Category Archives: Robert Glasper

The making of “Miles Ahead” – my DownBeat cover story (April 2016)

DonCheadle with his copy of DB

When Don Cheadle and Vince Wilburn, Jr., Miles Davis’s nephew, set out to capture Miles’s life on film, they had to figure out a “non-corny” way to do it. It had to be a film that Davis would have wanted to be associated with – not a traditional biopic.  And they had to get the music right. Which meant that Cheadle, already a competent jazz sax player, had to learn to play the trumpet well enough to play actual Davis solos. The score used a mix of original Davis recordings (Cheadle is playing along, but you hear Miles), and original music composed by Robert Glasper, featuring the gifted young trumpeter Keyon Harrold. For the DownBeat cover story, I had extensive conversations with Cheadle, Wilburn, Herbie Hancock, Miles’s first wife Frances Taylor Davis, Glasper, and Harrold. I loved the film, and I think I’m in good company (see Manohla Dargis’s review in the New York Times). I’d love to know what you think. You can read it here.

 

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Filed under Don Cheadle, Herbie Hancock, Keyon Harrold, Miles Ahead, Music Writing and Clips, Robert Glasper, Wayne Shorter

“Miles Ahead” in the April 2016 DownBeat

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My DownBeat Magazine cover story about the making of the new Don Cheadle film “Miles Ahead” has been mailed to subscribers and will be on newsstands next week. It includes interviews with director/star Cheadle, Herbie Hancock, composer Robert Glasper, and members of Miles’s family. Here’s the cover. To see a trailer for the film, go here: https://www.facebook.com/milesaheadfilm/

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Filed under Don Cheadle, Downbeat, Herbie Hancock, Keyon Harrold, Miles Davis, Music Writing and Clips, Robert Glasper

The Sound of Film to Come (The Guardian)

The Sound of Jazz to Come (Guardian)

Here’s my first piece for The Guardian: a look back on the history of jazz-on-film – the good, the bad and the ugly – pegged to the forthcoming release of two remarkable films about jazz. “Born to be Blue,” with Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker, opens March 25. Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” about you-know-who, opens April 1.

The article includes a list of my five favorite films about jazz and jazz musicians. The Guardian didn’t have room for my honorable mentions, but here they are:

  • Keep On Keepin’ On (2014) – poignant, inspirational documentary about the great trumpeter Clark Terry and his star pupil, the blind pianist Justin Kauflin;
  • Mo’ Better Blues (1990) – Spike Lee’s serious attempt to portray the lives of modern jazz musicians, with stirring music by the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terrence Blanchard);
  • Ray (2004) – Taylor Hackford’s conventional but still exhilarating biopic about Ray Charles, with a pull-all-the-stops-out performance by musician/actor Jamie Foxx; and
  • Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996) – Despite jazz being somewhat peripheral to the rather hackneyed crime story, it includes one of the best sequences of live jazz ever filmed, a cutting contest between Coleman Hawkins (saxophonist Craig Handy) and Ben Webster (saxophonist James Carter).

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Filed under Bing Crosby, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Craig Handy, Dexter Gordon, Don Cheadle, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Robert Glasper

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

My 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2015 (Jazz Times)

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Here’s a list of my favorite jazz CDs of 2015, as published in Jazz Times.

New Releases:
1. Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap, The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern(RPM/Columbia)
2. Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare)
3. Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes (Enja)
4. London, Meader, Pramuk & Ross, The Royal Bopsters Project (Motéma)
5. Aaron Diehl, Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue)
6. Dave Stryker, Messin’ With Mister T (Strikezone)
7. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT)
8. Cécile McLorin Salvant, For One to Love (Mack Avenue)
9. Nilson Matta, East Side Rio Drive (Krian)
10. Luciana Souza, Speaking In Tongues (Sunnyside)

Historical:
1. Tony Bennett/Bill Evans, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings(Fantasy)
2. Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning (Resonance)
3. Miles Davis, At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Columbia Legacy)

Honorable mentions: Karrin Allyson, Many a New Day: Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein (Motéma); Chris Dingman, The Subliminal and the Sublime (Inner Arts Initiative), Chris McNulty, Eternal (Palmetto); Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Cuba: The Conversation Continues(Motéma); Robert Glasper, Covered (Blue Note); Jonathan Kreisberg, Wave Upon Wave (New For Now); Duduka da Fonseca Trio, Jive Samba (Zoho)… and I may add some others as they occur to me.

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Filed under Aaron Diehl, Allen Morrison, Chris McNulty, Jazz Times, Karrin Allyson, Maria Schneider, Rez Abbasi, Robert Glasper, Royal Bopsters

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