Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jazz on television: Cab Calloway and Big Band Vocalists

Jazz programs on network television are as rare as unicorns, so the fact that two will air next week on PBS--one on Monday, Feb. 27 and another on Saturday, March 3--is noteworthy.

Cab Calloway
All Rights Reserved/Artline Films/J.-F. Pitet
"Cab Calloway: Sketches" premieres Monday, Feb. 27 on PBS's American Masters. Full of hot-cha razzmatazz and hi-de-ho, it's an intriguing portrait of singer, dancer, bandleader, and movie star (Stormy Weather, The Blues Brothers) most people today know little about. Born in 1907, Calloway broke barriers, charmed both black and white audiences, and was a lot more modern than we give him credit for being.

The many highlights include an animated map of Harlem with Calloway's commentary. "The Savoy Ballroom, where I bombed with my first band... Small's Paradise, one of the better spots, and next door, the brand-new police station. Heh heh heh heh!" Matthew Rushing, choreographer/principal dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, dances with an animated Calloway drawn by Steve Brodner (the "Sketches" in the title has more than one meaning). Stanley Crouch, Gerald Wilson (who played in Calloway's band), Calloway's daughters, musicians Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck Dunne," director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, in which Calloway appears) and others comment on the man and his times. We also learn what Calloway's hit song "Minnie the Moocher" was all about; it's not as innocent as it sounds.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jazz as background music

Created by The Brand Agency in Perth, Australia, for The Ellington Jazz Club in Perth.

See also "The Bass Solo" and "Table 4."

Does anyone know if these posters are available for sale?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kurt Elling on the Grammys, confidence, the jazz lifestyle, his next album, and more

Kurt Elling, courtesy of the artist
 I’ve seen Kurt Elling perform countless times—seriously, so often I’ve lost track of the number—but I’d never interviewed him until Thursday, Feb. 16, two days before his performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, he was featured on public radio’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” (in the segment called “Not My Job”). On Sunday he attended the Grammys. On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, he performed a program called “Passion World” at Chicago’s Symphony Center. (I saw the first performance of “Passion World” in May 2010 in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.)

I reached him by phone at his home in New York City, where he was spending a few days before coming to Minneapolis. A condensed version of this interview appears on MinnPost.

PLE: I understand you did “Passion World” in Chicago on Tuesday. I was at the first performance in New York, with Richard Galliano.

Kurt Elling: We did kind of an updated version. We added a couple of compositions, and we were fortunate to have Anat Cohen and Regina Carter with us this time.

Was this the first time you performed with them?

No, Regina and I toured together with the Monterey Festival All-Stars, and Anat and I were on the same Jazz Cruise just now. She sat in with my band a couple of times there. She’s just a joy. Both of them are such lovely people, and such great musicians. [The Chicago concert] was a real pleasure for everybody. I think it was an ideal situation for Valentine’s Day.