Newk in Real Time: Sonny Talks!

It was nothing short of fascinating: Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the legendary jazz giant, streaming live, in an interview/conversation prompted by a weak and rather mean-spirited “satire” piece in The New Yorker.

“That hurt me,” Rollins, 83, said about the article. “Never mind me. It’s saying some very, very insulting things about jazz, very derogatory things about jazz. VERY derogatory things about jazz — the way it sounds, the way it’s played, the musicians, everything. I can’t even read the article now … can’t take it.

“They got to some people that really thought it was me. And what they were saying was scurrilous. It was nothing funny about that.”

Sonny, a brilliant, and highly spiritual creative artist, spoke with “Jazz Video Guy” Bret Primack, and touched on a variety of topics, including his disappointment when concluding that some readers believed the mag’s piece to be a real interview; his fondness for Mad magazine; the pitfalls of technology; the recurrence of the “jazz is dead” myth; his early years in Harlem; and his interest in truth seeking.

Along the way, he quoted Aldous Huxley, Plato, and Charles Mingus, and made passing references to Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

Most encouraging, for jazz fans, was his vow to return to the stage in a big way sometimes in 2015.

“I’m writing a lot of music, i’m thinking about a lot of music, I’m planning for a lot of music, and I’m anxious to get back,” he said “Because my legacy is not complete yet. I’m getting to a point. I feel like I’m close enough that I can make a better representation of my life — Sonny Rollins, a musician. Have a little more to say. So that’s what I’m doing now.”

Some of his most quotable quotes from the interview:

— “A lie goes around the world before the truth can put on its shoes. That’s too bad. That’s what technology has gotten us into now.”

— “Music is the 18th dimension. It’s something we are lucky to have.”

— “People love jazz all over the world. There’s something about jazz — the feeling, syncopation, the spirit of it. It makes people feel good. It’s a great spirit.”

— “They’re trying to kill jazz. But you can’t kill a spirit”

— “Jazz is one of the most humorous musics around. In my own playing, people say, ‘Oh, did you hear what Sonny played? That was really funny. Jazz has a since of humor.

— “Jazz has been mocked, minimalized, marginalized throughout its whole history. Jazz is on the bottom of the floor here. … Why not satirize the rich and the powerful. Satirize that. Try to change something in the world.”

“It’s (jazz) something real. It’s something important in this world. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It helps people. It makes people feel better. It gives people something to strive for.”

— “When I was a boy, they used to call me ‘Jester.” I used to make jokes … and all that. So I love humor.”

— “Jazz is free music. Jazz used to typify America. America used to be the land of the free, home of the brave, remember? That’s what jazz is. It typifies that — Its syncopations, its melodies, the way you improvise, you pull things out of the air. That’s genius. And that’s jazz.”

— “Jazz isn’t going to die. And why should it die? Do you want freedom to die?”

— “Music is beyond politics. It’s beyond economics.

— “There’s something beautiful about life as expressed through music.”

— “One day, as a boy, it came to me that I was going to be successful in my career, in my life as a musician. And I have. So I don’t know if everybody is going to be as successful as I am, or not. But that’s not the point. Everybody can’t be John Coltrane. Everybody can’t be Miles Davis. But we need music, still. So we have to have people playing music. People want to hear music.”

— “When I play my saxophone, I get into a zone. That’s where truth exists. All these kids that are trying to learn their instruments — that’s where they should be. That’s the most beautiful place in the world. You’re not hurting anybody. You’re learning. You’re trying to communicate with whatever higher power you believe in. That’s where we should be going. That’s why this piece was so damaging. Because it mocked that.”

— “Music is celestial. Let’s not forget that.”

 

Denise Moore: “A Jazz History,” tonight at the Palladium

Tampa singer Denise Moore brings her new jazz-history show to the Palladium tonight. I’ve known Denise since her days with Paul Wilborn & the Pop Tarts, and I’ve had the opportunity to sub in her bands on a few occasions. I’ve also connected with Denise and her husband Alex Spassoff in and around Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

I recently spoke with Denise for a feature published today in the St. Petersburg Times. Click here to see the story online in the Times. Or read the expanded version, below.

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Tampa singer Denise Moore grew up listening to jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Brazil’s Flora Purim and such jazz-influenced vocalists as Joni Mitchell.

But the Georgia native, who grew up in Melbourne, Florida, took her time stepping up to the mic in front of a jazz group. She sang with a band in the swing-folk-country mold of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks while she was a student at the University of Georgia in Athens. Later, she sang R&B, pop and blues with Tampa Bay area bands Paul Wilborn and the Pop Tarts, and the Women’s Blues Revue.

“I really didn’t get this going until I was 40,” Moore said. “A friend said, ‘You need to have your own group.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ But I did. And I went to what I love — jazz. I love this music. It feels good to me.”

Fifteen years later, she’s made up for lost time. Her band, Denise Moore & Then Some, has become a regular on the Tampa Bay area jazz scene, and she released a debut CD, Nothing Standard.

Fans of the singer can play a part in her new project: Moore’s next CD will feature music recorded live tonight at the Palladium Theater. The concert is part of the St. Petersburg venue’s Side Door Jazz series.

Moore, joined by pianist and arranger Billy Marcus, saxophonist David Pate, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Stephen Bucholtz, will play an ambitious program, “A Jazz History,” covering everything from early New Orleans jazz to smooth jazz.

The group will play about 20 tunes, including Fats Waller‘s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” Wes Montgomery‘s “West Coast Blues,” Antonio Carlos Jobim‘s “No More Blues” and Anita O’ Day‘s version of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

“We’ll start off with some ragtime and go all the way up to smooth jazz, and also do bebop, free jazz, swing, standards, and Brazilian music,” Moore said. “We’re doing the music in chronological order.”

Moore’s jazz history project, funded with a grant from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, includes more than the concert and the recording, which are being engineered by WMNF, 88.5 FM station manager Jim Bennett. The singer is creating an educational web page, on her own web site, which will offer information on various jazz songs and styles, accompanied by audio clips taken from the concert. In addition, the concert will be aired on Bennett’s “In the Moment” show on jazz station KCSM-FM in San Mateo, California. She also plans to perform the program for audiences at public schools in Hillsborough County.

“We just want to give an overview of jazz for people that don’t know about all of it,” Moore said. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s a whole menu – you can select what you like, and you can decide if you want to taste that or maybe explore it more.”

When not working on her music, Moore stays busy as co-owner, with her husband Alex Spassoff, of the Suncoast Massage Therapy Center, a business that opened 20 years ago. She also teaches yoga, for the city of Tampa and privately.

“I did a workshop at the Homemade Music Symposium two years ago, on breath work for singers and horn players,” she said. “The idea is to help sustain the breath and calm the musician down. It’s a tool for stress relief and also expanding lung capacity. I feel like I’m a healing artist – with music, massage, and yoga.

Moore’s understanding of yoga and concepts related to relaxation and breath control directly feed into her approach to jazz singing, she said.

“You want to leave everything else behind and just become present. It is really one of the only times when you are present — you re totally in that moment and everything else is gone.”

Marcus Roberts: NPR interview

robertsMarcus Roberts, whose New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1, is officially released today (the physical disc; download was available last week), will be heard this afternoon on National Public Radio stations.

The interview is slated to air at about 5:50 p.m. EST on NPR’s “All Things Considered” program. UPDATE: Click here to listen and read.

Roberts, a Jacksonville, Florida-based pianist who made his name playing with Wynton Marsalis’s bands, is joined by longtime trio mates Jason Marsalis (drums) and Roland Guerin (bass) on the new CD. It’s a creative and compelling exploration of the music of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk. I’ll review it online later.

“We made this recording to show how New Orleans music impacted the music of the later Harlem style and how both impacted all of modern jazz, including our own trio’s group sound,” Roberts writes in the liner notes to the CD.

USA Today music writer Brian Mansfield applauded Roberts’ version of Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” in the paper’s “playlist” feature: “Pianist uses Scott Joplin’s ragtime standard as the launching pad for a non-linear master class on jazz styles.”

Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio, Live in New York (CD review)

The spirit of Gypsy jazz is alive and well in the hands of Mark O’Connor, the virtuoso Nashville violinist who demonstrates his aptitude in that rarified genre on Live in New York (OMAC), the third CD from his aptly named Hot Swing Trio.mark-oconnor

O’Connor, guitarist Frank Vignola and bassist Jon Burr swing as one on a lively set, recorded in 2004 (and originally released in 2005), that has the group applying the folk-rooted jazz tonality and phrasing reminiscent of violinist Stephane Grappelli (Burr’s former boss) and guitarist Django Reinhardt to a rangy mix of music.

The leader’s “Gypsy Fantastic,” built on a friendly melody and quick tempo, gallops along and builds in intensity as O’Connor and Vignola play bravura back-to-back solos and then trade fours. Close your eyes and focus on these players’ dazzling dexterity and the gorgeous acoustic textures, and it’s not difficult to imagine being relocated to another place, another time — say, a small, smoky club in Paris, circa the ’30s.

That piece is one of the disc’s five O’Connor originals, including the blues-based “Anniversary,” a mini-suite that shuttles through several rootsy genres; bouncy Joplin-esque gem “M & W Rag”;  the nicely grooving, color-shifting “Funky Swing”; and “Fiddler Going Home,” a poignant ballad honoring the late Claude “Fiddler” Williams.

Jazz and pop standards are in the mix, too, with a sweetly swinging reading of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” a high-flying run through “Cherokee,” a strolling take on Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and, opening the set, the Gershwins’ “Fascinating Rhythm.”

Slamming things to a close is O’Connor’s inventive, breakneck arrangement of “Tiger Rag,” a tune dating back 92 years to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s recording. The Hot Swing Trio’s work on that piece — and everything else here — must have really been something to hear, and see, live. For those (like me) not fortunate enough to catch that performance, the CD makes for a pretty great consolation prize.