Here, There & Everywhere: The 2012 Jazz Grammy Winners

February 13, 2012

By Don Heckman

The 2012 Grammys are in, and once again there’s not much sound of surprise in the results.  Certainly nothing in the same ballpark as last year’s Best New Artist award for Esperanza Spalding.  That’s not to say that any of the wins were undeserved.  Because they all were the products of gifted artists doing their best. Nor were any of the nominees any less deserving than the winners.

Still, both the awards and the Recording Academy’s current approach to jazz raise some questioning observations.  Take, for example, the inclusion of Terri Lyne Carrington’ s The Mosaic Project in the Jazz Vocal grouping.  Doesn’t it seem inevitable that a collection of songs by such major names as Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cassandra Wilson and, yes, Esperanza Spalding (among others) is going to have a major head start in any competition against recordings by single artists?  What chance did the other nominees – especially the unusually superlative trio of albums from Tierney Sutton, Roseanna Vitro and Karrin Allyson – have against a full line-up of such musical heavyweights?

Notice, too, some of the repetitions: multiple nominations for Randy Brecker, Fred Hersch and Sonny Rollins.  Great artists, all, but where are the nominations for the youngest generation of jazz players?  It’s worth noting that Gerald Clayton is the only nominee still in his twenties.  And Miguel Zenon is the only nominee still in his thirties.

Add to that several aspects in this year’s awards procedures that underscore the diminishing role that jazz is playing in the Grammy overview.  Start with the reduced number of categories.  In 2011 there were six: Contemporary Jazz Album, Vocal Album, Improvised Jazz Solo, Jazz Instrumental Album (Individual or Group), Large Jazz Album and Latin Jazz Album.

This year, there are four: Best Improvised Jazz Solo, Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. Some jazz fans won’t miss the Contemporary category, despite the fact that its absence eliminates the presence of some fine, pop-oriented jazz stylists.  But the Latin Jazz omission is unforgivable, and should receive careful re-consideration in the planning for next year’s Grammys.

In the listings below, I’ve also included Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Instrumental Composition, because, in these nominees, the emphasis is almost completely in the direction of jazz.  They could easily have had different orientations — pop, rock, electronica, classical and otherwise — given the all-inclusive nature of the descriptions “Instrumental Arrangement” and “Instrumental Composition.”

Ultimately, the single word that comes to mind in considering all the above is “irrelevant.”  Receiving a Grammy award continues to be one of the music world’s greatest honors – for the individual artist.  And every jazz player –like every other musical artist – has to be delighted to receive the gold statuette.  But the overall significance of the Grammys to jazz, the Awards’ full commitment to honoring one of America’s greatest cultural contributions, continues to diminish.  And if it continues in its current direction, the long, historical Grammy/jazz connection won’t just be irrelevant, it’ll be non-existent.

Here are this year’s awards:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

 Winner.  Chick Corea : “Five Hundred Miles Highfrom Forever.

Other Nominees:

Randy Brecker: “All or Nothing at All” from The Jazz ballad Song Book

Ron Carter: “You Are My Sunshine” from This Is Jazz.

Fred Hersch: “Work” from Alone at the Vanguard.

Sonny Rollins: “Sunnymoon For Two: from Road Shows, Vol. 2.

Best Jazz Vocal album

Winner: Terri Lyne Carrington and Various Artists: The Mosaic Project.

Other Nominees:

Tierney Sutton Band: American Road

Karrin Allyson: ‘Round Midnight.

Kurt Elling: The Gate.

Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman.

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Winner: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White.  Corea, Clark & White.

Other Nominees:

Gerald Clayton: The Paris Sessions.

Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard.

Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs.

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol.2

Yellowjackets: Timeline.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Winner: Christian McBride Big Band. The Good Feeling.

Other Nominees:

Randy Brecker with the WDR Big Band: The Jazz Ballad Song Book.

Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: 40 Acres and a Burro.

Gerald Wilson Orchestra; Legacy.

Miguel Zenon: Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook

Best Instrumental Arrangement

Winner: Gordon Goodwin: Rhapsody in Blue.

Other Nominees:

Peter Jensen: ‘All or Nothing At All” (for Randy Brecker with the GDR Big Band)

Clare Fischer: “In the Beginning: (from the Clare Fischer Big band’s Continuum.)

Bob Brookmeyer: “Nasty Dance.” (from the Vanguard Jazz Orchstra’s Forever Lasting).

Carlos Franzetti: “Song Without Words” (from Alborada).

Best Instrumental Composition

Winner: Bela Fleck and Howard Levy: “Life In Eleven” from Rocket Science.

Other Nominees:

John Hollenbeck: “Falling Men” from Shut Up and Dance.

Gordon Goodwin: “Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn) from That’s How We Roll.

Randy Brecker: “I Talk To The Trees” from The Jazz Ballad Song Book.

Russell Ferrante: “Timeline” from Timeline.


The Holidays 2011

December 23, 2011

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


Here, There & Everywhere: Sing! Sing! Sing!

December 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Christmas caroling was a regular seasonal activity in my young life.  Growing up in an Eastern Pennsylvania rust belt city, singing carols while slip-sliding our way across icy sidewalks was as necessary to the holiday as going to Mass on Christmas eve.  In a way, it was an equally necessary counter to the darker side of what we’d done on Halloween, when enacting tricks was a lot more common than  asking for treats.

All of which went through my mind last night when Faith and I took our lovely ten year old granddaughter, Maia, to the Victorian Mansion for “Candlelight Carols” by Judy Wolman, Howard Lewis and “Sing! Sing! Sing!”  And one couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully atmospheric setting to join in a holiday music singalong than the elegant wood-paneled room that jazz fans will recall as the former site of the much-missed jazz club, “The Vic.”

At the beginning, Wolman reminded me that she, Lewis and their group of singers had been doing these holiday celebrations for 20 years.  Not only that, of course, but also their continuing programs of participatory jaunts through the rich musical landscape of the Great American Songbook.  (Programs devoted to Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael and others are already scheduled for 2012.)

The “Candlelight Carols” program characteristically reached out to embrace the Songbook – with selections from Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc. — as well as a collection of traditional carols.  And the format was as comfortable and inviting as a holiday evening in a close friend’s living room.

Lewis introduced each number with some fascinating background, often including nuggets of insight into the song, as well as its creators.  Then Wolman — a superb piano accompanist, backed by Chris Conner’s bass, Dick Weller’s drums and some warm melody-making from harmonica player Ron Kalina – led the way into the song.

Maia

The audience, using lyric sheets provided by Wolman, sang along enthusiastically, sometimes even more than that.  And our granddaughter, Maia, not especially familiar with all the standards, nonetheless applied her already burgeoning musicality to every song, singing, smiling, enjoying every minute of this engaging new experience.

And what a collection of songs it was: “It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “My Favorite Things,” “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”  As well as “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” “The First Noel” and much, much more.

Between the singalong segments, individual singers from the Sing! Sing! Sing! vocal ensemble – Chuck Marso, Anita Royal, Jackie Manfredi and Ruth Davis – soloed.  And songwriter Jim Mann presented a brand new Christmas song, “Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!”

The sidewalks weren’t icy, and there was no snow in the forecast as we left the Victorian.  But the wind was blowing, and, as we walked hand in hand to our car, the words to one of the evening’s songs – with their perfect holiday sentiments — kept coming to mind.

           “The wind is blowing

           But I can weather the storm

            What do I care how much it may storm?

            I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”


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

November 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

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.

- 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, Oliver Nelson and Maria Schneider.

- 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,

- 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, and 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 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 Beatles

- 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.

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.

Johann 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 Debussy and Ravel.

- Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 3.

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

West Side Story

 

- The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, Falstaff, Madam Butterfly, Die Fledermaus, Three Penny Opera, Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pal Joey, West Side Story and many more.


Here, There & Everywhere: Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” — 44 years later and still timely

November 20, 2011

By Don Heckman

Looking at the videos of police using pepper spray on U.C. Davis demonstrators, and using violent tactics on protestors elsewhere, has triggered a whole bunch of distant memories.   As has much of the media coverage of the Occupy movement as it has grown in size and intensity around the country.  The goals of the anti-war movement of the ’60s and today’s anti-corporation campaign may be different in detail,  but the quest to change the direction of a society heading in the wrong way for the wrong reasons is the same.  What was happening in the late ’60s is a natural parent of what is happening today.

All of which immediately brings to mind the song that was one of the definitive musical messages of the late ’60s — Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”  Written by Stephen Stills as a response to the Sunset Strip riot of 1966, it later became associated with the Kent State shootings of 1970.  But the message was, and is, timeless.  Which is why I’ve posted it here.  And I can easily imagine the last two lines of the chorus becoming the call of the crowd every time authorities resort to violent intimidation against peaceful demonstrators:

“Hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down!”

* * *


Here, There & Everywhere: The Closing of Charlie O’s

September 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

Charlie O’s closed Wednesday night.  It happened without anticipation, and without warning.

My first awareness of the bad news came with an email from Jo-Ann Ottaviano, who has been running the club – along with her brother Mike – since the death of her husband, Charlie Ottaviano in 2008.  It arrived at 6:19 p.m. with the message “after 11 years of amazing jazz at Charlie O’s, tonight will be our last presentation.  The lights will dim forever after the last set. “

Charlie O's

I’ve seen jazz clubs disappear in the past.  But never with such startling suddenness.  I”ve loved Charlei O’s since the first time I went there, and I described it in the Los Angeles Times as the “ultimate jazz bar and restaurant.”  It reminded me, in many respects, of some of the Greenwich Village rooms I frequented in my New York years.  But it was more than nostalgia that made Charlie O’s a welcome destination for me.  It was also the laid-back ambience, the intimate closeness to the music as it was being made, the bookings that were made with musical, rather than commercial intentions as the primary requirement.

No wonder the long, long list of players who spent time on Charlie O’s up close and personal stage was a virtual directory of the Southland’s finest jazz artists.

Why did it have to happen?

Jo-Ann made it clear yesterday: “The stress of trying to keep it going in this economy was just too much.  The club was just not staying above water.  I realize lots of folks have lost their jobs and money is tight.  I also know that the first thing people stop doing is spending money on entertainment, whether that is going out to see live music, or for dinner and drinks.”

Characteristically, Jo-Ann is far too modest to have mentioned how tough it must have been when Charlie passed away, and the complete management of the club fell into her hands.  Remarkably, she continued to do so, despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009 – somehow managing to keep Charlie O’s alive and swinging while beating the disease.

But that’s all in the past now, suddenly and unexpectedly.  And maybe not so unexpectedly, given the fact that Charlie O’s shut down a day before the government reported that the economy had generated no new jobs in August.  So, unless someone like a Herb Alpert or a David Geffen steps up to enable the phoenix-like return of Charlie O’s, jazz has lost another vital home.

If nothing else, it went out in style.  When singer Janis Mann was getting ready for her performance Wednesday night the last thing she expected was to serve as Charlie O’s final act.  To her credit, she took it out superbly.  Backed by pianist Andy Langham, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Roy McCurdy, she displayed the musical and lyrical versatility that are her specialties.  Moving convincingly from ballads such as “With Every Breath I Take” and Henry Mancini’s too rarely heard “Slow Hot Wind” to a samba-driven “Never Let Me Go,” a sexy “Evil Gal Blues” and a touching version of Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away, Mann offered an appropriate musical finale — a celebratory program of song.

And a poignant reminder of the eleven years of musical pleasures that took place, almost every night, at the now sadly departed Charlie O’s.

Photo of Charlie O’s by Tony Gieske.


Here, There & Everywhere: Barbara Morrison Needs Help

July 18, 2011

By Don Heckman

Barbara Morrison is one of the great treasures of jazz in Southern California.  And everywhere else, for that matter.  Her ability to cross easily from jazz to blues to pop and beyond is a constant musical pleasure.  Add to that her dynamic presence, her emotion-grabbing storytelling abilities and her warm personal demeanor.  And top it off with the aid she has offered other performers through her Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center.

She is simply one of a kind.

But now Barbara needs help.  Last week, her advancing diabetic condition made it necessary for her to have a leg amputated.  She is reportedly being fitted for a prosthetic device.  And, in her characteristically upbeat manner, she says she’ll be back on stage, making music, running her Performing Arts Center, as soon as possible.

In the meantime, she must deal with large medical expenses at a time when her income earning potential is drastically reduced.  Terence Love of Steamer’s and others have started to organize a fund to help Barbara through this transition.  All donated funds will go directly to the Friends of Barbara Morrison Relief Fund.

Please send whatever help you can, with your prayers, to help Barbara along the way.

For more information, and to make a direct donation, click HERE.

If you prefer to send a check, make it out to Barbara Morrison and send it to Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd. #101, Los Angeles, CA 90008.

 


Here, There & Everywhere: Guitars Galore at The Playboy Jazz Festival

June 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

The Playboy Jazz Festival returns to the Hollywood Bowl this weekend for the 33rd time with another celebration of America’s great musical art.  And the Festival’s long, remarkable  string of successes, over the course of more than three decades, is best described by Playboy’s founder, Hugh Hefner.

“I’ve had a lot of things to be proud of in my life,” says Hef.  “But nothing more, quite frankly, than the Jazz Festival.”

Most people see the Festival from one or both of two perspectives: As a non-stop parade of world class jazz (and beyond) talent.  And as a similarly continuous party in the Southern California outdoors, reaching from bright afternoon sunlight to cool night breezes.  Combine the two, with the music, the wine coolers, the feasting and the occasional dancing in the aisles, and it’s no wonder why the Festival has been packing the Bowl for so many years.

It’s seems to me, however, that there are other aspects to the weekend that are also intriguing.

Some of those aspects are always present.  Like, for example, the sociology of the Festival.  What do I mean by that?  Take a walk around the entire perimeter of the venue, from bottom to top and down again.  And you’ll see a shifting array of listeners and activities: the up close garden boxes with their catered lunches and fine wines; the devoted jazz fan groups who purchase entire blocks of seats to be together; the folks in the garden chairs, coolers and umbrellas at the very top, viewing the proceedings mostly on the large video screens.

Other aspects are unique to the programming of each Festival.  This year, for example, Sunday’s schedule includes the presence of no less than four extraordinary guitarists, whose styles embrace the full range of the instrument’s jazz identity.

John Scofield

Start with John Scofield, who’s performing in a duet format with Robben Ford halfway into Sunday’s program.  Sco, as he’s called by friends and fans, has been a visible presence on the jazz scene since the ‘70s, performing with everyone from Charles Mingus and Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.  But he’s also crossed over comfortably into genres.  His website notes, correctly, that his “music generally falls somewhere between post-bop, funk-edged jazz and R & B.”

Robben Ford

Robben Ford’s career also dates back to the ‘70s.  And he’s been crossing boundaries comfortably ever since the beginning.  His blues credentials were established early, backing blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon.  From there he went to Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, backing both George Harrison and Joni Mitchell.  After that, a stint with Miles Davis followed by his own numerous bands.

Buddy Guy

The great, veteran blues guitarist Buddy Guy is in the spotlight for the headliner position on Sunday night.  Although his early career was largely spent in the shadows, backing the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Wells, he finally came into his own in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Since then, his uniquely personal blues style, which can at any time verge into soul music, rock and even a touch of avant-garde, has firmly established him as one of the great blues guitarists.  To read a recent iRoM Q & A with Buddy Guy click HERE.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan, performing in Harmony 3 with Ronnie Laws and Walter Beasley, is one of the guitar world’s most unusual artists.  Using a two-handed tapping technique on the strings (rather than the plucking or strumming) he has the capability of playing the guitar with the melodic fluency and harmonic textures of a keyboard instrument.  The results are extraordinary, enhanced by the compositional imagination Jordan brings to every solo he takes.

Chuck Loeb

And it’s not just on Sunday that the Festival is showcasing jazz guitarists.  On Saturday’s program, the group Fourplay is now featuring guitarist Chuck Loeb as a vital ingredient in their mix of jazz, pop and r & b elements.  A veteran of Stan Getz’s band, Michael Brecker’s Steps Ahead and his own jazz fusion band, Metro, he has also been a busy studio musician, leading his own groups for a couple of decades before joining Fourplay.

That’s a lot of different views of the jazz guitar over a two day period.  And it’s another example of the many engaging levels of interest present in the programming and the performances at this year’s — and every year’s — Playboy Jazz Festival.

For information about the Playboy Jazz Festival click HERE.  Or call the information line:    (310) 450-1173.


Here, There & Everywhere: Sheila Jordan at Vitello’s

March 14, 2011

By Don Heckman

Sheila Jordan was in town last weekend for a two night gig at Vitello’s.  Any appearance by Sheila is a significant event for jazz fans.  And this one was no exception.

On Friday, she teamed up with singer/author Ellen Johnson for a combined words and music event.  Johnson read a few passages from the upcoming Jordan biography she is writing.  Between the readings, Sheila sang some of her classics – from “Dat Dere” to “Baltimore Oriole,” with a lot of stops in between.

On Saturday, it was all about Sheila’s vocals, framed in a pure jazz setting provided by the stellar trio of pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter Erskine. Together – and what they did was always as an ensemble rather than a singer with backing – they took an enthralled audience through what could best be described as a jazz adventure.

Sheila Jordan

Songs dedicated to Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were both tributes and inspirations.  Her version of “My Funny Valentine,” to mention only one, was wrapped in a kind of poetic eulogy tapping into the essence of the way Davis approached the song.  In others, she found Rollins’ drive, Parker’s soaring invention, Ella’s spunk and Billie’s passion.

Sheila’s performances are always intriguing blendings of imaginative music making and deeply felt, richly emotional story telling.  More than many performing artists, she lays her life on the line with everything she sings.

Yet, given the easygoing mastery of bebop that her fascination with Parker has given her – especially in her briskly swinging, improvisationally adventurous scat singing — given her affection for Holiday and Fitzgerald, the comparable vocal artist who came to mind in many of her songs was Edith Piaf.

Not for the style, the swing or even the substance of what she did. In those areas, jazz is at the center of Sheila’s expression.  But in the intimate areas of story telling, of singing in tune with the inner heartbeat of a song, Sheila reached out with the irresistible intensity of the great French chanteuse.

I’ve been listening to Sheila sing – in all the varying stages and areas of her art – for most of my adult life.  And a good portion of her Vitello sets were devoted to songs I’ve heard her do many times, in many different settings.

Even so, everything she sang sounded new again.  Everything she sang reminded me, over and over again, of the pleasures of the jazz vocal art.  And, in a way I don’t experience as much as I’d like to, the more I heard the more I wanted to hear.

Photo by Tony Gieske.


Here, There & Everywhere: The 2011 Jazz Grammy Award Winners

February 13, 2011

By Don Heckman

Esperanza Spalding

Well, the jazz Grammy winners are in.  The good news is that Esperanza Spalding has won the Best New Artist Grammy, the first jazz artist to do so.

And in the five jazz categories, the winning choices are, for the most part, deserved if largely predictable.  But they also raise a couple of interesting observations.

The first is that the youngest winner in the jazz categories, Stanley Clarke, is 59 years old.  The others range in age from 60 to James Moody’s 85 (when he passed away last year.)

But, looking at the nominations, it would have taken an especially observant Grammy voter to have found the very few nominees who were even under the age of 40.

Does this suggest that there is an absence of the young, dynamic talent that has been the flash point for change and development in jazz?  I don’t think so.

But I do believe that the disinterest in jazz that is generally prevalent among the few remaining major record companies makes it more unlikely that the Grammy voters will hear much of the fine music that is being recorded.  Younger artists who must rely upon small labels or do-it-yourself recordings simply don’t receive the sort of promotion that they need, or that Spalding received as a Concord jazz artist.

Jazz, nonetheless, is still alive and creative, in virtually every area.  But it’s a tough road for young players.  And this year’s jazz Grammy winners, along with the nominee choices in the jazz categories, suggest that the Recording Academy needs to do a more effective job of informing its voting members of the music that’s out there.  The music that exists beyond the familiar names, the promoted names, and the well-distributed recordings.

Here are the winners and the nominees.

Contemporary Jazz Album: The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band

Stanley Clarke

  • The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up International)
  • Never Can Say Goodbye, Joey DeFrancesco (HighNote Records)
  • Now Is The Time, Jeff Lorber Fusion (Heads Up International)
  • To The One, John McLaughlin (Abstract Logix)
  • Backatown, Trombone Shorty (Verve Forecast)

Vocal Album: Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee, Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

  • Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Emarcy)
  • Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, Freddy Cole (HighNote Records)
  • When Lights Are Low, Denise Donatelli (Savant Records)
  • Ages, Lorraine Feather (Jazzed Media)
  • Water, Gregory Porter (Motéma Music)

Improvised Jazz Solo: “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Herbie Hancock ( The Imagine Project)

Herbie Hancock

  • “Solar,” Alan Broadbent, from Live At Giannelli Square: Volume 1 (Chilly Bin Records)
  • “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Herbie Hancock, from The Imagine Project (Hancock Records)
  • “Body And Soul,” Keith Jarrett, Jasmine [Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden] (ECM)
  • “Lonely Woman,” Hank Jones, Pleased To Meet You [Hank Jones and Oliver Jones] (Justin Time Records)
  • “Van Gogh,” Wynton Marsalis, Portrait In Seven Shades [Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra] (Jazz At Lincoln Center)

Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group: Moody 4B, James Moody

James Moody

  • Positootly!, John Beasley (Resonance Records)
  • The New Song And Dance, Clayton Brothers (ArtistShare)
  • Historicity, Vijay Iyer Trio (ACT Music + Vision)
  • Moody 4B, James Moody (IPO Recordings)
  • Providencia, Danilo Perez (Mack Avenue Records)

Large Jazz Ensemble Album: Live at Jazz Standard, Mingus Big Band

The Mingus Big Band

  • Infernal Machines, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam Records)
  • Autumn: In Moving Pictures Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 2, Billy Childs Ensemble Featuring The Ying String Quartet (ArtistShare)
  • Pathways, Dave Holland Octet (Dare2 Records)
  • 54, Metropole Orkest, John Scofield & Vince Mendoza (Emarcy/Universal)
  • Mingus Big Band Live At Jazz Standard, Mingus Big Band (Jazz Workshop, Inc./Jazz Standard)

Latin Jazz Album: Chucho’s Steps, Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers

Chucho Valdes

  • Tango Grill, Pablo Aslan (Zoho)
  • Second Chance, Hector Martignon (Zoho)
  • Psychedelic Blues, Poncho Sanchez (Concord Picante)
  • Chucho’s Steps, Chucho Valdés And The Afro-Cuban Messengers (Four Quarters Entertainment)
  • ¡Bien Bien!, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet (Patois Records)

Photo of Stanley Clarke by Lynn Goldsmith.

Photos of Esperanza Spalding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock, James Moody and the Mingus Big Band by Tony Gieske.


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