The Independent Ear

Reverse thread: Q-Tip & Monk

Q-Tip forged a productive partnership with Jason Moran in the debut of the Kennedy Center’s hip hop program [Photo: Kyle Gustafson/WP]

The current era of jazz musician-as-curator is arguably owed to Wynton Marsalis‘ remarkable success in establishing and building the Jazz at Lincoln Center institution. Examples include the SFJazz organization’s successful engagement of a rotating cast of curating musicians. Trumpeter Dave Douglas founded and curates the annual fall Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). Yet another trumpeter, Sean Jones, was recently appointed as an artistic adviser to Carnegie Hall, principally guiding their youth jazz orchestra project NYO, which comes with implications for Jones as curator. An auspicious fine arts crossover found bassist-composer-vocalist Esperanza Spalding recently curating the “Esperanza Spalding Selects” visual arts exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan, an exhibit that will be on display through early 2018. Doubtless bassist William Parker‘s network of connections has played some curatorial measure at the annual Vision Festival, which is run principally by his earnest dancer-choreographer spouse Patricia Nicholson Parker. And as reported in a recent post in these pages, bassist Christian McBride, artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, even had festival founder – and the father of jazz festivals in this country – NEA Jazz Master George Wein motoring around the grounds marveling at hearing artists he’d not previously experienced in McBride’s first full-blown NJF curation.

The Kennedy Center built its laudatory jazz program on the curatorial gifts of Dr. Billy Taylor, the foundation being a series of concerts where the good doctor’s trio played host to a series of guest artists for performances and Taylor’s graceful and deeply informative meet the artist interview component, a series captured for posterity by NPR. Considering Mr. Taylor’s senior status keen observers had to wonder what would happen with Kennedy Center Jazz when he inevitably succumbed to the vicissitudes of age. Thus when the beloved Billy passed on to ancestry in 2010, those of us who followed the program wondered aloud ‘what now’?

The answer arrived in November 2011 when Kennedy Center Jazz chief administrator Kevin Struthers and the institution selected pianist-composer Jason Moran as artistic adviser to succeed and expand on Billy Taylor’s vision. Throughout his career up to that point the Houston-bred Moran had shown an impressive depth of ideas with a balanced inside/outside perspective – from sampling a Turkish telephone call to improvising on an inspiring speech as found objects for composition, to assembling one of the signature trios in American music, the Bandwagon with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Taurus Mateen, and challenging the band with fresh landscapes with every recording, to the record label Yes he is developing with wife Alicia Hall Moran, herself an impressive contralto vocalist.

Since building his Kennedy Center program Moran has significantly broadened the Kennedy Center’s definition of jazz, from engaging senior warriors identified with the so-called jazz avant garde who’d not previously played the KC, like NEA Jazz Masters Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton in concert (a Cecil Taylor booking was waylaid by illness), to presenting series of next gen jazz contributors at the KC Jazz Club, to Concert Hall intersections with artists in dance and classical music, to a recent triumph with the KC-resident National Symphony Orchestra for a live recreation of Moran’s score for Ava Duvernay’s much-acclaimed film Selma. Viewing the film for a second time, in a big hall with 2K in the seats, Jason & the orch onstage, was a rich experience. No two programs better illustrated Jason Moran’s range than last week’s Friday/Monday sequence which found Moran inhabiting freestyle hip hop and the Thelonious Monk Centennial in succession.

In addition to his jazz program curating, Moran has obviously become quite the artistic force across genres at the KC. Hip hop auteur Q-Tip, best known for his frontman work with A Tribe Called Quest, which established it’s jazz influences early on with their notable second album collaboration with NEA Jazz Master bassist Ron Carter on “The Low End Theory,” credits Moran for his appointment as the new artistic director for hip-hop culture at the Kennedy Center; thus the KC becomes the first major fine arts center to adapt hip hop as a core program. October 6th marked the official launch of the KC’s hip hop program and it was a special night from several perspectives.

That inaugural program coupled Moran and Q-Tip in duo, a format which likely raised questions in Tip’s legion of followers, but they packed the house nonetheless. Significantly the venue, the redesigned Terrace Theatre on the KC’s penthouse level, which had long served as the primary home of the jazz program, was also being launched following months of reconstructive surgery. In her introductory remarks, KC President Deborah Rutter, whose grasp and warm embrace of the complete thrust and responsibility of the Kennedy Center to reflect a broad sense of the diversity of fine arts presenting has been impressive since her 2014 appointment, enthusiastically lauded the Terrace re-design and was obviously thrilled in anticipation of this launch of the hip hop program, whose administrator is Simone Eccelston.

Appropriately though the entire thrust of the program clearly illustrated true partnership, Q-Tip delivered an opening solo sequence that completely enlivened the full house, most of whom had obviously come for his artistry first & foremost. His DJ set displayed impressive dexterity on the wheels of steel and various sampling and looping effects owed largely to popular dance grooves, which by turns he verbally cued as disco breaks. The crowd, though a more mature house that one might encounter at the club, took a minute to warm up but once they did it was definitely on, Tip eliciting amens with familiar refrains & beats. Q-Tip cannily and warmly recognized the significance of hip-hop’s evolution from street parties and basement jams to fine arts center in his accompanying dialogue, citing pioneer Bronx scenesters of the form as DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Baambaata in his running monologue.

When Moran arrived onstage almost immediately the scene shifted to beats meets virtuosity as Q-Tip crafted his beats to undergird and challenge Moran’s pianistics. This landscape was best exploited when Moran launched into a cosmo-electro-acoustic update on John Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps.” Taking the mic Moran made it clear to Q-Tip’s audience that he was no tourist, telling them that while his generation was addressing the challenges of Thelonious Monk, they were also by equal turns taking on A Tribe Called Quest as artistic sustenance, tacitly informing the audience that his was the first generation of jazz musicians to grow up under the influence of hip hop’s nascent developments & full flowering as a global artistic force, and embrace the form as one of the informers of their jazz expressions.

While there were some in the crowd – particularly those for whom Jason Moran was a new flavor – who were a bit quizzical about the hang-fly nature of this kinetic duo, those who gave themselves over to the impromptu nature (though at certain points it was clear Moran had some pre-planned sketches at his disposal) of this program were duly rewarded by their openness. After their first segment, Q-Tip exclaimed in genuine wonder that they had just free-formed for “about an hour!”

Two nights later Moran amply displayed the breadth of his musical mindset in black suit and bowtie for the Thelonious Monk Centennial celebration in the KC Concert Hall. When the lights dimmed the sound serenading the audience was Monk himself, piano soloing his signature “Round Midnight.” From there Moran essayed the master’s “Bemsha Swing” and introduced NEA Jazz Master pianist Kenny Barron for some solo “Light Blue”. The two pianists played alternating solo Monk before WPFW jazz programmer Brother Ah – who as his given name Robert Northern had contributed his french horn stylings to Thelonious’ historic Town Hall orchestral concert – eased out to reminisce a bit about a great memory of Monk wheeling his old upright onto a Bronx playground to practice. Moran’s idea for the Brother Ah playground reminiscence was spurred by his impression of a museum piece of an urban playground scene, which served to further highlight another constant character on this superb evening a running video installation. The first half closer was a brilliant, slightly puckish 4-hands Moran/Barron performance of “Blue Monk.”

For the second half Moran’s Big Bandwagon – his trio augmented by trumpet (Ralph Alessi), trombone (Houston homie Frank Lacy), tuba (the redoubtable Bob Stewart), alto and tenor saxophone
(Houstonian Walter Smith III) – reimagined selections from Monk’s Town Hall Concert, including a superb reading of “Friday the 13th”. These re-imaginations were not afraid to employ some dissonance in Moran’s mix. And this part of the evening is where the video installation really asserted itself. At one point as the band played on, the video streamed an evocative reminiscence by Moran on his personal Monk epiphany, how he first came under the spell of Thelonious from his parent’s record collection and the Columbia Lp Thelonious Monk Composer. At other points the master himself entered the hall, courtesy of his voice in studio conversations with other musicians and producers. In each case the audio was clarified by the conversation conveyed in video graphics, just in case ya’ll didn’t understand Monk’s unique hipsterese. “In My Mind” was the theme of Moran’s reimagining of the Town Hall Concert, a mantra Moran repeated on the video installation by W. Eugene Smith, in much the way Q-Tip’s mantra became “options” during their Friday coupling. As opposed to slavish re-creations, this was a masterful program, one Thelonious Monk would have danced on.

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Why NJF & MJF remain THE jazz festivals

I’ve been fortunate to make scores of what, to paraphrase sports parlance, I consider scouting trips to jazz festivals large and small ever since the early 1970s; always an important part of my own professional development – as a media person, an arts administrator, and an arts presenter. And of course, there’s big fun to be had at jazz festivals large and small. It was in ’74 that I embarked on what became annual treks to the George Wein-produced summer festivals in New York. Depending upon underwriting sponsorship those festivals fell under the names Newport New York, Kool, and JVC Jazz Festival.

The reason Wein’s Festival Productions team decamped in NYC in the first place was a result of controversial jazz festival intrigue. His Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Festival operation had been – what turned out to be temporarily – suspended by town gentry outraged at the actions of an unruly crowd. This was at a time when Wein was broadening the scope of NJF by seasoning his lineup with assorted rock and crossover acts of the day, something that has become common practice of even the highest profile jazz festivals. In short, some audience members drawn to the tony burgh located on the south end of Aquidneck Island on the shore of the Narragansett Bay apparently arrived expecting free admission and subsequently stormed the barricades in protest. So in the mid-70s Festival Productions built those major NYC festivals in the stylistic image of Newport, at venues ranging from Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Town Hall, to assorted clubs and university auditoriums.

Fast forward to the mid-90s when my 18-year tenure as artistic director of Cleveland’s Tri-C JazzFest commenced (which was augmented for a hot minute in the aughts by a couple of years artistic directing Boston’s Berklee-run Beantown Jazz Festival, an an advisory role in the development of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival). Currently three years in as artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival, jazz festivals large & small have been a passion for over 40 years, including more festivals than I care to recount here, both domestic and foreign. Visiting jazz festivals has been both immensely pleasurable and highly instructive, to the point where trips to the two grandaddies – the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals – have become as mandatory as budget will allow. This year was no exception as we had another round of splendid and very instructive visits – actually they’ve become pilgrimages – to both.

The Newport Jazz Festival audience enjoying a brilliant, deeply heartfelt tribute to Geri Allen

The scene at the 60th Monterey Jazz Festival Garden Stage

The Newport Jazz Festival (presented by Natixis Global Asset Management), which about a decade ago expanded its staging from the traditional big stage abutting Fort Adams and facing the idyllic bay, to add a courtyard stage and a harbor stage, is now artistic directed by one of the busiest men in jazz, bassist Christian McBride. The Newport lineup this year certainly reflected McBride’s Philly pride, from his own soulful big band to his occasional Philadelphia Experiment trio with Philadelphians drummer Questlove (McBride’s high school classmate) and keyboardist Uri Caine and guest DJ Logic, to the Benny Golson Quartet, to pianist Orrin Evans playing solo and as part of trumpeter Sean Jones band, to the Roots closing out late Sunday afternoon.

McBride and festival producer Danny Melnick laid out a tasty menu that also included in addition to the Roots, the crossover presence of Afro-Americana vocalist-banjoist Rhiannon Giddens, funk master Maceo Parker, and Jason Moran‘s Fats Waller Dance Party. The Maria Schneider Orchestra’s sumptuous harmonic universe played the main stage, while Cyrus Chestnut‘s ever-swinging trio, and a quartet of trumpeters gave a virtual state of the instrument on the harbor stage, including Sean Jones, Michael Rodriguez (co-leading with his brother pianist Robert), Theo Croker, and Cleveland’s own Dominick Farinacci. Sean (from Warren, OH) and Dominick are always points of pride as both participated in Tri-C JazzFest from their grade school days onward.

Branford Marsalis’ exceptional quartet played a robust set at Newport

The outer edges of the music were well-represented at NJF by Henry Threadgill‘s Zoid, pianist Marilyn Crispell, the Wadada Leo Smith/Vijay Iyer duo, and composer Amir ElSaffar‘s Rivers of Sound Orchestra. Branford Marsalis highlighted the wisdom of keeping a stable quartet (Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis, Justin Faulkner), Cecile McLorin Salvant continued building her rather quirky book with ancient songs of politically incorrect origin (like the Mad Men era “Wives & Lovers”), and the super quartet Hudson (Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski, Larry Grenadier) provided gourmet jam band food for the ears. A major highlight came in tribute to the sad recent passing of pianist Geri Allen. With Allen previously scheduled to join Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding to reprise their marvelous trio, instead TLC and Espe delivered a gorgeous, loving tribute to their partner with rotating pianists Christian Sands, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer playing Geri’s compositions.

Young pianist Gerald Clayton joined his dad John and drummer Jeff Hamilton as MJF Artists-in-Residence

Difficult topping those Newport proceedings, right? Along came mid-September and the 60th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which more than lived up to its superb tradition. The Monterey County Fairgrounds welcomed nearly 40,000 patrons to its main (Arena) stage and five grounds stages this year. Delights of the garden were plentiful, from three performances by Showcase Artist violinist Regina Carter (including her Ella Fitzgerald and Southern Comfort projects), to John Clayton‘s commissioned piece celebrating MJF’s 60th through the broad canvas of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. For that occasion Clayton was joined by son Gerald Clayton on piano, brother Jeff Clayton‘s tuneful alto saxophone, and partner Jeff Hamilton on drums stoking the fires. One artist common to both Newport and Monterey was Tony Award winning vocalist Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton, who made scores of new friends with his gracious, sunny performances that included a Nat Cole medley. Another was Vijay Iyer, this time with his bristling sextet onstage at Dizzy’s Den to close out Sunday evening.

MJF Showcase Artist Regina Carter honoring Ella Fitzgerald on the Jimmy Lyons Stage

In the run up to MJF 60 I asked John Clayton about his 60th anniversary commemorative commission and his overall impressions of the festival. “There is a shortlist of components to the festival and my attachment to the festival informed my composition. The fact that this is their 60th anniversary, my interaction as an artist in the festival for so many years, the village/community vibe that permeates the festival grounds, and a general love of the area, all guided my composition.” Asked what makes the Monterey Jazz Festival such a unique experience, Clayton said “The down-to-earth quality is unique. It is one of the most un-stuffy festival environments one can find. People dress comfortably, eat with each other at picnic tables, shop in the open stalls… it’s not a jazz festival atmosphere that you can easily find. Actually Monterey Jazz Festival is one of a kind.”

Saturday evening on the Arena’s Jimmy Lyons Stage (named for the MJF founder) delivered a masterful tenor sax summit, with Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, and Joshua Redman honoring Sonny Rollins in royal fashion. Crossover delights came via rapper Common, who since his DC Jazz Festival appearance in 2016 has found a new home and creative environment on jazz festival stages, improvising his lyrical content to reflect the setting and giving ample space to the jazz-friendly soloists in his band, including one-to-watch flutist Eleana Pinderhughes. James Carter once again displayed his outrageous mastery of every saxophone nuance Adolph Sax could have ever dreamt up, Sean Jones made Roy Hargrove work hard for the money as guests on Kenny Barron‘s tribute to Dizzy Gillespie’s centennial, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen joined saxophonist Tia Fuller‘s hard driving quartet, bassist Linda May Han Oh (who had earlier collaborated with Fuller, Jensen, and Tia’s sister pianist Shamie Royston, DC Jazz Festival director Sunny Sumter, and moderator Suzan Jenkins for a Women in Jazz Panel that had the esteemed Angela Davis (a MJF regular) taking notes in the back of the room, delighted the Garden Stage with her quintet, and Angelique Kidjo joined Pedrito Martinez for a delightfully successful partnership of Afro salsa.

Four great tenors playing homage to Sonny Rollins

As has become MJF tradition, several first rate Bay Area bands delivered on Monterey stages, as did a nice slate of emerging units, including Monsieur Perine, Ranky Tanky, Con Brio, and assorted student ensembles. Sixty+ years into their respective illustrious runs, the Newport Jazz Festival and Monterey Jazz Festival proved once again why they represent the state of the jazz festival tradition.

What a treat it was to interview Dee Dee Bridgewater and Leslie Odom, Jr. in the Blue Note at Sea Tent on the subject of transitioning from a Broadway show to the jazz concert stage

Panelists for the Women in Jazz discussion L to R: Linda May Han Oh, Shamie Royston, Sunny Sumter, moderator Suzan Jenkins, Ingrid Jensen, and Tia Fuller. When Suzan introduced the great activist-professor Angela Davis in the audience, afterwards Angela came up and said she didn’t know she was gonna be called out, she was back there taking notes!

One of the MJF highlights came when Sean Jones and Roy Hargrove joined Kenny Barron for the finale in Kenny’s centennial tribute to Dizzy Gillespie.


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Robert Fleming’s guide to roots reggae

NYC-based writer Robert Fleming has been a good friend for many years, dating back to our Cleveland days in the 1970s. We spent many moons in his 3rd floor flat on 143rd Street on the city’s east side cogitating on the latest record releases. Included in our collaborative experience was a quite memorable 1975 interview we did with Miles Davis at the old Eastwood Motel in the midst of Miles’ weeklong stint at the late and now-legendary Smiling Dog Saloon, a time when Miles was sporting a raucously murky 3-guitar band (Pete Cosey Reggie Lucas, and Dominique Gaumont). The latest entry in Fleming’s growing bibliography is the new book Rasta, Babylon, Jamming (The Music and Culture of Roots Reggae), about which we had some questions for good brother Fleming.

Independent Ear: I recall rather vividly one of those nights spent at your place after you had your first interview with Bob Marley. Was that encounter one of the seeds of inspiration for this book?
RF: As a I write in my introduction, I was introduced to the musical concepts of roots reggae through the words of Jimmy Cliff in the early 1970s. It was during my time at Scene Magazine. He was very candid with a clear vision of the politics and culture of the music. Cliff knew black music and the plight of American blacks during the age of Nixon. I enjoyed our talk.

Herb, dreads, and all things Jah notwithstanding, Bob Marley’s interview came later as I was really immersed in reggae. He spoke openly between spliffs about the need for global healing and the political chaos going in Jamaica. Some of the talk didn’t make it to the tape. I had no idea how sick he was at the time. Also, this bookis a tribute to my sea-faring grandfather, Will, who lived there in Jamaica before settling in Mississippi.

Inevitably when one makes the list choices this book offers its readers, including “Pivotal Reggae Pioneers,” “16 Essential Reggae Films,” and “Vintage and Modern Reggae Album Collection,” there will be either naysayers or those who decry perceived omissions or question certain choices you’ve made. How would you, or how are you prepared to respond to such criticisms?
I made those choices due to production costs and editorial restrictions. Nobody can say that I didn’t touch on the key
cultural, political, and musical themes of roots reggae. Garvey’s proud teachings, the influence of Selassie’s courage, Seaga vs. Manley and the CIA’s cunning reach. The omissions were deliberate because I didn’t want the text to be overly academic or long-winded. I’m prepared for criticism. This is a primer of the music. This is a survey of the Jamaican music of the 1970s. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the same way some of those perhaps less thoroughly immersed in the contemporary jazz scene might lament that “…ain’t been nothing new in jazz since (Pops, Bird, Coltrane, Miles, Ornette… pick and era”), as someone less thoroughly immersed in reggae who feels that contemporary reggae just doesn’t stand up to the music that Bob Marley and his generation made, how would you respond in your defense of the contemporary reggae scene, or are you of that “ain’t nothing happening since Bob…” mindset?
Roots reggae is when Jamaica found its musical identity. I wanted to reinforce the importance of this period as a golden age in this book. Before this historic period, all that existed there were the producers of Kingston’s
famed “Beat Street,” who only imported American R&B songs. Then something changed and more musicians embraced the spirituality and race pride of the Rastafarian faith. It truly translated into the music and culture of Jamaica.

The music of Marley, Toots, Steel Pulse, U-Roy, Peter Tosh, I-Threes,
Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru – set the standard. It raised the bar like Bird, Dizzy, and Miles did with Bop. Or Ornette. Or Trane. All of the ingredients were there. There were pivotal moments, and and some of what followed paled by comparison. But never fear. There are some strong performers there now.

What would you say is the current state of contemporary reggae music?
Jamaican music is going through growing pains again. It’s on the brink of banning dancehall music. The media is full of Fiyah Roiall, the prince of conscious hip-hop rap and young stars such as Vyby Kartel, Movado, Gaza Slim, Gyptian, Aidonia, Denyque, and Chronixx. Supposedly Yashae, the new pop queen, will someday rival Queen Bey (Beyonce). Folks are singing the recent creation of young Alex Morissey, the world’s first virtual turntable, Virtual Disc Jockey. It’s where you can log on and create music mixes. Tech rules!

Given a choice of one reggae album to place in a time capsule, what would you recommend?
It’s a tie! I would recommend two albums: “Exodus” by Bob Marley and the Wailers and “Entitlement” by Ijahman.

Here are some additional titles by Robert Fleming:

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Woody III: Preserving the Legacy

Besides being a truly great trumpet player, composer and bandleader – and one that too many folks sleep on from the historical lineage of the music – Woody Shaw was a very important figure in my earliest stages of concert presentation and production. That work began back in the late 1970s/early 1980s as president of the former Northeast Ohio Jazz Society.

During that period the late Bruce Lundvall took advantage of what was apparently some unusually broad corporate latitude to sign and subsequently record several of the most vital musicians on the scene, including NEA Jazz Masters Dexter Gordon and Bobby Hutcherson, and such other singular masters as the late alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and trumpeter Woody Shaw. When Dexter Gordon made his triumphant return to the U.S. after years in European self-exile, he arrived full force at the Village Vanguard in a highly touted week that found him riding majestically on the wings of a deeply complimentary band that had been the working unit of Woody Shaw, which certainly eased Dexter’s way back on the U.S. scene in superb fashion. I contacted Maxine Gordon, who at the time was representing both Dexter and Woody, and what quickly followed were very successful performances by both on separate dates at Cuyahoga Community College Metro Auditorium as part of NOJS burgeoning concert series.

I had first become familiar with Woody’s recorded work a few years prior when my brother George hipped me to his extraordinary 2-LP set Blackstone Legacy and was immediately hooked by his surging, questing sound and singular approach to trumpet expression. Years later we commemorated Woody Shaw’s rich legacy in concert at Tribeca Performing Arts Center as part of our annual Lost Jazz Shrines concert series. It was then that I first came in contact with the very earnest son of Woody Shaw, Woody Shaw III (, who as an infant and a young boy had appeared on two of Woody’s subsequent album covers for Columbia. Fact is Woody Shaw was our last great and true trumpet stylist.

Since his father’s passing Woody III has been busy with his father’s legacy, which recently has included plans to produce a Woody Shaw documentary. Clearly some questions were in order for Woody Shaw III.

IE: You’ve come a long way from that WoodyIII album cover photo with your Dad and Grandad. Talk about your evolution in terms of your education and more recently your Harvard fellowship.
Woody Shaw III: Well, my educational background was in many ways shaped by a decision I made as a younger man, which was to acquire all of the tools necessary to interpret, organize, preserve and curate the legacies of my musical forefathers well into the future. And when I say my musical forefathers, I mean both my biological father Woody Shaw (1944-1989) and my step-father, Dexter Gordon (1923-1990).

Having grown up at the nexus of the artistic and the managerial domains of the jazz world [Woody lll’s mom the historian-educator Maxine Gordon managed both Woody and Dexter], it became apparent as I reached my early twenties that my future would require me to administer these legacies on a professional level, as well as to protect them from any foreseeably egregious forms of legal or economic exploitation, indefinitely. As a result, I wound up getting my B.A. in Ethnomusicology in 2001, my B.F.A. in Jazz Studies in 2004, I did a year of graduate work as an Associate Instructor under David N. Baker (a true pioneer in jazz education) in 2006-2007, and then went on to Columbia University where I received by Master’s in Arts Administration, focusing on intellectual properly law and business.

In 2014 I was awarded a Hutchins Fellowship from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University to consolidate the research on my father’s music and life that I had been compiling since the age of 21 (I am 38 now), to complete a book, produce a documentary film, and to launch The Woody Shaw Institute of Global Arts. In essence this is a series of projects intended to preserve and present my father’s life story as embodied by the multifarious articles (both tangible and intangible) of his vast body of work, his artistic outlook, and his unique musical philosophy.

When and why did you establish the Woody Shaw Institute of Global Arts and what is your mission?
The Woody Shaw Institute of Global Arts is a vision that was birthed through the process of realizing the true depth and magnitude of the contributions of artists like Woody Shaw, who spent each and every day of their lives assimilating the subtle cultural nuances and influences of the world into their art. The full mission can be read at, but in short, it is to preserve, present, and build upon the aesthetic as well as the symbolic and the social, within Woody Shaw’s worlds of creative thought.

The purpose is bi-drectional, in the sense that I am aware of the need to both preserve and nourish the history, so to speak, but also to keep reinventing, questioning, reexamining, and reimagining the propositions of my father’s art through the introduction and exploration of new interdisciplinary forms and relationships, sometimes cross-cultural, sometimes trans-idiomatic, which speaks to the “global” scope of this endeavor. What I am not interested in is trying to replicate or imitate, and do not think my father had much patience for that either. He was a constant researcher, student, and explorer when it came to music, to sound, symbolism, message, meaning and the organization of his ideas.

My mission is to present a model that serves as an alternative to our conventional institutional and educational formats; that treat the arts and humanities through the often blurred lens of social science, or that entrap the biographical narratives and obfuscate the brilliance of deceased artists to forgone conclusions of tragedy for the sake of sensationalism, or to some clumsily misaligned political or social ideology. I think many of the institutions that have appropriated the world “jazz” have rendered the word almost entirely devoid of meaning by completely overlooking the tremendous sacrifices undergone and pains suffered by the countless human beings who gave so much of themselves, and who were so committed to expressing their unique forms of intelligence and individuality, literally at all costs. I think it’s time to start shining a much brighter light on the humanity of the many long lost and forgotten originators who paved the way for what today gets called “jazz,” with so little if any soul or respect for the history behind that word, which it seems any and everyone can just appropriate, redefine, or oversimplify for their own personal or professional benefit.

There is a suggestion, at least in the complete name of the Woody Shaw Institute of Global Arts that your goals for its establishment go beyond the jazz music your father embraced and mastered. Talk about what appears to be your broader perspectives on the development of the Institute.
The institute will draw from Woody Shaw’s body of work not as a rhetorical or cultural cliche of jazz’s “greatness,” or as evidence of its own ingenuity alone, but as part of a starting point to inspire perhaps new or newly-inspired trajectories of thinking, hearing, listening, and creating art, including but not limited to music. I am interested in interdisciplinary and complementarity when it comes to the arts and artistic re-interpretation. Given the broad range of creative and cultural influences that Woody drew from, I have no doubt that he would have wanted his music to inspire and be applied within many other domains of creative self-expression than what the jazz CEOs and professors of the world call “jazz.”

When it comes to the essence of what this thing once was, if Woody Shaw is to be regarded as one of the “last major innovators,” which we know he was, then his music alone should have enough to teach us about what jazz actually is, not to mention where it comes from, and where it can still go. We don’t need to try to play “Woody’s greatest hits” or to run his arrangements into the ground at a much lower level of artistic ingenuity and quality than what he already originated in order to convince ourselves that we are doing justice to the “jazz” agenda. His music speaks for itself, as well as for the music’s entire history. He made certain of that, and both his predecessors and successors loudly attested to that fact.

I am of the belief that there is no sense in calling something by its name, especially if I already know what it is. However, I think many people would agree that the name Woody Shaw and the word “jazz” in its most indigenous sensibility, are fairly synonymous. But at the same time, Woody Shaw strove to transcend any cliches or limitations that were placed on his music or on his artistic identity. That was something he had to fight against throughout his entire life and career, and it is precisely because of his willingness to endure that artistic plight that many people have been able to legitimize themselves as “jazz musicians.” It is because of those sacrifices to be an individual artist at all costs that certain people have been able to validate themselves and their musical ideology without taking half as many risks or paying a fraction of the price to be truly great. So basically, while the essence of our music and where it comes from will always be present, the plight of evading contrivances and defining ourselves on our own creative terms continues.

More recently you’ve launched a campaign to fund a Woody Shaw documentary. Where are you with that project and how might folks continue to assist those efforts?
The campaign has gone very well. I’m not able to disclose numbers at this time, but the project received some very generous support and was backed by some generous and well-respected individuals in the community such as Steve Coleman, Jason Moran (both Associate Producers of the project), Brian Lynch and others.

I have been very inspired to receive constant offers from up and coming filmmakers and film crews who are eager to be part of this project. So I’m currently recruiting, conducting interviews, raising some additional funding, and expect to complete a rough cut by spring 2018.

I was honored that the project, titled Woody Shaw: Beyond All Limits…, was recently chosen as an official selection for the Works-in-Progress (WiP) program at Cucalorus FIlm Festival in Wilmington, NC (Nov. 8-12, 2017). I’m feeling pretty inspired by that, and look forward to a few more developments by the end of the year as well. Read more about the program at
To support the documentary project, visit

Woody’s recorded legacy has lately been enhanced by several posthumous, previously unavailable releases. Are there other previously unreleased Woody Shaw recordings in your pipeline?
Well, The Tour (Vol. 2) with Woody Shaw and Louis Hayes is due out on August 25, 2017. I produced and wrote notes for this series. The CD is on HighNote Records, formerly Muse Records. As you probably know, we recently lost a very important figure in the jazz world, Joe Fields, who originally signed my father to Muse in 1974 and recorded Woody all the way until he signed with Columbia Records in 1977. That Muse period is a very historic era in jazz, marked by so many great recordings by Woody Shaw and his contemporaries. The sound of that era lives in those recordings and so much can be learned, felt, and remembered about where this country was at that time. I will do what I can to make sure that music continues to be heard and re- released.

As far as other previously unreleased material goes, well, I think you know the answer to that… Yeah, there are plans.

Beyond where you’ve ventured with the project thus far, what would you like to be remembered as the impact Woody Shaw made on the music?
Woody Shaw’s impact is only now being realized for its importance, really. The inherent musical complexity, the creativity and philosophical depth of what Woody put into his art and what he expressed is, quite frankly — epic. And he meant for it to be. It captures precisely what he was encountering as a human being; as a Black man, a creative artist, and as a deeply thoughtful and proud musician concerned with the state of affairs in the world and equally committed to improving his environment, and the human condition, through his art.

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Meet the Artist: NEA Jazz Master Pat Metheny

As part of DC Jazz Festival’s ongoing series of Meet the Artist interview sessions, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with newly minted class of 2018 NEA Jazz Master Pat Metheny. This interview was conducted at the Abramson Family Auditorium of NYU in DC on Monday, June 12, 2017. That evening at his DCJF concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, to the audience’s delight and surprise, Pat Metheny was introduced by Ann Meier Baker of the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the 2018 class of NEA Jazz Masters. Although Pat had been notified in advance as part of the NEA’s process. he was clearly humbled by the experience of being introduced to our DCJF audience as a NEAJM. Obviously he was inspired because what ensued was a blistering performance just short of 3-hours with his latest quartet: drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and keyboardist Gwilym Simcock, about whom he speaks glowingly in our interview:

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