Monday, June 27, 2005

Charlie Parker's boyhood home - discovered

Actually two of them, still standing, discovered by an intrepid Kansas City jazz historian after pouring over 70 year old census records. Here is a portion of the article from the Kansas City Star... (link for complete article)

Posted on Sun, Jun. 26, 2005
Scholar discovers missing links in Parker's past

Two of Jazz legend’s former KC homes still stand

The Kansas City Star

Every decade millions of families fill out census forms.

Mundane stuff. Names and ages. Do you own or rent your home? And, in the 1930 questionnaire: Do you own a radio?

Like millions of others, the Parker family — Charles Sr., Addie and 9-year-old Charlie — are listed on the 1930 survey.

They didn’t own a radio. But someday, Charlie’s music would be heard on the radio. And someday, the legend of Charlie “Bird” Parker, one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, would be known around the world. But facts of Parker’s childhood remained a mystery because no one found the paper trail.

Now, new details have emerged from these mundane sources. Details that have uncovered two rare jewels: Parker’s boyhood homes still exist.

The 1930 U.S. Census forms, which the government released 72 years after people filled them out, recently became available in area public libraries. Kansas City author and jazz scholar Chuck Haddix took a peek.

“It was like finding a diamond,” he says.

Parker biographies state that when he was a boy his family moved from Kansas City, Kan., to a house in the 1500 block of Olive Street, just a few blocks from 18th and Vine.

But census and school records show a move in between. The Parkers lived in Westport for seven years in a mostly white, wealthy neighborhood, where his father worked as a janitor.

Unlike the homes in Kansas City, Kan., and on Olive Street — both long torn down — their Westport apartment still stands. Plus, when Haddix shared his news with a British jazz scholar, Llew Walker, he learned there was yet another Parker apartment just around the corner from the first. Both are in the old Hyde Park historic neighborhood.

“This is so much different than the story told before,” Haddix said. “… I drove over to the house and stood there with my mouth open, knowing that this was where Charlie Parker had lived.”
(link for complete article)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dianne Reeves - Mercedes Ambassador?

File this one in the recently growing file of jazz meets the auto world, or in this case a new Mercedes minivan, the upcoming R-class. But of course, Mercedes doesn't want you to think of this as a "minivan" - it's a "grand sports tourer" according to them. And as part of their marketing plan, they have hired Dianne Reeves to be one of three celebrity "ambassadors" for the R-class. She also stars in this really odd "documentary" on the Mercedes website called "Comfort". The film consists of studio and interview footage with Dianne and her band, talking about their music, interspersed with footage of several German engineers (including Christoph Dahm) talking about the climate control system on the new R-class (which apparently is so powerful, it has enough BTUs to heat three average homes in the winter), the seats, etc. I'm not sure what the R-class has to do with Dianne Reeves or vice versa, I guess it's just a clever marketing gimmick. But can you imagine, say, John Coltrane selling Land Rovers?
Link to the MB USA R-Class site...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Guitarist Billy Bauer dies

June 23, 2005, 4:37 AM EDT

MELVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ Billy Bauer, a jazz guitarist who worked with Lennie Tristano, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker, has died in Melville. He was 89.

Bauer, who lived in Albertson, N.Y., died Friday of complications from pneumonia, said his daughter, Pamela.

He developed much of his solo technique while playing with Tristano's group, which he joined in 1946. Before that, he had played mostly rhythm parts.

Bauer recorded both with the band and with individual members, such as saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. He founded a publishing company, William H. Bauer Inc., to publish compositions by himself, Tristano, Konitz and Marsh.

Read the complete obituary from Newsday...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Monk plays Chopin?

Yeah, or so the Monk estate claims. They have posted on their website a homemade recording of a piano player, playing a piece by Chopin. Quite well in fact. Some people claim that it's not Monk. I suppose we'll never know. It's quite interesting though if it is Monk. Some people claim he didn't have much technique. I've heard stories of people who "accidently" walked by Monk's apartment and heard someone playing brilliant Bud Powell-esque bebop lines, only to have Monk make them promise not to tell anyone it was him, so perhaps this is in fact Monk. Thanks to Terry Teachout for the heads up.
scroll down and click clip #5

Jazz and NASCAR!!!

No, Dale Jarrett isn't recording a duets album with Shirley Horn, and no Joey DeFrancesco isn't planning on taking the #5 car into the pits for 4 fresh tires and another round of wedge, but jazz and NASCAR, do apparently go together. At least according THIS press release. I can only imagine the conversation between Eric and his booking agent -

Agent - "So Eric, I've got a big gig out west for you."
Eric Lewis - "Cool, where is it?"
Agent - "Northern California"
Eric - "A week headlining Yoshis?"
Agent - "No."
Eric Lewis - "The Monterey Jazz Festival?"
Agent - "We tried, but no."
Eric - "Well, I hear Healdsburg has a nice festival, how about that?"
Agent - "You're getting warmer."
Eric - "Ok, I get it, a winery in Napa, Sonoma, or somewhere up there?"
Agent - "You've almost got it. Let me give you a hint - vroom vroom."
Eric - "Aw, you mean I'm gonna be playing with Frank Lacy? I hate when he does that motorcycle thing with his trombone, he thinks it so cool."
Agent - "NO! Not Frank Lacy! Try Jeff Gordon! - You're playing NASCAR!"

Here's the actual press release

SONOMA, Calif. - Renowned jazz pianist Eric Lewis has been selected to perform the national anthem at the Dodge/Save Mart 350 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Infineon Raceway on Sunday, June 26.

Lewis, a native of New Jersey, has put together quite a career at the young age of 32, having played for President Clinton at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. He has also played for the world-famous Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

"Since I was a child, zooming along in cars has always been a great thrill for me. I am very much anticipating being out there amongst all of these great NASCAR drivers," said Lewis, who will play the national anthem on his piano. The race is set to take the green flag at 12:30 p.m. on FOX (PST).

Lewis was crowned a piano master in 1999 when he won the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Piano Competition, which led to an invitation to join the band of one-time John Coltrane collaborator Elvin Jones. Lewis has also played with Cassandra Wilson and Roy Hargrove, among others.

In addition, Lewis has provided the score for the movie "A Trumpet at the Wall of Jericho," which aired nationally on PBS in 2004. He also appeared in the film "The Caveman's Valentine" in 2001 with legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Lewis has recently ventured out on his own to record his own music, in addition to film and television projects (

Tickets for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series weekend are available by calling 800-870-RACE or visiting or

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rifftides - Doug Ramsey's new jazz blog

I'd like to welcome author, journalist and broadcaster Doug Ramsey to the world of jazz blogs, and his new site - Rifftides. Doug’s most recent book is Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. He is also the author of Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. So as you can see, he knows his stuff. Blog away, Doug!

Visit Rifftides...

Hentoff - "The Gioia of Jazz"

From the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, Nat Henthoff praises current NEA chair Dana Gioia for his work in jazz.

The Gioia of Jazz

The National Endowment for the Arts' head champions "one of the great American inventions."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

No one with government funds to dispense has done more to bring jazz to American audiences than Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He has long considered the music "one of the great American inventions," and has been listening to it since his childhood in a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles where, at home in the kitchen, his mother would put on records by Count Basie and her husband's favorite--Bunny Berigan, the trumpet player best known for his exhilarating version of "I Can't Get Started With You."

As Mr. Gioia was born in 1950, he remembers "growing up to the music of jazz, which was still America's popular music. You could even hear it on the TV variety shows. And in high school, the coolest group was the jazz band. As for me, the music conjured up a world of excitement and seemingly unreachable sophistication."

Now, however, except for the BET Jazz channel, not available in all parts of the country, there is currently no regular jazz programming. Indeed, there is hardly any jazz on broadcast or cable television. And on radio, the music has been almost entirely limited to a number of local public-radio stations, and some programming on National Public Radio.

Mr. Gioia--a poet (whose "Interrogations at Noon" won the 2002 American Book Award), a literary anthologist and a teacher--became the ninth chairman of the NEA in February 2003. One of his first initiatives was to increase the NEA's jazz program.

Starting in 1982, the NEA had been presenting jazz originals with American Jazz Masters Fellowships, including what is now a $25,000 accompaniment to the award. The first three musicians honored were Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Sun Ra, followed the next year by Count Basie, Kenny Clarke and Sonny Rollins. Mr. Gioia has expanded the number of annual Jazz Masters--there are seven this year. And in 2004 he added a new category, Jazz Advocate, which began with a nonmusician, this writer, who plays only an electric typewriter after a brief and unpromising venture long ago as a clarinetist.

The chairman is involved in expanding audiences for all the arts, but he is especially driven to "expand the country's awareness of jazz, to use it to combat the cultural impoverishment that threatens us." In an era of "reality" television, and a music scene where even Merle Haggard is hardly heard on commercial country music radio stations, Mr. Gioia doesn't consider it necessary to define "cultural impoverishment."

Read the complete article at Opinion

Jazz Journalists Assn. Award Winners

See the complete list at (which wins the award for worst web layout / color combinations of the year!)

Lifetime Achievement in Jazz

Hank Jones

Musician of the Year
Dave Holland

Up & Coming Musician of the Year
Jeremy Pelt

Jazz Album of the Year
Maria Schneider, Concert in the Garden (Artists Share)

Jazz Reissue of the Year, single CD
Coleman Hawkins, Centennial Collection (BMG Bluebird)

Jazz Reissue of the Year, boxed set
Albert Ayler, Holy Ghost (Revenant),

Jazz Record Label of the Year

Jazz Events Producer of the Year
Todd Barkan/Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz Composer of the Year
Maria Schneider

Jazz Arranger of the Year
Maria Schneider

Male Jazz Singer of the Year
Andy Bey

Female Jazz Singer of the Year
Luciana Souza

Latin Jazz Album of the Year
Jerry Gonzalez, Y Los Piratas del Flamenco (Sunnyside)

Small Ensemble Group of the Year (octet or smaller)
Jason Moran Trio

Large Ensemble of the Year (nonet or larger, including big bands, jazz orchestras, contemporary symphonies, et. al.)
Maria Schneider Big Band

Trumpeter of the Year
Clark Terry

Trombonist of the Year
Roswell Rudd

Player of the Year of Instruments Rare in Jazz
Gregoire Maret, harmonica

Alto Saxophonist of the Year
Phil Woods

Tenor Saxophonist of the Year
Joe Lovano

Soprano Saxophonist of the Year
Wayne Shorter

Baritone Saxophonist of the Year
Claire Daly

Clarinetist of the Year
Don Byron

Flutist of the Year
Frank Wess

Pianist of the Year
Jason Moran

Organ-keyboards of the Year
Dr. Lonnie Smith

Guitarist of the Year
Jim Hall

Acoustic Bassist of the Year
Dave Holland

Electric Bassist of the Year
Steve Swallow

Strings Player of the Year (violin, cello, kora, harp, etc.)
Regina Carter

Mallets Player of the Year (vibes, marimba, etc.)
Stefon Harris

Percussionist of the Year
Kahil El’Zabar

Drummer of the Year
Roy Haynes

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

From the valuts: Monterey to preserve recordings

I read something from Tim Jackson (head honcho at the MJF) recently talking about these plans, the grant the got from the Grammy Foundation, and the possibility of starting a MJF record label. Given the continued strong market for jazz reissues, if the legal hurdles can be cleared (and they may be rather tough to clear) it would be a no brainer.
New life for old jazz tapes
Festival gets archive grant

Monterey County Herald Correspondent

Recordings of live performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and others at the Monterey Jazz Festival are in danger of deteriorating.

To help preserve these recordings and others from 1958 to 1969, the Grammy Foundation has given the jazz festival a $40,000 grant for its Archive Preservation Project to digitally reformat and catalog the archives, in partnership with Stanford University.

The digitized recordings will be put in an online database so that scholars can access them more easily, said Jason Arnold, marketing associate for the jazz festival.

The earlier tapes are in "troubling" condition, he said. "They've been deteriorating for quite awhile, so we want to make sure they're well preserved and taken care of so that people can listen to them and hear them in the best possible quality... Once everything is digitized, it'll be much easier to access and to manage."

The inspiration for the project comes as the jazz festival approaches its 50th anniversary in 2008, said General Manager Tim Jackson.

"We realized that we need to preserve old media... Sooner or later, that tape is just going to disintegrate." Currently, the archives are stored on various media, from quarter-inch reel-to-reel tapes to CDs.

Read the complete article here...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Eddie Palmieri - Listen Here!

About two weeks ago, Eddie brought his band to Fresno's Arte Americas for a concert as part of their "Nights In the Plaza" series. It was a great evening, showcasing a band which has to be among the best in latin jazz. (trumpeter Brian Lynch really stole the show, with his seemingly effortless virtuosity and melodic creativity). Now Eddie has a new cd out on Concord, called Listen Here. Based upon his normal working septet with Lynch, Donald Harrison and Conrad Herwig, the cd also finds star guest soloists joining the party, such as Michael Brecker, Regina Carter, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, David Sanchez and John Scofield. While it lacks the cohesion of earlier albums with this same basic group (Palmas, Arete) due to the ever changing lineup, the real standout part of the album (aside from the obvious excellent solosists) is the material. Here Palmieri finds himself playing some classic jazz compositions, something he hasn't done much of in his over 50 years in the business. No one ever doubted Palmieri's jazz chops, as his piano owes as much to Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner as it does to most afro-cuban influenced pianists. But it's always nice to hear musicians in a new setting, and Listen Here does that. Aside from the Eddie Harris penned title track, tunes include Tin Tin Deo, Nica's Dream, and In Walked Bud. And unlike many current jazz musicians content with running through the motions on such tunes, Palmieri displays a creative and playful approach, daring at times, which makes for an excellent record.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Steve Turre - no plunger mutes here

I came across this article about jazz trombonist Steve Turre, where he talks about the current state of the jazz scene. (I've asked this question in interviews enough to know not to ask it in the first place.) Steve did have some interesting things to say though. Here's a chunk of the article from

Much about the music business today dismays the 56-year-old musician, a veteran of bands led by Roland Kirk, Ray Charles, Woody Shaw, Slide Hampton and Art Blakey, among others. But he's optimistic about the state of jazz trombone: "It's better in general than it was 10 years ago, though a lot of the younger players need to listen to J.J."

J.J., of course, means J.J. Johnson, the Indianapolis native and pioneer of the bebop trombone who died four years ago last February.

Turre, who was among the national jazz stars who attended Johnson's funeral here, believes along with many others that Johnson established the viability of the trombone as a jazz instrument for the modern era.

And he disapproves of younger colleagues who seem to want to revive the style of the Duke Ellington trombone section of the 1930s. "You have to take what J.J. did and be in the moment."

I agree with the part about players needing to listen to J.J. But I don't see how listening to J.J. automatically puts you "in the moment". J.J. developed his style back in the late 40's and early 50's. It's brilliant, and may still be "cutting edge" as bebop remains the lingua francaof modern jazz, but I don't see the logic in telling someone they need to cut back on their influences from 60 years ago, and concentrate on more contemporary sounds, from 50 years ago! I will say, if you're a jazz trombone player and haven't studied J.J.'s music, you should probably find a different instrument, but the way the writer places Turre's quote (which could be out of context, many newspaper writers don't know much about jazz, and they wind up getting things confused) it really puzzles me. And the funny thing is, I've heard Steve play in that "pre-J.J." style very well! I wouldn't expect a player of Steve's level to say such a thing, or at least in the way the article indicates he said it. People like Wycliffe Gordon have proven that you can take that "earlier" style, and make it your own, and take it new places, if you ask me.

Jazz in L.A. - "not quite bleak" (but almost)

Or so says Lynell George of the L.A. Times, who documents the highs and lows of the jazz club scene in southern California.

June 9, 2005
Off the radar but still flying
L.A.’s jazz scene is as sprawling — and as tenacious — as the region itself.
By Lynell George, Times Staff Writer

It's a typical early-in-the-run night at the Jazz Bakery — not quite bleak, but possibly tipped there.

Nights like this make Ruth Price, the proprietor of the Culver City venue, more than a touch nervous. At the moment, eyes heavenward, she's scanning the seating plan — a clear plexiglass sheet situated above the ticket booth that patrons scan to handpick their seats. As each ticket is purchased, Price, or one of her staffers, X's out a spot, allowing a visitor a preview of how full (or not) the evening might be.

More than a decade into this, the tension of worrying over the house still puts Price on edge.

The first set is supposed to start at 8 p.m., but there aren't many grease-penciled Xs. Price waits as long as she can, given there's the second set to think about. At 8:15-ish, the lobby lights start flashing, indicating that the doors to the performance space will be opening shortly. Businessmen with loosened ties catch the last bit of light outdoors and stub out their cigarettes. A group of women in broomstick skirts and long exotic earrings, clustered in the high-ceilinged cafe, toss out their pie plates and then take their seats inside. The green plastic patio chairs are set up in straight rows like pews. In this simple, bare-bones arrangement, the room looks even emptier than the seating grid.

By the time the lights have dimmed and Price has given her trademark peppy intro, singer Andy Bey squints out into the crowd. He makes a visor of his left hand, cupping it above his brow and peers out into the shadows: "So nice having a packed house," he laughs into his microphone. "Oh, but they're on their way." Bey smiles a knowing smile and then, seating himself at the piano, everything falls away. He promptly saunters into "Paper Moon"; next, an otherworldly version of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Bey continues to toss out an unusual set of tunes — like laying out a surprising playing-hand. Then he starts in on some not so unusual ones: Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" and an achingly out-of-time version of "Midnight Sun." He pulls something out of the center of his being, in a voice that is all ache in the middle but only slightly frayed at the edges — he sings these with conviction and controlled force — as if it were an SRO crowd, as if he were alone.

When it comes to jazz in this city, most die-hard fans know this abstract truth: There is the "jazz romance" — the packed, hushed rooms, the heady rush of brilliance; and there is the "jazz reality" — back-to-back sets played by journeymen and masters in odd or even incongruous spaces. And with any luck, on any given night here in Southern California, you can find something that falls somewhere neatly in between.

You just have to know where to look — or that you should even try.

Contrary to popular grousing, there is jazz to be had in Los Angeles — and we're not just talking about high-profile clubs such as the Jazz Bakery or this weekend's Playboy Jazz Festival. The experience may come wrapped in a way we're not accustomed to, or it might take some seeking.

The bad rap about L.A., from performers to listeners, is this: "People don't come out." Or, "It's too over their heads." But the jazz issue is deeper and more complex: It's an issue of sprawl, of competing distractions.

"It's a matter of infrastructure," says Ken Moore, who, for a hot minute in 2000-01, ran Howling Monk Coffee Bar in Inglewood. Some nights 100 people or more would crowd into his modest space, which offered pastry, coffee and tunes. They'd drive in from the San Gabriel Valley or just bump into the music as they were walking down the street. "It was like a big void we were filling. We didn't serve alcohol. And the artists really enjoyed it because people were there for the music. There wasn't anything ulterior to it," says Moore, who kept doing it until he simply ran out of money. "What was I gonna do? Have a 10-tea minimum?"

His dilemma raises the question: What do we think about when we think about jazz?

Experiencing jazz comes ready-fitted with clichés that are hard to shake: that it happens in dark (perhaps basement) rooms; that there is a two-drink minimum; that, to be authentic, the music has to be obtuse.

But the region is full of surprises and, as a rule, breaks with convention. The music may not happen one flight down as it does in Chicago or New York. Here it might transpire at a musty old Elks Lodge or in the back of a sandwich shop.

But that is part of the appeal.

There are rooms where the big names sail into town and play five-night stands. The Bakery is one, Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill the other. Between those two rooms — as different as day and night — L.A. has seen jazz's royalty: Elvin Jones, Carmen McRae, Max Roach, Buddy Collette, Jimmy Scott, Kenny Burrell, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie.

And while UCLA Live and the Walt Disney Concert Hall have been hosting jazz, what people don't often know about is what happens in the pockets on any given night in some hidden corner of the Southland.

The working musician's life means hotel gigs at the Biltmore downtown and the Westin and the Crowne Plaza at the Los Angeles airport, playing in bars or echo-y lobbies. There, too, is a collection of rooms in the San Fernando Valley and Glendale and Pasadena; or the music that happens at the new 5th Street Dick's in Leimert Park and across the street at the World Stage. There's jazz at Steamers in Fullerton or the LACMA courtyard Friday nights or the speak-easy elegance of the Vic in Santa Monica.

For those who prefer their music outside of the box, there's the "line space line," the new and improvised music series at Selah Artistic Giving Center in downtown L.A., as well as a series that drummer Alex Cline has been booking for years, the Open Gate Theater, which stages shows at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts the first Sunday of the month.

Just about anywhere you can think of, there's someone sweating out his soul, possibly playing for nothing but giving his all. Jazz isn't dead. But when it's not shape-changing, it's in a stealth mode.

There will always be the crony, some long-timer at the end of the bar, who, without prompting, wants to roll out those glory years stories — the Central Avenue scene, West Coast cool — just to make you jealous about all the historic rooms and sounds that could simply be happened upon ... once upon a time.

And, yes, the landscape has changed. But that doesn't take into account what still happens every night here.

Jazz violinist Jeff Gauthier has usurped the dance floor of a Culver City Salvadoran restaurant, Club Tropical, on Thursday nights to host a series he's dubbed CryptoNight — an extension of his label Cryptogramophone, which pays homage to creative improvised music in L.A. and beyond. "They aren't playing standards," Gauthier says. "They won't be booked at the Bakery or Catalina or Steamers. But these are artists who have taken their cues from people who have been doing innovative music here for decades — Bobby Bradford, Vinny Golia."

Just after 8 p.m. on a recent Thursday, pianist Thollem McDonas and drummer Rick Rivera sit beneath the dance floor's disco balls. The audience — art school types in rectangle glasses, musicians in shorts and flip-flops — are seated on short stools that ring the stage, while a family of four works through a plate of pupusas. Another family peeks in, the son transfixed by the bright sounds — all angles and odd meters.

Tonight's attendance is sparse. But restaurant owner Carlos Rodriguez knows the ups and downs of this; he hosts music just about every night, including another jazz night on Mondays and a Brazilian choro ensemble on Wednesdays. He's become aware of the city's odd ebbs and flows, musicians and their followings: "When people like Nels and Alex Cline come here, the line is out the door."

Across town a few nights later, McCoy Tyner has landed back in L.A. for another week of shows at the Catalina Bar & Grill. Catalina is the city's bid for the classic example of the jazz club experience. And Tyner is one of the classic examples of straight-ahead jazz, once part of what was arguably one of the most famous ensembles in jazz history, the John Coltrane Quartet. Midweek, mid-run, even on his second pass through in three months, the room is lively, though just about half full.

As Tyner makes his way between the blush-colored tabletops, one woman murmurs, "Ah, déjà vu all over again."

His gait is a bit unsteady, but his bearing is elegant. He strolls by slowly, as if the evening has no end or limits. He seats himself on the piano bench. His drummer, Eric Gravatt, has already taken off his jacket and draped it on the joint where one of his cymbals hangs, vertically like a gong — to prepare for what is to come.

Tyner raises his hands, then digs in. And in those hands one can hear the history of jazz — from ragtime to stride to bebop and beyond.

First round, second round. First set, second set. Waiters sailing in like clockwork, the check arriving just as the musicians settle in for the encore: There is something soothing and ritualistic about the club: People return for the comforts of those rhythms while catching a glimpse of jazz history passing by.

Read the rest of the article online at the LA Times

Thursday, June 09, 2005

This guy hates jazz

I love when people use their platform to attack something, and in their attack, they demonstrate that they really have very little knowledge about what they claim to oppose so strongly. At least he likes Keith Jarrett-

I hate jazz. Except for this one guy

The Toronto Globe and Mail
Thursday, June 9, 2005

CBC's Radio Two, once the one auditory zone I could consistently return to for solace and stimulation and a sense that there were other people like me out there in this vast and empty land, has abandoned me. In its desperation to keep its listeners over the age of 50, it is gradually and surreptitiously replacing all its classical music programming with jazz and pop and folk. Tune into it at any time during the day and your chances are about 50/50 of hitting on some pretentious crooning female whose brain has been turned to Diet Pepsi by toxic doses of nostalgia.

It's exactly what you would find on any golden-oldies-easy-listening channel; this is pap, and pap is perfectly commercially viable, so there is no reason whatever for government subsidy of it. And, more importantly, the deliberate appeal to the elderly makes no sense. For years, there has been wailing and hand-wringing at the CBC about the absence of younger listeners. And then they program nothing but jazz. I have a theory that CBC Radio executives believe that young people are all obviously stupid, which means they can only enjoy what is light and non-challenging, and so they think yeah, jazz is suitably idiotic for young people . . . but no, I don't really believe that even CBC Radio executives are this cretinous. I don't know what they want, except to prevent me from listening.

They certainly don't want me listening, though, no sir: They are doing everything they can to turn my loathing of jazz into a full-fledged paranoid obsession. The more the CBC plays jazz, the more I despise it and plot against it. Not only do I hate jazz now, I hate jazz culture, I hate jazz people, I hate their phony deep cigarette voices, their obsolete slang, their faux-blackness, their nervous giggles. . . . I hate jazz's saccharine breeziness, its conservative affection for jaunty ditties -- the same jaunty ditties, endlessly strung out and embroidered and doo-de-doo-doo-doo improvised . . . my God, people say techno all sounds the same! Jazz means the Howard Johnson's piano bar, the lobby of Loblaws at Christmastime, it means electro-acoustic guitars and warbling organs and mellow marimbas and vibraphones, it means the smirky, bantering announcers of the seebeegoddamsee.

So why then am I going to spend the rest of this column praising the work of a jazz pianist? Because he doesn't seem like jazz to me.

I have been intrigued by Keith Jarrett ever since I heard his album of solo piano improvisations, Facing You, in the early seventies, and then became addicted, as so many young romantics do, to his amazing hour-long improvisation in Koln in 1975. The Koln Concert became one of the best-selling jazz records of all time. It is emotional in parts, to the point of sentimentality, but it is still an astounding document: It is a long, reflective piece of music -- not a song, not a "track," but a narrative, something like a symphony, which is being composed as it is being played. At a recent symposium on new classical music, Mark Kingwell referred to it as a record of a man thinking.

Jarrett the composer has always been on the verge of acceptance by the world of "legitimate" music (that is, the academic world of atonality and conceptualism), but he keeps screwing that transition up with his nostalgic preoccupation with jazz standards. As a musician, Jarrett has no problem competing on the stage of serious classical music: He has recorded the works of Bach, Mozart, Handel and several 20th-century composers. His performance of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues (on ECM) in particular shows his technical ability and seriousness: It's a lush, somewhat romantic interpretation, but technically perfect. After a long interval, Jarrett has finally released a new two-CD album of improvisational solo piano work: his first since 1995. It's called Radiance, also on ECM, and was recorded live at two concerts in Japan. It is fascinating, because it documents what I see as a struggle between the jazzman and the intellectual composer. Half of it sounds like contemporary classical music: It is tonal but not melodic, difficult and abstract. There are Asian and Arabic influences on these patterns, and a playful reference to a Chopin nocturne in one piece. It could be argued that this resistance to melody comes from the influence of the noisy "free jazz" of the 1960s, but knowing Jarrett I'd say it comes more from the classical world. It could be late Shostakovich. The other half is jazz: It is mushy and predictable. It could be film music.

What is astounding about all of it is that it is completely improvised. Jarrett writes in his liner notes, "How we arrive at thoughts has a lot to do with what we aren't thinking beforehand, and I had in mind letting some of the music happen to me without sitting there deep in thought." I hope Jarrett's experiment here serves as a model for more composer/musicians in the academic "new music" idiom. Why not improvise more serious music -- not working from "standards" or other schmaltz, but from purely new ideas? This is what Jarrett does best -- and I wish he would give up on the jazz.

Of course, I have not heard a single minute from this important musical contribution played on any show on CBC Radio Two. It's too difficult for them.

Friday, June 03, 2005

My interview with Hank Jones

Called the "Dean of Jazz Piano" by the New Yorker, 86 year-old jazz legend Hank Jones has been one on the top piano players in jazz for over 60 years. He's worked and recorded with virtually every major jazz star, including stints with Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and countless others. His own recordings are celebrated as masterpieces of jazz piano. Today, he's more active than ever, with his new cd "For My Father", three recent cds with the Great Jazz Trio, and two new albums as a special guest with saxophonist Joe Lovano. Recently, I had a chance to talk with Hank about his long career in jazz, his family (his late brothers Elvin and Thad Jones were also major jazz stars), and much more.

Listen to this interview online via Real Audio...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Paul Anka? Rock Swings?

Ok, first off - this is not a jazz record, and Paul Anka is not a jazz singer. It's pop, so keep that in mind. It's one of the oddest records I've come across in a long time though. Here's the deal, former teen idol, wanna be rat packer, composer and of course singer Paul Anka records an album on Verve Records, full of big band (and a lot of "with strings") arrangements of songs by Van Halen, Nirvana, Bon Jovi, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. This musical oddball wound up in the mail bin today. I saw the mailer had the Verve Records logo on it, and for a second I thought it might be the new Wayne Shorter record, but alas, it was Paul Anka!

I do have to admit the arrangements, especially the big band numbers are top flight. No solos, but like I said it's not a jazz record. The arrangers are top flight, including Patrick Williams, and John Clayton, (who I admire greatly and think is one of the finest arrangers and bandleaders in the business). They do a great job translating these songs into a big band idiom, arrangements which would make Billy May proud. It was recorded at the old Capitol Records Studio A, so it has that vintage sound, with great fidelity thanks to Al Schmitt. Anka is also in good voice, he's good at what he does, and is much better than the young neo-crooners such as Cincotti and Buble.

There is one problem though. It's creepy! Hearing a man in his 60's sing lyrics written by 90's teenagers for 90's teenagers, it just doesn't work. The classy arrangements also serve to expose some weak lyrics. I've heard Kurt Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hundreds of times like anyone of my generation. I never fully realized how horrible the lyrics were until this recording. Misquito, Libido... I feel stupid, contagious... If they worked being sung by Cobain, they most certainly don't work being sung by Anka. He sings it well, there's just no possible way a man his age, and with his kind of voice, and in this setting. There is one redeeming thing about the song, John Clayton's excellent arrangement. Forget the banal lyrics, and Clayton's brass heavy big band shuffle with bluesy overtones, swings as hard as anything. Maybe he'll refashion it into a more extended big band arrangement for the high school set, a la Gordon Goodwin.

One track does work rather well, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life", the arrangement swings, the lyrics are more adult, and in keeping with the musical setting, etc. It also has a touch of irony where Bon Jovi's lyric goes "as Frank said it, I did it my way." That's of course a reference to Frank Sinatra's famous recording of "My Way", and guess who wrote it? Yes, Paul Anka. The second time through the lyric, Anka on this new recording goes, "Frank said he did it my way!" His way indeed, for better or worse, and there's a lot of both on this record.