The Independent Ear

Revive Big Band @ KC


Last Saturday (April 5) at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club the Revive Big Band made its DC debut. The gig essentially represented the KC Jazz Club component of the KC’s expansive series One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide (March 25-April 14). Hip Hop at the Kennedy Center you ask?, eyebrows appropriately arched. Isn’t that akin to ordering hot wings at the Inn at Little Washington? Fact is this One Mic series has been impressive in scope, ranging from hip hop-themed visual arts events, panel discussions, and free early evening hits on the Millennium Stage, to huge concert hall blow-outs starting with Nas’ 2-night 20th anniversary “Illmatic” presentation with the National Symphony, to such top level representatives of the form as Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli and pioneer Grandmaster Flash with Jahsonic.

So what’s this gotta do with the KC Jazz Club presentation of the Revive Big Band? First I’ll maintain that the logic of one of America’s classic (and classical) performing arts centers presenting a hip hop series of this scope stems squarely from the pioneering work Dr. Billy Taylor did in opening up those hallowed halls to jazz, forever broadening the scope of the prodigious complex. Second, the Revive Big Band proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to be one of the most impressive synthesis of jazz and hip hop this observer has yet experienced. The band is led by trumpeter Igmar Thomas, who clearly took his jazz training at Berklee seriously, all the while deeply immersed in the hip hop aesthetic of his generation. Listening to Thomas’ energized, informative tour guiding interactions with the audience that evening invoked the ghost of Billy Taylor and how he similarly served as tour guide for Jazz at the Kennedy Center patrons, truly making jazz friendly for legions of audiences. Thomas similarly detailed the interlocking jazz-meets-hip-hop nature of Revive’s music, including their expression of sampled jazz material colonized by hip hop artists, and the logic of hip hop beats applied to jazz changes and themes. He made their arrangements of A Tribe Called Quest as “friendly” to the KC Jazz Club audience – including more than a few gray heads of this writer’s generation – as was their beats-laden arrangement of “On Green Dolphin Street.”

Besides a full compliment of exceptional soloists, including such vets as trombonist Frank Lacy, bari saxman Patience Higgins, trumpeter Alex Norris, and guitarist Mark Whitfield – and dig that, Thomas and Revive founder Meghan Stabile had the knowingness to engage one thoroughly-immersed vet per section of the band – the RBB includes some of the brightest young players, including saxophonists Tivon Pennicott, Sharel Cassity, and Lakeisha Benjamin, bassist Ben Williams, and trumpeters Donald Milloy and Nabate Isles.

The soul of the RBB’s hip hop perspective is rapper-turntablist Raydar Ellis, who is completely immersed in the form, has the in-the-poket cadence and couplets down, has the requisite moves & stage presence, but sans the hard guy/male diva/I’m-a-gazillionaire-and-you’re-not posturing persona of so many rappers. He was completely relaxed and appeared like the studious young guy next door you wouldn’t mind mentoring your son, yet deeply immersed in the culture; at one point rapping that it was A Tribe Called Quest who actually introduced him to jazz!
Revive leader trumpeter IGMAR THOMAS

From completely updated Art Blakey and Woody Shaw charts, to reimagining A Tribe Called Quest and a fairly complex pop song written for next gen R&B vocalist Bilal, the Revive Big Band is a complete breath of fresh air. The economics of touring a big band like this are daunting – and club dates don’t pay the bills for these dedicated musicians – but I’m sure the prescient Meghan Stabile will make that happen because this band oughta show up across the jazz festival circuit ‘FO ‘SHO.

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A select who’s who on the contemporary DC area jazz scene

A select Who’s Who on the contemporary DC area jazz scene
By Willard Jenkins

Along with colleagues Blair Ruble, Prof. Maurice Jackson, Rusty Hassan and others I recently had the pleasure of participating as one of the writers in a new issue of the Washington Historical Society’s magazine focusing on DC’s rich jazz history. You can visit that issue at the following link:

Washington, DC, actually a metropolitan region in and of itself when you consider its Maryland and Virginia environs, is rich in jazz history. The current wealth of contemporary jazz talent that resides in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) and performs around the area, with the most kinetic activity squarely within the confines of DC itself, is robust.

The following series of capsule profiles reflect the level of jazz talent affluence this area enjoys, focusing on a mere percentage of the exceptional musicians living and performing in our midst. Contributors all, we’ve chosen to break these artists down into three different categories to reflect at least some measure of what they bring to arts & culture in the DC area.

Two factors stand out in these profiles, particularly of those younger artists represented here who have arrived on the DC jazz scene since the 1990s – it is truly remarkable how many of them are graduates of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and how many received their advanced training at Howard University. Those two institutions have contributed immeasurably to invigorating the 21st century DC contemporary jazz scene. Another factor to be mindful of is the number of musicians in these profiles whose importance as scene or business innovators compels their presence here.
Here’s a sampling of veteran DC area artists who perennially set the tone for the DC jazz scene.

Sharon Clark, voice.
Sharon Clark
Blessed with a rich, honeycombed voice, and impressive sense of time, Sharon Clark, based on the glowing notices she’s been getting from her regular forays to such singer’s haunts as Manhattan’s chic Metropolitan Room, stands poised for international recognition. As JazzTimes magazine succinctly put it, Ms. Clark is “a revelation,” but here on the DC scene we’ve known that for more than a minute!
Tasty Platter: My Tribute to Shirley Horn (CD Baby)

Marshall Keys, saxophone. One of several DC-resident artists who’ve made State Department tours, Marshall Keys is a DC perennial who always contributes to whatever setting he’s called into – from Stevie Wonder to Jason Moran’s Bandwagon. In addition, he’s a big booster of DC’s burgeoning jazz talent: “I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that between DC and Baltimore, the number of really good players is as high or higher than at anytime I can recall.” For Marshall Keys, versatility and flexibility are a hallmark.
Tasty Platter: Times Aligned (CDBY)

James King, bass. James King is DC’s first call bassist whenever visiting artists require a rhythm section. A native of Houston, King is a regular with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. His vast experience has ranged from vocal bandstands the likes of Freddy Cole and Shirley Horn to such restless explorers as Gary Bartz and Pharoah Sanders. King brings an opulent, full tone and deep rhythmic sensibility to whatever bandstand he graces.
Tasty Platter: Allen’s Odyssey (CDBY)

Tony Martucci, drums. Drummers blessed with good taste are known far and wide; so it’s never a surprise to find Tony Martucci digging the scene whenever one of his traveling cohorts comes to town. His range of experiences, including Mose Allison, Charlie Byrd, Dewey Redman, and Joe Henderson, to the Russian/American co-op called Partners in Time (formerly Jazznost) certainly bears out his skills as an adept traps man. “What I have observed,” says Martucci, “is that Washington is now viewed globally as a hotbed of talent and creativity. No longer is moving away a prerequisite for relevance.”
Tasty Platter: Life in Hand (CDBY)

Steve Novosel, bass. The DC scene is particularly blessed with rangy bass players and Steve Novosel is the senior member of that crew. Novosel’s wealth of experience is broad and impressive and his discography boasts the invaluable lower end essence he brings to all manner of bandstands. Though he’s provided stellar support to myriad recordings, curiously Steve Novosel has yet to make his own recording!
Tasty Platter: w/David Bond Quartet, The Early Show (Live at Twins Jazz) (CIMP)

Lenny Robinson, drums.
Lenny Robinson
Yes, you’re getting the picture, the DC scene has first-class rhythm section players, and you can add Baltimore native Lenny Robinson to the list of first-rate drummers. Lenny’s credits include some of the most facile contributors to the scene, but lately he’s invested a good deal of energy in his own Lenny Robinson Group, the cooperative trio Three For All, and an organ unit he calls the Organic Trio; for each of which Lenny also serves as producer.
Tasty Platter: Songs I Like to Play (CDBY)

Harold Summey, drums. Besides the impressive number of Duke Ellington School and Howard University grads who continue to nourish the DC jazz scene, one supply house that may be overlooked is the military bands in the area. Harold Summey, who won the initial Thelonious Monk Competition for drums in ’92, has performed extensively with the US Army Blues jazz ensemble. Additionally he’s worked with such NEA Jazz Masters as Sonny Rollins and Wynton Marsalis.
Tasty Platter: w/Byron Morris, Unity Y2K (By-Mor Music)

Andrew White, saxophones. Recognized internationally, Andrew White is a true DC jazz legend. Known for his virtuosic playing on all manner of reed instruments, in most recent times his concentration has been on the alto and tenor saxophones. There’s also a legion out there that remember his electric bass prowess with Weather Report, or perhaps his touring on bass guitar with Stevie Wonder; or maybe they know him for his bold series of tales from the bandstand, or for his vast discography and catalogue of original compositions. These days Andrew doesn’t emerge with great frequency, but when he does he truly brings the fire.
Tasty Platter: w/Michael Thomas Quintet (featuring Andrew White), Live at Twins Jazz (Jazhead)

These artists are not only playing the clubs and concerts around the DC area, they’re also a diverse lot who have taken often unique initiatives to contribute to the DC jazz scene in a multitude of ways beyond the bandstand.

Michael Bowie, bass-educator. Signature jazz singer Billie Holiday always said the most important member of her band was the bass player. If that’s indeed the case then Michael Bowie is unquestionably an MVP, having put in lengthy stints with a stellar list of vocalists, including NEA Jazz Masters Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, as well as the Manhattan Transfer. In addition to his role as an utterly dependable bassist around town, Michael Bowie also directs the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra, bringing new generations of musicians into the music. Michael’s current passion is the diverse ensemble Sine Qua Non. “I finally found my writing voice,” he says, “and I believe the music and the band has nothing but tremendous upside.”
Tasty Platter: Sine Qua Non, Simple Pleasures (TranSoul)

Amy K. Bormet, piano-voice. Yet another graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, after earning her bachelor’s in the music program at the University of Michigan where she studied with Geri Allen, she followed her mentor’s lead by earning an MA in music at Howard University. Since then this young woman has created a very necessary scene by founding and producing the now annual Washington Women in Jazz Festival.
Tasty Platter: Striking (CD Baby)

Larry Brown, piano. A multiple Wammie Award winner, for both his quartet and his recordings, Larry has led his quintet on all the most important bandstands in the DC area, ranging from Blues Alley, Twins Jazz and the Bohemian Caverns, to the Kennedy Center and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. More recently he’s become music director at the new Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club. Asked how he sees these roles intersecting, Brown says “Having dealt with [performance producers] my whole career I understand the pressure they’re under and the complexity of their jobs. Now I have to straddle that fence – one day as a performer trying to book my Quintet, the next wearing the other hat as I negotiate with fellow artists for a performance date.”
Tasty Platter: Live at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival 2011 (DVD)

Paul Carr, saxophones-educator. Paul Carr is a bandleader/recording artist, educator, and most recently jazz festival presenter. Four years ago he added production of the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival (MAJF) to an already busy portfolio that includes direction of the Jazz Academy of Music. JAM is a thriving year-round Montgomery County-based jazz education program that also produces an annual summer camp. Carr suggests that as a result of his festival production work “I have a greater appreciation for the economics of the business and the conflict between the musician’s fee expectations and the presenter’s need to make a reasonable profit or at least break even. Without subsidy, traditional jazz musicians would experience a very different reality.”
Tasty Platter: Standard Domain (PCJ)

Chad Carter, voice. A real self-starter, with the working support of his parents Chad Carter has forged an admirable Monday night policy at Vicino’s restaurant in Silver Spring that has not only provided a platform for his development as a singer but has also engaged many of the area’s finest artists. Musicians should take note that here’s a man who rather than moan about lack of opportunity, forged one himself at a venue that prior to his entrees had no music policy whatsoever. He saw an opening to forge a mutually beneficial venue partnership and seized it.
Tasty Platter: Let Me Love You (JK)

Fred Foss, saxophones-educator. Fred Foss comes by his flinty alto saxophone approach honestly, as a student of the Jackie McLean school of playing and one who learned valuable lessons from Dr. Jackle. Foss is an honored and very successful educator whose youth jazz ensembles have graduated a number of exceptional adherents, from trumpeter Wallace Roney to saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed. In addition to his horns and teaching exploits, Fred Foss has also served as president of the thoroughly unique Listening Group, a 25-year old collective of jazz enthusiasts and intellectuals.
Tasty Platter: Journey (Amosaya)

Chris Grasso, piano.
Chris Grasso
It takes a special pianist with a high degree of selflessness to serve effectively as an expert vocal accompanist. In the DC area there is none finer at this exacting craft than Chris Grasso. That means Chris Grasso possesses a fertile rolodex of singers around the country. Many of those singers he formerly booked into the elegant room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a good taste curatorial quotient he has more recently successfully transferred to the Loews Madison Hotel after being derailed by shortsighted new owners at Mandarin. About that work, Grasso says, “Most people, even serious jazz fans, want to be entertained. That may sound simple, but I think the ability to put on a show is a lost art among many performers today. I try to make sure that happens as much as possible when I book bands and when I perform.”
Tasty Platter: w/Sharon Clark, Do it Again: My Tribute to Shirley Horn (CD Baby)

Allyn Johnson, piano-educator. A player of supreme swing and unmistakable soul, Johnson is as at home in a burning jazz context as he is in the church; the latter skill best evidenced by his exceptional unit that fuses gospel and jazz known as Divine Order. Allyn Johnson is also director of the jazz studies program at his alma mater, the University of the District of Columbia.
Tasty Platter: Divine Order (Allyn Johnson)

Marcus Johnson, piano-keyboards. A player who operates in the groove-oriented arena, Marcus is likely the most entrepreneurial musician in the DC area, no small feat. The Howard University grad holds an MBA and a Georgetown law degree, as well as his own custom wine imprint, Flo – for the love of. An NAACP Image award nominee, under his Flo banner he’s a master marketer, combining performances with wine tastings, motivational speaking engagements.
Tasty platter: Urban Groove (Marimelj)

Ken Kimery, drums. Ken Kimery is one of the people who keep the jazz flame alive at the Smithsonian Institution. He’s the current producer of the Smithsonian’s auspicious jazz oral history project, producer of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO) – the closest thing we have to a national jazz orchestra – and coordinator of the Jazz Masterworks Editions publications. Beyond that, if you’ve been fortunate enough to catch some of the SJMO’s thematic concerts, that guy you saw executing the percussive details behind the trap drums is Ken Kimery as well!
Tasty Platter: w/Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Live at MCG (DVD)

Brad Linde, saxophone.
Brad Linde
In addition to his own career as a saxophonist-composer, Brad Linde also leads the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and curates the jazz performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The Orchestra is obviously a great passion of Brad’s: “The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra has had the opportunity to grow and develop as a band, explore an ever-expanding repertoire of origin
originals and arrangements, feature stellar soloists, and foster a community of like-minded musicians. Our weekly engagement provides a destination for audiences seeking to hear the best the District has to offer in a creative setting that supports and contributes to the past, present and future of jazz.”
Tasty Platter: Ted Brown & Brad Linde, Two of a Kind (CD Baby)

Luke Stewart, bass-saxophone. This young Mississippi native has worked to create some unusual scenes in the District through his Capital Bop partnership with presentation of some of the area’s more adventurous musicians and ensembles through their DC Jazz Loft series. The AU grad also serves as a weekly programmer at WPFW, “Jazz & Justice Radio”. “All the things I do are interconnected through the community,” says Stewart. “My personal inspirations as an artist come from practicing and studying all facets of music and engaging the community.”

Michael Thomas, trumpet.
Michael Thomas Group
The ever-swinging Michael Thomas Group
A significant thread of the fabric of jazz is the tradition of the working band. That tradition has waned somewhat in recent years, partly due to the daunting economics of keeping a band working enough to stay together. For well over a decade trumpeter Michael Thomas has managed to maintain the Michael Thomas Quintet, a hard-charging unit deeply invested in the tradition laid down by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He’s also managed to chronicle the band through a series of heated recordings on his own Jazhead imprint. “We truly have fun together and a tremendously healthy sense of swing and soul. This is where the band’s “Swing or Die” mentality comes from,” Thomas exclaims.
Tasty Platter: Live at Twins Jazz (Jazhead)

Thad Wilson, trumpet. At one point in the jazz lineage the big band was the signature ensemble. That changed with the advent of the modern jazz era, however there were still those steadfast souls who continued to believe in the majesty of the big band sound, both classic & contemporary. Maintaining a big band is no mean feat, so besides his trumpet prowess Thad Wilson deserves a place on this list purely because he has persevered in a tough climate for large ensembles. Like several on this list Thad Wilson also teaches, as part of the Jazz Studies Dept. at George Washington University.
Tasty Platter: A Work in Progress (Language)

Charlie Young, saxophone-educator. Alto saxophonist Charlie Young is both superb section player and adept soloist, as evidenced by his being featured in the 21st century incarnation of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, as well as recording stints with the Count Basie Orchestra and appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra and the West End Chamber Orchestra. These experiences lend themselves well to Young’s day job as Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Howard University’s impactful program. In 2013 the baton of artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra was passed from recently retired founder David Baker to Charlie Young.

Jazz families have indelibly contributed to the fabric of the music. Think about the Calloways, Ellington father & son, the Joneses, the Heaths, the Adderleys, the Brubecks, and countless others; here in the DC area the music has been a family affair in more than one household.

Nasar Abadey, drums-educator; Kush Abadey, drums.
Nasar Abadey
A native of Buffalo, Nasar Abadey has long been one of the more resourceful drummers on the DC scene; and he also imparts that wisdom at Peabody Institute where he’s a Professor of Percussion. But where he’s been most successful is in dropping that drum science on his young son Kush, 22 at this writing. “Kush exhibited an early gravitation to music before he could walk,” says Nasar. “Later when he was two years old he held sticks in a way to indicate a natural and proper grip for the sticks. He was never forced or pushed to play music.” Says Kush, “Watching my father perform was one of the most inspiring things I could witness at a young age. It was honestly a no-brainer that I wanted to follow in the same path as my father.”
Tasty Platter: Nasar Abadey Supernova, Diamond in the Rough (CDBY)

Christie Dashiell, voice; C.V. Dashiell, drums; Christian Dashiell, bass.
The children of bassist-educator Carroll Dashiell are poised to make their own separate impacts on jazz both here and beyond. Christie’s lovely, supple voice was the leading light in Howard University’s premiere vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. C.V. Dashiell is turning up increasingly on bandstands around town, and both he and Christian have accompanied their sister and others. So what was it like growing up in what must have been a creative family home? “It was my dad’s love for music and education that encouraged my brothers and I to become serious students of music at a very young age,” says Christie, who is currently studying for her MA in music at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. “The second we all decided to take music, my dad made sure to instill in us the value of practicing and truly learning our craft.”
Tasty Platter: Afro Blue, The Best is Yet to Come (HU)

Imani, voice; Pepe Gonzalez, bass-educator. This spousal unit has experienced a wide array of opportunities, from Imani’s contribution to Wynton Marsalis’ “Congo Square” and her own recordings, to Pepe’s numerous straight ahead and Latin Jazz stints. Pepe serves as Assistant Director of the Jazz Academy of Music and teaches at the Levine School of Music.
Tasty Platters: Imani, Calling You (IFP); Pepe Gonzalez, Looking Back (CDBY)

Nathan Jolley, drums. Noble Jolley, Jr., piano. Twin brothers Nathan and Noble Jolley, Jr. are the legacy of their late father, guitarist Noble Jolley, who was the first ever-jazz degree graduate from Howard University. The brothers have gone on to matriculate themselves, from the Peabody Institute’s burgeoning jazz studies program. Growing up in a house that also included their musical sister, vocalist Rashida Jolley, “was a spiritual and natural evolution,” according to Noble Jr. “Our parents taught us that “your passion reveals your gift”, through which you find your career that leads you to and through your destiny. We chose music and music chose us, individually and jointly.”
Tasty Platter: Jolley Brothers, Memoirs Between Brothers (J2Records)

Project Natale formed in 1998 when brothers Joe (bass) and Lou (drums) Natale relocated to the DC area. Operating with tenor man Carl Cornwell and Baltimore’s own Bob Butta on piano, with band longevity being such a fleeting thing these days, Project Natale has stayed the course and performed all over the DMV.
Tasty Platter: Endangered Liberties (Inveo)

Chuck Redd, drums-vibes; Robert Redd, piano. Between them the Redd Brothers are two of the busiest musicians on the DC scene. They’ve also been afforded choice opportunities to play far and wide, from Chuck’s performance with Dizzy Gillespie for the Namibian Independence Celebration, and work with his mentor Barney Kessel, to Robert’s 13 years with the late bass master Keter Betts and long sting with Charlie Byrd. So was there brotherly competition growing up in the Redd household? “It was great growing up with a brother who was an aspiring musician,” says Chuck. “We were always playing together and our tastes were pretty much the same. Just like now, only we get paid!”
Tasty Platter: When Redd is Blue (Chuck & Robert w/Steve Abshire, Tommy Cecil, Howard Curtis) (Noteworthy Jazz)

Brian Settles, saxophone. Jessica Boykin-Settles, voice. This couple graduated from DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, matriculated at the New School University in New York City, and completed graduate studies at Howard University, where Jessica has also served as an influential instructor. Brian got a head start on his performing career, gaining a reputation for his edgy, original saxophone work in various contexts, including the DC loft jazz series. Jessica has left HU to concentrate more on her vocal career.
Tasty Platter: Brian Settles, Secret Handshakes (Engine Studios)

Delores King Williams, vocalist. Tom Williams, trumpet-drums. These Baltimore spouses and suburban (MD) DC residents have graced various bandstands acrossthe area, including joint concerts and tours with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Tom has shared the bandstand with numerous masters, from the time he was championed by NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath. Vivacious Delores has branched out into theatrical work, including with The Capital Steps political satire troupe.
Tasty Platter: Tom Williams, Interplay

Esther Williams, voice. Davey Yarborough, saxophone-educator.
Esther Williams
This couple has not only collaborated on recordings, they’ve also developed a strong jazz presence at their house of worship, People’s Congregational United Church of Christ. But it is their selfless efforts in jazz education that have rewarded them their greatest career satisfaction. Davey is the longtime director of the jazz program at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, work that recently garnered him the prestigious John LaPorta Educator of the Year Award at the 2013 Jazz Education Network conference. Together Davey and Esther have also built the Washington Jazz Arts Institute to further develop young people. “We started the WJAI because of our understanding of the importance of inspiration, support and guidance in a developing artist’s journey,” says Davey. “We depend on and trust each other while working together and we have grown and matured both musically and in our relationship over the 35 years or so we have collaborated,” echoes Esther.
Tasty Platter: (Davey & Esther), Beautiful Friendship (Dav-Est)

Here are several emerging DC-area artists to watch; youthful in most cases, on the rise in all…
Elijah Jamal Balbed, saxophone.
Elijah Jamal Balbed
This DC native, only 24 at this writing, displays a refreshing maturity in his tenor sax sound and approach, and an openness to all manner of variations on the music. He’s often spotted at other folks’ gigs, horn strapped to his back and ready to contribute at a moment’s notice. His experiences have ranged from Chuck Brown’s Go-Go to the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra.
Tasty Platter: Checking In (Elijahjamaljazz)

Herman Burney, bass.
Herman Burney
Blessed with a wealth of experience, much of it coming while traveling with such stellar vocalists as Freddy Cole, Nnenna Freelon and Rene Marie, Burney has also contributed to the likes of saxman Sonny Fortune and trumpeter Terell Stafford. According to the bassist “I chose the bass for all the wrong reasons… it looked cool, it looked easy, Stanley Clarke did it, and most of all for the girls!… Then the bass chose me.”
Tasty Platter: Offering (Bassmint)

Janine Gilbert-Carter, voice. Blessed with a crowd-pleasing manner of delivering a song, Janine’s following around the area has grown exponentially. Its one thing to hear a young ingénue who hasn’t lived enough life to invest real feeling in a lyric, quite another to hear someone who clearly knows; and Janine Gilbert-Carter knows.
Tasty Platter: At Last

Reginald Cyntje, trombone. This Virgin Islands native never forgets his island roots in whatever music he’s applying his muscular, facile trombone technique to. Since matriculating at Howard University, Cyntje has made his mark on a diversity of bandstands. “When I first moved to DC,” he recounts, “the city provided me with cultural diversity (music, religion, ethnicity). I stayed in DC because of local family and friends who inspire me.”
Tasty Platter: Elements of Life (Independent)

Janelle Gill, piano-keyboards. Yet another in the growing legion of DC area artists who matriculated through Davey Yarborough’s program at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and landed in Howard University’s increasingly prestigious Jazz Studies program, Ms. Gill displays a broad range and a comfort level in all manner of contexts. Always thirsty for knowledge and experience, you’re liable to find Janelle Gill in the audience or on the bandstand at any time and place. When she finally does record it should be an eclectic experience.

Antonio Parker,saxophonist-educator. A native of Philly, Parker is yet another who matriculated through the Howard University Jazz Studies program. On the bandstand he’s a constant, burning presence ever ready to bring passionate expression at a moment’s notice. An experienced educator, Parker is also a music education entrepreneur, developing his own line of educational products and services.
Tasty Platter: Steppin’ Out Live @ HR-57 (Airegin)

Eric Wheeler, bass. One area where the DC area jazz scene is truly blessed is with robust, capable bass players. Add this Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Howard University grad to that equation. One examination of the authoritative way he handled himself in the company of the celebrated John Coltrane acolyte Pharoah Sanders’ vigorous and spiritual company last summer at Bohemian Caverns was convincing enough, let alone his growing contributions to the scene.

J.S. Williams, trumpeter. At the annual Listening Group New Year’s Day jazz celebration Fred Foss looked up and spotted a humble young man coming his way, horn at the ready and prepared to swing. Foss introduced J.S. Williams and ever since then whenever he shows up you know some serious trumpet business will ensue. A graduate of the exceptional jazz program at New York’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Art, Williams came to DC to study at Howard, then shifted to the New School jazz program. Inspired primarily by Clifford Brown, Williams is currently a doctoral candidate in music.
Tasty Platter: The Late BLUEmer

Lori Williams, vocalist.
Lori Williams
There’s a palpable joy in Lori Williams’ approach to a song. Whether she’s re-arranged a pop standard like the Emotions’ hit “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” a tender reading of “La Vie En Rose”, or her uptempo update on “Body & Soul”, all are delivered with an unmistakable sparkle and passion. A deeply spiritual woman, her work in Allyn Johnson’s gospel-jazz project Divine Order is a revelation as well.
Tasty Platter: Eclipse of the Soul (Pacific Coast)

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Catching up with Omar Hakim

Omar Hakim2
The signature electric jazz band Weather Report certainly experienced more than a fair degree of flux in its drum chair, from the brief tenure of their first drummer the kinetic Alphonse Mouzon and for a short spell including the pioneer Tony Williams. Peter Erskine settled the seat down for more than a minute and history will suggest him as the band’s signature drummer. When a young Omar Hakim succeeded Erskine, joining the band in 1981 through its farewell in ’85, he breathed a breath of fresh air into the tubs. But it seems even Weather Report’s broad range wasn’t quite expansive enough for the ever-curious, bright-smiling drummer from NYC.

Omar Hakim’s history reflects the kind of eclectic pallet embodied by more than a few of the 21st century’s most notable drummers, including Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Dire Straits, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Bryan Ferry, Bobby McFerrin, and Daft Punk among a whole raft of affiliations. And now along comes his latest date as a leader under the Omar Hakim Experience rubric, We Are One on his OZmosis imprint. This highly charged tableau begged a few questions of the energetic traps man.

It has been a minute since we’ve heard from you as a leader. What have you been up to recently?
It’s totally true it has been a minute… But I’ve been quite busy with many recording sessions and projects over the last few years. Particularly recording and touring with my band “The Trio of OZ” featuring Rachel Z on piano and Solomon Dorsey on bass. We did a lot of touring in Europe and Asia between 2010 and 2013. Also I was invited to participate on the recording sessions for the Grammy award-winning album by Daft Punk called “Random Access Memories”. I played on half of the album and the hit single “Get Lucky” featuring Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams. We performed on the 2014 Grammy awards; and the band swept the Grammys winning five awards for the album. It was a very exciting night! I also did a very interesting tour in 2012 for a project called “Miles Smiles”. It was a Miles Davis tribute band made up of musicians who either worked with and/or recorded with Miles at some point in their career. The band featured Wallace Rooney on trumpet, Darryl Jones on bass, Robben Ford or Larry Coryell on guitar, Joey DiFrancesco on Organ, and Bill Evans or Rick Margitza on saxophones.

It feels good to get back to doing my own music for a change! I put the finishing touches on the “We Are One” album in January of this year and it was released on March 3rd.

What’s your overall theme & intent with “We Are One”?
This project is a musical celebration of the intrinsic spiritual nature and oneness of mankind. The idea being… to reflect about the spiritual oneness of all people and to remember to connect with GOD, The Creator (or whatever name we give to the Higher Power of our understanding) the true source of music, life and positive energy through sound.

Do you envision Omar Hakim Experience as a touring unit?
Absolutely YES! I’m really looking forward to going out and performing with this band live! We did two CD release celebration concerts in New York City and Washington DC on March 10th and 12th that went really well! The band features most of the musicians that played on the record. Everyone in the band is looking forward to taking the project on the road and bringing the music to the people!

Recently Joe Zawinul’s son has been pumping up the volume for a documentary on his dad, which of course brings the enormous legacy of Weather Report to mind. What lessons did you take from that experience in terms of your own work and future direction
It was an amazing time in my life! To have the opportunity to observe Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter work, compose music and perform alongside them was truly an amazing experience for me as a young drummer and composer. I was a fan of the band before I was asked to join.

One lesson that stands out in particular is the idea of experimenting with different versions of harmonic structure under a melody that you come up with. Joe and Wayne are considered by many to be masters in the creative use of harmony and texture. To witness that process up close proved to be invaluable to me as a composer.

What’s next on your creative agenda?
“The Trio of OZ” will begin recording our second album this spring. Although we won’t release the album until 2015 we plan to drop a few singles out there this year to give our fans a taste of the new direction for the Trio. And of course the Omar Hakim Experience will be on the road a lot in 2014 and 2015!

I’ve spent so much time touring in Europe and Asia over the last few years I’m really looking forward to playing for our friends and fans in America for a change!
Omar Hakim record

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Mimi Jones Hot Tones

The month of March is International Women’s Month, a splendid time to celebrate the efforts of a woman artist who in more ways than one is taking matters into her own hands – as bassist, composer and record label CEO. I first met Mimi as a member of pianist Rachel Z‘s trio on a gig at Nighttown in Cleveland. A few years later she played Tri-C JazzFest with alto saxophonist Tia Fuller‘s take-no-prisoners, fashion-forward quartet and subsequent Mack Avenue recordings.

More recently Mimi has not only made two records as a leader (2009’s “A New Day” and earlier this year “Balance”). Both recordings were made for her own imprint, Hot Tone Music, which on the same release sequence as “Balance” has also showcased two of her talented sister musicians – tenor saxophonist-vocalist Camille Thurman (“Origins”), and drummer Shirazette Tinin – another member of that Tia Fuller band that played TCJF – and her debut recording “Divinity of My Soul.”

“A New Day” was a more vocal recording with a distinct groove orientation, while the somewhat cryptically titled “Balance” comes from a different place. Indeed Mimi is on record as declaring “Balance” a more straight-ahead date. Clearly with all this Mimi Jones’ activity afoot, it was time for some questions...

You speak of your new record as being perhaps a bit more “straight-ahead” than your previous efforts. What was your thinking when you made this record?
I must confess in preparation for the making of the 2nd album, I arranged to create a “straight ahead” record this go round. Although I felt “A New Day” [her first record] did relatively well for a first time jazz album, and was musically pleasing, I felt that it may have posed questions for those who need to categorize music. As I learned about the business, how for people marketing and presenting the music it’s so much easier for them if they could simply say its “smooth Jazz” or “Bop” or “modern Jazz”… record.

I sat down with a conscious effort in mind to make sure the album represented some good traditional “Straight ahead” jazz, but as soon as I allowed my stream of consciousness to enter in the mix, the next thing I knew, I was fusing the genres together for the sake of what the music called for in the moment and in relation to what was happening in today’s world.

That was the moment I thought, well when Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln created “Freedom Day” or the creation of Weather Report or Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters”… they were affected by what was currently going on in the world, and it turned out to be some of the greatest music created, and its in my IPOD… I think it’s great to make sure stuff can be marketed but music should be allowed to come from an intangible place and maybe as long as we respect, study and preserve the previous genres… its okay to create new ones.

Talk about the musicians on this record and why you made the personnel choices you did in order to play this specific program of compositions…
Something I like to do is either write specifically for the players or pick folks that I will micro compose for… its more relaxed, less to have to explain, they just get it, therefore I don’t have to write everything. I’m always observing people and their “stuff” and their behavior too to estimate what would work for a situation.

I knew this album needed to explore the 2 sides of the pendulum… and the different degrees of tension and release, Joy and Pain, abundance and scarceity, involved… sounds that touched people’s emotions… something that somehow connected anyone who listened at a certain point. In order to do this I needed lots of polyrhythms. [Pianist and husband] Luis Perdomo who naturally can play in several different time signatures at the same time, would definitely create tension in songs like “Patriot” and allow for more of a modern Jazz sound like that of [the composition] “Speed” with his touch and vocabulary.

Its funny because Shirazette ended up on certain songs like “Dream”, “Traveler”,“the Incy Wincy Spider” because she brought elements of swing, Afro beats and simplicity to the table… versatility is one of her strengths, and she is golden especially in situations where opposites occur.

Every rehearsal [guitarist] Marvin [Sewell] runs to the piano like a kid in a toy store, so after asking him if we could record ”the Spinning Tree”, with him on piano, and him giving me some crap about there being three “real” pianists in the house [including Perdomo and Miki Hayama and Enoch Smith Jr.], he finally agreed. its funny too cuz he was the only pianist who truly got the sound right.

Ingrid Jensen’s [trumpet] playing is always emotional, no matter what she’s playing its super colorful and unpredictable, which kept the music on edge and created a visual as well.

Miki’s sense of gospel in jazz is extremely soulful in a way very different from Luis’. She plays at church every week when she’s in town, so it’s a different vocabulary but one that is eched in the history of this music and so she was perfect for Dream, she created a beautiful soundscape for “ the Edge of a Circle” as well

I thought it to be a unique way to pay homage to the great Roy Ayers by having Camille do a vocal solo on “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, not sure if its been done before on that song but her skill set definitely brings the song to new heights.

Enoch Smith Jr. and I have big plans of working together and this was a great opportunity for us to start. He has a real talent for deconstructing and rearranging popular songs that truly allows the listener to get the original elements and then wowing them with a new package. So I asked for his skills on [Adele‘s] “Someone like You”, and Sean Harkness added guitar greatness on it as well making it sound more popular.

It was by mistake that the soulful Mala [Waldron] ended up on “Dream”, she was supposed to be doing scratch vocal, but I made an executive decision that her soulful sound needed to be present so that was a wrap.. Ha!

How have you evolved as a composer and a bass player?
I’m not afraid to ask dumb questions, or express that I don’t know “what the hell” is going on. I’m not as nervous anymore, or second guessing myself as much either. I get out the way of myself so I can get down to business. I used to get caught up if certain chords didn’t logically make sense and scrap the music, now I just get it out and figure it out later.

I still want to solo like a horn player, learn to truly be super relaxed in up tempos, and easily read thru changing odd meter. I feel like there’s so much more for me to learn and experience, but I’m embracing the challenge these days.

You’ve played in all-women bands before, like Rachel Z’s trio and Tia Fuller’s band. What is your sense about the current landscape for women instrumentalists?
Yes and those were very educational & fun experiences too! I feel like at a certain point things won’t be sooo segregated. Women will have more bands with men and vice versa. It sometimes gets to be a novelty being “a woman in Jazz”, like a gimmick. I think the more women can make time to shed, develop themselves and look out for one another, either by association, recommendation, or directly hiring of other women the more exposure the more educated people will become. It’s getting better slowly, its improving for sure.

Where are you going from here?
To the moon and back :0)! Hopefully far, I like to save lives with this music, create a movement of improvement, uplift communities, make a great living and enjoy doing it.

So that means you can see me performing: Mostly every week @ Crown 24 East 81st NYC, @ Symphony Space once per week; @ Ginny’ s in Harlem NYC on mar 29th, Playboy Jazz Festival in June, and Marylou William’s Jazz Festival in DC in May… Look out for new albums coming, expansions on the Hot Tone Music Label too!

Mimi Jones 2
Mimi Jones 1

Camille Thurman


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Bruce Lundvall always Playing By Ear

Bruce Lundvall
If you Google the words ‘consummate jazz record man’, a picture and bio of Bruce Lundvall should leap off your screen – at least for the period represented by the latter third of the 20th century and well into the 21st. Lundvall’s first prominent post was at Columbia Records where he was the steward of an unprecedented jazz epoch for that label, masterminding such tenures there as Dexter Gordon – whose much-acclaimed 1980s return to the U.S. was one of Lundvall’s high points – Woody Shaw, Stan Getz, Arthur Blythe, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, Irakere, Paquito D’Rivera (the latter two following Bruce’s triumphant Havana Jam jazz diplomacy project), and a raft of others. After a stint at Elektra Records, where Bruce oversaw the development of the Elektra Musician jazz-oriented imprint, Lundvall moved over to Blue Note Records where he shepherded the resurrection of that historic jazz label, including signing Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Chucho Valdes, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, and Ambrose Akinmusire. I could go on, but we’ll leave the good stuff for the eagerly anticipated new Bruce Lundvall biography, Playing By Ear, authored by Dan Ouellette.

This Lundvall treatment, which arrives as an ArtistShare, fan-funded project (and is available at and other retailers), is Dan Ouellette’s second biography, following on the heels of his Ron Carter bio Finding the Right Note, also an ArtistShare book. Dan Ouellette is a veteran jazz writer who has been a regular contributor to DownBeat, as well as a jazz columnist for Stereophile and Billboard magazines and assorted other periodicals. You may also know Dan as the frequent host of live DownBeat Blindfold Tests at various festivals, notably the Monterey and Northsea jazz festivals. Standing in line with Dan on a blustery January evening at a Times Square Starbucks around the corner from Town Hall awaiting a fine evening of music celebrating Blue Note Records 75th anniversary (which we subsequently reported on in the Independent Ear in January), we talked about the imminent release of Playing By Ear. And a few days ago I ran into Dan again, sharing a table with Bruce Lundvall and ace producer Michael Cuscuna at a superb evening of Dexter Gordon’s music at Dizzy’s Club; clearly it was time to share some of Dan’s insights on his Bruce Lundvall project with IE readers.

Independent Ear Interview:
Dan Ouellette on BRUCE LUNDVALL
Dan Ouellette1
Author Dan Ouellette

What is it about Bruce Lundvall and his career that initially attracted you to write his book?
I’ve always been impressed by what Bruce was doing at Blue Note—signing new, refreshing talent as well as reissuing incredible music that I had never heard from the archives—and I interviewed him for features when I was the jazz writer at Billboard. Back in those days when I was reporting on the jazz scene, I spent a lot of time at Blue Note, during which times I would always say hello to Bruce. A key signing of course was Norah Jones, which revitalized the label and gave the opportunity for several jazz artists to be signed. I reported that entire stretch. With the success of Norah, Bruce was magic in managing the label so as to bring in new jazz talent.

How did you and Bruce Lundvall come together to work on this book?
Bruce and I both attended the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2010, and both being early risers, we spent quite a few mornings talking at the breakfast table. That led to more conversations when we returned to New York. A few years earlier, another writer had started to work on writing Bruce’s biography, but early in the going had to bow out. So Bruce and I sat down for dinner and he asked me if I was interested in telling his story. Soon I realized how broad and all-encompassing his career in the music business was. It was a little daunting to me, but I set a course to find his story in the midst of all the inner workings of the business.
Bruce Lundvall book

What was your process for working together on the book?
We talked. I interviewed him at his desk in his Blue Note office, beginning with his early life and continuing chronologically. Bruce is a great storyteller and he has his favorites, which he often told me twice. Still, I had to figure out the architecture of the book, based on his stories and then interspersed with chapters on some of his most significant relationships with artists. Working with my publisher ArtistShare, I had some 15 artists videotaped where they shared their stories of Bruce and what he meant to their careers. Then I stitched the whole package together. I’d write chapters, send them to Bruce and he would sign off on them—correcting me (Dexter Gordon was in prison in Chino, California, not Chico, for example) and sometimes asking me to lighten up some of his more vehement criticisms of people in the industry he had worked with. We pretty much compromised on that. I also had to do a lot of research to dig deep into a topic or artist when Bruce couldn’t remember all the facts from some 40 to 50 years ago…or in some cases, correcting his recollections. So I worked as a historian as well as biographer.

Give us an example of one of the more compelling “stories” Bruce conveyed to you for this book.
There were several stories that were compelling, including how he resurrected Willie Nelson’s career by releasing Red Headed Stranger on Columbia in 1975 (with an interview with Willie in his tour bus corroborating); of course his Norah Jones story; how Bruce ignited Rubén Blades’ career by agreeing to release his groundbreaking Buscando America; and then how he actually discovered Whitney Houston, but because of politics at Elektra Records when he was ready to offer her a deal became Clive Davis’s star (in an interview with Clive in his Sony office, he did admit to me that, yes, Bruce did see her first, but because he signed her he rightfully gets the credit for discovering her). But I keep coming back to THE most compelling story: Bruce dreaming up Havana Jam in 1979 when he gathered Columbia pop and jazz artists of the day to perform in Havana on a two-day bill also featuring Cuba’s great musicians. His importance to Cuban musicians getting the opportunity to perform internationally and record for Columbia and later Blue Note is fascinating. I spent three chapters of the book digging into the background and outgrowth of Havana Jam—which happened 35 years ago.

In your interviews with Bruce, which of the many artists he has worked with over the years stood out as being particularly special to him?
Certainly Norah is a good friend to this day. Jazzwise, Dexter Gordon was one of his best friends. When Dexter died, Bruce was heartbroken, but then Joe Lovano stepped in as a godsend. I think all the musicians—Bobby McFerrin, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, Terence Blanchard, etc.—are special in different ways to Bruce. His philosophy in signing is to find an original. All his most important signings are truly originals who he nurtured as artists who are growing and evolving. So, I think Bruce would be hard-pressed to single out only one artist—I found from him that all of them are special.

Ultimately when you consider the arc of the record business in this country and particularly the executives who have specialized in jazz among their pursuits, where do you see Bruce Lundvall in the record industry pantheon?
Certainly among the top executives, if not the top. He signs his biography with this quote: “Life is short, art is long and jazz is forever.” Jazz is what possessed Bruce from his earliest days—listening from his New Jersey home to New York radio broadcasts and stealing away from home as a teen to take a bus to the city to see his heroes. Even though he has become well-known for signing nonjazz artists (Willie, Norah, Amos Lee, Richard Marx), he’s always been the most passionate about jazz and has the “best ears in town,” as Norah says, to recognize true jazz talent. The originals, not the derivatives. As has been testified among all the people I interviewed, Bruce is all about the art form and thus the artists. To Bruce, jazz is the highest form of musical art. All of his decisions throughout his career have had that as the foundation. Other executives may have that same sensibility, but the degree of power that Bruce enjoyed at Columbia, Elektra and Blue Note makes it that throughout his career he has been able to move mountains to get jazz into the world. He has been heroic in that sense—all without the self-aggrandizement of execs who place themselves on an equal plane with the artists. That’s largely why Bruce is not well-known outside the jazz circles (and even within), but deserves to be seen as a jazz hero.
Dan Ouellette
The author amongst his treasures

Ordering links for Playing By Ear, the biography of Bruce Lundvall:

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