State of Mind: The LA Times and the Business of Culture

February 27, 2009

by Casey Dolan

It’s almost too obvious what must be said about the recent promotions at the Los Angeles Times in Calendar. The media news and job resource website, http://www.mediabistro.com/, says “It’s not about slashing jobs so…we like it,” but even a cursory examination of the dual appointments of Sallie Hofmeister and Craig Turner should raise some concern.

Neither come from specifically arts backgrounds. In an office-wide memo sent by editor Russ Stanton yesterday, he gives away the game in his first sentence: “Entertainment is Southern California’s signature industry and biggest global export.” Hofmeister had been a Business reporter and editor. She is now the assistant managing editor/arts & entertainment and will report to the managing editor, Davan Maharaj, himself a refugee from the Business desk. Turner had been a metro editor and reporter, a Foreign reporter and the weekend editor. He will become the new arts and entertainment editor.

Of course, the familiar argument is that if you’re a good writer or editor, you can adapt to any situation. I don’t buy it. I say put people in positions in which they have some expertise, but this is beside the point. The question is one of emphasis.

Stanton clearly states that Hofmeister and Turner will oversee a unification between the Business and Calendar desks. 

Combining the teams in Calendar and Business will broaden the reach, breadth and depth of our multimedia coverage. The goal remains to produce a high-quality and unique base of content that can be distributed to different audiences through different mediums. We will continue to write authoritatively about industry trends for our large print and online audiences, and look for smart and entertaining ways to cover Hollywood’s movers and shakers and the celebrities who make Southern California their home. As part of this combination, we are bringing back Company Town, a package of stories and other data focused on the business of entertainment, to the Business section.

There’s no question that the Times has been missing in action for several years on the pop music industry front; the glory days of Chuck Philips, long before the Diddy debacle, are gone. The paper has needed that chair filled, but installing two hard news people in command of the arts and entertainment division  is like trying to atone for past sins by becoming a Trappist monk.

It’s far easier to talk about the dollars and cents of art than to look at its actual creative production. Journalism can attach itself like a lamprey to the great whale of economic ebb and flow because it is empirically reportable. Sure, there is a degree of mysticism involved in the prognostication of economies, but basically it’s a bunch of numbers. Making the editorial decision on whether something or someone is worth covering, perhaps in spite of declining sales or a degree of anonymity but based on quality, is far more difficult and exactly the kind of thing that makes people uncomfortable, exactly the kind of thing that a newspaper with shrinking space would tend to jettison. (Never forget that many journalists are squares. Get them to talk about music other than how great Bruce’s “60 Minutes” interview was and you are in for a dull conversation).

Let’s not mince words here. The Times has always had questions of what is newsworthy, relevant and meaningful in its arts reportage. The segregation of TV, film and pop music into “Entertainment” and thrusting the fine arts, theater, architecture, classical music and dance into “Arts” – neat, simple and dumb categorizations — should give everyone a good idea of what yahoos run that place.

An anecdote might be appropriate:

One of my several duties at the Times was to edit the Sunday Calendar letters. Last June, in response to a Rachel Abramowitz profile of film director, M. Night Shyamalan, writer Grant Nemirow complained about Abramowitz’ vocabulary and elitist perspective. He listed a number of words whose meaning he didn’t know (including “aesthetic”) and suggested that this was precisely the reason that the Times was losing readers. I didn’t agree with a single word he wrote, but I thought it was a good letter and addressed one of the single most crucial and talked-about issues facing the Times.

Sunday Calendar Editor Bret Israel thought so, too, and we decided to make it the pullout letter with (Bret’s suggestion here) a picture of a dictionary. I’ll confess that this amused me and was the easy retort to Nemirow — “Go get a dictionary.” Many readers who would respond to his letter said just that. I followed standard policy and wrote Nemirow an email asking permission to use the letter. This was on a Monday or Tuesday. Early afternoon on Wednesday was deadline.

By Wednesday morning, I had received no answer from Nemirow. Ordinarily, that would have kicked it out and I would have had to find another pullout. But I didn’t want to let this go; I knew it would create a furor. The photo had been shot, so I did some internet detective work and found the city for exactly one person with that name and we ran the letter without permission.

In my almost four years of editing the letters, literally hundreds of letters, I had done that about five or six times, correctly banking that the writer intended publication. When I arrived at my desk Thursday morning, the Sunday Calendar section had been on the street for about 12 hours and my red phone message light was lit up. I listened back and it was Grant Nemirow saying that he couldn’t believe I ran his letter without permission and to call him back immediately. I thought, “Oh boy, just my luck. OK, time to do some apologies.”

When I called, he began the conversation with the classic ominous phrase: “Do you know who I am?” I admitted that I didn’t and he proceeded to tell me that he was the president of the second largest media advertising agency in the country, Terry Hines and Associates, and the principal vendor from whom we received all our movie ads in Calendar. Universal, Warner Brothers, they all went through him. I recall thinking, “Right. I’m about to lose my job.” (As it turned out, I was a month premature). The conversation which followed was more like an obscenity-laced harangue during which he took pot shots at every aspect of our arts coverage.

He couldn’t understand why we were even bothering to review dance or opera (“Nobody goes”), why we cover obscure Polish films at the Cannes film festival (“Nobody cares about that shit”) and not do more blockbusters. He accused the writers and editors of being in ivory towers and said that if you asked anyone waiting in a line for a film in Hollywood whether they knew those words, they would universally say “No!” He said it was no wonder that advertisers were pulling away from the Times; nobody understood what we were writing about. He said we were putting him out of business, that he was forced to lay off staff. He said, “Am I making you sweat? I’ll bet you’re sweating.” He said that he had weekly meetings with Lynne Segall, the vice president of entertainment advertising. He wanted the firewall that existed between advertising and editorial to be breached. Etc., etc.

When I got a word in edgewise, I actually was able to make him laugh. I tried, unsuccessfully, to pursuade him of the necessities of keeping up cultural standards and that part of our mandate in the media was to inform the public on everything of importance and that no one had a monopoly in deciding what was most newsworthy, certainly not him. The conversation ended on a conciliatory note for both parties, but the call lasted well over an hour and I was drained at the end. It was definitely an example of crude, boorish power throwing around its weight.

After a few days of thought (there was nothing to do about the letter, it was a done deal), I went to Leo Wolinsky, then Features Editor, and told him what happened. If anyone should be apprised about this little dust-up, he should. Leo sat back and said, “Hmm…Grant Nemirow, Grant Nemirow, why do I know that name? Ohhh, I know! I’m meeting with him tomorrow!” I was later told that it was a standard meeting, but my name was brought up and Nemirow did give one of his lectures on what was wrong with the Times. 

I mention this story only to suggest those who hold the real purse strings at the L.A. Times and what level of sophistication is in their profiles (Nemirow had never been to Disney Hall). Film advertising is directly concerned with the business of art (film is an art to me) and when that advertising is run by yahoos and the firewall between the editorial and advertising divisions is breached, then you will start to see yahoos making the editorial choices.

When Russ Stanton suggests a merger between Business and Calendar, it will be more than just an increase in box office stories or filling a gap in industry coverage. It will be a slant, an emphasis. It will be more than looking at the third quarter earnings of Paramount. It will be a loss of coverage for independent films, small dance companies, independent record companies and struggling bands, painters and poets. There is already that but, under Hofmeister and Turner, I predict it will increase.

Both Hofmeister and Turner are respected journalists. They are anything but yahoos. Stanton made a point in his memo for Turner being an advocate for arts-oriented Page One stories and Hofmeister had the TV and cable business beat for a long time when she was a reporter on the Business desk. But the fact is that they are assuming roles of directing all arts coverage and their backgrounds imply that they will stress the business of the business and not the art and that’s not good news for critics or writers who want to write about something beyond what is the biggest grossing movie three weekends in a row. And, most importantly, it won’t be good for readers.


Live Jazz: The Chuck Berghofer Trio

February 27, 2009

By Don Heckman

There’s an often repeated sportscasters’ line about the National Football League which basically says that any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday.  And, while listening to the Chuck Berghofer Trio at Charlie O’s Thursday night, a variation on the phrase kept coming to mind: Great jazz can be heard every night in some location in most major cities.

And no place does it better, or with greater frequency, than Charlie O’s, which is surely among the most engaging of any jazz club, anywhere: small enough for most of the tables to be close to the stage; the walls covered with jazz photos and memorabilia; excellent sound; and the relaxed atmosphere of a living room filled with friends.

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Chuck Berghofer

Then add the warm confidence of the Berghofer players.  Although they had worked  together before (see comment below)  it was essentially an ad hoc ensemble, consisting of pianist Terry Trotter and drummer Peter Erskine, performing without rehearsal, depending entirely upon the long experience and extraordinary talent that this trio of veteran artists brings to everything they play.  Aside from an occasional ending that can best be described as whimsical, the program – with its far-ranging selection of material – came together in superb fashion, its impact enhanced by the setting.

Leading the way, Berghofer was an amiable guide, cracking wry jokes between numbers, providing a sturdy, irresistibly propulsive foundation.  His soloing on “Old Folks” and elsewhere was masterful, the work of a bassist who values the importance of melody.

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Terry Trotter

Trotter, like Berghofer and Erskine, has a long and distinguished history.  One of the more interesting entries in a resume that reaches back to gigs with Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Phil Woods and others, is a series of recordings devoted to jazz versions of songs by Stephen Sondheim.  And the combination of straight ahead swinging and complex harmonic vision implied by such a lineage was present in everything he played.  Among his finest moments – a tenderly harmonized version of Duke Elllington’s “Come Sunday,” a equally lush, but stylistically different take on “But Not For Me.”  And , perhaps most intriguing of all, his remarkable use of two-handed, octave patterns in many of his improvisations.

peter-erskine

Peter Erskine

Erskine, who hasn’t done much in the way of piano trio work since his group with Alan Pasqua and Dave Carpenter was ended by Carpenter’s premature death, was at his musically literate best.  Moving easily from whisper soft brushes to an occasional room shaking, rhythmic tsunami, he proved – as he always does – that first rate drumming is as much about music, timbre and texture as it is about rhythm.

So, as I said earlier, great jazz can be heard every night in some location somewhere.  And the combination of the Chuck Berghofer Trio and Charlie O’s was about as much Thursday night proof as anyone could  ask for.

Berghofer photo by Bob Barry


News: The 31st Playboy Jazz Festival

February 26, 2009

By Don Heckman

“A Little Sizzle, A Little Swing, A Lot of Jazz…”  That’s how Playboy announced the upcoming schedule yesterday for the 31st annual Playboy Jazz Festival, which takes place June 13 and 14 at the Hollywood Bowl, with ancillary programs at locations around Los Angeles starting in early May.

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Alfredo Rodriguez, Quincy Jones, Hugh Hefner

The press conference, as usual, was an opportunity for the media to swarm through a huge tent set up behind the Playboy Mansion, focus their cameras on some of the celebrity performers in attendance, and have a go at Hugh Hefner’s wine and hors d’oeuvres. playboy-fest-group1 Among the Festival artists present for the action were Wayne Shorter and Kenny G (who are not scheduled to play  together), Patti Austin, Pete Escovedo, Jack Sheldon and others.  And, of course, Hef, himself, along with Playboy Jazz President Richard Rosenzweig.   But the headliner was Quincy Jones, who was present to introduce his newest protégé, 23 year old Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez.  Offering a few solo selections, the gifted young performer convincingly affirmed Q’s belief in his stellar potential.

Producer Darlene Chan’s program displayed the sort of eclectic line up of acts that has dominated the Festival in recent years.  The two days of the event, which run non-stop (with the aid of a rotating stage) from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m., go through various phases – from kick-back-in-the-sun afternoons to wine-energized conga lines in the early evenings, and dig-the-headliners climaxes.  Chan’s scheduling always seems to take that general sequence in mind, and this year’s grouping is no exception.  Except for the fact that the jazz components seem considerably stronger than they have in some of the more recent years.

Bill Cosby will emcee both days in his usual whimsical fashion  Here’s the line-up for Saturday, June 13 (the final sequence has not yet been announced):

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Esperanza Spalding

- The New Birth Brass Band

- Esperanza Spalding

- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

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Jon Faddis

-The Jack Sheldon Orchestra

- Cos of Good Music ( Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Anat Cohen, Luis Conte, Tanya Darby, Geoffrey Keezer)

- The Jon Faddis Quartet

- The Pete Escovedo Orchestra (featuring Sheila E.)

- Jimmy Cobb’s “So What Band” (with Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, Javon Jackson, Larry Willis and Buster Williams)

- The Neville Brothers

- Summer Storm (Norman Brown, Wayman Tidale, Eric Darius and Gail Johnson).

Saturday’s schedule opens with the the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble (directed by Jason Goldman).

The line-up for Sunday, June 14  (the final sequence has not yet been announced):

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Anat Cohen

- The Anat Cohen Quartet

- The Dave Holland Big Band

- King Sunny Ade

- Monty Alexander’s Jazz & Roots

- Oscar Hernandez and the Conga Room All-Stars

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Wayne Shorter

- Alfredo Rodriguez

- Wayne Shorter Quartet (w. Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez)

- Patti Austin

- Kenny G

Sunday’s schedule opens with the North Hollywood High school Jazz Ensemble (directed by Jonathan Kenion)

It’s been fifty years since Hugh Hefner decided to transform his affection for jazz into the first Playboy Jazz Festival.  That three day extravaganza at Chicago stadium drew more 68,000 attendants to a set of extraordinary performances featuring the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and dozens of others.

It was, by any definition, the sort of Woodstockian event (which took place barely a decade later) that was hard to top.  In 1979, when Hefner kicked off the Playboy Festivals at the Hollywood Bowl, there were far fewer iconic jazz figures available.  And by the turn of the new century, producing a two day event for an 18,000 seat venue demanded a much broader stylistic viewpoint.  And occasional Festivals over the past decade have verged perilously away from the jazz focus.

But this year’s event manages the difficult task of including a little something for everyone – including the many listeners who attend the Playboy Festival for its party qualities – while still offering a sturdy collection of jazz acts.  It’s hard to argue with programming the embraces such rising young stars as Esperanza Spalding, Anat Cohen and Alfredo Rodriguez, the music of still vital veterans Wayne Shorter, Monty Alexander, John Faddis, Jack Sheldon, Dave Holland and Pete Escovedo, and the impressive vocalizing of Patti Austin.  Along with Jimmy Cobb’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue,” the world music of King Sunny Ade, the Latin rhythms of Oscar Hernandez, and the easy-listening of Kenny G, Summer Storm and the Neville Brothers.

It’s going to be a great weekend.  June 13 and 14.  Tickets are now available through TicketMaster or the Festival website.  Information at (310) 450-1173 or www.playboyjazzfestival.com.

Photos courtesy of the Playboy Jazz Festival


Here, There & Everywhere: The Ellington Quarter

February 24, 2009

By Don Heckman

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here.  The U.S. Mint has just announced the issuance of a District of Columbia quarter featuring the image of Duke Ellington.  The quarter represents the first appearance by an African-American musician on a U.S. coin.

ellingtonqyarter

Ellington was selected over abolitionist Frederick Douglas and astronomer Benjamin Banneker.  The quarter, one of six commemorative designs honoring the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, will be circulated throughout 2009.  In addition to the Ellington image, the coin includes the District’s motto, “Justice For All,” even though the choice of D.C. residents, according to an early poll, was “Taxation Without Representation,” reflecting their continuing anger over their lack of voting rights.  The only previous circulating coin bearing the image of an African American was the 2003 Missouri quarter, which depicted explorers Lewis and Clark with a slave named York.  Non-circulating commemorative coins have featured Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Crispus Attucks.

Ellington was born in Washington, spent the early part of his career there, and named his first band the Washingtonians. All of which makes the coin’s association with the District appropriate.

But Ellington is an American icon with global magnitude.  And as welcome as his appearance on a U.S. coin may be, one can only wonder why it’s taken so long to arrive.  And – even more importantly – why his music isn’t heard in the arts centers of this country and around the world as often as, say, the music of Mozart, Beethoven or Bach.  ( Or, at the very least, as often as Sibelius, de Falla or Copland.)

Nonetheless, let’s embrace Ellington’s presence in our everyday lives, even on the face of a coin.  And hope that it motivates the Disney Concert Halls, the Carnegie Halls, the Kennedy Centers and the Ravinia Pavilions, the Musikvereins, the Concertgebouws and the Royal Albert Halls to provide meaningful acknowledgement of his real importance, by including Ellington’s remarkable music as a regular presence in their programming.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 23 – Mar. 1

February 23, 2009

By Don Heckman

Television

- Feb. 28. (Sat.)   Chris Botti performs with the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart,  at Boston’s Symphony Hall.  He’s joined by a stellar array of guests including Josh Groban, Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, John Mayer and Steven Tyler.   7 p.m. in most areas, but check your local stations.  PBS.

Los Angeles

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Lou Donaldson

- Feb. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Lou Donaldson Quartet.  The veteran altoist cruises freely though the waters of bop and post-bop.  Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.  www.jazzbakery.com.  Also at Yoshi’s in Oakland, Feb. 28 – Mar. 1. (see below)

- Feb. 25. (Wed.)  The Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Sextet.  Drummer Gibbs showcases his always swinging, cutting edge ensemble.  DSteamers.  (714) 871-8800  www.steamersjazzcafe.com.

- Feb. 25 – Mar. 1. (Wed. – Sun.)  The music of Philip Glass.  “The Book of Longing”  A song cycle based upon the poetry and images of Leonard Cohen receives its Southern California premiere performances.  Garrison Theater, Scripps Performing Arts Center, Scripps College.  (909) 607-8668.  http://www.cmc.edu/gould/

- Feb. 26. (Thurs.)  Jazz Expression! The young jazz players of Freedom 4U, a youth-oriented non-profit that provides creative arts programs, perform in concert.  The second hour is an open jam session for any youth – 13 – 20 years of age – who wishes to participate and shows up with an instrument.  Free to the public.  Trump National Golf Club, Rancho Palos Verdes.  6:30 – 8:30  p.m..  (310) 897-5043.  www.freedomcommunity.com.

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Jane Monheit

- Feb. 26 – Mar. 1) Thurs. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit applies her glorious voice to selections from her latest CD, “The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.  www.catalinajazzclub.com.

- Feb. 27. (Fri.)  Julie Fowlis. She comes from Scotland’s distant Hebridean Islands, and sings in Scottish Gaelic.  But the expressiveness of her voice is one of the enchanting marvels of contemporary folk music.  McCabes’s. (310) 828-4497   http://www.mccabes.com

- Feb. 27 – Mar. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Barron Trio.  Barron’s been everyone’s A-list pianist for decades.  But the full range of his lyrical imagination is at its best with his own trio.  Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.  www.jazzbakery.com.

- Feb. 27. (Fri.)  Afro Cuban All-Stars.  Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, Salsa, Rumba, Danzón, and Timba music – expect to hear them all from the Grammy-nominated ensemble. Cerritos Center.  (562) 467-8818  www.cerritoscenter.com

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Bill Tapia

- Feb. 28. (Sat.)  Bill Tapia.  The remarkable Hawaiian ukulele player and singer celebrates his 101st birthday with yet another entertaining performance.  (And whatever it is that he drinks should be bottled and sold under the “Fountain of Youth” label.)  The Grand Annex, San Pedro.  (310) 833-4813.  http://www.grandvision.org.

- Mar. 1. (Sun.)  Add Polish singer Aga Zaryan to the growing list of gifted European jazz singers.  Hopefully, she’ll sing her touching interpretation of Abby Lincoln’s “Throw It Away.”  Favoring a guitar sound in her back-up groups, she’ll perform with the versatile Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Munyungo Jackson. Only one set, at 4 p.m., and she shouldn’t be missed.  The Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.  www.jazzbakery.com.

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Corky Hale with Billie Holiday

- Mar. 1. (Sun.)  Corky Hale.  Corky was one of the pioneers of the still-rarely heard jazz harp.  But she’s a gifted pianist as well, with a colorful, eclectic career that includes backing Billie Holiday.  Add her gently swinging, jazz-tinged vocals, her knack for finding the heart of a song,  and expect an entertaining musical evening.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.  www.vibratogrilljazz.com

San Francisco

- Feb. 27 – Mar. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Trio.  Weston’s music was described, with good cause, by Langston Hughes as “an ebb and flow of sound seemingly as natural as the waves of the sea.” Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.  www.yoshis.com

- Feb. 28 – Mar. 1.  (Sat. & Sun.)  Lou Donaldson. The veteran altoist cruises freely though the waters of bop and post-bop.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.  www.yoshis.com.

New York City

- Feb. 24 – Mar. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Spanish Harlem Orchestra.  Pianist and Music Director Oscar Hernandez’s l3 piece ensemble revives and contemporizwes the glories of “old school New York ‘salsa dura’.” The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592. http://www.bluenote.net/newyork/index.shtml.

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Ann Hampton Callaway

- Feb. 24 – Mar. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  Ann Hampton Callaway.  The versatile singer/pianist Callaway presents material from her new CD, “At Last,” with tunes reaching from Joni Mitchell to Cole Porter.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. (212) 258-9595.  www.jalc.org/dccc

- Feb. 24 – 25. (Tues. & Wed.)  Aaron Parks. At 25, the highly praised pianist’s resume includes substantial stints with Terence Blanchard, as well as a growing list of his own outings.  Jazz Standard  (212) 576-2252.  http://www.jazzstandard.net/red/index.html

- Feb. 25 – 28. (Wed. – Sat.)  Gary Peacock, Marc Copland and Bill Stewart. It’s an unlikely, but intriguing combination – veteran bassist Peacock, with Copland – who started out as a saxophonist, switching to piano when he was 25 – and the young A-list drummer Stewart.  Should produce some compelling music.  Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.  www.birdlandjazz.com.

monk-town-hall-cd- Feb. 26. (Thurs.)  Charles Tolliver.The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, 1959: Reviving a Landmark.” Trumpeter Tolliver celebrates the epic late /50s performance with a set of new transcriptions of Hall Overton’s large ensemble charts. It’s an event not to be missed.  Town Hall. (212) 997-1929.   http://www.the-townhall-nyc.org

- Feb. 27. (Fri.)  Jason Moran “In My Mind, Monk at Town Hall, 1959.” The gifted young pianist Moran has created a multi-media piece based on the Monk Town Hall performance, including Monk selections for an eight piece band, photos by Eugene Smith and never-before-heard recordings of Monk and Hall Overton.  Town Hall. (212) 997-1929. http://www.the-townhall-nyc.org

San Diego

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Amina Figarova

- Feb. 26. (Thurs.)  Amina Figarova Sextet. Atheneum Music and Arts Library. Pianist Figarova, born in Azerbaijan, based in the Netherlands, is composing an impressive catalog of selections embracing her 21st century interpretation of the jazz mainstream. San Diego Atheneum. (858) 454-5872 www.ljathenaeum.org.


Humor: 24 Things Producers Don’t Want To Hear But Always Do

February 21, 2009

Once again, we’ve had a message from iRoM’s Grammy-winning producer/composer/musician  friend, providing us with another sage commentary about what it takes to survive in the record business:

24 Things Producers Don’t Want To Hear But Always Do

1. “I think we need a trombone”

2. “Did you know my wife sings?”

3. “I am doing my own, original music”

4. “This will sell. I am certain of that”

5. “Its a cross between jazz and hip hop”

6. “I want to use my band”

7. “People will dig this”

8. “Its not a tribute”

9. “It is a tribute”

10.”I think we need to add another trombone”

11. “Did you know my son’s a producer?”

12. “I know its an all-Gershwin project but I have this great original…”

13. “Can my girlfriend co-produce?”

14. “I just discovered this amazing high school drummer and I want to

have him on this date”

15. “I don’t really need a producer”

16. “Can you produce my next project?……what label would be

interested?….do you know anyone there?”

17. “I want to rap on one track”

18. “I know the budget is 90K, but I still just want to make a trio

recording”

19. “Yes we COULD have those well-known professionals on the session

but my pianist, who is unknown, would feel hurt”

20. “I am into ‘ambient’ music”

21. “I am into ‘electronica’ music”

22. “Could you get that incredibly busy, expensive and famous musician

you know to guest on this project as a favor to me?”

23. “Could you just call the legendary musician at home and bypass his

manager, agent and lawyer as a favor to me and then we can

use the name to ‘sell’ the project?”

24. “Could you listen to my last project?……Do you know who would be

interested in releasing this?”


You Too Can Have U2 For Free

February 20, 2009
Cover art for U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon"

Cover art for U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon"

by Casey Dolan

Fans of the Irish band U2 can hear an exclusive preview of their new album, “No Line on the Horizon,” streaming for free on www.myspace.com/u2, the official MySpace Music profile site, starting today. The album will be released on March 3 and also be available for purchase from MySpace Music: www.myspace.com/music.

“No Line on the Horizon” is the band’s 12th studio album and the hit single, “Get on your Boots,” was also officially premiered on MySpace Music. The album has been greatly anticipated since their last effort, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” was released nearly four and a half years ago. Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno return as producers with Steve Lillywhite offering additional production and sessions were truly multinational being held in Fez, London, New York and, naturally, Dublin.

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto


Live: Joan Baez

February 20, 2009

By Don Heckman

“You’re telling me you’re not nostalgic.  Then give me another word for it.” It’s one of the many potent lines from Joan Baez’s 1975 classic, “Diamonds and Rust.”  And when she sang the phrase Thursday night before a packed house at UCLA’s Royce Hall, its meaning reached well beyond its significance in the song — with its presumed references to Baez’s star-crossed relationship with Bob Dylan.

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Joan Baez

In this other context, it was nostalgia that was in the air, hovering above an audience primed for a stroll down memory lane, awaiting the familiar hits, eager and willing to sing along in the choruses of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

But Baez is too much of an artist to remain floundered in the past.  A good part of her set was devoted to songs from her fine new CD, “Day After Tomorrow.”  And a pair of tunes by producer Steve Earle – “God Is God” and “Christmas In Washington” – were among the evening’s high points.  The latter, with its pointed lyrics - “So come back Emma Goldman/ Rise up, old Joe Hill….Come back to us, Malcolm X/ And Martin Luther King” – underscored Baez’s continuing belief in the power of songs to bring about change.

There was plenty of nostalgia, as well, sometimes delivered with seasonings of dark humor.  “Diamonds and Rust,” for example, ended with the interjection, “I’ll take the Grammy!” And, in “Love Is Just A Four Letter Word,” Baez added her own convincing, sardonic simulation of Dylan’s singing style.

Other selections reached across the wide range of her stylistic interests: A stunning a cappella rendering of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; atmospheric readings of tunes from the classic Baez repertoire – Dylan’s “Farewell, Angelina,” Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” (originally recorded as a duet with her sister, Mimi Farina), her own “Sweet Sir Galahad” and the country ballad, “Long Black Veil.”

Baez has always been an engaging performer, and her ability to interact amiably with her listeners, to offer sly humor and intriguing tidbits from her personal past,  has become more charming over the years.  But ultimately, any Baez performance comes down to her voice, to the sound and substance of a vocal instrument that was one of the most remarkable musical entities of the 60s and 70s.

And, if anything, Baez, at 68, sounds better than ever.  Yes, her head tones don’t have quite the crystal clarity that they did forty years ago.  But she knows how to use them to produce the best results.  In addition, she now has the added benefit of remarkably rich, supple chest tones, enhanced by phrasing and articulation that find the inner heart of every musical story she sings.

So, call her UCLA Live performance one of the early highlights of the 2009 season – a perfect blend of lyricism, musicality, timeliness and, yes, nostalgia.

Photo by Dana Tynan


Here, There & Everywhere: “Yes, We Can!”

February 18, 2009

By Don Heckman

“Yes, we can” was one of the most frequently heard slogans of the Obama presidential campaign.  And it was a good one, with its implicit sense of working together toward common goals.  This week, President Obama took a giant step toward holding up his end of the catchphrase by effectively taking action on the economic stimulus package.

But what about all the eager supporters, chanting the phrase over and over, holding up the placards, eager to join in the all-together-now choruses of “Yes, we can?”  What’s left for them to do, now that Obama is in the White House and the Democrats control the Congress?  Sit around and wait to see what the President and his minions do next?

Earlier today, a friend forwarded a link to me that provided a view of some of the actions one might take to translate “Yes, we can” into something more closely resembling President John F. Kennedy’s classic phrase “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”

The link connects to a video created by, of all people, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.  In it, some familiar (and less familiar) faces offer thoughts and commitments about the pledges they’re making to pitch in and share the burden.  Sure, it has some of the superficiality that’s present in all celebrity we-are-the-world get-togethers.  But it also has a core of commitment and meaning that is worth considering.  If, that is, the pledges are taken beyond the form of persuasive promises and into the realm of action and productivity.  So I’m posting it here for everyone to take a look, and make their own judgments.


CD Reviews: Melvoin, Park, Cunliffe and Wolff

February 17, 2009

By Michael Katz

While this year’s Grammys went to the usual suspects, there has been a flurry of outstanding CDs by some less appreciated artists that should brighten up anyone’s winter night.

Mike Melvoin and Kim Park

“The Art of Conversation” (City Light Records)

Leading off is The Art Of Conversation, by pianistmelvoin-cd Mike Melvoin and alto saxophonist Kim Park.  Minus the familiar timekeeping of bass and drums,  a duet album might challenge the listener’s attention, but Melvoin, a stellar first-call player here in LA, and the lesser heard Park,  son of the late Stan Kenton soloist John Park, reward the listener at every turn.  On Tangerine, the spirit of  fellow Kansas City native Charlie Parker is evoked as Park explores the breadth of the instrument in exhilarating style, with Melvoin deftly filling in underneath, ending up with a quote from Sweet Georgia Brown.   A Time For Love features Park caressing the melody, exploring the lower register of the instrument, leaving it for Melvoin to seamlessly bring up the pace. When you listen to this album you can’t help but recall Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s People Time. Park was an artist-in-residence with Getz at Stanford in 1988, and demonstrates a striking lyricism throughout. Melvoin’s contributions are more complex, providing the rhythmic underpinnings for Park’s solos, while blending his own unaccompanied dialogue into the conversation. From the first pensive notes of Danny Boy to the sprightly upbeat rhythms of You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To and Speak Low, it’s a gorgeous set throughout.

Bill Cunliffe

“The Blues and the Abstract Truth: Take 2″ (Resonance Records)

Pianist Bill Cunliffe has been one of LA’s most versatilecunliffe-cd musicians since winning the Thelonious Monk piano competition in 1989.  In 2008 he was commissioned by the Pasadena Jazz Institute to do a re-imagining of Oliver Nelson’s classic Jazz and the Abstract Truth and the result is this outstanding Take Two. Cunliffe makes no attempt to turn classic compositions such as Stolen Moments and Hoe Down inside out, using subtle harmonic alterations, particularly in the latter, to introduce the listener to a new set of soloists. Though it is impossible to compete with Nelson’s ensemble which included Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard, Cunliffe has assembled a group of principally West Coast all-stars led by reed man Bob Sheppard, whose tenor sax (and sometime soprano) burns through the Nelson compositions,   augmented by the altos of guest soloist Jeff Clayton and Brian Scanlon.   The biggest instrumental change is the presence of trombonist Andy Martin, who takes the lead in Stolen Moments and shines throughout. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford meshes beautifully with Martin and Sheppard on Stolen Moments, burning brightly through Cascades and Yearnin. Cunliffe’s own piano licks are featured in Hoe Down and Teenie’s Blues, but are most prominent in his two original compositions, Port Authority and Mary Lou’s Blues, dedicated to Mary Lou Williams.  Tom Warrington and Mark Ferber provide steady support on bass and drums, along with Larry Lunetta on trumpet. Cunliffe’s CD is both a tribute to Oliver Nelson and a showcase for a terrific modern ensemble.

Michael Wolff

“Joe’s Strutt” (Wrong Records)

Pianist Michael Wolff’s playing has always had a dark,wolff-cd soulful undertone, spattered with just enough playfulness to suggest that things are going to work out in the end (or will they?). His new CD Joe’s Strut features five original compositions, alternating crisp trio work with a robust quintet featuring the alto and soprano sax of Steve Wilson and the tenor of Ian Young. On the opener, Harbour Island, the saxes introduce the main theme before giving way to Wolff’s infectious glissandos, then add driving solos of their own before bringing the tune home.

The title composition is a spiritual nod to the late keyboardist and composer Joe Zawinul, whose chair Wolff filled in the last Cannonball Adderley band.  It has a foot stomping, New Orleans vibe; the trio format gives Wolff a chance to show off his funky side.  Steve Wilson turns to soprano on Wheel of Life, weaving a lovely interplay with Wolff, subtly backed by Chip Jackson on bass and Victor Jones on drums.

I especially like Wolff’s interpretations of two standards, If I Were A Bell and Come Rain Or Come Shine, with Rich Goods taking over on bass. The latter is an introspective, darkly textured reading; one almost senses a lingering doubt that the title’s pledge will be reciprocated. Wolff returns to the Cannonball legacy for a rousing sendoff, bringing back the quintet for Zawinul’s 74 Miles Away.

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In Memoriam: Reed player Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett, both members of Chuck Mangione’s band, were among the victims of last week’s plane crash near Buffalo. I was a long time admirer of Niewood, who was with Mangione from the beginning, contributing memorable soprano solos to “Land Of Make Believe” and “Legend Of The One-Eyed Sailor” on the Mercury quartet albums of the early ’70s. He was famously featured as a sideman on Simon and Garfunkle’s “Concert In Central Park,” and was a consistently fine player over the years. They will both be deeply missed.  M.K.


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