A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2012

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 over, 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.”


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.”


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 22, 2009

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 soon ends, 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 final 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.”

copyright © 2003 Don Heckman

Picks of the Week: Sept. 22 – 27

September 22, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Sept. 23. (Wed.) Mike Lang Trio. Lang has played piano on thousands of film scores, backed everyone from Aretha Franklin to John Lennon and written songs for Stan Getz, Herb Alpert and others. Here’s a chance to hear him doing his own thing with bassist Abraham Laboriel and drummer Walter Rodriguez. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 23. (Wed.) Slavic Soul Party! Brooklyn’s best brass band, in the tradition of Eastern European brass band ensembles, applies a massive amount of energy to their blend of traditional music, jazz, funk and gospel. The Echo.  (213) 413-8200.jack sheldon

- Sept. 23. (Wed.) Jack Sheldon California Cool Quartet. California’s coolest trumpeter leads his own appropriately titled group, mixing his potent trumpet with atmospheric vocals and — depending o his mood — some of his uniquely sardonic humor. Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058

- Sept. 23. (Wed.) Alan Broadbent & Pat Senatore. Pianist/composer/arranger Broadbent brings compositional insights, a sensitive touch for tone and a rhythmic lift to everything he touches. Senatore’s bass adds a sturdy sound, a propulsive groove and an empathetic musical ear. Expect to hear music that is as thoughtful as it is swinging. Vibrato Grill Jazz… etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 24. (Thurs.) The Yuval Ron Ensemble performs “Days of Awe” featuring vocalist Maya Haddi in a program of “Sacred music and stories for the Season of Renewal.” Electric Lodge, Venice.

- Sept. 24. (Thurs.) The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Fifty years after “Take Five” and more than sixty years after he started recording, Brubeck still has something fascinating to say, musically, wheneveer he sits down at the piano.The Cerritos Center.  (562) 916-8501.

- Sept. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) The John Patitucci Trio. Patitucci takes time out from his busy schedule as one of jazz’s A-list bassist to lead his own world class trio featuring tenor saxophonist George Garzone and up and coming drummer Marcus Gilmore (grand son of the ageless Roy Haynes). Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Sally Kellerman Sept. 25. (Fri.) Sally Kellerman. Yes, of course you know her as the original Hot Lips in the film verson of M.A.S.H. But Kellerman’s always had at least one foot in the music world. And over the past decade she’s thoroughly established herself as an entertaining diva who easily finds the linkages between jazz, folk, country and pop. She performs with the Joel Scott Quartet. The Culver Club for Jazz. Radisson Hotel.  (310) 649-1776.

- Sept. 25.& 26 (Fri. & Sat.) Gladys Knight. Grammy-winning Knight has had a stellar career, with and without the Pips. Although she was named one of the “100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll,” Knight’s singing transcends any single genre, reaching easily from jazz and soul to torch songs and beyond. The Cerritos Center.  (562) 916-8501.

- Sept. 25 & 26. (Fri. & Sat.) Ahmad Jamal Quartet. The one and only, the pianist whose sense of time had a profound effect upon Miles Davis, and who still comes up with ear opening musical ideas every time he performers. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. (323) 964-9766. http://www.ebonyrep.org

- Sept. 25 & 26. (Fri. & Sat.) Wavefest. Smooth jazz and more smooth jazz, performed by some of its best known artists. Among the line-up: On Friday: Brian McKnight, Al Jarreau, David Benoit, James Torme. On Saturday: Kenny G, Vanessa Williams and Jesse Cook. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-3125.

- Sept. 26. (Sat.) Iliana Rose.  She’s not Iliana Rosewell known yet, but Rose’s extraordinary skills — as a singer, songwriter, composer and arranger, mark her as a soon-to-break-out, potential major talent. Here her now, before the cover charge goes up, and you can brag that you saw a new star in her ascendance.  The 322 Cafe.  (626) 836-5414.

- Sept. 26. (Sat.) Phil Norman Tentet. A 14th anniversary Party for the band that has kept alive the briskly swinging, compact and contrapuntal styles of ’50s West Coast jazz. Radisson Hotel. The Culver Club for Jazz.  (310) 649-1776.

- Sept. 26. (Sat.) Grant Geissman Quartet. There isn’t a guitar style that the versatile Geissman can’t handle with ease. But with the band he’s working with on this gig, expect some stirring, straight ahead jazz. With Brian Scanlon, alto saxophone, Emilio Palamo, piano, Trey Henry, bass and Ray Brinker, drums. Spazio.  (818) 728-8400.

- Sept. 27. (Sun.) Bill Cosby. The master, story-telling stand up comic, who drives his tales with the improvisational spontaneity of the jazz musician he’s always wanted to be. The Cerritos Center.  (562) 916-8501.

Louie Cruz Beltran- Sept. 27. (Sun.) Louie Cruz Beltran. “Dancing on the Water” Beltran’s enthusiastic performances, ranging across r&b, salsa, reggae, Latin jazz, Brazilian bossa nova and rock should stimulate plenty of dancing during this cruise through Long Beach Harbor. On the Hornblower yacht, Endless Dreams, 5:30 p.m. boarding at Rainbow Harbor, Long Beach, cruising from 6 – 8 p.m.  (888) 467-6256.

San Francisco

Sept. 23. (Wed.) “India & Africa: A Birthday Tribute to John Coltrane” Another celebration of the iconic saxophonist’s birthday on Sept. 23. This one features percussionist/composer Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra with special guests. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

- Sept. 25 – 27. (Fri. – Sun.) Stanley Jordan Trio. Jordan’s tap-on style continues to be one of the jazz world’s most unique styles. This time out, he enhances the setting with the backing of bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eddie Barattini. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

james_moody right- Sept. 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.) Roberta Gambarini and James Moody. The gifted Italian jazz singer and the veteran tenor saxophonist perform together with irresistible musical affinity. Hopefully “Moody’ Mood For Love” will surface somewhere during one of the sets. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

Albuquerque

Sept. 25 & 26. (Fri. & Sat.) Globalquerque! Fifth annual world music highlight of the Southwest. The far-ranging line-up of artists includes Roberto Mirabal, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Novalima, Maria de Barros, Mamek Khadem, Blick Bassy, Vasen with Mike Marshall & Darol Anger, Lorin Sklamberg & Susan McKeown. Globalquerque! (505) 724-4771.

New York

- Sept. 22 – 25 and Sept. 27. (Wed. – Fri. and Sun.) Billy Hart Quartet. Drummer Hart has played in every imaginable style during his nearly five decade career. This time out he works with younger generation stalwarts — Ethan Iverson, piano, Mark Turner, tenor saxophone and Ben Street, bass. The Village Vanguard. h (212) 255-4037.

- Sept. 23 – 26. (Wed. – Sat.) “Coltrane Revisited” A team of ultimate all-stars celebrate John Coltrane’s 83rd birthday with former Coltrane sideman Kuhn leading the way. Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone, Steve Kuhn, piano, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, Andrew Cyrille and Billy Drummond, drums. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Sept. 24. (Thurs.) “Jazz Guitars Meetsheryl-bailey2009 Hendrix” With Sheryl Bailey and Vic Juris, guitars, Brian Charette, keyboards, George Gray, drums. The 55 should be rocking happily when Bailey and Juris take on high flying pleasures of the Hendrix songbook. 55 Bar.  (212) 929-9883.

- Sept. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) Barry Harris Trio. The masterful bebop pianist spends a lot of his time teaching these days, so he should be heard at every opportunity. He performs with Ray Drummond, bass and Leroy Williams, drums. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

- Sept. 26. (Sat.) Barbra Streisand. The diva of all divas does a one-nighter to hype her new album.  Tickets were handed out long ago.  it will nevertheless undoubtedly cause some major paparazzi-induced traffic jams on Seventh Avenue. The Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.



Live Jazz: The Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl

June 16, 2009

By Don Heckman

The Hollywood Bowl was packed on Saturday and Sunday, as it is every June when the Playboy Jazz Festival sets up camp in the venerable amphitheater on the side of a hill. Eighteen thousand jazz fans showed up on Saturday, only a tiny bit less on Sunday, their enthusiasm undistracted by the fact that the Lakers were playing for – and winning — the NBA championship late Sunday afternoon.

Why do they keep coming back, year after Playboy logoyear? It would be easy to say that it is because the Festival is no longer limited to jazz, that – with the passing of headliners such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and dozens of other icons – it’s become more of a “Music” than a “Jazz” festival. But that’s a short-sighted view, one that ignores both the subtleties and the successes of the gradual evolution of producer Darlene Chan’s programming.

What flowed from the broad Bowl stage over the Festival’s two days was, in fact, an all-encompassing view of jazz in its many manifestations. Far from turning away from jazz, the schedule offered a banquet of delectable musical dishes, each of which – however different the ingredients – was rooted in the fundamental elements of the improvisational art. Let’s take a look at the courses on that menu, beginning with The Kids, Rising Stars and The Mainstream, proceeding through Big Bands, Vocal Jazz and Cutting Edge, and winding up with Latin Jazz, Blues & Roots, Smooth Jazz/Pop Jazz and World Jazz.

Start with The Kids. Jazz has become a startlingly widespread curriculum item in high schools and colleges across the country. And its capacity to turn on young players was vividly present in the opening act performances of the talented youngsters from the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts Jazz Band under the direction of Jason Goldman (on Saturday) and the North Hollywood High School Jazz Ensemble directed by Jonathan Kenion (on Sunday). Each of their sets offered an optimistic view of the jazz future.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

An even more optimistic view permeated the stage with the arrival of the Festival’s Rising Stars: Anat Cohen, Esperanza Spalding and Alfredo Rodriguez. Clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Cohen performed with Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music ensemble on Saturday and led her own quartet on Sunday. Her mastery of the clarinet is already well known; playing with a stunning combination of passion, charisma and musicality, finding rhythmic drive in the interplay of sounds and silence, she is doing a convincing job of returning the instrument to the creative jazz center. But her tenor playing was equally compelling, and filled with humor when she did a honking, bar-walking style solo with Cosby’s spirited, all-star ensemble. Spalding, whose career is on a rapidly rising arc, accomplished the difficult task of playing bass and singing simultaneously. But her extraordinary skills were too often used at the service of less than intriguing material. Spalding has all the right elements; now she needs to apply them to material that best showcases her talents, in a way that engages her listeners.

alfredo rodriguez

Alfredo Rodriguez

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, discovered by Quincy Jones, is an astonishing talent. At 23, he revealed the same sort of technical virtuosity that has been present in other jazz pianists trained within the arts structures of socialist societies. But what he has done with that technique is uniquely his own. Performing a set of mostly original material, he called up images of a youthful Art Tatum, leavened with an off-center, Thelonious Monk point of view, spiced with the surging rhythmic passions of his homeland. Rodriguez’s version of “Body and Soul” can only be described as memorable – a brilliant rediscovery of a piece that seemed, long ago, to have given up all its riches.

The Jazz Mainstream was well represented in a quartet of groups showcasing the variety of music present in ensembles that remain within the tradition. The Cos of Good Music, already mentioned above, entertainingly fulfilled Bill Cosby’s love of hard swinging, straight ahead playing, energized especially by Cohen, trumpeter Tanya Darby and pianist Geoff Keezer. Jon Faddis, always keeping the bebop flame alive with his Dizzy Gillespie-inspired trumpet, also tossed in some idiosyncratic rapping, noting “Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky, ain’t got nuthin’ on what we do with ‘Cherokee’,” before launching into a high speed romp through the old Ray Noble classic.

Wallace Roney

Wallace Roney

Jimmy Cobb’s So What band revived the utterly timeless music of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album – celebrating its 50th anniversary in sync with the golden anniversary of the Playboy Jazz Festival. Memorable music, it was most effective when trumpeter Wallace Roney and tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson called up the sounds and the intensity that Davis and John Coltrane brought to an LP that became the biggest selling jazz LP of all time. Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, leading a group he called “Jazz & Roots,” did indeed get down to basics, enlivening them with a healthy dose of reggae on Bob Marley’s “no Woman No Cry.”

Hugh Hefner has often mentioned his love of the Big Band Swing Era. A pair of large ensembles didn’t exactly call up the music of the ‘30s, but they did affirm the continuing vitality of the instrumentation that has essentially been the American symphony orchestra of the 20th, and now the 21st, centuries. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon, leading his own orchestra, set aside his inimitable wit and whimsy in favor of some impressive vocalizing on standards such as “Here’s That Rainy Day,” backed by a group of L.A.’s finest players. Although no credits were announced on the charts, most of the writing – a saxophone section soli in “Caravan was a good example – was as swinging as it was well-crafted. The Dave Holland Big Band, mostly working with pieces by its bass-playing leader, featured some world class soloists – saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks – in Holland’s often quirky, usually dissonant lines.

Vocal Jazz was in relatively short supply this year. There was Sheldon, of course, along with a brief number from Monty Alexander, and Esperanza Spalding’s r & b tinged numbers. But the presence of Patti Austin promised some state of the art jazz singing. It’s unlikely that Austin could ever emit a note that wasn’t state of the art, but this time out she stylistically devoted most of her set to such crossover items as “Come To Me” and “Give Me the Night,” backed by a quartet of singers and a soul-styled back-up band. And as she did so, she reminded us of the way in which jazz, and jazz musicians, have sneakily impacted so many areas of pop. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings did the same, especially in a number in which she convincingly worked her way through such memorable dance steps as the Boogaloo, the Pony, the Jerk and the Mashed Potato. Watching her in action, exorcising the crowd like a female James Brown, I couldn’t help but recall a quote by Brown, in which he said, “At heart, I’ve always been a jazz man.”

The Cutting Edge at the year’s Playboy Festival was dominated by the Wayne Shorter Quartet. With Geoff Keezer replacing the pianist Danilo Perez, who was disabled by an Achilles tendon injury, the group’s emphasis shifted into orchestral-like timbres, with Shorter’s epigrammatic soloing maneuvering in and around a fury of dense chording and surging rhythms from Keezer, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. As he often does, Shorter offered lengthy explorations of some of his familiar items, winding up with the oft-played “Footprints.”

Sheila E

Sheila E.

Latin Jazz, in two of its fundamental forms, was provided by veteran percussionist Pete Escovedo’s Orchestra, in an amiable, dynamic display of family rhythms featuring Peter Michael Escovedo, Juan Escovedo and the drumming pyrotechnics of the dynamic Sheila E, Oscar Hernandez & the L.A. Salsa All Stars added a taste of the Afro-Cuban rhythm and song that have coursed through jazz since the ‘40s. Blues and Roots book-ended the Saturday show with an opening set by the always effervescent New Birth Brass Band and a closing set featuring the Bayou timbres of the Neville Brothers  Between them, the two groups underscored the still-vital impact that New Orleans has had upon jazz – then and now. World Jazz doesn’t exactly describe the high spirited music and dance of King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, but the Nigerian group’s presentation was an ineffably entertaining reminder of one of jazz’s deepest musical wellsprings.

Smooth Jazz/Pop Jazz may have its detractors among so-called “serious” jazz fans, but there’s no arguing with the fact that many of saxophonist Kenny G’s most devoted listeners actually find their way through him into more creatively layered forms of jazz. Like the dance bands of the Swing Era, Kenny G, who was Sunday’s penultimate act, has found a workable entertainment style built upon jazz roots. Now using circular breathing as an effective, crowd-pleasing gimmick, he introduced his boyish charm and busy-fingered soprano saxophone to his audience by walking through the crowd down to the stage. Norman Brown’s Summer Storm, featuring the warm-toned vocals of Phil Perry, offered yet another example of the way in which jazz rhythms have been transformed into a genre that blends elements of jazz with the predictabilities of pop.

So what was missing from this multi-coursed cornucopia of music? Not much. It would have been nice to have a little more in the way of mainstream jazz vocalizing – especially at a time when there are so many fine young singers on the scene. The Cutting Edge could have used a view or two beyond that of Wayne Shorter. And a solid blues artist – B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Etta James – would have immediately established the unbreakable link between jazz and the blues. But these are minor carps for a Festival that surveyed so much of what jazz has offered and continues to offer, so much of where it has come from and where it’s going. To do all that in an entertaining fashion, while presenting it in a pleasant outdoor setting, doesn’t leave much to be desired.

Photos of Anat Cohen, Wallace Roney and Sheila E. by Tony Gieske. Photo of Alfredo Rodriguez provided by Playboy.


Picks of the Week: June 9 – 14

June 9, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- June 9. (Tues.) Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra. The sixth annual KKJZ-sponsored Wine, Jazz & Moonlight Series at Hollywood & Highland features a performance by saxophonist Kim Richmond’s 23-piece Concert Jazz Orchestra. From 7 – 9 p.m. in the Central Courtyard. Free admission. A donation of $10 to Project Angelfood will get you two classes of wine and a box of cheese and crackers. Wine, Jazz & Moonlight. (323) 467-6412.

- June 9. (Tues.) The John Altman Quartet. Altman’s resume reaches from composing and arranging for films (“Titanic”), television (“Peak Practice”), thousands of commercials and writing the now famous arrangement for Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to leading a big jazz band, as well as session work and gigs with the likes of Jimi Hendrix Phil Collins, Sting and Fleetwood Mac. Amazingly, he also manages to keep up his chops as a first rate jazz alto saxophonist. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- June 10. (Wed.) Elaine Miles’ velvet-dark sound and exquisite way with a song aren’t nearly as well known as they should be. Here’s an opportunity to experience the gifted, Connecticut-born singer’s compelling take on standards, both old and new. Steamers. (714) 871-8800

- June 10 (Wed.) Ron Stout Quartet. A third generation musician and a professional since he was 15, Stout’s first call skills combins imaginative soloing with superb craftsmanship as a section player. Here’s a chance to hear him stretch out on his own. Sangria. (310) 990-0323.

Brian-Blade

Brian Blade

- June 10 – 13. (Wed. – Sat.) Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band. Blade has been at the top of everyone’s list of musically sensitive drummers – and performing superbly as a regular member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet. But he’s also reserved some imaginative creativity for his own Fellowship Band and, most recently, for his debut as a singer/songwriter on his new CD, “”Mama Rosa.” Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- June 11. (Thurs.) Playboy Jazz on Film. Every year, jazz film historian Mark Cantor assembles a fascinating array of clips displaying jazz artists in action. The program is the final event in the free jazz programs leading up to this weekend’s Playboy Jazz Festival. Expect to see clips of Freddie Hubbard, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Louis Bellson, Fats Waller, Lennie Tristano and others. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

- June 11. (Thurs.) Dale Fielder Quartet. The versatile Fielder handles four saxophones with ease, from soprano down to baritone. And he does so with the rare ability to play in a style that is characteristic to each of the instruments. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400

- June 11 (Thurs.) Denise Donatelli applies her captivating vocal style to selections from her latest CD, “What Lies Within,” backed by an all-star band – guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Bill Cunliffe, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Mark Ferber. Upstairs at Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- June 11, 12, 13 and 19. (Thurs., Fri. Sat. and Fri.) Boston-based jazz singer Amanda Carr makes a string of Southland stops. Crowne Plaza Hotel, Thurs. (310) 642-7500; Spaghettini in Seal Beach, (562) 596-2199, Fri.; Café Metropol, Sat. (213) 613-1537

- June 11 – 21. (Thurs.,… ) La Didone. Cavalli’s 1641 Baroque opera from 1641 is performed by the Wooster group in a radical production that blends in electric guitar, elements from Mario Bava’s 1965 Sci-FI Cult film, Planet of the Vampires. REDCAT (213) 237-2800.

- June 12. (Fri.) James Newton The virtuosic jazz flutist, composer and educator makes a rare appearance. The World Stage. (323) 293-2451.

- June 12 (Fri.) “When Love Happens: The Loving Day Concert.” Singer Sandra Booker, pianist Tamir Hendleman and the Elevation Strings in a performance “celebrating the legalization of interracial marriage, couples and families in America.” The Madrid Theatre. (818) 347-9419.

Highlight: The Playboy Jazz Festival

-June 13 & 14 (Sat. & Sun.) It’s that time of year. The annual two day, non-stop, let’s-have-a-ball jazz party featuring a pair of gold anniversary celebrations. First: the 50th anniversary of the first Playboy JazzPlayboy logoFestival in Chicago, in 1959. Next: the 50th anniversary of the release of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” the best selling jazz album of all time – with Jimmy Cobb (the sole surviving member of the original “Kind of Blue” ensemble) leading his So What Band in a celebration of the music from that classic recording. Saturday’s festivities include (in addition to Cobb’s group) the Neville Brothers, the Jon Faddis Quartet, the Jack Sheldon Orchestra, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, the Pete Escovedo Orchestra, Esperanza Spalding, the New Birth Brass Band, Summer Storm, the Cos of Good Music and the L.A. County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble. Sunday’s line-up includes the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Kenny G, Patti Austin, King Sunny Ade, the Dave Holland Big Band, Monty Alexander’s Jazz & Roots, Oscar Hernandez and the Conga Room All-Stars, the Anat Cohen Quartet, Alfredo Rodriguez and the North Hollywood High School Jazz Ensemble. Bill Cosby is in his usual role as Master of Ceremonies and the conductor (and organizer) of the Cos of Good music group. The Playboy Jazz Festival. The Hollywood Bowl. (310) 450-1173.

San Francisco

- June 8 – 10. Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson and George Cables. The first ever meeting of a group of veteran all-stars who describe their trio as “The Three Friends.” (Yoshi’s has a special deal for this and other Charlie Haden shows. Buy one ticket and get a voucher for a future Yoshi’s San Francisco show — at equal or lesser value.) For information, click here: Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

- June 9 – 27. (Tues. – ) “Porgy and Bess.” Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell star in Francesca Zambello’s highly praised Washington National Opera version of the classic Gershwin work. The San Francisco Opera version will include an expanded chorus and orchestra and an expanded scenic setting. The War Memorial Opera House. San Francisco. (415) 864-3330.

- June 10 – 12. “Kind of Blue at 50” Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band. Recalling the pleasures of “Kind of Blue,” the best selling jazz record of all time. With Wallace Roney, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring, Larry Willis, Buster Williams. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

lee-konitz1

Lee Konitz

- June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) Charlie Haden, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Lee Konitz. A rare combination of seemingly disparate elements – in an exclusive set of performances that someone will hopefully have the good sense to record. (This also is another of the special deals for Charlie Haden shows. Buy one ticket and get a voucher for a future Yoshi’s San Francisco show — at equal or lesser value.) For information, click here: Yoshi’s San Francisco (415) 655-5400.

- June 13 & 14. (Sat. & Sun.) Christian McBride and Inside Straight. Bassist McBride’s new group – featured on the just-released album “Kind of Brown,” brings him back into the acoustic contemporary mainstream, after various flirtations with funk and groove. But McBride, as any musician who’s worked with him will tell you, can play anything with authenticity and imagination. Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 2389200.

Santa Rosa

- June 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) The Harmony Festival. Thirty-one years after founder Debra Giusti started it all at Sonoma State University, the Harmony Festival continues to the pleasures of a music festival with the values of “new ideas, community activism, environmental awareness, spiritual wisdom and holistic products.” The far reaching programs of music and seminars include Michael Franti & Spearhead, India.Arie, Matisyahu, The Refugee All Stars, Balkan Beat Box, The Spirit of Miles Davis (feat. Airto, Mike Stern, Eddie Henderson, Azar Lawrence, etc.), Kitaro, Julia Butterfly Hill, Starhawk, and many others. The Harmony Festival. Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa.

Tennessee

- June 11 – 14. (Thurs. Sun.) Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. A four-day, camp-out, multi-stage, 100 acre, Tennessee version of Woodstock. The stellar line-up of acts includes Bruce Springsteen, Phish, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, David Byrn, Al Green, Snoop Dog, Elvis Costello, Erykah Badu, Merle Haggard, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Femi Kuti and dozens of others. Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Manchester, Tennessee.

New York City

- June 8. (Mon.) Guitarist Andreas Oberg still doesn’t have very high visibility. But if there’s any justice in the jazz world, the spotlight should be brightening soon. He performs with pianist Donald Vega, bassist James Genus and drummer Billy Kilson. The Blue Note.(212) 475-8592.

Lisa Sokolov

Lisa Sokolov

- June 9 – 14. (Tues. – Sun.) The Vision Festival. As it opens its 14th year, the Vision Festival is now New York City’s only summer jazz festival. The six day event, with its strong orientation toward cutting edge music, features performances by, among others, Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra, Peter Brotzmann’s Full Blast, Roy Campbell’s Ayler project, the Milford Graves Quartet, Joe McPhee’s Trio X, the Lisa Sokolov Trio, Jason Kao Hwang’s Spontaneous River (a 25 piece string ensemble) and Lawrence (Butch) Morris’ performance of Conductions No. 187: Erotic Eulogy with a chorus of poets and a string ensemble. The Abrons Art Center @ the Henry St. Settlement. (212) 766-9200.

Highlight June 12 (Fri.) The Russians Are Coming

Cyril Moshkow, Russia’s best-known jazz journalist contacted me recently to let me know about a performance in Brooklyn by an especially interesting Russian jazz group, The Second Approach. Rather than say something about the band myself, I asked Cyril – who knows the players personally — to make a few comments, and he was kind enough to send some information about the band. Here are his thoughts:

The Russians Are Coming: The Second Approach in Brooklyn
By Cyril Moshkow

A great new jazz trio from Moscow, The Second Approach, is going to perform at Brooklyn’s Ibeam Studio on June 12. Yes, they are friends of mine, but that’s not the point. The point is that they are great musicians — not exactly straight-ahead jazz, but still thoroughly enjoyable, and their only NYC performance is not to be missed (they also play at the Rochester Jazz Festival on June 15 and 16.) Russia has a new jazz scene, however small it may Second Approachbe, with musicians who do not imitate anybody; they follow their own patterns. For that reason, it’s quite difficult to put the Second Approach on a narrow genre shelf. What they play includes jazz, modern classical, and post-modern ethno/jazz crossover at the same time, rooted in native Russian music rather than in anything else. For a few tunes the trio (Andrey Razin, the piano player and composer; Tatiana Komova, the singer; and Igor Ivanushkin, the bass player) will be joined by the great American trombonist Roswell Rudd, who is also featured on the Second Approach’s new CD, “The Light” (SoLyd Records, 2009). If you can come and see them, please do. It’ll be worth it. And if you can help spread a word about it, please do that, too. We want as many people as possible to experience and appreciate the musical values of Russian jazz and The Second Approach. Ibeam Music Studio.

- June 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.) Miles Okazaki’s “Generations.” With Dan Weiss, drums, Jen Shyu, voice, Hans Glawischnig, bass and David Binney, Miguel Zenon and Chrisof Knoche, alto saxophones. The Jazz Gallery. (212) 242-1063


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 237 other followers