Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018

Farewell, Lady Soul. And to anyone who has the slightest doubt about her supreme abilities as an improviser in a jazz context, here’s game, set, match. One of the most moving recordings I’ve ever heard. She was beyond category.

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A Memory of Egberto Gismonti at Brazil’s MIMO Festival in 2014

Egberto Gismonti at MIMO Paraty - 2014

Lately I’ve been listening to Egberto Gismonti, one of Brazil’s greatest composers, as I’m working on a piece for DownBeat about a new tribute album to him by virtuoso clarinetist Eddie Daniels. It reminded me of a night in 2014 when I saw Gismonti give a thrilling SRO performance in a church in Paraty, Brazil, as part of the MIMO Festival.  I never got around to posting the article I wrote about that night for DownBeat: here it is.

After the concert, I was invited to go to dinner with him and a group of MIMO staff. He told me about a concert he had given some years earlier attended by his mother and aunt, in which he chose not to play a famous song of his called “Palhaço” (which translates as “Pagliaccio” or “Clown”). As he took his bows, some audience members demanded the song, a fan favorite, repeatedly yelling, “Palhaço, Palhaço!”  His mother and aunt, apparently unfamiliar with the song, took umbrage. Later they told him,  “How can they be so disrespectful! You played so beautifully!” The video below starts slowly, but hang on.

 

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Filed under Brazilian music, Egberto Gismonti, MIMO Festival

Maria Schneider Wins JJA Trifecta

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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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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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

Geri Allen’s Spirit Fills Winter Jazzfest During All-Star Tribute

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Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen performs at the star-filled tribute to Geri Allen at Winter Jazzfest in NYC on January 15, 2018. That’s singer Lizz Wright and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington on the left. (Photo: Gulnara Khamatova)

A moving and heartfelt tribute to the great jazz pianist and composer unfolded as a series of highlights by a high-wattage group of players including Terri Lyne Carrington (musical director), Esperanza Spalding, Lizz Wright,  Dee Dee Bridgewater, Helen Sung, Vijay Iyer, Kris Davis, Tia Fuller, JD Allen, Jack DeJohnette, and many more. My review at DownBeat.com.

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Filed under Dee Dee Bridgewater, Esperanza Spalding, Geri Allen, Helen Sung, Jack DeJohnette, JD Allen, Lizz Wright, Terri Lyne Carrington, Tia Fuller, Vijay Iyer

At 56, Wynton Marsalis Reflects on His Induction Into the DownBeat Hall of Fame

Downbeat December 2017 cover

At 56, Marsalis is among the youngest living artists ever inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame. If he had only been the leading trumpeter of his generation, there’s little doubt he eventually would have made it into the hallowed hall. But it’s his tireless work as an educator, bandleader, fundraiser, non-profit executive, and advocate for jazz and American culture that probably sealed the deal so soon.  My interview with him, from the December 2017 DownBeat.

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Filed under Aaron Diehl, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marcus Printup, Music Writing and Clips, Sherman Irby, Wynton Marsalis

A Night at the Blue Note, Rio with Antonio Adolfo and Bossa Nova legend Carlos Lyra

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Antonio Adolfo performs at The Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov. 11. (Photo: Alexandre Moreira)

Although he may look more like a professor or kindly physician, Antonio Adolfo is, in reality, a killer pianist/arranger and master of samba jazz. In early November, the beginning of summer in Brazil, I went to the beautiful new Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro to get my samba fix.  Adolfo led a septet that features some of the finest jazz musicians in Brazil. And then he introduced his guest, one of the great Bossa Nova singer/songwriters, Carlos Lyra. My story in DownBeat.

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Brazil’s MIMO Festival Brings the World to Rio de Janeiro

Didier Lockwood Trio at Igreja da Candalaria, Rio

Didier Lockwood Trio at Igreja da Candalaria, Rio (photo by Beto Figueiroa, MIMO Festival)

Last week’s MIMO Festival-Rio was a musical bazaar including MPB (Brazilian pop), Afro-pop, Portuguese pop, jazz, salsa, and unclassifiable music from around the world. And it ended with a samba explosion to make traditional Brazilian music fans smile. Here’s my review in @DownBeatMag.

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Filed under Brazilian music, Criolo, Didier Lockwood, MIMO Festival

“Another Thing (Outra Coisa)” – Anat Cohen w/Marcello Gonçalves

One of the most acclaimed clarinetists in jazz, Israeli-born Anat Cohen has somehow also managed to become one of the world’s foremost practitioners of Brazilian jazz. If you’d like to expand your appreciation of Brazilian music beyond the usual Bossa Novas, dig this hauntingly beautiful video. Then read my profile of her from the July 2017 DownBeat.

Anat and me
With Anat Cohen, May 2017

 

 

 

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Filed under Anat Cohen, Brazilian music, Marcello Goncalves, Moacir Santos

Marsalis, JLCO Pay Tribute to Jelly Roll Morton

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Pianists Sullivan Fortner (above), Aaron Diehl, Dan Nimmer, and two excellent student pianists from Julliard (Micah Thomas and Joel Wenhardt) rocked the “House of Swing” in “The Fantastic Mr. Jelly Lord,” the JLCO season opener at Jazz at Lincoln Center last weekend.  My review in DownBeat.

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Filed under Aaron Diehl, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jelly Roll Morton, JLCO, Sullivan Fortner, Wynton Marsalis

Coming soon – my profile of Wynton Marsalis

Photographer: Luigi Beverelli

Today I had the privilege of sitting down with Wynton Marsalis in his dressing room at Jazz at Lincoln Center for a DownBeat interview, five years after our first meeting. We talked about his career, his evolution as a musician and a human being, his hopes for the future.  Article coming soon.

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2017 Newport Jazz Festival Highlights Soloists and Teamwork – my review in DownBeat.

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The 2017 Newport Jazz Festival was, as usual, a showcase and a proving ground for great soloists.  Here’s my recap, concentrating on a few of the finest performances I heard, including those of vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant (above) who performed with the Aaron Diehl Trio; the Maria Schneider Orchestra; the Benny Golson Quartet; and the Christian McBride Big Band.

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Filed under Aaron Diehl, Allen Morrison, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Christian McBride, Maria Schneider, Mike LeDonne, Newport Jazz Festival, Paul Sikivie, Steve Davis

27-year-old NYC jazz singer-songwriter Allegra Levy swings on new album “Cities Between Us”

IMG_0435.JPGIt’s not that Allegra Levy is necessarily an intrepid traveler or impulsive risk-taker. After all, the opening track on the 27-year-old New York jazz vocalist’s first album  was an ode to worry and indecision entitled “Anxiety.” But when an email from a stranger appeared in her inbox one morning, it wasn’t long before she was on a plane to Hong Kong.  She talked about her adventure and her second album with me for a DownBeat “Players” profile in the June issue.

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More of My Talk With Brazilian Pianist/Singer Eliane Elias (DownBeat, June 2017)

Eliane, 098_v3-V4_F-copy“My first great love was jazz,” Eliane Elias told me recently. “At age 10 and 11, I used to spend hours and hours transcribing my mother’s jazz records; [by contrast,] the samba and bossa nova were just part of the DNA of the culture.” Her new album, Dance of Time, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first samba recording. DownBeat published a short version of the Q&A in its June issue. Below is a longer one.

Eliane Elias Returns to Sao Paulo and the Samba

Samba is in Eliane Elias’ blood, but it was not the Brazilian singer-pianist’s first love. A piano prodigy in her native São Paulo, she was copping Red Garland licks as a jazz-besotted 12-year-old. Jazz always came first.

It still does. “My first great love was jazz,” she said recently. “At age 10 and 11, I used to spend hours and hours transcribing my mother’s jazz records; [by contrast,] the samba and Bossa Nova were just part of the DNA of the culture.”

For most of her career, including more than two dozen albums, her focus was on her spectacular, straight-ahead jazz piano style. In 2015, however, she returned to Brazil to record for the first time since she emigrated to New York in 1981. The result was 2015’s Grammy-winning Made in Brazil. For her latest album, Dance of Time, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first samba recording (“Pelo Telefone”), she once again chose to record in Brazil. The album includes a mix of samba classics (“Copacabana,” “O Pato,” “Sambou, Sambou”), original ballads, and standards.

In São Paulo, Elias had help from an enormously talented rhythm section including guitarist Marcus Teixeira, electric bassist Marcelo Mariano, and drummer Edu Ribeiro. Also on hand were some distinguished collaborators: two of her mentors, the Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Toquinho and pianist Amilton Godoy, a founding member of the Zimbo Trio; singer/guitarist João Bosco; Mark Kibble of Take 6, who contributes lush vocal harmonies on three tracks; vibes player Mike Mainieri; and Randy Brecker (Elias’ ex-husband), who plays flugelhorn on a reharmonized version of “Speak Low.”  Her current husband and regular acoustic bassist, Marc Johnson, co-produced the set.

Do you think of yourself these days as a pianist who happens to sing, or do you give both equal weight?

Eliane Elias: I feel I am a pianist first, although I’ve been singing for a long time, and it’s an integral part of what I do.  But the piano – that’s my instrument. It’s like the continuation of my body, my soul.

How do you balance singing and playing?  

Maybe 15 years ago I wasn’t as comfortable doing it as now. But I have gotten to a place where I love singing and playing. In fact, when I’m playing Brazilian things and doing all the syncopation, just the piano alone – with lots of offbeats in the left hand and improvising with the right – already that’s like two people. And then you add the voice, and it’s like, wow, OK!” [laughs].

It does sometimes seem like there are three of you when you’re singing and playing.

[Laughs] I shouldn’t say so, but you’re not too far off.

Why did you decide to record Dance of Time in Brazil?

I wanted to celebrate the samba, but I also wanted to celebrate these great Brazilian musicians who were so important in my life.

Is the rhythm section one that you couldn’t duplicate outside of Brazil?

Frankly, yes.

The current album dispenses with the strings you used on your last album. Why?

Traditionally, I haven’t recorded with strings. This time, the harmonies and the tempos were different. As I was writing the arrangements, I felt we had to focus on the samba rhythms of my left hand – they had to be front and center.  There were a few ballads where strings might have been nice, though. On [the ballad] “Little Paradise,” I thought about having Johnny Mandel write the strings. He wanted to work with me, and I was so honored. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, for logistical reasons. But when I recorded the song, there’s a moment that I sing, “A melody comes back to me / that we heard before,” and, at that moment, I quote a melody that was written by Johnny. But let’s not say which one it is – let people figure it out!

The final song on the album, “Not to Cry (Pra Nao Chorar),” a duet with Toquinho, is especially touching.

When Toquinho was in the studio with me, I reminded him that he had started a song back in 1978. I played a little of it, and he said, “Oh my, I forgot!” At the time he had called the song “Eliane,” but it was unfinished. The lyrics [in Portuguese] are all about our story – how he and I used to tour together in the 1970s with [the great Brazilian poet, lyricist and entertainer] Vinicius de Moraes, and how now he looks at photographs of that time and tries not to cry. So we finished it together. The lyrics he wrote are so beautiful they made me cry.

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Filed under Brazilian music, Eliane Elias

Coming up: more jazz history lectures on the Queen Mary 2 and at L.I. libraries

QM2 voyage to Norway - Flaam

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be presenting about jazz history aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 again this summer and fall.  First up will be a voyage from Southampton, England to the fjords of Norway, July 13-21, including the tiny village of Flaam, pictured above.  Please consider joining me if you can!  The beautiful Queen Mary 2 is one of the greatest cruising experiences in the world.  For more information on this trip, visit Cunard’s website. (Feel free to email me if you have questions.)  And on November 5-12, I’ll be a guest speaker on a transatlantic crossing, Southampton-New York.

Much closer to home, I’ll be speaking at the Freeport Memorial Library (on Merrick Road in Freeport) again on Sunday, May 21 at 2:30 p.m. My subject will be “A Brief History of Modern Jazz Piano: From Bud Powell to Herbie Hancock and Beyond,” complete with rare film clips and audio. Admission is free.  I’ll announce the event on Facebook soon.

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Filed under Jazz History, Lectures, Queen Mary 2