The Independent Ear

Jean-Phillipe Allard on the art of jazz record production

Among the many travels I was afforded while working with NEA Jazz Master pianist-composer-bandleader Randy Weston (African Rhythms, 2010 Duke University Press) was an extremely pleasant journey to Annecy, France, a lovely alpine town hard by Lake Annecy and the Swiss border where Randy had resided for a time. It was on that trip that I also met the man who had produced several of Randy’s late career records for the Universal Music Group, Jean-Phillipe Allard. More recently Jean-Phillipe has launched his own Artworks imprint. What exactly is the role of a record producer and how does one arrive at that particular station in the world of recorded sound? Recently we posed questions to Jean-Phillipe about his record business odyssey and about his plans for the Artworks label.

  1. How and when did your career in the record business evolve to record production

In 1987 I was hired by PolyGram France to create a jazz department. It was also therise of the CD format and there were a lot of reissue activity, as well as,the reactivation of PolyGram/Verve/EmArcy jazz A&R, first in Japan with the great producer/journalist Kiyoshi Koyama, then in the US with the signings of the Harper Brothers, Betty Carter, Sphere, Charlie Haden Quartet West.  Initially, my job was supposed to only be the marketing of international (signed outside of France) jazz product and the reissuing of French jazz repertoire (Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Miles Davis, Chet Baker …etc).

Kiyoshi Koyama contacted me in 1988 to help him to produce a recording of John Lewis in Paris with the French all-stars, Christian Escoudé, Pierre Michelot, Michel Gaudry and Daniel Humair. The recording happened in December 1988, and it was my first time in a recording studio. This is clearly when I first contracted the jazz producing and recording bug! Directly witnessing the creation of music that did not exist the minute before and will never be repeated, but immortalized on tape, was an unforgettable thrill.  Koyama became my first mentor, John Lewis and Pierre Michelot became lifelong great friends and teachers. Christian Escoudé, who is still active and on the scene, is also still a close friend.   

About the same time the French arranger/big band leader Laurent Cugny sent me a recording of his orchestra playing the music of Gil Evans with Gil himself.  It became my first signing, and right after that Jacques Muyal, an old friend of Randy Weston, contacted me about a new project with him. Randy, who was a little forgotten at that time, was one my heroes. I deeply loved his music. At the same time Christian Escoudé came with a project of “Gypsy Waltzes“ mixing the tradition of gypsy jazz, bebop and traditional French music. I recorded Christian’s project in May 1988 and Randy’s Portraits tryptic in June 1988. These 3 projects launched me into the world of producing and executive producing new projects.  Randy became a very good friend and we then worked on a lot of his projects and stayed in touch until the end of his glorious life. He was also very important in teaching me the history and the spirit of this music.  After these projects everything happened naturally.

2) Talk about your must rewarding experiences as a record producer.

All the recordings with Randy or with Abbey Lincoln were very special but the recording of Randy’s “The Spirit of Our Ancestors” that I coproduced with Brian Bacchus was certainly a highlight. We had in the studio Pharoah Sanders, Billy Harper, Dewey Redman, Alex Blake and Jamil Nasser, Idris Muhammad, Talib Kibwe, Dizzy Gillespie, Idrees Sulieman, Benny Powell, Big Black, Azzedine Weston and Her Greatness Melba Liston. Except for Brian and myself, everybody was a legend. The spirits was so powerful, and we had the feeling that history was being made. I still have goose bumps when I think to some of the amazing moments from this session.

In 1991, Abbey asked me to record with Stan Getz and we put together the recording of You Gotta Pay the Band. That session altogether took 5 hours over 2 days as Stan was struggling with his health at that time, so we had short days. It was an easy and spontaneous session. Hank Jones, Mark Johnson and Charlie Haden were relaxed and Inspired. Abbey, as always, was intense, deep, real and impressive. She gave inspiration to the musicians including Stan who was very touched by her soulful singing and moved by her lyrics. It was a dream session.

The other highlight with Abbey was the recording of Abbey sings Abbey that I coproduced with the great engineer/producer Jay Newland. I selected, with Abbey, 12 of her own songs. At that time Abbey was not in great shape, so we had only 2 hours per day to record her. These 2 hours were so heavy andemotionally charged that it was indescribable. Abbey was literally singing for eternity. Everybody who participated in this session still talks about it as one the best things they ever did. It was pure magic. It happened to be her last recording. People Time, the duet album of Stan Getz and Kenny Barron was also Stan’s last recording. Stan wanted to do it at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen because he knew that Kenny loved the piano there. This one was another “spiritual” experience. Stan had only 3 months to live and even if sometimes he was getting tired, he was playing better than ever. He had this special relationship with Kenny, and they had this kind of telepathic connection. I never saw them talking about the repertoire or the keys or anything else; they were just playing and inspiring each other to the highest level. I was so lucky that Stan asked me to produce this recording. Since then, I worked and still work with maestro Kenny Barron. I was very moved by this recording and was quite aware that this kind of experience may only happen once in your life.

Another unforgettable session was with the South African genius, Bheki Mseleku. My friend, partner and coproducer Brian Bacchus turned me on to Bheki when he emerged from the British scene.  We decided to produce his first American project with the musicians he was dreaming of working with. The lineup again was historic. We had Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson, Abbey Lincoln, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Michel Bowie, Elvin Jones and Rodney Kendrick among others. Bheki did not read or write music, but his compositions were extremely sophisticated and despite 2 fingers missing on his right hand, his amazing virtuosity on the piano was stunning. He was also singing and playing the saxophone extremely well. He really seemed to be coming from another planet.  At the time of this recording, apartheid was still going on in his country and that too was another planet.  Again, the spirits were powerful, and this session stays very special, inspiring and unique to me.

3) For some the role of a record producer is not easily defined. Tell us what you see as the responsibilities of a record producer.

The role of a record producer for jazz depends a lot on the artist and also the producer.  Most generally the producer is in charge of the preparation of the session, choosing the right studio, the right engineer, the rehearsal studio, the piano, the piano tuner etc… Of course, the artistic aspect is very important. 

With Abbey Lincoln, she was writing or choosing her material, then we would talk and try to define the kind of production she would like for each song, then I would suggest musicians and arrangers. The final decision was always mutual.  During the session we would choose the takes together.  Then I would supervise the mixing and ask her for her approval or changes. Same thing for mastering and track order.

J.J. Johnson asked me to produce his albums mainly because he wanted me to choose the takes during the recording and to tell him if another take was necessary or not.  For some reason he trusted my judgement.  You must know the work well of the artist you are working with. Knowing the artist’s playing live as well as recorded work helps you to judge if what you hear is the best of what they can do, but everything must be done right on the spot without taking too long to make decisions.

Most jazz recordings are done in one to three days. It is not only a question of budget, it is also because great musicians are very spontaneous and get bored quickly if the session takes too long. A lot of masterpieces have been done in just few hours. It is a question of preparing well for the session and also the trust between the producer and the artist.

Regarding my work I would always consider it as coproducing with the artist. Some producers are musicians or arrangers like Teo Maceo or Larry Klein, others are engineers some are professional listeners. I would fall in this last category. Listening to the artist before the session, listening to the music during the session and listening to the mixing engineer, the music and the artist during the postproduction process.

There are a lot of great producers but none of them can do a great album without great artists. Some artists like to work without a producer. It is their choice, and their talent will shine anyway. I still think that they should have somebody they trust that could help them to deliver their best.

4) Taking us up to the present, talk about the evolution of your newest imprint, Artwork Records

Artwork Records is my first experience with an independent label. Before that I only worked for Polygram or Universal labels. The difference is that all my choices are only driven by my own personal taste. I would never sign an artist on this label for commercial or political reasons, or because of corporate strategy and need.

We released 5 albums in 2023 and we will certainly release 5 in 2024. I don’t want to do more that that. It has to be very selective, and I want to have the time to focus on each individual project. As I’ve always done, I’m working with American artists as well as French artists. I believe that the greatest French jazz artists bring their own poetic language to this African American artform. It was obvious for Django Reinhart and Stéphane Grappelli and today’s artists like Alain Jean-Marie, Baptiste Trotignon, Oan Kim, Daniel Humair, Christian Escoudé, Laurent Cugny, Jacky Terrasson or Bireli Lagrène; all who are still contributing to the richness of this music.  As a French person I feel very close to this approach of the American idiom with a French accent.

I also have had the good luck to work with some of the greatest American jazz artists and I want to continue to do that for the rest of my life, but I will always believe that this music has no borders.

5) Correct me if I’m wrong but your first two Artwork Productions are solo piano by the great Kenny Barron and the emerging Sullivan Fortner. Why those two pianists, and talk about both in the solo piano format.

When I decided to create Artwork Records my first call has been for Kenny Barron. The fact that he agreed to record for my new unknown label was very important to me. It gave me confidence to go on. If Kenny is with me, I feel that there is no limit as I don’t think there is a greater jazz musician on earth than Kenny. He represents to me all the historic qualities defined by the creators of this music, a master of his instrument, an improviser with no limit to their imagination, always swinging, a unique and sensitive ballad player, open minded to all the great music cultures, and a great composer. Kenny is also a gentleman and a humble person. In fact, his humility makes him even more impressive.  In spite of that, I am working with him on and off for more than 30 years and I am still very intimidated by this gentle genius!

When he told me that he wanted to do a solo album I could not be happier. It was his first solo project in 30 years. I got his favorite Steinway piano in Paris; I rented the beautiful Théâtre de L’ Athénée for the quality of its acoustics, as well as its magnificent architecture. I invited about 15 people to attend the recording session to bring some human warmth and then Kenny delivered this spontaneous masterpiece.

My second call was for Sullivan Fortner. I had signed Sullivan ten years ago on Impulse where he released 2 albums. Since then, he did not have another project under his name. I was thrilled to get a positive reply from Sullivan as I consider him the most important pianist of his generation. I still have the feeling that he is not recognized for the magnitude of his real value. He is much more innovative and creative than his low-key attitude might suggest.  He had 2 projects that he wanted to release, one was a piano solo album produced by Fred Hersch and another one more experimental on which he was playing all kinds of keyboards and other instruments. Both projects held equal importance for him. After discussing he convinced me these 2 projects must be released as one under the form of a double CD. He called it Solo/Game.

The piano solo part for me is as innovative and groundbreaking as the “experimental” part.  He is already influencing all the younger generation of artists and this project is certainly a milestone in the history of jazz piano.

Regarding the art of piano solo: I think that it is the highest level of excellence and there is a long list of masterpieces in this format. I had the chance to record piano solo albums by Randy Weston (Marrakech In the Cool of the Evening), John Lewis (Private Concert), Hank Jones (A handful of Keys) and I could see, and feel the amount of concentration of these masters involved in this challenging exercise. It is very often beyond styles, bebop, stride, blues, free , swing…

It is just a dialogue of the artist with himself through the instrument. When a journalist asked Kenny Barron about the source of his inspiration for this recording, he just answered: “The piano.” If it is a great piano, he is happy and inspired. This is a very intimate relationship between the artist and, in this case, Steinway & Sons.

Some of my favorite albums are piano solo recordings: Monk “Solo“, Hank Jones “Tiptoe Tapdance“, Randy Weston “African Nite“, Charlie Mingus “Plays Piano“, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson … but I am also a big fan of the great Classical piano players like Alfred Brendel, Samson François, Sviatoslav Richter… and their interpretations of the classical repertoire.  All the jazz piano masters studied the European classical composers, and it is certainly mostly in their solo works that you can hear this influence.

6) Tell us what’s up next from Artwork.

We’re going to release on March 8th the 2nd album of saxophonist Oan Kim’s, called “Rebirth of Innocence” and on May 10th a new Kenny Barron quintet project with Immanuel Wilkins, Steve Nelson, Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Johnathan Blake.  

In the Fall, we will have a Sullivan Fortner trio album, a septet project of pianist Micah Thomas and the French 4 pianist’s group PIANOFORTE with their debut album. This quartet of great keyboardists is comprised of Baptiste Trotignon, Éric Légnini, Bojan Z and Pierre De Bethman. You may not know some of these pianists here in the US, but you probably know Baptiste Trotignon from his co-lead project with Yosvany Terry.

I am also working on unreleased historical recordings…more news on that to come!

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

A Strange Celestial Road

One of my earliest off the bandstand encounters with trumpeter, composer, bandleader, educator and curator Ahmed Abdullah came when I conducted a series of oral history interviews for the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn. Working with my colleague Jennifer Scott, our task was to build Weeksville’s considerable archives with a specific focus on past and present history of jazz in Central Brooklyn. At the time Ahmed was part of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium orbit, along with such good people as the late Jitu Weusi, public school educator and one of the guiding forces behind the legendary Brooklyn performance space The East, the late editor-publisher Jo Ann Cheatham of Pure Jazz Magazine (and a contributor to my 1922 book Ain’t But a Few of Us), Bob Myers proprietor of the former Up Over Jazz Cafe (where young artists like Robert Glasper, Marcus & E.J. Strickland and other players first got their feet wet), the recently passed social justice activist Viola Plummer of Sista’s Place and others. At the time Ahmed was curating the weekend jazz series at Sista’s Place. along with his performing, recording, and education pursuits.

In 2023 Ahmed Abdullah published his memoirs A Strange Celestial Road an engrossing meditation on his development as a musician and person, with a central focus on his many years of alternate high reward and deep frustration as a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, both pre and post-Sun Ra’s 1993 ascension to ancestry, where vexations were writ large. On the heels of its 2023 Grammy nomination for the album Swirling, and on the cusp of current Arkestra leader, saxophonist Marshall Allen‘s amazing centennial (May 24), A Strange Celestial Road is quite the fascinating and highly-recommended read. For further illumination we recently posed some interview questions to Ahmed Abdullah.

Independent Ear: Recognizing that there are a great number of your peers who might reward the reading public and themselves by documenting their experiences in such a public fashion, besides the inspirations of the overall experiences you document in A Strange Celestial Road, what in particular inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write A Strange Celestial Road for several reasons. Uppermost was the fact that the experience I had at FESTAC (the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture held in Lagos, Nigeria; one of the planet’s grandest gatherings of Black world artists) in 1977 with the Sun Ra Arkestra, was to my mind completely misrepresented in John Szwed’s (biography) Space is The Place. There was nothing I could do about this depiction of events because [Szwed]’s book was already published. Secondly, I benefitted from the philosophy that had carried him to that point, was not given the kind of attention I would have thought it demanded and since I was an eyewitness to that, I was compelled to write about it.

Thirdly, the [jazz-based] Loft Movement of the 1970s, which ties into FESTAC as events during the age of Self-Determination, needed to be written about from an insider’s perspective, as well. Szwed’s book came out in the summer of 1997; by the Fall I had already made the determination to write my own [book]. However, it was a seemingly impossible task for a person who had only written articles. During the Yari Yari conference, which poet Jayne Cortez had a big hand in organizing, at NYU in the Fall of ’97, I ran into Amiri Baraka. We exchanged numbers, and in the back of my mind, I was hoping he would be of assistance, and he was, but in an unexpected way. Amiri gave me the number of [poet] Louis Reyes Rivera and one other person whose name I cannot recall. I had recently seen and heard Louis performing, so I was aware of his work and excited that he took on the task of assisting me [with A Strange Celestial Road].

I.E.: What was it about the Sun Ra experience in particular that compelled you to document so vividly that segment of your life & caree in this overall memoir sense?

When one looks at the fact that my sons were born just about the time I joined the Arkestra, and that I met my wife Monique Ngozi Nri while on tour with the band, or that my mother died while I was on tour, one gets to understand something about how my life has been so inextricably bound to that experience. And that’s not even looking at the music and the powerful effect that has had on my life.

Before you joined the Arkestra what was your overall impression of Sun Ra’s music and his philosophies, and what changed as a result of your up close & personal intimate experiences with the Arkestra and Sun Ra?

The first Sun Ra recording I heard that impacted me was Other Planes of There. This was a contemporary recording done in the 1960s as opposed to one I purchased at Slugs after hearing the band during their Monday night sets at that venue, called We Travel the Spaceways, which had been recorded around 1956. In A Strange Celestial Road I recount my dismay at taking the latter recording home only to find that it was not representative of what the band was playing when I heard them live [at Slugs]. Other Planes of There has a John Gilmore solo on one of Sun Ra’s originals, “Sketch”, which is still amazing to my ears, as is the composition. I was too young and inexperienced to play with the band then.

It would take me years of practicing and performing to get to the point where I was considered worthy, and some of the grooming came through working with a band known as the Melodic Art-Tet, which featured Charles Brackeen, Roger Blank, and Ronnie Boykins; the latter two had been members of the Arkestra. I got lots of second-hand information from the two of them before joining the Arkestra. No one could have prepared me for the discipline Sun Ra expected of one who joined the Arkestra. His rehearsals went on sometimes for hours. His commitment was totally to the music! The band was a learning experience because Sun Ra‘s life in the music went back to its beginnings in Swing and Ragtime, an we would play compositions he ha written out for us from those eras.

Some of the most compelling commentary in A Strange Celestial Road arrives after Sun Ra has ascended to ancestry amidst the various endeavors to keep his music alive and before the public. You talk quite vividly about such leader-posthumous legacy ensembles and band books as the Basie and Ellington bands and how those legacies have carried on to this day, and the challenges of your subsequent endeavors as a bandleader. In your work as an educator, were you to teach a course in how such legacies are kept alive and lessons learned from your experiences ultimately about bandleadership, what are some of the most important points you would stress to your students?

Leadership training is an important aspect of living and certainly my experiences with the Arkestra after Sun Ra left the plant confirmed how seriously training in that area is needed. My feeling is that in this country, there needs to be far more leadership training. In fact, both on the college level as well as in my elementary school music classes, I teach leadership, specifically using The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, written by Stephen Covey, as a source.

I like to call it the Seven Habits of Leadership because that’s more to the point. The 7 Habits asks and answers the question of how one develops the ability to work productively with other people to achieve lasting results. What one learns is that the first 3 habits: Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, and Put First Things First, are designed to develop one’s independence. It is through the development of independence that one is able to make the leap towards working interdependently. Those habits of Think Win/Win, Seek First to Understand Then Be Understood, and Synergize are the blueprint for building lasting institutions.

When I left the Sun Ra Arkestra, I began writing my memoir at Sista’s Place [Brooklyn-based alternative performance space, green grocer, and Black political action hub] with Louis Reyes Rivera as my guide. [The late Sista’s Place catalyst] Viola Plummer asked me to be her Music Director in 1998 and for 25 years we worked together to build that historic landmark institution. Sista’s Place, unlike the Sun Ra Arkestra, and because of the leadership of Viola Plummer, was and is run by a functioning African centered collective called the December 12th Movement. It would take a few years for the Arkestra to get to that, post Sun Ra, but they got there. If you can find people who can move past ego into spirit, institutions that will last can be built and the 7 habits of leadership are a valued tool towards that end.

Have you taken some of the lessons you learned along the Strange Celestial Road to positively impact your career annd those of other musicians you encounter?

One of the things that we (Louis Reyes Rivera, Monique Ngozi Nri, and I) were able to do because Viola Plummer had the vision to build [Sista’s Place] and the understanding that Culture is a Weapon, was to create a thesis called Jazz: A Music of the Spirit. This is important because it means that generations from now., folks won’t have to reinvent the wheel or grapple with the question of how to name our art forms if they are diligent and heed the work we are leaving.

All of our art forms are “of the spirit,” of our African ancestors, we believe. We are. however, just dealing with the one I know best, which is the music people know as Jazz, with a capital “J”. In A Strange Celestial Road I break down how the word Jazz can be understood from a numerological perspective as being under the number 9. We have therefore identified 9 progenitors, The Divine Nine if you will, and they were all chosen because they represent principles that we believe are important and necessary to keep this music going and to build institutions with.

The progenitors are Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Sun Ra, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Betty Carter, Jackie McLean, Abbey Lincoln (Aminata Moseka), and Yusef Lateef. The 9 principles we extracted are: 1) a transformative event has taken place in their life; 2) they have an advanced understanding of improvisation; 3) they understand the concepts of leadership and originality; 4) they are dedicated and devoted to a higher cause or higher power beyond themselves; 5) they understand music as a vocation and the need to teach it with passion; 6) they are activists on behalf of the communities from which they come; 7) they understand the principle of self-determination and ownership of the music; 8) they understand the need to build institutions supportive of artists who create Music of the Spirit; and 9) they understand the need to tie back to the African source of our art forms.

The thesis Jazz: A Music of the Spirit can be accessed online and there is an excerpt of it in the Acknowledgment section of A Strange Celestial Road. It is the basis for a functioning curriculum, which I have been teaching for several decades.

I.E.: Overall, what effect has writing and publishing A Strange Celestial Road had on your own career endeavors going forward?

The four years it took me to complete the manuscript were transformative. As I said, I had never attempted to do anything like this before, but Sun Ra‘s instruction to us, over the years, was that we had to do the impossible. Just as it is a seemingly impossible task that Marshall Allen, at nearly 100, could be leading the Arkestra and that he would start learning how to do it in his seventies, when I started writing this book, the idea of completing that project and getting it published was seemingly impossible.

Our goal on this planet, I believe, is to make the impossible possible. That’s the message Sun Ra left us with, and it is the reason that the institution known as the Sun Ra Arkestra is still standing after more than 70 years in existence. He would always instruct us that African people in America had a responsibility to stick together and there it is.

One of the immediate results of completing the manuscript was that I had to do some deep reflection. I had to note how much time and energy had been put into being an educator. Until I completed the manuscript, I really hadn’t considered the idea of being a full-time teacher but obviously I had logged so much time in that field it seemed a natural thing for me to go back to college to get the paper I needed to do it correctly. The next year after completing the book I was teaching a course on Sun Ra at the New School and eventually I would get to teaching music at an elementary school as well. So, I would say I was profoundly affected by the writing and the publishing of this book!

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Jerome Harris: Advocating for Independent Musicians

Are you familiar with the Music Workers Alliance and their efforts on behalf of music practitioners? For insights we turned to the extraordinarily diverse bassist Jerome Harris. Diverse discography? Besides his four releases as a leader, Jerome has recorded with such artists as Ray Anderson, Jack DeJohnette, Marty Ehrlich, Oliver Lake, Michael Gregory Jackson, David Krakauer, Bob Moses, Amina Claudine Myers, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Previte, Bob Stewart, Bill Frisell, Jay Hoggard, Julius Hemphill Big Band, Jeanne Lee, Roy Nathanson, Jaki Byard and a raft of others.

Given that it appears the genesis of the Music Workers Alliance efforts was first launched in 2020, did this effort first begin as a response to the hardships imposed on the live music arena by the pandemic?

Jerome Harris: Not quite. The org actually predated the pandemic–I only became aware of it when Marc Ribot reached out to a number of musicians and DJs in the spring of 2020 (April or May, as I recall), seeking new members to help meet the clear and major challenge of COVID-control measures shuttering all in-person performing-arts work. Voicing the interests of independent musicians among policy makers and the general public discourse was an obvious need.

Here’s a rundown of MWA’s pre-pandemic activity (from the “information at a glance” link at

JUNE 2019: MWA is founded as an indie musician and DJ committee of NYC Artists Coalition. Its founding members included two members of the NYC Nightlife Advisory Board who noted the lack of public discourse of the plight of working musicians and DJs in the local policy space.

OCTOBER 2019: The group, still under the NYC Artists Coalition umbrella, meets with the Commissioners of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office on Media and Entertainment to discuss four areas where New York City can move towards a more musician and DJ – friendly ecosystem. These areas included: a potential venue rating system, a music census for NYC, establishment of a workers center, and a commitment that publicly-funded venues would honor a minimum wage for artists and workers.

NOVEMBER 2019: The group, still under the NYC Artists Coalition umbrella, works with NYC Council Member Brad Lander to give input on the potential impact of proposed Freelance isn’t Free legislation updates, particularly around the unique conditions of music that require special consideration when designing labor protections for freelancers.

FEBRUARY 2020: The group, still under the NYC Artists Coalition umbrella, meets with Governor

Cuomo’s office and members of the NYS Legislature to give input on the potential impact of proposed gig-worker legislation, and begins meeting with labor and advocacy groups to discuss possible unintended consequences for musicians and potential ecosystem solutions that would strengthen the social safety net for all freelance workers, including musicians and DJs.

MARCH 2020: Music Workers Alliance is established as an independent entity, with a steering committee that has grown to include representatives from local NYC musician and DJ organizations including Arts for Art, Building Beats, Discwoman, Indie Musicians Caucus and the Jazz Committee of Local 802 AFM, MOMENT NYC, Musicians for Musicians, Sound Mind Collective, Underground Producers Alliance.

What were the “impediments to musicians performing on COVID-safe” outdoor platforms?  And what were the results of your “prodding”?

Things like NYC restrictions on setting up outdoor paid-ticket events; an unwieldy process for getting “sound device” permits required for using amps & PA systems for outdoor performing; restrictions on using public spaces–sidewalks, Parks Dept. areas–for any performing, including “pass the hat/tip jar” income earning. For one journalistic portrait of outdoor “guerrilla” performing in NYC during the height of the pandemic, see; I’m quoted in the piece. NYC did loosen some of the above impediments after a while, formally and informally. The City’s Open Streets and Open Culture initiatives were part of the formal side of this, allowing some compensated outdoor performing in a regulated manner. MWA met with City Council members and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and others in NYC government, voicing our interests and presenting ideas. Zooming out a bit, MWA found out about an innovative program in Tulsa OK which funneled federal CARES Act funds to music venues there for paying performers’ fees (they set a wage scale) who agreed to stage COVID-safe performances; they even found private funding to extend the program into 2022. MWA wasn’t successful in getting anything like that going in NYC, however.

What lessons learned and advancements did you make in light of these marches?

There were marches, but also many many online meetings with city and state officials–and even a meeting with House Speaker Pelosi’s arts-policy staffer. Lessons? While MWA arguably “punched above its weight”, having the means to establish an ongoing presence with policymakers would help immensely (in terms of presenting info and ideas in a steadier flow than when faced with a crisis, and for getting early info about what plans and bills are forming. It’s hard for a group of volunteers to do that, but we do what we can. Also, being too merely reactive–running from crisis to crisis–isn’t sustainable for us; it saps too much limited resource. Keeping our work focus tight and building our resources (active membership ranks; finances) is necessary.

What resulted so far in your “Economic Justice in the Digital Domain” efforts at calling online services such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google to task?

Perhaps not so much. We got some press coverage (example here), and raised some awareness among musicians, but no meetings with YouTube/Google/Alphabet on the issues.

Tell us more about your “Streaming Justice” campaign.


What were the overall findings of your surveys?

2020 survey report:

What are the goals/intentions of that “$200M grant program”?

I think we’re referring to the New York State Seed Funding Grant Program, which was intended to help “early stage” small businesses recover from the economic impact of the pandemic (BTW, there was also a private initiative aimed specifically at NY state’s arts workers; MWA had minimal and peripheral input into the design of that program; one of our now-former Steering Committee members was involved in it). MWA found out about that program late in the process of it being set up; we managed to get language inserted stating that performing-arts professionals could apply to it. However, the design of the program criteria didn’t really fit indie musicians well at all, especially those who weren’t in the “early stage” of their careers. We did help guide folks through the application process, and a small number of applicants who we helped managed to get grants.

What were the results of your efforts on behalf of Winter Jazz Festival performers?

MWA actively supported the caucus of WJF performers who, in league with Local 802 AFM, successfully negotiated a c. 16% raise in pay for performing at the 2024 WJF (over the 2023 rate); we actually voted to ratify the new contract in a Zoom meeting this afternoon (I attended). BTW, Marc Ribot, who’s currently on MWA’s Steering Committee, led the WJF performer caucus’s negotiating committee.

What has been the response of the U.S. Copyright Office toward your formal statement?

Aside from having our remarks entered into their record, I think MWA is just one of their informants; I’m not aware of any specific response. But the Copyright Office issued a long and through report in 2020 supporting reform of Section 512 of the Copyright Act, which allows “safe harbor” shielding of platforms like YouTube as they host posts that infringe on copyright holders, weakening (killing?) the market for purchasing music recordings and sapping musicians’ income from selling our recorded work. MWA supports Section 512 reform–unlike United Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW), a larger and better-known org which we sometimes have worked in coalition with.

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Carroll Dashiell Carrying on the Proud Tradition of Jazz at HU

DC Jazz Festival and Howard University recently celebrated the rich legacy Professor Fred Irby established at Howard University. On the cusp of his retirement after 50 years directing the Howard University Jazz Ensemble and the jazz program first established by NEA Jazz Master Donald Byrd and Dr. Arthur Dawkins, bassist-educator Carroll Dashiell,Jr. has been appointed the Chairman of the Howard University Music Department, tasked with the next step in the exceptional legacy of jazz at HU. Serendipity is rich with this appointment of a NW DC native, HU jazz alum, touring and recording jazz artist, decades-long university jazz educator, and proud father of two very talented emerging jazz artists. If you’re seeking to know who’s next in the jazz vocal pantheon, look no further than daughter Christie Dashiell, and son Carroll Dashiell lll (aka C.V.) is one of the busiest drummers in the DMV. Both will be on the world stage with a quickness. I caught up with dad Carroll recently for some Independent Ear questions.

I first heard you as a member of Bobby Watson’s band Horizon. From that point in the late 1980s you’ve evolved your career to music education. Talk about your evolution in this music.

Bobby contacted me in 1987 or 88 and asked me to join the band.  I was introduced to Bobby by [tenor saxophonist] Willie Williams and TS Monk.  Willie and I were on tour with Maurice Hines and Willie told Bobby about me.  The first hit I did with Bobby was somewhere in Philly and the band was Bobby, Roy Hargrove, John Hicks, (whom I had played with previously), Victor Lewis and myself.  I remember Christian McBride came to the show just to check us out and hang.

Fred Irby came over to McKinley Tech HS to recruit me coming out of high school.  We sat in those tiny practice modules and just talked for hours.  I had played at the Kennedy Center in several shows with Irby and Dr.  Arthur Dawkins while in high school and met Irby at the KC.  I had also performed with HU Faculty and played union performances at the HU Chapel and various other theaters in and around DC.  Prior to being at Tech with Peter Ford, I was at Rabaut Junior High with Arthur Capehart and was principal bassist in the DC Youth Orchestra under Lyn McClain’s direction. I studied string bass with Carolyn Kellock, in the DCYO Program.  Carolyn Kellock was also the bass teacher at Duke Ellington and bass teacher of Ben Williams, Corcoran Holt, Ameen Saleem, Eric Wheeler, and Kris Funn

I attended Meyer Elementary School where Gus Sims switched me from viola to string bass in the 4th grade.  His reasoning was that I was the only one large enough to bring the bass to rehearsal from the 3rd floor storeroom.  I always wanted to tell that story.  Said all of that because I wanted to share that I’m a proud product of the DC Public School System and the DCYO. I studied some and played with Calvin Jones and Bobby Felder back when they were in the downtown building of University of the District of Columbia, (I think it was still named Federal City College) at that time.  Met them both when I won the Joseph Feder Memorial String Competition.  I won a full-ride scholarship to Tanglewood Institute for three consecutive years and also played with the Boston Pops.  I was one of three blacks in a full symphony orchestra and full festival chorus while at Tanglewood. 

While I was in undergrad at HU, I was the Strings Professor and Bass Instructor at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, Calvin Jones hired me as the Bass Instructor at UDC while I was a Music Consultant and member of the Ambassadors Band, DC Department of Recreation, Mayor Marion Barry’s Band led by Dr. Gilbert Prior all while I was playing with the Moonlighters Band, led by Dr. Bill Clark, my surrogate dad.

Following coming off the road with Maurice Hines and now a member of Bobby Watson and Horizon, I accepted a position at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina as the first Black Professor of Music in the ECU School of Music in 1989 where I was named the Director of Jazz Studies and served for 33-plus years until HU called in April 2023.  Greenville, NC was also the birthplace of Dr.  Billy Taylor who was also one of my mentors.  I grew up on Fairmont Street, NW DC, next door to his mom.  Dr.  Taylor always shared with me and he got me and my family tickets, passes etc., to shows whenever he was in town;…shows that I would never have been able to afford or attend.

During the recent HUJE programs honoring Fred Irby’s pending retirement, at one point you referred to your new HU position as a home coming of sorts.  Talk about that aspect of your consideration for this HU job?

I always said:  “I wanted to give back what little I know to the music community.”  30 years ago while at ECU I said:  “I have been blessed and my music has saved my life.  The neighborhood that I grew up in…there were bullets always flying around and I know that one or some of those bullets had my name on them, but I was at a rehearsal somewhere and the bullet(s) missed. I want to give back to an institution, organization and Black and Brown people who have invested in me.” Fast forward 33-plus years later, as [wife] Rhonda and I were planning an exit strategy, retirement from ECU, HU calls.  Forty years ago, I didn’t know it was going to be HU.  But all of the people that I mentioned in an earlier question are connected to Washington, DC, HU, Family and HOME…They have all invested in me so I hope I can make a difference and help shape some of our youth and musical community; give back.  I feel that I sit at a unique vantage point having attended HU, having 2 of our children [vocalist Christie Dashiell and drummer C.V. (Carroll lll) Dashiell attend HU, having performed with, worked with HU Music Faculty and even having a father attend HU on a baseball scholarship in the 1950s.

Please detail your responsibilities – and specific title – with this new Howard University appointment.

I accepted the position of Chairman, HU Music Department.  I serve the students and faculty as the executive officer of the Howard University Music Department in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

What would you say are the essential elements in a successful jazz education?

I like to say: “99.9 percent of it all is listening.  We only hope to add that additional percent….but if we don’t listen, we will never hear and learn.”  I feel that HU has one of the most incredible faculties anywhere.  We just really need to publicize it more and let everyone know.  Having faculty members that are all practitioners of the highest caliber, practitioners that are all in, committed, and can not only explain but demonstrate what happened on the hit last night, practitioners that are open and willing to share the history and information, practitioners who are the history of this music… INCREDIBLE!

What are some of your primary goals at HU?

I’d like to address some curricular and course offerings, modernize some of the infrastructure, really honor and pay homage to the great legacy and lineage of the department including the offerings and faculty, yet address the present while focusing on the future.  I’m just naive and motivated enough to wholeheartedly believe that we can do this all without forsaking one for another.  But…it has to be done strategically and as I say all the time: “Baby Steps”

Are you still actively performing, and if so what aspirations do you have in that regard here in DC?

I’m still actively performing and recording. I’m in pre-production and discussions with artists for multiple recording projects. I hope to contribute to the music scene in the DC area and involve HU Music more into not only the music/arts community but also the societal/neighborhood community.

As a media person and a presenter in this DMV community I’ve long seen musicians who’ve evolved from the Howard University Jazz Ensemble as the beating heart of the community of musicians here. How do you see the jazz program at HU contributing to the overall DMV music scene?

Community outreach initiatives, being more actively present and interacting with the already established festivals, concerts and programs, not only jazz oriented but classical and world music orientations.

Ultimately, what is HU’s jazz legacy?

Quality in all endeavors, honoring and paying homage to the history while being in the present with efforts focusing on the future, with emphasis on the lineage and legacy of the African Diaspora. FAMILY.

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment

Umbria Jazz 2023: Celebrating 50 Years!

The alluring city of Perugia is the capital of the central Italian region of Umbria. Located approximately equidistance between Rome and Florence, Perugia covers a high hilltop with magnificent views of the verdant valleys below from numerous vantage points. In 1973 a group of intrepid jazz fans founded Umbria Jazz, much in the manner of grassroots jazz enthusiast formations and volunteerism-generated efforts down through the history of jazz music’s inherent fan base. Now 50 years later Umbria Jazz has established a rich tradition as one of the signature events in the jazz festival firmament, the tall, distinctive presence of founding member Carlo Pagnotta still at the helm.

The scene at the Galleria Nazionale daily matinee concerts

This year’s 50th anniversary Umbria Jazz ran July 7-16, with ticketed programs primarily taking place at noontime and 3:00pm at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria for the Jazz goes to the Museum daily series, 5:00pm at the classic opera house Teatro Morlacchi, which dates back to 1781, and at 9:00pm down the hill (accessible by escalator, which jazz romanticism suggests may or may not have been the inspiration behind Carla Bley’s opus “Escalator Over the Hill”) at Arena Santa Giuliana, an open air facility and soccer stadium.

The Arena facility is quite comfortably configured for Umbria Jazz, with a patio restaurant and bar just outside the admission gates, and Jumbotron performance viewing options that are particularly inviting for those in the back rows of the venue’s 5K seating capacity. In between times there are free public performance spaces at each end of the teeming Corso Vannucci, Perugia’s bustling main promenade with it’s steady stream of festival revelers. With the huge free Piazza IV Novembre stage at one end, and the bustling nightime scene at Giardini Santa Giuliana at the top end of Corso Vannucci, and the main festival hotels, plaza restaurants, inviting retail, and numerous gelato shops in between, the Corso is the main festival artery linking all of the performances. This festival geography lends itself to a splendidly inviting scene, quite encouraging to those who may wish to simply ease into one of the cafes or ristorantes that line Corso Vannucci, have a gelato, a pizza, or perhaps a Campari spritzer and gaze at the passing crowds.

The Umbria Jazz scene on a typical evening on teeming Corso Vanucci

The series of escalators which wind down the hillside to Arena Santa Giuliana through the brightly-lit cave interior also provide a glimpse of Perugia’s Etruscan-era past with its distinct brick work and ancient architecture, interrupted by a few tasteful shops along the way. All contribute to the unmistakable charm of hilly Perugia, with it’s magnificent vistas on each side. This is a walking town par excellence; across the ten days mercifully the only times we encountered vehicular traffic was the roundtrip to the airport in Rome (approx. 2 hour drive), easefully crossing the street to the Arena, or the occasionally gripping sight of a car gingerly navigating Etruscan-era pavement, often at seemingly impossible angles; it was actually a quizzical treat witnessing a few cars daring those moves, even more so the occasional small tour bus!

A major attraction to visiting Perugia is the array of culinary delights. From basic pizzas (order it in Perugia at any one of dozens of options and you’ll never go near or call a Pizza Hut or Dominoes again!) to incredible plates of an array of pastas; and any trip (in season of course) you gottta have the pastas with truffle sauce at least a half dozen times before you leave! Recommended place for that: La Taverna. Perugia is a gourmand’s delight of great variety. Musicians, crew and assembled media eagerly dined twice daily at La Rosetta, the central festival hotel. And the nightly scene at the lovely bar and terrace cafe at Hotel Brufani, adjacent to the happenings at Giardini Carducci was an opportune site for catching up for a chat with festival musicians.

The late night sets at Giardini Carducci (last hit at 12:30am) featured a rotating cast of Italian artists and visiting U.S. bands, including a contingent from New Orleans. At this year’s Umbria Jazz the nightly band at Giardini Carducci that made many friends was the big fun assemblage known as Mwenso & The Shakes, led by the magnetic, excitable singer-bandleader Michael Mwenso. Many of the artists who play the big stages at either end of the Corso are esentially in residence throughout the festival, playing a carefully curated rotation of slots between the two platforms. That band rotation also included the highly entertaining South Carolina-based unit known as Ranky Tanky, which specializes in jazz-influenced arrangements of traditional Gullah music. After midnight intrepid nightowls were treated to nightly jam sessions anchored by the “Dear Dexter” Quintet of Italian musicians inspired by tenor titan Dexter Gordon. The Plaza IV Novembre stage often hosted high school and college student ensembles in town for Umbria Jazz’s robust jazz education intensive anchored for years by Berklee College of Music. Late nights at the Arena Santa Giuliana free “after shows” featured many of the bands from the rotation of bands playing up top on the Corso.

The historic Teatro Morlacchi provided many Umbria Jazz 50 highlights

Teatro Morlacchi hosted one of the festival’s peak performances, delivered by one half of Wayne Shorter’s longtime quartet, pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci, joined by drummer Adam Cruz. And you know their setlist had some sweet nods to the grandmaster Wayne! Morlacchi proved to be likewise a marvelous platform for Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez‘s tribute to Michel Petrucciani. Speaking of piano trio music, none is more resplendent than the masterful Kenny Barron Trio, with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, and the very-promising young Savannah Harris on drums. Our Teatro Morlacchi experience topped off with the uncanny guitar master Bill Frisell‘s “Four” project with Gerald Clayton on piano, Greg Tardy on clarinet and tenor sax, and Jonathan Blake on drums. Sunday evening’s Teatro Morlacchi treat was another of the 3 festival love-ins we heard this summer from the young wunderkind voice of Samara Joy. I had previously been impressed with her luxurious lower register. This time she thrilled with her resplendent upper register as well, not to mention her easeful sense of command. And to think she’s literally just getting started! Don’t allow yourself to get bamboozled by some sense of “flavor of the month” with this young comet; she is the absolute truth!

Our first day in Perugia delivered the rangy edge of South African pianist and Blue Note recording artist Nduduzo Makhathini. He was followed at 3:00pm by one of Italy’s essential jazz musicians, the bop-informed , ever swinging Dado Maroni, a master of the blues aesthetic. Other Galleria treats were delivered by the “Dialogues Delight” duo of vocalist Olivia Trummer and drummer Nicola Angelucci, delightfully edgy Cubano pianist David Virelles solo.

Sunday evening brought Herbie Hancock‘s summer tour to the Arena for an evening that opened with the charming Afro-centricity of vocalist Somi. Herbie’s performance delivered a set list with a distinctly retrospective aspect, per reports of other sightings along his 2023 tour trail, including such gems as trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s – who blew an electronically-enhanced trumpet throughout – kinetically-charged arrangement of Wayne Shorter‘s “Footprints” as a tribute to Herbie’s “best friend”, “Cantaloupe Island”, “Actual Proof”, and the seemingly obligatory keytar-processed Hancock vocal on “Come Running to Me,” an exercise that has frankly grown quite tired. Herbie, if you need a vocal element there are all manner of qualified “guest singers” you might call upon… perhaps even show opener Somi! New drummer Jaylen Petinaud was a fresh revelation. Bassist James Genus and the endlessly inventive guitarist Lionel Loueke rounded out Herbie’s top shelf cast.

Two of the highlights of the nightly Arena Santa Giuliana shows were provided by the brilliant double-billing of the Branford Marsalis Quartet and the Brad Mehldau trio Tuesday evening, and the amazing Rhiannon Giddens, whose vocal and banjo prowess are a true force of nature. She truly embodies the Duke Ellington adage of being “beyond category”. Branford’s longtime quartet of pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner deliver on the time-honored benefits of having a long-term, stable band. And it was great seeing them hang out together at the Brufani before and after their performance. These four musicians have worked out uncanny lines of communication that they navigate comfortably with great gusto. Ditto Brad Mehldau’s trio with Larry Grenadier on bass and the facile Jeff Ballard on drums.

Drummer Stewart Copeland made many in the audience yearn for the decidedly missing element of Sting‘s voice (some of us fondly recalling in our hearts & heads that great evening at the same venue (though different configuration) years ago when the Police mastermind fronted the Gil Evans Orchestra (with Branford in the band). Copeland’s charge was leading a program billed as “Police Deranged for Orchestra,” the “deranged” part perhaps alluding to Copeland’s manic presence on traps and leading the orchestra, members of which appeared properly bemused by Copeland’s excited mania.

Umbria Jazz 50th anniversary certainly flew its banner high as one of the real highlights of the European summer jazz festival circuit.

Posted in General Discussion | Leave a comment