It’s the summer slowdown, with just a few major jazz shows — including the recently announced concert by great Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez — scheduled for the Tampa Bay area during the Sweaty Season.
Friday, May 24 – Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band AND The Smooth Latin Groove AND Gil Machin, Friday Morning Musicale, Tampa, 6 p.m.
Friday, May 24 — Nate Najar Trio (with Chuck Redd and John Lamb), “Blues for Night People” (tribute to Charlie Byrd), Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
Friday, June 7 — Kurt Elling (right) AND Whitney James, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.
Friday, June 7 — Dave Koz ”Summer Horns” with Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot,Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 22 – Bob James AND David Sanborn, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 23 – Chick Corea AND Bela Fleck, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8 p.m. (rescheduled from March 24)
Friday, Sept. 13 – Gato Barbieri AND Gil Machin, Friday Morning Musicale, Tampa, 6 p.m.
October 17-20 – Clearwater Jazz Holiday (lineup TBA)
Wayne Shorter, Wadada Leo Smith and Ryan Truesdell are among the top winners, honored in multiple categories, in this year’s Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards.
Shorter won for lifetime achievement in jazz and best soprano saxophonist, and the Wayne Shorter Quartet was honored as best small ensemble, while Smith was named musician of the year and best trumpeter. Truesdell won for record of the year, for “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans,” and his Gil Evans Project was named best large ensemble.
In other major categories, Maria Schneider won for best composer-arranger, pianist Aaron Diehl for up and coming artist, and ECM for record label.
Vijay Iyer and Sonny Rollins, two artists who have recently received much love in jazz magazine polls, picked up honors in the 17th annual JJA awards, with Iyer named best pianist and Rollins winning for emeritus jazz artist/beyond voting.
Winners in the musician categories will receive their awards at one of their upcoming public performances, while the winners in the journalism and media categories won’t be announced until June 19, with a party at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City.
In addition to the musician winners, 26 JJA Jazz Heroes – musicians and jazz advocates and activists who’ve had enormous impact on their local communities — were named. Two of this year’s Jazz Heroes hail from Florida — Gainesville guitarist Marty Liquori, a mover and shaker with the Gainesville Friends of Jazz, and in Tallahassee, trumpeter and FSU jazz professor Scotty Barnhart.
For more information on the awards, and the full list of winners, go to the official JJA Jazz Awards site.
(an alternate version of this story appears in The Gainesville Sun)
Note: Ninety Miles plays April 24 in Hampton, VA, April 26 in College Park, MD, and April 27 in Gainesville, FL
Typically, a jazz musician will take a standard tune or an original composition, play the form and then solo over the piece’s chord changes. Each time through, there can be a variation to the arrangement, and slight or major rhythmic redesigns. And, ideally, each performance of a song will feature entirely different lines and passages during the solo section.
But sometimes an entire recording project can amount to an act of improvisation.
That’s how it felt to Stefon Harris, the acclaimed New York vibraphonist and classically trained percussionist who was tapped in 2010 to put together the Ninety Miles band with Puerto Rican-born saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Christian Scott, a New Orleans native.
The CD, “Ninety Miles,” named for the distance between Miami and Havana, was suggested by producers at Concord, the label home to all three musicians. The success of the project depended on their ability to take a general concept and improvise on it – go to Cuba, connect with Cuban musicians, see what happens.
“Having an idea come from someone else sometimes challenges you in ways you can’t imagine for yourself,” Harris said by telephone. “I hadn’t really had a chance to play with them. I had never been to Cuba before, and I was excited to have that type of artistic and musical exposure. But there was a great deal of unpredictability even in the process of making the record.”
The challenges included gathering the documents required to travel to Cuba, with whom the United States has had a notoriously strained relationship for decades, largely in response to the Caribbean country’s repressive policies toward its citizens.
“The day before going, we weren’t even sure we were going to go,” Harris said. “When we got down there I didn’t even have a vibraphone. The unpredictability extended to not knowing what we were going to do with the band. I didn’t know the Cuban musicians, and had never seen them play. So I went on Youtube and listened to a couple of clips, then I chose some players and composed music that I thought would be open and flexible. It all worked to create an atmosphere of great creativity.”
The two-disc CD was released in 2011 on the Concord Picante label, which is largely focused on Latin jazz recordings. But the music, including compositions by musicians from both countries, doesn’t strictly fit that classification: elements of hard bop are intermingled with blues, funk-driven grooves and, of course, Montuno patterns and a variety of Latin percussion.
The group has morphed somewhat since 2010, with Scott last year replaced by Grammy-winning trumpeter Nicholas Payton, coincidentally also raised in New Orleans. The septet, whose performance at last summer’s Montreal Jazz Festival was a highlight of my trip to that fest, includes an international rhythm section – pianist Edward Simon was born in Venezuela, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez and drummer Henry Cole both hail from Puerto Rico, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera is a native of Cuba.
A live disc, “Live at Cubadisco,” recorded at a concert in Havana shortly after the original sessions, was released last year, and a documentary on the project year was picked up for distribution by BBC Worldwide.
The band’s recordings, Harris said, inevitably may be seen by some as a political statement.
But he views Ninety Miles as strictly a cross-cultural musical project, and hopes to take the concept – musical collaboration in the face of political and cultural barriers – to other locales.
“I’m hoping that we’re sonically demonstrating the benefits of empathy and we’re showing that there’s not much of a divide (between people),” he said. “We all know love, we all know fear, we all know greed, we all know compassion. I don’t play music just because it’s fun and it feels good. Music is ultimately about far more than notes and tones.”
(An alternate version of this story was recently published in the Tampa Bay Times)
What’s in a band name?
Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour 55th Anniversary Celebration is the rather unwieldy official name for the group featuring acclaimed jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and celebrated bass virtuoso Christian McBride.
It’s not exactly original, as two previous bands have toured under that name. And the billing serves the blatantly commercial purpose of promoting the brand of the northern California festival, widely regarded as one of the country’s oldest, biggest and best gatherings of its kind.
But after playing more than 25 shows on a 40-city tour which began in January and continues around the country through the end of April, the six top-shelf jazz musicians feel like a real band, McBride said recently from New York.
There, Bridgewater, McBride, saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Benny Green and drummer Lewis Nash played a dozen sets over six nights at the Blue Note, the famed Manhattan jazz club.
New York Times reviewer Ben Ratliff, covering the second set of the residency’s first evening, called the group “accurate and articulate and loose and serious,” a description also applicable to the band’s performance of Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty,” available on YouTube.
Tim Jackson, artistic director of the Monterey festival, asked McBride, the tour’s musical director, to “try to capture the feel of the festival, which is kind of hard to do because musicians make the festival,” he said by telephone. “After digging further into his think tank, he (Jackson) says, ‘There are a few artists who’ve always been associated with Monterey more than most – Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Gerald Wilson, Charles Lloyd. Give us a few songs by those grand masters who have been closely associated with Monterey, but do your own music as well.’ ”
Consequently, the group draws from music that might variously be classified as straight-ahead jazz, hard bop, soul jazz, and ballads, on original compositions as well as pieces including Brubeck’s “Mr. Broadway,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga,” and Bobby Hutcherson’s “Highway One.”
“We’re trying to explore all of those colors and timbres,” McBride said.
For the Monterey Jazz Festival tour, Bridgewater sings “God Bless the Child,” “Don’t Explain” and “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law” and other numbers associated with Billie Holiday. Holiday, honored by Bridgewater on her Grammy-winning 2010 CD “Eleanora Fagan,” sang at the debut Monterey Jazz Festival, held at an outdoor horse-show arena in 1958.
“Even beyond the repertoire, with standards and originals, and a gamut of styles, we wanted it really well rehearsed and well oiled so we’re not just a jam band,” McBride said. “We wanted to make sure this band had a look and a concept and a sound. I’ve worked very hard on really approaching it as if we’re a real band. And at this point, we are.”
The sextet’s members, all of whom have won or placed high in various jazz magazines’ critics polls, collectively have racked up nearly 35 performances at the Monterey fest.
McBride, a Grammy winner for 2011’s “The Good Feeling,” his first big band recording as a leader, has wowed audiences with his touring trio, with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Their first CD together is due this August.
(I reviewed the trio’s performance last November at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, for Jazz Times)
Green, who emerged in the ‘80s through work with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and singer Betty Carter, later played with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and bassist Ray Brown (McBride’s mentor and primary influence). His latest CD, “Magic Beans,” was released in February on Sunnyside.
McBride, who estimates that he has played on nearly 300 jazz recordings, has worked with drummer Nash on about 60 of those releases, and both have collaborated with pianist Green. So the three come by their synchronicity naturally.
“It’s nice to go onstage with a group of musicians who you know so well that you can pretty much do anything and know it’s going to be okay,” McBride said. “That kind of trust and comfort level is something you can only achieve over the course of time.”
The rhythm section, McBride said, also has developed an easy rapport with the horn players. Potter, a much-lauded saxophonist who has released about 20 albums as a leader or co-leader, including new disc “The Sirens” on ECM, has appeared on more than 100 recordings as a sideman, and recently toured with guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band. Fast-rising trumpeter Akinmusire, at 30 the crew’s rookie player, has won major jazz competitions and earned critical kudos for 2011’s “When the Heart Emerges Glistening,” released on Blue Note.
“He’s keeping the band interesting because he has these fresh new ideas,” McBride, 40, said about Akinmusire. “He’s coming from a generation that didn’t necessarily feed themselves on straight-ahead and playing standards, but he can do that. He brings a fresh way of thinking. We’re really enjoying getting to know Ambrose and getting to hear him play.
“He expressed that this was his first time getting to go on the road with some musicians who are significantly beyond his years – I don’t want to say old cats,” McBride, said, laughing, “but we’re certainly older than him.
The band, too, has jelled with Bridgewater, McBride said.
Bridgewater, 62, the elder stateswoman of the group, has gained a worldwide following via numerous recordings and concert appearances, and through her work as host of National Public Radio’s “JazzSet” program. In addition to the Grammy for her Holiday tribute, she won two for 1997’s “Dear Ella,” a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. And she landed a Tony for “The Wiz.” Bridgewater has had a long and storied career, beginning with an early ‘70s stint with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
“Dee Dee has seen it all, done it all, and worked with everyone,” McBride said. “She knows exactly what she’s doing. There’s nothing you can get by her or nothing she doesn’t want to try. She approaches her art the same way any instrumentalist would. She so sure footed – she sings with such assuredness. We just love her fearlessness.
“We’ve been going since January 10, so it’s safe to say we’re lived-in. It’s come together well as a unit, not just an all-star jam band. We’ve seen enough of those over the years.”
(originally published in JazzTimes; direct link)
Now comes the O’Farrill Brothers Band, with trumpeter Adam, 18, and drummer Zack, 21, third-generation jazzers whose accomplished second album makes their first CD, 2011’s Giant Peach, sound like a starter kit by comparison.
The sons of pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill (the recording’s producer) and grandsons of bandleader Chico, Adam and Zack offer invigorating playing throughout a program dominated by the trumpeter’s compositions.
The sextet, with returning bandmate Livio Almeida (tenor sax) joining Adam on the frontline, takes on Carla Bley’s tricky, starting-stopping “Wrong Key Donkey,” featuring Almeida’s incisive playing with plenty of open space for Zack’s long rolls and pointed tumbles on trap kit.
Adam goes unaccompanied at the start of Billy Strayhorn’s “Upper Manhattan Medical Group,” demonstrating his winning way with a familiar melody and his knack for supplying an improvisation endowed with body, shape and energy. And Almeida’s “Action and Reaction” opens with a long tete-a-tete between the co-leaders.
The trumpeter’s compositions fuel the rest of the album, starting with the playful melody of the opener, “Drive,” which also boasts a long exchange between Adam and guitarist Gabe Schnider, who uses his fusion-edged tone to good effect.
“Monet,” aptly, offers long notes and impressionistic chordal textures, along with some beefy playing by bassist Raviv Markovitz, while “Mind Troubles” thrives on a jaunty groove and a friendly tune.
The disc closes with a slowly unfurling ballad, “Sensations,” a multi-segmented piece that moves from contemplation to fury and back again. Like everything else on the CD, the rangy tune makes a convincing showcase for young musicians challenging each other to do high-grade work.
Another killer lineup has been announced for the Bear Creek Music Music & Art Festival. The seventh annual fest, at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak (north Florida), promises yet another ear feast of funk, jamband, jazz, electronic music and other groove-oriented styles.
And there are still more to be added to the bill!
So far: The Roots, Bootsy Collins, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lettuce, Antibalas, The New Mastersounds, Lee Fields and the Expressions, Zach Deputy, Toubab Krewe, George Porter, Jr.’s Runnin’ Pardners, The Motet, Jennifer Hartswick Band, Break Science, Mike Dillon Band, Pimps of Joytime, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Bernie Worrell Orchestra and many other bands.
And the illustrious Artists at Large, who typically sit in with bands all over the place: Oteil Burbridge, Karl Denson, George Porter, Jr., Skerik, Mike Dillon, Roosevelt Collier, Jennifer Hartswick and others.
The fest runs Nov. 14-17. Tickets go on sale April 24. Click here for more info.
For a long while, I’ve been annoyed (to say the least) about the outrageous ticket prices offered by the likes of StubHub and similarly greedy merchants who work just this side of the law.
Below is something I posted on Facebook — some quick thoughts:
It behooves artists and venues (you know who you are) and TicketMaster to do a much better job of ensuring that people can’t buy hundreds of tickets all at once. Yes, there’s an official “limit” but there are ways around that, thanks to online trickery. If we can put a man on the moon …
Long term, the practice hurts the concert industry and artists, because it means that your average buyer can afford to purchase tickets to only a very few big shows a year.
But those making the most $$ from the system only care about short-term profits — what they can make today.
Free enterprise is one thing. If you buy a ticket or any other item, then you should be able to sell it for what you want.
Artists and venues together could and should devise a system whereby ticket re-sellers don’t have unfair advantages in purchasing the tickets in the first place.
(Artists bear responsibility, too, to not charge outrageously; more people will buy tickets at $50 than they will at $75, meaning that they can make just as much at a lower price point)