Farewell, Ira Sabin, a Major Force in the Jazz World

ira sabinFarewell to Ira Sabin, a jazz drummer who turned his attention to jazz journalism. In 1970, Sabin founded the publication that became JazzTimes. For nearly a half-century, the magazine* has been a major force in jazz, documenting the music and along the way influencing the art form.

Sabin, who also made a mark as a record-store owner and promoter, died of cancer at age 90 on Sept. 12, in Rockville, Md.

“He performed in some of Washington’s first integrated jazz groups and sometimes entertained at private parties at the Georgetown home of Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) before he became president,” Matt Schudel writes, in a piece published in the Washington Post.

“By the late 1950s, Mr. Sabin was producing concerts and other performances, featuring such acclaimed musicians as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson. In 1962, he bought out a brother-in-law who had a record store, renaming it Sabin’s Discount Records. The store, at Ninth and U streets NW, was in the heart of Washington’s thriving jazz district, within walking distance of two theaters and six jazz clubs. The shop carried one of the country’s largest collections of jazz recordings, and musicians often stopped by to shop and chat.”

JazzTimes began as a four-page newsletter for Sabin’s record-store customers, and included contributions by some of the country’s best jazz critics, Schudel writes. In 1970, he called the publication Radio Free Jazz, and it eventually grew to 28 pages. Dizzy Gillespie was the publication’s first paid subscriber. It was renamed JazzTimes in 1980, and become a glossy monthly in 1990.

Read the entire Post story here.

Also:

“Ira Sabin, JazzTimes Founder, Dies at 90” (JazzTimes — by Michael J. West)

Ira Sabin, Founder of JazzTimes Magazine, is Dead at 90 (New York Times — by Richard Sandomir)

“Ira Sabin: Cool Daddy-O!” (JazzTimes — by Dan Morgenstern, published in 2000)

*I’m a longtime contributor to JazzTimes.

 

 

Ron Carter, “Ron Carter’s Great Big Band” (CD review)

(recently reviewed for Jazz Times; direct link)

Ron Carter, Ron Carter’s Great Big Band (Sunnyside)

Given the thousands of recordings that Ron Carter has played on, it’s surprising that Ron Carter’s Great Big Band is the masterful bassist’s first session leading a large ensemble. Tapping the talents of prolific jazz and pop arranger Robert Freedman, pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Lewis Nash and a roomful of first-call hornmen, Carter turns in a 13-track program that makes a refreshing—not stuffy—jazz-history survey, with music dating all the way back to W.C. Handy. Underneath it all, Carter drives the tunes, including two of his own, with typically impeccable time, tone that’s woody and resonant, and adroit note choices.

The Latin-tinged pieces are among the standouts on the disc. A shimmering version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” opens and closes with a brass choir, and features a slipping-and-sliding Carter solo as well as dazzling, economical turns from Miller, trumpeter Greg Gisbert and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. Jerry Dodgion’s bright, inquisitive soprano sax rides atop a version of Ellington’s “Caravan” characterized by a sneaky intro, staggered brass and some intriguing detours.

Freedman nods to the classic ’40s big-band sound on a couple of occasions, with an update of Sy Oliver’s “Opus One,” penned for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and here led off by bass trombonist Doug Purviance, and Tom Harrell’s retro-minded “Sail Away,” with relaxed solos by Miller, trombonist James Burton III, Carter and tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. The band also ventures into hard bop, with a fiery take on Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle”; cool-jazz climes, with Gerry Mulligan’s tuneful “Line for Lyons” and John Lewis’ “The Golden Striker”; and soul jazz, with a grooving take on Nat Adderley’s “Sweet Emma.” Carter even offers a pleasant return trip to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” which the bassist, 74, helped make famous as part of Miles’ Second Great Quintet.

Clearwater Mayor on Jazz Holiday: “You get what you pay for”

As fellow musicians, other friends, and readers know by now, I have a complicated relationship with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

I’ve covered the festival for many years, for both daily newspapers in the Tampa Bay area, and also for national music magazines. During the period when jazz advocate (and humanities prof) Frank Spena programmed the fest, and for several years later, the Jazz Holiday was home to the creme de la creme of jazz talent — established artists as well as a long list of rising stars who now figure prominently in various critics and readers polls conducted by DownBeat, JazzTimes, and the Jazz Journalists Association.

Let’s not forget: The festival, launched in 1980, played host to such greats as Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie (left), Herbie Mann, and Dave Brubeck during its first five years. Then came Count Basie (85), Stan Getz (86), Tito Puente and Phil Woods (87), McCoy Tyner (88), and Sonny Rollins (89). Ask anyone who cares about jazz: All of these musicians fall into the category of “major” jazz artists, who have played a significant role in jazz history.

Since then, there have been some great performances by some very good musicians. But only a handful of major, poll-winning jazz artists have played.

By way of newspaper columns and reviews, and blog posts, I’ve consistently pushed the fest to focus on high-quality jazz, of the straight-ahead variety. I’ve begged the fest to ditch the bland, generic (and sometimes pricey) “smooth” jazz acts who apparently are so beloved by the most influential members of the festival’s music committee.

Truth be told, I’ve also urged organizers  to bring in the kind of jazz that artfully incorporates other elements, including funk, rock, jamband, and experimental edges; that kind of music could serve to bring in a more youthful group of music aficionados. My old jam-oriented band, Ghetto Love Sugar, even played the fest in 2002 (kudos to the Jazz Holiday for continuing to include performances by strong local talent). And I’d like to think that my encouragement to bill artists in that vein played at least some role in the decision to book John Scofield (2001) and Medeski Martin and Wood (2007). Two impressive artists in a somewhat similar vein, New Orleans brass man Trombone Shorty (below) and one-time James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker, are on this year’s bill — good stuff.

I’m rewinding all this history as a reminder: I have nothing but good wishes for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, and many fond memories of great shows at the fest. I want to see the festival fulfill its mission, and again become a gem on the Tampa Bay area’s arts calendar.

That’s why I’m surprised by those fest organizers, public officials, and even some in the media who take offense at even mild criticism of the lineup; some observers, who may or may not know the difference between Lady Day and Lady Gaga, have derided as “purists” those jazz fans who hope to see the Jazz Holiday upgrade its programming.

Take, for example, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. In a recent post post on the Holiday, I praised the inclusion of such artists as omnipresent bassist Christian McBride (below), veteran singer Dianne Reeves, and rising-star pianist Gerald Clayton, while also noting the utter absence of major, legendary jazz artists in headlining positions.

In response, in a comment on the post, Hibbard had this to say, in part: “We all know the sad state the Clearwater Jazz Holiday is in, and year after year many of us jazz fans are disappointed with their Jazz-less lineups. But again its FREE !”

So, then, because it’s free, jazz fans should lower their expectations regarding the quality of the music presented?

And what, exactly, does he mean regarding the fest’s “sad state”? Is it on shaky financial footing (I presume so)? If so, just what is the state of the fest? Why not reveal the details, so that supporters can have a greater opportunity to perhaps spread the word and help get the fest in better shape, financially?

Another commenter on this blog, Carl Harness, wrote something that, I think, gets at the heart of the Jazz Holiday’s issues:

“One of the problems that the CJH group has is that everyone you talk with gives you a different answer to the question, what is your mission? There is no consistency in their message. The Board members seem to have different ideas of what the mission is or should be. Some speak of the event being a “major national jazz festival” others talk about tuning it down to something that appeals more to a local audience. It is obvious from the lineups that we have had the past couple of years we are not competitive on the national front. All you have to do is compare our lineups with that of Jacksonville and/or Seabreeze in Panama City Beach.”

I’ve heard this kind of commentary from other sources, and it makes sense. If Jazz Holiday organizers and the City of Clearwater do want to again see the Jazz Holiday become a major jazz festival, the kind that draws jazz fans from all over the Southeast (and beyond), then why not go all-out in that direction?

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the money isn’t really the obstacle. Such smooth-jazz acts as The Rippingtons and Boney James, with their considerable production requirements, charge at least as much as anyone who fits in the category of legendary jazz artist. Alternatively, if the fest desires to become merely another nice event in the park, with a few jazzy artists, then why not revise the mission statement and change its name to something like Clearwater Music Festival? Not that there’s anything wrong that: There’s no law stating that Tampa or St. Petersburg can’t take over the task of putting on a major jazz festival.

Again, my hope is that the Jazz Holiday will pledge to take its mission seriously, and renew its efforts to present a program of world-class jazz. Other large metropolitan areas can do it, and have done it — and, yes, without charging admission. Why not us?

For the record, schedule permitting I hope to catch this year’s performances by Trombone Shorty, and former “Tonight Show” guitarist Kevin Eubanks (10/13), the Gerald Clayton Trio, and saxophonist Valerie Gillespie (10/14); and Dianne Reeves, and Christian McBride (10/16). I have my own gig on 10/15, but if I were to get to the park I’d make a point of seeing Maceo Parker, master Latin percussionist Sammy Figueroa, guitarist and USF teacher (and friend) LaRue Nickelson (left), and rising-star singer Whitney James (right).

Hibbard’s comments, and my response, are below. What do you think?

———-

Well there you go again Mr. Booth,

People like you never cease to amaze me, Always Complaining !

I guess you get what you pay for, and when last I checked the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, and your VIP ticket, is still FREE !

We all know the sad state the Clearwater Jazz Holiday is in, and year after year many of us jazz fans are disappointed with their Jazz-less lineups.

But again its FREE !

If you don’t like the artists selected, I suggest instead of constantly complaining about the lack of Sonny Rollins, you find other ways to contribute to improve the artists selection process, or better yet, Just Don’t Attend The Event !

FH

Frank Hibbard

August 31, 2011

———-

(my response:)

“There you go again, Mayor Hibbard (if that’s really you).

So you’re saying that because the festival is free — FREE! — then it should lower its standards when it comes to presenting quality jazz? Or that it shouldn’t adhere to its stated mission? Have you read the mission statement?

There are other cities, larger (Chicago) and smaller than Clearwater, that manage to put on free-admission jazz festivals featuring world-class talent. Again, FREE!

In regards to complaining “about the lack of Sonny Rollins”: Most readers are aware that I was just using Sonny as an example as the kind of artist – undeniably a legendary jazz artist – who ought to have a home on a festival that wants to offer world-class jazz.

As far as supporting the festival, I’m probably one of the most loyal longtime boosters of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, having written multiple cover stories on the fest (positive stories, promoting the event) for both daily newspapers in our area, and being the first person to provide coverage of the fest – again, positive – in major national music magazines.

Yes, I’ve been critical of the lineup in recent years, but you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that it’s tough love. On the fest’s best nights, when good jazz is on the bill and a cool breeze is blowing, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere except at Coachman Park during the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. If I didn’t care about the festival, and about jazz, why would I spend time writing about it?

Your best suggestion for those who disagree with the festival’s programming is to “Don’t Attend the Event!”? Really? Is that the advice you give to folks who disagree with you on City of Clearwater matters? “Just Move Out of Clearwater”? Pardon me for saying so, but that’s a very skewed approach to civic leadership.

Just so you know (since, apparently you don’t): The fest’s music committee for many years has closed itself off to outside influence – except for one year when they asked several knowledgeable jazz people to come in and have a discussion about the lineup. So the only way for us to contribute now is through public forums, like this blog.

As a self-declared jazz fan, what have YOU done to ensure that the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the only major, large-scale jazz festival in our area, brings in world-class jazz and not merely a mixed bag of sort-of jazzy artists?”

Trumpet Men on the Big Screen: Dueling Miles Davis Biopics?; and a Louis Armstrong Flick

It’s been common knowledge, for a little while, that Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, the Ocean’s Eleven films) is directing and starring in the Miles Davis biopic, which is being produced by Miles’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr. Wilburn played drums with the trumpeter and lived with him for three years beginning in 1984.

Now comes encouraging news that Herbie Hancock, pianist for Miles’ second great quintet, is scoring the film, and Cheadle is co-writing the script. That’s according to an interview with Wilburn and Erin Davis, Miles’ youngest son, published online at YRB.com.

Wilburn, as quoted by YRB, said: “We’re in the process of OK’ing the script with a new writer. Don didn’t like the other writer that was attached to the movie, so there’s a new writer named Steven Vegelman that Don’s writing with. Once is the script is OK’d by the family, then we go into production.”

The new writer referred to in the YRB story may be Steven Baigelman, who did the screenplays for Feeling Minnesota and My Brother’s Keeper, and is working on the forthcoming James Brown biopic.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the film — yet to be titled — is “in development” for 2011, and the latest chapter in its history stretches back to a treatment/outline that was prepared in April 2006. Cheadle is listed as director/producer, Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson (both of whom worked together on Ali and Nixon) as writers, and  Porter and Wilburn as producers. Wilkinson and Rivele are also listed as exec producers, along with Cary Brokaw.

The film is being produced by Cheadle’s production company, Crescendo Prods., which in November 2008 inked a “two-year, first-look” deal with Overture Films.

Way back in 1993, Wesley Snipes was slated to play Miles. And in 2006, Darryl Porter, general manager of the Miles Davis Estate, told Jazz Times that Antoine Fuqua would be directing the biopic.

Which era of Miles’ long career will be the focus of the film? Two hints, so far, both suggesting an ’80s emphasis —  Wilburn’s involvement, and the fact that IMDB lists rookie Kevin Navayne (seen in one episode each of “Army Wives” and “CSI:NY”) as the actor who will portray Marcus Miller, the bassist/producer who worked with Miles from 1985 until the trumpeter’s death in 1991.

Earlier this month, Cheadle told Vibe that his film is on the verge of beginning production. “In my attempt to tell the story, I’m not trying to do some reverential all-of-us-bow-down-to-Miles-the-icon. I’m trying to present him as a man. I’m trying to make a movie that Miles Davis would want to make.”

He also spoke to Parade magazine about his hopes for the movie: “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re working on the script right now,” Cheadle said for a story dated March 4, the same day that the Vibe piece was published. I think it will happen. I love Miles, but you have to take everything he says with a grain of salt. He would tell a long story, and someone would go, ‘That’s amazing. Did that happen?’ He’d reply, ‘I don’t f— know. You figure it out.’ He wasn’t interested in what you thought about him. He was like, ‘I’m about the music. Deal with that.’ Capturing the essence of that man is a challenge.”

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a)the Cheadle film indeed will get made, and b)Miles’ story won’t be overtly Hollywood-ized. In the case of Miles Davis, the truth about his life is stranger, and more interesting, than any fiction that could be tacked on for dramatic purposes.

———-

Miles’ offspring have experienced at least some degree of conflict, as his sons Gregory and Miles IV reportedly were excluded from his will. Meanwhile, his estate is being handled by Miles Davis Properties, LLC, a group that includes Erin Davis, Wilburn, Miles daughter Cheryl and his brother-in-law Vince Wilburn Sr.

That conflict may be played out on the big screen, in terms of competing visions of Miles’ life: Another Davis biopic, also listed by IMDB as “in development” for 2011, is Dark Magus: The Miles Davis Story, adapted from Gregory’s 2006 book “Dark Magus: The Jekyll & Hyde Life of Miles Davis.”

Dark Magus is being scripted by Isaac Fergusson, and produced by Ged Dickersin and Nick Raynes, according to IMDB, in an entry last updated on Oct. 9. The production company: Davis Raynes Productions Inc.

The New York Post, on Oct. 2, 2008, had this to say about the Dark Magus film: “…Nick Davis Raynes is a well-mannered movie producer who just optioned the rights to “Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis,” by the jazz great’s son, Gregory Davis. “I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis. We plan to tell his true story and preserve his legacy,” Raynes told Page Six. Gregory was the only son who traveled with Miles on tour, but then had to sue his father’s estate because he was left out of his will. Besides the lead role, there will be juicy parts playing Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. “Miles was a huge mentor to Hendrix,” Raynes said.”

Interesting side note to all of this: Earlier this year, rapper Snoop Dogg said that he wanted to play Miles, according to a blog called, simply, The Miles Davis Movie. The blog isn’t officially affiliated with the Cheadle movie, or any other film.

———-

Forest Whitaker, who played Charlie Parker in 1988’s Bird, tries on another jazz legend, Louis Armstrong, in What a Wonderful World, scheduled for release sometimes next year. Whitaker, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of President Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, is also directing the film, from a script written by veteran screenwriter Ronald Bass (Amelia, Entrapment, Snow Falling on Cedars, Dangerous Minds, Rain Man).

The Armstrong movie, naturally, will be shot in New Orleans. Last week, Whitaker said that he’s spending a year learning to play trumpet and preparing for the role, according to an item posted online at AceShowbiz.

Whitaker also said that the film won’t shy away from Armstrong’s passion for marijuana.

“He smoked weed every day and it’s in the movie where he wrote to the president to try and make it legal. We will have that in the film.”

The movie is the fourth feature film to be helmed by Whitaker, who made his directorial debut with 1995’s Waiting to Exhale.

Why direct the Armstrong film? I’d guess that it stems in part from Whitaker’s apparent recent love affair with New Orleans. In recent years, he’s acted in several films set or partly set there, including Hurricane Season and My Own Love Song.

Here’s what he told Variety, a couple of years ago, according to a story published at Nola.com: “Armstrong left a monumental mark on our lives and our culture. He lived an amazing life and, through his art, shifted the way music was played and would be heard after him, not just here in the U.S. but all over the world.”

Satchmo Summerfest, held every summer in New Orleans, is an annual interntaional focal point for all things Louis Armstrong. This year’s event, again organized by the same group that produces the French Quarter Fest, will be held in the steamy season – Aug. 5-8. For more information, click here.

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?

Herb Snitzer – Jazz and the Freedom Movement, at Stetson Law

Just received this info:

Herb Snitzer, the celebrated jazz photographer whose work includes memorable images of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Davis Gillespie, will talk about the relationship between jazz and the Civil Rights movement, tonight at Stetson University Law School.

The lecture, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NAACP’s founding, will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the school’s Great Hall, 1401 61st St. S. in Gulfport.

Snitzer, whose studio is in St. Petersburg, formerly worked for Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, Fortune, Time and other major magazines, as well as The New York Times.

An exhibition of his work runs through April 5 at the Daytona Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona, Florida.

Jazz Festivals Facing Tough Times

Given the nation’s economic woes, this news comes as no surprise: Jazz festivals, in Florida and elsewhere, are facing tough times.

The long-running Jacksonville Jazz Festival (which I played, in the early ’80s, with the UF Jazz Band), allegedly was already suffering from money troubles when the City of Jacksonville, the fest’s sponsor since 2003, agreed to bump the event from its scheduled date — first weekend in April — to a later time.

That decision, reportedly, was made solely so as not to conflict with the Springing the Blues festival, held in nearby Jacksonville Beach.

Why wasn’t the younger blues festival asked to make way for the long-established jazz festival, which over the years has been home to first-rate performances by everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to (last year) Cassandra Wilson?

In defense of the blues fest, though, THAT event has been held on the same weekend for 18 years.

So why not just switch the jazz festival, traditionally held in Metropolitan Park on the waterfront in downtown Jax, to another weekend in spring?

“Metropolitan Park, which has long been the central venue for the jazz festival, is heavily booked through the spring, and the city is reluctant to boot out another event to make way for jazz, she said,” Matt Soergel wrote in a story posted Jan. 3 on Jacksonville.com (affiliated with the Florida Times-Union newspaper).

The “she” is Theresa O’Donnell, the city’s director of special events.

Not sure if O’Donnell is the one to blame for this mess, but why would anyone originally have scheduled the jazz fest on the same weekend as a blues music fest likely to draw some of the same audience, sponsors and vendors?

And, secondly, now that city officials’ poor decision making has led to this situation, why WOULDN’T they feel okay forcing another event, one that’s younger and offering less cultural significance, to get out of the way of the jazz festival?

Why is the city treating the jazz festival like a second-class citizen, in terms of regularly bumping it around on the calendar? After all these years, and so many great performances, ought not the festival be treated like a local cultural gem?

A date, other than “spring 2009,” has yet to be posted on the official festival site. Stay tuned.

(Thanks to jazz critic James Hale’s blog for the alert about this situation).

The JVC Jazz Festival Miami is likely NOT returning this year, according to a story published online at Ticketnews.com. That’s due to “huge losses” suffered by promoter Festival Network, which bought George Wein’s Festival Productions in 2007. The Miami festival’s site hasn’t been updated since the 2008 fest (the event’s 9th edition).

According to the story, Festival Network could be shutting down several of its festivals in 09, including Martha’s Vineyard Festival (MA); Jackson Hole Music Festival (WY); Festival Au Desert – Essakane (Mali); JVC Jazz Festival Chicago (IL); San Francisco Music Festival (CA); Whistler Music Festival (BC); JVC Jazz Festival Los Angeles (CA); Slow Food Rocks (CA); and JVC Jazz Festival Paris (FRA).

Closer to (my) home, the first edition of the modestly scaled St. Petersburg College Jazz Festival opens this Thursday, with performances by Brooklyn-based saxophonist Sue Terry and others. Here’s John Fleming’s piece on the fest, published in the St. Petersburg Times.

The swing-oriented Sarasota Jazz Festival takes places March 1-7 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Holley Hall and other locations around Sarasota.

The bill includes pianist Dick Hyman; saxophonist/flutist James Moody; the Bill Allred Band with guest John Allred (father-son trombonists); and trumpeter Barrie Lee Hall’s Ellington Alumni band, featuring bassist John Lamb and trombonist Buster Cooper.

And all’s well, or so it seems with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, slated for Oct. 15-18 in Coachman Park. Here’s hoping that the Clearwater fest puts together an especially impressive lineup — Sonny Rollins, anyone? — for its 30th anniversary edition.

I don’t have updates on the other jazz festivals around Florida, but here’s a list of links to those events.