Category Archives: Derrick Hodge

Blue Note Stars Set Sail on Queen Mary 2

By Allen Morrison, from DownBeat, Feb. 2016

Blue Note Jazz at SeaFor seven days in late October/early November, one of the hippest jazz clubs on the planet was no jazz club at all, but rather Cunard Lines’ flagship Queen Mary 2, during the inaugural Cunard/Blue Note “Jazz at Sea” Festival, during a transatlantic crossing from Brooklyn to Southampton, England.

Accompanied by label president, bassist/producer Don Was, the musicians onboard included some of Blue Note Records’ biggest names: singer Gregory Porter, pianist Robert Glasper, and the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band, an all-star group featuring Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Kendrick Scott, guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, subbing for Ambrose Akinmusire. Other players onboard included drummers E.J. Strickland and Mark Colenburg, pianist Fabian Almazen, keyboardists Michael Aaberg and Federico Peña, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist/singer Alan Hampton.

Cunard has scheduled two more transatlantic crossings featuring Blue Note stars on the luxurious, 2,500-passenger ocean liner in 2016: westbound departing Southampton on August 1 and eastbound from Brooklyn on October 26.

The inspiration for the partnership was Cunard’s, according to Stanley Birge, vice-president of Cunard, N.A. By booking some of the world’s most prominent jazz artists, the passenger ship line, long known for its cultural programming, is trying to appeal to current customers but also to attract a new generation to the cruise line, he said.

The partnership was anything but inevitable, and success was not assured. The venerable British company, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary, is among the most tradition-bound of cruise lines, with a customer base that skews older and includes a high percentage of Brits. Blue Note, celebrating its 75th year, has a different kind of tradition, one of defying convention and expanding the boundaries of jazz. This made for some odd juxtapositions – for example, fox-trotting older passengers in formalwear in a ballroom immediately next door to a nightclub presenting forward-leaning jazz units led by Lionel Loueke or Derrick Hodge.

“Honestly, there was some fear, before we left the dock,” Was said in a shipboard interview, seated by a window in a quiet corner while watching the North Atlantic roll by. He described warily eyeing the passengers as they queued up to board the ship. “There was a disparity between who you’d perceive the jazz audience to be and who was getting on the ship. But it’s been incredible, man! The idea was to give people a taste of something exotic – but that didn’t mean they’d like the taste of it. There was no guarantee. But I think it’s been hugely successful,” he said, noting the growing numbers of passengers showing up for the nightly jazz sets and stopping him in the hallways to express their appreciation for the music.

The experiment got off to rather a shaky start after dinner on the first evening, on the stage of the ship’s 1,094-seat Royal Court Theatre, with the odd combination of a typical cruise ship revue and straight-ahead jazz. The show featured a decidedly un-hip quartet of singers in musty, English music-hall-style recitations of “The Good Life” and “Mack the Knife” (done mambo-style), performed to a canned Midi soundtrack; the big finish involved showgirls in extravagant feathered costumes. After about a half-hour, incongruously, Don Was appeared in his usual shades, dreadlocks and cowboy hat. “How many of you are familiar with Blue Note Records?” he asked. A smattering of applause. “How many are jazz fans?” Another smattering.

After explaining a bit of the Blue Note label’s history and assuring the audience that “you don’t need an advanced degree; jazz is a conversation,” he introduced the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band, calling them “the best jazz musicians in the world.” (No pressure.) The atmosphere seemed a little tense as the band came out and silently took their places, no one knowing how this would fly with the cruise passengers. They launched into Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround,” with a series of playful solos that sometimes left conventional tonality behind. It was a statement, almost defiant, that there would be no compromises. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the audience headed for the exits during the extended soloing.

Nevertheless, by the time they took the stage again a few nights later as the evening’s main performers, the 75th Anniversary Band had made a few adjustments, incorporating more familiar jazz standards like “So What?” and “In Your Own Sweet Way,” to meet the audience halfway. “I thought they were most generous in understanding that a large portion of the audience was uninitiated,” Was said. “They played half of Kind of Blue last night!” he laughed. “It was really fun. It’s not something they would normally play.” This time the audience remained for the whole show and responded warmly.

That response peaked over the next two nights with several appearances by Porter, the crowd-pleasing featured performer. He was backed by the 75th Anniversary Band, in a tight, soulful set featuring brief but tasty solos by the all-stars (a full review will be posted online). Other small group performances in various venues – a mid-ship lounge called the Chart Room, the G-32 night club, and a movie theater/planetarium – featured Glasper’s trio, and groups led by Kendrick Scott, Marcus Strickland, Loueke and Hodge, among others. They drew a growing audience of passengers as the voyage progressed, attracting both the minority who were jazz fans prior to sailing and many new converts.

On the question of whether the paring of Blue Note and Cunard would win new customers to Blue Note or help the label sell more CDs, Was was thoughtful. “My overall feeling, speaking not as a music fan but as a label president, is that selling records to consumers is not a viable business anymore. So I’m very interested in new ways to…monetize the music – or else it’s gonna end. So this is a radical, futuristic model for how everybody can make a little bread, and you can bring in new people to hear the music.”

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Filed under Blue Note, Blue Note Jazz at Sea, Cunard, Derrick Hodge, Don Was, Downbeat, Gregory Porter, Kendrick Scott, Keyon Harrold, Lionel Loueke, Marcus Strickland, Robert Glasper

Guitarist Lionel Loueke On Herbie, Don Was, and His New Blue Note Album

2971_lionel_loueke20_by_mathieu_bittonBorn in Benin in West Africa, jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke has been Herbie Hancock’s guitarist for the past decade. He’s also a member of the all-star Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band with Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott, Marcus Strickland and Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpeter Keyon Harrold subbed for Akinmusire on the voyage). Lanky and soft-spoken, Lionel speaks excellent English, accented by his native Fon and French. I had the pleasure of interviewing him during the Cunard/Blue Note Jazz at Sea Festival on board the Queen Mary 2 in November. Here are some highlights, as published in DownBeat.

All week long on the ship, people were talking about Lionel’s vocals as well as his guitar playing, especially his brilliant use of a harmonizing box to create a ghostly choir effect on “Message of Hope,” a song written by band-mate Hodge. Lionel told me that song will be included on the first album by the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band (formerly known as “Our Point of View), to be released later this year.

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Filed under Ambrose Akinmusire, Blue Note Jazz at Sea, Derrick Hodge, Gregoire Maret, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Scott, Keyon Harrold, Lionel Loueke, Marcus Strickland, Robert Glasper

Gregory Porter Talks New Album (DownBeat, 12/29/15)

imageGregory Porter recently headlined the first Cunard/Blue Note Jazz at Sea transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, backed by the all-star Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band. Here’s a shipboard interview I conducted with the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, in which he talks about playing with such an elite band and his forthcoming album, his second for Blue Note.

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Filed under Blue Note Jazz at Sea, Derrick Hodge, Don Was, Gregory Porter, Keyon Harrold, Robert Glasper

GregoryPorter, All-Stars Celebrate Blue Note Records 75th Anniversary at Sea

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Kendrick Scott (left), Gregory Porter, Lionel Loueke, Don Was, Marcus Strickland, Robert Glasper, Keyon Harrold and Derrick Hodge aboard the Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Courtesy MGA Media Group)

Here’s the first of my reviews of the Cunard/Blue Note “Jazz At Sea” Festival on the Queen Mary 2, from DownBeat.com, focusing on singer/songwriter Gregory Porter’s show with the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band.  The transatlantic crossing featured performances and interviews with Porter, pianist Robert Glasper, label president Don Was, and a dozen more Blue Note Records artists. My overall review of the week-long crossing will appear in the February print edition of Downbeat.

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Filed under Blue Note, Blue Note Jazz at Sea, Derrick Hodge, Don Was, Downbeat, Gregory Porter, Kendrick Scott, Keyon Harrold, Lionel Loueke, Music Writing and Clips, Robert Glasper

Cunard/Blue Note “Jazz at Sea”

Don Was - Queen Mary 2In late October, I was thrilled to be invited by DownBeat Magazine to cover the inaugural Cunard/Blue Note “Jazz at Sea” cruise – a transatlantic crossing from Brooklyn to Southampton, England aboard the Queen Mary 2. Don Was, the president of Blue Note Records for the last four years, came along to present some of his label’s stars – Gregory Porter, Robert Glasper, and the all-star Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band. It was Don’s first cruise, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. So did I.  I’m writing several pieces about the cruise, one for the print edition (cover date: February), and others for the DownBeat.com website.  The first of them will probably appear this week – a review of Gregory Porter, backed by the Blue Note all-stars. I’ll post them as they appear.

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Filed under Blue Note Jazz at Sea, Derrick Hodge, Downbeat, Gregory Porter, Kendrick Scott, Keyon Harrold, Lionel Loueke, Marcus Strickland, Music Writing and Clips, Robert Glasper