Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM Records)

(published before Haden’s death)

keith jarrett charlie haden

So maybe this project should officially be known as the Standards Duo. Four years after old friends and onetime musical collaborators Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden released their first batch of vintage material recorded at the pianist’s studio, they return with another set of intimate pieces culled from the same 2007 sessions.

Two of the tunes from 2010’s Jasmine are back in alternate versions: The pair move as one on the stately “Where Can I Go Without You?” and the similarly tinted “Goodbye.” (Yes, Jarrett’s humming again is heard in the background, but it doesn’t spoil the pleasure of his typically searching solos.) As on Jasmine, the feel here is largely relaxed in the extreme, beginning with the elegant “My Old Flame,” which runs more than 10 minutes, opening up for some of Jarrett’s most expansive soloing and a long melodic turn from Haden.

Jarrett delays sounding the familiar melody of Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” handily putting into practice his interpretation-equals-composition ethos, until after Haden’s solo, and makes a foray into midtempo swing on Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels” (more tunes at this tempo would have brought some welcome contrast to the proceedings). And yet the two are experts at crafting ballads, bringing out all the inherently poignant colors and melancholy textures of “Everything Happens to Me” and Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Both, like many of the other performances on the disc, are keepers, artfully illuminating well-trod standards.

 

Django Gold, Unchained: The Wannabe Humorist Strikes Back

shrug

So now “Django Gold,” the Onion writer responsible for that unfunny “satire” of the great Sonny Rollins published recently in The New Yorker, is back to defend himself. (Note: Gold is NOT the guy in the above pic).

I’m not going to take a deep dive into his guest column for JazzTimes online, headlined “Notes From the Backlash.” It’s just not that substantial. But the gist of it is this: “Hey, jazz people, it’s your fault if you didn’t get the joke. Lighten up.”

As one observer noted, that’s kind of like a stand-up comedian blaming the audience for not laughing.

And as I wrote in my initial response to Gold’s original (but not so original) piece, the most unfunny part of the whole affair is this: In a period when The New Yorker offers very little serious, in-depth coverage of jazz, why would the once revered magazine give space to Gold’s kind of nonsense?

To borrow Gold’s words: “Pretty square, if you ask me.”

Which brings us to another point: If a “satire” piece requires the author to explain it or defend it via another column, then could it be possible that the original piece wasn’t very effective, and its intent was unclear?

Tampa Jazz Notes — Kenny Drew Jr. Memorial; O Som Do Jazz at HCC Ybor; Diana Krall at the Capitol

Aside from a piece in Jazz Times and some blog posts (including mine, below, and those in Jazz Truth, JazzWax, and via WUSF News), the late great pianist Kenny Drew‘s passing hasn’t attracted much attention in the music press or in mainstream newspapers. I didn’t see any notice of Kenny’s death in his hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times, or in the New York Times, which often notes the deaths of major musicians. (Correct me if I’m wrong).

Kenny, who died on Aug. 3 at age 56, will be honored by friends, family, colleagues and fans during a memorial service Saturday Aug. 23 at McCabe United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg. The memorial will be held at 11 a.m. at the church, 2800 26th Ave. South.

“His genius will be missed,” as noted in an announcement sent by the Tampa Jazz Club, home to many concerts featuring Kenny, including a terrific trio performance in May.

That trio, with bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins, recently released a CD, titled “The Music of Tom Becker.” As of now, it’s available via download through CD Baby and Amazon.

A memorial fund for Kenny has been established through his church, Unity of Midtown, 511 Prescott St., South, St. Petersburg, FL 33712. Donations can be made by checks payable to “Unity of Midtown” or via PayPal. More info is here.

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O Som Do Jazz, the Brazilian/jazz band led by trombonist/composer David Manson, plays the Tampa Jazz Club’s first show of the fall season — Sunday, Sept. 28 at 3 pm at HCC Ybor’s Performing Arts Building. More details.

SPC prof Manson, singer Andrea Moraeas Manson, saxophonist Austin Vickrey, pianist David Cubillos, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman will play music from the band’s two recordings. Two tunes from the group’s “A Kiss From Rio” recording were heard on the HBO series “Looking.”

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The good news: The jazz-rooted singer and underrated pianist Diana Krall is returning to the Tampa Bay area, with a show Dec. 14 at 7:30 pm at the the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater (concert affiliated with Ruth Eckerd Hall). She’ll be joined by a first-rate band — guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Dennis Crouch, fiddler Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren.

The not-great news: It’ll cost you an arm and a leg to attend this show, as tickets START at $102.25. Seriously? Sure, it’s an “intimate” setting, but that’s about four times what you’d pay to see a show in the world’s greatest jazz club, The Village Vanguard in NYC. ‘Sup with that?

Details.

 

Joe Beck Trio, “Get Me Joe Beck” (CD review)

 

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Joe Beck Trio, “Get Me Joe Beck” (Whaling City Sound)

get me joe beck

“My aim on the guitar is to try to get each chord to follow the preceding chord like it was meant to be there, and then sort of hint at what the next chord might be,” Joe Beck says, in one of several spoken introductions sprinkled throughout Get Me Joe Beck. The CD, recorded live in Berkeley, Calif., two years before Beck’s untimely death from lung cancer in 2008, is indeed packed with displays of guitar work that is as artfully logical and eminently musical as it is a thing of beauty.

Beck, demonstrating a real sense of intuitive interplay with bassist Peter Barshay and drummer David Rokeach, handpicked for the performance by the owner of the venue, the intimate Anna’s Jazz Island, offers fresh takes on some of his favorite standards. The trio’s impromptu synchronicity is revealed right away, on “Stella by Starlight,” which shifts from an unaccompanied opening to a mellow reading of the melody to a playful back-and-forth between the leader and Barshay, and some trading eights with Rokeach.

Beck’s impeccable feel for Brazilian jazz is demonstrated on Luiz Bonfá’s “Manhã de Carnaval,” spiked with bent guitar lines and quick drum explosions, and a beautifully resonant “Corcovado.” Harmonics clusters and blues-drenched phrases color “Georgia on My Mind,” while a hard-swinging “Alone Together” (also heard on Beck’sTri07) comes off as a definitive version of the standard, and the trio also offers invigorating workouts on “Tenderly,” “I Can’t Get Started” and “You and the Night and the Music.” Beck’s voice, tradition-rooted yet forward-leaning and consistently adventurous, is sorely missed.

Originally published in August 2014

Clickingbaiting With the Washington Post (Sing Along with the Punk Rocker!)

You know that silly “I hate jazz” rant that was published in the Washington Post a few days ago?

Remember my serious response to the writer’s ignorant statements?

Well, now “JazzWax” blogger Marc Myers reports that the piece, filed under the header “opinion,” was actually intended as satire. 

Myers writes: “As comments below (Justin) Moyer‘s column expressed outrage and derision, the deputy editor tried to clear the air by adding comments of his own, including this one: ‘This article was not intended as a serious analysis. To better understand the piece as parody, you should read an article I wrote back in 2012…’ First readers were told the column should be taken seriously. Then readers were told way down below that it’s all a joke—with the odd caveat that they should have realized it was humor since Moyer has done this before “for another D.C. paper.”

To which my response is: Hey, Moyer, you know I was JUST KIDDING, don’t you? You’re not really a know-nothing, jazz-hating ignoramus who’s clueless about the beauty and meaning and history of the music, and all too willing to engage in a gimmicky stunt just to pump up the hits.

Right?

———

Questions:

– If Moyer’s piece was intended as satire, where’s the funny?

– Isn’t this really a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it, too? You know, write a jokey, halfway serious attack on jazz, and then say “I was kidding” when you get a negative response.

– Wouldn’t Post readers be better served by well-written coverage of jazz, which is all too often ignored in favor of gossipy “profiles” on flash-in-the-pan pop stars, rather than an unfunny tongue-in-cheek attack on jazz penned by a D.C. punk rocker?

Whether intended as satire, the column clearly was positioned very cynically, as a patently “outrageous” item that would generate controversy and drive lots of visits to the paper’s web site. You know, “clickbait.” 

The same strategy was behind the rather lame Sonny Rollins piece recently published in the New Yorker.

And my response to both publications: You can do better. All it takes is a little effort.

 

 

 

Buster Williams & Jay Leonhart Talk Touring With An Upright Bass

(originally published in JazzTimes)

“Is That a Cello?”
INSIDE THE PLIGHT OF THE TOURING ACOUSTIC BASS PLAYER

Acoustic bassists of a certain age will remember Rufus Reid’s step-by-step, photo-illustrated instructions on taking a double bass on a plane, included in his classic book The Evolving Bassist, originally published in 1974. In those days, a traveling bassist could opt to use a fiberglass trunk to transport the instrument in luggage, or simply purchase a half-fare ticket for it and place it in the cabin.

“When I first started traveling, we didn’t have bass cases, we just took the bass on the airplane and put it on a bulkhead seat and strapped it in,” says Buster Williams, 71. Williams, whose Something More group has U.S. and European dates in 2014, has played a prized, century-old Hawkes bass since 1963, when he bought it in London while on tour with Sarah Vaughan. “You never knew what to expect, as far as the flight attendant standing in the way or the captain refusing to allow the bass on the plane. But you always found a way to make it work.”

Later, airlines variously refused to let basses be transported in the cabin. Fast forward to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent heightened security: The upshot was a profusion of confusing size restrictions and additional charges that often varied from airline to airline. As several bassists have recounted, the answer to the gate-security question “Is that a cello?” was always, “Yes.”

Jay Leonhart addressed the traveling bassist’s woes humorously in “Bass Aboard a Plane,” a song from his one-man show, The Bass Lesson. “If you wanna ’cause a problem, if you wanna ’cause some pain,” he sings, “simply go down to your local airport, and try to put a bass aboard a plane. … The ticket lady looks at you in horror, she stares at you in disbelief.”

Not long ago, Leonhart, 73, decided to quit fighting with the airlines and stop flying with his primary bass, an Italian instrument made for the Gibson factory in 1939 and renovated by the Kolstein shop that was formerly owned by George Duvivier. “I’ve left too many basses in storage at airports in the last two years,” he says. “They don’t want your bass on the plane.”

Williams reached the same conclusion: “Up until about five years ago I traveled with my bass. But it became so stressful—the closest to impossible that you can get. If you did take a chance and take your bass on the road, the cost would sometimes outweigh the real practicality of it. And then you’d run into situations where they just refused to take the bass, for no other reason than they’d made a decision not to take basses or cellos.”

So what’s the solution? Some bassists, including Williams, Esperanza Spalding and Dave Holland, have used basses with detachable necks, including David Gage’s Czech-Ease Road Bass, which has an abbreviated body but boasts playing dimensions similar to a standard upright. Many have tried upright electric basses, with varying degrees of satisfaction. Leonhart says he’s been thinking about picking up the electric bass again, at least as a backup, after having played it in the ’70s with guitarist Jim Hall.

Williams and Leonhart, though, both prefer to rent or borrow a good upright for any gig requiring a flight. “I just jump on the plane and arrange it in advance,” Leonhart says. “That means keeping a nice page in your book about where you’re going to try to get a bass from, and who’s going to pay for it.”

Adds Williams, “I have a very stringent tech sheet that specifies an adjustable bridge, and the sort of pickup I want, and the type of bass it should be.”

Flying with a bass could get much easier soon, thanks to the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which was slated to go into effect by February. The American Federation of Musicians successfully lobbied for an addition allowing musical instruments to be checked as long as the linear dimensions do not exceed 150 inches and the weight does not exceed 165 pounds, far more lenient than before.

The International Society of Bassists is urging its members to carry a printed copy of the legislation when they travel. “We need the airlines’ support so that musicians can work,” says Madeleine Crouch, the ISB’s general manager. “Airlines could even promote themselves as job creators if they’d only be nice to us!”

The Washington Post Says Jazz is Dead — Again? Really? Seriously?

If jazz is dead, then why are the would-be hipsters trying so hard to kill it?

Last week, the New Yorker ran an unfunny and rather mean-spirited “satire” of Sonny Rollins, titled “In His Own Words.” Rather than offering a genuine interview with the 84-year-old jazz legend, the publication wasted space on a humor piece that didn’t even touch on several of the key episodes in the saxophonist’s career.

dunce cap

And now, another major publication, the Washington Post, hammers on jazz with a piece that reads like satire but, sadly, is not.

“Jazz has run out of ideas, and yet it’s still getting applause,” someone named Justin Moyer writes, in a column titled “All that jazz isn’t all that great.”

Right up front, Moyer admits that, while he studied with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Pheeroan akLaff and Jay Hoggard at Wesleyan, he found jazz “hard to grasp.” In his humble opinion, he has decided that jazz is “insubstantia.” and “hard to grasp.”

So, really, Washington Post, you assign someone who admittedly is clueless about jazz … to write about jazz? Smart thinking.

And why doesn’t poor Justin like jazz? Well, gosh, jazz is instrumental music, so it doesn’t have lyrics. Imagine the guy trying to come to terms with classical music. If only those loser composers had written lyrics …

And also, Johnny Hates Jazz, I mean, Moyer doesn’t like jazz because improvisation is involved — undoubtedly an art that’s far inferior to, you know, playing a tune exactly the way it was played on hit radio. Moyer has decided — all by himself — that the great and influential jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery was “serviceable, forgettable.” How astonishingly ignorant can one writer be? Also: Eric Dolphy played “an atonal bass-clarinet solo” on the Charles Mingus Sextet’s version of “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

Moyer has also concluded that “jazz stopped evolving,” “jazz is mushy” (commercial) and “jazz let itself be co-opted.” In other words, Moyer hasn’t bothered to listen to any jazz since his college days, when he made a noble but failed attempt to understand the music. File under: a perfectly good jazz education wasted on youth.

“Jazz is plastic,” Moyer writes. “It’s a genre loosely defined by little more than improvisation, sunglasses and berets.”

Berets? does Moyer imagine that he’s still living in the Beat era? Somebody give the guy some bongos, and call it a day.

Here in 2014, during a time when more forward-thinking jazz is being played, recorded and distributed (online) than ever before, a click-baiting column like Moyer’s is loosely defined by little more than smoke and mirrors.

Next time, maybe the Post will assign a jazz column to a writer with jazz knowledge and experience, rather than a know-nothing simply looking to provoke a reaction. Unless, of course, the paper doesn’t care if and when its credibility is damaged.