Saturday, April 28, 2012

Catching up with Nancy Harms

When vocalist Nancy Harms moved from Minneapolis to New York in 2010, she left us with her remarkable debut CD, "In the Indigo," and a collective longing for more of her unique sound and way with time. Hearing Nancy sing is like watching a flying trapeze artist sail from bar to bar, doing aerial tricks along the way. She has returned since for the "Blue" concert at the Capri Theatre in north Minneapolis; for a series of studio recordings for Arne Fogel's radio program "Minnesota Voices: Certain Standards"; for a night at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul with guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist James Buckley, and drummer Jay Epstein. But we don't see and hear nearly enough of her.

She's a complicated girl, full of seeming contradictions: so cool, yet her songs ache with emotion; so relaxed and calm, yet her mind must be moving at stratospheric speeds to improvise and play with time as she does. Wistful, yet wise. An old soul in a young and classy package. She's originally from Clara City, pop. 1,297, but don't think you'll put anything past her. She's also a straight-shooter, and someone you instinctively trust. Not long after meeting her, I was handing her the keys to our house.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday at Maude

Tuesday, April 24. While the sun poured through Cafe Maude's big front windows overlooking Penn Ave., Patrick Harison and Kip Jones played their own unique brand of "folk music from countries that don't exist," and HH and I made shadow puppets on the menu. We arrived at 7 and stayed to the end of the music at 10. By then, the crowd noise had subsided and the listeners were there. Bassist Jeremy Boettcher stopped by, and we met a couple who had come for dinner and stayed, dumbfounded and delighted by the sounds of accordion and violin. We talked briefly with them afterward. They keep bees.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An abundance of jazz awards

Lately it seems that every time I open an email or visit a website or page through a magazine, I read about another jazz award or gift.

On May 24, drummer and bandleader Roy Haynes will take home a Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America.

Last Thursday, April 19, the first class of Doris Duke Artists--21 performing artists in the fields of jazz, dance, and theater--was awarded a total of $5.775 million. Life-changing cash grants of $225,000 each (second in size only to the MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grants of $500,000) were given to Don Byron, Bill Frisell, John Hollenbeck, Vijay Iyer, and Nicole Mitchell.

Earlier that week, on April 17, jazz historian Dan Morgenstern received the Rutgers University Award in recognition of his "exceptional contributions to preserving, promoting, and advancing our understanding of jazz." Morgenstern served as Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark from 1976 until his retirement in January 2012.

On or near that date, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling won the 2012 ECHO Jazz Prize (Germany's Grammy) for International Male Singer of the Year.

On April 13, the 2012 Guggenheim Fellows were announced. Among them were Terry Teachout, Louis Armstrong's biographer (and blogger, and writer for the Wall Street Journal) and drummer-composer Bobby Previte.

On April 11, Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music Jazz Studies Department received a $1.9 million gift from the estate of Anne and Paul Plummer. Paul Plummer was a tenor saxophonist and friend of the University's Distinguished Professor David N. Baker.

CD review: Forward Energy's "The Awakening"

Many jazz musicians, fans, and members of the press know Tim Orr as the hard-working, Scotch-appreciating marketing associate/media relations dude for the Monterey Jazz Festival. More should know him as a drummer. Orr studied with Ed Blackwell at Wesleyan in the '80s, then worked variously for Virgin Records, MCA, Arkadia, at the Brubeck Institute, and as a freelance journalist ("Traps," "Drum") before signing on with Monterey in 2006. He has been performing since 1976 ("1500 gigs and counting," his words), playing in rock bands, musical theater, Cajun and zydeco bands, jazz and blues bands, and improvising/avant-garde/experimental/free jazz groups.

Orr is a member of the current formation of Jim Ryan's Forward Energy quintet. Their latest CD, "The Awakening," came out in March on Edgetone Records

I prefer my free jazz live, when I can observe the musicians interacting and feel the physical energy of the room. (I don't mean that in a woo-woo way. Live music is a physical thing. Wood and brass, strings and reeds and skins vibrate. People breathe and sigh and sweat. Depending on the room, you may sense the music in the air, your chair, and the floor beneath your feet. Dubious? Google Evelyn Glennie.) On the other hand, live music is ephemeral. You can't wonder, "What was that?" and back up to hear it again. Lacking a choice--I'm in Minnesota, not in California, where Forward Energy mostly performs--I listened to the CD.

It will sweet-talk you and knock the fillings out of your teeth.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New e.s.t. studio album, "301," due out May 8 on ACT

It can seem a bit ghoulish to release an artist's music posthumously. You wonder--how do we know he or she wanted it out there? Does it have something new and important to say, or are the survivors simply profiting or unable to let go and move on?

And yet, if we love the artist, we long for more, especially after a sudden, tragic, much-too-soon death.

When jazz pianist and composer Esbjörn Svensson died in a scuba-diving accident on June 14, 2008, he was only 44. His eponymous band e.s.t. (Esbjörn Svensson Trio) had achieved international stardom and was still on the rise. It was the first European group to be featured on DownBeat's cover (in 2006, the same year e.s.t. won the European Jazz Award and the BBC Jazz Award). Although much of the US had not yet hipped to e.s.t.'s exciting, genre-defying brand of jazz and the group played to ridiculously small audiences here (at the Dakota in Minneapolis, for example, back when the Dakota would risk such a thing), Svensson, drummer Magnus Öström, and bassist Dan Berglund filled stadiums elsewhere in the world, as if they were a rock band. (For their big gigs, they added light shows and fog machines.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Craig Taborn wins Paul Acket Award 2012

Craig Taborn was born in Golden Valley, Minn., and grew up with the likes of Reid Anderson and Dave King. He left Minnesota years ago for New York and the world at large, but we still claim his as our own. Many of us were pleased to learn that earlier this week he received the Paul Acket Award. 

The press release:

Every year, the North Sea Jazz Festival hands out the Paul Acket Award to an artist deserving wider recognition for their extraordinary musicianship. The winner of the Paul Acket Award 2012 is the American composer and pianist, Craig Taborn.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival stays true to the music

There’s a lot of complaining among jazz fans these days about the lack of jazz at some major jazz festivals. Not without reason; the big names at Montreal this year are James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and Seal. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is presenting the Boss, Beach Boys, Eagles, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Ne-Yo, and Cee Lo Green, to name just a few non-jazz draws.

And then there’s misty, magical Monterey. The longest continuously running jazz festival in the world is still mostly jazz. It’s jazz in a way that it needs to be at a time when boundaries are blurring: a mix of traditional and new, legends and rising stars, instrumentalists and vocalists, comfortable and cutting-edge.

Headliners for the 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, to be held Sept. 21–23, 2012, include Tony Bennett, Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Frisell, and Trombone Shorty and New Orleans Avenue. An all-star supergroup comprised of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Akinmusire, Chris Potter, Benny Green, and Lewis Nash will represent three generations of jazz.