The Independent Ear

Monterey stronger than ever @ 57

CECILE McLORIN SALVANT1
Songbird Cecile McLorin Salvant keeps racking up the fans wherever she goes – shown here at one of her two MJF ’14 performances (photo: Tyrone Kenney/NeoBop Project)

Last weekend’s Monterey Jazz Festival was yet another reason the event remains one of the art form’s true standard bearers. Across the six stages on the Monterey Fairgrounds one could experience past, present and future over the course of three days, including several hybridized shades, and the sense of interconnectedness was quite palpable. Let’s start with Friday evening on the Jimmy Lyons Stage in the Arena (the big stage) with Cecile McLorin Salvant, who at the tender age of 24 continues to distinguish with her big, expansive voice that ranges from coquettish to astounding high & low register displays and her yen for older songs. Her essential piano accompanist, Aaron Diehl, distinguished himself with two separate performances of his MJQ revisited with the estimable vibist Warren Wolf in the Bags seat. Cecile was followed on the Lyons Stage by the Robert Glasper Experiment, whose set was hampered by some keyboard tech peccadilloes. But Glasper showed up quite auspiciously on two succeeding occasions – first as a panelist on the very rewarding talk session (or “spoken word” session as friend & colleague moderator Ashley Kahn characterized it) celebrating Blue Note Records 75th anniversary, with fellow panelists NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson and label prexy Don Was. Later that afternoon Glasper was pianist in the One Point of View Blue Note futures band, with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Lionel Loueke, tenor man Marcus Strickland, bassist Derek Hodge (also in Glasper’s Experiment), and the resourceful drummer Kendrick Scott. Loueke also hit with Herbie Hancock who closed Friday’s auspicious Lyons Stage lineup. And Akinmusire played his own quintet set Sunday evening at the Nightclub.

Blue Note panel_resized
The Blue Note @ 75 panel: L to R moderator Ashley Kahn, Bobby Hutcherson, Don Was, Robert Glasper

That sense of interconnected artists was a hallmark of this year’s event and a testament to MJF artistic director Tim Jackson’s sterling programming acumen. Many of these artists reside in the NYC area so just flying them all to Cali is such a potential budget buster that engaging the more multi-faceted among them for more than one gig just makes sense. Jason Moran was another example; playing his Fats Waller Dance Party on the Garden Stage, trumpeter Leron Thomas delivering a pithy take on Waller’s “Two Sleepy People”, to open Saturday’s evening session in celebration of the release last week of that project’s Blue Note document All Rise. Then Sunday evening he hit with the Charles Lloyd Quartet (more on him later) in the Arena. The ever-burning, undersung piano great Harold Mabern played three sets at the Coffee House on Friday evening then hung out the rest of the weekend. The festival’s HQ hotel is the Hyatt and the late night jam sessions there are always a good hang to connect with friends and colleagues. Such was the case when some friends summoned Suz and I to the Hyatt lounge on Saturday evening. The usual band of students and occasional pros were cooking while we were busy yukking and catching up with friends in one corner. When the band struck “My Favorite Things” there was a perceptible deepening of the piano groove & acumen that caused heads to turn. Sure enough Mabern had eased into the keys and it was on!

Drummer Eric Harland, this year’s artist in residence, guested with the MJF Next Generation high school all-stars to open the Sunday matinee on the Lyons Stage, played two gigs with his Voyager band, and burned brightly with the Charles Lloyd Quartet on Sunday night. Christian McBride swung with virtuosity at the helm of his trio (Ulysses Owens on drums and Christian Sands on piano) on the Nightclub stage Friday evening, and grooved with equal depth as part of the Philadelphia Experiment, with drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who later that evening led The Roots on the Lyons Stage) and keyboardist Uri Caine. They were joined for some closing selections (including an obligatory “Green Onions”) by B-3 funkmeister Booker T. Jones, who’d played the Saturday matinee on the Lyons Stage with his own band.

Philly Exp_resized
The Philadelphia Experiment: L to R Uri Caine, Questlove, Christian McBride

Freshly minted NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd (just signed to Blue Note per Was on the aforementioned panel session) was a featured MJF eminence, playing in different contexts each of the three nights. On Friday evening he played a beautiful, meditatively spiritual set with Sangam, his trio with master Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain and Harland (mama, there goes that drummer again!). Saturday evening brought arguably the highlight of Lloyd’s three performances – an incandescent duo hit with pianist Gerald Clayton at Dizzy’s Den, one of the festival’s real beauty spots. Sunday evening Lloyd brilliantly celebrated the spirit of his 1966 Monterey breakthrough by including an obligatory “Forest Flower” on the Lyons Stage with his Quartet (Moran, Harland and bassist Ruben Rogers). The festival also screened Charles’ rewarding new ECM film “Arrows Into Infinity” in the Theater. There were additional interconnections, those are just the ones this writer was able to experience!

Chas Lloyd
Lloyd’s latest release is a live document that journeys back in time to his 60s days leading a piano-less quartet

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd Quartet

Additional Highlights
Melissa Aldana_resized
Melissa Aldana was a tenor revelation for many
Tenorist Melissa Aldana and her rich, burgundy tone certainly garnered some new fans with her fine introductory set before a modest but deeply appreciative audience on the Garden Stage. Even at this early stage of her evolution one can envision potential greatness from this assured-though-humble young Chilean saxophonist. Aldana is indeed a lovely young woman, but clearly not one prone to succumb to the gratuitous sexuality of a Candy Dulfer, or heaven-forbid the self-declared “Saxtress” Pamela Williams; Ms. Aldana thankfully is all about the music. Jazz festivals should also be about some fun, right? Well the Brooklyn-based Red Baraat and its oft-humorous mix of improvisatory bangra certainly delivered in that department, as attested to by all ages beckoned to their dancing feet by the groove. The aptly-named Our Point of View clearly demonstrated the Blue Note label’s keen eye on jazz future, opening with a reimagined “Speak No Evil”, playing the label classic through their 21st century lens. Apropos they followed that up with Marcus Strickland’s ferocious original “Tick Tock.” On “Bayyinah”, a Lionel Loueke original from his latest release Heritage, the guitarist played an opening cadenza that uncannily invoked talking drum patterns on his instrument!

Blade_resized
Sticks on fire: Brian Blade

There was a lovely kind of wistful optimism in the Brian Blade Fellowship’s expressions of originality, coupled with the controlled flames of Melvin Butler‘s tenor and Myron Walden‘s alto saxophones. After having lent an exquisitely burnished trumpet cadenza to one of his originals on the Our Point of View set, the next day MJF Next Gen alum Ambrose Akinmusire evidenced exponential growth in both his sound and his quintet band concept on the Night Club stage Sunday evening opener. Drummer Justin Brown provided ample explosion for the quintet and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith (who’ll almost certainly be an MJF bandleader on his own very soon) proved an apt alternate solo voice in the ensemble. Vocalist Becca Stevens, whose own set we missed, brought a very attractive quiver to her guest turn with Ambrose. Akinmusire has even at this early stage in his evolution acquired a keen sense of editing both himself and his band, never overplaying. And that’s just a summation of what we caught at MJF; reportedly some of what we missed would be enough to populate a successful jazz festival! But you can’t make ‘em all; in more youthful times I might have tried, but there was never a set where this writer found himself yearning to be elsewhere, despite the fact that “elsewhere” was a ton of reportedly essential music. Yes folks, that is indeed the beauty of a great event like the Monterey Jazz Festival!

Cuisine Tip
Besides the obvious charms of the festival, the Monterey Peninsula is a recommended destination in and of itself, and after all these years there remain many undiscovered culinary gems. Good friends turned us on to an essential new stop to get the feed going. Phil’s Fish Market, on Moss Landing just north of Monterey was the cuisine discovery of this trip. One of those “rustic”, no reservations dockside joints where you order at the cash register then find your spot either inside or out on the beach at picnic tables, the house specialty is their cioppino, a luscious, tomato-based traditional Italian shellfish stew served in different permutations, in either prodigious individual bowls or family-style. And the breaded & grilled sanddabs are worth the trip alone, as is the calamari and the several varieties of artichoke preparation.
Phil's

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Sweet Sue Terry

Saxophonist-clarinetist Sue Terry, known in the music as “Sweet Sue” is a proud alum of Jackie and Dolly McLean’s ground-breaking Hartford, CT urban arts academy the Artists Collective. Recently after viewing the very compelling documentary short film “The Source” which captures various facets of this vibrant artist, including her ongoing residency in the seemingly unlikely South American nation of Ecuador and glimpses of the obvious discipline she derives from her martial arts immersion, clearly its time for some questions for “Sweet Sue” Terry. Below we’re included a link to view “The Source.”

SweetSueTerry06-1
How’d you become known as “Sweet” Sue Terry?
When I was 23 I moved to New York City from Hartford, in 1982. I already knew a lot of New York-based players because they all would come through Hartford and play at the 880 Club. In the city I would hang at their gigs and often get invited to sit in. My three main mentors, Junior Cook, Clifford Jordan and Barry Harris, always called me ‘Sweet Sue.’ When Barry had the Jazz Cultural Theater on 28th and Eighth, he would often launch into the tune Sweet Sue when he saw me walk in. (The Jazz Cultural Theater was my second home, because I lived all the way up on 158th St. so if I went downtown I stayed downtown.)

To give you more of an idea of New York in the 80′s: a lot of players lived up in my area, known as Washington Heights. In my building, Smitty Smith and Jeff Watts shared a crib on the first floor. Arthur Blythe lived across the hall from me on the third floor. Gust Tsilis, and classical musicians Dan Druckman and Barbara Allen lived upstairs. In the neighborhood were other musician friends: Sharon Freeman, Ken McIntyre, Gary Bartz, Ben Salzano, Marion Brown, Melba Liston, Dennis Irwin….

It wasn’t the 50′s, but it was still a great time to be in New York. You could get gigs more easily. If you were a musician you got into most of the clubs for free, and other things like housing and food weren’t as expensive as they are today. As the cost of living got higher and higher, we had to work more and more. This is when jazz players really began exploring other avenues of income, like Broadway pit work and education venues.

What did your experience with Jackie McLean and the Artists Collective mean to your development as an artist?
I was just speaking with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene about that very topic. He is doing his doctoral thesis on the origins and development of the Jazz Studies program at our alma mater, The Hartt School. The program is now called the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and is headed by Javon Jackson.

Let me preface my comments with a little description of this era: In the 70′s Jackie had recruited Paul Jeffrey, Jaki Byard and Walter Bishop Jr. to teach classes at Hartt. I took every jazz class that was offered. (After I graduated and moved to NYC, I played in both Jaki’s big band the Apollo Stompers, and with Bish’s small group.)

I went to Hartt with the express purpose of studying with Jackie McLean. I didn’t know that I was also going to get the chance to study with Jaki Byard, Bish, Paul Jeffrey, and Al Lepak, the director of the Concert Jazz Band. Also at this time, there was a really happening jazz scene in the greater Hartford region. In addition to my studies at school, I was able to play gigs in Hartford, and go out to the various clubs to listen, and sit in. Many New York players came through, among them Dexter [Gordon], Slide Hampton, Frank Strozier, Dave Schnitter, John Scofield, Bill Hardman, Art Taylor. Hartford-based bassist Paul Brown was a close friend, and I met my mentors Junior Cook, Cliff Jordan and Barry Harris through him because he played with all of them. I learned from all the great players in Hartford at that time. In particular, the house rhythm section at the 880 Club was Donny DePalma, Joe Fonda, later Eddie Jones, and Mike Duquette. Tenor player Brian DePalma, vibraphonist Mattie Emerzian. Drummer Larry DiNatale & his wife Connie, a singer. A blues singer who sang like Joe Williams, his name was Big Al; Kitty Katherine, Norman Gage, Tiny Joe, Nat Reeves, Dave Santoro, Gene Bozzi, Genghis Nor, Rick Rozie, and several players around my own age: Jim Beard, Mark Templeton, Cindy Blackman, Wallace Roney, and Ralph the drummer whose surname I can’t remember. There was yet another scene up in the North End, where I used to play with an organ trio and was usually the only non-African American in the place.

In addition to playing with all those people, I had classmates who were very accomplished and went on to professional careers, such as the late Thomas Chapin, Saul Rubin, Mark Berman, Tom Oldakowski, Gary Seligson, Steve Davis, Kris Jensen, Tom Murray, Antoine Roney, Pete Belasco, Mixashawn, Tom Disher, Pete Furlan, Ed Alton, and more. We also played with some of the Springfield cats, since it was only 40 minutes or so north of Hartford. There were two excellent drummers from the Springfield area with whom I often worked, Claire Arenius and Billy Arnold.

Jackie McLean always encouraged these off-campus ventures into the community, and he put me on the faculty of the Artists Collective [Jackie & Dolly McLean's award-wining arts academy] so I could have the experience of passing on knowledge and skills to younger students. I played all kinds of gigs, put together my own groups, had my own radio show, all while being a full-time student.

Jackie was always suggesting things for me to listen to, not only jazz but also 20th Century Classical music. He was a great storyteller; once he told me a story about walking down the street with Charlie Parker, and Bird pointed at the window of a fish store and said “Wow, look at that!” Jackie said, “What? It’s a fish.” Bird said, “No, look at the colors!” Jackie then noticed the scales of the fish, shining in a fantastic luminescent palette. He pointed out to me that someone like Charlie Parker had a different way of looking at things, and that was an aspect of his genius. Moreover, that aspect could be cultivated once you were made aware of it.

When I received the Alum of the Year award from the Hartt School in 2001, Jackie was at the ceremony and that meant a lot to me. I am proud to be part of his lineage, along with colleagues like Steve Davis, Alan Palmer, Jimmy Greene and Wayne Escoffery (whom Jackie used to call the Twin Towers), Abraham Burton, Eric MacPherson, and of course Jackie’s son Rene, whom I’ve always admired and respected. (I know I’m un-intentionally leaving out some folks, those mentioned are who comes to mind at the moment.)

This month (September 2014) the Artists Collective is bringing me back to do a concert with my “Special Band” of Vic Juris, Bob Cranshaw and Steve Johns. It’ll be wonderful to be back “home.”
SweetSueTerry16
Talk about your residency in Ecuador.
I started traveling to Ecuador in 2008, and began meeting other players there, like pianist Francisco Echeverria in Guayaquil, and my old friend, trumpeter Walt Szymanski, based in Quito. There was very little jazz in Cuenca, the town I was most attracted to. But 3 years later pianist Jim Gala, from Rochester, founded the Jazz Society of Ecuador with his wife Debby, right in downtown Cuenca. I began corresponding with him and when I arrived in Ecuador, I began my relationship with the JSE, which continues to this day. There are performances, master classes and other events, and it’s a favorite destination not only for locals, but also for the tourist crowd, particularly those from Europe and Canada. I perform regularly and I also teach. We have rehearsals either at the Cafe or at my house, where we go into more detail and explore the fine points of playing and composing jazz and creative music.

What motivated you to make this short film?
My friend Ashley Rogers, a wonderful film director from L.A. who relocated to Cuenca, had made some music videos for an Ecuadorian composition. She was working with the Venezuelan cinematographer Hernán Salcedo, and I thought their work was stunning. It’s a lot more affordable to shoot in Ecuador so I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity. At first it was going to be a promotional film for my products, but then I thought, who cares about that? I’ve been making videos about artistry and education. I realized I could continue in this genre, this time working with a professional team. We are currently entering the film in a number of international film festivals.

Did you experience musical discovery in Ecuador, in terms of the interest in jazz and the resident musicians?
In 2013 I did a U.S. State Dept. tour of Ecuador, organized by the U.S. Embassy in Quito. My group included Walt Szymanski, and Ecuadorian rhythm section Miguel Gallardo, Daniel Toledo and Raul Molina. We traveled throughout the country giving workshops and concerts, and we found a LOT of interest in jazz. The music students we worked with (ranging from 5 years old to the university level) were fascinated with jazz and musical improvisation. The concert audiences were enthralled as well; it was very gratifying.

The three largest cities have the most jazz players: there are many fine players in Quito, as well as a full-time jazz club, El Pobre Diablo. Francisco Echeverria introduced me to many players in Guayaquil. In Cuenca, my home base while in Ecuador, we have the Jazz Society of Ecuador headquarters. In my film, I wanted to showcase some of the players we’ve been mentoring there. You get a chance to hear bassist Jonnathan Arévalo, guitarist Julio Bonnemaison, drummer Danilo Abad, violinist Cristabell Aguirre and HER student, Aria Serrano. Also my old buddy, pianist Bob Albanese, was on tour in Ecuador at the time and I was able to get him to come to Cuenca and do a guest appearance, which you see on the film as well.

What did you discover about yourself in Ecuador?I ask that because the film suggests a certain measure of self-discovery in your journey.
Well, wherever you go, you take yourself with you. Being in Ecuador takes me out of my geographical comfort zone, what with the 8,400 feet altitude and speaking Spanish all the time. Can you imagine playing woodwind instruments at 8,400 feet? It takes me about a month to acclimate! I relish my time in South America because it challenges me.

Why were you motivated to put aside your alto saxophone for the time being and concentrate on soprano sax and clarinet?
I was Classically trained on clarinet and never really got into improvising on it. Like Frank Wess used to say, “the clarinet was invented by three guys who didn’t know each other.” This is true! Today’s clarinet was originally three different instruments. There is no octave key; it overblows as a twelfth, so all the notes have different fingerings in each octave, and there are three and a half octaves. It ain’t a saxophone.

Most of the clarinet greats focused solely on clarinet, if not right away, then eventually. I had to give up both alto saxophone and C flute in order to focus on clarinet. But I still play soprano saxophone, because at least it’s in the same key!

What role has your martial arts training played in your musical life?
Playing music, especially soloing, is all about relaxing. If you’re not relaxed, you’re blocking creative ideas from coming through. In the old days, musicians turned to booze and heroin to help them relax. These substances take a toll on the body, however, so the trend has moved more toward mind/body disciplines like meditation, yoga, and tai chi.

Tai chi chuan (also called “taiji quan”) is my discipline; it helps me with playing the horn and performing. Because of my martial arts training, I can stay relaxed during musical performances, and correct errors in body posture that cause pain. I can also focus more. Many people practice tai chi (a style of kung fu) for health reasons, but its martial arts application is formidable. I compete in tournaments and practice sparring regularly. You must be relaxed in order for your tai chi to be effective against an opponent. When you spar with a training partner or in a tournament, it’s a reality check to see if your skills are as effective as you thought—just like playing with a band as opposed to practicing by yourself.

The Chinese sage Lao Tzu says, “the tao of the sage is ‘work without effort’. This means that you’re so into the work that it doesn’t seem hard. The path toward this goal is all about relaxation and solid work principles. This is the foundation of both jazz and taiji.

LINK to The Source, a 9-minute documentary short:

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Here’s one intersection of jazz & chamber music

MAJF
The leafy Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake is an agreeable Labor Day Weekend hang

Think jazz music and jazz festivals are purely urban phenomena? The masterful pianist Monty Alexander, Jazz on the Chesapeake and Chesapeake Chamber Music want you to think again. Given the close proximity to the DC metro area of Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the Chesapeake Bay (depending upon Bay Bridge traffic, its roughly a 90-minute or less drive to the Eastern Shore from the DC area), I had certainly heard of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, plus there aren’t a lot of jazz festivals (consider the various Shakespeare or Beethoven festivals around the world) named after a musician. Last spring when Monty celebrated his 70th birthday with a rousing Howard Theatre performance, one which was a potent mix of jazz, reggae, ska and the mento root source of Monty’s native Jamaica, afterwards when chatting backstage with the pianist he waxed rhapsodic about his festival and suggested we check it out.

Normally either of the two free Labor Day Weekend festivals in Chicago or Detroit, excite the travel impulse. But given the close highway proximity of the Eastern Shore and the inviting prospect of sparing the agonies of the airport/airline spin cycle, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival sounded more intriguing by the moment. The journey proved to be a wise move, from several perspectives – not least of which was the music.

Jamaica ‘mon Monty Alexander’s Harlem Kingston Express

But first a little background. How exactly did Monty Alexander come to be artistic director of his own jazz festival, in Easton, MD? In 2008 Al Sikes, a thoughtful man whose career included stints in law, government services, and business, with a minor in jazz enthusiasm, following retirement communicated with an old friend and past president of Chesapeake Chamber Music with whom he shared twin musical passions for jazz and classical music. At that point Chesapeake Chamber Music hadn’t yet dipped its toes into the jazz waters, but the organization was intrigued by the possibilities and Sikes was charged with producing their first jazz concert. Through another friend Sikes connected with Monty after a concert performance and in ’08 arranged for the pianist to play that first Chesapeake Chamber Music jazz concert at The Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD. For those not familiar with Easton, its part of a chain of small burghs on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, including touristy St. Michael’s Island, and Talbot County is the birthplace of the great Frederick Douglass. Easton is a lovely, tranquil, green town, at the heart of which, nestled among several inviting restaurants and assorted shops is the 400+ seat Avalon Theatre.

Monty’s 2008 concert at the Avalon was such a hit that, “After the concert we met in New York,” Sikes related, “concluded arrangements and began the [Monty Alexander Jazz] Festival in 2009 with two concerts.” Sikes also credits mutual friend Bill Edgar, who had written liner notes for the pianist. Thus began the Jazz on the Chesapeake presentations of Chesapeake Chamber Music. “Chesapeake Chamber Music (CCM) views itself as being in the small ensemble music business,” continues Sikes, “and they asked me if I would expand their program to include jazz. Jazz on the Chesapeake has grown rapidly and now features concerts plus the festival.” Last year’s CCM jazz concerts, apart from but spurred by the success of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, included such artists as DC-based drummer Chuck Redd, tenor man Harry Allen, and longtime Ahmad Jamal bassist James Cammack.

Getting to Easton turned out to be an exceedingly pleasant Friday afternoon drive, particularly once we crossed the Bay Bridge into the Eastern Shore area, with its roadside produce stands and gentle shore breezes (tip: adjacent to one such produce market is a food truck dubbed Grumpy’s; order the crab cake or soft shell crab sandwich, you’ll thank me). The historic Tidewater Inn which provides lodging for all the musicians (as we signed in I glanced over and Houston Person was checking in) is mere steps across Easton’s main intersection from The Avalon Theatre. As jazz festivals go, accommodations don’t get any more convenient. Not long after joining the eager and robust lobby crowd for Friday’s concert featuring the fast-rising Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles‘ quintet, in walked Monty. Asked how this festival came to be presented by a chamber music organization, Alexander’s response was simple – these are people who just love good music and the fact that they’ve become so taken with this jazz festival and the ongoing jazz series in general has more to do with the quality of the music than with any sense of genre boundaries.

When Suzan Jenkins, who is the executive director of the Montgomery County Council on the Arts & Humanities,was introduced to Al Sikes, the conversation turned to the support network for this festival enterprise. Sikes proudly pointed out that this is a festival which is roughly 80% supported by its box office output, not corporate support, with only modest, approximately 5%, funding support from the public sector, namely the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. The festival’s remaining support comes directly from resident patron contributions. As the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival celebrated its 5th anniversary, that’s an encouraging support formula for a jazz festival.

Friday evening many in the packed Avalon Theatre were introduced to Etienne Charles for the first time. Despite the fact that many hadn’t heard the Trinidadian trumpeter, this audience clearly has unquestioned confidence in Monty Alexander’s artistic choices. The Juilliard-trained trumpeter, who also holds an associate professorship at Michigan State University, has over the last several years released a fine series of recordings on the Culture Shock label that highlight his Caribbean heritage, including ancestral links to the island of Martinique and a deep investment in folkloric and rhythmic traditions of Haiti. Possessed of a quick and engaging wit, an ability to tell a story both in his charming introductions and subsequent execution, Charles has evolved a dexterous trumpet style that is beyond trendy and seems poised to deliver him to greater prominence as a bandleader. His musical cohorts, which include bassist Ben Williams, drummer John Davis, piano-keyboardist Kris Bowers, and guitarist Alex Wintz have developed a cohesive, communicative band approach to Etienne’s infectious grooves, which include his clever arrangements of songs from stalwart calypsonians Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow, as well as forays into the Haitian tradition known as racine.

Trini man trumpeter Etienne Charles performing “Kaiso”, title track from one of his potent Culture Shock releases

Saturday’s matinee concert featured alto saxophonist Bobby Militello‘s tribute to Dave Brubeck, but tooling around Talbot County beckoned. That evening was Monty Alexander’s signature concert. Each year Monty develops a different theme and flavor for his festival feature, with invited guests joining his core trio of drummer Dennis Mackrel and bassist Hassan Shakur, plus his longtime percussionist Bobby Thomas, who some may recall from his Weather Report stint. Those familiar with Rat Pack lore know about the legendary New York saloon Jilly’s, a favored haunt of Frank Sinatra. As Monty explained to the audience, shortly after the pianist’s arrival in ’61 from Kingston, Rizzo peeped him in Vegas and hired him on the spot to work Jilly’s as house pianist, backing The Chairman and other singers of the day. For this 5th edition of his festival Monty decided to mount a Night at Jilly’s on the Avalon stage. As special guests he engaged ace tenor man Houston Person, whose big, brawny sound and rich, blue tone filled The Avalon every time he stepped up to the mic – eliciting big audience response for each solo, plus crowd-pleasing vocalists Allan Harris and the delightful Italian Caterina Zapponi. Harris, who always brings a touch of Nat Cole to his straight ahead jazz exploits, has the classic vocal tone and stage manner to represent Jilly’s flavor. Caterina was full of verve as well, particularly winning in French on “C’est si Bon” and delivering in her native Italian as Monty’s representation of Sinatra’s ancestral heritage. Playing largely a program of the classics befitting the singer’s saloon ambience, Monty Alexander swung casually, deeply, and hard in the blue realm when the spirit and the tune called for it, expressing great love for the beautiful instrument provided for the festival by DC piano maker Warren Shadd (read about his remarkable achievement as the first African American piano maker here…http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2014/05/07/309881323/the-first-african-american-piano-manufacturer).

Culinary break… When in Easton, MD, provided you’re a carnivore, you gotta visit The BBQ Joint a grill master as unassuming as its name at the corner of Dover & Aurora Streets just a couple of blocks from the Avalon Theatre and Tidewater Inn. This is the home of killer beef brisket; accompany that with the corn bread and collard greens… you’ll thank me for that one as well.

When I spoke with Monty that first evening in The Avalon lobby he waxed rhapsodic about bringing a gospel & jazz element to Sunday’s proceedings, courtesy of soulful Dee Daniels. Ms. Daniels resided in Vancouver, BC for many years and actually established a broad international and West Coast reputation. About three years ago she took the plunge and decided it was time to see what New York had to offer as far as spreading her vocal wings and education chops. Echoing an immortal Saturday Night Live bit, New York seems to have been very, very good to Ms. Daniels who has gotten around town quite a bit, working with a number of top shelf artists. Along the way she became the first vocal leader to record for the decades old Criss Cross label, the quite aptly titled State of the Art. Dee has become second only to Monty as a tradition for this festival, bringing gospel roots and jazz fruits to an eager patronage. For the Sunday matinee closer she delivered equal parts joy, ease of swing, storytelling verve and a depth of blues knowledge that thrilled the Avalon Theatre. Dee Daniels is proof positive that it takes some living to effectively deliver a lyric, never mind the vocal ingenues overcrowding the field these days. A couple of days after the festival her latest recording, Intimate Conversations (Origin Records) arrived. This one will definitely garner some spins on the Ancient/Future radio program (Wednesdays 10-midnight on WPFW 89.3 FM and streaming live at www.wpfw.org).

Monty & Allan
Allan Harris emoting Jilly’s style with Monty Alexander band

If you haven’t heard Dee Daniels yet (here w/her drummer Dwayne “Cook” Broadnax”)… don’t sleep!
Dee Daniels

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

In pursuit of the wild record

Musing on summer just past. You know how it is; you’re going to the beach and unless you’re a surfing fanatic or an enthusiast of wave riding boogey boarding (I’ll leave that to my 14-year old nephew), your main goal is to sit/lay/sleep and otherwise loll in some preferably inert position, beach umbrella tilted just so, bathed in sun block, bare feet planted firmly in the warm sand, the hypnotic wash of oceanic tides providing a tranquil soundtrack. You may roust yourself every now and then and take a quick dip, head up to the boardwalk for some fries or assorted tempting empty calories, running the gauntlet of other bad bodies, and occasionally raise your sun dappled pate just high enough to scope out the kids having a blast in the surf. But most of us will spend that precious time decompressing from the daily grind. Speaking personally, part of that beach ritual will include a good book; and mind you I’m not talking about tomes or literary gravitas here, just something to enhance your maximum chill mode.

Adam
While the sisters in the family went off on other pursuits on the retail drag at Rehoboth Beach, DE last week, the ever intrepid nose for vinyl crate digging turned up this soundtrack gem from the film “A Man Called Adam” – sealed, I might add! Often overlooked in discussions of jazz realism on film, this should-see featured Sammy Davis Jr. playing a brooding, mercurial Miles-like trumpeter, Cecily Tyson as his muse, Ossie Davis and Louis Armstrong as a sort of fading but still powerful representation of jazz past, with performances by Mel Torme and Nat Adderley giving Sammy’s trumpet playing its authenticity.

It should be noted here that personal tastes in old vinyl and crate digging in general are all about the pursuit of material pertinent to encouraging some set or other on my weekly radio program (“Ancient/Future” Wednesdays 10pm on WPFW 89.3 FM in the DC area, streaming live at www.wpfw.org), and not necessarily concerned with matrix numbers, first pressings or some other discographic ephemera of such intense interest to the more dedicated, obsessive vinyl seeking crate diggers among us.

For this year’s beach week, intrigued by certain of the notices, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (by Amanda Petrusich) slaked the beach week book jones. “Wild” would be one optimum descriptor for some of the odd obsessives and their assorted hunts for rare 78s Ms. Petrusich encounters as she digs headlong into the world of crate diggers in search of rarities from the history of our original record format. Along the way she finds herself questioning this obsession from a number of different perspectives – including her own magnetic attraction to the pursuit, which at one point leads her to take scuba diving lessons for the express purpose of plunging into the Milwaukee River in search of discs legend has it were flung merrily into the river by disgruntled employees at the Paramount pressing plant in Grafton, WI. Along the way she meets but one woman collector and largely encounters characters for whom the actual hunt outstrips the end game – the acquisition – along with one or two collectors for whom misanthrope might be an accurate descriptor. A common thread – unlike certain other collectors of what for most is esoterica in the extreme – many of these 78 hunters truly enjoy the music uncovered in those shellac 78s. One of them is in fact a man after my own heart, he shares his treasures via radio broadcasts; while yet another has developed a lucrative DJ business spinning purely 78s on an old Victrola.

Amanda Petrusich

Professionally the author’s proclivities as a music journalist run more towards assorted strains of rock. By the end of her book Petrusich’s sympathy for this crate digging subculture is considerable, as evidenced by this passage written in observation of a release party for a reissue package of 78s: “The whole scene was disorienting. I felt suddenly and fiercely protective of a subculture I had no real claim to. I wanted 78s to continue offering me – and all the people I’d met – a private antidote to an accelerated, carnivorous world. I didn’t want them to become another part of that world. I wanted them to stay ours.”

Though not a particular fancier of 78s (my current, Low-Fi turntable won’t enable 78 spins anyway) Ms. Petrusich’s intriguing examination of this collector phenomenon did take the mind back to a dusty box of 78s from Dad’s old collection sitting on a neglected shelf in the basement; certainly an investigation for another day, but from this book’s account one worth pursuing. The book also brought to mind a current volunteer stint. The Friends of the Library of Montgomery County, MD (FOLMC) operates two bustling used book stores in their ongoing efforts at financially supporting the MC Public Library system. (For scale, Montgomery County, MD is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.) In addition to steady book donations from the public these stores also accept audio and video software discards… and that includes often sizable donations of Lps and CDs. As many of us downsize our listening media to the dreaded MP3 level – or heaven forbid some wall-to-wall online music service – boxes and boxes of Lps from yesteryear are offloaded for tax write-off donations by MC residents.

Which brings me to my own crate digging enabler enterprise. Several years ago, after accepting a seat on the FOLMC Board of Directors I began frequenting our two bookstores in search of their many hidden, way inexpensive literary treasures, only to be magnetically drawn to their assorted Lps. The largest of these two stores, in Wheaton, MD, had particularly ramshackle shelves of Lps mashed together in no particular order. Picking through those shelves revealed a few gems. I soon volunteered to better organize that section of the store and inventory the hundreds of Lps – which were admittedly in varying degrees of playability, from mint to dumpster level. So for the last two years every available Wednesday morning for a couple of hours I volunteer to do intake and inventory, pricing and shelving new arrivals, discarding a few that have lingered overlong to make room in the robust but finite record aisle space. (The Lps pictured below are among some recent gems that have arrived in the jazz section at the Wheaton FOLMC store.)

Louis
In its original 7″ Lp format!

Like many nostalgic items considered valuable by at the very least a hard core of collectors, coupled with the burgeoning DJ culture and the audiophile-driven recognition that there indeed is a sonic difference between the sound of a quality Lp versus the digital formats, Lp collecting is more than an underground pursuit. Labels have been issuing special products on vinyl, both new and reissued, for the more sonically astute among us over the last decade. It seems practically every week Lp-aholic jazz publicist Jim Eigo is posting some news item trumpeting renewed interest in Lps or detailing yet another record collector’s gathering. So the interest is out there, and quite intense in some pockets. And, aside from the promise of great music, who could resist the artful quality of an Lp cover like this Count Basie band chronicle that arrived from a donation last week?

Count

This volunteer stint has also engendered a sort of grudging appreciation for the enormity of the popularity of certain artists and recordings from yesteryear. Now I fully understand Herb Alpert‘s financial largesse and his ability to so graciously endow the UCLA Music Program for example. Based on donated evidence, this man sold an enormous number of records during his Tijuana Brass heyday. But just when the malaise sets in from the endless copies of Alpert discards, and the rejects of folks who actually sunk hard-earned cash into somnambulant 101 Strings Lps, along with recognition of the enormity of the assorted discographies of a Frank Sinatra or Barbara Streisand or Bill Cosby comedy records, up jumps something wild like this number from Bob Dorough‘s discography.

Medieval

So what, you ask is/was the Medieval Jazz Quartet? “Conceived and Arranged by Bob Dorough” as the cover declares? This was a quartet (including our leader) of – wait for it – recorder players! You know the recorder, that end blown instrument you may have encountered in your earliest music ed class? Well here its played by Dorough and his 3 associates in its soprano, alto, lead tenor, second tenor, bass, and second bass incarnations, along with Alto and Tenor “Krummhorn”, Baroque Flute, and finger cymbals, with a notable rhythm section of bassist George Duvivier, guitarist Al Schackman, and drummer Paul Motian. And what are they playing? Standards, the likes of “How High the Moon”, “Nature Boy”, and “Mood Indigo” among the eight tracks. And besides the curiosity factor, the far-as-I-can-tell uncredited liner notes include a hilarious Dorough interview and lines like this one: “There is much more to tell of Mr. Dorough, but one of his selves seems to be leaning over the typewriter whispering “Cool it, man.”

Cachao
Here’s something hip that arrived at the FOLMC Wheaton store from the Latin side

Alert to the across-the-board $1 per record price (regardless of condition), 25 cents for the assorted 45s which arrive, more than a couple of local dealers hunt these shelves. I see them every Wednesday, chatting among themselves nonchalantly waiting for the new arrivals shelving process along with the savvy collectors who recognize Wednesday as “that time.” Practically all of these guys – and the crate digging clientele is almost exclusively male – do check the incoming jazz section, clear indication of the ongoing value placed on jazz recordings, which admittedly arrive at a premium and generally in decent shape. By contrast, the category with the largest number of weekly donations to this particular store is classical music. So if you’re a classical Lp buff, then this be the place. If you’re of the jazz persuasion, crate digging at the FOLMC Wheaton store may turn up a beauty like this recent mint condition arrival from one of DC’s favorite jazz ancestors, the inimitable Shirley Horn.

Shirley

Whatever your music interests (not to mention shelves upon shelves of worthwhile books) these two FOLMC locations are worth some crate digging…

1710 Georgia Avenue
(at the rear of the Wheaton Public Library)
Silver Spring, MD
301/933-1110

4886 Boiling Brook Parkway
Rockville, MD
301/984-3300

Posted in General Discussion | 2 Comments

Dicey weather aside Newport soldiers on

Ron Carter
Swinging grace personified: Ron Carter at the bass

Has it been 60 years already? Founded in 1954 by George Wein and an old money Newport couple as a means of broadening the inviting summer hang-out, the Newport Jazz Festival celebrated its unprecedented history with a lineup that reflected many facets of the broad-based aesthetic umbrella that jazz has become. Friday afternoon was perfectly suited for toting the old lawn chairs and scavenging out a good vantage point on the great lawn facing the main, or Ertegun Fort Stage at Fort Adams State Park. The day was notably dominated by artists and bands who’ve largely arrived in the 21st century, starting with the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors, a student ensemble directed by pianist Danilo Perez and featuring guest tenorist David Sanchez. They were followed on the main stage by composer Darcy James Argue‘s Secret Society, the miraculous vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, and that excitable young gent Jon Batiste & Stay Human, the leader’s yellow suit and pied piper mentality being cause enough for mass revelry in the sun. He closed his raucous set, melodica in mouth, marching his band through the lawn chair brigade, hundreds of smart phones capturing selfies all the while. Someday, after Jon Batiste’s stage & screen career is aloft (watch for it…) a youngster will be leafing through his granny’s keepsake images and ask “Grandma, is that Jon Batiste you’re hugging in the funny-looking yellow suit with the keyboard in his mouth, and what’s Grandpa drinking from that jug?”

On the Quad Stage in the inner courtyard of the old fort, John Zorn held court with several of his Masada cohorts for what amounted to a 2-1/2 hour marathon, one which included the trumpeter Dave Douglas and his boundless well of ideas. Over on the Harbor Stage alto saxman Rudresh Mahanthappa premiered his Charlie Parker Project, promising among other intrigues, Bird in an odd-metered environment. The Old Home Week allure of Newport and the revolving sets/multi stage layout make for a happy madness that is a central part of the festival experience, for it seems only those determined to dig into an advantageous sightline at the MainStage, or plop down in an agreeable festival row chair at the Harbor or Quad stage area are likely to catch entire sets, and even those hearty, determined souls are swayed by the occasional midway snack, crafts fair retail stroll, or one or another of nature’s calls. But at least on this lone day of the three, disagreeable weather wasn’t a culprit if you by chance missed some measure of your chosen sets, as did we.

The impressive throwback/futuristic chanteuse Cecile McLorin Salvant, with the startling pipes (still only 24, no other singer of her generation approaches the extravagant wealth of her lower register and ability to soar upwards with the chops of a vocal Charlie Parker) and proclivity towards Jim Crow era and turn-of-the-20th century lyrics, surely made some new friends that afternoon and on her subsequent Quad Stage performance Saturday afternoon. Fellow writer-photographer (and Ain’t But a Few of Us correspondent) Bridget Arnwine shot some photos standing next to a guy new to Salvant’s artistry who likely summed up many a first Salvant impression: “I’ve never heard her before; she sure does sing some weird songs…, but man she’s great!” Following Cecile was a tough task, but altoist Miguel Zenon impressed at the helm of his “Identities” Big Band, though despite playing a program of complex originals conveyed by largely young guys this audience had likely never heard before, Zenon chose to only address the audience at the end of his program; big mistake for someone establishing himself as a large ensemble leader in this milieu.

The science of meteorology has advanced over the decades to an uncanny ability to predict the weather (yeah, I know, not exactly profound…). Remember when some storm/inclement weather pattern or other would be predicted and you’d think to yourself ‘that may or may not happen.’? Not anymore, these folks nail it now and our advance check of weather.com predicted mad rain for Newport’s Saturday afternoon proceedings. Sure enough from the time we crossed the bridge and entered the queue of traffic slowly snaking its way through the quaint streets to Fort Adams, the rain was relentless, coming down like Trane at full throttle and destined for all day. The complimentary yellow school buses transporting festfans from remote parking lots to the grounds could not arrive quickly enough to stave off many celebrants starting their day soaked like some pet pooch left out in the rain. The ride back to the hotel couldn’t go quickly enough for coaxing off the shoes, wringing out the socks and a complete change of clothes. Missing the Robert Glasper Experiment and Gregory Porter‘s storytelling charm whilst slogging our way in, umbrellas, rain parkas and lawn chair placement later the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra gave a platinum accounting, arrangements including Horace Silver‘s “Señor Blues” and trombonist Vincent Gardner doing his best Jimmy Rushing blues. Wynton on a mission, as always, and in fine fettle at Newport, no quibbles. Alas Saturday was a day more fit for seeking shelter and socializing under some cover than braving the elements to catch what was an exceptional and stylistically expansive day of artists; Dan Melnick is a skilled artistic director indeed. The tented shelter of the Quad Stage (seating is also tented at the Harbor Stage) did beckon, and some substantive sizzle from Cubano conguero Pedrito Martinez’s from-deep-in-the-gut small band was the truth.

Vijay Iyer Vijay Iyer courtesy Matt Merewitz
Sunday did provide a measure of relief from Mother Nature, with only gray skies and intermittent drizzle, but the allure of the Quad and Harbor lineups proved irresistible, particularly as opposed to scoping out a spot in the Main Stage area. The Cookers were followed on the Quad Stage by Vijay Iyer‘s inspiring unit, including Mark Shim on tenor sax and some Haynes family fire, with Graham Haynes on cornet and his nephew Marcus Gillmore on drums. Fils Roy would have enjoyed this set! At one point Iyer broke it down to a deep groove orientation that drew many a nodding head. Surveying the crowd, one experienced a refreshing youngish sector that belies concerns about the graying of the jazz audience. These kids, raised on hip hop, locked into Vijay’s groove with intense familiarity and deep approval. In fact that entire weekend was a breath of fresh air as far as the overall age demographic, recalling an earlier impression that what the younger audience seeks is a portable experience, where they’re not locked into a club table or auditorium seating for two hours, but one where they can freely socialize, move around, keep their smartphones active, and lacking the restrictive nature of those good intention/bad idea pre-show admonishments against photography, snap away at will with their devices.
Graham Haynes & Marcus Gillmore
Uncle Graham Haynes checking out dad Roy’s grandson Marcus Gilmore’s adept and dashing drum work

From Vijay it was a slow drift over to the Harbor Stage to lock down for the next three sets. (Oh boy, Suz found us some front row seats!) Having seen Ravi Coltrane the week prior in Santa Fe with Jack DeJohnette‘s Trio (scroll down for that impression), it was a refreshing contrast to hear his original composition-laden, piano-less quartet featuring the adventurous trumpeter Ralph Alessi. The driver’s seat was industriously occupied by the rambunctious DC-raised drummer Kush Abadey, whose polyrhythmic pallet gave contrasting lift and gravity to Coltrane’s music.

Ron Carter Trio
Elegance came knocking with a velvet glove as NEA Jazz Master Ron Carter‘s suavely, deeply swinging trio filled the Harbor Stage with the kind of élan that never gets old. Time stood still as Carter coaxed a gorgeous “You Are My Sunshine” that was a triumph of pure subtlety over the sometimes disruptive winds of big event jazz. Impeccably draped in matching dark suits and yellow ties, reminding all that Ron Carter is proudly “old school” (and ‘you wanna make something of it’?), guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega boast remarkable lines of communication, achieving as full a band sound as any ensemble that weekend. Carter, a warm man and one about whom the old saw “doesn’t suffer fools easily” also fits, agreeably played “My Funny Valentine” as a dedication to a gentleman intending to propose to his beloved right then & there at the Harbor, which he did to the oohs & ahhs delight of Carter’s audience. The temperature rose agreeably as the ebullient pianist-composer and Prince of Panama Danilo Perez played his “Panama 500″ program, significantly buoyed by the presence of the percussionist Roman Diaz in the ensemble. Nothing like some intelligent fire to close a good weekend! Nothing we can do about the weather and despite that lack of cooperation, Newport 60 was a blast!
Danilo
Danilo

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment