The Independent Ear

Let’s go JazzConnecting

The Ways & Means of DIY Labels panel
A Jazz Connect Conference 2015 panel discussion on The Ways & Means of DIY Labels was moderated by Greg Osby, with bassist Mimi Jones making her point

What do you suppose are the ultimate benefits of attending jazz conferences? That’s a legitimate question that I suppose many in the music business have asked themselves down through the years. For me, jazz conference attendance has been an absolute necessity for more years than I care to remember; but for the record, my jazz conference days date back to 1984. That year, after having been a jazz enthusiast-journalist-presenter-activist since undergrad years, I was fortunate to fall into a contracted scenario that would actually enable me to earn a living working on behalf of jazz! Learning of the position from a friend, musician-educator the late Dr. Reginald Buckner, I was contracted by the former regional arts agency Great Lakes Arts Alliance (GLAA, based in Cleveland), which served the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

The task, which resulted from a NEA grant, was a one-year contract to travel and develop various instruments – interviews, questionnaires, etc. – to survey the needs of the jazz community in that region. The ultimate goal was development of a substantial jazz service effort in the region. As my friend the late, great performance poet Sekou Sundiata said, longstoryshort the results of that year revealed not only a vibrant regional community of musicians, educators, presenters, radio broadcasters, and enthusiasts, but also substantiated the need for development of some form of regional jazz service effort to seek to address some of those needs. During the course of that year of traveling the region, GLAA entered merger talks with their sister regional arts agency which represented the Upper Midwest states of Iowa, Minnesota, North & South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The resulting merger formed what is now the 9-state regional known as Arts Midwest.

David Fraher, who was director of the former regional in the Upper Midwest, as initiator of those merger talks would head Arts Midwest. David, who has always given great support to jazz, was so impressed by the results of that year-long needs assessment that he was determined to create the nation’s first regional jazz service program as a core program of the new Arts Midwest. He wanted me to run the new jazz program at Arts Midwest, which required relocation to the Twin Cities because David’s former Upper Midwest regional was based in a beautiful old building in downtown Minneapolis, the Hennepin Center for the Arts. But I digress; we were after all talking about the necessity of jazz conferences.

During that year at GLAA, coincidentally the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) annual conference took place in Columbus, OH. In those days NAJE conferences were hosted by different cities annually. That first conference attendance was a blast, a wonderful opportunity to meet passionate jazz educators, musicians, and all-around enthusiasts all gathered under one big tent on behalf of the music; clearly there was a family reunion vibe in the air in Columbus. From that point on January was time for the annual NAJE conference, which later morphed into the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE). Not long after, Ira Sabin started the old JazzTimes convention, which was geared more towards musicians, the jazz record industry, and a broader sector of the jazz community than jazz education. Some years after its formation IAJE conferences became a kind of omnibus jazz community gathering as the organization sought to open its umbrella to include the entire jazz community, nationally and internationally.

Artistic Director's Role
John Cumming of London Jazz Festival producer Serious organization, with Laura Connelly of the Hollywood Bowl looking on at an Artistic Director’s panel at Jazz Connect ’15

Anyone who attended any of these conferences annually – NAJE, JazzTimes, IAJE (and for jazz radio heads that also included the old Gavin Report confabs) – attendance became a must; a big tent atmosphere where one could connect with peers, catch up on the latest news, and simply engage in the joys of jazz community networking. This is a huge country and such opportunities to network under one roof proved advantageous, if for nothing more than to catch up with people you were doing business with, hoped to do business with, or needed to connect with in any manner. Eventually the old JazzTimes conference folded its tent and came under the IAJE conference umbrella, which included JazzTimes producing a tract of panel discussions and programs geared towards the other sectors of the jazz community, beyond jazz education.

For some key folks in the jazz education sector of the community – and let’s face it, that’s been one of the healthiest, fastest growing, most optimistic segments of the jazz business for years – there was the creeping sense that the old IAJE had lost its way, had simply grown too big at the expense of its jazz education mission. Some of those folks, determined to create a specific space for jazz education and educators to conference, founded the Jazz Education Network (JEN) (full disclosure: this writer is a former JEN board member). They skillfully re-instituted the January jazz education conferences, returning to the old NAJE model of conferencing in different cities and regions each year. This year’s JEN conference was held in San Diego, and most reports from that conference, which included a keynote address from Herbie Hancock, were very encouraging.

Meanwhile, what about the other sectors of the jazz community, beyond jazz education? Up to the plate stepped – once again – JazzTimes magazine, along with the Jazz Forward Coalition (which includes activists who had been important initiators of IAJE conference activities) to develop the annual Jazz Connect Conference, also presented in January, and hosted in New York City, which had been home to the largest of the former IAJE conferences. Jazz Connect cannily aligned itself with the major annual arts presenter conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) during January, which is also time for several other major arts conferences in New York, including the annual Chamber Music America conference. And one of the key draws for Jazz Connect Conference participants is the adjacent annual Friday/Saturday Winter Jazzfest, which pretty much takes over Greenwich Village clubs and venues over the course of an incredibly vibrant weekend for the music.

Partnerships for Presenting panel
The Partnerships for Presenting panel discussion @ Jazz Connect ’15

This year’s Thursday/Friday January 8/9 Jazz Connect Conference, held at the jazz-friendly confines of St. Peter’s Church on Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan, boasted the usual cornucopia of panel discussions, and all-around networking opportunities. In addition to Winter Jazzfest, NYC was awash with an incredible array of jazz performances and artist showcases which sought to take advantage of the APAP conference gathering of presenters and producers. Winter Jazzfest aside, it was entirely possible for the intrepid to catch four days of performances without spending a dime in admission! For example, on the Saturday afternoon following Jazz Connect as Suzan and I chilled until meeting friends for dinner and that evening’s Winter Jazzfest hang, since she was scheduled to present a panel discussion at the APAP conference the next day, we went over to the Hilton Hotel so she could check in and get her conference credentials. As usual the Hilton was positively vibrating with the gathered energy of performing arts presenters from across the country. On each of three conference floors was a chain of rooms presenting assorted artist showcases throughout the day and evening. A young brother walked up and laid a flier in my palm for a showcase being sponsored by an organization new to me, known as IMAN for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Bingo, just by happenstance we eased into a showcase by a promising young Chicago singer-songwriter, on a daylong schedule of showcases that included progressive hip hop artists, performance poets, DJs, and assorted vocalists. It was just that kind of scene.

Among the Jazz Connect panel discussions I caught were sessions dealing with how jazz can be a catalyst for community development and organization, an artistic director’s roundtable session that included the Kennedy Center’s Jason Moran, and a session titled “Partnerships for Presenting” that included my DC Jazz Festival partner, executive director Sunny Sumter. There were just enough sessions to properly stimulate the mind, thankfully short of the kind of panel session coma one could easily lapse into at the old IAJE conferences. Refreshingly one of the plenary sessions, held in St. Peter’s main sanctuary and traditional home to the church’s storied Jazz Vespers programs, was a gathering of women in the business, moderated by artist manager Karen Kennedy. NPR hosted a reception for its new Jazz Night in America show. The keynote address was delivered with great humor leavened with appetizing doses of pragmatism by one of the busiest men in jazz, bassist Christian McBride. Following McBride’s presentation, SF Jazz founder Randall Kline received the first annual Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award, a presentation whose warmth was enhanced by remarks from the man himself, Bruce Lundvall, who has been slowed by Parkinson’s disease but whose spirit remains indomitable.

Bruce Lundvall @ Jazz Connect
Bruce Lundvall inspires the Jazz Connect Conference

McBride & Kline
SF Jazz founder Randall Kline receiving the Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award from Christian McBride

Jim Eigo and Bret Primack, the Jazz Video Guy, threw a Jazz Connect Conference after party at the Somethin’ Jazz Club; check that out here:

After finding ourselves a bit out of it with the Winter Jazzfest rhythm on Friday, out of tune with the overall timing of the fest, encountering long lines in the cold endeavoring to enter some of the venues, and allowing general fatigue to overtake us after standing at Judson Church for a rewarding Dave Douglas Quintet set – made all the better by the presence of MVP drummer Rudy Royston and a potent cameo from Douglas’ fellow trumpeter Avishai Cohen, on Saturday we got the full effect of the WJF venue at Minetta Lane Theatre. Learning our lesson from Friday evening, when we failed to get in for what were reportedly two superb David Murray sets at Minetta – one with an assemblage of clarinetists, the other in trio with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington – we arrived in time to cop good seats, where we remained glued for three outstanding sets. First up for us was organist-vocalist Amina Claudine Myers, with the brilliant Jerome Harris alternating guitar and bass, and the resourceful Reggie Nicholson on drums. She was followed by an absolutely transcendent set by The Cookers, whose horn section raised the roof, particularly altoist Big Chief Donald Harrison. Next up was another flavor of alto saxophone entirely, Rudresh Mahanthappa playing his new and deeply-engrossing Charlie Parker project. Young trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, son of Arturo grandson of Chico, was one of the evening’s revelations; and uh oh, there again was that crafty man of the drums, Rudy Royston! Now THAT was a triple header of impressive dimensions and stylistic breadth!

Back to the original point, the benefits of annual jazz conferences, those of us who’ve been around these things for more years than some of us would care to remember, seem to be in general agreement that what we have now are two annual January jazz conferences, each with its own flavor, each offering different benefits to different sectors of the jazz community. Curiously one could make the case that we’re sorta back to the future – a return to the flavors of the former NAJE conferences and the JazzTimes conventions, this year held on opposite coasts. There are those among us who lament the fact that there are now two jazz conferences, somehow pining for the old IAJE conference model, but on the other hand, this new model just feels right!

ALL PHOTOS (c) COURTESY OF FRITZPHOTO GRAPHICS

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Favorite 2014 Sightings

Having been privileged to participate in several year-end “best of” recordings polls (including Francis Davis’ esteemed poll for NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2014/12/19/371282561/the-2014-npr-music-jazz-critics-poll), as well as assorted critic’s polls I’ll decline to belabor Independent Ear readers with my favorite recordings for 2014. However, taking a page out of the recent NYT critic’s picks for the best performances, and as someone who in engaged professionally in presenting & producing concert and festival performances and who has offered frequent commentary on various aspects of live jazz presentation, I will give you my two cents on what we’ll call my favorite concert sightings of the year just past.

Please note that the only order here is alphabetically by venue or event – and yeah, this list is largely DC-centric for certain – and for the sake of full disclosure I will refrain from the obvious conflict of listing any performances I had a hand in presenting or producing (including, for obvious biases, the 2014 DC Jazz Festival, which I had NO hand in presenting/producing). Herewith, my favorite performance sightings from 2014:

BOHEMIAN CAVERNS (DC)
January 31: Tootie Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street Trio (nothing like a multi-generational band)
March 21: Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith (loved the brass band-centricity!)
May 16: Kris Bowers
August 15: Orrin Evans (R.) Quartet (w/J.D. Allen on tenor!)
Orrin-Evans-08
September 12: Stefon Harris Quintet (debut of the vibist’s new band after a hiatus to tend to SF Jazz Collective business)

CLARICE SMITH Performing Arts Center (Univ. of MD)
March 25: Kenny Barron‘s Platinum Quintet (time to record this band!)

Revive Big Band
REVIVE BIG BAND BROUGHT THEIR FRESH PERSPECTIVES TO THE KENNEDY CENTER JAZZ CLUB

KENNEDY CENTER
April 5 (KC Jazz Club): Revive Big Band (the absolute best representation of jazz-meets-hip-hop extant!)
May 11 (Concert Hall): Blue Note at 75 (Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Norah Jones, Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, etc. Need I say more?)
December 31 (Terrace Theatre): Harry Connick, Jr. (subbing for Branford Marsalis in a major surprise!)

MID-ATLANTIC JAZZ FESTIVAL (Rockville, MD)
February 15: Trombone Summit (Frank Lacy, Delfeayo Marsalis & Steve Turre ending with a second line through the hall! This was a true sate of the modern jazz trombone!)
February 15: Christian McBride Trio (what a doubleheader! McBride, Ulysses Owens and Christian Sands somehow found a way to up the ante from the raucous Trombone Summit they followed!)

MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL (it was an exceptional year at MJF!)
September 19: Sangam (Charles Lloyd/Zakir Hussain/Eric Harland, in the first of Charles’ triumphant 3-performance residency)
September 20: Charles Lloyd/Gerald Clayton Duo (though the ultra-busy Jason Moran is Lloyd’s regular pianist, apparently Gerald Clayton is next in line, and if so someone needs to pick Charles Lloyd’s brain to find out what he knows about picking pianists – the man has uncanny vision; the telepathy between he and Clayton was simply brilliant!)
Charles Lloyd2
September 21: Brian Blade Fellowship (first personal sighting of this band trumped anything they’ve laid down on record, and that’s considerable!)
September 21: Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet (with Walter Smith lll on tenor and special guest vocalist the haunting Becca Stevens, the thoughtful trumpeter came full circle from his MJF debut as a student)

MONTY ALEXANDER JAZZ FESTIVAL (Easton, MD; what a pleasantly delightful weekend drive up to Maryland’s Eastern Shore this turned out to be; one of those unexpected pleasures that make life worthwhile.)
8/29: Etienne Charles (the Trini trumpeter brings some of the most cogent and entertaining island pride ever delivered to jazz music.)
8/30: Monty Alexander (at the festival named in his honor, the Jamaican maestro reprised his Jilly’s days – Sinatra, Rat Pack and all – with Allan Harris as vocal sidekick)
Monty & Allan
MONTY ALEXANDER WITH ALLAN HARRIS

8/31: Dee Daniels (love those singers who in addition to an ability to swing at any tempo, always bring a touch of the Holy Ghost in their performance, and Dee Daniels epitomizes that sensibility; apropos playing the Sunday brunch closer to the weekend)

NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL (like Monterey, these two old warhorses continue to be must-travel opps for any serious jazz enthusiast; this year Mother Nature did her best to disrupt NJF, particularly on a soggy Saturday, but Sunday’s final session was worth the trip alone)
August 3: Vijay Iyer Sextet (this was the most complete music I’d ever experienced from the erudite physics genius; particularly his telepathy with drummer Marcus Gilmore)
August 3: Ron Carter Trio (no small ensemble better exemplifies the elegant swing equation than this trio with the down-here-on-the-ground soulman Russell Malone on guitar)
August 3: Ravi Coltrane (don’t dare sleep young Kush Abadey on drums; and Ravi just keeps getting’ up)
August 3: Danilo Perez Panama 500 (with the folkloric magician Roman Diaz on percussion, the Jazz Ambassador to Panama brought new iterations to the Latin perspective)
Danilo
DANILO PEREZ @ NEWPORT JF ’14

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Ready to run the jazz marathon?

Next week New York City will host a convergence of two annual arts conferences, starting January 8/9 with the burgeoning Jazz Connect Conference at St. Peter’s Church, and merging with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference January 9-13 at the Hilton Midtown Hotel. A major component of the Jazz Connect Conference will be sessions geared towards jazz concert & festivals presenting, with a significant overlap between conferees with interests in both conferences. One major upshot of each conference will be a dizzying array of jazz artists showcasing their wares for the assembled presenters, with opportunities to experience work at spaces large & small predominantly in Manhattan. But from the perspective of the art of the improvisers known as jazz, in many of its vast permutations, the crown jewel of those performance opportunities is the 11th annual NYC Winter Jazzfest. This unique undertaking is completely New York-centric. What other city on the planet could even approach presenting north of 100 performances at 10 venues over the course off three days?

Brandee Younger
EMERGING HARPIST BRANDEE YOUNGER PROMISES ONE OF THE MORE UNIQUE OFFERINGS AT WJF ’15 AS SHE REMEMBERS DOROTHY ASHBY

The core of Winter Jazzfest is the Friday/Saturday, January 9/10 marathon performances. Thursday, January 8th at 8:00pm will be a bit of a soft launch of Winter Jazzfest, “soft” purely in terms of that evening’s two lone performances: Blue Note Now! will showcase some of the venerable label’s 30-something contingent, with the Robert Glasper Trio, vocalist Jose James, bassist Derrick Hodge‘s unit, and drummer Kendrick Scott‘s Oracle at Le Poisson Rouge. That same evening “Jazz Legends play for Disability Pride” will feature NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter, George Coleman, Benny Golson and Jimmy Cobb, plus Renee Rosnes, Russell Malone, Brad Mehldau, Buster Williams, Mike LeDonne, Harold Mabern, Kenny Washington and more at The Quaker’s Friends Meeting House at 15 Rutherford Place. Certainly some delectable appetizers indeed, an opportunity for those intrepid souls among us to get stoked for the Friday/Saturday marathon to come.

David Murray 1
DAVID MURRAY WILL PLAY 3 WINTER JAZZFEST GIGS, INCLUDING ONE PROMISING PLENTY OF HIS BASS CLARINET

Those evenings, starting as early as 6:00 p.m. will present an incredible array of New York’s finest, with an impressive sprinkling of global jazz citizens as well. Please visit www.Winterjazzfest.com for complete information, but allow your humble correspondent to offer more than a few recommendations of must-see opportunities, keeping in mind that these are largely club spaces or compact theaters, starting with the Friday, January 9th sessions. And given these diverse spaces, those hearty souls possessing Winter Jazzfest passes will need to strategize their choices as these joints tend to fill to capacity with a quickness. At Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St.) at 7:45 the ICP Orchestra (Instant Composer’s Pool) features some of Europe’s most progressive improvisers, including the madcap drummer Han Bennink and the brilliant clarinetists Michael Moore and Ab Baars. The Minettta Lane Theatre lineup will feature not one but two David Murray sightings: at 7:30 his Clarinet Summit with Don Byron, David Krakauer, and Hamiet Bluiett; followed at 8:45 in an intriguing trio setting with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington. The bountiful ideas of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer will join forces with Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille) at 10:00pm. Then at 11:15pm the ever-inventive guitarist Marc Ribot will showcase The Young Philadelphians with Strings. Meanwhile, if you want to get your trumpet on, check out Judson Church’s offerings at 55 Washington Square Park South, which will include an unveiling of keyboardist Jason Miles and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen‘s new Miles-flavored partnership Kind of New and their forthcoming new record. Then at 9:15pm, a man who never runs out of fresh ideas: trumpeter Dave Douglas Quintet.
ICP Orchestra
ICP ORCHESTRA

Subculture, at 45 Bleecker Street, among its seven Friday evening performances will be bassist Linda Oh‘s Sun Pictures at 7:15pm, and drummer-composer Tyshawn Sorey‘s Piano Trio. Down the street at 147 Bleecker, the historic folkie haunt The Bitter End will fire up their stage beginning at 6:15pm with the Wallace Roney Quintet, offering yet more sustenance for trumpet enthusiasts, as will Igmar Thomas and The Cypher at 10:00pm, Silver with Eddie Henderson (who will also hit with The Cookers on Saturday night at Minetta Lane Theatre) at 11:30pm at Carroll Place (157 Bleecker Street), and promising young Bria Skonberg, who’ll close down the Zinc Bar (82 W. 3rd St.) starting at 12:45am. Back to The Bitter End, the spousal team of drummer Marcus and vocalist Jean Baylor‘s Baylor Project hits right after Roney at 7:30pm, followed by what is sure to be one of Winter Jazzfest’s most unique offerings, young harpist Brandeee Younger‘s tribute to jazz harp trailblazer Dorothy Ashby. Same joint, at 11:15pm features saxophonist Marcus Strickland‘s Twi-Life band.
Marcus Strickland
SAXMAN MARCUS STRICKLAND WILL HIT AT SUBCULTURE

Over at The Players Theater (115 MacDougal St.) at 7:00pm its Mr. Excitement of the vibraphone, Joe Locke and his “Love Is A Pendulum” project, followed at 8:15pm by clarinetist Oran Etkin‘s “Reimagining Benny Goodman,” a 21st century morphing of the King of Swing. In addition to Skonberg, the Zinc Bar will showcase vocalist Alicia Olatuja, with selections from her fine new Motema release. She is the first half of a vocal doubleheader of sorts, with Allan Harris to follow at 9:00pm. Then the modern state of the drums will be well-represented by the Dafnis Prieto Sextet at 10:15pm and Allison Miller‘s Boom Tic Boom at 11:30pm. I’m exhausted already and that’s just a survey of some personal Friday evening highlight opportunities! Again, for the complete run-down visit www.Winterjazzfest.com.
Allison Miller
ALLISON MILLER BRINGS SOME BOOM TIC BOOM TO THE ZINC BAR

OK, so sleep in, have a great Saturday brunch, stroll a few retail aisles. but whatever you do save some energy for Saturday evening’s Winter Jazzfest offerings! At 9:00pm Le Poisson Rouge welcomes David Murray for a third Winter Jazzfest sighting, this time its his Infinity Quartet with spoken word artist Saul Williams. Saturday offers its own share of trumpet majesty, with Nicholas Payton‘s Trio closing down Minetta Lane Theatre at 12:30am, two Ambrose Akinmusire opportunities at Judson Church – at 6:45pm with vocalist Theo Bleckman‘s Quartet and 9:15pm with his own quartet; and Avishai Cohen will be with the SFJAZZ Collective and its 2015 program of original compositions and the music of Michael Jackson at Subculture. Other Saturday highlights – again from a purely personal perspective – will include keyboardist-vocalist Amina Claudine Myers‘ trio (7:30pm at Minetta Lane Theater), followed by inventive alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa unveiling his Charlie Parker Project for a WJF audience at 10:00pm. Meanwhile over at Subculture, in addition to SF JAZZ Collective, featured sets will include guitarist Lionel Loueke‘s Trio (8:30pm), and the brawny tenor saxophonist JD Allen‘s Trio at 12:15am.

Over at The Bitter End Oliver Lake‘s Organ Quartet (6:15pm) will be followed by the always worthwhile guitarist Matthew Stevens at 7:30pm., and later tenor man Walter Smith lll will close the joint at 1:45am. Saturday evening’s Zinc Bar session commences with pianist Myra Melford‘s scenic Snowy Egret (6:30pm). Tired of racing from venue to venue to seek your faves? This might be a good evening to simply park at the Zinc, as they’ll also feature tenor saxophonist Mark Turner‘s Quartet at 7:45pm, the exceptional Canadian vocalist Kellylee Evans at 10:15pm, followed by rangy percussionist Mino Cinelu‘s World Jazz Ensemble at 11:30pm, modern master drummer Nasheet Waits‘ Equality Quartet at 12:45am, and pianist-vocalist Loston Harris at 2:00am. Remember, this Winter Jazzfest is not for the faint of heart!
Nasheet Waits
ZINC BAR BOASTS A RARE BANDLEADING GIG FOR THE SUPERB DRUMMER NASHEET WAITS

Bowery Electric has drummer-composer Jaimeo Brown‘s topical Transcendence ensemble inventively reimagining work songs at 6:30pm, followed at 7:45 by the bracing cellist-trombonist Dana Leong‘s Trio. Looking to get your feet en clave? In the midst of all this modernism and original composition, you may find your sensibilities in need of some old school; and if that’s the case seek head over to the Greenwich House Music School (46 Barrow Street) and their “Hot Jazz Festival Night,” with particular emphasis on vocalist Catherine Russell at 10:00pm. In need of a dose of La Clave, then head over to Carroll Place roundabout 12:45am for trombonist Chris Washburne‘s SYOTOS, which is promising some “Acid Mambo.” And by the end of all this, your Sunday will be as The Creator originally intended it… a day of rest!
Chris Washburn
PROFESSOR OF LA CLAVE, CHRIS WASHBURNE

www.Winterjazzfest.com

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Arrows Into Infinity

Charles Lloyd Slugs'

When producer, and tireless unreleased gems crate digger Zev Feldman asked me to write one of four essays to accompany his 2-CD Charles Lloyd discovery – Manhattan Stories (Resonance) captured live at Slug’s and Judson Hall with his first band (Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter, and Pete LaRoca Sims) – the idea and the prep took the mind back to my first Lloyd sighting. Like many, my first full-blown exposure to 2015 NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd’s artistry came via his classic Forest Flower (Atlantic). For this particular college freshman, that record was grits & gravy, taking me back to the crates for his prior efforts with Cannonball Adderley, Chico Hamilton, and his first leader dates on Columbia. For the alternative music heads among us, in my case becoming increasingly immersed in Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, etc., here was an acoustic jazz quartet that truly reached our over-amplified ears. Not that I hadn’t been a bit of a jazzhead to start with, based primarily on my father’s record collection which I would poach from time to time for my growing dorm room collection, but Dad’s tastes didn’t run towards guys like this Afro-ed (yes, even that wild white guy on piano named Keith Jarrett) crew with the somewhat outré sensibilities. Even the look of the Charles Lloyd Quartet spoke volumes to ears balancing the home-training jazz background with the guitar & vocal-based rock music explorations of my peers, an immersion quite different from the trips Miles Davis was about to take us on during that period. These cats were playing acoustic jazz for God’s sake!

Lo and behold that same Quartet, now with Ron McClure subbing for Cecil McBee on bass, came to nearby Baldwin-Wallace College for a concert date. And what a memorable date that was, with Jarrett spinning and moaning at the piano bench, jumping up to pluck the inner strings, Jack DeJohnette cursing & thrashing on the tubs in the manner so aptly detailed about an Elvin Jones sighting by one of the many jazz critics whose musings I was thirstily imbibing in between (and oft times in place of, to the chagrin of my GPA) my Kent State text books. Meanwhile our leader was leaning into and bending his tenor at odd angles to more deeply capture the muse. I was in the bag, and have been for Charles Lloyd ever since.

Charles Lloyd

That’s precisely why Arrows Into Infinity, the deeply biographical Charles Lloyd film so perceptively crafted by his wife Dorothy Darr and Jeffery Morse, tops my list of recorded material for 2014. (Too bad the assorted year-end best-of lists and critic’s polls I’ve been privileged to participate in this month don’t open those lists to make audio AND video releases eligible!) From the opening sequence of Lloyd assembling his saxophone and his distinctively Afro-ed soliloquy (in the film Michael Cuscuna correctly pegged his look back then as “Dartmouth professor”), through the early days revelation of his mother’s home offering lodging to Jim Crow-era touring black artists, and homeboy-trumpeter Booker Little‘s warmth and wisdom when the youngster made it to New York to ply his trade, the viewer is hooked by the many revelations of a unique story unfolding through Darr & Morse’s loving cinematic prowess. Seeing the late L.A. sage, saxophonist-flutist Buddy Collette recount Charles’ entry into Chico Hamilton‘s band, through Charles’ striking presence in the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, one gets the clear sense that Charles Lloyd was destined to be an artist of distinction.

Charles Lloyd1

The underrated Lloyd partnership with guitarist Gabor Szabo, brought to bold relief by the Manhattan Stories release, is given just due for its potency. But on the wings of the Jarrett-DeJohnette-McBee quartet, Charles made a huge breakthrough. The momentous, chilly night on the Monterey Fairgrounds that gave us the enduring “Forest Flower” classic is vividly recalled in testimony on the impact of that record by folks like Phil Schaap and Healdsburg Jazz Festival producer Jessica Felix, and most compellingly by a gentleman who testifies about the visceral effect of hearing that music unfold that historic night at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The film takes the viewer through Charles Lloyd’s dark & light days in the relative isolation of the majestic Big Sur Pacific coastline. Stories include the beginnings of the blessed life partnership with Ms. Darr. Superb use of archival footage aptly travels the viewer through breathtaking scenes and the heartbreaking lows of his withdrawal period and his musical re-awakenings, first as a moonchild engaging in hippie musical culture, later as a new age woodwind shaman touring with the dramatic readings of actor Burgess Meredith. Throughout these periods are breathtaking scenes of deep contemplation from the lush, woody, sloping seacoast of Big Sur. The story of the late piano genius Michel Petrucciani‘s pilgrimage to find Charles Lloyd and reawaken his collaborative jazz instincts is simply and elegantly conveyed.
Charles Lloyd w:Michel
Lloyd lovingly cradling Michel Petrucciani

Among the revelations is Charles matter-of-fact declaration that his tenor sound came from Lester Young, declaring to an inquisitor: “That sound that [Lester] had was so tender and so beautiful to me, and I’m always feeling that the world needs more tenderness. I can play strong, but I like something about the ballads and the tenderness that Pres had,” Lloyd reveals. The spiritual aspect of Charles Lloyd, so key to understanding his career, comes through the Indian practice of Vedanta, an adherence perhaps best musically detailed in the joy he derives from the trio Sangam, with tabla master Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. The film offers great footage of that band’s inner workings, a partnership which also came through beautifully during Charles’ residency at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival.

The magical collaboration with fellow NEA Jazz Master Billy Higgins – their Hyperion – is another moment of great cinematic warmth in this 113-minute film. Cuscuna’s apt declaration that Lloyd has a master’s touch when it comes to engaging challenging musical partners rewards the viewer with clips from his succeeding work with Bobo Stenson and his Norwegian ECM crew, bands with John Abercrombie and Billy Hart, Geri Allen‘s stint as quartet pianist, through his brilliant current quartet with Jason Moran, Harland, and bassist Reuben Rogers – including a deep performance of spirituals with contralto Alicia Hall Moran. There’s even some lovely footage of Lloyd and compadre Ornette Coleman shooting pool! The scope of this film is amazing when you consider Charles Lloyd’s fascinating career and ultimate impact. This holiday season if you’re looking for a great recording to lay on that hip, aware family member, loved one, co-worker, or associate, look no further than Arrows Into Infinity.

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Keeping the flame alive with Todd Barkan

Our recent conversation with DC jazz worker Bill Brower (please scroll down for that dialogue or check the Archives listing for November ’14 entries) was in part an effort at highlighting the often overlooked but very important contributions to keeping the jazz flame lit by good folks who labor beyond the bandstand; namely those culture workers who set the stage and make it possible for jazz artists to ply their craft and enlighten audiences with their artistry. One such culture worker is Todd Barkan. You may remember him from his days operating the now-classic, legendary San Francisco jazz club the Keystone Korner. Others may know him for his travels with the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Still others may know him from his more recent curatorial exploits and as your genial host at Dizzy’s Club the spiritual anchor of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

A few weeks back JazzTimes asked me to capture a few recollections of the late, great drummer Idris Muhammad from one of his erstwhile employers, NEA Jazz Master Lou Donaldson. In town for a sold-out concert performance at the Kennedy Center’s jazz-friendly Terrace Theatre, Lou was happy to oblige with some Idris reminiscences that will appear in the upcoming annual JazzTimes obit issue that includes first-person recollections of some of the more notable musicians who’ve passed on to ancestry in the preceding year. Hanging out with Lou backstage that evening was Todd Barkan, who has produced some Lou Donaldson records and works with the great master. Spotting Todd at the Terrace suggested that some questions were in order for one of the most tireless jazz workers in the business.

Todd Barkan-Gerald Wilson @ Dizzy's
Todd Barkan with Sonny Rollins

How did you go about developing the Keystone Korner to the point where it achieved legendary status?
By day, I was working full time as a Customs Broker for the venerable San Francisco firm of Hoyt, Shepston & Sciaroni; close to seven nights a week, I also worked as the pianist for the Afro-Cuban jazz band, Kwane & The Kwan-Ditos. On a Monday afternoon in July of 1972, I brought our press kit and cassette tape to the owner of a North Beach blues bar called Keystone Korner, which was next door to a major SF police station. Keystone Korner’s owner, Freddie Herrera, told me that “I don’t really like jazz, and it really doesn’t draw and that audience doesn’t buy any beer,” but then he really surprised me by ingenuously asking “why don’t you just buy this club and hire your own band? I gotta sell this joint ’cause I’m planning on opening a big rock club in Berkeley and I have to come up with a bit more cash to nail down the deal this week.”

I told him that I only had $8,000 to my name that I was saving up for a planned trip to Europe, but he told me to bring my check book back on Wednesday, and he would see what he could do. I came back by in a couple of days with a lawyer buddy, and Mr. Herrera wound up selling me the lease to the club for $12,500, with $5000 down and $400 a month, plus $750 to transfer the beer license over into my name. There I was at the age of 25 as the sole owner of a jazz club, with absolutely no experience in that kind of business except as a musician who played in a lot of bars, army bases, and all kinds of dives all over the Bay Area. To help me get off the ground, Freddy Herrera gave me a couple of free nights with the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders Band “because they owe me a couple of favors for canceling recently.”

San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop and Basin Street West had just gone belly up, the Both/And was on its last legs, and the Fillmore West and Rock’n”Roll Scene were flying high in 1972, so everybody thought I was nuts for starting a new jazz club then, but I was just naive, idealistic, and insanely hardworking enough to feel I could make it work. Jerry Garcia had a guy who did nothing but roll joints dipped in hash oil, and the music was ear-splittingly loud, but after that psychedelic swing with Merl Sanders we got a bit more four/four with violinist Michael White with Ray Drummond, Kenneth Nash, and Ed Kelly, and then Bobby Hutcherson with George Cables, Herbie Lewis, and
Billy Higgins. I brought in McCoy Tyner‘s Quartet from New York with Sonny Fortune, Calvin Hill, and Alphonse Mouzon, for two weeks, and we were off to the races!

Keystone Korner flier 1

In order to set up the gig with McCoy Tyner, I got Jimmy Lyons to book Tyner’s band at the Monterey Jazz Festival before our Keystone gig, and we took 10,000 McCoy At The Keystone flyers down to the Festival and plastered every set of windshield wipers and storefronts in that whole town to help put our hippy jazz club on the map, and we kept doing that kind of street poster guerrilla marketing for Keystone Korner for the next eleven years all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area with a whole network of jazz volunteers.

Make no mistake about it: Keystone Korner was above and beyond anything else a total labor of love in every possible way. All the folks who worked there were either musicians or passionate jazz maniacs; even the janitor was a bebopper. We had psychedelic murals on all the inner and outer walls, and air purifiers (ionizers) to take the pot and cigarette smoke out of the air for the comfort of the patrons who did not smoke. Most of us worked seven days and nights a week, 52 weeks a year. When we simply paid the rent, the phone bill, the state sales tax, and all the band fees, it was a cause of real and sincere celebration.

Todd-Shelley Manne

When Miles Davis played one of several gigs he did at the Keystone in 1975, we paid him the astronomical fee (for us) of $12,500 for the week (all in cash of course) by Saturday night of the six-night engagement. On Sunday night, Miles’ road manager and percussionist, Mtume, brought me back one envelope with $2500 in it because, as Mtume explained, “We just played in Japan, so we’re okay, but Miles thinks you need this money at this point much more than he does.” Miles was right, and that certainly helped to pay the bills. That is the kind of place it was.

All ages were welcome because we had two very successful benefit concerts for the Keystone at the 3500-hundred-seat Paramount Theatre in Oakland early on in our eleven-year-run: first, the Black Classical Music Society with Freddie Hubbard, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones raised over $80,000 to help buy a hard liquor license in February of 1975, and then the bands of George Benson (with a string Quartet) and Grover Washington, Jr., teamed up to generate the revenue for a full kitchen to enable us to serve minors.

Starting with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s historic recording “Bright Moments,” Keystone Korner’s international reputation as a consistently warm and welcoming home for the music was greatly enhanced and accelerated by countless high quality live recordings by the likes of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tete Montoliu, McCoy Tyner, Yusef Lateef, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Sims, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, and Bill Evans, and regular New Year’s Eve broadcasts by National Public Radio really helped to spread the word as well.

Todd Barkan
L to R: Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Todd Barkan, Bobby Hutcherson, Eddie Henderson – Keystone Korner salad days

When the Keystone Korner closed how was shifting your focus to New York the obvious move?
The Keystone Korner closed in 1983 because we could not afford to renew the lease, but that was the year that Randall Kline and SFJAZZ were just starting to present concerts in the Bay Area, and Yoshi’s in Oakland was also just beginning to be a very important keeper of the flame. My longtime friend and colleague Michael Cuscuna provided invaluable assistance for my move that year to the Jazz Capital of the World, where I started managing the Boys Choir of Harlem and producing several hundred jazz recordings in New York City for both Japanese and American record companies, especially Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone Records. Because so many centrally important people in the jazz world live and work regularly in New York, I felt I was coming “back home” when I moved to NYC over thirty years ago, even though I had grown up in Columbus, Ohio, where I was blessed to have Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a mentor, and I worked on my first jazz concerts at Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, before I drove out to San Francisco in a 1941 Cadillac looking for Paladin during the Summer of Love in 1967.

What have been some of your biggest successes since you got to NYC?
While I was serving as the Manager of the Boys Choir of Harlem from 1985-1990, I really enjoyed helping to start up and build their international touring program and working on very memorable recordings with Dr. Walter J. Turnbull and the Choir with Kathleen Battle, Kenny Burrell, Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, and the St. Luke’s Orchestra. On my wall at home is a little wood’n’brass plaque that means more to me than almost any other recognition (far more than any Grammy or Japanese Gold Disc from Swing Journal) I’ve received in the 50+ years that I’ve worked with our music. It reads “The Boys Choir of Harlem Parents Association 2nd Annual Merit Award presented to Todd C. Barkan in recognition for your outstanding service to the boys and girls of the Boys Choir of Harlem, Inc. February 26, 1989.” I am so proud of the fact almost all our kids graduated from high school, and most of them went to college.

I’m also very proud of having served as an Artistic Administrator at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Programming Director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at JALC from 2001 to 2012. When Wynton Marsalis first started working with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1981, I introduced him to the President of Columbia Jazz Records, Dr. George Butler, in my office at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. I was very honored and happy when Wynton called upon me in 2000 to work at JALC and to prepare to be a central engine to get Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola off the ground and to help build it into one of the premier international jazz venues in the world. Serving Jazz at Lincoln Center in innumerable ways for twelve years was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life in music.

Todd Barkan-Sonny Rollins
Todd Barkan and Gerald Wilson onstage at Dizzy’s

Equally satisfying have been the wonderful opportunity and privilege to work extensively on both recordings and touring with very special creative artists and friends like Chico O’Farrill, Bebo Valdes, Grover Washington, Jr., Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, and Freddy Cole, and the blessing to program the Keystone Korner Tokyo in the early 1990s.

On the recording side you’ve done a lot of producing. More recently at least part of your efforts have been to unearth sessions recorded live at the Keystone Korner for release. Were those simply happy circumstances or at the time you were running the club did you have eyes to make a series of recordings made live at the club? And what was it about that club that made it a good recording environment? Will there be more recordings caught live at the Keystone Korner?
Between 1972-1983, there were quite a few commercial live recording sessions at Keystone Korner by Rahsaan Roland Kirk & The Vibration Society, McCoy Tyner Quintet, Yusef Lateef Quartet with Kenny Barron, Bob Cunningham, and Tootie Heath, Tete Montoliu Trio with Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins, Sonny Stitt with Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard with Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson, Stan Getz Quartet, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers with Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson, and Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, but all the rest of the live recordings released from the club were simply archival recordings (mostly cassettes). Some of my favorites are the final 16 cds by the Bill Evans Trio with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera; All The Way Live, the only time Eddie Harris and Jimmy Smith ever recorded together; and The Magic of Two, extraordinary piano duets by Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard. There will be a lot more very special live recordings released with great care in the years to come.

Since you left Dizzy’s, what’s been the focus of your activities?
Since I left Jazz at Lincoln Center two years ago, I have been working a lot on a book of memoirs about my first 50 years of being lucky enough to make the world a little more safe for bebop. In 2103, I produced another one hundred nights of live jazz presentations in New York City, at both the IRIDIUM JAZZ CLUB (” KEYSTONE KORNER PRESENTS”) and 54 BELOW (“THE WBGO JAZZ SERIES”).

In 2014, I was thrilled to be hired as Programming Director for the Creative City Collaborative and Arts Garage in Delray Beach and Pompano Beach, Florida, and for the last five years I have really enjoyed working for THE JAZZ CRUISE 2011-2015 which originates in Fort Lauderdale. I give a jazz video lecture each morning on the Cruise besides programming two on-board television channels with 24-hours-a-day for 7 days of the best jazz videos I know in the world, as well as emceeing a couple of dozen concerts at sea.

As one who has so often ‘set the stage’, what in your estimation have been some of the most important developments in presenting jazz since your Keystone Korner days?
I think one of the greatest, and ever-increasing challenges to presenting this music and perpetuating this awesome legacy to try to help it grow ever stronger is to provide as many live and loving venues for the music to be created and nurtured in. In an evermore sensorily-bombarded, ADDS world overwhelmed with so much indiscriminate mediocrity, it is much harder than ever for true quality to break through and find a substantial audience, which just means we must persevere and be more creative and resourceful than ever in how we get the best art out there.

While I was at Dizzy’s Club, I strove very, very consistently to substantially help great young artists such as Cyrille Aimee, Elio Villafranca, Brianna Thomas, Edmar Castaneda, Christian Sands, Sharel Cassity, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, Ulysses Owens, Jr.and others. They are an important part of the real future of our music. Take care of the music, and the music will take care of all of us.

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