Jimmy Cobb, “This I Dig of You” — my review for JazzTimes

“Is there a ride cymbal more integral to solid groove-making on more jazz recordings and performances than the one(s) played by drummer Jimmy Cobb, the last surviving musician from the sessions for Miles’ Kind of Blue? Cobb, also heard with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley over the decades, creates a special kind of graceful, creative, forward-moving swing when he locks in with a bassist and rhythm section (as I discovered firsthand, playing with the master trappist at a 2000 memorial concert for Nat Adderley in Florida).”

Full review

Monty Alexander, “Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations)” — my review for JazzTimes

“Like a Rastafarian in Jamaica, he was different,” Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander says of Thelonious Monk, whom he first heard in person at New York City’s legendary Five Spot in 1963. Monk soon became a major influence on Alexander’s music, which was rooted in the reggae and ska of his native country as well as the jazz he absorbed first in Kingston studios and later when he moved to New York. On Wareika Hill (RastaMonk Vibrations), a collection of fresh reinterpretations of Monk gems, Alexander effectively nails his hero’s idiosyncrasies.”

Full review

Amendola vs. Blades, “Everybody Wins” — my review for JazzTimes

“Having first collaborated for a 2006 performance of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, organist/keyboardist Wil Blades and drummer Scott Amendola stepped out as a recording duo with 2017’s cheekily titled Greatest Hits album. For their second release, journeymen musicians Amendola (Nels Cline Singers, T.J. Kirk, Bill Frisell) and Blades (Billy Martin, Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter) offer another heavy dose of loose-limbed, deeply funky jazz-tinted grooves and catchy riffs.”

Full review

Happy 90 candles, Dan Morgenstern!

Dan Morgenstern has been part of the global jazz conversation since forever. Or, at least, since as long as I can remember, going way back to my earliest days as a jazz listener reading DownBeat magazine, where he served as chief editor from 1968 to 1973.

Between 1964 and 1973, Morgenstern wrote 148 record reviews for DB, and has won 8 Grammys for his essays for albums, as Howard Mandel, Jazz Journalists Association president and himself a former DB associate editor, writes for jazzjournalists.org.

Yesterday, Morgenstern turned 90. Happy 90 candles!

dan morgenstern

Morgenstern indeed set the bar high for arts writing, and was one of the writers who inspired my own interest in music journalism.

“He is rightly recognized for developing a unique style of jazz journalism as an engaging story teller, teaching us the way to hear jazz, what to listen for and how to understand it,” Mandel writes. “He has become the gold standard for generations of writers, critics, and musicians.”

Check out the Morgenstern: Down Beat Record Reviews.

And read Mandel’s comprehensive piece on Morgenstern here. 

Snarky Puppy Leads Killer Lineup for GroundUp Fest 2020: Chris Potter, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Lettuce, Michael McDonald, Brian Blade, Gregoire Maret, Christian Scott, Wayne Krantz, more

The 2017 debut of the GroundUp Music Festival on North Miami Beach was one of the best fests of its kind that I’ve ever attended.

In addition to three nights of full shows by “expanded” editions of the great jazz/fusion outfit Snarky Puppy, high-end jazz artists — Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding — were on the bill. Plus groups led by guitarist Charlie Hunter (with saxophonists Rob Dixon and Jeff Coffin), and MMW keyboardist John Medeski.

Not to mention Afro-Cuban percussionist wizard Pedrito Martinez. And a renowned folk rocker, David Crosby (of CSN), who’s lately collaborated with Snarky Puppy leader/bassist Michael League, and mandolin monster and singer-songwriter Chris Thile, of acoustic/bluegrass/Americana outfits Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, and recently host of NPR’s “Live From Here” show.

Who could forget the debut performance by League’s new Bokante band, which combines Delta blues textures with West African rhythms? Or the late-night appearance by Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), with various Snarky players as his Spinal Tap backup band? Or various lesser known but powerful artists representing the above genres plus funk and world music.

The entire affair — intentionally uncrowded — took place on picture-postcard days, in the laidback setting of an amphitheater and a second stage at an ocean-side park. In addition to the concerts were seminars, and drumming sessions on the beach. Laidback vibe, sunny but un-muggy Florida days and breezy nights, great music, friendly musicians and music aficionados. What more could you ask for?

I reviewed the 2017 fest for JazzTimes (here).

Happy to report that the lineup for the 2020 edition of GroundUp Fest (named for Snarky Puppy’s label) is killer, possibly more impressive than the first one. In addition to three shows by the host band, the program — Feb. 14-16 — includes performances by:

  • Saxophonist Chris Potter, artist as large
  • Oversized funk-with-horns band Lettuce
  • Drumming great Brian Blade‘s Fellowship Band
  • A quartet led by singer Michael McDonald (yes, THAT Michael McDonald, with Potter, League, and omnipresent drummer Jamison Ross)
  • Trumpeter Christian Scott
  • Rising-star singer Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • Hamilton de Holanda‘s quartet, led by a virtuoso of the 10-string mandolin
  • Harp master Edmar Castaneda (I watched him kill it at this summer’s Montreal Jazz Festival)
  • Harmonica master Gregoire Maret
  •  A supergroup with guitarist Wayne Krantz, drummer Keith Carlock, and bassist Tim LeFebre
  • Mexican folk-fusion singer Lila Downs
  • Singer-songwriter Becca Stevens

Fun fact: The 2020 fest features several winners of the 84th annual DownBeat Readers Poll: Snarky Puppy, best jazz group; Chris Potter, best tenor sax; Cecile McLorin Salvant, best female vocalist; and Brian Blade tied (with Jack DeJohnette) for best drums.

Not sure, exactly, why I didn’t manage to return for the second or third editions of the fest. But hoping I can get back there this February.


Yes, Virginia, There is Such Thing as (a Little) Jazz at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

No, not letting the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the latest edition of which concluded on Sunday, off the hook. The fest, once a real cultural gem on the Tampa Bay area’s music calendar, has traded top-shelf jazz programming for an event now thoroughly dominated by yesterday’s R&B (Boyz II Men), classic rock (Chicago/Blood, Sweat & Tears), and Americana (Alison Krauss/Yonder Mountain String Band).

There are loads of high-end musicians in those groups, of course, but none could be classified as jazz artists.

Just stop with the excuses, folks. These are the kinds of acts that can and do play any other venue at any time. They don’t need the auspices of a single-stage jazz fest. Far past time to return to jazz programming. If not, be honest with your intent and change the fest’s name.

The area’s jazz fans lament what the fest has become. But we hope that the event will at least continue to use some of those early slots to showcase some great locally based jazz artists (last year, in a misguided move, one of those slots went to a local rock ‘n’ roll band).

On Saturday afternoon, La Lucha — pianist John O’ Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas, and drummer Mark Feinman — backed a long list of talented vocalists: Belinda Womack, Fred Johnson, Theo Valentin, Valerie Gillespie, Erica Diceglie, Karen Benjey and others.

Before that, the University of Miami’s top-ranked big band played a set, joined by young drumming great and gifted composer/arranger Dafnis Prieto. (Have to ask: Why not showcase one of the jazz ensembles from USF in Tampa, or the Jazz Surge, the fierce big band led by Grammy-nominated composer and USF music prof Chuck Owen?)

And the day began with a performance by a group of talented high-school players, joined by James Suggs, the talented trumpeter and USF adjunct prof making waves with a new release on the Arbors Records label. (Have to ask: By failing to put major jazz artists in headlining positions, what message is the festival sending to these young players?)

So, despite the event’s enormous shortcomings when it comes to presenting jazz, let’s give organizers a hand for at least showcasing some high-quality local talent. Maybe one day they’ll see the light and again honor jazz and jazz musicians at the “jazz” fest.

(Speaking of Fred Johnson, check out this good piece on Johnson and bassist Michael Ross, written by longtime area music writer Eric Snider. Thanks, Ray Roa, for keeping jazz coverage alive in the pages of Creative Loafing).



Wayne Shorter Brings Home Top Trophies in DownBeat’s 84th Annual Readers Poll

Wayne Shorter won big — artist, album (“Emanon”) and soprano saxophonist of the year — in DownBeat‘s 84th Annual Reader’s Poll. Full story.

Big winners Snarky Puppy (group), Chris Potter (tenor sax), Cecile McLorin Salvant (female vocalist), and Brian Blade (drums, co-winner with Jack DeJohnette), are all (except DeJohnette) playing the GroundUp Music Fest on Miami Beach in February.
Glad to see Christian McBride win again for best upright bass player.

More Winners
Hall of Fame: Hank Mobley
Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra
Historical Album: John Coltrane, Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!)
Trumpet: Roy Hargrove
Trombone: Trombone Shorty
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter
Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Hubert Laws
Piano: Herbie Hancock
Keyboard: Herbie Hancock
Organ: Joey DeFrancesco
Guitar: Pat Metheny
Electric Bass: Marcus Miller
Violin: Regina Carter
Percussion: Poncho Sanchez
Vibraphone: Stefon Harris
Miscellaneous Instrument: Béla Fleck (banjo)
Female Vocalist: Cécile McLorin Salvant
Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling
Composer: Maria Schneider
Arranger: Maria Schneider
Record Label: Blue Note