook feed recently lamented that while we have had epic celebrations of the Birthday Centennials this year of Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk, the fact that this is Dizzy Gillespie’s Birthday Centennial seems to have gone under the radar. It’s been suggested that the heartbreaking story of his friend Charlie Parker, culminating in Bird’s early death, has pushed Gillespie to the back burner when most folks think about be-bop and that great period of jazz exploration. Allow me to be one of the first to correct that omission:

Born John Birks Gillespie on October 21, 1917, “Dizzy” helped create the sound we call Be-Bop with his running mate Parker in the 1930’s. He became a crucial figure in jazz, known as much for his onstage antics, bent trumpet and expanded cheeks as his unique sound and approach to music, most particularly the art of soloing.

Later, he would be one of the first to give Latin Jazz wider exposure, particularly what became known as “Afro-Cuban” jazz. Timeless Gillespie compositions such as “Manteca,” “Guachi Guaro (Soul Sauce),” and of course “A Night in Tunisia,” show how important he was to this sound.

Dizzy eventually became an ambassador for jazz, touring the world on behalf of the United States to share his music, and learn from other musicians and cultures. He died at the age of 75, but his legacy continues. The Jon Faddis-led Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars Band, whose rotating membership celebrates his life and music plays on and on.

Trumpeter and educator Ted Chubb re-joins us for Podcast 594, as he talks about Dizzy’s career, music and importance in jazz history. Musical selections include:

“Manteca” from At Newport

“Oo-Yah-Koo” from The Complete RCA Vicreturns to SNC tor Recordings

“Salt Peanuts” from The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever – Jazz at Massey Hall

“Con Alma” from Bird Songs

 “Groovin’ High”

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Podcast 593: The Sounds of Autumn

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:00:00 +0000

It hasn’t looked much like autumn here in Western Massachusetts until very recently. Here we are almost a month into the season, and Columbus Day weekend has come and gone. The colors just haven’t had the type of vibrancy that we have come to expect. With Hallowe’en just ten days or so away, here’s hoping for some late leaf peeing opportunities.

Autumn has been a popular subject for jazz compositions over the years, from the ever popular “Autumn Leaves” and “Autumn in New York” to some newer tunes of distinction. So, without further ado, here is Podcast 593,  your Autumn soundtrack spectacular, including:

Kurt Elling - "Autumn Serenade"

Steve Khan - "An Eye Over Autumn (For Folon)"

Spyro Gyra - "Autumn of Our Love"

Art Porter - "Autumn in Europe"

Stacey Kent - "'Tis Autumn"

Danilo Perez - "Another Autumn"

Phil Woods - "Autumn Thieves"

Sonny Rollins - "Autumn Nocturne"

Ella Fitzgerald - "Early Autumn"

Michael Colombie - "Autumn Land"

John Coltrane - "Autumn Leaves"

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Podcast 596: Monk 100 - Playing Monk

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Yesterday was Podcast 595, a celebration of the music of Thelonious Monk, as played by Monk solo, and in various groups. Today, it’s Podcast 596, where some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time tackle some of the greatest jazz compositions of all time. Enjoy!


Musical selections include:

 Paul Motian - “Ruby My Dear” from Monk in Motian

Danilo Perez - “Bright Mississippi” from PanaMonk

John Beasley - “Criss Cross” from MONKestra, Vol. 2

Steve Lacey - “Four in One” from Steve Lacey Plays Thelonious Monk

Brad Mehldau - “Monk’s Mood” from 10 Years Solo Live

Bobby McFerrin - “’Round Midnight” from ‘Round Midnight (Soundtrack Recording)

Wynton Marsalis Septet - “Evidence” from Live at the Village Vanguard

T.S. Monk - “Ugly Beauty” from Monk on Monk

Peter Bernstein - “Crepuscule with Nelly/We See” from Signs Live!

Miles Davis - “Straight No Chaser” from Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4


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Podcast 595: Monk 100 - Thelonious, My Old Friend

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 19:10:54 +0000

One hundred years ago today, the man who would forever change the way jazz piano was played was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Thelonious Sphere Monk would go on to be that rare artist whose career spanned almost all of the important historical genres, and who earned the right to be called the “Genius of Modern Music.” But it took a long time for the world to catch up with him. Monk’s family moved to Manhattan when he was four years old, and by his early teens, he was playing stride piano in rent parties and organ at church services. At 18 he had dropped out of high school to pursue music, and had his own group. When drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke tapped him to join the house band as pianist at the renowned Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem in 1941, his career seemed to be taking off for good. Minton’s became ground zero for the Bebop Revolution, which Monk helped create with Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron and Bud Powell. His approach to timing and harmony quickly passed Bebop’s signature stylings, as he added his signature use of an active right hand, interspersing wildly different chords and phrasings. Rather than re-write standards (think the Rhythm Changes) he wrote new and exciting compositions that were known for incorporating slower tempos and imaginative use of space and harmonics, including the classic “’Round Midnight.” Yet it would be years before he was regularly playing outside of New York (with Coleman Hawkins) and not until 1947 that he got to cut his first recordings for Blue Note. He recorded there for five years, making classic recordings that were nonetheless considered commercial failures at the time. In August of 1951, he was falsely arrested for narcotics possession (allegedly covering for Powell) and stripped of his all-important cabaret card. Without that card, he was banned from New York clubs, a crippling financial blow. He still managed a great recorded output, sitting in on memorable sessions with Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, and eventually recording for the Prestige and Riverside labels. Arguably, it was not until 1957, when he got his card back, that he became truly well-known. He had a long residency at the It Club with John Coltrane, and finally achieved some modicum of fame. By 1961, he had formed the great quartet built around saxophonist Charlie Rouse, and three years later became the third jazz musician in history to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.  He continued to write and record actively, both for himself and others, until his death in 1982, two weeks after suffering a stroke. If today many think of Monk mostly as an eccentric, a genius with strange tics and habits, they miss the great joy in listening to the way he plays the most basic melody, making it so that the listener almost always can tell that it is uniquely Monk. Podcast 595 honors the Monk Centennial with an hour of music from across the spectrum of his career. Today the music is played by Monk, solo and with his many groups. Tomorrow, the same tunes are interpreted by many of jazz’s greatest players, from Miles Davis to Paul Motian to John Beasl[...]

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Podcast 592: Introducing Jazz Press

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 22:49:58 +0000

New and innovative ways to distribute music has been utilized by any number of jazz entrepreneurs over the past few years. Think of new and exciting models like SmallsLIVE, a repository of live club performances that can be accessed live or from archives through streaming, or Newvelle Records, with its limited vinyl-only releases by subscription. Add to the list The new venture is a subscription service that releases albums curated exclusively for them by jazz musicians, and attempts to merge the old school experience of holding a record sleeve to read liner notes with 21st century listening habits. The plan is for a monthly music selection to be delivered to subscribers via downloadable MP3 files (the music can also be streamed from their website), while artwork and related materials – from photos to lead sheets - are shipped to the subscriber by “snail mail.” Additional digital content will be available on their website and delivered via email. I spoke with Paul Bey about this exciting model, and he shared his enthusiasm for the project. A long-time jazz lover with a background in digital marketing and analysis, he sees his collaboration with musicians as a perfect way to merge his vocation and avocation. Established musicians, including his friend Kenyatta Beasley, have been working with Paul, and the results will see the light of day this month. Podcast 592 is my conversation with Paul, and an edited musical selection from the first release featuring Kenyatta Beasley’s “Skull Duggery“ is included. For more information on subscribing to, click here.  [...]

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Podcast 591: A Conversation with Uri Gurvich

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 16:00:00 +0000

The music of Israeli-born saxophonist Uri Gurvich weaves a wonderful tapestry of world-wide sounds. Sure, the music in distinctly jazz, but Uri and his quartet, which has been performing together for the past decade, features some of the most prominent voices on the international jazz scene. Besides the Tel Aviv native Gurvich, he has played for more than a decade with Argentinian pianist Leo Genovese, known for his work with Esperanza Spalding; Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov, a member of Joe Lovano's Us Five; and the Cuban drummer Francisco Mela, who holds the much-coveted drum chair in the McCoy Tyner's trio.

Through their first two albums (both released on the Tzadik label), the group has woven sounds from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America into something truly fascinating. On their latest release, Kinship, they have taken it to the next level. Each member of the band makes unique contributions, whether it’s using Middle Eastern modes or Brazilian beats. Together they take “Go Down Moses”, so important to both Jews and African-Americans, to a different and personal place.  This is a CD full of interesting twists and turns, and highly enjoyable.

I spoke with Uri about the new CD, how he sources the far-reaching material the band plays, and his upcoming performances with a large ensemble backing the legendary drummer Billy Cobham. Musical selections in Podcast 591 include “Ha'im Ha'im”; “Twelve Tribes”; “El Chubut” and “Go Down Moses.”

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Podcast 589: A Conversation with Joe Policastro

Sat, 02 Sep 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Jazz musicians have drawn on a myriad of sources for tunes with which they can hone their craft. Whether its Broadway shows, the Great American Songbook, or European Art music, inspiration can stroke from any source.

Chicago-based bassist Joe Policastro and his Trio (guitarist Dave Miller, and drummer Mikel Avery) have made current pop songs and the entire score of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story the basis of their last two albums. With the release of Screen Sounds, they have expanded to television and motion picture soundtracks, Their selections stay away from the tried and true, tackling soap operas, samurai classics and even the themes from Twin Peaks and Taxi. The results are refreshing, as they more often than not turn expectations on their head.

Policastro is active as a composer and arranger, and besides this swinging trio, he leads and co-leads the Gerry Mulligan tribute ensembles, Jeru, and the Mulligan Mosaics Big Band, both for which he has extensively written and arranged. As an educator, he has been a Ravinia Jazz Mentor, a Lecturer of Jazz Studies at DePaul University, a bass instructor at Morton College and the Chicago Academy for the Arts, and he is currently a jazz director at the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory. You can catch the trio at the Chicago club Pops for Champagne every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Podcast 589 is my conversation with Joe, as we talk about how the Trio deconstructs familiar themes into something new and exciting. Musical Selections include “Nadia’s Theme (The Young and the Restless)”, “Angela (Theme from Taxi)” “Summer Kisses, Winter Dreams” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”( or as one listener said to Policastro, “that song from Shrek”).

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Podcast 590: A Conversation with John Beasley

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 01:03:49 +0000

One of last year’s finest releases was John Beasley’s Big Band album MONK’estra, Vol. 1. A master arranger, Beasley put together a who’s who of musicians to turn the Thelonious Monk library of tunes into something more innovative and thought provoking than they had been in years. A pair of Grammy nominations followed, so it was hoped that an encore set would soon appear.

Wait no longer.

MONK’estra, Vol. 2 is here, and it was well worth the wait. Digging deeper into the Monk  catalogue, and allowing members of the band and select special guests to stretch out a bit have made this is a delight. Whether it’s Dontae Winslow turning “Brake’s Sake” into a whirlwind with his trumpet solo and rap interlude; a sultry “Dear Ruby” artfully sung by Dianne Reeves; or the innovative medley of “Ugly Beauty” and “Pannonica”, this is an album that rewards a careful listener at every turn.

We’ve come to expect this sort of top notch work from John Beasley, who has earned acclaim for his work as Music Director for The Thelonious Monk Institute gala concerts. Every April 30th, he produces and directs the International Jazz Day concert in a global city bringing together all-star jazz artists to perform. The White House concert "Jazz at the White House" earned Beasley an Emmy nomination for Best Musical Direction.

Beyond his direction and arranging, he writes and records television and movie scores, and finds time to work in small ensembles as well.  He has been part of touring bands for Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Sergio Mendes, as well as rock bands like Steely Dan. He never ceases to amaze.

Podcast 590 is my conversation with John about the MONK’estra, which I had the pleasure of seeing live at the venerable Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London earlier this summer. Musical selections from the new CD include “Brake’s Sake”, “Ugly Beauty/Pannonica” and “Evidence”.

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Podcast 588: Jazz for the Dog Days 2017

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 12:00:00 +0000

It's past the midpoint in summer in New England, so why not some summer themed music for these lazy, hot days? Today is August 16th, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of Dogs, so why not celebrate the "Dog Days"?

The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the "Dog Star" because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), as well as the brightest star in the night sky. The term "Dog Days" was used earlier by the Greeks in Aristotle's Physics.

The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true, owing to procession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a brown dog (Apologies to Angus and Hamish, my two miniature dachshunds!) at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

I've done five previous Dog Day postings,  Podcast 292Podcast 225,  Podcast 442,   Podcast 492 and Podcast 546.  if you'd like some more summer-themed music. There's a few repeats between these posts, but what the hey. It’s all grooving or relaxing music for soaking in those wonderful warming rays. As they sat on Game of Thrones, "Winter is Coming", so let's grab all the warmth we can get.

Podcast 588 features the following uninterrupted hour of music, all with summer or relaxing themes, featuring a few new tunes I've recently received from upcoming or imminent releases:

Dave Valentin - "Passion Fruit"

Elan Trotman's Tropicality - "100 Degrees"

Bob Baldwin - "Hot Fun in the Sun"

Euge Groove - "Let's Chill"

Thievery Corporation - "Decollage"

Sheryl Bailey - "The Hissing of Summer Lawns"

Benny Carter - "Summer Serenade"

Cyrus Chestnut - "Easy Living"

Russell Malone - "Time for the Dancers"

Bob Baldwin - "Summer's Over"


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Podcast 587: A Conversation with Gerald Cannon

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 16:00:00 +0000

If the question is, what bass player has played with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner for a longer period of time than anyone else, the answer would be…

Gerald Cannon.

Yes, the name might not be as familiar to you as those of his iconic bandmates, but for the past thirty years, Cannon has been the bass mainstay for bands led by Roy Hargrove, Jones (until his death in 2004) and currently with Tyner. He’s recorded with the likes of Hargrove (and his string-laden Moment to Moment album), Jeremy Pelt, Russell Malone, and Steve Turre. His eponymous first solo album was released in 2003, so his latest CD, Combinations, is a long overdue treat.

It only takes the few opening moments of “Every Man is a King,” with Cannon soloing artfully before bringing in the band, to see that he is carrying the torch for the kind of bass playing that his mentors and idols mastered. You hear Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Sam Jones, and especially Milt Hinton in his subtle groove, firm control and melodious touch. After decades of being the sideman for top players, he’s allowing them to return the favor on Combinations, and so there are strong contributions from old friends Gary Bartz, Malone, Turre, Steve Slagle and  especially drummer Francisco Mela. Mela holds down the drummer’s chair in Mc Coy Tyner’s group, and the chemistry he and Cannon have developed over the years shines through on any number of tunes.

Podcast 587 is my conversation with Gerald, as he talks about the new CD, and tells wonderful stories about what he learned from his time with Hargrove, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. He also speaks wistfully about the late Geri Allen, as Cannon was one of the final musicians to play with her before her untimely death earlier this year. Musical selections from Combinations include the Cannon penned “Amanda’s Bossa” (written for his late mother); “Every Man is a King;” and the classic “Prelude to a Kiss”, which features solos by Russell Malone and Steve Slagle.

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Podcast 586: JackDeJohnette @ 75

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 14:00:00 +0000

Seventy-five years ago today, one of the great drummers and percussionists of the modern jazz era was born in Chicago, Illinois. Jack DeJohnette has gone on to play with most of the important jazz musicians who lean toward the genres of the avant-garde and fusion, syncopating the wildest electric music and most controlled acoustic sounds of our time. DeJohnette cut his teeth in the Chicago Avant-Garde, playing with musicians who would form the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (Roscoe Mitchell, Richard Abrams) and Sun Ra. He moved to New York in 1965, and became a member of the genre-defying Charles Lloyd Quartet that included pianist Keith Jarrett.  After stints with Bill Evans and Stan Getz, DeJohnette was tapped by Miles Davis to replace Tony Williams in Davis’ forays into electric music. t’s DeJohnette as the primary drummer on the classic Bitches’ Brew, as well as on the incendiary live albums recorded at the Fillmore East and West. Any of the controversial Davis recordings from 1969 to 1971 – and there are many – showcase the importance of DeJohnette as the anchor of an often unstructured and even undisciplined sound that revolutionized jazz. DeJohnette left Davis and began a series of projects that often featured him as leader. His most memorable recordings were on the ECM label, and those bands – the Gateway Trio with John Abercrombie and Dave Holland;  the quartets Directions and New Directions;  and especially Special Edition with the first major recordings of David Murray, Arthur Blythe, and Chico Freeman – are all the stuff of jazz legend. No less impressive was his reunion with Keith Jarrett, as the core of Jarrett’s Standards Trio with Gary Peacock, a chair he still occupies after some twenty recordings (The Complete Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note is required listening). His work on Pat Metheny’s 80-81 allowed the guitarist to move to the next level in exploring his sound.  He remains a major force to this day, most recently as a crucial member of the super-group Hudson with John Scofield, Larry Grenadier and John Medeski. Perhaps my favorite DeJohnette album is Parallel Realities, a joyful album from 1990 with Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock. The live album   Parallel Realities Live added Dave Holland to the mix, and the quartet memorably reaches into the Hancock and Metheny repertoire. So happy birthday Jack and here is a little over an hour of music from the many sessions he has recorded, both as leader and sideman. Musical selections include: Special Edition –  Title Track from Tin Can Alley Jack DeJohnette -  “Nine Over Reggae” from Parallel Realities Miles Davis – “Double Image” from The Complete Bitches’ Brew Jack DeJohnette – “Museum of Time from Made in Chicago Joe Henderson – “Isotope” from Power to the People Jack DeJohnette, John Patitucci & Danilo Perez –“Ode to MJQ” from Music We Are Keith Jarrett – “It Never Entered My Mind” from Standards, [...]

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Podcast 585: A Conversation with Ariel Pocock

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 16:00:00 +0000

It was about 18 months ago that I spoke with pianist-singer Ariel Pocock (check Podcast 505) about her long-delayed first album, Touchstone. A graduate of the prestigious University of Miami Frost School of Music and a double-award winner at the Essentially Ellington Competition at Lincoln Center for Outstanding Pianist and Outstanding Vocalist, Ariel and her first album showed real promise, and I was pleased when Living in Twilight (Justin Time Records) came across my desk.

The album shows her growth as a pianist, as she leads a working trio composed of Jim Doxas (drums) and Adrian Vedady (bass) through jazz standards, pop covers, and a few originals as well. If her singing is not on par with her ability on the keys – she flexes some muscle on Fender Rhodes as well as piano – that’s a small criticism for a 24 year old just coming into her own.  Whether it’s rearranged takes on “So in Love” and “The Very Thought of You;” originals like “Gonzalo’s Melody” (a shout-out to the great Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba); her take on tunes by pop singers Adele and Sufjan Stevens; or Brasilia-tinged numbers like “Saudações”, Ariel has put together an album that shows she’s ready to take her talents to the next level.

Podcast 585 is my conversation with Ariel, featuring musical selections “Gonzalo’s Melody,” “500 Miles High,” “Saudações,” and “Someone Like You".

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Podcast 584: Previewing the Newport Jazz Festival with Danny Melnick

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 13:30:00 +0000

The Summer Jazz Festival season is in full swing, and the first weekend in August will bring us  the Newport Jazz Festival (presented by Natixis) August 4-6 at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. One of the oldest and most important Jazz Festivals in the US, this year’s festival seems to be building on the injections of young talent and new ways of presenting music that marked the past few year’s triumphs. Newport has three stages (four if you count the intimate Storyville for solo performers) that keep the music and fun going from 11 am to around dusk each day. Fort Adams State Park has waterfront vistas, and the entire area makes for a wonderful summer’s day. Friday is still a relatively new day of presentation, and features a wide variety of top talent, including Béla Fleck & The Flecktones;  Maceo Parker; Cécile McLorin Salvant; Naturally 7; Leslie Odom, Jr. (of Hamilton fame); Joey DeFrancesco + The People; Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith; Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra; Christian Sands Quartet w. Gilad Hekselman,Yasushi Nakamura & Jerome Jennings; One for All (Jim Rotondi, Steve Davis, Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine, John Webber & Joe Farnsworth); Evan Christopher Clarinet Road & New Orleans Brass; the Rodriguez Brothers; the Jimmy Greene Quartet (w. Kevin Hays, Ben Williams & Otis Brown III) and the George Burton Quintet (w. Tim Warfield, Jason Palmer, Pablo Menares & Wayne Smith Jr.). Saturday features Snarky Puppy; Branford Marsalis Quartet;  Rhiannon Giddens; Christian McBride Big Band; Jazz 100: The Music of Dizzy, Mongo & Monk featuring Danilo Perez, Chris Potter, Avishai Cohen, Josh Roseman, Roman Diaz, Ben Street & Adam Cruz; Henry Threadgill Zooid; Vijay Iyer Sextet; Antonio Sanchez & Migration; DJ Logic's Project Logic; Benny Golson Quartet (w. Mike LeDonne, Buster Williams & Carl Allen); Uri Caine Trio (w. Mark Helias & Clarence Penn); and Dominick Farinacci. The loss of Geri Allen this summer caused a shift in personnel for the planned trio that would have included Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding. Taking over for Ms. Allen will be a group of different pianists paying tribute to her talent and grace, including Vijay Iyer and Christian Sands. And if all that is not enough, Sunday brings it home with The Roots; Andra Day; Maria Schneider Orchestra; Hudson: Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski & Larry Grenadier; The Philadelphia Experiment: Questlove, Christian McBride, Uri Caine; Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party; Tim Berne's Snakeoil; Bokanté f. Michael League & Malika Tirolien; Theo Croker; the Cyrus Chestnut Trio and the Sean Jones Quintet (w. Brian Hogans, Orrin Evans, Luques Curtis & Obed Calvaire). I had the chance to preview the festival with promoter Danny Melnick and Podcast 584 is my conversation with him, including musical selections from Festival Artists like: One for Al – “D’s Blues” Rhiannon Giddens wit[...]

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The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Independence Day

Tue, 04 Jul 2017 15:00:00 +0000

American Independence Day 2014. Nancy and I will celebrate in England but back here at home, others celebrate with cookouts, fireworks and concerts, but often fail to recall the brave words that were written by our forefathers in Philadelphia in 1776: When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the deposi[...]

Podcast 583: England Swings

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 17:00:22 +0000

There will be no podcasts posted for the next few weeks, as Nancy and I head “across the pond” to England for a much needed change of scene. 

The British jazz scene has more than its share of history and current artists of note. Some may be obvious to you, while others less so. So, what better way to kick off my vacation than giving you an hour plus of music from jazz artists hailing from the UK? The sound varies wildly from the straight ahead of Marian McPartland to the traditional of Tubby Hayes' big band to the Hip-Hop-tinged tunes of Courtney Pine. Selections include:

Dudley Moore Trio – “Chimes”

Dave Holland Quartet – “Go Fly a Kite”

Jamie Cullum – “High & Dry” (live version)

John McLaughlin – ‘The Dark Prince”

John Dankworth – “The Artful Dodger”

Cleo Laine – “Sign No More Ladies”

Marian McPartland – “It’s So Peaceful in the Country”

Tubby Hayes Orchestra - "Song for a Sad Lady"

Courtney Pine – “Modern Day Jazz”

Barb Jungr - "Tomorrow is a Long Time"

 Philip Catherine - "

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Podcast 582: Geri Allen (1957-2017)

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

The passing this week of pianist Geri Allen has taken the jazz world by surprise. Still at the top of her game as performer, composer and educator at the age of 60, it seemed that few knew of her illness, and even fewer of its severity. She will be sorely missed. Her legacy is substantial – 19 albums as a leader; dozens more as sideperson for the likes of Paul Motian, Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, and Ornette Coleman; a thriving jazz department at the University of Pittsburgh. Musically, her style grew and evolved over the years. A product of the Detroit school system, she integrated the classic Detroit jazz sound she learned from her mentor Marchs Belgrave with 80’s avant-garde and progressive sounds as a charter member of the influential M-Base Collective (Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Steve Coleman). Much of Charles Lloyd's comback can be traced to Geri's support. To me, she shone brightest in her trio recordings, bringing her into contact with Motian and Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, and most recently, David Murray and Terri Lynne Carrington. Even more importantly, Geri was that rare person who went out of her way to touch people, with both her music and with her words. She will be missed by her students, her fellow musicians, and all others who were lucky enough to have made her acquaintance, even for a moment. Dr. Hankus Netsky, chair, Contemporary Improvisation and former chair of Jazz Studies at the New England Conservatory forwarded these words about her to me and other members of the jazz world:. Like much of the musical world, New England Conservatory mourns the loss of pianist, scholar, and educator Geri Allen who taught at NEC in the early 1990s.  A consummate musician in every respect, Geri was a gentle but demanding teacher who encouraged her students to broaden their listening, hone every aspect of their musical skills, and develop their classical technique. She brought a serious diligence to everything she engaged in and championed a truly global perspective on the African-American contribution to twentieth century music.  Besides her immersion in the musical world of Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Eric Dolphy, it seemed like her playing could go in virtually any direction, for example when she accompanied Betty Carter or recorded with Ornette Coleman.  Her years at NEC were like a dream for me and her students (and I remember well when her daughter Laila was born in 1990 since I believe it was the same week as my first daughter, Leah!).  One of my favorite moments from that time was her duo performance in Jordan Hall with bassist and cellist Dave Holland, who also served on our faculty in that era.  We stayed in touch over the years and, most recently, I was glad to be able to connect her to author Mark Slobin, who has been working on a book about th[...]

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Podcast 581: A Conversation with Sean Jones

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

I’ve wanted to have Sean Jones on the show for a long time. A talented trumpeter and composer, he was mentored by the greatest of all trumpet teachers, William “Prof” Fielder at Rutgers University. After graduating, he quickly became a fixture in New York big bands, most notably the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Based on a strong showing at a Gerald Wilson Orchestra recording session for Mack Avenue Records, Jones was inked to a solo contract with the label at the age of 26. Live at the Jazz Bistro is his eighth release for the label, and their collaboration is still going strong.

The live CD gives us a chance to hear Sean in both quartet and quintet settings. He is blessed by having a core group of musicians who have stayed together for more than eleven years. Each group is anchored by long-time collaborator (and newly minted member of the Bad Plus) Orrin Evans on piano,  Luques Curtis holds down the bass, while Obed Calvaire is the drummer on the quartet sessions, and Mark Whitfield Jr. on the quintet. Brian Hogans (alto and soprano saxophones) contributes both strong material (the moving “Piscean Dichotomy”) and great emotional resonance to the band.

Podcast 58_ is my conversation with Sean, as we discuss the new CD, how he gauges an audience in picking tunes to play live, and how he met Gerald Wilson, who helped launch his career. Musical selections from  Live at the Jazz Bistro include “Piscean Dichotomy”, “Prof” and “Doc’s Holiday”, plus a track from the Gerald Wilson Orchestra album Legacy, entitled “A Night at the El Grotto”.

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Podcast 579: A Conversation with Tedd Chubb

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

"Ted Chubb is a very talented trumpeter, composer, improviser, bandleader and educator. Ted is the total package, and most of all, he is just one great guy." - Christian McBride

Ted Chubb’s Gratified Never Satisfied allows the seasoned New Jersey trumpeter a chance to broaden his horizons, and he makes the most of it. Backed by a band that can sound throwback at one moment and perfectly modern in another, Chubb’s collection of four original tunes and four well-chosen covers should allow him some well-deserved wider recognition.

Chubb, along with Bruce Williams (alto sax); Seth Johnson (guitar); Oscar Perez (piano and Fender Rhodes); Tom Dicarlo (bass); and Jerome Jennings (drums), makes the material on the CD sound immediately familiar, using Perez’s Fender Rhodes and Johnson’s guitar to great effect. That highly electric sound is mitigated by the straight ahead sound of Chubb’s trumpet, which hits the mark without adornment or electronic flourish. On the ten minute plus “Space”, the result is – well, spacey – and then on “Tuesday” it's wistful and a tad romantic.

Known as a co-leader of the quartet New Tricks, and an in-demand member of major big bands, Ted is also a major contributor to jazz education, with the New Jersey-based Jazz House Kids, a community arts organization—run by singer Melissa Walker and her husband Christian McBride—exclusively dedicated to educating children through jazz. 

Podcast 579 is my conversation with Ted, as we discuss the new CD, his tenure in trumpeter Wallace Roney’s Orchestra and drummer Winard Harper’s band, and what he learned from spending time in the pit of a touring Broadway show. Musical selections from Gratified Never Satisfied include the title track, homage to his mentor William B. “Prof” Fielder; “Tuesday” and Wayne Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple.”

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Podcast 580: A Conversation with Danny Melnick about the 40h Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 20:06:51 +0000

If it’s June, then it must be time for the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, at the lovely SPAC in Saratoga Springs, New York. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the weekend-long event, and it promises to live up to past triumphs once again. The festival has two stages, the Amphitheatre for headliners, and the newly-renovated Gazebo Stage for up-and-coming and under the radar talent. Saturday June 24th features Chaka Khan (who had to bail from last year’s festival); Grammy darling Jacob Collier, venerable violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, the exciting singer Cecile McLoren Savant and the all-star tribute act Jazz 100: The Music of Dizzy, Mongo, and Monk featuring Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano, Jason Palmer, Josh Roseman, Roman Diaz, Ben Street and Adam Cruz. Gazebo highlights will include the Dave Stryker Organ Quartet featuring Eric Alexander, Jared Gold and McClenty Hunter; singer Barbara Fasano and the Aruan Ortiz Trio. Sunday has an even stronger lineup, if that seems possible. The Amphitheatre will feature the first festival appearance of the Gipsy Kings; the Maceo Parker’s To Ray, With Love featuring the Ray Charles Orchestra & The Raelettes; the latest “supergroup” Hudson, composed of Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield; new NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater; a return visit from teen blues guitar whiz Quinn Sullivan; and Cuban jazz from Jane Bunnett & Maqueque. The Gazebo highlights include two top young groups - Adam O'Farrill's Stranger Days and the Noah Preminger/Jason Palmer Quartet, along with Snarky Puppy member Cory Henry’s side project The Funk Apostles. Danny Melnick and I talked about the festival for Podcast 580, which all the inside scoop on the weekend and the music you will hear. Featured musical selections include: Maceo Parker – “Hit the Road Jack” from Roots and Grooves Dave Stryker – “Blues Strut” from Blues to the Bone IV Jane Bunnett & Maqueque –  “Song for Haiti” from Jane Bunnett & Maqueque Hudson (Jack DeJohnette. Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield) – “Tony Then Jack” from Hudson Adam O’Farrill - “Alligator Get the Blues” from Stranger Days[...]

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Podcast 578: A Conversation with Bill O'Connell on Dave Valentin

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

A Musical Celebration of Life for the renowned Latin jazz flautist Dave Valentin will take place Monday, June 12, beginning at 6 PM at Saint Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street in Manhattan. The Grammy Award winning-artist passed on March 8 after a long illness at 64 years of age. In addition to remarks from family and friends, Valentin’s long time group will perform, led by pianist / musical director Bill O’Connell, with bassist Lincoln Goines, drummer Robby Ameen, and percussionist Sammy Figueroa. Additional musicians expected to perform include flutists Andrea Brachfeld, Connie Grossman and Karen Joseph, as well as trombonist Papo Vázquez and other artists to be announced. Heralded as “the Pied Piper of the Bronx,” Dave Valentin was born of Puerto Rican parents in 1952 and lived his entire life in the borough. He was the first artist to be signed to the popular GRP recording label, beginning in 1979, and he made some fifteen recordings as a leader, helping shape the label’s sound. In 2002, he won a Grammy Award with vibraphonist Dave Samuels and saxophonist / clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera for the Caribbean Jazz Project’s recording The Gathering. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bill O’Connell about Dave Valentin and his legacy for Podcast 578. O’Connell became a fixture in the New York Latin jazz and salsa scene that was flowering in the city in the 1970s. Eventually he joined the legendary Mongo Santamaria’s Latin jazz group in 1977 and began a three year run as his keyboardist. Bill kept his hand in straight ahead jazz as well, playing with Sonny Rollins and Chet Baker, and building relationships with Charles Fambrough and Jon Lucien that would lead to a number of recordings as a sideman. O’Connell was introduced to Valentin in 1981 at a GRP session, and was by his side as music director and keyboardist through the release of 15 albums. Podcast 578 features the music of Dave Valentin and Bill O’Connell, including the title track from Bill’s latest album, Monk’s Cha-Cha. Valentin selections include"Love LIght in Flight" and "Oasis" from Jungle Garden There is no admission charge to the service, and seating is general admission. Donations can be made in Dave Valentin’s memory to Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in the Bronx or the Jazz Foundation of America. For more information, please contact the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture at (718) 518-4455.[...]

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Podcast 577: A Conversation with Moppa Elliott

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Mostly Other People Do the Killing – easily the best name in jazz these days – is a quartet that has one foot securely in the past, while another in the adventurous future. Ever since the band came together in 2003, MoPDtK – easily the best acronym in jazz these days – has ventured into areas of classic jazz from the 20’s and 30’s, spinning familiar styles into something new and different with their avant-garde leanings. Heck, they even had the nerve to record their version of Miles Davis’ classic Kind of Blue in 2014, doing a note for note recreation of the best-selling jazz album of all time. Clearly, MoPDtK –lead by Moppa Elliott (bass); Jon Irabagon (sax); and Kevin Shea (drums) have no lack of confidence – or sense of humor.

Their latest release, Loafer’s Hollow, continues their mischievous tradition of naming their albums after fictitious towns in Pennsylvania. The band enlarged to a septet for last year’s Red Hot, and with a bit of a personnel change, they tackle their material with the same instrumental lineup. Trumpet legend Steve Bernstein takes the seat that Peter Evans had held for years, and pianist Rob Stabinsky, bass trombonist Dave Taylor and banjo player Brandon Seabrook all add new and sometimes startling colors and textures on their instruments.

Loafer’s Hollow is effectively a rethinking of the Swing era, as tunes – and yes, the songs are titled as homage to Moppa’s favorite writers. Tunes like "Bloomsburg (For James Joyce)" and "Kilgore (For Kurt Vonnegut)" are stylistically of that time period, but feature different keys, time signatures and solos than one might make Count Basie faint. When they get more introspective, as in "Meridian (For Cormac McCarthy)" interesting rhythms and harmonies show the band owes more to the Avant-Garde than ballroom classics.

Podcast 577 is my conversation with Moppa as he speaks openly on the various configurations of MoPDtK, future projects and how the writes. Musical selections include "Honey Hole", "Kilgore (For Kurt Vonnegut)", and "Hi-Nella" from Loafer’s Hollow and "Blue in Green" from their Kind of Blue project. 

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Podcast 576: A Conversation with John Yao

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

I’ve pointed out before that we may be living through a golden age for trombone players in the world of jazz. Over the past few years rising stars like Ryan Keberle, Joel Yennior, Charlie Halloran and Michael Dease have joined the ranks of talents like Wycliffe Gordon, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre and the legendary Roswell Rudd. These guys lead bands, not just hold down a chair in a big band horn section.

Add another name to their ranks – John Yao.

His latest small-group CD, Presence, is aptly titled, as he makes his presence felt right from the get-go, leading his quintet through a number of jazz styles and approaches. Boosted by saxophonist Jon Irabagon, the group tackles Yao compositions that vary from the avant-garde leaning “M Howard” to the straight ahead “Bouncey’s Bounce,” with fine results. Ably assisted by a rhythm section of Randy Ingram (Piano), Peter Brendler (Bass) and Shawn Baltazor (Drums), Yao’s trombone step out in front, but just as often finds a place in the band’s mix, creating a most enjoyable CD.

Podcast 576 is my conversation with John, as we discuss the new CD, his larger “17 piece instrument”, and his place in such institutions as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Arturo O'Farrill's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Musical selections include “Tight Rope”, “Fuzzy Logic”, and “Bouncey’s Bounce.”

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Podcast 575: A Conversation with Kathleen Potton

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Is Kathleen Potton’s new album a tribute to a tyrannical Roman emperor?

She’s quick to laugh that off. NERO, her debut CD which is available this week, is intended to be a nod to the great female singer-songwriters she has learned to admire.  The Australian born Potton became entranced with the music of Laura Nyro after hearing Billy Child’s CD Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro last year, and found some people pronounced the late singer-songwriter’s last name the American “Nee-ro” instead of the British “Nie-ro.” An album title was born.

Rather than cover Ms. Nyro’s work, Kathleen’s CD is almost entirely her own material, music which has the smooth polish and shine of some “Smooth Jazz” singers, but none of the overblown arrangements or saccharin vocal stylings. Instead, there is a sense of intimacy, and the listener is drawn in, her sense of phrasing belying her age.

The sole cover on the album is of another of her musical idols, Joni Mitchell. “Chelsea Morning” is one of the less popular tunes recorded by jazz singers looking for the obligatory Joni cover, and Ms. Potton makes the most of the song’s stops and starts, staying fairly faithful to the original, but spinning it just enough to make it hers.

Podcast 575 is my conversation with Kathleen Potton, as we talk about NERO, the jazz scene in her native Australia, and how her live versions of some of her tunes vary from the recorded version. Musical Selections include her cover of Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" and “Love Not Lovin’.”

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Podcast 574: A Conversation with Cuong VU

Sat, 03 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Ever since I learned of the amazing breath of his talents with his stint in the Pat Metheny Group, I’ve been a fan of Cuong Vu. A trumpet player with a decidedly avant-garde style, Cuong is able to use his talents in any number of ways. Whether he is leading one of his groups, or serving as sideman for Metheny, Dave Douglas, and Myra Melford; or guesting on a David Bowie session, his presence seems to raise the game of all who are playing with him.

Born in Saigon, Cuong Vu immigrated to Seattle with his family in 1975.He went east for college, and after completing studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston, he moved to New York in 1994 and began his career. As a leader, Cuong has released eight recordings, many making critics’ lists of the 10 best recordings of their respective years. In 2002 and 2006, Cuong was a recipient of the Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album (Speaking of Now and This Way Up) as a member of the Pat Metheny Group. He currently chairs the Department of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington, where Cuong was awarded the University of Washington’s prestigious Distinguished Teacher Award and is a Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellow.

Cuong’s latest project is a return collaboration with guitarist Bill Frisell. In 2005 they worked together on Mostly Residual, and continued a friendly relationship. When Frisell wanted to present a musical tribute to his mentor, composer-arranger Michael Gibbs, Cuong invited him to work on the project and perform at the University of Washington. The resulting CD, Ballet (The Music of Michael Gibbs) adds the great guitarist to Cuong’s core band for some shifting, moody often ethereal music. The 4tet – Frisell, Cuong, Luke Bergman (bass) and Ted Poor (drums) – tackle a sampling of Gibbs’ oeuvre (most enjoyably, “Blue Comedy”, made famous by Gary Burton) but always make them distinctively their own with their arrangements and subtle interplay. 

Podcast 574 is my conversation with Cuong, as we discuss Ballet, his continuing association with Pat Metheny, and the state of students these days (his answers may surprise you!). Musical selections include tunes from  Ballet (The Music of Michael Gibbs) and Cjuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny

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Podcast 572: A Conversation with Christian Sands

Sun, 07 May 2017 16:00:00 +0000

I’m saying it here and now – Reach is the album that makes Christian Sands a star.

Those “in the know” in jazz are already familiar with the 28 year old pianist, who has been a key member of Christian McBride’s Inside Straight band for the past five years.  With the release of his first album for Mack Records (also McBride’s home), he shows that he is ready to be a leader in his own right.\

It was inevitable, as Sands has been tapped by Ben Williams, McBride, Ulysses Owens and Latin Jazz stars Los Hombres Calientes and Bobby Sanabria for gigs and recordings. Reach showcases Sands talents as a front-line pianist, leading a core group that includes bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Marcus Baylor.  Rather than attempt a classic piano trio recording, a number of his long-time friends and contemporaries make notable appearances, most notably guitarist Gilad Hekselman, reed man Marcus Strickland, and even his old boss McBride.

The album covers a wide variety of styles, touching on Latin Jazz (“Óyeme”), Hip-Hop (“Gangstalude”), Ballads (“Somewhere Out There”), Soul (“Use Me”) and even a touch of electronica (“Freefall”), CDs this stylistically diverse often fail to be uniformly strong and interesting. Reach is that wonderful exception, as Sands takes the various styles through the prism of his talent, and the end result is nothing less than exceptional jazz. Check out my favorite track, “Song of the Rainbow People,” which takes the piano trio format through a number of changes, producing a shimmering, soulful result.

Podcast 572 is my conversation with Christian Sands, as we discuss our Southern Connecticut roots, the mentorship he was provided by Dr. Billy Taylor, and the differences in playing with perhaps the two best bass players on the planet today – Ben Williams and Christian McBride.  Musical selections include “Song of the Rainbow People,” “Freefall,” “Gangstalude,”and “Dream Train” from his work with Christian McBride & Inside Straight on the CD People Music.

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Podcast 573: International Jazz Day

Sun, 30 Apr 2017 20:56:00 +0000

The idea of International Jazz Day is just so wonderful/ Imagine for one day, artists from all over the globe, playing a universal language of music, to celebrate the sheet joys of playing something TOGETHER. It is what the world needs now, my friends. This Sunday, April 30, International Jazz Day will culminate with the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert live from Havana Cuba streamed on at 9 PM ET. Podcast 573 celebrates artists from around the world playing music that transcends borders, boundaries, countries and nations. It is just over an hour of jazz from:   John Yao - "Fuzzy Logic" Chano Dominguez - "Gracias a la vida" Uri Gurvich - "Alfombra Magic" Ivan Lins - "She Walks This Earth" Yotam Silberstein - " O Vôo da mosca" Duduka Da Fonseca - "Song For Claudio" David Hazeltine - "A.D. Bossa" Wolfgang Haffner - "Hello" Cyro Baptista - "Menina" Miroslav Vitouš  -  "Scarlet Reflections" Cyrille Aimée -  "Estrellitas Y Duendes" Gene Ess - "Blues For Two" Ferenc Snétberger -  "Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Live)"[...]

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Podcast 571: Ella Fitzgerald Centennial

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000

 My first exposure to Ella Fitzgerald was in a television commercial for Memorex audio recording tape. Their slogan was “Is it live or is it Memorex?” and the ad showed Ella breaking a glass with her incredible singing voice. Then a recording of her voice on a Memorex cassette was played, and again the glass was shattered. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate her not just for the amazing power of her voice, but its extreme musicality, warmth, soul and wit. She could go from a torchy ballad to a scatting jam session in a moment, and excelled at both.  In my mind, no one touches her as a singer. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the First Lady of Song.  Born in Newport News, Virginia, she moved to Yonkers, New York with her mother. She had a difficult childhood, suffering abandonment and abuse, ending with a stint in an orphanage and state reformatory for girls. Her physical appearance was gawky and ungainly, and her clothing often disheveled during these trying times. But she was also a gifted dancer, a keen student of music, and a devotee of the singer Connee Boswell, an early pioneer of jazz singing. While she honed her craft in the church, her big break came when she won the famous Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the age of 17. Originally planning to dance, she sang two songs and won first prize of $25. Two weeks later she was singing professionally, and within a few months was the female vocalist for the Chick Webb Orchestra, with whom she would have her first hits. Her signature tune “A-Tisket A-Tasket”, written by Ella and  Al Feldman, came a few years later and cemented her status as a major jazz singer through the end of the big band era and through bop. She made some of her finest recordings in the early fifties as part of Jazz at the Philharmonic, and with Louis Armstrong, including the seminal Porgy and Bess. But Ella went beyond being a “jazz singer”. Beginning in 1956, she began recording a series of albums for Verve that was released over eight years. Each one was a “song book” of a major American composer of popular tunes – Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Together this body of work stands as the encyclopedia of what we today call the Great American Songbook. No less a singer than Frank Sinatra considered the albums to be the final word on interpretations of these songs, and he refused to allow record labels to release any of his albums in a similar fashion. Perhaps the ultimate compliment ca[...]

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Podcast 570: A Conversation with Jim Alfredson of organissimo

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000

I’m a huge fan of the greasy, soulful sound of the Hammond B-3 organ. Few instruments have so distinct a sonic impression, and even fewer have such an iconic physical presence on stage, particularly when paired with the famous rotating Leslie speaker.

Ever since Medeski, Martin & Wood deconstructed the organ trio, there have been fewer traditional practitioners of the art making recordings. Gary Versace has recorded some fine albums, but the disbanding of Soulive and the Deep Blue Organ Trio have left a void that only a band like organissimo can continue to fill. The Michigan-based trio, composed of Jim Alfredson (Hammond B3 Organ); Larry Barris (Guitar) and  Randy Marsh (Drums) are perhaps the finest example of the soul jazz sound that was a popular and critical sensation in the Fifties and Sixties.

In more than fifteen years, they have been the type of group that attracts devoted jazz fans, jam band devotees and neo-soul followers in close to equal number. Their concerts can be one-part jazz revival and two-parts dance marathon. Their recorded output has been mostly original tunes, but their latest CD goes down quite a different road.

Abbey Road, if you will.

B3tles - A Soulful Tribute To The Fab Four is not just a great organ trio record, but perhaps the finest Beatles tribute album by a jazz artist since George Benson’s The Other Side of Abbey Road in 1970. In the great tradition of jazz arrangers and improvisers, the memorable melodies of John, Paul, George and Ringo are always there, but the tunes are often refashioned by using different time signatures and styles. “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a blues shuffle, “Taxman” is taken at 7/8 and “All You Need is Love” swings between 5/4 and ¾.

I spoke with of Jim Alfredson about the new CD, which was recorded in his home studio, and how they chose from the Beatles catalogue, their process for innovation, and even what saxophone player – living or dead – with whom he would most want to perform. Hint – he made a number of recordings with a famous female Hammond B-3 player.

Music selections include “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Within You Without You” and “Taxman.”

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Podcast 569: A Conversation with Wallace Roney

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:38:02 +0000

This is music for the ages, and a story for the ages as well.

Trumpet great Wallace Roney and his orchestra pay tribute to Newark jazz legend Wayne Shorter with the first full performance of Universe, a long-lost composition originally created for Miles Davis by Shorter. Wallace has termed hearing composition to be like finding missing gospels in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so important is the music as both an historical and a living piece of art.

Roney, of course, is the sole trumpet player that Miles Davis chose to mentor, and who joined and supported the legend on stage at his final performances in Montreux. When the members of Miles’ Second Great Quintet – Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams – wanted to tour in honor of their fallen leader, it was Roney who had the imposing task of taking the trumpet sear.

Since then he has established himself as one of the finest players around, as well as a solid composer, and a great bandleader. His current group, featuring Buster Williams (bass), Lenny White (drums) and Patrice Rushen (keyboards and piano) is among the tightest bands around.

I’ve been friendly with Wallace for a number of years now, since the late Bob Belden introduced us. During that time, and for a number of years before, Wallace has sought to bring Universe to the stage, and make a permanent recording, He seems finally ready to present both.

The story of how Universe came to be, how Wayne Shorter determined that only Roney could do it justice, and the importance of the piece are the core of Podcast 569. The story is classic, and its supplemented with Wallace performing with Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams on the Quintet classic “Pinocchio”, Roney and his larger ensemble performing an unreleased take of one of the parts from Davis’ Aura, and “Air Dancing” from the latest Roney album, A Place in Time.

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The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Easter: "Easter Parade"

Sun, 16 Apr 2017 13:00:00 +0000

The song of the day is Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", performed by Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and released on their 1957 album Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin. Although Vaughan had made many recordings with Eckstine, this was their only album together. Writing a song about celebrating a Christian holiday was not an anomaly for the Jewish composer Berlin. Born in 1888 into a Russian Jewish family who came to New York City to escape religious persecution when he was five years old, Irving Berlin quickly shed his religious roots and fell in love with America. He became an American citizen when he was 29. "Patriotism was Irving Berlin's true religion," writes biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990). Irving Berlin was "not a religious person," according to his daughter Mary Ellin. Relating the story of Irving's marriage to Ellin Mackay in 1926, whose devout father had a deep reluctance to welcome a "lower-class" Jew into the wealthy Catholic family. Once they had children, Mrs. Berlin did try to keep up a minimal appearance of religious tradition. Mary Ellin writes that her unbelieving parents "had their first bad fight when my mother suggested raising me as a Catholic . . . ." The Berlins had three daughters. "Both our parents," Mary Ellin recalls, "would pass down to their children the moral and ethical values common to all great religions; give us a sense of what was right and what was wrong; raise us not to be good Jews or good Catholics or good whatever else you might care to cite, but to be good (or try to be) human beings. . . . When we grew up, she said, we would be free to choose--if we knew what was best for us, the religion of our husband. . . . It wouldn't quite work out, when we 'grew up,' as my mother hoped. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husband's faiths." The man who wrote "White Christmas" actually hated Christmas. "Many years later," Mary Ellin writes, "when Christmas was celebrated irregularly in my parents' house, if at all, my mother said, almost casually, 'Oh, you know, I hated Christmas, we both hated Christmas. We only did it for you children.' " Christmas, for Irving Berlin, was not a religious holiday: it was an American holiday. He simply needed a melody in 1940 for a show called Holiday Inn, an escapist "American way of life" musical (when all hell was breaking loose in Europe) which called for [...]

Repost: Spiritual Jazz - "Crucifixtion" by David Murray

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000

n keeping with the theme of presenting spiritual music performed by jazz artists this week, here is "Crucifixion", a traditional spiritual with a copyright credited to its arranger, Jester Hairston.

Hairston (1901-2000) was a prolific composer and arranger of African-American music. In addiiton to dozens of arrangments still in use today, he composed what is now considered a Christmas standard, "Mary's Boy Child" in 1956. Seven years later, he penned the universally known "Amen" for Sidney Poitier's film "Lilies of the Valley". That song has gone on to be recorded by hundred of artists, most notably the Impressions in 1964. It's worth pointing out that an up-tempo version of the song, "Amen, Brother" by the Winstons in 1969 had six seconds of its drum solo sampled as what is referred to as the "Amen Break", a sample credited with launching the drum and bass movement, and included in rock, hip-hop and soul tracks for several decades.

Click here to listen to David Murray's version of the venerable tune, from the 1988 Spirituals album. Murray recorded this pensive, rather straight ahead (for Murray) version with a quartet including Murray on sax, Dave Burrell on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums.

Repost: Spiritual Jazz: David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday"

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 14:00:00 +0000

The fine blog Any Major Dude with Half a Heart (dig that Steely Dan reference) has always gone deep into the crates for goodies, usually of the soul variety. For Holy Thursday, celebrated by Catholics around the world, he has a real winner. Visit his page for the late David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday". As he said on his blog:

Well, it is Holy Thursday, and while this orchestral jazz track might not feed your pieties, it should at least get your toes tapping. That does not mean that the title is irreverent. Axelrod, son of a leftist activist who grew up in a predominantly black neighbourhood, wrote and recorded several musical works referencing religion. In 1971 he arranged a jazz-rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah and in 1993 he titled a work on the Holocaust a “requiem”. I have read that Holy Thursday also featured in Grand Theft Auto V, a game I’ve never played but the soundtracks of which seem quite excellent.

Axelrod has had a massive influence on jazz, in particular fusion. He produced legends such as Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley (including his big hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), as well as avant gardists The Electric Prunes.

For another posting I did on this tune, click here.

Repost: Music for Passover: "Go Down Moses"

Mon, 10 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000

One of my favorite holidays is the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover As the first Seder is tonight, celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the prophet Moses, I've gone into the category of music that was called "Negro Spirituals" when I was in school, and picked "Go Down Moses"

Versions of the song seem to go back to 1862, when it was called "Oh! Let My People Go (The Song of the Contrabands)". The openign verse was published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872. It's easy to see the coded message in the lyrics - "Israel" in the lyrics stands in for African-Americans oppressed by slavery and recism, and "Egypt" as their oppressors. The seminal recording of the song is likely Paul Robeson's version from 1958, which became a rallying cry for those fighting for civil rights in the American South.

Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of the spiritual, taken from his Louis and the Good Book album. Armstrong recorded the song in February 1959 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. Armstrong had jsut finished his popular Porgy & Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald, and entered the studio to record a series of spirituals and religious-tinged music. Among those in the band were Trummy Young on trombone, Hank D'Amico and Nicky Tagg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano and Barrett Deems on drums.

In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong   biographer Terry Teachout quotes an outspoken Armstrong as being a great friend of the Jewish people, who he felt gave him a break in his youth when his fellow African-Americans would not. He wore a Star of David around his neck for most of his life.

Podcast 568: Spirituality

Sun, 09 Apr 2017 14:00:00 +0000

The Spring is truly the season of spiritual awakening and celebration. Holy week for those of the Christian faith is underway, as today is Palm Sunday. The oldest of Jewish celebrations, Passover, begins with the first seder tomorrow night. The festival of Vaisaki, celebrated by Hindus is this week, just as Theravada, the New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, is celebrated.Buddhists celebrated the birth of the Buddha in Japan last week, as their Water holidays follow this week. Soon will begin the Baha'i festival of Ridvan, and Pagan/Wiccan followers commemorate the end of the Celtic Tree Month Alder and beginning of the Celtic Tree Month of Willow. 

It’s a blessing that these festivals of many faiths all come in the early Spring , reminding us of the great similarities and wonderful differences that make up these faiths. Perhaps this year, more than any other in the six decades I have been alive, the world needs to find that commonality of spirit.  In order to celebrate this season of spirituality, I offer my annual podcast of jazz with a spiritual strain to bring us together in a universal language.

Podcast 568 is an hour of music, including:

Kenny Barron Trio - "Prayer"

Jack DeJohnette, John Patitucci & Danilo Perez - "Earth Prayer"

Mahavishnu Orchestra - "Hymn to Him"

Rene Marie - "Blessings

Eric Revis Trio - "Prayer"

Podcasts from  2016(, 2015,  2014,  2013, 2011, and 2010),  can be found by clicking the link.

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Podcast 567: A Conversation with Marilyn Scott

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Singer Marilyn Scott carefully resists being defined by easy labels. She is thrown into the Smooth or Contemporary Jazz category because she works closely with West Coast collaborators Bob Mintzer, Russ Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets). By the same token, she is a strong interpreter of the Great American Songbook, and not afraid to thrown in a Bob Dylan or Peter Gabriel tune for good measure, putting her squarely in Straight Ahead mode. And she doesn’t just sing – her albums are dotted with her original compositions as well.

Standard Blue, her latest CD, is her first in almost ten years, other than her fine Christmas release in 2014. Her voice is as entrancing as ever, and Ferrante’s arrangements of blues based tunes are always intriguing. From lesser recorded vocal versions of the Strayhorn-Ellington “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” to their little heard “Day Dreaming” to a raucous “The Joint is Jumping” that closes the album, Marilyn and her crack band never fail to deliver in the true jazz tradition.

Podcast 566 is my conversation with Marilyn, as we talk about song selection, and her many collaborators on Standard Blue including Michael Landau on guitar, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Minter’s turn on the bass clarinet. Song selections include “The Joint is Jumping”, “Day Dreaming”, “I Wouldn’t Change It” and Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” from 2006’s Innocent of Nothin

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Podcast 565: Women in Jazz 2017

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000

It shouldn’t take Women’s History Month for us to appreciate and enjoy the music of female jazz musicians.  Particularly in the last two decades, women have moved from “female performer” to “performer” in their own right, as both leaders and side players.  Women were there at the birth of jazz, and singers like Bessie Smith, and pianists like Lil Hardin Armstrong (who wrote “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”) and Lovie Austin were leaders in their own right before the end of the Roaring Twenties. Valaida Snow was a top trumpet player during this time.   During WWII, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm were way more than a novelty act, playing hot jazz and swing as well as any man. The names of Anna Mae Winburn, Closa Bryant, Carline Ray Russell (mother of singer Catherine Russell) and more deserve to be held in far higher esteem than they are today. Check out the film “International Sweethearts of Rhythm” to see and hear them in their prime.   The great female singers of jazz’s gold age – Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald – helped define the Great American Songbook, just as Nina Simone, Betty Carter and Shirley Horn helped deconstruct it. Melba Williams was a first-call trombonist for Randy Weston and Dizzy Gillespie. The likes of Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, and Shirley Scott, and later Carla Bley and Alice Coltrane showed that women could swing, but also be adventurous and part of the avant-garde.   It would be foolish to think that sexism does not exist in the world of jazz, just as racism and homophobia are still issues preventing artists from taking the bandstand and doing their best. But violinist Regina Carter; bassists Linda Oh and Esperanza Spalding; pianists Kris Davis, Helen Sung, Hiromi and Toshiko Akiyoshi; drummers Terri Lynn Carrington, Cindy Blackman Santana and Alison Miller; guitarist Mary Halvorsen, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (pictured); her sister trombonist Christine Jensen; and big band leader Maria Schneider are all at, or near the top of their game today. Singers like Diana Krall and Karen Allyson are accomplished pianists as well as vocalists. Stacey Kent plays guitar on her many recordings. Cassandra Wilson plays any number of instruments in her various bands.   [...]

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Podcast 566: A Conversation with Lisa Hilton

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Near the top of the list entitled “Why haven’t I talked to these musicians?” is the name of Lisa Hilton. A pianist and composer whose classical background has influenced her very modern approach to the keyboard, she has continued to produce a series of top-notch group CDs. With over twenty CDs released as a leader, she never fails gather some of the finest talent around to complete her musical vision.

2016 saw Lisa releasing two CDs – Nocturnal, a quintet album, and Day & Night, a solo recording. Nocturnal is a joy to hear, as she plays with and off a killer band – Gregg August on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, J.D. Allen on sax and Terell Stafford on trumpet.  The band breathes life into standards like “Willow Weep for Me’, while Hilton originals like “Whirlywind” and “Seduction” (which also appears in a reimagined version on Day & Night) give the band a strong melodic base from which to stretch out. Ms. Hilton has been known to throw a curveball or two in her song selection, and here the surprise is the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?”

 Day & Night allows Lisa to keep the spotlight for herself, and she does not disappoint. She has both the chops and soul to keep you constantly listening. The album has nine originals, along with a take on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” that erases any thoughts of how that song might be played from your memory. It’s that good.

I spoke with Lisa about the two albums, as well as her philanthropic projects of helping blind students at the Perkins School of the Blind, Camp Bloomfield for the blind in California, and at the adaptive music lab for visually impaired musicians at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Musical selections from Day & Night include “Begin the Beguine” and “Caffeinated Culture”, and selections from Nocturnal include “Seduction” and “Where is My Mind?”



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Podcast 563: Valentine's Day 2017 - Hearts

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 11:00:00 +0000

OK, what's the most popular symbol of Valentine's Day?

Uh - Cupid? Try again.

Uh....a heart?


And so Podcast 563 is our annual Valentine's Day mixtape, and this year the theme is - hearts. Each song has "heart" in the title, and it's a pretty spiffy group of tunes if I do say so myself.

Feel free to download and burn this one to a CD for that last minute Valentine's Day gift for your sweetie. Forgot a gift? Problem solved. You're welcome.

Podcast 563 features:

 John Pizzarelli - "Oh How My Heart Beats for You"

Art Farmer & Tommy Flanagan - "My Heart Skips a Beat"

Bob Belden Ensemble - "Straight to My Heart"

Michael Franks - "Heart Like an Open Book"

Bob James - "I Feel a Song (in My Heart)"

Marquis Hill - "My Foolish Heart"

Keith Jarrett - "My Foolish Heart"

Sonny Clark  "With a Song in My Heart"

McCoy Tyner - "You Taught My Heart to Sing"

Stacey Kent - "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart"

Lester Young and Nat King Cole - "Peg O' My Heart"

Kenny Dorham - "My Heart Stood Still"


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Podcast 564: Remembering Al Jarreau (1940-2017)

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:00:00 +0000

Seven-time Grammy award winning singer Al Jarreau died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He had recently been ill, and had cancelled his touring plans. Jarreau was 76 years old. Jarreau is one of the few artists to have won Grammys in three separate categories — jazz, pop and R&B. He is ability to perform the most difficult vocalese stylings could easily slide into his more mainstream songs, making him the type of performer who attracts fans to jazz. He was one of the few jazz musicians to perform on the “We Are the World” single for Live Aid. Jarreau earned a B.S. in Psychology and a Masters’ Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation, before moving to music full time in 1969. He quickly developed a strong following, following the likes of Jon Hendricks with his vocalese.  It was not until a 1976 performance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, however that he broke through to a wider audience; releasing his hit album We Got By that next week. He recorded ten albums for Warner Brothers/Reprise, including the Grammy winning All Fly Home, Breakin’ Away and Heaven and Earth. His song “Moonlighting” was the theme for the popular television series starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. He had been in declining health since 2010, canceling shows due to respiratory illness and exhaustion. He had not recorded an album since 2014’s tribute to his long-time collaborator and friend George Duke, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke. Podcast 564 is my tribute to Al, with almost an hour of his tunes, showing his R&B and jazz chops, and including: “My Favorite Things” “Let’s Stay Together” “We’re in this Love Together” “My Foolish Heart” “Sophisticated Lady” “Grandma’s Hands” “Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual)” “Take Five” “Spain (I Can Recall)” “Compared to What” “Mornin’” “Agua de Berber” “Moonlighting”[...]

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Podcast 562: A Conversation with Miguel Zenon

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 17:00:00 +0000

It’s always a pleasure to speak with saxophonist Miguel Zenón, a musician who has impeccable academic, bandstand and compositional credentials. One of an increasing number of jazz musicians who have been awarded a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowship, the latter more commonly known as the "Genius Grant”, Miguel’s music continues to grow and expand its horizons.

For example, his last CD, Identities are Changeable was the recorded version of multimedia presentation about the Puerto Rican immigrant community in the United States. All the music on the album was written around a series of interviews with several individuals, all of them New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. The narrative created by these conversations gave birth to all the compositions on the record, with audio excerpts from the interviews weaving in and out each piece, and then executed by an expanded ensemble. Nominated for a Grammy, it showed Zenón at his most innovative.

Tipico is a return to the quartet sound that first brought Miguel to the world’s attention. His long-time collaborators - Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Henry Cole (drums) - play a key part in the album, with Perdomo in particular supplying some stunning solos.

Zenón is on the road with the Quartet now, and will also be seen with the ever-entertaining SFJAZZ Collective soon. A founding member of the group, their repertory performances are focused on music associated with or inspired by Miles Davis for the Spring tour. A CD will be released shortly.

Podcast 562 is my conversation with Miguel, where we discuss how the new CD came to be, how the SFJAZZ Collective stays fresh, and how his continued philanthropic efforts in his native Puerto Rico, Caravana Cultural , is progressing. Musical selections from Tipico include “Academia”, “Sangre de mi Sangre” and “Entre las Raises”.


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Podcast 561: A Conversation with Troy Roberts

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:00:00 +0000

I first heard Troy Roberts when he appeared in auspicious company at the first International Jazz Day at the United Nations in New York in 2012. There shared the stage with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Richard Bona, Vinnie Colaiuta and Zakir Hussein and more than held his own.

Since then, the West Australia-born, saxophonist has won 3 consecutive DownBeat Jazz Soloist Awards, a Grammy Nomination medal, and become a regular member of both the Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Quartet and Watts’ ‘Blue 5’, as well as a key part of Joey DeFrancesco’s new quartet, ‘The People’. His 7th record as a leader, Tales & Tones (Inner Circle Music) builds on his past two stellar releases, and matches him with his long-time collaborator Silvano Monasterios on piano, as well as the one-two punch from Wynton and Branford Marsalis bands, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Watts.

Roberts is capable of playing any number of styles at a high level. His two albums with his Nu-Jive 5 showed he could hit classic R&B and soul sounds, and Tales & Tones comes across as something of a classic quartet album. Given his solid rhythm section, Troy wisely intersperses his solos – some of which, like on “Mr. Pinonoock,” are soaring and inspiring – with band play, and Monasterios’ restrained playing creates mood and color that Hurst and Watts bring out with their flourishes.  Not that Silvano can’t cook – check out the frenetic playing on “Boozy Bluesy” that ends the album.

Podcast 561 is my conversation with Troy Roberts, and we discuss how a nice boy from Perth got into jazz, how Tales & Tones came to be, and how he fits his own work in with the many sideman gigs he takes. Musical selections from Tales & Tones include "Pickapoppy", "Boozy Bluesy" and "Take the A Train".

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Podcast 560: A Conversation with Theo Bleckmann

Sat, 04 Feb 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Do we have a more diverse singer today than Theo Bleckmann?  The German born singer and composer’s recordings range from albums of Las Vegas standards, Weimar art songs, newly-arranged songs by Charles Ives (with jazz/rock collective Kneebody); and his acclaimed Hello Earth - the Music of Kate Bush.  You may also have heard Bleckmann on jazz recordings by Ambrose Akinmusire and Julia Hülsmann, but also with Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson and Michael Tilson Thomas. Yet, he considers himself first and foremost a jazz singer.

His newly formed Elegy Quintet composed of Snai Maestro [piano], Chris Tordini [bass], John Hollenbeck [drums] and Ben Monder [guitar] has just their new CD, appropriately entitled Elegy. As with so many projects on the label, ECM label head and founder, Manfred Eicher, was the producer. In so many ways, Theo is the consummate ECM vocalist – he uses spacing with great dexterity, allowing silence and a slow turn of a phrase to be key components of his sound. Clearly, he is well suited for a label that advertises their music is “the most beautiful sound next to silence”. Whether turning Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight” on its head or supplying wordless vocals for “Fields”, Bleckmann’s voice commands your attention at all times.

Podcast 560 is my conversation with Theo, where we discuss his early interest in music, how jazz compares to classical and pop music in his approach, and what it was like to record with the legendary Eicher on projects. Musical selections from Elegy include “Comedy Tonight”, the title track and “To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple.”   

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Podcast 559: Noah Preminger Takes a Stand

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:00:00 +0000

With the release of Meditations on Freedom, Noah Preminger takes a stand against what he perceives as difficult, even dangerous times to be an artist, to say nothing of an American.  While it’s the third album featuring the tenor player’s current quartet - Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (double-bass) and Ian Froman (drums) – it’s his first to take classic protest songs and mix them with his own compositions that reflect the tumultuous times in which we live.

It only took a few weeks from the project’s genesis – a political conversation with his friends and engineer Jimmy Katz – until the band had completed a series of urgent, one take tunes. Whether covering Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke or George Harrison, or his own topically titled work – “The 99 Percent,” “Women’s March,” “Mother Earth,” “Broken Treaties,” “We Have a Dream,”- there is great power, emotion, and even a little bit of hope in the album.

I talked with Noah way back in Podcast 380, and since then he has grown in stature and artistic spirit. Preminger’s previous albums Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground and Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar justly earned wide acclaim for their emotional intensity and individualist engagement with the blues. He followed those with a set showcasing his more intimate, romantic side with a collection of ballads, Some Other Time, released exclusively as a vinyl LP by Newvelle Records. He recorded this with a dream band featuring old collaborator Ben Monder, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Hart.

Podcast 559 is my conversation with Noah, as we discuss the latest album, how he feels he can make a statement in the Trump era, and where his talents will lead him next. Musical selections include “The 99 Percent,” “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth,” and “Broken Treaties”.

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Podcast 558: A Conversation with Yotam Silberstein

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Israel is producing some of the finest jazz musicians outside of the US these days. Israeli guitarists are particularly prolific, including artists like Roni Ben-Hur, Gilad Hekselman, Oren Neiman, and Tel-Aviv native Yotam Silberstein.


Silberstein is something of a prodigy, having picked up the guitar at ten, and having won the “Israeli Jazz Player of The Year” title by the age of 21. Since coming to New York in 2005 to study at the New School, he has been a finalist at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition, and released albums under his own name and with others. His mentors included James Moody and Jimmy Heath, leading to gigs in their ensembles. Released under the name “Yotam,” his critically acclaimed releases Resonance and Brasil on the Jazz Legacy Productions label set the stage for his work with Monty Alexander’s Grammy-nominated Harlem-Kingston Express Live!

The Village represents a chance for Yotam to not only lead an exciting quartet, but also to produce the work. Using Kickstarter, he raised more than enough money to allow him to bring his friends Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Greg Hutchinson on drums. The result is full of the wonderful interplay between musicians we have come to love from Yotam. With eleven original compositions, those who loved the Blue Note guitar sounds of artists like Grant Green will find much to enjoy on this CD.

Podcast 558 is my conversation with Yotam as he describes the Kickstarter process, relates stories of the recording of The Village, and talks about his gigs with Monty Alexander and his upcoming appearance as part of John Patitucci’s Trio on the album Irmaos De Fe that will be out in February on Newvelle Records. Musical selections include "Nocturno", "Stav", anf "Changes" from The Village and "Compassion" from Harlem-Kingston Express Live!


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Podcast 557: A Conversation wtih Kendra Shank

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 17:00:00 +0000

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 t[...]

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The Offical Straight No Chaser Song of New Year's Eve

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

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?

Podcast 556: A Few of My Favorite Things 2016

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

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 [...]

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Noted in Passing 2016

Mon, 26 Dec 2016 18:51:57 +0000

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 an[...]

The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Day: "Peace"

Sun, 25 Dec 2016 15:00:00 +0000

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
Don't say that it can't be done
With a new point of view, life's true meaning comes to you
And the freedom you seek is won
Peace is for everyone

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.

Repost: For Dreidl Spinners Everywhere

Sat, 24 Dec 2016 20:00:00 +0000

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.[...]

The Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Eve

Sat, 24 Dec 2016 15:00:00 +0000

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....

The Jazzbo 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

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[...]

Podcast 555: A Very Jazzy Xmas - The Secular Mix

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

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” Shirley Horn – “Winter Wonderland" 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[...]

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Podcast 554: A Conversation with Fabian Almazan

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

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.[...]

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Podcast 553: A Conversation with Patrick Zimmerli

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 19:19:04 +0000

It was almost twenty-five years ago that saxophonist-composer Patrick Zimmerli recorded six original compositions in sessions that were eventually shelved. He met that day with a few of his musical peers and friends, who today are recognized as some of the most exciting and in-demand players in the jazz world – pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Larry Grenadier, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, and drummer Tom Rainey. After Zimmerli was pestered for years to release the performances, Shores Against Silence finally saw the light of day this month. The album is a fine example of what Zimmerli brings to his compositions, arrangements and performances – an integration of contemporary classical compositional techniques with modern jazz execution. Whether you are listing to Shores Against Silence, or his recent performance of “Clockworks” backed by pianist Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus , bassist Chris Tordini  and percussionist John Hollenbeck, or his collaborations with Brad Mehldau or Joshua Redman, the listener is hearing challenging yet engaging and welcoming music. Patrick came onto the national  jazz scene during the fabled 1993 Thelonious Monk competition, when “The Paw”, which opens Shores Against Silence, took top composition honors. Zimmerli was a finalist in the saxophone competition that year, when Joshua Redman and Chris Potter finished first and second. Since then, his reputation as composer and arranger has steadily grown, and he even had the chance to curate of the IN/TER\SECT Festival at Bryant Park this past summer. Podcast 556 is my conversation with Patrick, as he tells the tale of Shores Against Silence, as well as relates playing with the likes of Ben Monder and Joshua Redman. Musical selections include “The Paw”, "Athena" and "Three Dreams of[...]

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Congratulations to the Jazz Grammy Nominees

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 17:00:00 +0000

Congratulations to the artists who have received Grammy Award nominations in categories that feature jazz musicians:  Best improvised jazz solo “Countdown” — Joey Alexander, soloist “In Movement” — Ravi Coltrane, soloist “We See” — Fred Hersch, soloist “I Concentrate On You” — Brad Mehldau, soloist “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” — John Scofield, soloist  Best jazz vocal album “Sound of Red” — René Marie “Upward Spiral” — Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling “Take Me to the Alley” — Gregory Porter “Harlem On My Mind” — Catherine Russell “The Sting Variations” — The Tierney Sutton Band  Best jazz instrumental album “Book of Intuition” — Kenny Barron Trio “Dr. Um” — Peter Erskine “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” — The Fred Hersch Trio “Nearness” — Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau “Country For Old Men” — John Scofield  Best large jazz ensemble album “Real Enemies” — Darcy James Argue's Secret Society “Presents Monk'estra, Vol. 1” — John Beasley “Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles” — John Daversa “All L.A. Band” — Bob Mintzer “Presidential Suite: Eight Variations On Freedom” — Ted Nash Big Band  Best Latin jazz album “Entre Colegas” — Andy González “Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw” — Brian Lynch & Various Artists “Canto América” — Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace La Orquesta Sinfonietta “30” — Trio Da Paz “Tribute to Irakere: Live In Marciac” — Chucho Valdés  Best Contemporary Instrumental Album: “Human Nature” — Herb Alpert “When You Wish Upon A Star” — Bill Frisell “Way Back Home Live From Rochester, NY” —[...]

Podcast 552: A Conversation with Matt Slocum

Mon, 14 Nov 2016 17:00:00 +0000

Matt Slocum’s Black Elk’s Dream was one of the best jazz CDs of 2014. Backed by musicians like Dayna Stephens, Gerald Clayton and Water Smith III, drummer Slocum presented a concept album inspired by the visionary Native American leader Black Elk and the book Black Elk Speaks. The music, whether original or deftly chosen covers, was orchestral in its feel, and packed a punch, either through mixed meters, interesting harmonies or the dynamic solos of the saxophones. With Trio Pacific, Volume 1, Slocum now moves to a stripped down sound, and manages to stand the historical concept of the jazz trio on its head by performing as a drummer, sax (Stephens again) and guitar (Steve Cardenas) threesome. The result is shimmering, subtle and often beautiful music, and proof the Slocum is well on his way to being one of our finest leaders. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in western Wisconsin, Slocum began musical studies on piano before switching to percussion at age 11. While in high school he was introduced to jazz through recordings featuring Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones. He received a full scholarship to attend the University of Southern California where he studied with the great Peter Erskine. Moving to New York a few years later, Slocum has performed and recorded as a leader on four CDs, while serving s sideman for the likes of Seamus Blake, Alan Broadbent, Wynton Marsalis, Linda Oh, Anthony Wilson, Sam Yahel and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Podcast 552 is my conversation with Matt, as we talk about the way Trio Pacific came together, how the lack of preparation led to exciting discoveries in the studio, and what he learned from his time with Peter Erskine. Musical selections from Trio Pacific, Volume 1 incl[...]

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Podcast 551: A Conversation with Scott Morgan

Sun, 13 Nov 2016 22:37:30 +0000

Scott Morgan has been around the New York jazz scene for more than a decade, but Songs of Life is his debut CD as a leader. After a few listens, the obvious question is:

Man, what took you so long?

Morgan has a warm, engaging tenor, and his phrasing rivets the listener to the lyrics he is singing, creating a wonderful intimacy. His band – pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Matt Aronoff, tenor saxman Joel Frahm, and drummer Ross Pederson – plays in a sensitive, yet solid, manner, allowing his to ring every drop of emotion he wants from the album’s13 well-chosen tunes.

Morgan treats songs from the Pop/Rock era with the same respect as those from Broadway, finding new ways to interpret songs by James Taylor and the Beatles that let them stand up with the Great American Songbook. His lyrics to Hersch’s “Mandevilla” allow the Brazilian flavor of the song to seep through with sensitivity and soul. His duet with Janis Siegel, “I’ll Follow” is an emotional highlight.

Podcast 551 is my conversation with Scott, as we discuss the CD, how he selects his material, and what songs he thought might work on Songs of Life, but ended up dropping. His story of how “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” came to be melded with the late Dave Catney's "Little Prayer" in a memorable performance is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Musical selections from Songs of Life include that medley, Kurt Weill’s  “Lost in the Stars”, “I’ll Follow”, and Lennon and McCartney’s “I Will.”

Scott Morgan will play two matinee sets at the Blue Note in New York on November 20th, 2016 at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.

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Song of the Day: "Christopher Columbus"

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 14:00:00 +0000

Columbus Day has become a deeply divisive event in the US. What once was the naive celebration of the "discovery of America" - take that Amerigo Vespucci and the Native Americans - is now marled with protests, given the start of the genocide his arrival in the New World began.

But let's go back to a simpler time, like May 1936, when Fats Waller and his Rhythm appeared on a popular radio show, The Magic Key Show, which originated from New York. That day, he performed two tunes - the well-known "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", and the lesser known "Christopher Columbus". The lyrics?

Mr.Christopher Columbus/Sailed the sea without a compass/Well, when his men began a rumpus/Up spoke Christopher Columbus

He said: "There is land somewhere/So until we get there we will not go wrong/If we sing a swing song/Since the world is round, we'll be safe and sound/'Till our goal is found we'll just keep the rhythm bound

Soon the crew was makin' merry/Then came a yell, let's drink to Isabella/Bring on the rum/A music in that all the rumpus/That wise old Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus/Christopher Columbus

Maybe not a Shakespearean sonnet, but you get the idea. And as always, Fats knew how to swing.

Podcast 550: A Conversation with Mehmet Ali Sanlikol

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 22:07:46 +0000

One of the great delights in modern jazz comes when a talented composer or arranger takes on material which we have come to expect to sound a certain way, or be presented in a certain manner, and turns it upside down, or at least off-kilter. Whether it’s a singer reimagining the way a tune from the Great American Songbook is interpreted (Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling); a soloist wringing emotion from a tired chestnut (almost anything Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau or Keith Jarrett cover) or bringing in sounds from other genres or cultures to make us rethink the very sound of jazz itself (Kamasi Washington, Donnie McCaslin, Robert Glasper), we are listening to new music at a very exciting time. Mehmet Ali Sanlikol fits firmly into this category. As a composer, he brings contemporary classical, straight ahead jazz and the music of his Turkish heritage into a wondrous sonic collision. With his band Whatsnext?, he is allowing us to think twice before putting music into one category or another. Resolution is his new CD, and from the very start, you can tell there is something exciting happening here. “Turkish Second Line” takes the sound of classic New Orleans street music (driven forward by guest soloist Anat Cohen) and merges it with the kind of Turkish dance music that Sanlikol has heard at parties since he was a child in Istanbul. Whether he is pairing scat singing with traditional Turkish singing or adding micro-tonality to big-band charts, Mehmet is making this music uniquely his own. Aided by additional guest soloists David Liebman, Antonio Sanchez and Tiger Okoshi, Whatsnext? rises to the occasion time and time again playing this str[...]

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Podcast 549: A Conversation with Gene Ess

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 23:10:01 +0000

If you listened to Podcast 471 last March, you heard singer/composer Thana Alexa sing the praises of guitarist Gene Ess. Ms. Alexa collaborated with Gene on his two releases, Fractal Attraction and Eternal Monomyth, two of a series of fine albums he has made since leaving the Rashied Ali Quartet over a decade ago. Growing up on a US Army base in Okinawa, Japan, Gene was exposed at an early age to a wide variety of music (his mother is a classical pianist), which goes a long way to explain his sound on electric guitar. A graduate of Berklee School of Music, he arrived in New York after a chance meeting with Rashied Ali. The drummer, who was a member of John Coltrane’s last band and a veteran of sessions with Gary Bartz, Alice Coltrane and David Murray, helped shape Ess’ approach to jazz and to life itself, bringing him closer to Coltrane and his legacy than any text could ever.  Ess traveled the world with Ali, and played with Coltrane alum Reggie Workman; Coltrane’s son Ravi; Carlos Santana and Lonnie Plaxico. He has released six albums under his own name, the most recent of which have added vocals to his already eclectic sound. Ess’ latest CD is Absurdist Theater. He has again brought Ms. Alexa on board to lend her vocals (she also contributes lyrics to two tunes) and assembled a truly diverse band – Cuban pianist Manuel Valera; Japanese bassist Yasushi Nakamura and American Clarence Penn on drums.  Thematically the CD attempts to take the listener on a journey to explore the philosophical idea of absurdism, contrasting our search of meaning in this life with the sheer joy of musical aesthetics. I[...]

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Podcast 548: A Conversation with Nate Wooley about Anthony Braxton

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 15:16:15 +0000

What seems a lifetime ago, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel to award grant money from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to musical applicants. My group reviewed instrumental music, and one of the members of the panel was none other than Anthony Braxton. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Mr. Braxton is one of the foremost composers and performers of avant-garde jazz, opera and instrumental music of the past sixty years. Mr. Braxton was at that time serving a as professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, so his inclusion in the Commission’s deliberations was fortuitous. I could not have asked for a more polite, warm and open person with whom to spend an afternoon, and despite the huge gap in knowledge between himself and the rest of the panel, he generously acknowledged our opinions and was patient in explaining his views. Now just past 70 years old, Mr. Braxton has recorded hundreds of albums during his career. From his time at the AACM in Chicago, to his quartet collaborations with the likes of Chick Corea, Kenny Wheeler, Sam Rivers and Dave Holland (Circle; Conference of the Birds), to Creative Orchestra Music, “Ghost Trance Music,” Trillian Opera and other large and small group improvisations; Mr. Braxton has eschewed any sort of genre or characterization for his daring and challenging music. As a way of exploring his music, most notably his post-1980 compositions and recordings, trumpeter-composer Nate Wooley has devoted the latest issue of his on-line publication, Sound American to Anthony Braxton. Essays written by the foremost sch[...]

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Podcast 547: Bobby Hutcherson (1941-2016)

Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:21:48 +0000

Bobby Hutcherson, a vibraphonist whose adventurous, harmonically challenging playing in the 1960s made him one of the most influential jazz musicians on his instrument, died Aug. 15 at his home in Montara, California at the age of 75. The cause was emphysema. A major player in the halcyon days of Blue Note Records, Hutcherson took the vibes in different directions than his mentors and peers would attempt. For every melodic, lyrical solo he recorded, there were also the dissonant, rhythmic and pulsing sounds of modern jazz in his work. Inspired by the sounds of Milt “Bags” Jackson, the vibes master who helped create “third stream” and chamber jazz, Hutcherson taught himself the demanding instrument, eventually serving as the bridge between the traditional sounds of Red Norvo, Lionel Hampton and Jackson to the contemporary sounds of Gary Burton, Joe Locke and Stefon Harris and more recently, Warren Wolf. Recording for Blue Note Records from 1963 to 1977, Mr. Hutcherson effortlessly moved from hard-bop jazz to more avant-garde styles. Besides the 22 solo albums he released for the label during that time, he served as sideman on some of the most important albums and for cutting edge artists of the day, taking key roles and contributing songs to Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond; Grant Green’s Idle Moments; Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!; Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe; and Andrew Hill’s Judgment!. McCoy Tyner counted him as a regular member of his recording ensemble, and he cut sides with the likes of Woody Shaw, Sonny Rollins, Harold Land and Don[...]

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Podcast 546: Jazz for the Dog Days 2016

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:00:00 +0000

It's summer in New England, so why not some summer themed music for these lazy, hot days? Today is August 16th, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of Dogs, so why not celebrate the "Dog Days"? The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the "Dog Star" because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), as well as the brightest star in the night sky. The term "Dog Days" was used earlier by the Greeks in Aristotle's Physics. The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true, owing to procession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a brown dog (Sorry Angus and Hamish, my two miniature dachshunds!) at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. I've done four previous Dog Day postings,  Podcast 292, Podcast 225,  Podcast 442,  and Podcast 492  if you'd like some more summer-themed music. There's a few repeats between these posts, but what the hey. It’s all grooving or relaxing music for soaking in those wonderful warming rays. Winter is just around the corner, and I am gonna grab all the warmth I can. Look for me on my deck with Angus and Hamish - and Nancy - and a cold beverage or two. I’ve been learning a bit of mixology, so I think Frozen Whiskey Smash is the drink of the day. Podcast 546 features the following uninterrupted ho[...]

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Podcast 545: A Conversation with Sergio Pereira

Tue, 16 Aug 2016 00:35:28 +0000

Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sergio Pereira starting playing acoustic guitar (violao) at the age of 8 years old, influenced by his older brother who helped him play his first chords and the bossa-nova giants at the time - Joao Gilberto, Tom Jobim, and, Marcus Valle. Growing up in Rio in the 60’s and 70’s contributed tremendously to the energy, groove and rhythms reflected in his music today. Moving to New York in the 80’s, exposed Pereira to an entirely different “scene.” It motivated the guitarist to not only continuing playing the guitar, but to further enhance his knowledge of the music and the instrument itself, which led him to studying with jazz greats including Chuck Wayne, Sal Salvador and Alex Adrian. Beginning in the early 90’s he has been travelling the world extensively, playing with different groups and at countless venues in many different countries in Europe, Africa and beyond. For over 20 years Pereira has been a member of the United Nations Jazz band for which has afforded him the opportunity to perform in various high profile venues. Recently, he returned to his Brazilian roots, working to further broadened his understanding of harmony, improvisation and technique.This has led to the release of his first CD as a leader, Swingando. Recorded in New York City and Brazil, the album includes some of the top musicians in Brazilian jazz today, a veritable who’s who of heavyweights, such as Helio Alves, Teixeira, Nilson Matta, Mauricio Zottarelli, Duduka da Fonseca and[...]

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Podcast 544: A Conversation with Livio Almeida

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:55:24 +0000

With the whole world’s eyes trained on Rio for the Summer Olympics, it should come as no surprise to readers of that I’m thinking about Brazilian music. Here in America we think primarily of Bossa Nova and Samba, but I also enjoy more esoteric genres like Choro, Forro, and Tropicalissmo. The release last month of two new CDs from Brazilian artists that were not previously on my radar was cause for celebration here at SNC, and the next two podcasts will feature my conversations with saxophonist Livio Almeida and guitarist Sergio Pereira. Livio Almeida is Brazilian saxophone/woodwinds player and composer/arranger. He received his Bachelor in Classical Saxophone in Brasilia, Brazil, and received his second degree at The City College of New York with a BFA in Jazz Performance. You may have heard him in his role in the O’Farrill Brothers Band, or for his solos on recent releases by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. He also directs a 10 piece band, the only one of its kind in the USA, a “dectet" dedicated to perform large ensemble Brazilian music, with regular residencies at the traditional Zinc Bar and Iridium Jazz Club in New York. Action & Reaction is his second CD as a bandleader, and features his working quartet of Vitor Gonçalves on piano, Eduardo Belo on bass, and Zack O’Farrill on drums. Adam O’Farrill drops in to lend a hand on trumpet as well. Podcast 544 is my conversation with Livio, as we discuss the differences in “Latin Jazz” and [...]

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Podcast 543: A Conversation with Chico Freeman

Wed, 03 Aug 2016 23:11:56 +0000

At the turn of the millennium, saxophonist Chico Freeman left the US for Europe, and embarked on a multi-year journey of exploration, both of music and his soul. He traveled across the continent and to Africa, playing music with different types of musicians, and in different genres.  Quite frankly, he was missed. He hasn't been to the US in quite a while to play,and a player, performer and composer of his stature is not someone we can lose lightly. The son of the great Von Freeman, he was mentored by his Dad and the likes of George Lewis and the members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From there he has tackled almost any musical style he wanted - playing the blues; funking it up as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section; and leading his own groups through dozens of memorable sessions. Now he's back. In May he released a fine new CD, Spoken Into Existence, with a 4-tet of mostly European musicians. It finds Chico in a gentle, lyrical mood, as he performs five compositions in honor of each of his daughters, among other originals. He wowed them with his Plus-Tet at Dizzy's Coca-Cola earlier this Spring, and now he's on a rare West Coast swing. If you are a left coast jazz fan, don't miss him. Podcast 543 is our conversation, and it's a memorable one. He talks about the new CD, his approach to writing, and tells a few great stories about growing up in a household always full of music. Musical selections from  Spoken[...]

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Happy Birthday, Jerry Garcia

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 10:25:16 +0000

Dead & Company have been playing stadium shows this summer, but clearly, something is missing from their presentation of the music of the Grateful Dead. Let's pause for a moment and remember that today would have been Jerry Garcia’s 74th birthday, and like so many other fans, I'll spend a few moments contemplating his music. Maybe a few "Scarlet Begonia/Fire on the Mountain" and "Dark Star" tracks are in the cards. How about a "Ripple" as well? Named after composer Jerome Kern, Garcia was a student of American music, whether it was bluegrass, show tunes or the blues. Jerry had a love of jazz, and while the Dead themselves did not dip into the jazz canon all that often, Jerry’s side projects gave him a chance to show his jazz chops. Click here to listen to a recording of Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove” from the 1998 release So What from Garcia and mandolin player David Grisman. Other members of the band were Joe Craven on percussion, Matt Eakle on flute and Jim Kerwin on bass. The latest edition of the GarciaLive project was released last month, and featured Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders live at the Lion's Share on July 5, 1973. Filled with the typical wide variety of tunes (Motown, Country-Rock, Fifties R&B) it also features a fascinating version of "My Funny Valentine", showing that Garcia could reach into the Great AMerican Songbook as well. Check it out here,  [...]

Podcast 542: Previewing the Newport Jazz Festival with Danny Melnick

Wed, 27 Jul 2016 22:26:11 +0000

The Newport Jazz Festival continues to reinvent itself from year to year, and attendees at the Festival at Fort Adams State Park Friday, July 29 to Sunday July31 will get a chance to see and hear music from a veritable plethora of musical genres. It’s truly rare, in these days when “Jazz Festivals” are often “jazz” in name only, to be able to celebrate the latest groundbreaking acts and the most venerable classic groups in the same 72 hours. Last year saw promoters George Wein and Danny Melnick expanded the Festival to include a Friday slate of up and coming or avant-garde leaning musicians, ensuring the Festival will remain relevant. In addition, the intimate Storyville allowed solo piano and other instruments for those seeking refuge from larger stages across the compound. As you’ll hear in my conversation with Danny Melnick, acts that allow even the hardest core jazzbo to find something new and exciting are all over the three-day schedule. Friday features New Orleans funk stars Galactic; today’s “It” musician, Kamasi Washington; and acts often missing from festival bills, like Kneebody, Eric Revis, Sullivan Fortner, Steve Coleman and the Five Elements, and Kris Davis. One of my favorites, Tierney Sutton, brings her After Blue Joni Mitchell Project to Newport as well. Saturday has some of the biggest names of the Festival - Gregory Porter; Chick Corea’s Trilogy with Christ[...]

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Podcast 541: A Conversation with The Hot Sardines

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 23:36:40 +0000

It would be easy to dismiss The Hot Sardines as a nostalgia novelty act, coming across like Jazz Age Hipsters. But that would be a mistake. A BIG mistake. Like other acts that have come to prominence in the past few years – think Lake Street Dive for example – they have incorporated older sounds and sensibilities into something very contemporary, and at times, downright exciting. Remember when Jazz WAS Pop music? They will help you recall, singing Cole Porter and Robert Palmer side by side. Evan “Bibs” Palazzo and Elizabeth Bougerol lead the group, which has just released their latest CD, French Fries & Champagne, a truly fun romp through a variety of musical styles and sounds. From a straight ahead take on “Running Wild” (immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot) to a duet with Alan Cummings (Broadway’s Cabaret and TV’s The Good Wife), to a reimagining of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”, French Fries & Champagne never fails to bring a tap to your toes and a smile to your face. Palazzo and Ms. Bougerol have strong support from band members Jason Prover (trumpet), Alex Raderman (drums), Nick Myers (saxophone and clarinet), and Mike Sailors (trombone and cornet), and a building reputation as a live act to watch. It’s no wonder they’ve gone from New York Clubs to the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival this coming weekend. More on the [...]

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