Here, There & Everywhere: The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

May 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Describing Herb Alpert as a philanthropist doesn’t accurately identify the full generosity of his activities over recent decades. Many of his awards have been institutional, to UCLA, USC, CalArts and beyond. And in each of those cases, his generosity has had a significant impact upon the effectiveness of their music education programs.

But Alpert has done much more. For the past twenty years, his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has annually given $75,000 prizes each to five mid–career, risk–taking artists in dance, film/video, music, theatre, and visual arts.

“Over the last twenty years,” says Alpert, “we’ve been lucky enough to have given a boost to choreographers, musicians, visual and media artists, and theatre makers, those who keep on searching, and making powerful, spirited work. For all of us to enjoy…or not.”

Last Friday, Alpert and his wife Lani Hall hosted the announcement of his year’s awards at an annual award lunch. And, once again, the line up of winners included an impressive array of creative artists.

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, DAniel Joseph Martinez

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, Daniel Joseph Martinez

Here are the winners in the various categories, along with comments from Irene Borger, Director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, regarding the reasons for their selection:

- Dance: Tap dancer Michelle Dorreance. Chosen for her “inventive sophistication and transporting the field into radically new places.”

- Music: Composer, avant-garde saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts. Chosen for her charismatic, powerful renderings of sound.”

- Film/Video: Documentary Filmmaker Deborah Stratman. Chosen for her “important body of films, and the ways she grapples with tough issues.”

- Theatre: Theatre artist Annie Dorsen. Chosen for her “audacious investigations, unrelenting pursuit of ideas, and new theatrical forms.”

- Visual Arts: Post-conceptual artist Daniel Joseph Martinez. Chosen for his “his fearless, continually evolving practice, unwavering commitment to art and politics, to the field, and to Los Angeles.”

Alpert summed up the significance of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in a final comment, perfectly reflecting the adventurousness of his own long career as an imaginative, improvising jazz artist always in search of new ideas:

“What happens,” says Alpert, “when you support artists with that special spark? You don’t know — and that’s exactly part of the magic.”

It’s a magic that Alpert has either been creating or supporting – and sometimes both – over the course of the music he’s been making from the early days of the Tijuana Brass to his most recent recordings and performances with his wife Lani Hall Alpert.

Add to that the equally magical works Alpert has been producing in his remarkable career as a highly regarded painter and sculptor. No wonder he relates so empathically with the simlarly imaginative winners of his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

* * * * * * * *

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

 

 


Here, There & Everywhere: April Williams Resigns from Vitello’s

January 19, 2014

By Don Heckman

Jazz clubs come and go in most major cities. Los Angeles is no exception. The Jazz Bakery lost its home in Culver City in 2009. Charlie O’s in Van Nuys was shuttered in 2011. Both were vital homes for L.A.’s finest jazz artists and valuable destinations for jazz fans.

April Williams

April Williams

This month, Upstairs at Vitello’s, another jazz room, is not closing down. But it is apparently changing its management and its scheduling.  And April Williams, who has been primarily responsible for establishing Upstairs at Vitello’s as a major Los Angeles Jazz venue, is moving on.  To explain her decision, Williams has written a letter to the musicians, the fans and the friends who will all be impacted by her departure from Vitello’s.

* * * * * * * *

Here’s her letter:

Dear Beloved Musicians and Friends

Happy New Year! I wish you good health, happiness and prosperity. I am so grateful for all the great performances, your friendship and the good times we have shared together.

With the New Year there are endings and new beginnings. I am very excited about my plans for 2014.  However, as excited as I am about new projects in the works, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that, due to ongoing artistic differences with the management, I will be terminating my residency at Vitello’s as of February 1, 2014. I thank Vitello’s for the opportunities they extended to me when I knocked on their door in 2009 when the world was economically crashing down. I told them I had a vision that I could create a Jazz Night one day a week..and they gave me that opportunity.

February 2014 is the five-year anniversary of my residency at Vitello’s. We have all done so much uniting and growing the communities involvement with live music. Together we have proven that the music community is a vital entity that survives through the worst economic years of the country. In addition to the audiences we attracted to Vitello’s, I ran and continue to run 5 years of composers’ Study groups, we raised $17k for tsunami relief in Japan, we celebrated Grammy Nominees and winners, Big Bands, Young Artists and night after night the magic of music.

I financed the first 9 months personally, bought the equipment and as the power of the music expanded, Vitello’s joined in. I created over 20,000 jobs for musicians in the last five years. I am proud of what we have achieved together. What we’ve learned in the years at Vitello’s is that there is a dedicated Los Angeles audience for the finest jazz of every style and genre. And my new plans will open the doors to venues eager to provide those audiences with the world-class music they’re eager to hear.

I gratefully thank all of you for your selfless sharing of yourselves and your music. And I thank you, too, for your constant support and extraordinary performances over the last five years. Your playing and singing set the creative bar high. And you always embraced me and delivered on your musical promises. In return, I did the very best I could to give you all the services you deserve to properly honor your music.

The audiences I thank as well. You are musical forces unto yourselves. Composed of musicians, aficionados, writers, photographers, sound teams, and fans, students and educators, you all came forward to preserve the music culture of Los Angeles.

It has been a fantastic run. I am so grateful to have worked alongside the best musicians in the world. Musician Friends, that is, who have all become my closest and dearest associates.

I look forward to working together again with all of you in the near future.

Stay tuned. More news coming shortly.

And remember…the difference between noise and music is the amount of space between the notes.

Love and peace,

April Williams

april@redcarpetjazz.com

www.downbeatentertainment.com

*  * * * * * *

When he heard about Williams’ plans to move on from Vitello’s, Joe LaBarbera, one of the Southland’s finest, busiest players, wrote a response to Williams’ letter with his own commentary about her departure from the room. 

* * * * * * * *

Here’s Joe’s message:

Dear April,

Joe LaBarbera

Joe LaBarbera

5 years ago you took a vacant space in a mediocre Italian restaurant and magically transformed it into a real jazz club. Starting with just one night a week, the reputation of the club grew along with the roster of artists who were happy to play there, local at first and eventually from coast to coast. You improved every aspect of that room to make it THE place to play in Los Angeles.

It’s been true of every great club I have known over the years that the only reason it is successful is because the person in charge loves the music. Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard, Sonny Canterino at the Half Note, Shelly Manne and Rudy Underwieser at the Manne Hole, Mike and Randy Brecker at 7th Ave. These are just a few examples.

Thank you, April for a great run and I look forward to working together in the future.

Love,

Joe LaBarbera 

* * * * *

As Joe LaBarbera’s letter makes abundantly clear, April Williams has had a significant impact upon both the quantity and the quality of jazz in Los Angeles.  And she will continue to play a leading role in the jazz and the music communities that have benefited so much from her presence. As April’s letter clearly indicates: Stay tuned for her future plans.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Here, There & Everywhere: The Music I’m Thankful For

November 22, 2012

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again.  Thanksgiving Day has arrived.  And here’s my annual, continual and growing list of the many musical reasons I have to be thankful.

* * * * *

Charlie Parker

.

- Every note Charlie Parker ever played.

- Ditto for Louis Armstrong.  And Miles Davis.

- Bebop, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, Ray Brown, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown and more.

- The magical spells of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

- Ditto for Don Redman, Sy Oliver, Benny Carter, Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Gil Evans, George Russell, Bill Holman, Thad Jones, Johnny Mandel and Oliver Nelson. Maria Schneider and her Orchestra.  The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  The Big Phat Band.  The “Ghost Bands.”

- Count Basie‘s rhythm section (with Freddy Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page).

Billie Holiday

.

- Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit.”

- Nina Simone‘s “I Loves You Porgy.”

- Ella Fitzgerald‘s Song Books.

- Joe Williams‘ “Here’s To Life.”

- Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.

- Coleman Hawkins playing “Body and Soul.”

- Ben Webster playing a ballad – any ballad.

- Sonny Rollins playing “St. Thomas.”

- Almost anything by Miles, Herbie, Wayne, Ron and Tony.

Charles Mingus

- Ditto for Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz.

- Ditto for Thelonious Monk.

- John Coltrane playing “A Love Supreme.”

- Ravi Coltrane playing — right now   Along with Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis, Christian Scott, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Anat Cohen, Joe Lovano, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins , Chris Botti, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes and many many more.

- Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao  Gilberto, Elis ReginaGal Costa, Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, Eliane Elias, Heitor Villa-Lobos and all the rest of the creators of the marvelous music of Brazil.

Michael Jackson

- The life, accomplishments  and music of Michael Jackson.

- The life and music of Eva Cassidy.

- The life the beliefs and the music of John Lennon.

- The life, music and ideas of George Russell.

- The lives, music and teaching of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar.

- The music in the poetry of Rumi.

- The mugham of Azerbaijan.

- The lives and music of Blossom Dearie, Russ Garcia, Louie Bellson, Maurice Jarre, Les Paul, Mary Travers, Mercedes Sosa and many more no longer with us.

The singing of Cassandra Wilson, Carol Welsman, Denice Donatelli, Jane Monheit, Roberta Gambarini, Gretchen Parlato, Tierney Sutton, Karrin Allyson, Nnenna Freelon, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cheryl Bentyne and many of the others in the overflowing arena of talented female jazz singers.

The Beatles

- The poetry of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  The songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon,  Carole King, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bacharach and David,  Sting and all the other singer-songwriters.

- The music of Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joan Baez, The Who, David Bowie, Nirvana, Kanye West (among others).

- Selmer saxophones and clarinets, Fazioli pianos, Pro Tools and Logic Pro.

- The composers and the lyricists whose music will live forever in the Great American Songbook.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

- Everything and anything by Mozart, but especially the Clarinet Concerto and the Clarinet Quintet.

- The madrigals of Gesualdo.

- Beethoven‘s Piano Sonata No. 32.

- The songs of Schubert.

- Chopin‘s Etudes, Preludes and Waltzes.

- Beethoven‘s 3rd,  Schubert‘s 8th, Mendelssohn‘s 4th,  Brahms‘ 4th,  Tchaikovsky‘s 6th, Prokofiev‘s 1st.

Johan Sebastian Bach

.
- The Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the Goldberg Variations, the Cello Suites the Brandenburg Concertos and almost everything else he ever wrote.
- Stravinsky‘s Sacre du Printemps.  His Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet.

- The String Quartets of Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel.

- Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 3.

- The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. His String Quartets No. 3 and 4.

West Side Story

- L’Orfeo, The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, Falstaff, Madam Butterfly, Die Fledermaus, Tristan Und Isolde, Three Penny Opera, Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pal Joey, West Side Story

-

Plus the numerous other gifted artists I haven’t mentioned.


Here, There & Everywhere: The Real Big Lebowski Wants Your Vote

October 11, 2012

By Don Heckman

A few days ago, my good friend David Paulsen sent me The Real Big Lebowski Wants Your Vote, a video he’d produced about the upcoming Presidential election.  The video  features the wonderful actor David Huddleston, who portrays the title role in the Coen Brothers’ brilliantly funny motion picture, The Big Lebowski.

Although the video was inspired to some extent by the film, it is a very unique item on its own.  “Mr. Huddleston,” says Paulsen, “who is also known for his fine work in Blazing Saddles, Santa Clause The Movie and The Producers, as well as hundreds of other films and television shows, is the only connection we, who put this video together, have with the Coen Brothers’  hilarious film.”

As soon as I screened The Real Big Lebowski Wants Your Vote, I knew we had to let our thousands of readers see it.  Why?  Do politics and elections have anything to do with music and musicians?  The answer is a resounding ‘yes.”  Of course they do.  Composers, singers and musicians all suffer from the same faltering economy that affects everyone.  And they are vividly aware that the results of the Presidential election of Nov. 6, 2012 will have a profound impact upon their lives (along with the lives of millions of other folks – and not just Americans).

Today, as voters await tonight’s broadcast of this election’s second debate – this time between Vice-Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – seemed like the perfect time to begin to link our iRoM readers (and others) to this humorously sardonic and informative video.

The Real Big Lebowski Wants Your Vote was produced by David Paulsen and Bill Gladden with the technical participation of Brian Roberts, Bill Pryor and a group of students from Santa Fe’s Community College.   Paulsen,  the former Producer, Writer and Director of the American TV series Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing  and Dangerous Curves, wrote and directed;  Bill Gladden of IceFire Media composed the music and sings the song.

The Real Big Lebowski is a political parody rendered under fair use,” says David, the video’s producer and writer.  “It is meant solely as social commentary, criticism and personal expression.  Its character and purpose is informational, noncommercial and not-for-profit. It is NOT for sale.  Those who have participated have worked for nothing.  None of us will earn a dime.

“Our sole goal is to encourage people – especially those with a Democratic bent –  to watch the video, listen closely to its message, and get out and vote this coming November 6.“

“These are the guys we’re dealing with,” adds Paulsen with a laugh……

……… “and him, too.”

            And here’s the video itself:


Here, There & Everywhere: The Endeavour Ends Its Long Journey in Close 2-Part Harmony

September 21, 2012

Photo by Bonnie Perkinson.


Here, There & Everywhere: Micah Altshuler Sings About A La La Dream…

July 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

When iRoM’s London-based, European correspondent Ella Leya told me she’d written a song for her ambitious teen-age son, Micah, I was intrigued.  I knew Ella was a gifted singer/songwriter – her songs have been featured on such films and TV shows as Ocean’s Twelve, PU-239, My Sassy Girl, Dirty Sexy Money, and Samantha Who.  But I didn’t know that musical ambition had arrived in the next generation.

When she sent me a video of Micah doing the song, I was even more intrigued.  I’m not familiar with the music aimed at young teen demographics, and I was surprised by the relatively mature subject matter of the song – until I discovered that today’s young teen music is not about prom nights and puppy love.  And Micah, in his stoic, but charming way, tells the song’s story with exactly the right trace of detached intensity.   Here’s a colorfully atmospheric video of Micah and the song.  Posted on a special day.

Happy birthday Micah…


Here, There & Everywhere: Dolores Scozzesi at Vitello’s

June 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

The Playboy Jazz Festival, as well as the lead-in to the Festival, tended to dominate our view screens here at iRoM for the last week or so.  And that’s cool.  It is, after all, one of the major musical events of the year.

But other music has been taking place, as well.  And now that the Playboy Festival madness is over, I want to be sure to call attention to another performance that took place last Tuesday.  It may not have been high visibility, and — in its single night at Vitello’s — it drew a considerably smaller crowd than the 18,000 who showed up for each of the Festival’s two days.  But for listeners attuned to fine music, convincingly done, it was a memorable night.

 

So let’s take a look back at Tuesday, and the appearance of jazz singer Dolores Scozzesi, backed by Andy Langham, piano, Lyman Medeiros, bass, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., drums, at Vitello’s.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that there was stunning musical empathy between Scozzesi and her musicians.  At its best, it recalled the kind of creative intimacy that exists in the Tierney Sutton Band, a group that’s been together for two decades.

Add to that the range of selections in the program.  Scozzesi’s first few choices, reaching from “Listen Love,” a tender song by the too little acknowledged singer/songwriter of the ‘70s, Jon Lucien, to Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and such standards classics as “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul” and “What Now My Love?” underscored both her creative eclecticism and her far ranging musical interests.

As intriguing as her song choices were – also embracing such equally compelling tunes as “When Did You Leave Heaven?” “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Right Myself A Letter” and “Love Look Away” – what really mattered was what Scozzesi did with this abundant collection.  Gifted with a mature, dark timbred voice, capable of using it across a rich emotional palette, she reached deeply into the heart of each song’s story.  And with especially convincing intensity in an English and French version of “Autumn Leaves” that included a newly conceived segment inspired by a Stan Getz solo, with lyrics by Scozzesi.  Call it a highlight in an evening of memorable songs.

I learned a long time ago that one of the most meaningful estimates of a performance’s impact often lies in the feelings it generates after the program.  Sure, one wants to be captivated by the music while it’s taking place.  But it’s equally important, maybe even more so, to be so stimulated by what one has heard that it stays with you, triggering new feelings and thoughts long after the performance is over.

The experience, to me, is similar to what it used to be like to see an especially impactful movie, back in the time before “films” became the operative word.  In those days, coming out of a movie theatre with a companion, eagerly discussing high points in the story, re-living aspects of the plot, feeling strongly – pro or con – about what we had just seen, was an essential part of seeing a movie.

Driving home from Scozessi’s performance at Vitello’s, Faith and I experienced similar feelings, recalling the pleasure of hearing such a fine array of songs, delivered with so much musical authenticity.  We even had a small disagreement, disputing whether or not Scozessi had tended to make too liberal use of her sometimes edgy chest tones.  But there was no dispute over the quality of the strains of music that remained with us, soothing our ears well into the high decibel sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend.

Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Dolores Scozessi’s album, “A Special Taste.”  Fortunately writing liner notes does not cause me to lose my sense of musical objectivity.


Here, There & Everywhere: The 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts

May 11, 2012

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert has had more successes – creative and financial – than most artists can dream of experiencing.  And to his credit he’s handled them with remarkable finesse and generosity.  Music programs at UCLA and CalArts have benefited from his multi-million dollar grants to each institution.

Herb Alpert

Today, another impressive display of the Alpert munificence took place with the presentation of the 2012 Alpert Awards in the Arts, a combined effort of the Herb Alpert Foundation and CalArts. The Awards, now in their 19th installment, recognize mid-career achievements in Music, Dance, Film/Video, Theatre and Visual Arts.

All of the winners — as well as Alpert, CalArts faculty members and some of the panel members who made the Awards selections — were in attendance earlier today for a celebratory party at the Alpert Foundation offices in Santa Monica. Each receives a $75,000 award.

Jazz fans can be especially pleased that the Music Award was granted to pianist/composer Myra Melford, whose ground breaking, exploratory recordings have provided some of the most fascinating improvisational journeys of the past two decades.

Myra Melford

According to Irene Borger, Director of the Alpert Award in the Arts, Melford was honored “for her ascending and expansive trajectory, and great, generous musical mind…her willingness to dive into the deep end of the pool and her ability to take multiple musical traditions into another sphere.”

Ms. Borger also announced the reasoning behind the other awards:

Nora Chipaumire

Dance: Nora Chipaumire, “for her profound movement intellirgence, steaming hot and extraordinary presence, the dialogue she creates with audiences, and her visceral struggles with critical issues of the day.”

* * * *

Kevin Everson

Film/Video: Kevin Everson, “for his relentless curiosity, sustained inquiry, for elevating the visual power of expressive quotidian gestures of working people, and for his aesthetic caring gaze.”

* * * *

Eisa Davis

Theatre: Eisa Davis, “for her profound multiple gifts as playwright, performer and musician, her portrayal of the complex richness of our American character, and her work’s relevance and epic sweep, expanding our notion of how one might live in the 21st century.”

* * * *

Michael Smith

Visual Arts: Michael Smith, “for subversively using the visual languages of popular and corporate culture to take on big issues, for pioneering narrative within video art practice, and for rendering the everyday as truly strange….”

Alpert’s smiling presence underscored the satisfaction he must feel for the display of yet another of his vital contributions to the arts.  He could, after all, have bought an island (or two or three) in the Caribbean and retired to a life of luxurious beach-combing, painting, sculpting and some trumpet playing on the side.  Not that he’s given up on the latter three.  Not at all.  His fascinating paintings and sculptures are omnipresent in the Foundation offices, his home near Malibu and his Bel Air jazz club, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. And he and his wife, the gifted singer Lani Hall, continue to record and tour with their stellar group.

But Alpert also expresses his creativity via his beneficence – via his generous financial support for the arts as a vital, continually expressive element in American life.

* * * * * *

Photos courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.


Here, There & Everywhere: Jazz at the Federal

April 23, 2012

This post is part of the Jazz Journalists Association’s international “Blogathon.”

By Don Heckman

It’s always a significant event when a new room for jazz opens. Whether it’s small or large, daily or weekly, it’s still something to acknowledge, at a time when existing music venues are struggling to survive and new arrivals are in short supply.

So I was glad to be part of an enthusiastic crowd at the Federal Bar and Restaurant in North Hollywood’s NoHo district last Wednesday, when April Williams kicked off her Jazz at the Federal. In its beginning stages, it will only be scheduled for Wednesday nights, But given the success that hard-working April has had with her Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programs, it’s a fair expectation that she’ll do similarly well with her Federal programs. At least one hopes so.

Underscoring her desire to program first rate jazz – ranging from big bands and straight ahead jazz to funk and TK – the opening night headliner was the Bob Sheppard’s stellar quintet, with the leader on soprano and tenor saxophones, John Beasley on piano and keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

The program ranged from Sheppard originals to a line by Freddie Hubbard (once an employer of both Sheppard and Beasley), And the ensemble interaction during the more intricately arranged passages was first rate. But the musical focus of the evening had less to do with complex charts than with some prime, showcase playing from the two principal soloists, Sheppard and Beasley.  World class players with impressive resumes, both have enhanced the bands of leaders with far broader visibility. But each can stand on his own – as they did this night – as avid improvisational adventurers. And with the equally intrepid support of Lefebvre and Hass the musical expeditions journeyed through one fascinating musical territory after another.

All this took place in the Federal’s large, high ceilinged second floor – a space alternately recalling a Greenwich Village jazz club of the ’60s and a timeless French cellar bistro. Although the brick walls and exposed beams tended to muddy low tones somewhat, it was a problem that sound reinforcement can resolve. Otherwise, the room is an amiable audio location.

When April Williams begins to present her continuing shows in May, Jazz at the Federal will begin to establish itself as the jazz destination it has all potential for becoming. The schedule forecast includes Arturo Sandoval’s 20 piece big band, the jazz funk of Bernie Dressel’s supercharged instrumental/vocal band, Bern, and Grammy winning Gordon Goodwin’s 18 piece Big Phat Band.

Only time – and the audiences – will tell, of course, but the future of Jazz at the Federal looks promising. Let’s hope the room and its programs become well attended additions to the rich diversity of jazz in Los Angeles.

For more information about April Williams’ Jazz at the Federal, click HERE.


 


Here, There & Everywhere: Have You Ever Wondered?

March 10, 2012

There’s been some thoughtful discussion lately here on iRoM about the interaction between musicians and audiences.  A lot of it was focused on performers’ obligations to their listeners.  Check out Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1, and Keeping It Real 2  and Norton Wright’s  Keeping It Real: A Minority Opinion, along with the readers’ comments, to get the full picture. 

And here’s another perspective with a different slant.  I first blogged something about the subject three or four years ago, pointing a finger at both the players and the audiences.  Since the questions I raised at that time remain virtually unanswered, I thought I’d ask them again.  (Continue reading below for the responses.)

By Don Heckman

Have you ever wondered:

- Why…

Band leaders always seem to announce the names of the band members in the middle of loud applause? Making them virtually indecipherable.  Can it be that some of the leaders are worried that the band members might receive a better reception than they do? Let’s hope not.

- Why…

Every solo by every musician (and singer) — regardless of its quality — is applauded? Granted that musicians deserve and appreciate response from their listeners, what’s the real value of such an all-inclusive response?  And why can’t it wait until the end of the piece? At which time, the leader — after the applause — can give much more meaningful recognition to the soloists. The added benefit of that approach would be an opportunity to actually hear the subtle connections that good musicians frequently make between solo passages — a repeated riff, a variation on the previous player’s concluding phrase. Good stuff, and most of it missed in the rush to clap, cheer, hoot and whistle.

- Why…

If we’re going to have so much applause, why can’t we also have some mass audience hissing directed at the fools who can’t wait until the last note fades before they establish their presence with a whoop, a holler or a deeply insightful, “Yeah!”?  God forbid that the music should actually have an opportunity to come to its own creative conclusion without audience assistance.  It can, you know.  If you listen.

- Why…

The drum solo always has to wait until the last number? It’s become like clockwork — here comes the Dreaded Drum Solo and the intermission is next. Surely drummers deserve something better than a pro forma appearance positioned as a last minute afterthought?

Anyone have some answers?  Send them along.  I’ll be happy to share them.

* * * * *

March 10: BRICK WAHL HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Brick Wahl

Easy.

1)

Band leaders never know the names of the musicians in their band, or else they are too high. Sometimes, though, musicians have long Polish names and no one knows how to pronounce them anyway.

2)

The musicians’ Moms and Dads might be in the audience and the audience doesn’t want to embarrass them. Later, Mom and Dad are replaced by grandchildren, and you’d have to be a real creep to want to make them feel bad. So applaud already.

3)

In the past, massed hissing in jazz clubs has led to shootings, beatings, and riots. Sometimes all in one night. I once let out a deeply insightful if ill-timed “yeah” that accidentally caused a bass solo, so I learned my lesson.

4)

Drum solos used to occur during the intermission.  Consider yourself lucky.

* * * * *

March 11: NEAL WRIGHTSON HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Neal Wrightson

I agree with #1. It is often frustrating when band leaders introduce the band while they are playing, while the audience is clapping and hooting, etc. But not all do this. Some actually take some time to introduce each band member, even waiting for the applause to die down. I think your theory is true sometimes – I sense in the timing and perfunctory quality of some intros a disdain for the exercise, and maybe the band members. But other times I think that musicians are not always speakers, and are ‘tone deaf” about the importance of the moment.

As for the other objections – I think that the loose quality of a jazz concert and audience is part of the history and tradition. Sometimes the vocal responses remind me of a revival meeting or inspiring speech, where the audience is moved to vocalize their enthusiasm. I am torn about this, because sometimes audience members can be maddeningly insistent on adding their “contribution” to the performance, but overall, I think I prefer this wide-open, democratic quality to rapt attention and people “shushing” each other. I love Keith Jarrett, but he is a good example of this; a bit of a prima donna, much too grumpy about every little noise and interruption. Jazz is, to a great extent, an audience participation experience. The energy of the audience makes an important difference to a performance.

As for drum solos, (and bass solos) as the parent of a jazz drummer I would say that they are only occasionally brilliant, and do not often add to the piece as a whole. I agree that they are often included at the end pro forma, instead of as an important element in a specific piece. Yet a beautiful drum or bass solo is inspiring and as important as any other soloist in an ensemble. My drummer son tells a joke about a drummer who is researching the roots of jazz and goes to Africa. He is being led by an African drummer to a village where remarkable drumming takes place. They are walking a long way, and as they get close they can hear the drumming. Then the drumming stops, and the African drummer stops dead in his tracks “Oh! oh!” he says. “What’s the matter?” the musician asks, with dread creeping into his voice. The African says “When the drumming stops – next is the bass solo!”

* * * * *


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