Saturday, December 4, 2010

Best of 2010

It’s that time again for being pestered about Top Jazz Albums of 2010 lists. I say “pestered” because it seems like a chore that doesn’t accomplish much other than give a tip of the hat to SOME of the outstanding music of the past year. So much music comes out these days that it’s impossible to give a good judgment to it all. It’s impossible to hear it all. And fine efforts by a lot of people go unnoticed. So many deserving folks and so many get short-changed.

(Ahhhhh. Lured you in with phots of lovely ladies. Hey--magazines do it all the time. Sue me).

[PHOTOS: top, Hilary Kole. bottom, Dana Lauren. Photos courtesy of the artists]

For myself, the challenges of memory contribute to some people not making my highlight reel. Better organization through the year might solve that little issue. Yeah, right. Like I’ll keep my glasses in the same spot all the time so I know where they are. Ummmmmm hmm.

So onward to the list -- something I don’t usually do, but it seems there is pulling from more sides this year than ever. So: Tossing my proverbial hat in the ring. These are not in any order.

Wallace Roney: If Only for One Night (High Note). Wallace is always first-rate and almost always passed over by the critics. He’s not the most media friendly guy. He’s a serious artist and his recordings are always excellent. This one is live and it’s hot shit.

Will Vinson: Stockholm Syndrome (Criss Cross). This one is recently out, so probably no one considered it. But it’s fine stuff from an alto sax player of fire and conviction. Good writer too. The band has Aaron Parks on piano and the ever-tasteful, ever creative Kendrick Scott on drums. (Kendrick is working on a record with his own band that should come out in 2011. Count me as putting it on my “best” list already….In case I …er…forget).

Dave Holland: Pathways (Dare 2). Like Roney, everything Holland does is excellent. The band is crazy good, reflected accurately on the disk.

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (High Note). Hasn’t taken a bad step yet in his young career. His music springs from jazz, but with modern sensibilities reflective of his own experiences. He will grow into a musician for the ages.

Paul Motian: Lost in a Dream (ECM): Cool improvisational trip with the unique drummer heading his trio. Jason Moran on piano is one of the fine improvisational minds of his peers and every chance to hear Chris Potter on sax is a good thing. Potter has unending spirit and seemingly endless chops.

Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (Nonesuch). Another great disk from this extraordinary pianist. Great players, including the superior sax voice of Joshua Redman. Mehldau writes great music here and its execution is superb.

Roberto Magris: Mating Call (Jmood). This is another very good record from this pianist. He always send me his stuff from his home in Italy and it is consistently stellar. Each recording, he gets it right. This one is a small group with his fine piano, cool sax from Paul Carr (the D.C.-based sax man whose own CD, “Straight Ahead Soul” this year was pretty cool!) and the steady drumming of the underrated Idris Muhammad. Roberta writes good stuff.

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Bunk Green: Apex (pi): Two fine alto saxmen going at it, Rudresh one of the great young fresh voices,; Bunky one of the fine veterans.

Jeremy Pelt, Men of Honor, (High Note). Another fine disk from this fantastic trumpet player who always has great concepts when he plays. He's sourrounded by some of the outstanding younger guys on the scene, like J.D. Allen.

Holly Hoffman/Bill Cunliffe: Three’s Company (Capri): This intimate teaming could have put this under the radar. It’s not cutting edge, in your face. It’s a classy meeting of minds. Hoffman is one of my favorite flute players. “Too Late Now” is a great example.

Rachel Z, Omar Hakim/Maeve Royce: Trio of Oz. recently kind of shoved under the rug in recent high-profile jazz mag reviews, I think this music is fuckin’ sweet. Saw the group live this summer and they kicked ass. The record is true to that form. Hakim is a motherfucker pushing the music with polyrhythms that seem effortless. Rachael’s piano is also electric and Royce is strong. Just dig song 1, “Angry Chair,” and try not to be moved. A fine piano trio recording.

VOCALS: A few of the best this year were:

Hilary Kole: You Are There (Justin Time). This growing talent is matched up here with some of the finest jazz pianists--Kenny Barron and Hank Jones among them--for a series of duets on classic songs. Sweet! A record with much nuance and beautiful at each listen.

Dana Lauren: It’s You or No One (Dana Lauren Music). This newcomer shows great promise, negotiating these standards with style and some freshness as well. Strong instrument and great feel for the music. There’s more to come from Dana, who’s finishing up at Berklee School of Music. Good band too!

Julia Dollison, Kerry Marsh: Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider. (ArtistShare). This was a tremendous undertaking: Taking the complex, thrilling, majestic work of the brilliant Maria Schneider and her orchestra and using their voices as the lead instrument over just a rhythm section (albeit Maria’s rhythm section). Could have fallen from the mere daunting nature. They pulled it off, and very, very well.


Two outings with foreign bands stand out.
Tim Hagans: The Avatar Sessions (Fuzzy Music). Tim’s great trumpet over the great Norrbotten Big Band of which he is artistic director. The music is all his too. Great stuff.

John Scofield: 54 (Universal Music Group). A bit unusual to have a guitarist as the solo voice over a huge big band, but Scofield is a wizard, putting his signature sound over the fine Metropole Orkest, with arrangements by the wonderful Vince Mendozza. Scofield can play anything. Rock, funk, blues, bebop … It all sounds great here.

HISTORICAL: This category used to be “reissues.” But a lot of the old stuff that comes out in new packages wasn’t released before. Anyway:'

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collection (Sony Legacy). The package that has all things Bitches Brew, everything you wanted to have about that seminal 1970 rock album but were afraid to ask for. The improvisational rock music is still unique and lasting. And there’s a brewery that made a special beer just for the anniversary. You fuckin’ kiddin me? If they named a beer after me I would never stop talking about it. [photo: the author with the Miles elixcir]

Stan Getz, Kenny Barron: People Time, The Complete Recordings. The original two-disk release of duets from these two masters was such a great pleasure. Is this anything but more? Suppose not. But it brings this music back in front of people. And more from these two would always be welcome. Beauty and class rolled into one. Just when you thought it had gone out of style.

Ray Charles. Genius = Soul = Jazz (Concord). The great one’s jazz inclinations rolled into a package. Ray could swing like hell and sing place his unique vocals in there to give them vibrancy and vitality. He admired jazz. Vice versa.

Wow. That wasn’t so painful. Maybe I’ll do it again next year. Then again, maybe I wake up tomorrow and think 12 different albums should be here ... If I can remember.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wein’s Perseverance Will Keep Newport Fest Strong

Newport Jazz Fest Seeks Sponsorship

Somewhat sad news of late that CareFusion, a health care outfit that works to improve hospital patient safety and care, has pulled its sponsorship from George Wein’s Newport Jazz Festival after just two years. The group also helped fund the return of Wein’s jazz festival in New York City last June.

The company stepped in at a time when Wein was breathing life back into the oldest, most famous, jazz festival that he created in 1954. The company he sold the festival to a few years ago had failed miserably, and rather than see the event die, the octogenarian jumped back into the fray. He did this in 2009 without the knowledge that CareFusion would help. That partnership, which Wein admitted “came out of nowhere,” at the time, was a big. Both the 2009 and 2010 festivals were outstanding events. Great artists, great music. One would expect the same as Wein’s company, New Festival Productions, moves forward booking acts for the 2011 edition of the festival, Aug. 5-7.

[PHOTOS: Top to bottom: The fest; Kendrick Scott playing with singer Gretchen Parlato; George Wein shares a tender moment with Anat Cohen, mid-set; Herbie Hancock in the midst of the dreamy Newport setting; Sign in the downtown Newport--yes, they'll take you there!]

He’s currently soliciting a new title sponsor.

“CareFusion came forward at a very crucial time when my company was facing decisions about the future of this historic event. They understood the worldwide appeal of jazz and tapped into its magic to launch their brand, and we're pleased that jazz helped to make the company a household name," Wein said in a press release. The company also acknowledged its debt to Wein for helping establish its brand.

While it’s sad to see the break, fear not that Wein and staff has their collective noses to the grindstone. Going back to the earliest years of the Newport fest, perseverance has been one of Wein’s best qualities. One might say he’s embodied that. In 1971 he had to leave Newport after over exuberant young audiences--attending after Wein begrudgingly booked some rock music acts-- broke through fencing and engaged in raucous, even equipment-damaging, behavior. Undaunted, he established the festival in New York City, a huge event ever since. He even branched into Saratoga Springs, NY, (stating in 1978) there the festival thrives. (Thankfully, when Wein divested his interests a few years ago, the Saratoga event went to Danny Melnick, a former Wein employee and a capable young producer who’s proven to be a good keeper of the flame).

[PHOTOS: Top to bottom: The fest; Kendrick Scott playing with singer Gretchen Parlato; George Wein shares a tender moment with Anat Cohen, mid-set; Herbie Hancock in the midst of the dreamy Newport setting; Sign in the downtown Newport--yes, they'll take you there!]

Who knows what group will step for ward for sponsorship, but bet on Wein to come through and prevail, one way or another.

“It gave me a new start in life,” he told me prior to his triumphant 2009 festival.

He also explained “Doing a festival is work. It's not easy. It's not calling an agent up and getting some talent and putting a stage up in a field. That's only the surface part of doing a festival. There has to be a meaning, a mission, a dedication, a concept of promotion. It's 24-7."

Recently turned 85, his dedication is unwavering. He even turned in a fine set of music last August, playing piano with an all-star group of players that included Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen and Harry Allen. They played old standards and mainstream stuff which is where Wein comes from. He admits he’s not a great pianist, but he gets the job done with flair.

When it comes to booking, Wein lamented to me years ago that the music seemed to be sliding. Icons like Miles and others were gone.

But in 2009 he spoke of going out more too see young artists in New York city. And the Big apple has MANY, even if they are not marquee names, or “box office,” as Wein noted. He’s fallen hard, for example, for the likes of Cohen and Esperanza Spalding, among others.

“People now are playing the music and they're very good. But they're not the creators. They're not the originators … I think you have to have faith in the music. That's the dedication and new direction I'm going in. I have to make the public realize that when I do groups like Esperanza Spalding, Miguel Zenon, Michel Camilo, Vijay Iyer, the Bad Plus, Rudresh Mahanthappa. All these people are outstanding. William Parker with his Vision group. Joe Lovano .. so much good music out there. It's a matter of not just thinking about the big names. If jazz doesn't sell itself when it's great, it has to overcome those problems. I think we can do it. That's why I think it's a great festival.”

Sure is. The breadth of music and consistent excellence was truly remarkable.

Bet on future editions to maintain that important presence on the jazz scene. Bet on George.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sailing Away … to Lake George (Roseanna Vitro, Mark Soskin, Christian Scott)

Blogging again. (apologies for the gap in submissions. Hectic summer with other things to deal with. Nuff said.) The festival season in the Northeast has wound down, but came to a nice end in Lake George, NY, with the village’s annual Jazz Weekend.

It featured outstanding musicians like David Amran, Buster Williams--who carried Mulgrew Miller, Cindy Blackman and Stefon Harris in his band--and newcomer Sharel Cassity.

But one of the most interesting bookings was the Randy Newman Project, featuring the vocals of Roseanna Vitro and the arrangements of pianist Mark Soskin.

Newman, of course, is a folk-pop guy (He’s contributed music for films as well) who arose 30some years ago with albums like Sail Away a classic. He’s written tunes that other folks have made popular, like “Momma Told Me Not to Come” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” “Short People” (Have No Reason to Live) may be--but shouldn’t be--his most well known because it got a lot of airplay. It also got some idiotic flak from people who thought he was criticizing short people from that group of Americans that continually illustrates that they have waaaaaay too much free time.

[Photos, by me: TOP: Mark Soskin and Roseanna Vitro; BOTTOM: Christian Scott and Christian Scott band]

Anyway -- Vitro, a strong singer with a rich voice and a veteran’s jazz savvy, applied her vocal charm to songs like “Sail Away,” with Soskin playing the familiar piano intro. The song loses none of its beauty, and in fact is brought out beautifully by the singer and Soskin’s superb accompaniment. The violin statement seemed to bring out its emotional quality even more.

“I re-worked a lot of that, definitely,” Soskin told me a couple months back. “In terms of feel and harmony. That’s really a challenge, because a bunch of those songs are so simple. And a lot of the lyrics are talking; they’re more spoken. So, it’s tricky. But that’s a challenge I also like.” It held up real well. A fine set of music.

“In Germany Before the War” and “Baltimore” were lifted from Newman’s Little Criminals, and “last Night I had a Dream” came from Sail Away. Among others, yes, they did the song that Three Dog Night made a hit (“Momma Told Me …). Each selection brought new life to Newman’s ideas. There were unique twists to each and all were quite welcome. As for Soskin’s playing, he was at his usual bent: superb. Soskin is one of hose undervalued pianists who always comes through.

Under valued by the populace that is. Sonny Rollins hired him for about a decade, so someone knew the value. He even brought Soskin out to Seattle for a gig earlier this year. (“It was great,” Soskin said. “I didn’t really see him until we were up on the stage during sound checks. The sound checks are usually us just playing. We almost played up to the performance. The feeling was really great. I said to him at one point, ‘It’s been a while.’ He said, ‘Mark, don’t think like that. It seems like it was just yesterday.’ That was very cool. We have a long past, as you know.”)

Soskin and Vitro were the heroes of those interpretations. As an encore, they tossed in “Blue Monk” from the straight-ahead jazz world and burned like hell over the Thelonious Monk blues theme. Soskin especially. Roseanne sang lyrics by Abbey Lincoln and did it with the perfect sense of time--critical in Monk tunes--and feeling as well. It was the real shit.

This music has already been recorded, Soskin says, but with Sarah Caswell on drums and some guitar work by the exceptional Steve Cardenas. Expect to see it some time next year. In the meantime, there aren’t many gigs featuring the material--something that should change once the CD comes out. Soskin himself was headed out to Helsinki the morning after the Lake George show.

The festival doesn’t usually have an evening sessin, but it did this year with the Christian Scott band. The young trumpeter continues to get better, not only as a dynamic player, but as a super bandleader and composer.

Scott writes about today’s issues and some of them not so nice,. Some are foreboding and take on angry tones at times. After all, it‘s good art that moves people. All the music is injected with modern sounds. Don’t expect to hear ching-a-ching ride cymbals over bebop beats. There are modern, hip-hop influences and other --I’d rather say “today” sounds rather than rock, because so much rock is based on what is now old and moldy ideas--influences. Drummer Jamie Williams is all over the drum kit, crashing, slamming, polyrhythmic. Scott blares out bold and brazen ideas. Majestic, but leaving spaces that let the rhythm build tension before his next exclamation. In that sense, he’s like Miles. An avowed Miles guy, Scott doesn’t let influence lead to imitation.

This is strong, music, not for the mellow. Each of the albums in his early career is impressive. He grabbed stuff from Rewind That, Anthem and Yesterday, You Said Tomorrow. “Klu Klux Klan Police,” based on a racist run-in Scott had with New Orleans policemen in the--sadly--not distant past, was volatile, yet striking and earthy. “Katrina’s Eyes” was a softer song, allowing Scott’s full, powerful sound to show its lyrical side.

The band is first rate, with monster bassist Kris Funn, Williams and guitarist Matt Stevens, whose angular and fluid sounds run perfectly in sync with Scott’s ideas. (He’s been in the band for eight years). Usually he has a pianist, but when the group came north from New York City, Scott brought saxophonist Louis Fouche (pronounced Fu-shay) instead. Lucky for those in Lake George. Fouche, a longtime colleague of Scott, played torrent of alto sax. His fertile ideas and high energy were incredible. He made it seem easy, as if he could have keep going and going and still had good things to say. Think Kenny Garrett. Yikes.

They also through jazz fans a bone with Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane” and blew it away. Stevens bebop licks were super and the horns showed these youngsters can create lines with authority over any style of jazz. Williams turned into Max Roach for a bit and burned. Those young motherfuckers can play!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Herbie Hancock’s 2010 World Tour: Social Music for a New Era

Herbie Hancock’s got something to say about the chaos in the world and he’s saying it with music. He calls it The Imagine Project, which is the title to his latest recording released in June on his own Hancock Records label. It’s also the theme for his world tour that’s returning to the U.S in August.

Speaking in early July from a hotel in Spain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea -- ahhhhh. The Life -- Hancock says the tour is going well. The album “The Imagine Project” is an all-vocal offering that uses musicians from all over the worlds. It was recorded in many parts of the world. And the songs come from different corners of the world, but they have a common thread of global unity. And some of the songs are very familiar to people: Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin,’” Lennon’s “Imagine,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “A Change is Gonna Come” and more.

[Photo: Taken by me, Herbie Hancock at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2008]

He’s joined by joined by Seal, Pink, Jeff Beck, Ceu Vagarosa, Dave Matthews, Lisa Hannigan, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, The Chieftains, Marcus Miller, Wayne Shorter, and more.

To pull it off on tour, without the availability of those folks, he’s carrying Vinny Colaiuta on drums and Lionel Loueke on guitar. Those guys have toured with Herbie for a while. A second keyboard player, Greg Phillinganes, sings some songs. So does young, unheralded singer Kristina Train.

The bass player, who also sings some selections, may be someone to play attention to.

“Tal Wilkenfeld … She’s plays electric. She’s 24, but she looks like she’s 12. She plays like she’s 60,” said Hancock. “I mean in the sense that she plays like a really experienced, knowledgeable bass player. Amazing technique and command of the instrument that just astounds me.”

If Herbie is astounded … well … Listeners should prepare to be astounded.

The album is slick, with good arrangements of the songs. The international flavor is very hip. And appropriate. No long Herbie solos, but his piano touch is heard and felt. Quality stuff. “Space Captain,” who people know from Joe Cocker on his “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” record, is super, with blues woman Tedeschi getting to the emotional core. Her husband, Derek Trucks, a fabulous slide rock/blues guitarist who is a jazz fan with strong improvisational skills, follow’s a gorgeous Hancock solo with a superb solo of his own, giving the guitar a vocal quality that displays his emotional take on the vehicle.

For the listener, Herbie hopes the music “will trigger something in their hearts that really wants to move forward and wants to be reminded about the importance of moving forward and wants to be stimulated to be proactively involved in creating the kind of forward motion that we want, globally. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Reminded that when jazz went electric in the latter 1970s, spear-headed by his former boss Miles Davis and fostered by Miles alumni Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and Hancock himself, Miles called his music “social music,” Herbie said “it was. This is also social music in a different forum. Music can be purely entertainment and that’s fine. It can also be entertainment with a message, which is what this is. It’s a message about the future. It’s more like a call to arms. Let’s rise up against our negative self. Against our passive self and start proactively leading the kind of globalized world we want to live in and want our children’s children to live in.”

Hancock also is quick to note that he is politically astute and his music can be aimed to express that. He also has no problem giving his opinion on the state of affairs. An avowed fan of President Obama, he sees promise in a leader who is trying to men the many problems in the nation. But the problems are global and should be cured with a global vision.

He and I concur with the ruination and corruption that eight years of George Asshole Bush (my moniker, not Herbie’s) wreaked upon America. (“Who in the hell would want to be president of the United States, especially now? It’s the worst job in the world,” he noted.)

“But it’s only been a year and a half and Obama’s done amazing stuff. The health care. Now the overhaul of the Federal Reserve. He’s delved into some things that none of us even knew about like the commission that was designed to monitor all sorts of drilling and how corrupt that thing was. You’re looking at a whole stream of things that are wrong and that need to be addressed. And he has to do it at the hardest of times, an election year. When none of those guys (in Congress) will do anything to jeopardize their getting re-elected.”

He’s particularly critical of the abomination that is Arizona’s immigration law. While it is widely ridiculed, there are supporters outside Arizona, and a few other states are supporting it.

“What’s wrong with these people? They’ve been lied to and they believe the lies. That’s one thing the Republicans are really goods at. Lying. … They have kept a hold on the American people by keeping them dumb and stupid and not educating them with the truth. They are masters at that,” said the pianist.

“There’s a lot of work we need to do. I’m trying to do my part.”

Despite the uphill battle the Obama administration, Hancock is optimistic. “I bet that before his four years are up, the tide is going to change enough so that people will see the positive beginning of what he’s accomplished. Enough to be re-elected. That’s what I’m hoping for. Then, America still has a possibility of living up to what the real mission of America is. If we don’t re-elect Obama, we will fail the reason for America existing in the first place. I don’t want that to happen. And it has to do with the message that’s on The Imagine Project.”

Enough of the political conversation, which stopped when he commented “OK. I’m preaching to the choir.”

The jazz legend, at age 70, continues to be vital and vibrant. It will be interesting -- hell, it always has been -- to see what twists and turns his creative output takes as he strolls into his 70s. Though the legend’s age is no factor. He remains a pure artist, bright, imaginative, curious, alert, enlightened. He’s a walking American legend. An American treasure.

No, a global treasure.

And just in case there are some who question whether Hancock has gone jazz soft, and don’t know if they’re ready to face an all-vocal Herbie outing, go see the concert when it’s in your area (For NY Capital District folks, it’s Aug. 9 at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass). The live versions are sure to have a different magic than recorded versions. And: “I also play ‘Chameleon,’ ‘Cantaloupe Island’ ‘Speak Like a Child,’ ‘Round Midnight,’ ‘Maiden Voyage.’”

Ohhhhhhhhh yeah.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Remembering Sal Maida, Sam Farkas

With a busy June and early July, this log edition was delayed. But by no means should it be ignored or dropped by the wayside.

Two Capital District jazz musicians died within days of one another in June and both were significant to this region of New York State and to me.

Pianist Salvatore Maida, 77, of Gloversville, NY, was a longtime jazz pianist in the area. Extremely talented, he played with some heavy hitters and could probably have made a nice career in New York City (he attended Julliard for a time and was a graduate of the Crane School of Music, which is part of the State University of New York at Potsdam), the center of the jazz world. He was actually born there. But he remained in Gloversville NY, which had become his home where his family settled. It’s the same city a where I lived for 20 years or so. Strangely, I didn’t know Sal then. But I had seen him perform around the region with the best of jazz cats that included the brilliant saxophonist Nick Brignola and great guitarist Jack Fragomeni, among many others. He had a great style and always played with intelligence and exuberance. Always good shit coming from his mind and through his fingertips.

I was introduced to Sal in a small, short-lived club in Gloversville, after I had moved away. He was there as a fan, as was I, to see a band led by the excellent saxophonist Brian Patneaude. I humbly state that it was Sal who requested to be introduced to me when he found out I was in the room. He knew my writing, apparently. I was a certainly eager to do so, feeling in the presence of an extraordinary talent. It was a warm meeting. Brief. But started a kinship where I would see him often when he played in Saratoga Springs where I have resided for about a decade.

He played various venues in the Saratoga area and, in fact, had played a jazz club/restaurant -- One Caroline -- a bunch of times earlier this year. We would have chats of varying lengths in between sets at some of these appearances and it was always warm. He was a warm guy. A gentleman. And very sharp. And very humble about his own talent.

The last time we spoke at length was when he completed a gig at a pretentious Saratoga Springs establishment where not many people seemed to be listening; no doubt too impressed with the sounds of their own voices and the mindless blather that no doubt emanated therein. Ironic, in a sense, since Sal was the opposite of pretentious. As always, it was warm, filled with good humor.

Another noted area pianist, Steve Pellegrino, and myself have toasted Sal since his death. Steve -- also from Gloversville -- knew Sal way longer and better than myself. He says he learned lots from Mr. Maida. Steve was touched, like many, by his passing. Steve was in awe of Sal's playing. And Steve can play. That's cool.

I just thought he was worthy of note. Salute, Sal. Cent' anni.

(Pronounced: Chin Dahn, for uninitiated non-Italians. It means literally 100 years, but as a salute it means 100 years of health and happiness. 100 good years. Things to that affect. Sal lives on, so it's appropriate).

Jazz guitarist Sam Farkas also died in June. He played guitar in the area over many years. But in fact, I never saw him perform.

Where Farkas comes into my life was educating me on jazz and its creators. I was a kid in high school and later in college when I used to listen to him on radio station WRPI out of Troy, NY, which is attached to the renowned engineering school of the same name -- RPI. I was totally enthralled with jazz music at that time and ate up anything and everything I could. I spent time in the Schenectady Library taking out albums by all kinds of people. Listening to artists and taking note of who the sidemen were. Then going to listen to work by those sidemen. (This is common among jazz fans).

Then I would go out and buy records. I read jazz histories and collected writings by people like Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff and Ralph J. Gleason.

But Farkas was also a key. He started at 11 on a Saturday night and would go into the wee hours playing Miles, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz… on and on and on. He played the greats and people lesser known, but wonderfully talented. I would listen to him while driving around if I was out and about. I’d tune him in if I was at home, often falling asleep in the wee hours to those sweet sounds. That was akin to the library, since, after hearing many selections, I would go out and buy the album, or other music by those artists.

I remember sitting in my car (actually, my parents') with my girlfriend in a parking lot outside a nightclub, refusing to go inside until the song was over so I could hear Sam announce who was playing. The music was kick-ass. She was annoyed, but I was undaunted. The album turned out to be “Ten Years Hence,” by Yusef Lateef. His booming tenor sax was complimented by crazy-good piano wailing by the great Kenny Baron -- my first exposure to both those great talents. Tootie Heath on drums and Bob Cranshaw on bass. The cut was “Yusef’s Mood” which, some may be familiar, occupies one entire side of the two-album vinyl set. Over 20 minutes long. We must have sat there for 15 or more of it. (No matter. Got laid anyway). It's still one of my favorite albums.

His radio show was an immense pleasure for me, but a highly educational tool and one that helped quench my thirst for knowledge that extended beyond just enjoying the music. It was the beginning of a road that has led to me becoming an established jazz writer. Still listening. Still learning. Still enjoying.

Sam did some radio in more recent years on a couple commercial stations, but those stints were always cut short -- just when I'd think good taste was coming back. Too bad.

More Capital District:

I could list many jazz events for this region. But really the best thing to do is continually check the calendar section of Albany

However one noteworthy appearance is that of Ralph Lalama at the Bread and Jam CafĂ© in Cohoes, NY, on July 23 and 24. He turned in a sterling set of music at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga last month with his quartet. Fine NYC-based player. Real nice guy. He’ll be playing in trio format with Lou Smaldone and Joe Barna.

Check him out!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Freihofer Jazz Fest Continues Fine Tradition

This year’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival, held at the end of June, was again one of the highlights of summer, musically and otherwise, in upstate New York. Held in the sweet town of Saratoga Springs in upstate NY and at the scenic and special Saratoga Performing Arts Center venue, it’s always a gas. Always there’s music from some of the master’s, as well as surprises from the aspiring masters, and always surprises from up-and-coming artists.

It’s also a fabulous picnic and place where old and new friends meet with a backdrop of a variety of jazz, soul, blues and sometimes pop music. Being a jazz festival, of course that genre prevails. Some years -- blissfully -- it has supremely dominated. Others, sadly, not.

The 2010 version could have stood a couple of big-name starts -- Chick, Herbie, Dave Holland, Lovano … someone. Attendance seemed down, unfortunately. But the “feature acts” were Gladys Knight -- I could scarcely find a single soul who was interested -- and a “smooth jazz” act that could make me sleep just reading the name. I won’t write it for fear of the same. More jazz fans would have come in for more jazz. Granted, there are financial considerations in these times, and Chick or Sonny etc. do not come at a discount price. And yes, producer Danny Melnick did bring in some very fine music that resulted in another good 2-day festival. I’ll gripe no further. Melnick has carried the torch well since it was handed to him by George Wein and he's to be lauded for that.

[My photos, top to bottom:
Kendrick Scott; Omar Hakim; Rachel Z (piano) & Maeve Royce; Ahmad Jamal; dapper Mr. Mario Abney; Ralph Lalama (sax) quartet; Hailey Niswanger; Mario Abney playing; Kendrick Scott (center) with Mike Moreno, guitar, and John Ellis, bass clarinet; Revelers - you know who you are!]

Special to me was Kendrick Scott’s Oracle band, a group of outstanding individuals who carry out Scott’s vision and broad musical perspective. The quality of music was very high, the vibe blissful. There’s enough there for the head and the heart. And sitting under sunny skies sipping a beer and going with the music was a sheer delight. Scott’s drums have been featured in the bands of Terrence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock. This was his first gig outside NYC and he was excited about it.

“I’ve been using John Ellis (sax) for years now,” he said a few days before the gig. “We have a good linkup because we all played together in (guitarist) Mike Moreno’s band. Mike is always one of the center pieces of the band (Oracle). Now so is John. The three of use have played together in each other’s bands for a long time. Taylor Eigsti (piano) just started playing last year. Taylor’s excellent. So I’ve been having a great time playing with him. He’s been using me on some of his gigs. It’s funny being a drummer/bandleader, because I’ve called all the people I love (for his group), then I play in their band. It’s a blessing for me to be able to have bandleaders play with me. Taylor has a beautiful sensibility and touch on the piano. Harish (Ragavan, bass) I met through Taylor or through the whole influx of the west coast coming into the city. Like Ambrose Akinmusire, Justin Brown and Taylor, Joe Sanders. All of them were out in LA on the west coast, and they all came (to NYC) at the same time. They kind of blew up the scene at the same time. I met Harish then. That’s the whole band.”

he said he hopes his band is something that is long-lasting, like Art Blakey's. Time will tell. The quality of his music and his ability to run a band is unquestioned. But there are always other factors in oplay, and some degree of good fortune is always helpful. I hope things go well for Kendrick in this regard because he's a true artist. And a good guy. High quality music, indeed.

They were excellent.

As was Ralph Lalama’s quartet, bluesman Taj Mahal, saxophonist J.D. Allen, Trio of Oz with Rachel Z on piano and drum wizard Omar Hakim;, and veteran Ahmad Jamal. The Young Talent Raising Eyebrows awards went to 19-year-old saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, still a student at Berklee College in Boston, and young trumpeter Mario Abney who brought a high-energy sextet that brought a strong vibe of fun while not playing down to the audience. Kaliq Woods on clarinet was a highlight within that group. Great chops and feeling.

J.D. Allen‘s trio was a great listen, especially the Trane-like “The Cross and the Crescent Sickle” with the saxman playing long, serpentine ideas over a steady rhythmic pulse.

An official review is found here, at the great All About Jazz website.

But Trio of Oz is worth mentioning as a group that brought as much intensity and electricity as any, propelled by the whirlwind drumming of Hakim. His arms and hands seemed to be everywhere, but as frantic as the pace was, everything he did was musical with his bandmates Rachel Z and bassist Maeve Royce. They turned rock songs into jazz heaven. Powerful stuff.

Most of the fans at this event seem to mark their calendars every year in anticipation. Many, I’m sure, already have plans and weekend accommodations for 2011. Get yourself in that mode. It’s a high-quality hang and enough music to float your boat for a long time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Freihofer Jazz Fest in Saratoga Springs is HERE

The annual event -- two days of jazz bliss -- was started in 1978 by legendary impresario George Wein. The greatest names in jazz have performed at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center over the years, and many who are “stars” now appeared here as up-and-coming talent.

It's this Saturday and Sunday (June 26-27), starting at noon each day.

Miles, Sonny, Ella, Basie, Dexter, Getz, Dizzy, Sarah, Carmen, Weather Report, Herbie, Chick ... on and on and on -- have graced the stage. Stages, really, as the event has one main amphitheater stage and a small gazebo stage, both hosting superb bands.

[Photo, by me, is Terrence Blanchard's band in 2008]

It has been called Newport Jazz Festival - Saratoga, Kool Jazz Festival and JVC, but for years now, the Freihofer Baking Co. has been the main sponsor. Bless them!! And while George Wein sold the event a few years back, it went to the capable hands of Danny Melnick of Absolutely Live Entertainment, who has been a fine caretaker for the last few years.

Don't let rain disuade you. bring stuff for passing showers if they even come. Usually, they don't. And bring a cooler with all your needs (no glass containers) even beer or other adult pleasures.

This year’s event doesn’t have huge “big name” hooks, other than the stellar pianist Ahmad Jamal. But there is talent a plenty. I’m particularly looking forward to Kendrick Scott’s Oracle band, saxophonist JD Allen, Jamal, Al DiMeola, bluesman Taj Mahal and trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, as well as a first look at young trumpeter Mario Abney. There’s more .. The lineup is below, but those starting times are sometimes subject to change during the daytime hours.

Saturday – June 26th
Main Stage
* Noon – Mario Abney Quintet
* 1:20pm – Evan Christopher New Orleans Clarinet Virtuoso
* 2:40pm – Legendary blues musician Taj Mahal
* 4:10pm – Pianist Ahmad Jamal
* 5:35pm – Al DiMeola’s World Sinfonia Group
* 7:10pm – Festival favorites Al Jarreau & The George Duke Trio
* 9:00pm – Sax For Stax featuring Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum
Gazebo Stage
* 12:15pm – JD Allen Trio
* 1:35pm – Tomasz Stanko Quartet Polish Jazz Legend
* 2:55pm – Alyssa Graham
* 4:20pm – Steve Kroon Sextet
* 5:40pm – Mario Abney Quintet

Sunday – June 27th
Main Stage
* Noon – Trio of OZ featuring pianist Rachel Z and Omar Hakim
* 1:20pm – Vibraphonist Stefon Harris with Blackout
* 2:40pm – Ann Hampton Callaway
* 4:10pm – The Ramsey Lewis Trio
* 5:50pm – Juan De Marcos & the Afro Cuban All Stars
* 7:40pm – Gladys Knight “The Empress of Soul”
Gazebo Stage
* 12:15pm – Hailey Niswanger Berklee College of Music alto sax phenom
* 1:35pm – Kendrick Scott Oracle
* 2:55pm – Linda Oh Trio
* 4:15pm – Trio of OZ featuring pianist Rachel Z and Omar Hakim
* 5:35pm – Ralph Lalama Quartet

Indoor amphitheater seats may be scare at this juncture, but single-day tickets are:
* Saturday Amphitheater: Adult $65, Child (12 & under) $55
* Sunday Amphitheater: Adult $58, Child (12 & under) $51
* Lawn: Adult $44, Child (12 & under) $5

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jazz Journalists Association Presents Awards

The Jazz Journalists Association presented its annual awards Monday (6/14) in New York City and recognized the contributions of a number of wonderful musicians, journalists and other friends of jazz. The awards were streamed live over the Internet and there were satellite parties in cities across the country, so hopefully there was more exposure than ever before. (A video of the event is viewable at the JJA site … click the above link and scroll down a bit).

Awards are always kind of tricky. Who’s to say who is ‘the best” this and the “best that,” and yet awards for movies, TV, plays, music, etc. etc. have been around forever. Art is so subjective that it sometimes seems silly to try and sort these things out. In jazz especially, each artist is trying to bring truth and beauty to the surface in their own way. The results are broad in taste, but all valid when they are done with honesty and integrity. The tapestry of jazz around the world is so much more than any awards format could ever address.

[PHOTOS: Top: Dr. Lonnie Smith accepts award for best organist; Anat Cohen takes top clarinetist award; Bottom: Tia Fuller addresses the crowd; Kurt Elling thanks the group.]

I attended the JAA dinner on behalf of the All About Jazz website and was honored to accept the award for Website of the Year. All About Jazz is, hands down, the best site on the web. It provides so much information, so many features, so many things, for fans but also musicians and people in the industry. Special salute to publisher/found Mike Ricci. And as I mentioned on stage, I also personally salute John Kelman, a tireless editor and organizer of material for AAJ. And a damn fine writer who knows his shit inside and out. They are the nuts and bolts of AAJ, to me. And they’re both a pleasure as people.

As much as there were great musicians who won awards, there were far many more great one that got no acknowledgement. Such is the way with awards. But sticking to the results, it was a great pleasure to see Roberta Gambarini win Female Vocalist of the Year. Her reputation has been growing, but formal awards have eluded her. Her albums have been Grammy worthy -- It’s coming one day. Her range and vocal instrument, with her depth of feeling, make her a sublime listen every time. Nice to see her earn the trophy. Kurt Elling’s presence at the top of the male vocalist list should be a given. He is tops in talent and he is always seeking creative ways to utilize his superb skills.

Roberta let it be known on facebook that she wanted to attend the event, but was struggling with the effects of food poisoning. She said she would have dedicated the award to one of her great friends and mentors, the late, great Hank Jones. Ironically, another of her great friends and mentors, James Moody, won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Moody couldn't make it due to recent surgery, but people reported that he's doing well and will be back on the scene. Congrats to Moody!

Joe Lovano has become one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, always creative, always passionate. He plays with heart. All the time. So his hat trick of saxophonist, small group and record of the year was deserved. Maria Schneider, one of the nicest people in jazz, is also one of its master composer/arrangers. Nice to see her take home two awards. Anat Cohen as clarinet player of the year was another noteworthy one. She has fast established herself as a great player on the instrument with bright, fresh ideas. But don’t go to sleep on her tenor sax playing. She an bring it! A great young player. (I never did find the food either, Anat…oh well).

Great to see George Wein going strong at almost 85. I’m particularly pleased to see him get Events Producer of the Year over younger, talented, producers of important events. The reason he should still be awarded after all these years is the way he breathed life back into the Newport Jazz Festival, now sponsored by CareFusion. The citadel of jazz festivals fell after he left the guardhouse, but he brought it back to great heights last year. And he’s revived his New York City festival too, which is great. His energy is boundless… and he’s still playing piano gigs with bands he puts together!

Too many winners to comment on. But the nicest thing for me is to see all these people in the room, talking, laughing, hugging. The musicians are on tour a lot, of course, so “hang” time as a group is rare. So is rubbing elbows with so many writers. Great to see all the industry people and so many excellent writers for whom jazz music is a passion. There’s always a fine spirit in the room. One of community and passion and joy. That’s the best part.

Some exceptional music was performed too, by pianist Ayako Shirasaki, guitarist Rale Micic's Trio, pianist Marc Cary's Focus Trio, saxophonist Tia Fuller's Quartet and Bobby Sanabria's Big Band. Fuller’s alto sax was scorching. Cary’s too brief appearance was intense, the group hard-driving and the pianist nimble and hot. Micic is someone to keep an eye on and Sanabria’s Latin group moved the feet and heart. Sweet stuff. Shirasaki played while people came in and greeted one another; a tough gig, but she played with great touch and swing. Nice stuff.

One bone to pick: There’s got to be a way musicians can come up for their awards and not be dragged off stage because of time restraints. They should have a few moments to make their comments and get some of the love.

Other than that, I’ve got to find a way to get Brother Thelonious beer in upstate New York!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Bass Player to Watch

When young Ben Williams stepped on to the stage at the Kennedy Center in his native Washington, D.C., to participate in the Thelonious Monk Institute Bass Competition, he was nervous. There must be a certain amount of nerves connected with any “competition” but the jury for this particular prestigious event consisted of arguably the best bass players out there. By “out there,” I mean the planet Earth.

“I purposely made sure I didn’t look into the audience to see where they were sitting,” Williams said in a recent conversation. A man with an easy sense of humor, he chuckled at the recollection, “It was bad enough that I knew they were there. I didn’t want to look in the crowd look in the crowd and see them in the front. Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Christian McBride, John Patitucci just sitting there looking at me. I didn’t want to see that.”

Williams won the competition, its $20,000 scholarship, and a chance to record for Concord Records, which he will do on June 16-17. He expects his debut recording will be out early next year.

“They were all really cool,” Williams said of the judges that day. “Very supportive. It was nerve racking, but at the same time I feel like they were there to support me and all the contestants.”

Lots of people in the jazz world were already aware of Ben from gigs he did during his college years, which ended recently in New York City, where the 25-year-old has lived for a couple of years. He did gigs around his home town -- mostly R&B -- and then got into jazz in junior high and high school, the latter of which was Duke Ellington School of the Arts. He developed a strong jazz repertoire there. A teacher gave him a copy of Kind of Blue, the iconic Miles Davis album.

“I still remember how I felt the first time I listened to it. The first track, ‘So What.’ ‘Freddie Freeloader’ after that. I couldn’t even get past the first two songs. There was this overwhelming feeling of, like, shock and amazement. It’s like tasting chocolate cake for the first time, or something that you really love,” he said. “That first time. When you hear it, it feels like you’re going through this metamorphosis. You’re deep in this feeling that you’ve never felt before. I was very curious too. I knew at that point I wanted to do what I heard these guys doing. I want to be a part of that. I guess that’s when the jazz bug bit me.”

He played jazz gigs while at Michigan State University, under tutelage of Rodney Whitaker. From there he went to the Julliard School in New York City for his master’s degree, which he received last month. Living in the city, he getting to play with jazz notables, and went to work for the likes of Stefon Harris and Jacky Terrasson, touring and recording.

On May 22, he did his first road gig as a leader, bringing a quintet to Saratoga Springs, NY, under the auspices of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which runs the annual Freihofer’s Jazz Festival at the end of June.

On stage, Williams had an easy presence, joking with the audience between songs. At the helm of the band, he was steady. The group was composed of some of the best young players on the Big Apple scene -- Otis Brown II on drums, Aaron Goldberg on piano, Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano saxes, Matt Stevens on guitar. In the beginning, the group sounded like they hadn’t played together that much. Outstanding individually, the group sound needed some more cohesion. That element picked up as the night when on and if the young bassist can keep that going in spite of the vagaries of today‘s music business, the future is quite bright.

The group reworked Woody Shaw’s “Moontrane,” Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover,” Buster Williams’ “Christina,” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.” He also tossed in originals like “Dawn of a New Day,” a loping, mid-tempo, melodic vehicle that features the tasty piano of Goldberg, a growing presence in jazz, and Strickland on soprano, who played with gusto throughout the evening.

Williams solos during the night, sometimes long, always seemed melodic. He didn’t bring out some of the thumping technique that bassists like to employ to get the deep resonant sound. Ben has a nice sound, and his ideas were charged with pushing the melody and were creative in doing so. Noteworthy was his arco playing. Often times I find myself cringing when a bassist reaches for the bow. Not so on this night. He has a crisp attack and gets a great sound. (He also has classical training in his background). He played it blissfully over the romantic “Christina” melody.

Williams never called breakneck bebop tunes. The arrangements fluctuated in dynamics and range, ass did Williams individual playing. Even tough he has a strong R&B background, the version of Michael Jackson’s “Little Susie” was more abstract than pop or soul, then built in intensity. His solo had him harmonizing with his own bass lines by alternating lines on the bass.

It was a good set of music, and there’s much more to come. With that in mind, it’s also interesting to hear Ben’s response to what he feels is the key to his early success. It’s not woodshedding. It’s not his education. It’s not his contacts with particular musicians.

“Being a good person, first and foremost, really goes a long way. Being nice and being able to get along with people. Being a good human being. Being the kind of person people want to be around. Before you even play a note, you get a vibe about the kind of person you are. I try to maintain a good positive energy and be the kind of person people want to work with, first of all. Be as professional as I can. Always being prepared for the gig. Do my homework. Give it 110 percent. I think I really give a good message to people that their music matters, that you really care about the music and you’re serious about it. When they call you, it’s going to be a good time.”

That seems healthy to me. Speaks to character. His mother, who was at the concert, would be proud of that one. It speaks well for longevity in an industry that can eat people up.


Things are heating up in the Capital District of New York State -- Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and around.

On Sunday, June 6, the Caroline Street Blues and Arts Fest features Murali Coryell, who’s a hot young blues guy. He's also the son of guitar wizard Larry Coryell. Murali plays the Capital Region every so often. The Chris O’Leary band (Chris worked with Levon Helm for some time, and maybe still does on occasion) is also one to watch, as is George Fletcher’s Bourbon Renewal band. George is a fine local guitarist who runs two bands. The other, Tequila Mockingbirds, is an acoustic duo, though a scorching one. Not wimpy bullshit. Blues and jazz and rock and bluegrass and things in between.

But the electric blues band is always exciting. Kick ass tunes and solos. Give you da blues, baby. Great to check out. Food and arts and crafts will be decorating the Caroline Street area, along with other music to hear.

That night, Frank Vignola plays Caffe Lena on Phila Street in Saratoga.

Next week is SaratogaArtsFest, which will feature Warren Bernhardt playing some superb solo piano at Putnam’s Den on Putnam Street. All the arts are being represented June 10-13, but thankfully they have always had a jazz headliner group.

The Freihofer Festival, two days of great music on two stages, is June 26-27. It’s followed by a few concerts at Skidmore College in Saratoga. June 29, Stefon Harris and Blackout (featuring Williams on bass); July 1 and July 8, the Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute faculty concert, which features people like Dennis McKrell, Pat LaBarbera, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Shew, Bill Cunliffe and more. July 6 has pianists Bill Charlap and Rene Rosnes, now a married couple, performing a concert of duets.

Check for much more jazz in the region and visit All About Jazz every chance you get!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Entering the Blogosphere

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons,” said Buckminster Fuller. Perhaps. But for writers, technology has been here for a while, and I’m jumping into it -- finally -- in a blog. The blog, as the title suggests, is about America’s greatest art form -- jazz.

Not just jazz in general and jazz musicians that we all know and love. It will also feature at times the scene in the Albany-Saratoga region of New York State, which has a wealth of talent as well as many venues for these musicians to play. (We still need more, like everywhere else!)

New to this, I hope to see the page expand with more bells and whistles for the reader. I hope to grow with it. It will cover a lot of ground, but hopefully be informative and worthy of the public discourse.

The voice will not be that of my articles, but that of me. As such, it might ruffle or offend at times, but not for that sake. It’s just that honest is honest. So, fuck it.

Which brings me to the first general subject of my first entry: Miles Davis. Talk about honest. Honest in his dealings with folks and honest in his music. Uncompromising. Unapologetic.

Today -- May 26 -- would have been his 84th birthday. I celebrate it every year, calling it my Holy Day. Some thing that facetious, but I’ve gotten more inspiration from listening to Kind of Blue or Miles Smiles or Live at the Blackhawk ... Workin’Steamin’Relaxin’Cookin’ … than I ever did from any religion or authority.

(Photo: Taken by me at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1988)

While I had jazz music in my veins as a youngster, from family and some music I enjoyed that had horns in it, it was Cookin’ and Miles that reeled me in in high school. Starting with “My Funny Valentine” and the hauntingly beautiful sound of Miles, and moving into “Blues By Five,” where Trane joined in with Red, Philly Joe and P.C. to swing the blues like mad.

Miles music at every stage, including his electronic period of Bitches Brew fame to his funky period in the years before his death (Sept. 28, 1991), was a great adventurer. Full of energy and spirit and discovery. He was as true to art as anyone, even when some people ignorantly screamed that he was coasting. Moving yes, but putting out music that would stay current, not in a museum.

But most of us know that.

I have had the great thrill of interviewing many of the people who knew and worked with Miles. Chick, Herbie, Dave Holland, Jimmy Cobb, Marcus Miller, George Coleman, Joe Zawinul, Elvin Jones, Percy Heath, Robert Irving III, John Scofield, Sonny Rollins … many more. And many who knew him and/or were influenced by him. Let me shut up and give a smattering of what these people said about me personally to Miles Dewey Davis III.

CHICK COREA: “We all have great reverence for Miles, in that he was a trailblazer, carving new forms and new ways of communicating in order to stay contemporary and keep on communicating with new audiences. But retaining the high quality of music … He was an inspiration to us all. Look at all the musicians he spawned way before the 70s. Going back to the 50s, when he started making records. Then along came Coltrane, and my god! I always thought someone should make a documentary of the second half of 20th century music and have Miles be the center of that. He did spawn that.

DAVID WEISS (NYC trumpeter): “Miles doesn’t get enough credit for being a great trumpet player, and he was. But he didn’t last like that. He never stretched like that. If you listen to some of those tapes, he played with the same intensity. It’s unbelievable what Miles did.”

HUGH MASEKELA: “Miles Davis was a major hero to everybody because that was on the front page of every South African newspaper, even though it was an apartheid country. The guy stood up to the police outside Birdland and actually had a fist-fight … It was international news … We became very good friends. Miles was one of the first people who told me not to become a jazz musician. Because when I first came there, I was a bebopper. I was looking forward to maybe becoming a Messenger in Art Blakey’s band. Blakey and Dizzy and Miles, all of them said, ‘why don’t you put some of what you got from your country and mix it in. maybe we can learn something from you. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a statistic, like all of us.’”

JOHN SCOFIELD: “As a student of jazz it was fascinating to get his perspective on all the previous jazz that had gone before. And here was this guy with this high set of standards for what made good music. It was so much about what he liked, a lot from the bebop and swing era. So here we are playing Cyndi Lauper tunes and he was bringing his swing and his criterion to that music. He played his ass off every night, even when his horn wasn’t together. I think he had some physical problems and we didn’t play gigs sometimes for long periods of time. But he still played his ass off, even when his chops were down. It was all about the music.”

LENNY WHITE: “I had never had my name on an album before. Miles Davis was my hero. A lot of people don’t even got to meet their heroes. I got a chance to meet and play with my hero … This is an honest true story. We did that record (Bitches Brew) in August of 1969. In October, I woke up out of a dead sleep, sat straight up in my bed and said, ‘I recorded with Miles Davis.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was walking in a fog all that time. I actually did something that’s historic, that’s documented. It’s going to be around for people to hear for the rest of the world. That was really special to me. It didn’t hit me until a few months later.”

SONNY ROLLINS: “My relationship with Miles was very important for me. I always liked his wig. I always thought he was just a little bit different from the other great trumpet of that time, Fats Navarro. Miles always had a little different approach, sort of Lester Youngish approach in a way of speaking. He was a little bit more thoughtful, a little bit more nuanced. I always liked that about him.”

ROBERT IRVING III: “ … He had me go to the piano to play something for him. I don't remember exactly what I played; I think it was some sort of bluesy things. He was like a doctor who diagnosed a musical deficiency. He came around and he showed me these chord progressions that turned a light bulb on in my head in terms of harmonic possibilities. It changed me forever, in terms of my hearing the music and my approach; a lot of harmonic tension and release.”

As I like to say: Miles Bless us… Every one.

Stay tuned!

And visit the All About Jazz website every chance you get !!