Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jazz reads

Writer/musician Chris Kelsey read Terry Teachout's obituary for jazz, went on vacation, mulled things over, and loaded his shotgun. I don't share Kelsey's views on Wynton Marsalis as the jazz destroyer, but I really like a lot of what he has to say, specifically:

"A trip of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and our first step should be to consciously revise our attitude about what is or isn't jazz.... Jazz suffered when we allowed the conservatives to narrow its definition. Make the decision that those days are over, and act on it. From this moment, let's drop the admissions test and let in anyone who wants to be a member. Jazz is whatever it wants to be.... Dismiss the idea that if music doesn't sound like something Pops or Duke or Bird might've played during their lifetimes, it can't be jazz. A better approach would be, if it sounds like something those guys might play if they were alive and in their creative prime today, it is most definitely jazz."

Read the whole thing here.

Two old favorites from my bookmarks:

James Carter Ruined My Life. I came across this a few years back and have passed it on to several people. It's funny, it's generous, it's bittersweet.

How to Be a Jazz Critic. Uh-oh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Will tweet for jazz

Jazz fans, Howard Mandel is asking us to tweet. Specifically, he proposes an "online, viral see what kind of numbers of jazz fans will tweet that they've heard live jazz." This is, of course, in direct response to the NEA's 2008 survey on arts participation, which concludes (in part) that the audience for jazz is shrinking and aging, and to Terry Teachout's recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which predicts a bleak, depressing future for jazz, a sort of Mad Max but without motorcycles or Mel Gibson.

Hey, I'll tweet for jazz. If you already know your way around Twitter, so should you. If you don't, it's easy-breezy and kind of fun. Open an account (it's free), search for people/organizations who share your interests (like, for example, jazz clubs, jazz presenters, jazz artists, jazz writers, and arts organizations), then follow them and their followers. Follow lots and lots of people; in the beginning, it's all about numbers. Then tweet something interesting--no "I'm in line at Starbucks" or "I just bought broccoli" banalities. People you follow will generally follow you back. In time, you can sort through them and toss the ones whose tweets you don't want to read. (Believe me, you will know who they are.) Meanwhile, keep tweeting. And when you hear live jazz, be sure to tweet about that.

Mandel asks:

1) If you're at a big jazz event (Charlie Parker Fest, Tanglewood, Chicago, Detroit, Aspen, LA, Vail, Philly, Chapel Hil, Monterey, Beantown), tweet from there.

2) Tweet about stand-alone concerts and gigs you're at, live-jazz broadcasts you hear on the radio or online, live jazz you hear on the street or at parties. Tweet whenever, from wherever you hear live jazz. Include who you're hearing/heard and where (venue, locale). Just don't tweet from Orchestra Hall.

3) Include #jazzlives in each tweet. (It's called a "hashtag.") Examples:

I heard Vanguard Orch at Tanglewood, super! #jazzlives

I heard Hank Jones solo at Detroit JF, mighty fine #jazzlives

4) If you want, include links to your own blog or website. Like this:

I heard Eubanks 5 be great at Blue Note NYC, full revu at #jazzlives

5) Don't use #jazzlives to publicize upcoming events or comment on recordings you're listening to, but to report on LIVE jazz you've actually heard recently or are hearing right now.

Check out the "JAZZ LIVES" widget on Mandel's website. It's fascinating to watch the tweets roll by.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

CD Review: Frank Glover: Politico

By Larry Englund

Larry Englund is a freelance writer and host of the weekly radio program Rhythm and Grooves on KFAI Radio Without Boundaries.

Clarinetist Glover has created an intriguing recording. While many of the songs may perk your interest, Politico (Owl Studios, 2009) is an album whose rewards may only come with repeated listening to it as a whole. The playing, by Glover, his band-mates, and all involved, is superb. He uses Latin rhythms, notably the tango and the Cuban/Brazilian baion, in an often implied, rather than explicit manner. The arrangements are challenging, whether Glover is using a quartet, jazz orchestra, or string orchestra.
The first two numbers are performed by Glover’s quartet, with Steve Allee on piano, Jack Helsley on bass and Bryson Kern on drums. Allee’s insistent comping, even during his solo, provides the foundation for the opener, "One Way Ticket." Glover plays in the upper registers and has fun with glissandos, while Kern and Helsley quietly push the song along. "Politico" slowly builds from Kern’s use of brushes on cymbals, through double-time solos by Glover and Allee, climaxing with Glover trilling over the others, until the song slows completely, setting up the next tune. "The Last Blue Tang" is a pastoral melody, with Glover accompanied only by strings.
Then it’s back to the quartet for "Concierto Para Quarteto" in three movements. The melody from "One Way Ticket" is used in the first movement, though executed at a much slower rhythm. The quartet’s playing is very seductive, from the deliberate bass solo that opens, to the warmth of Glover’s tone. Kern provides a march-like rhythm to the second movement, with Glover reaching upper registers once again. During the third movement, Kern ably matches the quickening and excitement of Glover’s solo, until all bring the song to a rousing climax.
Glover uses a fourteen piece jazz orchestra for "Plastic Plants." It opens with a repeated note from Allee, followed by Glover stating the melody, which is then repeated by the orchestra. What follows is a strong arrangement that keeps things interesting, whether with a few bars of counterpoint, or the use of bass clarinets and muted trumpets against Glover’s high notes.
Glover again opts for a string section as his accompaniment for "A Thousand Ships," which serves as an epilogue. The melody is simple, with romantic overtones. Glover’s arrangement once again seems pastoral, though this time leavened by a somewhat bittersweet touch. It is over all too soon.
In an age where we are too often electronically tethered to the world around us, this is a recording that deserves attention in the old fashioned sense. Turn off the computer, let your phone calls go to messaging, sit down, and listen to an album that integrates complex compositions, arrangements, and playing into a rewarding experience.
Photos courtesy OWL Studios

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dean Magraw benefit, Sunday, August 30: Silent Auction items, email bidding open

A benefit for Twin Cities guitarist Dean Magraw will be held on Sunday, August 30, with live music all day. Go here to learn the where, when, and who.

The benefit will include a silent auction. You can bid in person during the benefit, or by email starting now. Email bidding continues through 2 p.m. on August 30.

Email your bids to:

Be sure to include the name/description of the item(s) you are bidding on, along with your name, contact information, phone number, and email address.

Silent Auction Items

Signed CDs by New Folk Records artists
--Gabrielle Angelique (2): $30 value, minimum bid $5
--Daith Sproule: $15 value, minimum bid $5
--Todd Menton: $15 value, minimum bid $5
--Lehto & Wright: $15 value, minimum bid $5
Set of 4 New Folk Wellness CDs including Dean Magraw's latest: $50 value, minimum bid $15

--$30 gift certificate to the School II Bistro and Wine Bar in Chanhassen: $30 value, minimum bid $10
--$50 gift cards to the School of the Wise restaurant in Victoria: $50 value, minimum bid $20
--$50 gift certificates (2) to the Black Dog Restaurant: $50 value (each), minimum bid $25 (each)
--$50 gift card to Spoonriver: $50 value, minimum bid $25

--“Miles Davis” print by artist Sidney Randolph Maurer, signed by the artist: $100 value, $30 minimum bid
--B&W photograph of Donovan by artist Sidney Randolph Maurer, signed by Donovan: $50 value, $20 minimum bid

6 “Star Wars” characters prints, signed by the actors: $75 value (each), minimum bid $30 (each)
--Darth Vader with David Prowse, signed by David Prowse
--Darth Vader, signed by David Prowse
--R2D2 with Kenny Baker, signed by Kenny Baker
--R2D2, signed by Kenny Baker
--Boba Fett with Jeremy Bulloch, signed by Jeremy Bulloch
--Boba Fett, signed by Jeremy Bulloch

2 prints by artist Junpei Sekino, signed by the artist
--“Fractal Mountain” print, #6 of 20, signed and numbered: $100 value, minimum bid $50
--Untitled print: $50 value, minimum bid $25

3 “Flintstones” and “Jetsons” character sketches by Hanna Barbera cartoonist Tony Benedict: Original pencil drawings by Benedict, signed and dated. $50 value (each), minimum bid $25 (each)
--“Wilma Flintstone”
--“Barney Rubble”
--“Astro the Dog”

2 signed prints by artist Jim Fraher: $50 value (each), minimum bid $25 (each)
--“Co Silgo”

2 “North Shore” signed prints by photographer Joel Bahma: $50 value (each), minimum bid $25 (each)

--Liz Welch Framed Giclee Print: $150 value, minimum bid $75
--Nick Lethert Framed Giclee Print: $185 value, minimum bid $100

Signed and matted print by Sheralyn Barnes-Ritchie: $40 value, minimum bid $25

Five canvas prints signed by Dean Magraw: $100 value (each), minimum bid $50 (each)
More details later.

More Really Great Stuff
--Café Brenda Cookbook by Brenda Langton: $20 value, minimum bid $10
--4 hours of studio time at Innovative Multimedia Studio: $300 value, minimum bid $100
--Studio time at Creation Audio: $500 value, minimum bid $200
--Pilates Beginning Mat Series: 12 classes at Core Pilates in St. Paul starting Sept. 8: $150 value, minimum bid $75
--2 Adult Weekend Passes to the 2010 Winnipeg Folk Festival: $400 value, minimum bid $150
--3 Savage Amps T-Shirts: Green, Pink, Blue: $10 value (each), minimum bid $5 (each)
--Fender Telecaster guitar (used) with Custom Relic finish, stand, strap, tuner, gig bag: $500 value, minimum bid $400
--12 crystal “St. Paul Beer” glasses. Ritzenhoff crystal, made in Germany: $50 value, minimum bid $15
--Hand-knit, custom-made “Hats for Cats” hat: $45 value, minimum bid $15

2 tickets each to the following concerts at the Cedar Cultural Center
--Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys, 8 pm Friday, Sept 11, 2009: $80 value, minimum bid $40
--Vasen CD Release Concert, 7:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009: $36 value, minimum bid $18
--Warsaw Village Band, 7:30 pm Thursday, October 29, 2009: $40 value, minimum bid $20
--David Grisman and John Sebastian, 7:30 pm Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009: $80 value, minimum bid $40
--Global Roots Festival 2009 (standing room only): $36 value, minimum bid $18
--Watcha Clan and Huun Huur Tu with Carmen Rizzo, 8 pm Sunday Set. 27, 2009: $36 value, minimum bid $18

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stupid blog spam

Earlier this month I changed Bebopified's comments setting so anyone can comment, but I kept comment moderation so I could screen out the wackies. Or try. At least one watchful reader suggested I delete a comment that seemed innocent but turned out to be a window into the mind of a genuine nut job. Seriously, this guy is scary.

Then a few weeks ago I got a comment from someone named Sara, who wrote:

"I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often."

Except for "accross" and "dont," how sweet. The comment included a link to a website, something about piano lessons, with more misspellings.

Earlier today I received a comment from someone named Aileen, who wrote:

"I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often."

The comment included a link to another lame website.

So the point of this particular parasitic spam is to get people to maybe click on a link at the end of a comment on a blog about jazz?

Good luck with that.

Jazz, not dead

The publication of the NEA survey on arts participation, followed by critic Terry Teachout’s article, “Can Jazz Be Saved?” in the Wall Street Journal, caused a lot of consternation among jazz lovers. The gists:

NEA: "[B]etween 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline…. audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before…. Since 1982, young adult (18-24) attendance rates for jazz and classical music have declined the most, compared with other art forms."

Teachout: "Nobody’s listening…. it’s no longer possible for head-in-the-sand types to pretend that the great American art form is economically healthy or that its future looks anything other than bleak…. [P]op-loving listeners…have no more use for Wynton Marsalis than they do for Felix Mendelssohn."


Ted Gioia weighed in on his website So did a lot of other people. Patrick Jarenwattananon linked to several responses on his blog for NPR, "A Jazz Supreme." I mentioned the survey on MinnPost, sent out an email asking for suggestions on how to grow the jazz audience, and got some good ones. Ramsey Lewis wrote a letter to the editor of the WSJ and Jarenwattananon responded to that.

[Patrick, I don’t entirely disagree with Lewis’s suggestion that jazz musicians dress up a bit. Not meaning to sound too, like, shallow, OMG, but I’ve seen jazz musicians (Lewis and his trio, JALCO, James Carter, Jeremy Pelt, etc.) who look as if they stepped off the pages of GQ, and jazz musicians [no names] in grody T-shirts, do-rags, and trailer-trash attire, and I prefer the first. Who wouldn’t? I’m not saying jazz musicians should dress like models. In between those two extremes, most everyone else looks just fine, tattoos and all.]

Anyway, I’m glad to read yesterday’s piece by Nate Chinen for the New York Times. He briefly reprises the conversation so far, dips into the NEA survey, gives his own anecdotal evidence that jazz is still alive and kicking (and sweating), turns, as usual, some lovely phrases (“Jazz has long been a porous genre”), and considers, as the survey didn't, how jazz is defined, what it is called or not called, how much music it encompasses.

I’m reminded of something Kelly Rossum once said during a class at MacPhail: “Jazz is the only music big enough to include all other kinds of music.” And Jeremy Walker: “Add a jazz musician to any group and it’s like adding a drop of blue food coloring to a bucket of clear water. The water turns blue.”

Chinen mentions NPR’s coverage of the Newport Jazz Festival on the radio and online, then notes, “Considering that live jazz is hard to come by outside of a handful of major cities, efforts like this may be the most promising news for the jazz audience.”

By “a handful of major cities,” I can only assume he means to include Minneapolis/St. Paul, where jazz is not at all hard to come by. Somewhere around 90 live jazz events will take place over the next week alone, and those are just the ones I know about.

In October we’re going to Fargo to hear Kurt Elling. During a break between sets at the Dakota last night, a friend mentioned that Fargo has quite the jazz scene.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jazz by any other name?

In today’s Minneapolis StarTribune, theater critic Graydon Royce asks, “Does the old-school definition of opera as ‘drama set to music’ require a fresh look?” Ben Krywosz, artistic director of Nautilus Music-Theater, says, “There would have been a whole different hoopla around [Tony Kushner’s] ‘Caroline, or Change’ if they [the Guthrie Theater] were positioning that as an opera…. There are many people who wouldn’t come if they called it an opera.”

I didn’t go to see “Caroline, or Change” because they called it a musical. This despite the raves it earned from the press and the many friends who urged me to go. I don't like musicals. I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it. I suppose I feel about musicals the way Tabatha Southey feels about jazz, a confession that makes me kind of blue.

But opera, I love.

And jazz, of course. Something a lot of people won’t go to because they call it jazz, even though that four-letter word encompasses a vast universe of sounds and styles. I know better than to talk about jazz with some people I care about very much, including my own offspring. I say the word and their eyes glaze over and their ears slam shut. They don’t want to hear "jazz" like I don’t want to hear “musical.”

So, what if we call jazz something else? I realize (duh) I'm not the first person to ask this question, but I'm curious to hear what people think.

Ahmad Jamal has called it “American classical music” since the early 1980s. During an interview last November, he explained: “That gave expression to what I was thinking for years. I didn’t just think of it out of the blue. It was a culmination of thinking about what this music is, and the terminology that is used to refer to this music…. I’m not paranoid about the word ‘jazz.’ But what happened is that we sophisticated a very unsophisticated term, and…the word is used very loosely. What we have done is made the world accept something that was not even acceptable at one time. ‘Stop jassing it up’ was an affront.”

Jamal believes that musicians, not audiences (or critics) should coin the terms used to describe their music: “If you want to change the lingo, the language, in any direction, it should be done by the practitioners.”

Ah, but Willard Jenkins has come up with an interesting phrase to describe the music, and he’s not a musician, though he is almost everything else one can be in the world of jazz: consultant, producer, writer, journalist, planner, teacher, broadcaster, fundraiser, educator, artistic director, and “arranger” of Randy Weston’s autobiography, African Rhythms, to be released by Duke University Press in 2010. Jenkins calls it “serious music.” Read his blog and see how that term works its way into your awareness and makes itself very comfortable.

But would people go to hear something called “serious music”? Or “American classical music”? Or “improvisational music”? Or “free music”? (Only if that always meant no cover charge.)

What else do people call jazz? What else can they call it? What else should they call it?

What if we called it simply “live music”? Come on in, take a chance. If you like it, stay. If you don’t like it, leave.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Irv Williams at nearly 90: Music and Irvisms

When: Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 • Where: Artists’ Quarter • Who: Irv Williams, tenor saxophone; Peter Schimke, piano; Jeff Bailey, bass; Kenny Horst, drums

Irv Williams doesn’t turn 90 until August 17 but can be forgiven for celebrating a few days early. (The party continues on Monday night at the Dakota, where the Steeles will open.) A mainstay of the Twin Cities jazz scene since he arrived here at the start of WWII, when he was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Minneapolis as part of the US Navy Band, Williams, known as “Mr. Smooth,” is still playing beautifully, still charming his audiences, still tossing out bon mots.

Out-of-towners and others who might not know him can read a little background here.

Williams is playing a shiny new Selmer tenor sax these days, and in his words, “It’s killing me. My old one cost $900. I had to get insurance for this one. I’m a nervous wreck.” The horn he played for decades now resides in the Minnesota History Center as part of the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit. Williams says of the Selmer, “It’s a real fine instrument but it doesn’t have that mellow sound I like to have.” Yes, it does. He makes any horn sound like his own, full of warmth and depth, resonance and emotion, and living human breath, the first maker of music.

Williams plays standards (he doesn’t compose that much, although his next CD, he says, will be mostly original compositions), and tonight is almost all legacy tunes: “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Here’s to Life” (which he was inspired to play by Shirley Horn), "Betsi's Song" (written for his daughter), “Green Dolphin Street,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Besame Mucho,” “Alone Together,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Old Folks,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “Soul Eyes.”

The near capacity crowd is there to listen and honor the birthday man (and eat cake, which comes later). The band is perfection. Williams shares a special simpatico with the great pianist Peter Schimke, his partner at his regular gigs and on the CD they made together in 2006, the exquisite Williams/Schimke Duo. Williams has known bassist Jeff Bailey since Bailey was a child, and drummer/AQ owner Kenny Horst has played with Williams more times than anyone can count.

After the first set, Horst gets up from behind his drums, walks over to Williams, and kisses him on the cheek. “I guess he likes me...a lot,” Williams says.

More Irvisms from throughout this enjoyable night:

On his birthday: “What’s all the noise about? It’s just 90. It’s just a number.”

On his new Selmer saxophone: “I wish I could play it.”

On playing the saxophone: “This is my 75th year playing this horn and I’m sick and tired of it. Seriously, I think it has something to do with my so-called longevity.”

On introducing the tune “How Deep Is the Ocean”: “Do you know how deep it is? I don’t. I don’t care.”

And, toward the end of the evening: “I’m old. I’m really old. I can play the race card and the old-age card. I can’t lose.” At that, he throws back his head and laughs.

Photos by John Whiting. T to b: Jeff Bailey and Irv Williams; Peter Schimke

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ramsey Lewis at Orchestra Hall: Concert review

When: Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 • Where: Orchestra HallWho: Ramsey Lewis, piano; Larry Gray, bass; Leon Joyce Jr., drums. Opening set: Bruce Henry, vocals; Peter Vircks, saxophone; Bryan Nichols, piano; Chris Bates, bass; Daryl Boudreaux, percussion; Kevin Washington, drums. Host Irvin Mayfield.

Last night’s program at Orchestra Hall was billed as being all about the blues. It wasn’t, but nobody cared. Instead, the audience was treated to a sublime set of music by the Ramsey Lewis Trio.

Anyone who thinks this group is about resting on laurels, delivering hits, and playing it safe is mistaken. The music was as rich and sophisticated, melodic and complex, inside and out there as any I’ve heard in a long time.

The opener, “Wade in the Water,” became a sweet samba, with Joyce stroking his drums with his hands. The crowd applauded wildly and Lewis joked, “Shall we quit while we’re ahead?”

At 74, Lewis has embarked on what is almost a new career, or at least a new passion: composing. A series of commissions for the Joffrey Ballet and the Ravinia Festival, where Lewis serves as artistic director for jazz, has made him feel “like a kid on Christmas morning.” His new CD, Songs from the Heart, due out on Concord on Sept. 29, is his first-ever (out of 80 to date) to include all original compositions.

We heard “To Know Her Is to Love Her” (from the Joffrey work) and “Conversation,” written for Ravinia and performed there in 2008 by the Turtle Island String Quartet. The latter made me hold my breath, it was so beautiful—and much like a conversation, perhaps between lovers, with changes in mood and tempo. Another original, “Exhilaration,” showcased Gray on the bass, bowing like a classical master, plucking and tapping like an avant-garder. We heard a lot of arco (bowed) bass during the evening; Gray used his bow almost as much as he used his fingers.

Throughout, Lewis made occasional references to the blues, inviting us to “find where it is” in the music he was playing, reminding us that jazz was born in the blues. For the centerpiece of the set, he took us back to before the blues with a medley of gospel tunes and spirituals. Not the usual play-a-few-notes, awkward-pause, switch-tunes medley, but a lengthy, elegantly constructed series of phrases, whole songs, and variations within songs, linked together by improvisation, like pearls on a string. Between selections, as Lewis moved his fingers over the keys, you could almost hear him thinking “What next?”

I recognized “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” “Precious Lord,” Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” “How Great Thou Art,” and (I think) “Lift Ev’ry Voice.” Lewis and Joyce traded melodic phrases (Joyce played notes on his drums, with help from his elbows) on the way to Joyce’s big solo of the night, a breathtaking display of speed, invention, and precision.

Except for the originals, much of this was music many of us had heard before, made new by surprising changes and phrases, rhythms and transitions. People talked afterward about how modern it was, how “outside,” and how it wasn’t what they expected.

We got the encore everyone wanted: “The ‘In’ Crowd.” A soft and lovely solo piano introduction worked its way there, the familiar chords burst forth, and the audience loved it. Joyce’s whistle midway through signaled a detour into an Afro-Cuban tempo.

If you’re going to have a huge hit, make it a good one, like “The ‘In’ Crowd” or “Take Five” or "Poinciana," and don’t get stuck singing “Muskrat Love” for the rest of your life.

For the last song of the night, Lewis finally gave us a classic blues tune: Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” (Hat tip to Dan Emerson for the title.) Which, as it happens, appears on Lewis's first-ever live album, Ramsey Lewis Live at the Savoy (1982).

A note on where we sat: We moved during intermission from a row midway down the main floor to empty seats on Tier B looking down at the stage. With help from my handy binocs, I could see everything: how Leon Joyce reached casually over his right shoulder to tap the inverted cymbal to his right, Larry Gray pressing the strings of his bass, the red felt lightning bolts inside the Steinway, Lewis’s hands on the keys. I thought the sound was better, too—it rose up to us from the monitors and the instruments themselves, rather than passing over and between hundreds of people

And I have to say that Lewis, Gray, and Joyce looked good. I mean really good All three were impeccably attired. Their posture was perfect, their stage presence professional. Handsome men. Lewis, the legend, great statesman of jazz, is 74? Don’t believe it. Skin like a baby.

Ramsey Lewis Trio Setlist
"Wade in the Water"
"To Know Her Is to Love Her"
"Spiritual Medley"
"The 'In' Crowd"
"Baby What You Want Me to Do"

Starting what I hope will be a regular thing at OH jazz shows, the evening began with an opening set by area musicians, led by soulful vocalist Bruce Henry, who now lives in Chicago but was here long enough to become part of our music scene (plus we’re not willing to let him go).

He and his band brought out the big crowd-pleasers: “Statesboro Blues” (“Wake up, mama, turn your lamp down low”), a lovely “Embraceable You” (nice solo, Chris), Henry’s composition “Jump That Broom,” and “House of the Rising Sun,” which Henry said he was inspired to sing by Nina Simone.

They were given half an hour—not long enough, even though Lewis and his trio were up next.

After last night’s “Broom,” Boudreaux needs a new washboard; he broke a leg on the one he had.

Busted! (almost)

Let’s say (hypothetically) that someone is attending a concert at a major venue (like, for example, Orchestra Hall) and sending an occasional text on his (or her) iPhone. You know—a few words to a friend elsewhere in the house about getting together after the show, perhaps a tweet or a fb status update. Isn’t that what people do these days? The sound is off, the brightness on the screen is dialed way down, and the girl (uh, guy) is very discreet.

Nevertheless, during intermission, an usher beelines to that row and demands to know who’s been text messaging during the concert. “Were you sending text messages?” she asks the people in the seats at the end. “Did you know who was sending text messages? Someone was sending text messages from this row.” The purported texter, seated further down the row, is not asked directly and avoids eye contact. The usher moves on to the next row toward the stage, then the next, where someone tattles on the person sitting in front of her. Nice.

So what we all want to know, in case this should ever happen to any of us, is: What’s the policy? The FAQ on the venue's website says “We ask that all paging devices, cellular phones and signal watches be turned OFF during the performance as a courtesy to others.” I’m assuming that’s because of the annoying noises they emit.

But texting is silent. Who cares if someone texts? Have people complained about the glow of cellphone screens, or the delicate dance of fingers on the keys? Is either more annoying than the person with huge hair in the seat in front of you, or the stinky person to your left, or the serial cougher behind you, or the scratcher, or the person with the whistle so piercing it’s an ice pick in your brain?

Banning beeps and ringtones makes sense. Nixing texting, not so much.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

YSL "Live Jazz" ad from 1998

More posing than playing but fun to watch.

Ethan Iverson on the reason to blog

From The Bad Plus blog, Do the Math:

The jazz blogosphere is roiling about several related "critic" and "how critical should you be on your blog" issues at the moment. I think that the reason to blog is to cast light on things an unpaid person loves.

I like that a lot. I don't get the blogs that rant and rave (except for the irresistible Brilliant Corners, aka Bilious Corners, in which Chris Rich writes many things that make me go "Huh!"). A while back, I dipped my toe into snarky blogging and some fish swam by and tried to bite it off. I realized that insults and jokes at others' expense, while admittedly kind of fun to write, are not what I want this blog to be about. And I made up a simple rule for myself: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't post it on the internets.

Nice of Ethan to include a public thanks for the hats and point his readers to this humble blog. One thing leads to another, in this case a healthy spike on Google Analytics.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ramsey Lewis on the British Invasion, and how a quintet became a trio

Most interviews include more than you see in the final article. MinnPost is a web publication so there are no real space restrictions, but the editors like the Arts Arena writers to keep things short and bloggy. Here's the Ramsey Lewis interview that appears there. And here's what else he said.

I mentioned briefly at the start of our conversation how "The 'In' Crowd" had been a fresh sound amid the noise of the British invasion in 1965. After talking about the connection between the blues and jazz, Lewis went on to say:

"If we move forward to the late 1950s, early 60s, and do a little bit of history, we find that there are musicians, especially in England, particularly around London and Liverpool, that discovered this music called rock and roll, but they went a step further. They wanted to find out where this music came from. They studied then the great blues masters--Muddy Waters, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, the list goes on and on. They also studied the great R&B artists, like Sam Cooke, who definitely influenced Rod Stewart. The music caught on in Europe, especially England. Someone brought some of it over here, it caught on here and became known as the British Invasion....

"I remember those days because a friend of mine, Charles Stepney, who had a lot to do with Earth, Wind, and Fire, Minnie Ripperton, and my career...we were talking one day in the middle 60s and he said, 'Ramsey, isn't it something how they now have us imitating the music that came with the so-called British Invasion, and it's music that these British musicians came over here and studied and learned from the African-American blues and R&B musicians? They have us now imitating us.'"

I asked if he would talk briefly about the other members of his trio, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce Jr. That answer took a different direction than I expected.

"I found Larry Gray when I was invited to play the Havana Jazz Festival in Cuba and decided to take a trio there. Until then, I had been playing with a quintet. I needed a good acoustic bass player, put the word out, and two out of every three people I asked said Larry Gray. We went down to Cuba and had such a great time playing the festival that I decided to stay a trio. When my drummer, Ernie Adams, got an offer to go to Europe, we went looking for another drummer, and Larry suggested Leon Joyce.

"We have been together for ten years. We are compatible off stage as well as on stage. It makes life easy when we’re on tour."

Photo from the Orchestra Hall website. Ramsey Lewis and his trio perform there on Thursday, August 13.

Dan Musselman, pianoman

When Dan Musselman plays piano, he means it. That was my first impression the first time I saw him live, playing an electronic keyboard at the Hat Trick Lounge in St. Paul. At the time, I wished he were playing an acoustic grand; I wanted to hear more piano sound than the amp was delivering.

Musselman is a serious guy—serious about music, focused on building a career. He started playing piano at age 5, took lessons along the way with people like Kenny Werner and Craig Taborn, listened to a lot of Keith Jarrett and Joanne Brackeen, graduated summa cum laude from McNally Smith College of Music in April 2008 with a degree in piano performance (and the school’s Outstanding Student Award), and released his first solo CD that month, Ruminations, a collection of all-original improvisations.

That was gutsy. Most debut recordings include standards and other familiar tunes, known quantities that serve as safe havens while you’re trying to decide if you like what you’re hearing. (“Introducing Brad Mehldau” is more than half standards.) On Ruminations, Musselman tosses you into the briar patch with the first track, “Liberation,” a big, two-handed piece that packs a lot of emotion into just under four minutes. “With this recording, I tried to play emotionally,” Musselman told Andrea Canter last September. Put it on as background music and you’ll soon get pulled into paying attention—to the dark and anxious “Depraved,” the romantic “Respiration,” the exotic “Incantation” (which starts with a hint of “Concierto de Aranjuez”), and the rest of this impressive collection. You can hear his classical training in his touch and phrasing.

Musselman has been playing out a lot around the cities with vocalists and other musicians; he and singer Rachel Holder released their own CD earlier this year, Save Your Love for Me. For more than a year he and a group of other musicians have opened for the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ. Now he’s out with his own quartet, as leader, playing the major clubs in town. On July 30 they performed at the Dakota; tomorrow night, August 12, they’re at the AQ.

We caught only part of the July 30 show because of prior commitments on either side. Enough to hear how the quartet—Musselman on piano, Brandon Wozniak on sax, Adam Linz on bass, Jay Epstein on drums—holds together (as if there was ever any doubt), and also how Musselman sounds on an acoustic grand (much better, thanks). I like all of these musicians very much and enjoyed the music and the vibe. We heard several Musselman originals—“On the Way” (if I got that right), “Crystal Moments,” “Incantation” from the solo CD, a tune called “Maze,” and a lovely version of Mehldau’s “When It Rains.” The quartet was happy and so was the crowd. I’m up for more.

Photos by John Whiting. T to b: Dan Musselman, Brandon Wozniak, Adam Linz, Jay Epstein

Friday, August 7, 2009

Babs at...the Vanguard?

At first I thought the press release had come from the Onion:


Wasn't 1999 her final concert tour, didn't it take place in Colosseum-size venues, and didn't tickets cost thousands of dollars? Yes, yes, & yes...but now she has a new CD of jazz standards and classics, Love Is the Answer, and she's releasing it the way many jazz artists do (and others wish they could): with a concert in the storied NYC basement jazz club on Saturday, September 26.

The Vanguard seats 123 at capacity, which means elbow-to-elbow with the tables next to you. Don't call there for tickets, which are available "only to fans who either pre-order the CD or register an entry blank free of charge." See the details and rules at her website.

This won't be Streisand's first time at the Vanguard—she opened for Miles Davis in 1961—but it may be her second. Since then she's recorded a few albums, won a few Grammys, made a few movies, earned some Oscars and Emmys, Golden Globes, Peabodys, and a Tony.

The event is not yet on the Vanguard's calendar, which shows the Billy Hart Quartet (Hart, Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner, Ben Street) in residence from Sept. 22-27. Wonder if they'll play the late set.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Sweet Georgia Brown" with dog in lap

This makes me laugh. What else can I say. The dog sleeps through the whole thing.

Hat tip to Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Trumpet Summit at the Dakota

When: Friday, July 31, 2009 • Where: DakotaWho: Kelly Rossum, Manny Laureano, Charles Lazarus, John Raymond, and Jake Baldwin, trumpets; Tanner Taylor, piano; Gordon Johnson, bass; Phil Hey, drums

Maybe something in my brain snapped when I played “The Skater’s Waltz” with 50 other accordions (I was 12), but I’m drawn to live performances featuring multiples of the same instrument. Like two grand pianos. (Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts at the old Guthrie, back in the day.) Or four trombones. (Steve Turre, Fred Wesley, Wycliffe Gordon, and Delfeayo Marsalis at the Dakota in June 2007.) Or seven trombones (Chris McIntyre’s 7X7 Trombone Band at the Stone, also in June 2007.)

Or six trumpets. That’s the most that crowds onto the Dakota’s stage at one time during tonight’s Minneapolis Trumpet Summit, an ever-changing cast of horn players backed by a rhythm section that holds it all together like an iron hand in a velvet glove.

The star (and likely the instigator) of the evening is Kelly Rossum, who moves to NYC at the end of this month and is playing everywhere he can with anyone he wants to until then. “We’ll start off where it all began,” he announces, then hands us Louis Armstrong’s “When It’s Sleepytime Down South.” From the first notes, the band is swinging and everyone is on.

For the rest of the evening, trumpeters move in and out, trade solos and phrases, play harmony and unison and challenge each other. Manny Laureano and Charles Lazarus of the Minnesota Orchestra (where Laureano is principal trumpet) and recent UW-Eau Claire graduate John Raymond join Rossum for a tune by Lazarus; the rhythm section sits this one out so it’s all horns. It’s the first time I’ve heard Laureano play jazz. (His horn and Rossum’s were both made by David Monette, who also made Irvin Mayfield’s Elysian Trumpet and horns for Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard.)

The rhythm section returns to back Lazarus on “Summertime.” Lazarus and Raymond share a lengthy and interesting introduction—Lazarus on mute, Raymond playing short, sharp notes—that resolves into “Caravan.” Raymond takes the first solo and Lazarus starts his on the same note Raymond leaves hanging in the air. Picture runners passing a baton.

“Sometimes this instrument is a beast to play,” Raymond says at one point during the evening, “so it’s great when you can find so many trumpets to play with.” You wouldn’t know he has any trouble at all from the confidence with which he plays, and his gorgeous tone on “A Night in Tunisia.”

While the horns are the heroes, I’m acutely aware of Taylor on piano, Johnson on bass, and Hey on drums, and how none of this could be happening without them. Thank you, rhythm section, for your steadfastness and your expertise and your solos, which sound especially inspired tonight.

Another trumpeter comes through the curtain: young Jake Baldwin, newly-minted Minnetonka High School graduate, headed for New England Conservatory in the fall, having just spent two years in the Dakota Combo under Rossum’s direction. He’s wearing an ice-cream suit and ready to play, and he more than holds his own on “All Blues” with Rossum, Lazarus, and Raymond. Later, Baldwin solos with self-assurance, imagination, and wit.

More music, more musical chairs, and the evening ends with a jam session: Raymond, Rossum, the Dakota’s own Dan Eikmeier (who plays with Big Walter Smith), Adam Meckler (who heads his own quintet), and someone I haven’t seen before—Solomon? They take us out on Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.”

There’s still air left in Raymond’s lungs. He stays around to play the late-night show with his John Raymond Project band: Aaron Hedenstrom on saxophones, Javier Santiago on piano, Jeremy Boettcher on bass, Brian Claxton on drums. Visit Raymond’s website to hear this fine young player. He’s releasing his second CD (a live recording) in Eau Claire on August 7, then moving to SUNY-NY for graduate studies. Like Rossum, he’ll be missed.

Photos by John Whiting. T to b: Kelly "Dr. Awesome" Rossum, six trumpets (Rossum is hidden behind Baldwin) and the trio, Manny Laureano, four trumpets and the trio, the John Raymond Project

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Chris Morrissey Quartet at the Artists' Quarter: Concert review

When: August 1 2009 • Where: Artists’ Quarter • Who: Chris Morrissey, bass; Michael Lewis, saxophones; Bryan Nichols, piano; Dave King, drums

Because I don’t follow indie rock, I don’t know Chris Morrissey the indie rocker, whose bands include Ben Kweller, Mason Jennings, the Bill-Mike Band, Wishbook (formerly Cowboy Curtis), and Haley Bonar. I first heard of Chris Morrissey the jazz musician/composer last July when HH and I went to Maude because Dave King was playing there with Chris Thomson, Bryan Nichols, and some guy named Chris Morrissey. Who turned out to be a tall, rather thin young man with long, elegant fingers who plays the bass like he’s serious about jazz. In fact, he calls jazz his “original passion.”

Back then the quartet was in the midst of recording a CD, and this weekend was the official Minneapolis/St. Paul CD release for The Morning World, just out on Sunnyside, not too shabby. Morrissey is from here, recently moved to NYC to “get another city under his belt,” came home to launch his CD and promises to return one day to live. We’ll see.

At the crowded AQ, we hear originals by Morrissey and just one standard. Something slow and measured to start; probably “The Skinny Part of Idaho.” “Midland Picnic Area,” which Morrissey introduces as “a tribute to a part of the country without a lot of songs written about it," is a high-energy piece that Nichols takes even higher with his piano solo, after which Lewis plays like a man possessed and King is two drummers or maybe three, and suddenly the air sparks and crackles with swing.

“The Morning World Is Waiting,” the title track, pulls the tempo back again so everyone can breathe. It’s a bright-eyed ballad, pretty and sweet.

The tunes are on the short side, like pop songs. The melodies aren’t familiar so it’s easy to think there’s a lot of improvising going on amid skeletal composition until you notice that Morrissey and Nichols, or Lewis and Nichols, are playing long runs of notes in unison. The music is tightly composed, compact, intricate, with room for invention.

“October Aught Four” starts off unhurried and thoughtful, then picks up speed and intensity. It feels sunny, optimistic. “Electric Blanket” is full of big chords and brand-new. “We learned it yesterday and played the world premiere” [at last night’s AQ show], Morrissey says. “This is the second world premiere.”

He introduces “The Curious Habits of Harold Hill” by telling us that he played the part of Winthrop in the Chanhassen Dinner Theater’s production of The Music Man “when I was young.” (Everyone laughs; he’s 28.) His father was Chanhassen’s music director. The tune is layers of repeated rhythm—first in eight pairs (da-da, da-da), then six—over which Lewis’s saxophone floats and soars. Most tunes seem to feature the saxophone, though that could be an illusion caused by the fact that Nichols, Morrissey, and King all stay in the same place while Lewis paces the rest of the stage, always on the move, so that’s where your eyes naturally go.

[Aside: While King is playing with the Morrissey Quartet at the AQ, the other two members of his band The Bad Plus are at the Village Vanguard, with Paul Motian on drums. Read Nate Chinen's review here.]

For “None is the Number,” Lewis starts on soprano sax (he plays soprano, alto, and tenor tonight) and Morrissey takes his first solo on the bass, accompanied by Nichols. This is the only tune of the night that sounds heavily influenced by Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus, not that I’m complaining.

Introducing “Mountain Don’t,” Morrissey tells us a story from his childhood, when he looked up to Lewis as the coolest guy he knew. (The two grew up together; their moms are friends and both are in the house tonight.) Trying to impress Lewis, Morrissey told him he drank Mountain Dew. Lewis replied “Mountain don’t, man,” and a song was born. “I wrote it ten years ago,” Morrissey says. Not bad for 18. The first half swings hard, Morrissey takes another solo, then there’s a sudden shift into a slow, thoughtful mood, as if another tune has been grafted on. Nichols spells out an old-fashioned melody, Morrissey bows his bass, King switches to brushes and now it’s something Bill Carrothers might play. (Carrothers, as it happens, is sitting at the bar.)

“The Sub Prime Sword Claims Another,” sharp and angular, gives way to “Take the Coltrane,” the one standard of the evening. Everyone stretches out in a lengthy solo—including King, in his first solo of the night—and it’s as jazzy as anything ever has been.

[For City Pages, Andrea Swensson wrote: "What blew me away at Saturday night's show was how each of the four players' talents were showcased without ever drawing too much attention toward one musician... Because of this, Morrissey's compositions themselves became the star of the show." What she said.]

“If Rushmore Should Fall” is the last tune on the CD and the end of the show. Starting out gloomy-doomy on arco bass and piano chords, with Lewis playing questions on the saxophone, it picks up speed and volume, has second thoughts, and sighs. Called back for an encore, Morrissey says, “That’s all the songs we know.”

There's a feeling all night that we're hearing something special and new, something that can go places. It's hard to make a full-time commitment to jazz these days, especially when, like Morrissey (and now Lewis, who has been playing with Andrew Bird), you're in demand by rock bands that draw bigger crowds and paychecks and can tour. So it's understandable that Morrissey is playing this Saturday (at Tiffany's in St. Paul) with Wishbook and the Bill-Mike Band, and will soon go out again with Kweller and then Jennings.

But I hope The Morning World isn't a one-off. Jazz needs people like Morrissey, who can move between genres with confidence and sincerity, commitment and joy, without compromising.

Photos by John Whiting. T to B: Morrissey, Lewis and Morrissey, Nichols, King

Jazz and sf II

Music from Star Wars produced and arranged by Ron Carter, performed by an all-star band including Carter on bass, Bob James on acoustic piano, Billy Cobham on drums, Ralph McDonald on percussion, Herbert Laws on flute, Jon Faddis on trumpet and flugelhorn, Frank Wess on tenor and soprano sax, Jay Berliner on electric and acoustic guitar, Eddie Bert on trombone.

Only on vinyl. Clips compilation available for download here, thanks to the Star Wars Music blog.

Go here to read more about this recording, then wander the blog if you're so inclined.

Hat tip to Kelly Rossum.

Jazz and science fiction

In the words of science fiction author Bruce Sterling (Mirrorshades), "Science fiction is a native 20th century art form that came of age at the same time as jazz. Like jazz, science fiction is very street-level, very American, rather sleazy, rather popular, with a long and somewhat recondite tradition."

I'm not sure about the "sleazy" but it's fun to explore the connection between science fiction and jazz.

Jazz was featured in The Jetsons. (Teen daughter Judy’s theme was a trumpet solo. The end titles theme swung hard.) Twilight Zone's soundtrack had the occasional jazz theme cue. John Williams wrote Cantina Band music for Star Wars. The brilliant Bear McCreary brought a few jazz cues into Battlestar Galactica.

Four of the Star Trek series—The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise—wove jazz in here and there, like shiny threads in a blanket. Riker (TNG) played jazz on trombone and piano; Harry Kim (Voyager) had a jazz band. When the Vulcan Tuvok (Voyager) temporarily lost his mind, he discovered a fondness for jazz. (Thanks to the Star Trek Wiki for these and other facts.)

The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) includes music by the Yellowjackets.

Last night, while other jazz fans were at the Clown Lounge listening to the Chris Morrissey Quartet (where, according to reports, it was hot, crowded, and musically splendid), I was curled up in a comfy chair with a dachshund in my lap, knitting a hat and watching episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, which HDNet is running sequentially and without commercials.

I skipped this series when it originally aired because I couldn’t get my head around Scott Bakula as a Starfleet captain. But it’s actually pretty good. Although it takes place earlier in time than even the original Star Trek series with William Shatner, it was the most recently filmed and aired (2001–2005), so it’s the most contemporary in terms of special effects and themes. (It’s also the sexiest, but that’s a topic for another blogger. And it has the worst theme song of all the series, an awful pop tune with vapid lyrics.)

Back to jazz. In “Fusion” (season 1, episode 17), the music plays a major role. Hot Vulcan science officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) goes to bed one night without meditating (the reason is too long to explain) and dreams of the evening she left the Vulcan compound in San Francisco to wander the streets. She was "curious about human recreation" and decided to do some after-hours exploring.

Hearing music, she went into a bar called Fusion. The music—free jazz with screaming saxophone—roused her stuffed Vulcan emotions. "It was unusual, chaotic, but I was drawn to it," she explained. "I felt...invigorated."

Jazz is not very good for Vulcans, it seems. Just as Tuvok had to get stupid to discover he liked jazz ("Riddles," season 6, episode 6), the music leads to a disturbing scene between T'Pol and a predatory Vulcan named Tolaris (Enrique Murciano, Without a Trace, in a Beatles wig).

Was there any jazz on the original Star Trek series? None I could find. But William Shatner (Cap’n Kirk) recently read Sarah Palin’s farewell speech on Late Night with Conan O’Brien to jazz accompaniment (bass and bongos).

Jazz can also look to science fiction for inspiration. On their latest release, Easy Company, Jay Epstein, Bill Carrothers, and Anthony Cox turn John Williams’ “Imperial March” from Star Wars into something lush, lovely, and multi-layered. Darth who?

And then there's Sun Ra, a subject for his own encyclopedia.

If you know of more jazz–SF connections, please comment.

Geek post over and out.

Jazz and sf II

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

On growing the jazz audience

In July I sent out an email asking musicians, fans, and friends to share their thoughts on building a jazz audience. Good suggestions came back and you can read them here.

Matthew Rubin, who writes the blog Twenty Dollars: Purveyors of the Pointless with his friend Vikram, saw the piece and commented: "Really great suggestions. I especially like the idea of student rush tickets. I think we have to lower the costs of entry to the jazz world across the board." He included a link to his own blog post about the decline of the jazz audience. Titled "The Jazz Audience Smells Funny," it's worth a read.

Matt, I like your idea of scheduling opening acts before shows at major jazz venues. Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis has done that a few times before its jazz concerts. I agree with the commenters who say that these opening acts should be paid. Not as much as Dave Brubeck or Diana Krall because they're not the draw, but enough to make it worth hauling their gear and taking the time to perform.

Changes to the live jazz calendar

As more people use the live jazz calendar, I look for ways to make it more complete and easier to use.

Briefly: The live jazz calendar was created in November, 2007, when I started writing for MinnPost, as a way to keep track of as many events as possible. When I wrote my weekly picks, I wanted to have a broad view of what was out there. Almost overnight I was amazed to learn how much live jazz happens here--so many styles and venues and performers, so many choices.

On May 18 of this year I made the calendar public and put it on Bebopified. It's handy to have it here, and easy to read/use if you click on Agenda at the top right.

But it's not so terrific on a smart phone--too small, hard to read, won't scroll. (At least that's true on my iPhone. Maybe you Blackberry or Google phone users don't have this problem?)

So now there's another choice: Bebopified's Jazz Calendar, a page all its own, all calendar, all the time. The content is identical to the calendar on the blog, just easier to read on a smaller screen. Agenda view is still best.

As you can imagine, keeping this calendar current is a big job. Performers and venues, you can help by emailing information about upcoming events to: OR

For each event, please include:

• date
• location
• start time/end time
• performers' names
• cost (I haven't included this information in the past but am starting now)
• anything else you think might be interesting for people to know

Ideas for making the calendar more useful? Send those, too. Thanks.