The Independent Ear

Meet The Artist Series: Jason Moran

Last December 1 the DC Jazz Festival presented Jason Moran in a solo piano performance at the Embassy of Switzerland before an enthusiastic, (packed) invited audience of festival supporters. Earlier that afternoon, as part of DCJF’s ongoing Meet The Artist series it was this writer’s pleasure to engage Jason in a very rewarding (free & open to the public) lunchtime interview before a rapt audience at the NYU/DC Abramson Family Auditorium. We discussed his growing up in Houston and how that city has developed so many productive musicians of his generation (e.g. Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, Helen Sung, Kendrick Scott and several others); his artistically (and otherwise obviously) nurturing home environment; his subsequent music studies with Jaki Byard; how he, drummer Nasheet Waits, and bassist Tarus Mateen came to establish his 18-year old trio the Bandwagon; the development of he and wife Alicia Hall Moran are going about establishing their Yes records label and a variety of other pertinent topics. View that Meet The Artist interview here:

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Assessing the evolution of hip-hop

Watching Netflix revealing 4-part documentary series Hip Hop Evolution a couple months after enjoying director Baz Luhrmann’s exceptionally entertaining 6-part historical drama The Get Down (also Netflix) was somewhat akin to watching FX’s riveting O.J. Simpson murder drama, followed in short order by ESPN’s brilliant and exhaustive O.J. Simpson: Made in America documentary. In both cases you had a finely-executed drama followed in short order by a documentary vehicle that gave you the real deal in a kind of hand-in-glove relationship (no O.J. pun intended!). The documentary film is affably and expertly narrated by its admirably-invested, attitude-free tour guide, the Canadian MC Shad, aka Shadrach Kabango. The fact that he’s Canadian perhaps forgives his youthful naiveté when one of the hip hop pioneers details the formative influence of the early rappin’ comic Pigmeat Markham, an African American community record collection staple in the ’60s and ’70s – in the rack right next to those hilariously blue Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley records our parents forbad us to listen to until we were “old enough” – though we damn sure devoured them when Mom & Dad weren’t home, or when we snuck outta bed to peep their house parties!

The Get Down dramatizes the times and landscape (principally the oft-neglected New York City borough of the Bronx) that gave rise to hip-hop, while The Evolution of Hip Hop, with the gritty mid-70s realities of life in the Bronx in vivid terms, provides even greater context to the people and the atmospheres that gave rise to the dominant force in 21st century pop music culture. The smooth transition from the dramatized version, with its greater emphasis on interpersonal relationships and familial backdrop, works beautifully juxtaposed alongside the documentary, which nails the facts and figures. The doc introduces the viewer to characters heretofore unknown, or otherwise underground (dig the interview with the brother who rapped his basement MC role alongside legendary house party DJ Kool Herc), which gave root to the form’s march through its ongoing, often controversial 40+ year evolution.

Kool Herc’s place in music history is sealed by both the documentary and his depiction in The Get Down, as are such early turntable doctors as Grandmaster Flash. The documentary series provides excellent context for the oft-overlooked importance of sound system technology (particularly turntables) in the development of hip hop. The section of Grandmaster Flash’s interview where he details his childhood fascination with electronic gadgets and circular motion (from the spin of a clothes dryer window, to spinning bicycle wheels, to his dad spinning discs at home), is priceless, including the ‘ah-ha’ moment when he discovers how to separate the break beats he sought to emphasize from the rest of the Lp; and these guys most definitely focused on the long-form of the Lp, as opposed to the singles or 45s preceding generations partied to. The documentary firmly establishes the fact that it was the DJs and MCs who were as important – some might argue more important – to the development of hip hop as the rappers themselves, whose historical importance has been somewhat inflated by human nature’s broader embrace of the human voice over the instrumental and technological influences and innovations in music.

Another fascinating segment of the documentary series comes when hip hop scenester (he was first to bring the form to broadcast television via Yo MTV Raps) Fab 5 Freddy (interviewed in these pages in two parts: :…roots-of-hip-hop/…roots-of-hip-hop/ ) recalls introducing hip hop pioneer DJ Afrika Bambaataa to downtown visual artist Keith Haring and how Haring hatched the idea of inviting Bambaataa downtown from the Bronx to DJ parties, which began to broaden the reach of this burgeoning form, encouraging the immersion of young white kids. Thus introducing Debbie Harry‘s pivotal embrace of early rap, at a time when progressives hungered to loosen disco’s grip on club and dance culture.

The documentary segment detailing how Sugarhill Gang came to record the earliest hip hop hit, “Rapper’s Delight” is one of the film’s touchstones. Tellingly some of the early OG’s of the form patently dismissed the mass popularity of “Rapper’s Delight” in the same manner hardcore jazzers dismissed the smooth jazz heyday of the 1990s. Sugarhill Gang was viewed by hip hop’s early hardcore as largely flukey perpetrators, the group having been birthed by R&B record executive Sylvia Robinson. Jazz historians might easily analogize Sugar Hill Gang as The Original Dixieland Jazz Band of hip hop. ODJB made history’s first jazz record in 1917 largely because black musicians, as legend has it like trumpeter Freddie Keppard, who turned down the opportunity. And why’d he decline overtures to make that first jazz record? Because they thought someone might steal their licks! The same was apparently true of early hip hop proponents who missed the same boat Sugarhill Gang seized, supervised by Sylvia Robinson. And the series does indeed make that analogy with early black jazzers, via the distinguished black pop writer Nelson George.

Perhaps owed to its production by an otherwise laudable Canadian firm the only even slight bobble in The Evolution of Hip Hop is the total absence of one important historical factoid that helped compel the birth of hip hop. Historical footage in the documentary shows Ronald Reagan’s now-infamous foray into the Bronx, back when the borough was truly “burning”. What was missed was the impact his draconian economic policy known as Reaganomics had on the subsequent Reagan years (1980s) development of hip hop. Jazz grandmaster Max Roach, was a keen observer of hip hop’s early development, principally through conversations with his godson Freddy Brathwaite, known as Fab 5 Freddy. Max often spoke of Reaganomics’ drastic cuts to public education being at the root of hip hop’s development.

With those cuts in public education funding, among the first thing administrators slashed was public school music education. This observer came along at a time when all you had to do is choose which instrument you wanted to play if you desired to learn music; every school had its share of old instruments ready to be resurrected from whatever closet they were kept at school. Those Reaganomic cuts, and in most cases outright elimination, of public school music education, didn’t dampen kids’ desire to somehow make music; so instead they chose turntable technology and wordsmithing.

But ultimately that was a small overlook on the part of this otherwise excellent and highly-recommended Netflex documentary The Evolution of Hip Hop, a must-see no matter your interest in or position on the form. In its four parts the Evolution of Hip Hop takes the viewer geographically from the Bronx to South Central L.A. as its end point. Thankfully we are spared the many dollar-driven, two bit, narcissistic hip hop charlatans that have emerged in subsequent years. Ultimately, this report recommends ordering your viewing ala the O.J. saga – drama (The Get Down) first, followed by the reality check (The Evolution of Hip Hop).

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Mimi Jones is calling her own shots

In our continuing series of conversations with musicians who have determined to take full ownership of much of their artistic resources, we turn to the resourceful bassist MIMI JONES. Not only is Mimi an exceptional bassist, she is also quite the businesswoman – continuing to evolve as a bassist-composer and bandleader, hatching new performance projects, developing her own record label (Hot Tone Music), recording fellow-traveling artists of her choosing, and building her own performances, including running a weekly jam session. Clearly some questions were in order for this 21st century renaissance woman.

(Photo by Tyrone Kenney)

Mimi Jones, where are you from and how did you come to play this music?
Im a native New Yorker born and raised, spent most of my life in the Bronx. I’ve been listening to music since I was in the womb, my parents were big jazz fans, Miles, Trane, Cannonball, Nancy Wilson, Monk, and others like James Brown, Kenny Rogers, Simon and Garfunkel, Earth, Wind and Fire… the craziest mixture, what the hell… My parents tried to get me to stop listening to LL Cool J, and Michael Jackson and listen to kind of blue, and I’d always try and run away, lol. This went on until my 3rd year of high school, when it hit me how incredible that music really was.

What have been some of your biggest challenges as a musician?
One of my biggest challenges was finding my own voice and realizing that I am significant. I spent a lot of time being hard on myself about my playing not being good enough and missing out on how awesome it is to be a bass player; learning how to enjoy and appreciate the process, and have patience for good things to come was terribly hard.

Why did you decide to start your own record label – Hot Tone – and how have you gone about developing your label?
I started the Hot Tone Music label because I began to realize that humans take you more seriously when you have a family, or backup. Also I needed a safe platform to experiment and manifest my ideas from. I found that I could spend hours on end producing music, in production and post production, and have an eye for design… so a lot of the necessary skills were already there. Right now as most music seems to be freely streamed on the internet, as a label owner I am interested to see what comes next.

Talk about some of the artists who have recorded for Hot Tone Music.
Well there was Ms. Camille Thurman, an amazing vocalist, amazing saxophonist, Flutist, and composer. We recorded Origins and Spirit Child with Camille, crazy and fun times. Shirazette Tinnin, drummer and percussionist extraordinaire and composer, recorded “Humility: Purity of my Soul,” and “How the Groove stole Christmas” for the label. Again crazy and fun times! Luis Perdomo, an incredible pianist & composer, recorded “Montage,” which has a mixture of free, original, and traditional musical selections and was his first solo piano recording, and “Twenty Two” featuring his trio project the Controlling Ear Unit, an exciting, unusual piano trio.


This year I recorded my own projects with the Mimi Jones Band “Feet in the Mud”, a tribute to great music legends, my ancestors and the process. I also recorded “Balance” in 2014, and “A New Day” in 2009 for the label.

Would it be an accurate assessment to suggest that Hot Tone Music is somewhat of a woman-centric label?
Hot Tone Music is not centric to any gender… just great music!

As we enter this new year 2017 what other enterprises have you got coming up?
The Lab Session [her regular] Experimental Jam Session just moved to Smoke Jazz Club on Monday Nights. The project Next Stop Harlem will be performing at the Pollack Theatre in NJ on Feb 4th, 2017… The performance features a jazz septet, including a tap dancer, spoken word and dialogue depicting a story based around the journey of a couple traveling from the South to Harlem during the great migration and the Harlem renaissance. It is a mini musical. Truly exciting, informative and fun.

The D.O.M.E. Experience is a multimedia project co-created by myself and pianist ArcoIris Sandoval that includes dance choreography, cinematography
and original composition. The project is created to bring an awareness to current social and environmental issues globally, with the hope that the exposure will stimulate the viewers to get up and do their part to make the world a better place. This large orchestra ensemble project can range from a cast of 20 to a cast of 45 people depending on the budget. It features jazz luminaries like Steve Wilson, David Gilmore, Claire Daly, Bob Stewart, Tia Fuller, many more.

Stay tuned to the Independent Ear for an update from Mimi on The D.O.M.E. Experience performances.

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2016 WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll results

*The 2016 edition of the WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll considered all new releases and reissues received between Thanksgiving 2015 and Thanksgiving 2016. Read below for details on WPFW’s eclectic mix of jazz programming and programmers (each of whom produce one 2-3 hour program per week) – one of the most robust jazz menus in terrestrial radio.

Top Ten
Gregory Porter, Take Me to the Alley, Blue Note
Catherine Russell, Harlem on my Mind, Jazz Village
Joey Alexander, Countdown, Motema
Orrin Evans, Knowingishalfthebattle, Smoke Sessions
Rene Marie, Sound of Red, Motema
Herlin Riley, New Direction, Mack Avenue
Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks, Cuneiform
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, I Long to See You, Blue Note
Miles Davis, Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series Vol 5, Legacy
Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matt Garrison, In Movement, ECM

Honorable Mention
Cecile McLorin Salvant, For One to Love, Mack Avenue
John Scofield, Country for Old Men, Impulse
Nels Cline, Lovers, Blue Note
Larry Young in Paris, The ORTF Recordings, Resonance
Warren Wolf, Convergence, Mack Avenue
Lori Williams, Behind the Smiles, Pacific Coast Jazz
The Cookers, Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart, Smoke Sessions
Abbey Lincoln, Talkin’ to the Sun, HighNote
Cuong Vu Trio meets Pat Metheny, Nonesuch
Henry Threadgill, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, Pi

*Broadcasting from the nation’s capital, WPFW 89.3FM is the “Jazz & Justice” station in the DMV; streaming live at WPFW programmers host once-weekly programs and each brings his/her own music; our station does not maintain an active music library. Jazz on WPFW is aired in the following timeslots: Sundays 9am-6pm; M-F 5am-8am; M-F 3pm-5pm (eclectic mix incl. jazz); M-F 7pm-10pm; M-Th 10pm-midnight; T-Th midnight-2am; M-Th 2am-5am.

Next Week: WPFW Jazz Programmers’ extensive list of other new releases and reissues from 2016 receiving votes in the 2016 WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll.


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Preview: Winter Jazzfest 2017

The delightful, often dizzying marathon known as Winter Jazzfest hits January 5-10 at spaces all across downtown Manhattan (below 14th Street). For this 13th edition we sought out the event’s award-winning producer Brice Rosenbloom with some questions about this year’s event and the fest in general. But first… this corner can always appreciate an arts event with a conscience; such is definitely the case with the Winter Jazzfest; so before we get to our questions for Brice Rosenbloom, here’s some info to get at the heart of the event’s social conscience. (All artists whose images accompany this interview will be featured on various WJF stages.)

2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest Celebrates 13th Season,
Supporting Social & Racial Justice By Presenting
Socially Engaged Artists Who Have Urgent & Beautiful
Musical Messages To Share

Panels To Be Held Combining Musicians with
Black Lives Matter Activists and Officials from American Civil Liberties Union

In 2017, Winter Jazzfest directly addresses the sense of crisis confronting our nation. The festival and its leadership stand firmly with #blacklivesmatter, the American Civil Liberties Union, and seek to address issues of discrimination, police brutality, abuse of power, xenophobia, sexual and gender discrimination, that are all threatening to become more deeply institutionalized in the coming administration.

Artists have always been at the heart of movement-building and social solidarity. Protest and resistance are central to jazz’s existence from its beginnings as the music of marginalized black Americans. Jazz’s vitality and effectiveness in voicing truths about life in America has not changed. As wide-ranging as music can be in style, format and message, so is the manner in which it reflects the politics and social issues of today.

“We support #blacklivesmatter, the ACLU and all who feel threatened in the current political climate. We proudly offer artists our Winter Jazzfest stages to respond to injustice, inequality and divisiveness through music,” says Winter Jazzfest founder Brice Rosenbloom. “We have never felt more emboldened to inspire progress as jazz advocates, as New Yorkers, as Americans, and as global citizens striving to support equality and justice for all humanity.”

Winter Jazzfest will donate a share of profits from the 2017 festival to organizations who are standing up against discrimination and for social justice in America. We hope to inspire support of these causes now and in the coming years. The 2017 marathon features several musical performances explicitly thematically addressing racial and social justice themes through music, words and poetry.

Brice Rosenbloom, How did you come to do this work?
Winter Jazzfest was launched 13 years ago to give exposure to jazz groups that I felt were underrepresented during the APAP (Arts Presenters) conference, when my fellow presenter colleagues were in town to book groups for their performing arts centers, festivals and clubs around the country and internationally. In the first year we showcased 18 groups on three stages and welcomed a sold out audience. Every year we have been able to grow the festival due to the demand of both audiences and artists and its a testament to the health of the jazz scene that we are inundated with so much great talent wanting to play the festival.

Each year you seem to add a new component to the festival – if not an entire new room. From that, and from an artistic perspective, what’s new and different about this coming Winter Jazzfest?
Of course we have always made an effort to include special components in the festival like the touching tribute to Butch Morris by Henry Threadgill a few years ago, or the piano duo with Jason Moran and Robert Glasper at Town Hall during the year of Blue Note Records 75th anniversary, or the special headline show with Kamasi Washington last year at Webster Hall. And for the past few years we have featured artists-in-residence, and this year we’re proud to present Andrew Cyrille on five of the six nights of the festival including two projects on our signature marathon weekend, the Haitian Fascination group and his duet with saxophonist Bill McHenry. Andrew Cyrille will also perform on Sunday January 8th for one of our shows celebrating the 100th Birthday of Thelonious Monk, along with 11 other improvisors recreating the album ‘Solo Monk’ in different configurations or solos, duos, trios and quartets. Other Monk inspired performances include Jason Moran and The Bandwagon, a trio with Florian Weber, Donny McCaslin and Dan Weiss, and Peter Bernstein’s trio all performing the music of Monk. Cyrille will also perform a solo set opening for a show we are calling Sam Amidon Extended which features the songwriter and banjo player in a setting where he will be challenged to improvise with fellow genre straddling musicians including Marc Ribot, Kris Bowers, Shahzad Ismaily, Ben Goldberg, Linda Oh and others.



Additionally this year feels uniquely meaningful for us. A theme of racial and social justice naturally developed in our programming. Of course we have always presented projects that are related to social and racial justice, as jazz is inherently a music that often profoundly reflects societal issues. However this year we received countless proposals from artists whose music directly responded to the many contemporary tragedies of racial violence and injustice that we all witnessed this year. With the tragedies of this past Summer and beyond still resonating so freshly in our minds and with this outpouring of relevance solicitations we felt a personal and professional responsibility to offer our Winter Jazzfest stages to support artists’ messages of awareness and justice in their music. We are proud to do our part to share messages of social and racial justice and hope to further inspire musicians, audiences, and my professional colleagues. I hope they will also be bold and will include projects that are relevant outside of the concert hall on their own stages around the country and beyond. And as a presenter throughout the year (not just for Winter Jazzfest), I am further emboldened to continue this important work, certainly for the next four years and beyond.

Some of the artists that are performing projects that explicitly address racial and social justice include Amina Claudine Myers solo piano, Songs of Freedom with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Alicia Olatuja, Theo Bleckman and music director Ulysses Owens Jr., Samora Pinderhughes’ Transformations Suite, Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone, Terri Lyne Carrington & Social Science, David Murray & Class Struggle, Jaimeo Brown Transcendence, LaFrae Sci and Sonic Black, and Craig Harris’s Breathe a project featuring 40 musicians.


We are excited to open the festival with legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders performing with his quartet of Jonathan Blake, Dezron Douglas, and William Henderson, with opening band British bandleader Shabaka Hutchings with The Ancestors, a group from South Africa. And we are proud to close the festival on January 10th with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra featuring Geri Allen in a tribute concert of music specifically written for social and environmental justice. This show will be preceded by a panel of musicians and activists discussing Charlie Haden’s music and his interest in activism.

Lastly we’re proud this year to launch our Winter Jazzfest Talks series at The New School. On Saturday January 7th we are hosting a panel on Social Justice and the Role of Music with representatives from ACLU, BlackLivesMatter, musician and journalist Greg Tate, musicians Samora Pinderhughes and Terri Lyne Carrington, and moderator and journalist Siddartha Mitter. On Sunday we will host a discussion between drummer and artist-in-residence Andrew Cyrille and fellow drummer Johnathon Blake. That will be followed by a panel discussing the life and legacy of Thelonious Monk.

Ultimately we find it fulfilling to warm thousands of bodies with a tremendous amount of buzz and meaningful activity around jazz in New York the first weekend of the year.


What’s your process for building this festival, and when does the work actually begin from year-to-year?
In some ways the work is non-stop. We already have a targeted list of artists we intend to book for next season, January 2018. But the majority of the work happens in the 5-6 months leading up to the festival. That is when we finalize the artist bookings, strategize marketing, production, and wok on the challenging puzzle slotting the more than 100 groups playing on the weekend marathon nights of the festival, ensuring every stage flows well, works from a production standpoint and most challenging of all, schedule does not have any artist conflicts. With over 600 different musicians performing on these two nights many artists perform multiple sets and we have to ensure those sets do not overlap and that theres proper time for those musicians to jump from one gig to another. But again, from a curatorial standpoint the work really never ends. Throughout the year we are always on the look out for an artist that impresses us enough to include in the festival.


Are you a believer in the benefits of visiting other festivals, and when you do visit other festivals what particular elements are you looking out for?
Absolutely. Just like I hope to inspire my friends and colleagues who attend Winter Jazzfest, its valuable for me to experience their festivals from both the artistic standpoint to see who they are booking, but also from an operational standpoint. With a festival of many stages and moving parts there are always ways we can improve the artist and audience experiences.


From my personal experience at Winter Jazzfest I’ve come to feel the best method is to arrive early at whichever venue has the lineup of most interest and simply camp out there for the duration of the evening. How would you respond to that?
That definitely works for a lot of people, and now that nearly half of our venues do offer seating options that strategy is sound. Of course the festival was founded with the idea to encourage people to bounce around between venues we have developed the programming to work for an audience that would prefer to stay put. With that in mind we have programmed each stage with appropriate flow that we hope an audience will appreciate lines of connection between different groups. I think this year you can’t go wrong if you plop yourself down at any of the fully seated venues. At the larger Tishman Auditorium at The New School the programming touches on three of the themes of the festival with two projects explicitly touching on music and justice opening with Craig Harris’s Breathe with 40 musicians paying tribute to Eric Garner and other tragedies of racial violence over the years. Then our artist-in-residence Andrew Cyrille will perform a special duet with saxophonist Bill McHenry; followed by Songs of Freedom, the music of Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln with vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Alicia Olatuja, Theo Bleckman, Jazzmeia Horn, and music director Ulysses Owens Jr; and that stage will close with Jason Moran and The Bandwagon performing the music of Thelonious Monk. The next night in that same auditorium we welcome back ECM records who helped us curate this stage with both European and American artists including Tomasz Stanko, Ravi Coltrane, David Virelles, Nik Bartsch, Bill Frisell and others. Other venues where I am confident audiences will appreciate

What would you recommend to the discerning audience member who is somewhat conflicted and desires to hear one band here, another there, and still others at a third and fourth venue, which of course necessitates a certain intrepid nature?
Go with the flow, try not to make strict agendas. Theres so much incredible music available on the marathon nights that you really cannot go wrong. You’ll find yourself seeing artists that you know throughout the night but what we ultimately hope for is for the discovery of new music. Yes some venues will be full but since there will always be space somewhere we recommend not waiting in a line and instead venturing to one of the other venues where a new music discovery is likely. We do have a page on our website which gives nearly real-time updates of venue capacity status, at

Certainly we recommend audiences attend the festival with an open mind. Besides impromptu music discovery there will be many surprise guests performances, countless mind blowing sets, opportunities to rub shoulders with musicians in intimate venues, and late night jazz hangs with both pure energy and genuine spirit that is both reminiscent to this city’s jazz past and a sign of the true potential jazz scene that New York deserves.

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