Maria Schneider Wins JJA Triple Crown

Maria-3 (3)On Thursday night before a packed house at Birdland, I had the privilege of presenting genius composer-bandleader Maria Schneider with three 2018 Jazz Awards on behalf of the 185 voting members of the Jazz Journalists Association. She won for best jazz composer, best arranger, and best large ensemble for the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

If there were an award for best public service by a musician, she might win that as well, for her tireless activism in the fight to get fair compensation for music creators and other artists. It’s a fight that, as Maria will tell you, is far from over.

Maria once told me her favorite compliment that she ever received. A musician friend of hers was driving his 12-year-old son to soccer practice and playing The Thompson Fields on the car stereo. After a few minutes of listening, his son said, “Wow, Dad, I didn’t know there was music that sounded like this.” There is.

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Filed under Jazz Journalists Association, Maria Schneider

Marsalis quintet, plus a few guests named Willie, Bob, Ray and James (DownBeat)

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The blues is the lingua franca on United We Swing: Best Of The Jazz At Lincoln Center Galas (Blue Engine), a new compilation of live performances featuring the Wynton Marsalis Septet. I spoke with Wynton recently about the new album for DownBeat.

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Filed under Blue Engine Records, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Music Writing and Clips, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis

An exciting new jazz songwriter

I caught Alina Engibaryan, a young Armenian-Russian emigre, last night at the Jazz Standard, with a truly all-star band of sax legend Chris Potter, bassist Michael League (her producer), Taylor Eigsti on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums – wow! She occupies the jazz-pop-soul space carved out by artists like Stevie Wonder (think “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl”) and extends it, exploring the jazz implications more deeply. #AlinaEngibaryan #jazz

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Filed under Alina Engibaryan, Chris Potter, Kendrick Scott, Michael League, Taylor Eigsti

Kurt Elling asks “The Questions”

Kurt Elling has always been one of our most cerebral jazz singers, which is not to say he doesn’t swing like a mother. Over lunch and several glasses of Montepulciano at his favorite neighborhood pizzeria on the Upper West Side…

Kurt Elling and me, March 2018

…we talked for nearly three hours about his new album, The Questions (Okeh), which he describes as both a reaction to the era of division and vitriol brought on by the Trump Administration, and an attempt to rise above it and consider more cosmic matters. To that end, the album features shattering, modern interpretations of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune;” it also includes lyrics he adapted from favorite poems by Wallace Stevens, Franz Wright, and Rumi, among others. The album, co-produced by Branford Marsalis, is one of my favorite discs of the year. Our discussion appears in the June issue of DownBeatbut you can read it here.

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Filed under Branford Marsalis, Downbeat, Kurt Elling

In Memoriam: Bob Dorough

Bob Dorough at Kitano, 2012

Bob Dorough at Jazz at Kitano, with my friend and fellow Dorough fan Terry King, in August 2012. We were thrilled to meet him.

The great jazz singer, songwriter and pianist Bob Dorough passed away yesterday at 94. Perennially young and energetic, we thought he would go on forever. I saw him give a breezy, masterful performance at Jazz at Kitano four years ago, when he was 90. He sang and played like someone 30 years younger, with his pony tail and that patented Arkansas twang of his that, somehow, added to his hipster image. I interviewed him and reviewed the show for DownBeat. He will no doubt be best remembered for “Schoolhouse Rock,” for which he wrote and recorded many of the songs. But his great songbook also includes the immortal “Devil May Care,” “I’m Hip” (with Dave Frishberg), and “Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before.” He also holds the distinction of being one of the only vocalists ever to sing on a Miles Davis album (Sorcerer). 

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Bob Dorough meets Cecile McLorin Salvant at the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival (photo: AM).

In August 2015, I witnessed his first meeting with Cecile McLorin Salvant following her performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. He presented her with a folio of some of his songs that he thought she might like. She was thrilled and subsequently added “Devil May Care” and “Nothing Like You” to her repertoire.

“Nothing like him,” indeed.

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Manhattan Transfer Reboots

Manhattan Transfer, from left: Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel and Trist Curless (Photo: John Abbott)

I spoke with The Manhattan Transfer’s Alan Paul and new member Trist Curless about the group’s great new album “The Junction,” its first in nearly a decade. It plays like a pop album, but an awfully hip one. Story in DownBeat Magazine.

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Filed under Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Manhattan Transfer, Mervyn Warren, Trist Curless

I moderated a panel at L.I.U.-Post’s “Jazz Day” on March 3

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Joining me in the Career Pathways in Jazz panel were (l-r) Prof. Jeff Lederer; guitarist Al Marino, and drummer Brad Sporkin.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on “Career Pathways in Jazz” as part of L.I. University-C.W. Post’s annual “Jazz Day” on Saturday, March 3. Joining me in discussing what it takes to make a career in jazz (and other genres of music) were saxophonist/clarinetist and Post professor Jeff Lederer; recent Post music graduate and working guitarist Al Marino; and my friend, the drummer Brad Sporkin. We also had some great contributions from pianist/bandleader Richie Iacona, also a Post professor.  Thanks so much to Jeff; LIU Director of Music Education Dr. Jennifer Miceli; and University Director of Arts Advancement Brian Hoeflschweiger for inviting me.

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Filed under Allen Morrison, Jeff Lederer, Lectures