Danton Boller in Bass Player

I recently spoke with Danton Boller, who has worked with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and others, for a short piece published in Bass Player. It’s now available online.

Click here to check out the story in Bass Player, or see the text of the feature below.

INDIANA NATIVE DANTON BOLLER played electric bass in teenage rock    bands  in Southern California, but a switch to upright under the tutelage of Dave Brubeck Quartet bassist Eugene Wright sent him in entirely new directions. Boller has since applied lessons from Wright and California State University Long Beach instructor Chris Kollgaard to high-profile gigs with Roy Hargrove, Seamus Blake, Robert Glasper, and Anthony Wilson. A New Yorker since 1997, Boller has focused lately on his own recordings, a forthcoming duo release with Wright, and a new piano trio project. He also works with drummer Ari Hoenig and singer Kat Edmondson.

Is there a particular New York jazz bass sound you’ve gravitated toward?
When I first moved here, a lot of the guys I was watching were heavily influenced by Paul Chambers. I was too … and still am. But then I started checking out guys like Richard Davis, Doug Watkins, Jimmy Merritt, Eddie Jones, Buster Williams—styles that I wasn’t hearing so much from younger guys.

What lessons did you learn from Eugene Wright?
He wouldn’t necessarily say, “play these lines,” or “play these notes,” but there’s one thing that has stuck with me: I asked him why he played what he did on Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” He said, “I just picked something that would be easy for everyone to latch onto.” That’s kind of the way I approach playing. I try to think of what’s going to enable everyone to play their best.

What was it like recording duos with Wright?
Playing in the correct range so the melody would sit well over another bass is something I never had to think about before in a recording situation. It was incredibly fun to shift gears, and to get the opportunity to play over Eugene’s undeniable groove. “Theme For My Ladies” [a three-movement composition by Wright] captures a lot of different moods. We got into trading solo phrases where I was playing arco and he was playing pizz. That is one of my personal highlights, because it sounds so conversational.

How do you approach soloing?
I try to tell a story with a good melody, and let it develop naturally. I’ve never considered myself to be a great soloist—I want to be a really good rhythm-section player first. Soloing is the icing on the cake.

Wynton Marsalis and the LCJO, Live and Streaming Tonight

Tonight’s NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Jazz Masters ceremony and concert, featuring Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, pianist Cedar Walton with singer Annie Ross, a solo set from pianist Kenny Barron, and other performances, will be available on the air — via traditional and satellite outlets — and online tonight.

For details, check out Howard Mandel’s blog post.

The photo, above, is my shot of Wynton and the LCJO at last year’s Jazz Fest.

St. Petersburg College Jazz Fest Brings John Lindberg, Jonathan and Jeremy Powell & More

Noted avant-leaning bassist John Lindberg (Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy); Latin-jazz group Guisando Caliente with pianist Kenny Drew, Jr.; a quintet led by trumpeter Jonathan Powell and saxophonist Jeremy Powell; and the Helios Jazz Orchestra with singers Dale Williams & Sasha Tuck are all slated to play the St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival.

The second annual fest, featuring a mix of nationally known artists and first-rate local musicians, will be held Feb. 4-6 at the SPC Music Center. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m.

For all the details, check out the festival poster, below.

Matthew Shipp: I’m the King of the World (Slight Return)

Avant-leaning pianist Matthew Shipp again is taking advantage of the national spotlight … to beat up on other jazz artists.

Shipp’s latest round of nasty attacks are on display in the pages of Jazz Times, via a profile by David Adler in the magazine’s January/February issue. And the Shipp is hitting the fan again, as Adler points out in a new blog post.

A sampling of Shipp’s stuff:  “At times I feel someone like Herbie Hancock is taking up space. I feel his work doesn’t warrant it. I feel everything he’s done in the last 20 or 30 years is crap. That’s my personal opinion. I have a right to say it.”

I’ve always thought that the most insecure artists were the ones who spent the most time and energy dissing other artists. Attacking others in the name of building oneself up is a zero-sum game.

But I get the strategy: Outrageous statements — like Shipp’s attempt to devalue the work of musicians as accomplished and significant and influential as pianist Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter — tend to generate lots of press. Those types of verbal firebombs do succeed in getting people talking, at least for the short term. Wynton knows how to play that game. So did Miles.

Maybe that approach will pay off for Shipp, maybe not. Either way, it won’t make those previously immune to the pleasures of his work suddenly choose to give it a try.

His loss? Their loss?

HBO’s “Treme” Actually Gets New Orleans Music/Culture Right?

The more I hear about forthcoming HBO series “Treme,” the more I’m encouraged that producer David Simon (“The Wire,” “Homicide”) is going to get it right, in terms of artfully and accurately capturing the homegrown music and idiosyncratic culture at the heart of what makes New Orleans the only city of its kind in the world.

There are some good signs that Simon will do so, as related in jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld‘s recent Wall Street Journal piece on the series, which takes its name from the neighborhood thought to be the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S.:

  1. Irrepressible trumpeter, barbecue maker and raconteur Kermit Ruffins, as New Orleans as New Orleans gets, is playing himself, and reportedly will get substantial screen time in the series, which focuses heavily on Mardi Gras Indian tribes and brass bands.
  2. Eric Overmyer, Simon’s longtime associate and a co-creator of “Treme,” for more than two decades has resided part-time in New Orleans.
  3. The writing staff includes NOLA-based author Tom Piazza, whose short book Why New Orleans Matters was an essential post-Katrina read, and New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie, co-producer of a 2008 documentary on Treme.
  4. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”), who plays a trombonist, is native to NOLA’s Pontchartrain Park neighborhood.
  5. Underappreciated jazz and funk saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. is an advisor on the series. So is pianist and music scenester Davis Rogan. Rogan is working closely with actor Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), who portrays a local music devotee and DJ.
  6. Elvis Costello, a huge supporter of NOLA music (he teamed with pianist/composer Allen Toussaint for 2006’s The River in Reverse, and the two collaborated for a terrific performance at Jazz Fest) plays himself.

“It’s easy to get it terribly wrong, and terribly hard to get it right,” Simon told Blumenfeld.  “‘This won’t be ‘The Wire’ with a better soundtrack. It’s a completely different animal.”

I’m holding Simon to his pledge of authenticity. For the rest of the WSJ piece, click here.


The series’ first 10-episode season will debut in April, according to a Nov. 8 report in the Times-Picayune.

“That this decidedly oddball project – set among the quirky denizens of a floodwall-failed city, it fits no recognizable TV genre – is proceeding at all counts as a small miracle,” Dave Walker wrote in the T-P.

Stay tuned.

(photo, above, left to right: Zahn, Ruffins, Pierce).

Newport 1959: Listen Now!

The Newport Jazz Festival in 1959: The “New Testament” Count Basie Band. Thelonious Monk (in photo). Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley. Dizzy Gillespie. The Ahmad Jamal Trio. The Horace Silver Quintet. Dizzy Gillespie. The Jimmy Smith Trio. The Oscar Peterson Trio.

Now THAT was a real, artistically significant jazz festival, unlike too many of the overtly commercial events masquerading as jazz fests around my home state in recent years.

Thanks to NPR music,  I just came across fantastic audio from the fest – just listening to Atomic Basie playing “The Deacon,” spiked with a gritty, rambunctious solo by plunger-mute trombone wizard Al Grey. mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=122007665&m=122004714

A sampler of recordings from the fest is available here via NPR music, which offers five tracks — Basie, Blakey, Jamal,  Silver, Dakota Staton — discussed by New York Times critic Ben Ratliff and jazz announcer Josh Jackson on the latter’s Dec. 30 edition of “The Checkout” show on WBGO.

Amazingly enough, 27 sets from the festival can be heard online at Wolfgang’s Vault. The best part: There’s absolutely no admission charge.

The vault isn’t just about jazz. It also offers free-admission access to tons of great concerts by everyone from The Allman Brothers (Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 6, 1972) to Bob Marley (London, 1975) to Neil Young (Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, 1975).

How’d I not know about this great resource?

Whitney James Wows Crowd at the Palladium

Whitney James came to the Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg on Friday night, and conquered: The fast-rising jazz singer broke the box-office record for the venue’s “Side Door Jazz” series, held in a comfortable nightclub-style space below the main hall.

James, who splits her time between residences in Tierra Verde and Astoria, Queens, was joined by New York pianist Joshua Wolff, Tampa Bay area musicians Jeremy Powell on tenor saxophone and Alejandro Arenas on bass, and Brooklyn-based drummer Mark Feinman (formerly of the Tampa Bay area).

In front of an enthusiastic crowd, James, for her first set, touched on music from her recently released debut CD, The Nature of Love. Opening with “Tenderly,” she moved to “Long Ago and Far Away” before expertly navigating the leaps and sharp twists of Jimmy Rowle’s “The Peacocks.”

The group alternated between funk-edged Latin and swing on “How Deep is the Ocean,” which concluded with James’ tete-a-tete with Powell, the MVP soloist of the night. James offered the swaggering bounce of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” and the medium-swing of Bill Evans’ “In April” before closing with a dramatic duo reading of “The Meaning of the Blues,” on which she was backed only by Wolff.

Those unable to get into the sold-out SRO concert, sponsored by the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association, get another chance: James returns Feb. 13 for an encore performance, a Valentine’s Day-themed concert.