All Hail the Newly Crowned NEA Jazz Masters

Better late than never: Here’s saluting the 2015 class of Jazz Masters, as named by the National Endowment for the Arts: Pianist/composer Carla Bley, saxophonist George Coleman, saxophonist/flutist/composer Charles Lloyd, club owner/impresario Joe Segal.

The four living legends performed last night at ceremonies in their honor, held at NYC’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and hosted by Christian McBride, the prolific bass virtuoso and champion of the music.

Also slated to perform were NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Jimmy Heath (saxophone), singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, trumpeters Ingrid Jensen, Irvin Mayfield, and Ira Sullivan; saxophonists Eric Alexander, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Tony Malaby; pianists Helen Sung, Gerald Clayton, Harold Mabern, and Stu Katz; bassists Ray Drummond, Hans Glawischnig, Joe Sanders, and Steve Swallow; and drummers John Webber, Billy Drummond, Joe Farnsworth, Eric Harland, and Rudy Royston.

The concert was streamed live on several outlets. I would have tuned in, if I hadn’t been attending the Rufus Reid/Whitney James/USF Jazz Ensemble concert at USF.

Kudos to the new Jazz Masters!

Sometimes (Some of) the Good Guys Win — Doris Duke Performing Artists Awards Announced

darcy james argueSix notable jazz musicians are among the 20 winners of $275,000 grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, big band leader Darcy James Argue, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, alto saxophonists Steve Coleman and Yosvany Terry, and cellist Okkyung Lee represent the jazz contingent of this year’s Doris Duke Performing Artists.

Each award “breaks down to an unrestricted award of $225,000, plus up to $25,000 for audience development and up to $25,000 in reserves for creative work done in the grantee’s “retirement” years,” according to Artforum.

The complete list of recipients:

Muhal Richard Abrams (Jazz)
Ambrose Akinmusire (Jazz)
Darcy James Argue (Jazz)
Camille A. Brown (Dance)
Ronald K. Brown (Dance)
Ann Carlson (Dance)
Nora Chipaumire (Dance)
Steve Coleman (Jazz)
Paul S. Flores (Theater)
Cynthia Hopkins (Theater)
Daniel Alexander Jones (Theater)
Alonzo King (Dance)
Okkyung Lee (Jazz)
Linda Parris-Bailey (Theater)
Stephen Petronio (Dance)
Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Theater)
Steven Sapp (Theater)
Shawn Sides (Theater)
Yosvany Terry (Jazz)
Doug Varone (Dance)

Jose James Has the Blues (And That’s Good) — CD review


Jose James, “Yesterday I Had the Blues” (Blue Note)

Jose James may or may not have been afflicted with the blues at some point in his life. A decidedly deep-blue soulfulness nevertheless shades the nine songs heard on the Minneapolis-born singer’s tribute to Billie Holiday, who would have turned 100 this Tuesday. The set features music written or popularized by Holiday, whose influence as a jazz singer and performer still looms large.

Each of these tunes is played at a luxuriously slow tempo, by three musicians who understand the underappreciated art of grooving in  way-laidback mode: Jason Moran on piano and Rhodes, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland.

An appealing aural spaciousness and resonance are at the heart of the sound of this Don Was-produced recording, starting with opener “Good Morning Heartache,” as the trio begins with a heartbeat rhythm and relaxes into opening chords before James glides in, singing notes on the lower end of his range. Mid-song, Moran offers an understated solo. The singing and playing, here and elsewhere, feel marvelously lived-in.

Unhurried, too, is the defining feel of “Body and Soul,” which opens with unaccompanied piano and voice, and then Patitucci, his bass woody and grinding, and Harland go it alone at the start of “Fine and Mellow,” which opens up for a bending, stretching solo romp by Patitucci. “I Thought About You,” entirely absent of bass and drums, is pure intimacy, regret, and nostalgia, bolstered by Moran’s series of crystalline piano flurries and swinging solo.

The disc closes with two Holiday favorites, a version of “God Bless the Child” bolstered by a heavy backbeat and warmed by Moran’s Rhodes piano, and a haunting, spiritual-like take on “Strange Fruit,” complete with handclaps and James’ own stacks of humming vocals.

“Yesterday” won’t soon be forgotten.

The JJA Honors This Year’s “Jazz Heroes”

Who keeps jazz alive?

Aside from the obvious — musicians and listeners, and those who support and cater to both groups — there are cadres of others who are, variously, jazz “advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors,” as described by the Jazz Journalists Association.

The JJA each year honors a long list of these folks, mostly unsung, as “Jazz Heroes.”

Here in my home state, South Florida violinist Nicole Yarling is being honored for her work with the Jazz Educators Community Coalition (JECC) Boot Camp, while Tallahassee residents Carole and Stan Fiore are being honored for being superfans, dedicated supporters of B Sharp’s Jazz Club and the jazz offerings at Florida State University.

In all, 22 people and one couple (the Fiores) have been named jazz heroes by the JJA, after being nominated by in-the-know jazz fans in the honorees’ respective communities.

For the complete list, visit the JJA Jazz Awards site

And insert applause here.

Happy JazzApril — Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month

herbie hancock

Jazz is alive and, well, in surprisingly good shape for its age, particularly given the ravages of time, the advent of more widely embraced musical forms, popular misconceptions about jazz, and some weird biases against the music (see: last year’s jazz-mocking “satire” pieces).

Not to mention the simultaneous rise of “free” music online and the loss of profits — or disappearance altogether — of many formerly robust label homes for jazz artists.

Jazz Appreciation Month, or JazzApril as it’s called by the Jazz Journalists Association (I’m a member), is a great reminder of the legacy, influence and continuing vitality of jazz, in all its diverse forms, at home in the United States and abroad.

Jazz Appreciation Month was created in 2012 by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to “herald and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. (And) …to stimulate the current jazz scene and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz – to study the music, attend concerts, listen to jazz on radio and recordings, read books about jazz, and support institutional jazz programs.”

This year, JAM culminates April 30 with International Jazz Day, to be officially celebrated in Paris with a concert featuring a long list of world-class jazzers, including pianist Herbie Hancock, singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Al Jarreau; saxophonist Wayne Shorter; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, and Ben Williams; guitarist Lee Ritenour; drummer Terri Lyne Carrington; percussionist Mino Cinelu; and harmonica player Gregoire Maret.

The concert will be streamed live at

(The JJA in 2012 created JazzApril as a vehicle for promoting both JAM and IJD).


How best to celebrate jazz in April, or year round? The JJA has some recommendations here.

I have some similar suggestions:

1)BUY jazz recordings, directly from the artist, if possible, or through many of the online forums for ordering downloads or physical copies (CDs, vinyl) of jazz artists’ work. Many, many independent jazz artists also sell their work through CD Baby.

2)Maybe just as important, or more essential … Attend performances by jazz artists, whether nationally known folks traveling through your town, or locally based performers. Support shows by jazz artists at every venue they play, including traditional theaters and nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries, college campuses and everywhere else. Let venue owners know that you like jazz and will gladly return to their venues to see jazz shows. While you’re at the jazz-supporting venues, spend money on food and drinks. Make venue owners WANT to book jazz artists.

3)Support your local jazz festival with your attendance, your donations, your spending while at the festival, and your patronage of the fest’s sponsors. Unhappy about the quotient of actual jazz to other music at any given “jazz” festival? Share your concerns, or start your own fest.

4)Support your local jazz radio station with your listening, your calls, your emails, and your donations. In the Tampa Bay area, WUSF, 89.7 FM is the place to visit for great jazz).

5)Encourage your city, county, and state to devote some of its funding of arts events to jazz performances and events.

6)Support jazz education in the public schools and in colleges. Attend student performances, and make donations to those programs.

7)Subscribe to jazz magazines — like JazzTimes, DownBeat, and Jazziz — and other publications that regularly cover jazz.

8)Visit those publications’ web sites, and other sites and blogs that focus on jazz, like All About Jazz, E Jazz News, NPR’s a blog supreme, Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides, Marc Myers’ JazzWax, and Howard Mandel’s Jazz Beyond Jazz.

9)Buy jazz-related books. Among recent critics’ favorites: Terry Teachout‘s “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington,” Stanley Crouch’s “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker,” Gary Burton & Neil Tesser’s “Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton.”

10)Appreciate a jazz critic. Why not?

Support Your Local Jazz Station — Give to WUSF, 89.7 FM

Is jazz radio suffering the same fate as jazz recordings — i.e., a gradual drop-off of interest, a future that’s so dark you don’t need shades?

Hard to say, as I haven’t closely followed the jazz radio industry. Lots of jazz radio stations continue to report their playlists to the trade mag JazzWeek, though. And I’m thankful for that level of jazz-radio activity.

Bob SeymourLocally, though, the Tampa Bay area audience for jazz radio seems to be holding steady, and maybe expanding: In recent years, WUSF, 89.7 FM has increased its jazz programming to 60 hours a week, starting at 9 p.m. Monday through Friday nights, and 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights.

My old friend Bob Seymour and his team of knowledgeable DJs — including several who are also well-known jazz musicians — do a great job presented a diverse mix of jazz in the evenings and all night long. Terrestrial radio in Tampa would be a dead zone without WUSF jazz. (And, yes, during the day I often tune in to the Real Jazz channel on Sirius/XM).

Guess I’m a little biased in my strong support of WUSF, as I’m friendly with several of the DJs, and because I was a DJ there for several years, starting in about 1997. That was during the period when I was working as a full-time freelance writer (following my ’88 to ’96 stint as the Tampa Tribune’s pop music critic). That was when all the DJs were doing their thing live — I frequently was on the air from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., and sometimes I filled in for Bob’s regular shift, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

But, speaking of WUSF jazz, how else are we going to hear the new jazz releases, introduced by folks who know and love the music, and how would we hear such nationally broadcast shows as bassist Christian McBride’s new “Jazz Night in America”? How would we hear about all the upcoming jazz concerts and club gigs?

All of this is leading up to … my request that you help keep great jazz radio alive in Tampa. The official spring pledge drive just finished up. But you can donate anytime by going here

Do it now, and tell ’em that I sent ‘ya!

(And let’s give props to the jazz DJs at WUSF — in addition to Bob, you’ll hear Mike Cornette, Whitney James, Mark Feinman, and Richard Jimenez)

Just Around the Corner: The Montreal International Jazz Fest

It’s that time of year again: I get to take in the announcements of world-class artists playing amazing summer jazz festivals, some in the United States but mostly in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

So many festivals, so little time. But mainly, so little $$ to get there. Still, we can all revel in the fact that jazz is alive and well, at least on the fest circuit, and that so many first-rate players are keeping busy playing these events.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend The Montreal International Jazz Festival three times over the last 14 years, and it’s one of my favorites — loads of high-caliber jazz, world music, blues, pop/rock, and “other” acts, all playing gorgeous indoor theaters, intimate nightclubs, and sprawling outdoor stages. Did I mention that everything is extremely well organized?


Montreal is an unusually clean and attractive city, and easy to get around via walking and public transportation. In addition to checking out all the amazing music, it was great wandering around the Old Town area, observing Canada Day festivities, savoring the Euro-cosmopolitanism of Montreal and having several outstanding meals, including one at the Stash Cafe, a superb Polish restaurant. Back when, I even had the chance to spend some time there hanging out with my old friend, WUSF’s Bob Seymour and his wife Marian. And it’s always nice running into jazz-journalist colleagues.

Most recently, in 2012, I covered the fest for Relix & — check out my fest overview, and my reviews of Esperanza Spalding (see my video clip, above); SMV (Stanley Clarke/Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten), the Stanley Clarke Band, and Victor Wooten’s group; and Bill Frisell. I also interviewed Stanley for a preview of his multiple Montreal appearances, for a story that ran in Bass Player mag.

Back in 2002, I reviewed the fest for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and in 2001, my coverage appeared at (and elsewhere).

This year’s fest, its 35th, takes place June 26 to July 5, and two acts on the bill are really whetting my appetite: The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, and Snarky Puppy. I’ve seen both bands — The Bad Plus at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Clearwater, Fla venue now called the Capitol Theatre; Snarky Puppy just recently at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg — although I’ve never seen Redman with The Bad Plus. Both groups play jazz-oriented music that is deeply creative and often falls on the side of edgy/innovative. These guys are players, and both bands up up to a kind of music that travels beyond typical jazz confines while still honoring the tradition(s).

Also appealing to me: Bebel Gilberto, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Richard Galliano, Abdullah Ibrahim (solo and with various ensembles), Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater with Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, and Eliane Elias,

So … maybe I’ll get back this year, maybe I won’t. If you get the chance, go. For all the details, click here