Saturday, September 27, 2008

Choo choo! Woo woo!

For all of you swing voters.... Thanks to my friend (and fellow MacPhail student) Bevyn Marvy for passing this on.

MJF/51: Festival Wrap-Up

The whole glorious Monterey Jazz Festival weekend--as much of it as I could squeeze in--is described in my just-posted wrap-up on Jazz Police, with you-are-there photos by John Whiting.

If the flow seems a little hinky, simply resize your browser window. (Click and pull on the right-hand corner if you're on a Mac--I'm guessing it works that way on PCs, too?)

XOXOXO to Lena-Andrea Kobett for wrangling the beast.

Charlie Haden Family & Friends

While researching Charlie Haden for MinnPost, I learned he was about to release a country music CD, and that he had sung (and yodeled) bluegrass music as a child on his family's radio program on KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. Rambling Boy came out on Tuesday (Sept. 23). "Great CD," he said during our interview. "Couldn't be better. My daughters, my son, my wife, Vince Gill, Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas--all these great musicians. Pictures of my family."

The CD has its own Web site, with a video about the making of the album. Check it out.

Liane Hansen interviewed Haden and his family (including son-in-law Jack Black) for NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday, Sept. 21. It's a really nice piece and worth a listen.

The NPR site led me to an earlier interview from the Tavis Smiley Show (Nov. 11, 2004) during which Haden talked with Roy Hurst about the creation of free jazz--and why he plays with his eyes closed: "The obvious answer to that is 'to concentrate.' But I tell this funny little story: The first night we opened at the Five Spot, I was unpacking my base, and Ornette was getting his horn out, we're getting ready to play, and I looked across at where the bar was, and standing at the bar were Wilbur Ware, Charlie Mingus, Ray Brown, Percy Heath, Paul Chambers--every great bass player in New York City was looking right in my face, and I said, from that time on, I close my eyes."

Photo by Jim McGuire.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Charlie Haden: More from the interview

The great bassist Charlie Haden brings his Liberation Music Orchestra
to Minneapolis tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 27) for the first concert in the 2008-09 Northrop Jazz Season. I had the opportunity to speak with him earlier this month for MinnPost.

Not everything from the interview made it into the article. Here's more.

Haden described the latest LMO album, Not in Our Name, as "a desperate attempt to reach people with beautiful music and make them realize how important it is to have reverence for life. To see the preciousness of life and to recognize the injustices of the world." (This quote does appear in the article.)

I asked him if something specific had happened in his life to make him care so much. He related the story, which has been reported elsewhere, of being rocked to sleep by his mother when he was about 2 years old. She was humming folk songs to him, and he started humming the harmony.

"I think that was my first sensitivity to music," he told me. "From then on, it was a very sensitive journey for me--everything was very delicate, sensitive, vulnerable.... When I was 4, I was screaming in my room, really loud, and my mother ran in saying 'Charlie, what is wrong?' I said, 'I don't want to die!' She said, 'Charlie, you're 4 years old, you're not going to die!' I was confronted [at that early age] with how lucky life is, that the history of the universe is inside of all of us from the beginning of time, and we have to do everything we can to make [life] as beautiful as we can for everybody....

"I saw a lot of things when I was a kid in a racist place.... I don't know why my mother chose to take me once a month to an African-American church and sit and listen to the choir. She took me out of my three brothers and two sisters. All I had to do was look around me--at the lunch counters, the one movie theater where blacks could sit in the third balcony, the one school for African-American students. There were not many places they could go.... My family were not racist. Dad liked Roosevelt and was unhappy with Truman. I was raised in a family that was very liberal. Some things attracted me right away to right injustices in the world, to be more aware."

In 1971, while on tour in Portugal with Ornette Coleman and other jazz giants (Ellington, Miles, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy, Monk), Haden was arrested for dedicating "Song for Che" (a track from the first self-titled Liberation Music Orchestra album) to liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau, which were then Portuguese colonies. He was apprehended at the airport, imprisoned overnight, and interrogated by the political police. The next day, Nixon's cultural attache to Portugal came for him and he was released.

I asked him, "Do you think if you were arrested in Portugal today that a cultural attache would come for you?" He said, and I heard sadness in his voice, "Probably not."

Yet he keeps on keeping on, and his music is not, as you might expect, bitter or angry or full of despair. The title track to "Not in Our Name" is one of the sunniest, most optimistic tunes I have ever heard. It makes you want to dance and run through a field of flowers and smile at strangers.

Northrop sent out an email yesterday to ticket holders with a message from Haden: "We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom where creative thought becomes the most dominant force in all people's lives."

Two lengthy interviews with Charlie Haden are available online, one by Ethan Iverson for DownBeat (2008), the other by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now (2006). I learned a lot from both of them. Photo of Charlie Haden and Carla Bley by Thomas Dorn.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Miguel Zenon

HH and I were reading the Strib over breakfast yesterday when we noticed a brief piece on this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants." Among the 25 recipients are a violin virtuoso, an architectural historian who studies ancient bridges, and...a saxophonist?

We went to (not, as the Strib misprinted) and learned that the saxophonist is Miguel Zenon, whom we just saw twice at Monterey, with Maraca "Cuban Lullabies" and again with Antonio Sanchez's Migration. Before then, at the Dakota in 2005 and IAJE in 2004.

The MacArthur is the best of all possible awards. A description from the Web site: "Recipients learn in a single phone call from the Foundation that they will each receive $500,000 in 'no strings attached' support over the next five years."

Congratulations to this fine young musician.

Read more about Zenon here.
Visit his Web site.

his music channel on YouTube, with podcasts.
Hear him on
his MySpace page.

Photos by John Whiting from the 51st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
Top: Miguel Zenon. Bottom: Miguel Zenon and David Sanchez.

Jazz is bad, women are dumb

Nice work, Mickey D's.

As HH says, "Stupid is the new smart."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


To paraphrase Robert Burns: The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Our plane is scheduled to leave San Francisco at 3:55 p.m. Our rental car is due back at the airport at 2 p.m. We leave the hotel at 11 a.m. and turn onto Highway 1 heading north. It's about a 2-hour drive and we have 3 hours, after which we'll have 2 hours at the airport for lunch and leg-stretching before assuming the fetal position in the cramped 757.

At around 10:30 a.m., a tractor trailer heading north on Highway 1 miles ahead of us blows a tire, hits a guardrail, and bursts into flames.

See the man at the side of the road. That's the driver, running.


Trees and vegetation catch fire. Area residents are notified that they might have to evacuate. Traffic is s-l-o-w-l-y rerouted off the scenic highway to the surface streets of Aptos.

We spend the next 2 hours like this.

We arrive at the airport after 3, quickly return the car, and take the tram to the main terminal. By now it's 3:30. I'm certain we won't make our 3:55 flight. HH remains calm.

We make our flight. By some strange miracle, we seem to be the only people in the airport. No one in line at the Northwest counter, no one in line at the security checkpoint. We leave our luggage at the counter and get through security without being wanded or patted down. At the door of the plane, there's a brief verbal tussle about what to do with our small rollaboards. Of course there's no room in the overhead bins. There is never room in the overhead bins for the last people on the plane! One flight attend insists they must be checked. Another, a voice of reason, says "Oh, just stick them under the seats in front of you. Now go!" The door slams behind us. Later, when the beverage cart rolls our way, we buy the last remaining snack pack: three tiny triangles of bread, three cubes of cheese, six apple slices, eight grapes, seven dollars.

We're on our way home. Our luggage will take a later flight.

To quote William Shakespeare, "All's well that ends well."

Photos: Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel.

MJF/51: Sunday

The final day of this fine festival always comes too soon.
We saw what we could: Jamie Cullum, a conversation with Cullum and Clint Eastwood, a bit of Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Kurt Elling, Herbie Hancock. As we left the arena (during Herbie Hancock's encore), Kurt and Laurence Hobgood were leaving the autographing table. I wanted to run after them but exercised self-restraint.

In the days to come, I'll post longer pieces on Cassandra Wilson, Jamie Cullum, Kurt Elling, and Antonio Sanchez. A festival review/wrap-up will appear on Jazz Police.

(Update: The wrap-up has been posted.)

Photo by John Whiting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MJF/51: Saturday

We began day 2 of the Monterey Jazz Festival at Maria Schneider's rehearsal for the world premiere performance of her commissioned work, "Willow Lake." We heard a complete run-through of this beautiful piece, which reminded me of birds and cattails and sun sparkling on blue water.

When we go to live music, we usually see the performance part, the go-for-broke, in-the-moment event. We rarely see the behind-the-scenes crafting and shaping and working-out part, the take-it-again-from-bar-317 part.

Tonight's set list for the Jimmy Lyons Arena:

Last Season
Choro Dancado
Willow Lake
Rich's Piece
Hang Gliding

We were told the order could change. It didn't. That was the concert we heard later that night, and at the end, the crowd gave Maria and her orchestra a standing ovation.

Also seen/heard on day 2: DownBeat Magazine's Blindfold Test with Cassandra Wilson, Maceo Parker and the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Orchestra, the Terence Blanchard Quintet (very briefly, but with a big surprise), Antonio Sanchez & Migration (David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Scott Colley), the Matt Wilson-Bill Frisell Duo, and, to end and neatly frame the day, the last few minutes of the Maria Schneider Orchestra's late-night performance at Dizzy's Den, where Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood were standing outside the door, deep in conversation with two other people. I wanted to interrupt but exercised self-restraint.

Photos by John Whiting

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MJF/51: Friday

I'll write a Monterey Jazz Festival wrap-up for Jazz Police when I return home on Monday. A preview: On Friday we saw the Joshua Redman Trio, Cassandra Wilson, Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts, the Christian McBride Band, Anat Cohen, and Maraca "Cuban Lullabies," a Latin band led by cuban flautist Orlando "Maraca" Valle and featuring David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Giovanni Hidalgo, and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, among others--a dream team.

Photo of the Joshua Redman Trio by John Whiting. L to R: Matt Penman, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade.

Pacific Grove

Write in the morning, wander in the afternoon. Today we visited the neighboring town of Pacific Grove and behaved like good tourists, stopping first at the Chamber of Commerce for a Historic Walking Tour map.

(We learned about the map from the book Insiders’ Guide: Monterey Peninsula by Tom Owens and Melanie Bellon Chatfield, which has been our bible two trips in a row. We never would have found the Sobranes Canyon Trail without Tom and Melanie, or the Heller Estate tasting room, or the Fresh Cream restaurant, where we had our best dinner last year.)

The walking tour was the ideal way to see this charming seaside town with its gabled Victorian inns and itsy Victorian cottages.

The Seven Gables on Ocean View Blvd. is the place to stay…

…if you like this sort of thing.

Our stroll took us past teensy houses with narrow pathways between and postage-stamp-sized gardens.

The door was open at St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea church, with its two Tiffany windows... we went inside and crashed a wedding rehearsal.

Many homes bear discreet signs denoting the original owner and year the home was built.

Several homes are for sale. We pulled information sheets out of realtors’ boxes to read “Bougainvillae Cottage by the Sea, 1526 square feet, $1,249,000” and “Beautifully restored 1897 charmer, $1,197,000” and “Across from Jewell Park, 2 car garage, less than 100 yards to Peppers! Price upon request.”

Peppers, as it happens, is the main local hang and a terrific Mexicali restaurant. We stumbled on it entirely by accident and had lunch.

Pacific Grove is a lovely town on the ocean's edge. Not much nightlife, though. This is Main Street (Lighthouse Drive) around 6:30 on a Friday night. Dead as a doornail.

Friday, September 19, 2008

MJF/51: Maria Schneider

On Saturday, September 20, jazz composer and conductor Maria Schneider will lead her orchestra in the world premiere performance of "Willow Lake," a work commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival. It's her second MJF commission and, like her first, "Scenes from Childhood" (1995), inspired by memories of Windom, the small Minnesota town where she grew up. She still calls Windom "the best town in the world." I spoke with her last week by phone for this week's MinnPost column.

More from our interview:

"Whenever you have a premiere, you're working out new things you've never done before. Some people say 'We should record the premiere.' No! It always takes the band a while to find the piece. Premieres always stress me out. We haven't found our way.... 'Cerulean Skies' [which won a Grammy in 2007] now plays itself. At the premiere, I was thinking it was horrible. As we played it more and more, we found our way....

"When you write orchestral music, you have to write in every little nuance of every little note. With my band, I don't even put dynamics in. I want it to be different every time on different nights. So much more malleability. But then it's hard because you're writing something around all these unfinished elements."

In October, Schneider comes to St. Paul for another world premiere, this time of her first work for chamber orchestra (the SPCO). It's a cycle of songs based on poems by the Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translated by former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand (who will be in the audience and, I hope, will also do a reading while he's here, maybe at the Loft?). The great soprano Dawn Upshaw will sing. So, how did Schneider end up with two premieres of original commissioned work within about a month of each other?

"It wasn't intentional. It's been very difficult. The Monterey thing snuck up on me, quite honestly.... I've been touring a lot, five trips to Europe, one with my band.... It's busy but it's good. When you're writing, you become such a hermit, and when you're on the road you become so externalized. You get exhausted in a different way. It's hard going back and forth, back and forth. You have to be an extrovert, then all of a sudden you have to become an introvert....

"Writing music isn't about writing music. It's about expressing life through music. If you get so busy doing music music music, you don't fill your life with experience to create more music. One thing I'm doing coming up is putting more space in my life. More space for reading, going to museums, hearing concerts. Life always has opportunities it throws at you, but if you're so busy you don't have space in your life, they pass by..... I want to live life more as an improvisation."

Photo by Jimmy and Dena Katz.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MJF/51: Next Generation Jazz Orchestra

When: Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 • Where: Monterey Jazz Festival, Garden Stage • Who: MJF Next Generation Jazz Orchestra

The Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Jazz Orchestra features 21 young musicians selected from 18 high schools in 11 states through a rigorous audition process. Previous members of this ensemble (formerly known as the MJF High School All-Star Big Band) include pianists Benny Green and Patrice Rushen, bassist Larry Grenadier, and saxophonists Joshua Redman and Dave Koz.

Led by Mr. Paul Contos, the NGJO played for an invitation-only crowd at the Thursday Night Pre-Festival BBQ. During the festival, they will perform with Maceo Parker and with Artist-in-Residence Christian McBride. Earlier this year, they played the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

We heard them as we walked toward the fairgrounds, jazz pouring into the night. Although (as Contos later told the crowd) they had been rehearsing for hours and had played another gig earlier today, they sounded great together and the solos were fine. I especially enjoyed the final tune, an arrangement of "Skylark" by Bob Brookmeyer that made me hear that old familiar melody as if it were brand new. Nice solo from alto saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, one of two young women in the band.

MJF/51: Concert for Kids

When: Thursday, Sept. 18 • Where: Monterey Jazz Festival, Garden Stage • Who: Berklee Latin Jazz All-Stars: Niv Toar, trumpet and flugelhorn; Enrique “Kalani” Trinidad, flute; Abraham Olivo, piano; Juan Maldonado, bass; Marcos Lopez, timbales; Paulo Stagnaro, congas

If you want kids to listen to jazz, take them out of school, give them lunch, and make it Latin jazz played by musicians near their age.

The 51st Monterey Jazz Festival unofficially (or officially?) began with a free concert on Thursday for the children of the Monterey County Public Schools. The festival spends close to $1 million each year on jazz education, and the annual Concert for Kids, a 13-year-old tradition, is part of its educational outreach program.

The Berklee kids are serious: top scholarship students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (not the UCLA Berkeley, as we were reminded more than once). DownBeat named them the 2008 Best College Jazz Band (under the name La Timbistica); they have performed or recorded with Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Valentin, Cachao, Danilo Perez, and Victor Manuelle. This was their first MJF/51 set but won’t be their last; they are also scheduled to play on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

They gave us a program of standards and originals, not a dud among them. Foot-tapping, head-bobbing music with that irresistible Latin beat. Some of the kids listened closely. Others texted or played with their cell phones or iPods. Several formed conga lines and danced around the picnic tables. The sun shone brightly, and the set started at noon and lasted 45 minutes, just long enough that no one got too restless.

Carmel to Big Sur Valley

On the way to Big Sur and the famous restaurant Nepenthe, we stopped at Sobranes Point and hiked the Sobranes Canyon Trail.

We met the occasional hiker but were alone for most of the three miles we walked to the redwood grove and back.

"Honey, my feet hurt. Go get the car." (Kidding. It was a really nice hike.)

Back on Highway 1, we pulled off to photograph the Bixby Bridge, just like a zillion other people. Click on the picture and notice the house above the bridge...way above the bridge.

At Nepenthe, a restaurant built on a bluff 800 feet above the ocean, this was the view past my first Margarita.

The view to my left, down the table where people sit facing the ocean.

Before the recent fires, this house was not visible. Our server told us how she and her daughter had left Big Sur at 1 a.m. on the day of the evacuation, when the ridges were burning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Slow Travel

HH and I are slow travelers. We like to go somewhere and stay for several days. Unpack, stow our suitcases in the closet, hide all the hotel literature, and pretend we live, for example, at the newly and nicely renovated Hyatt Regency Monterey in a second-floor room overlooking the golf course. (Which this week we do, thanks to my sister Cindy.) Then wake up each day, decide what we might want to do, do some of it or all of it or sometimes none of it, and end the day by discussing what we might want to do the next day without committing to anything in particular. Time takes its sweet time.

Yesterday was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today was breakfast (brunch, actually) at Parker-Lusseau on Hartnell in downtown Monterey, a trip to Taste of Monterey in search of a map showing local wineries, and a drive into Carmel Valley with a lengthy stop at the Heller Estate Vineyards tasting room. Rather than drive back the way we came, we continued southeast on Carmel Valley Road (Highway G16) to Highway 101, a journey of about 110 miles. Many were twisty, turny miles with spectacular views of canyons and ridges. Vineyards sparkled in the late-afternoon sun; growers tie strips of Mylar to the vines to keep birds away.

We returned to Monterey in time for the last hour of the Tuesday farmer's market on Alvarado Street. Had a fig lesson from a fig farmer (I had no idea there were so many different kinds) and bought figs picked earlier today. For dinner, street food: samosas, spinach and portabello pie, a tofu and avocado roll from a sushi vendor.

Tomorrow, maybe Nepenthe in Big Sur. Earlier this year, when fires blackened almost 400,000 acres in northern California, I scanned area newspapers to learn if this famous restaurant survived. It did.

Susanne, if you're reading this, thank you for your hospitality at the Heller tasting room. Kevin, freelance writer and novelist and French teacher, we hope to see you on Saturday at the jazz festival.

More about slow travel.

Monterey Jazz Festival Preview

Counting down the days to Friday night and the start of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Which is not the same as saying I want Friday to come quickly. Vacation is good.

Read the festival preview on Jazz Police.

Photos: The Garden Stage at last year's festival. The Jazz Police bumper sticker in the back window of this year's rental car. (HH packed it, clever man.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Blue

Fish don't generally interest me except with wasabi or grilled with a nice pesto, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see so we went. (HH wanted to know, "Do they have fish sandwiches there?") We saw otters being fed and anchovies swimming in a circle (around and around ad infinitum) and rockfish with mohawks and hammerhead sharks and tall towers of waving kelp. We learned that all sheepfish are born female and some later transition to male. An octopus flowed across plate-glass widows in front of our noses; there are a lot of suckers on those tentacles, from large to very small. Penguins appear to be itchy. The Aquarium is well-designed, fascinating, and large. Before you know it, you've spent four hours and you need a beer.

Support ocean-friendly seafood, or at least learn what to eat and not to eat. (Don't eat Chilean seabass, orange roughy, imported fish, or bluefin tuna.)

Photos, top to bottom: Jellies. A sea dragon (click to enlarge; see the long snout at the left, and above that the eyes). Penguins. I don't know why the penguins photo looks like a diorama at the Field Museum.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

All Blue

Today is Bebopified's birthday. We're back in Monterey for the jazz festival, which I'll blog about here and report on for Jazz Police. Thanks, Don Berryman, for being the first to publish my attempts to write about jazz.

On the drive from SF to Monterey, we make what has become our usual stop at the Swanton Berry Farm for strawberry shortcake. Since our last visit, they have moved things around a bit inside and painted the picnic tables blue, but the strawberry shortcake is the same: berries, grain, sunshine and cream.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nancy Harms

When: Friday, Sept. 12, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Nancy Harms, voice; Tanner Taylor, piano; Keith Boyles, bass; Spencer McGinnis, drums; Dave Karr, saxophone and flute

Tanner's trio and Dave Karr warm up with "Brer Rabbit" and another upbeat tune. Nancy comes through the curtain looking fabulous, from her upswept bangs to the tips of her leopard-print peeptoe shoes. She swings "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Then "Some Day My Prince Will Come."

Let's digress. "Prince" was written for the 1937 Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Dave Brubeck recorded the first jazz version in 1957 on Dave Digs Disney. Ever since, it has been a jazz standard, played and recorded often; probably the best-known recordings are those by Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, and Miles Davis (Miles is the one I hear in my head). Usually, unless I'm mistaken, it's performed/recorded as an instrumental, not surprising given the lyrics:

Some day my prince will come
Some day we'll meet again

And away to his castle we'll go

To be happy forever I know

Some day when spring is here
We'll find our love anew

And the birds will sing

And wedding bells will ring

Some day when my dreams come true

Pure corn, but Nancy pulls it off. She's wistful, hopeful, utterly believable. No small accomplishment when one sings this particular tune.

"How High the Moon," "Pennies from Heaven." A break between sets. Nancy stops by to say hi. She says she's nervous about performing at the Dakota on a Friday night, which usually attracts a crowd. Her nervousness doesn't show. She has a big house tonight and a typically chatty weekend audience, but she owns the stage and plenty of people are paying attention.

Second set: a lovely "Summertime" with Dave on flute. "All of Me." "Softly As in the Morning Sunlight." "Fly Me to the Moon." All standards, no originals; she's writing lyrics but not yet composing music. She doesn't scat. She's a former schoolteacher trying to make it as a jazz singer. I like her voice very much, her tone and how she forms words, and her strong sense of timing; she doesn't sound like anyone else I have heard. I think someday she'll sing and no one will talk--everyone will listen.

Photos by John Whiting, who figured we had enough pictures of Tanner and didn't take any this time, even though Tanner was wearing a nice suit instead of a polo shirt.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hats for Cats: Roy Hargrove

I heard that Roy Hargrove wanted a hat, so HH and I brought a couple of his to try on, an over-the-ears and an above-the-ears. During the break between sets at the Dakota, he came over to take a look. Tried on the short one, didn't like it, tried on the longer one, kept it. Would not hear of me making a hat and sending it later. HH was cool. Roy wore his hat through most of the second set and again at Bunker's, where the band went after the Dakota and Roy got in a few licks with Dr. Mambo's Combo.

Top photo by John Whiting.