Shorter Gets a Guggenheim

wayne shorterThe disappointing news: Only one jazz artist received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year.

The good news: Wayne Shorter has won a Guggenheim for his work as a composer of brilliant, challenging but melodic and inviting jazz tunes, including the likes of “Footprints” and “Fee-Fi-F0-Fum.”

The tenor and soprano saxophonist, leader of his own remarkable quartet, a co-founder of fusion heavyweights Weather Report and an integral player and writer in the second great Miles Davis Quintet, “has left an indelible mark on the development of music for the last half-century,” according to the official announcement of the award.

Shorter, 83, also recognized as an NEA Jazz Master, is one of 178 US and Canadian honorees in the arts, sciences and humanities.

For some quick recommendations of Shorter’s best material, check out Howard Mandel’s column on Shorter.

 

 

Trio Jazz Intimacy: Mundell Lowe & Co.

mundell lowe

Mundell Lowe, Lloyd Wells, Jim Ferguson, Poor Butterfly (Two Helpins’ O’ Collards) — Poor Butterfly has Mundell Lowe, the virtuoso journeyman guitarist (Sarah Vaughan, Andre Previn), joined by seven-string guitarist Lloyd Wells and double bassist Jim Ferguson for a set that’s uniformly warm and engaging.

Lowe and Wells, both of whom happen to hail from tiny Laurel, Mississippi, previously paired on 2000’s duo release “This One’s For Charlie,” and Ferguson and Lowe collaborated on 2007’s “Haunted Heart.” Here, the guitarists trade off on soloing and comping, sometimes improvising simultaneously. With the bassist in tow on some tracks, the three turn in relaxed, chamberlike versions of standards.

Some pieces, like the lush title track and “For All We Know,” are beautifully synced duets. Others are done solo: Lowe on “I Loves You, Porgy,” “Last Night When We Were Young” and “I’ll Never Be the Same,” and Wells on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Ferguson contributes high, lovely vocals to the closing track, his gently swinging “Uncle John.”

There are no duds here. And all, including Ferguson’s jaunty walking, inspired soloing and affecting singing, are beautifully recorded and leave us wanting more.

 

Dr. Lonnie Smith Returns to Blue Note: The Groove is the Thing

lonnie smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Evolution (Blue Note) — Lonnie Smith forever has been all about celebrating and tweaking the classic ’60s B3 organ-combo sound. The turbaned one effectively sticks to that strategy with the Don Was-produced Evolution, his first album for Blue Note in 45 years.

His funk-alicious rhythms undergird a marathon 14-minute reworking of old favorite “Play It Back,” bolstered by Robert Glasper’s contrasting acoustic piano and solo turns from tenor saxophonist John Ellis and trumpeter Keyon Harrold. Saxophonist Joe Lovano guests on soprano on the trippy, wah-edged “Afrodesia” and tenor on the slow-burning “For Heaven’s Sake”; he turns in fruitful solos, but seems a bit underused.

The disc’s core trio — Smith, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake — is featured on a reharmonized “Straight No Chaser” and an extended, rambling version of “My Favorite Things” that opens with a long, slow build before moving to a full gallop.

Dr. Lonnie’s latest is less about extraordinary improvising or, as the album’s title might suggest, taking his chosen form in new directions. But his medicine still tastes good — occasional experimental edges, odd electronic touches, stray trombone blasts (“African Suite”) and all.

(Side note: “Play It Back” has long been in the repertoire of my band Acme Jazz Garage)

 

The World’s Most Recorded Jazz Bassist?

Yes, most of us already suspected this to be true. But now it’s been confirmed by researchers: Ron Carter is the most recorded jazz bassist in jazz history, according to Guinness World Records.

Ron Carter

Carter, he of the luxuriant tone, reliable time, and rhythmic acuity and creativity, has racked up 2,221 individual recording credits as of Sept. 22, 2015, per Guinness.

Not a surprising achievement for a musician who was THE first-call jazz session bassist for many decades. I think I first heard Carter via one of his recordings with Miles’ second great quintet. After that, he seemed to show up in the credits of every other jazz album I came across.

Carter and Ray Brown, Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen and Stanley Clarke were the biggest early influences on my upright playing, in terms of enlightening me to what a double bass should and could do in a jazz context.

As a side note: Where do Brown and Milt Hinton land, in terms of the volume of recording credits?

So … congrats, Ron Carter.

More details. Visit Ron Carter online here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Challenger

(A momentary diversion from music-related topics)

Can it really be 30 years ago?

Then living in Cocoa Beach, I was driving to work at the Florida Today newspaper office in Melbourne when I saw people gathering to watch the Challenger launch. I stopped at a viewing perch across from Patrick AFB.

As usual, the excitement and anticipation was palpable.

So much elation as the space shuttle launch began, and then, 73 seconds after liftoff … some kind of a flash and those long, white vapor trails. Not sure, momentarily, what was happening. That’s not how it was supposed to look.

challenger

Then, dread, and reality began setting in.

“Oh no, no,” said several in the crowd, many of whom were connected in one way or another to the space industry. Some started crying.

Terribly sad — seven astronauts we had come to know, even if from a distance, had just died in front of our eyes.

But there was no time for reflection or mourning. I had a job to do. I grabbed my reporter’s notebook from my back pocket and started interviewing folks.

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Recall the poetic remembrance by President Reagan? In a televised speech from the Oval Office, he recalled having watched them “as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

It was Reagan’s idea to send a teacher into space. America had grown to love the friendly, engaging, and, of course, brainy and curious Christa McAuliffe. We were all cheering her on.

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At Florida Today, our reporters and editors spent the next few months covering the Challenger disaster. What went wrong? Could anything have prevented the explosion. Did NASA err in going ahead with the launch on that unusually chilly Florida morning, so cold that icicles formed on the launch pad?

I went to Orlando to interview Bruce Jarvis, the father of astronaut Gregory Jarvis, who sat next to McAuliffe in the Challenger. Jarvis, 41, was a payload specialist making his first flight on the space shuttle. We talked O-rings. We talked about his son.

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Postscript: Television video of the Challenger’s explosion remains one of the most iconic images of our time, or, at least, of my lifetime, along with that of the falling twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroyed by radical Islamic terrorists on 9/11/01. I won’t live long enough to erase either events from my memory..

(See the footage, and read Florida Today‘s recent story recalling the tragedy, here)

 

 

 

 

Chick Corea Trio, Avishai Cohen Trio Added to Montreal Jazz Fest

The Montreal International Jazz Festival typically attracts a wide range of top-shelf jazz musicians, along with artists representing other genres, including world music and pop/rock.

Looks like that approach will hold true again this summer, with The Chick Corea Trio (below), with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen‘s trio, acclaimed pianist Fred Hersch (solo), and ex-Fugees singer Lauryn Hill just added to the already ambitious lineup.

chick corea trio

Previously announced: Wynton Marsalis, singers Gregory Porter and Melody Gardot, pianist Tord Gustavsen, singer Stacey Kent, and wunderkind pianist Joey Alexander.

The fest, easily one of the world’s largest, best and most well-organized, will feature 3,000 musicians giving performances sprawling across 15 concerts halls and additional outdoor stages.

I’ve had the privilege of attending the fest several times over the years, and have always gone away marveling at the consistent high quality of the performances and the appeal of the attractive cityside locales. Montreal is a beautiful city, too, and the weather is quite spectacular that time of year.

The 37th annual fest runs from June 29 to July 9. More information.

What Makes For Good Jazz Radio? Curated Programming

Larry Appelbaum, longtime jazz announcer at WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C., hits the nail on the head when he talks about the how and why of good jazz radio.

This comment is particularly cogent, I think: “It’s also worth noting that consumers these days have many more choices for music sources besides radio. The reason people support my program and the idea of public radio in general is the opportunity for curated programming. The marketplace is flooded with product and from the feedback I receive, people are seeking an informed opinion about what is worth checking out. If you can provide some context for understanding the music, curious people will keep coming back.”

In other words, give listeners something appealing that they won’t find anywhere else.

He also hits the nail on the head regarding what jazz DJs ought not to do. You know, no excessive gabbing at the expense of spinning the tunes.

“Of course you have to watch the ratio of talk to music and know when to shut up and play more music,” he said, in an interview with Aidan Levy for the JazzTimes Education Guide, published in November. “If you do talk about music, it helps if you have something to say. Remember, it’s about the music, not you.

Check out the entire interview, posted on Rosenbaum’s blog, here.