Happy JazzApril — Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month

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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 JazzDay.com.

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

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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?

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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 & Jambands.com — 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 jazzhouse.org (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

Tampa Jazz Calendar — March/April 2015 & Beyond

Jazz, Blues & more—————————————————–

Thursday, March 26 – “Remember the Ladies”: Belinda Womack, Marian Mage, Valerie Gillespie, Patricia Dean, Janna Jones, The Palladium (Side Door), 7:30 p.m.

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Saturday, March 28 — G. Love & Special Sauce/Matt Costa, Jannus Live, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Sunday, March 29 — Larry Garner, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 5 p.m.

Tuesday, March 31 — John Ginty Band, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 3 — Selwyn Birchwood Band and Savants of Soul, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.

Thursday-Friday, April 9-10 — Diana Krall, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, April 10 — Tower of Power, Rod Piazza, John Nemeth, Denise LaSalle, Brandon Santini, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, 12:30 to 10 p.m.

Saturday, April 11 — Tampa Bay Blues Fest: Boz Scaggs, Ronnie Earl, Tab Benoit, Carolyn Wonderland, Bernard Allison, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, 12:30 to 10 p.m.

Sunday, April 12 — Tampa Bay Blues Fest: Southern Hospitality, The Lee Boys, Bryan Lee, Albert Castiglia, Betty Fox, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, 1 to 10 p.m. 

Wednesday, April 15 — Chris Botti, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 19 — Al Downing TBJA: Fred Johnson & Whitney James with Michael Ross, LaRue Nickelson and John Jenkins, American Stage Theatre/Raymond James Theatre, St. Petersburg, 3 p.m.

Sunday., April 19 — Tampa Jazz Club: James Suggs with Sharon Preston-Folta: Tribute to Louis Armstrong, HCC/Ybor Mainstage Theatre, Tampa, 3 p.m.

Monday, April 20 — Monday Night Jazz: Rufus Reid and Whitney James with the USF Jazz Ensemble, USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30

Thursday, April 23 – Rene Marie, The Palladium (Side Door), St Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 28 — Robert Cray & Shemekia Copeland, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 14 — John Mayall, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 — Mark Knopfler, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 8 p.m.

VENUES———————————————————————–

Jannus Live, 200 First Avenue N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

The Palladium, 253 Fifth Avenue N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

Raymond James Theatre, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg; (727) 823-7529

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa (813) 971-0666

The Act of Creation

In recent years, I’ve become more involved in writing music, thanks in part to the fact that I co-lead a band, Acme Jazz Garage, that plays frequently and is quick to learn new originals (and often helps with arrangements).

So I’ve given more thought to a)what it takes to create a tune that appeals to audiences (still don’t have a clue) and b)the process behind creating something from nothing.

I have a background as a journalist, and I’ve studied creative writing, and written a few short stories, only one of which has been published (in the journal Florida English). That story, probably not coincidentally, had something of a music-oriented theme, as it’s titled “The Night Frank Sinatra Saved Pop’s Life.”

I’ve been thinking about the similarity between the two arts, in terms of the task of — again — taking a blank page, and putting words or music together that add up to something more than the sum of their parts.

In both cases (journalism/creative writing & composing), what I write has been deeply influenced by what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, respectively.

For Acme Jazz Garage’s first “major” collection of original compositions, all penned by me (so far), there are two tunes that were directly inspired/influenced by others: “Sandprints” takes some cues from Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” while “Mr. G.P.” is named for bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and inspired by that band’s swampy, funky old-school R&B, although the Acme twist on that sound also features a horn section (flugelhorn, bari sax and tenor sax). The title of the latter tune is a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” itself named for bassist Paul Chambers,

For me, a song can start with a riff I hear in my head — once, I heard a tune in a dream — or something that I come up with while noodling on bass, piano or guitar. “Last Call,” the most jazz-oriented of the tunes we’re recording, actually is rooted in a little guitar progression I first messed around with 30 years ago or so.

The point of all of this, I guess: The act of creation is a mystery.

And there’s also that head-space conundrum to deal with, at least for me: Why would anyone care about something I write?

What I do know, for sure, is that the more I do it, the easier it gets for me to achieve the desired result — the more proficient I get at translating my ideas into stories or songs. Something similar happens when playing an instrument. When it comes to music, I’d be even better equipped if I had a stronger understanding of theory and harmony.

Will the end result of our creativity and hard work, a full-length recording, have an impact beyond our local fans, friends and family? Are the tunes any good?

Stay tuned.

Tampa Jazz, Blues (and More) Calendar:March/April

Sunday, March 8 — “Dave Brubeck Songbook”: Karla Harris with the Ted Howe Trio, The Palladium (Side Door), St. Petersburg, 6 p.m.

Friday, March 13 — Selwyn Birchwood Band, The Palladium (Side Door), St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 14 — “Live from New York”: Whitney James with Emily Braden and Michelle Walker (Per Daniellson, LaRue Nickelson, Alejandro Arenas, Mark Feinman, The Palladium (Side Door), St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Friday, March 20 — Delbert McClinton, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 8 p.m.

Friday, March 20 — Mike Zito and Jarekus Singleton, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.

Saturday, March 21 — Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp: Bob Seeley, Mr. B, Victor Wainwright, Liz Pennock & Doctor Blues, The Palladium, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Thursday, March 26 — “Remember the Ladies”: Belinda Womack, Marian Mage, Valerie Gillespie, Patricia Dean, Janna Jones, The Palladium (Side Door), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 28 — G. Love & Special Sauce/Matt Costa, Jannus Live, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m.

Sunday, March 29 — Larry Garner, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 5 p.m.

Tuesday, March 31 — John Ginty Band, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 3 — Selwyn Birchwood Band and Savants of Soul, Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8 p.m.

Thursday-Friday, April 9-10 — Diana Krall, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 15 — Chris Botti, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, April 20 — Monday Night Jazz: Rufus Reid with the USF Jazz Ensemble, USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30

Thursday, April 23 – Rene Marie, The Palladium (Side Door), St Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 28 — Robert Cray & Shemekia Copeland, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 — Mark Knopfler, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 7:30 p.m.

Jannus Live, 200 First Avenue N., St. Petersburg; (727) 565-0550

The Palladium, 253 Fifth Avenue N., St. Petersburg; (727) 822-3590

Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 791-7400

Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa (813) 971-0666

Nielsen US Music Poll: Jazz Sales Decline, Again. Rock Beats Hip-Hop. And Vinyl’s On the Move

The consumption of jazz recordings continues to drop, according to a survey published by Nielsen, and officially released in January.

Of the 476.5 million albums sold in 2014 (including streaming), only 2.0% were jazz, making it the least popular genre, just behind classical (2.1%), according to the survey.

In terms of overall music consumption — including albums and single tracks, streaming and physical copies — jazz and classical tied for last place, with 1.4% of the market for recorded music. Rock was on top, with 29%, followed by R&B/hip-hop (17.2%), pop (14.9%), country (11.2%), Dance/electronic (EDM) (3.4%), Christian/gospel (3.1%), holiday/seasonal and Latin (tied at 2.6%).

No surprises, although the fact that rock beats hip-hop seems counter to the prevailing notion. What, exactly, constitutes “rock”? The poll doesn’t explain. Also, Americana, folk and bluegrass are missing — too small to count, or included within “country”? Same question about reggae, African and other varieties of what some refer to as world music. Other genres — soul, jamband, indie/alternative — seem M.I.A., too.

For anyone tempted to buy “the death of jazz” as a takeaway from the poll, consider that jazz festivals are continuing to proliferate, at home and abroad. So are jazz programs at colleges and high schools.

Jazz artists — from electric-minded pianist Jason Moran to acoustic trio The Bad Plus and Snarky Puppy, a sprawling band of virtuoso players sporting crackerjack arrangements of their own music — continue to innovate with the genre.

And even places like the Grammys, essentially a popularity contest, continue to give prominence to jazz artists — in recent years, bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding grabbed the Best New Artist award from Justin Bieber, and pianist-composer Herbie Hancock went home with the Album of the Year trophy.

So, take heart, fans of creative music: Jazz isn’t vanishing anytime soon.

(Side note, for fans of old-school audio: Vinyl LPs sold to the tune of 9.2 million copies, up from 6.1 million copies, the ninth consecutive year for acceleration of vinyl. The format now accounts for 6% of physical album sales).