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.

 

 

Happy JazzApril — Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month

herbie hancock

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?

Goodbye, Clark Terry

cterry

So sad to hear of the passing of the great Clark Terry, although he has been ill and in failing health for a long time.

Terry was a superb trumpeter and flugelhorn player, a technically brilliant instrumentalist, sublime improviser and high-impact teacher whose playing always exuded real joy, and great and infectious good humor. A veteran of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands, he was also part of the “Tonight Show” band; he was the first black musician on staff at NBC.

I was a teenager when I first heard and met Terry, playing with the house trio at the old  Buena Vista Village lounge near Disney World. I treasure the elaborate autograph he gave to me, writing his name and a little trumpet figure in red ink on the inside of a double-record live recording on the Pablo label.

Terry’s sound was instantly recognizable — that lilting, effervescent tone, those speedy lines, witty quotes, and musical jests. His collaborations with Oscar Peterson were among Terry’s best work, IMO.

As it’s Oscars night, I’ll recommend a documentary ignored by the Oscars, the very moving “Keep on Keepin’ On.” It’s an account of the ailing Terry’s friendship with young blind pianist Justin Kauflin. It doubles as a tale of friendship and an overview of Terry’s remarkable rise from poverty to a position as one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians.The film was directed by Alan Hicks, a drummer and a former student of Terry’s.

Clark Terry was a great musician, and a great man. He won’t soon be forgotten.

The Unstoppable Christian McBride — Remembering His Vanguard Show

Huge tone, impeccable technique, compositional acumen, big personality, ambition — just a few of the traits that have driven bassist Christian McBride’s success as a recording artist, bandleader and, lately, NPR show host.

In coming weeks and months, he’s leading his trio — with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. — at venues all around the United States, and taking his big band to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola for a weeklong stint at the end of March.

It’s unlikely that I’ll make any of those shows, but I’m still feeling the afterglow of the McBride performance I caught last month at the Village Vanguard in New York. I caught the late show on Tuesday, Dec. 2, a cold and rainy Manhattan night, and the first evening of McBride’s week there with his Inside Straight group, to be followed by another week with his trio.

Here’s what I wrote about the show, for Relix magazine (click here to go straight to the mag), along with the iPhone pic I shot that night:

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve played together,” Christian McBride said, on opening night of the bassist’s weeklong stint with his reunited Inside Straight band. “It’s like putting on your favorite shoes.” Whether walking his upright or leaning in the direction of funk or Latin grooves, McBride led saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen through an engaging set that indeed sounded like they picked up right where they had left off before turning their attention to other projects.

The quintet, playing for a packed house of reverential listeners at the Village Vanguard, the holiest of the holiest of New York jazz venues, largely drew from the group’s sophomore CD, People Music, released in 2013. Alto saxophone and vibes sounded the melody of McBride-penned opener “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” with Wolf, during his solo, throwing in a reference to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and the bassist alternating short bluesy stabs with speedy runs; the tune closed with a long outro, group improv and fade out.

McBride and Allen excelled at crafting dynamic rhythmic sculptures that drove the band on two other pieces from the 2013 release — Wolf’s churning “Gang Gang,” featuring barn-burning vibes and drums turns, and Wilson’s delicate, soprano-led ballad “Ms. Angelou.”

The set’s second half ventured in some different directions, starting with the Caribbean and New Orleans grooves of a piece with vibes and alto on the front line. McBride played a bowed solo on a relaxed, expansive version of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” and the five turned up the intensity on Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem” (heard on the group’s 2009 Kind of Brown CD), with the leader shifting into full doghouse-bass mode at the song’s start. McBride, also leader of a trio and big band, and host of NPR’s “Jazz Night in America,” shines regardless of the setting.

 

 

 

Sam Newsome, “The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1” (CD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

sam newsomeThe Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 isn’t Sam Newsome’s first solo soprano saxophone recording, but it may be the most provocative and most complete of a trio of albums including 2009’s Blue Soliloquy and 2007’s Monk Abstractions.

Newsome takes an organic, whole-horn approach, using every part of his soprano to create a surprising range of tones and rhythms.

“It’s a dialogue between sound and silence,” as Newsome writes in his liner notes. And, yes, Sonny Rollins’ unaccompanied tenor work is an influence, as is the work of the late soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, to whom the album is dedicated.

Newsome builds his playing and improvisations on three suites, individual pieces of which are shuffled throughout the CD rather than being ordered sequentially.

For Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, he plays his horn into a piano’s strings, creating multiple harmonics and overtones that result in haunting atmospherics. On “Acknowledgement,” he uses tongue slaps and overblown notes to sound the signature theme. “Resolution” benefits from multiphonics, dissonance and some call-and-response patterns, as do “Pursuance” and “Psalm.”

Newsome uses some similar techniques on the Ellington suite, with a buoyant “In a Mellow Tone,” a version of “In a Sentimental Mood” limned with neoclassical figures and a moody “Caravan” endowed with gorgeous long lines.

Newsome’s own suite, Soprano de Africana, was inspired by African folk instruments.

For “Burkino Faso,” one of only two tracks incorporating overdubs, he uses his soprano as a virtual percussion instrument, bringing to mind the balaphone, while his horn adopts an almost electronic buzzing sound at the start of “Sub Saharan Dialogue.” Overdubs, to create layered percussive textures, are used again on “Zulu Witch Doctor,” and the suite closes out with “Fela!,” with Newsome’s riffs suggesting the cascading guitar figures of Nigerian Afrobeat master Fela Kuti.

 

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.

Essentially Ellington: High-School Jazz Band Finalists Announced

Jazz bands from two Florida high schools made the list of 15 finalists selected to play the 15th annual Essentially Ellington competition and festival in New York, May 8-10 at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Sunshine State bands headed to NYC are both from South Florida: Dillard Center of the Arts, in Fort Lauderdale; and New World School of the Arts, in Miami. Bands from those high schools and one other school in the Southeast — The Lovett School in Atlanta — will compete with a dozen others from Washington State (3), Wisconsin (2), Texas (2), Massachusetts (2), California (2) and New York City (1).

The bands will participate in a variety of jam sessions and workshops. The closing concert, May 10 at Avery Fisher Hall, will feature performances by the top three bands, with JALC head Wynton Marsalis sitting in as guest soloist; and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Judges for the competition: Wynton Marsalis, David Berger, Ted Buehrer, Jimmy Heath, and Rodney Whitaker. Festival clinicians: Walter Blanding, Ronald Carter, Vincent Gardner, Wycliffe Gordon, Dana Hall, Sherman Irby, Loren Schoenberg, and Reginald Thomas.

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Program encompasses the competition and festival, as well as regional festivals, resources for jazz curriculum, a summer teaching session for band directors, and monthly newsletters.

For more information on “Essentially Ellington,”  click here.