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).
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
Jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, whose family came to Southern California from Pakistan when he was 4, grew up playing in bands that worshiped Van Halen, Rush, and other prog rockers. When he discovered Charlie Parker at age 16, he lost interest in rock in favor of bebop – acoustic music that swung. As a result, Abbasi never listened to jazz fusion artists like Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Weather Report – until now.
Abbasi’s new album Intents and Purposes (Enja) explores classics of the fusion era with a twist – everything is played on acoustic instruments by the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, including Bill Ware (vibraphone), Stephan Crump (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums). The results are beautiful and amazing. Even if you don’t like fusion, perhaps especially if you don’t like it, this album is a must-hear. My profile of Rez from the March 2015 DownBeat is here. You can hear a few samples from the album and view a “making of” video here.
My DownBeat cover story on singer/songwriter Gregory Porter is out now. Read it here. Or better yet, support print journalism, and buy it at a newsstand (Barnes & Noble carries it). Lots of great stuff in the issue, including coverage of the Montreal and Toronto jazz festivals (I wrote the latter) and tons of interesting record reviews.
Gregory Porter at home in Brooklyn (photo by Allen Morrison)
RT @amorrison2 “#GregoryPorter’s “Liquid Spirit” drops Sept 17. Happy to say my profile of him is cover of Oct #DownBeat, out soon. ” Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit video
With Tia Fuller, backstage at the Apollo Theater.
What did Tia Fuller learn from playing in Beyoncé’s all-female band? See my interview with the alto sax star — winner of two DownBeat Rising Star awards this year for alto and flute — from the August 2013 DownBeat.
Bobby McFerrin at sound check, Adelphi University. Photo by Adam McCullough
After years of singing mostly songs without words, or in improvised languages of his own invention, Bobby McFerrin has returned to singing the type of songs in which the lyrics are as essential as the music, with words that express his deepest yearnings: spirituals. In my interview with McFerrin, he talks about his early career and influences, why he considers himself a “folk” musician, and the process of creating his new album spirityouall.
“Free to be Jane Monheit” – DownBeat, June 2013
Jane Monheit, one of the most accomplished jazz singers of her generation, no longer strives for perfection. Here’s my article from the June 2013 DownBeat.