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?

Jazz is Dead, Again?; Jazz & Colors Festival; Wayne Shorter Returns to Blue Note

Planet Jazz: Notes From All Over 

Jazz is dead. What, again? Say it ain’t so!

At the end of a partially admiring review in The Atlantic of jazz critic Ted Gioia‘s comprehensive book “The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire” (Oxford University Press), Benjamin Schwarz makes a bold, brave declaration, one never previously issued.

Schwarz, the magazine’s literary and national editor, says, in short, that jazz, because it’s not rooted in or inspired by the popular music of its day (or of recent decades), is no longer relevant. Moreover, it simply can’t be. The genre is kaput, out of gas.

Here’s the relevant quote from the article, accompanied by the headline “The End of Jazz”:

“The Songbook, a product of a fleeting set of cultural circumstances when popular, sophisticated music was aimed at musically knowledgeable adults, was the crucial wellspring of jazz. Both jazz and its progenitor are worthy of radical—indeed, reactionary—efforts to preserve them. But despite Gioia’s ardency, there is no reason to believe that jazz can be a living, evolving art form decades after its major source—and the source that linked it to the main currents of popular culture and sentiment—has dried up.”

Sure, the body of music collectively known as the Great American Songbook served as a “wellspring” for jazz musicians from the early swing era to the late bebop period and beyond. And many of those works continue to inspire gigging jazzers on all levels, from your neighborhood restaurant with the piano-and-bass duo to the Blue Note in NYC.

But there were and are many, many forward-thinking jazz musicians whose playing and compositions are not directly tied to the Songbook. The new music may not be tuneful in the manner of older jazz standards, and may not “swing.” Yet it builds firmly on the jazz tradition, and by nearly any definition would be called jazz.

I won’t name artists’ names here — because, inevitably, I’d leave out too many — but tens of thousands of high-profile and lesser known musicians around the globe are actively writing, performing and recording jazz of the highest order. For evidence, check out the heavy hitters topping readers and critics polls in the Village Voice and the major jazz magazines.

For anyone with big ears, attuned to the breadth and depth of what’s happening in the jazz world, the continuing viability and vitality of the music is not so difficult to understand. It doesn’t take a jazz purist to know that jazz is very much alive. Then again, taking to a highly visible national platform and declaring that jazz is dead is a quick and easy way to attract a lot of attention — for a demonstration, check today’s music blogosphere, or your Twitter feed.

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It’s not just writers for national general-interest magazines who have difficulty seeing the big picture, when it comes to jazz.

One writer in one market, “explaining” why a recent jazz festival was so light on jazz, complained about “purist jazz fans” who “griped” that half of the event’s four headlining positions were filled by artists who clearly fell into the categories of blues and Americana/indie.

“We’re not living in a jazz world anymore. Sorry, but that’s the truth,” he wrote, stating the obvious, in a defense of the fest that sounded like an apology.

And then this: “If this were a pure jazz-only event, you have to wonder if it would have made it 33 years at that size, at that venue and with that clout and reputation.”

Reality check: Hundreds of high-profile jazz festivals in the U.S. — Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Monterey — and internationally remain heavily focused on high-quality jazz, and have successfully done so for years. Nobody, “jazz purist” or otherwise, imagines that jazz is a commercially lucrative genre — it’s hardly a quick route to immense wealth or superstardom. And yet, that doesn’t mean jazz festivals shouldn’t focus on, you know, jazz, rather than rock, pop, blues, rap or other music.

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Jazz is dead, and no longer fit to attract crowds to festivals?

Then someone better tell Peter Shapiro, whose company, Dayglo Ventures, is producing NYC’s upcoming Jazz & Colors Festival in collaboration with the Central Park Conservancy.

The free-admission festival, slated to be held Nov. 10 from noon to 4 p.m. on stages throughout Central Park, will feature  small groups and big bands, name artists and newcomers, each playing two sets.  Brice Rosenbloom, founder of the increasingly more influential Winter Jazzfest in NYC, picked the 30 acts, and the programming offers a neat twist: All of the musicians have been asked to play music relevant to the setting and the calendar, including the likes of “Autumn in New York,” “Central Park West,” “Nature Boy,” “Blue Train,” “Nostalgia in Times Square,” “Scrapple From the Apple,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

The impressive, eclectic lineup: Bob Stewart Quintet, Chris Dingman Quartet, Claire Daly Quartet, Doug Wamble Quartet, Gregoire Maret, Jacques Schwartz-Bart Quartet w/ special guest Stephanie McKay, Jason Kao Hwang Trio, Jason Marshall Quartet w/ special guest Hilary Gardner, Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, JC Hopkins Quintet w/ special guest Jazz Horn, JD Allen Quartet, Joel Harrison Quartet, Kahlil Kwame Bell, Kevin Hays Trio, Kimberly Thompson Quartet, Knuffke Stacken duo plus Bill Goodwin, Lakecia Benjamin And Soul Squad, Marc Cary Quartet, Marika Hughes & Bottom Heavy, Mike Mo Quartet, Mitch Frohman’s Latin-Jazz Quartet, Rockjazz pianist ELEW, Roy Campbell Tazz Quartet, Sharel Cassity Quintet, The Jamie Baum Quintet, The Klezmatics, The Mingus Big Band, The Wayne Escoffery Quartet w/ special guest Carolyn Leonhart, YES! Trio w/ Aaron Goldberg, Omer Avital, Ali Jackson, Yosvany Terry Quartet.

For more details, visit the Jazz & Colors site.

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If jazz is dead (2), then someone better tell Blue Note, who just re-signed Wayne Shorter. The great saxophonist, composer and bandleader is returning to the label after more than four decades, having last recorded for Blue Note in 1970, for sessions released as the albums “Odyssey of Iska” and “Moto Grosso “Feio.” He’s since led sessions for Verve, most recently with 2005’s “Beyond the Sound Barrier,” and Columbia.

Shorter, 80, yet another one of those artists still making immensely creative, high-caliber jazz largely built on non-Songbook originals of his own making, will be accompanied by his longstanding quartet members — pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Brian Blade — for “Without a Net,” due for release Feb. 5.

As Jeff Tamarkin writes in Jazz Times: “Without A Net is a nine-track album, all but one of which were recorded live last year in Europe. That exception is “Pegasus,” a 23-minute piece described as a “tone poem” and recorded with the Imani Winds at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The album features six new Shorter compositions, as well as new versions of his tunes “Orbits” (from Miles Davis’ Miles Smiles album) and “Plaza Real” (from the Weather Report album Procession). The set also includes the title song from the 1933 musical film Flying Down To Rio.”

Sax Men: John Ellis, Sherman Irby, Frank Macchia (CD reviews)

Quick reviews of new releases from three saxophonists – three varied approaches to the art of jazz.

John Ellis & Double-Wide, Puppet Mischief (Obliqsound)

The New York tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist, a former Charlie Hunter sideman, honed his chops in New Orleans with the likes of pianist Ellis Marsalis and bassist Walter Payton and still spends time there; his Double-Wide band has turned in infectious performances at Jazz Fest, the Louisiana Music Factory (see below clip from the store, in 2008) and elsewhere around the Crescent City.

That NOLA vibe — street-born brass bands, Mardi Gras culture, a convivial intermingling of multi-ethnic cultures — reigns supreme on Puppet Mischief, on which Ellis is joined by sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis, new addition Brian Coogan on organ, and guests Gregoire Maret and Alan Ferber on harmonica and trombone, respectively. The funk is deep, the pleasure is steep, and the whole thing comes off as an irresistible rolling carnival, with musical cues variously taken from early and modern jazz, circus bands, soundtrack music, vaudeville, and even European folk music.

“Fauxfessor,” a nod to New Orleans’ piano professors (like Professor Longhair), hints at Crescent City rhythms, and the slowly flickering, almost mournful “Carousel,” with its wandering tuba, wah-muted bone and start-stop passages, wouldn’t have been out of place in a Fellini film. “Okra & Tomatoes” is swaggering and punchy, and highlighted by Ellis’s bluesy tenor turn, while instruments rise and fall on the moody “Dewey Dah”  and Maret’s soulful playing is showcased on the title track. The aptly titled “Dubinland Carnival” is a raucous-to-peaceful gem and “This Too Shall Pass” sounds like a vintage New Orleans funeral march, threatening to turn into a slo-mo gospel celebration. Feel it.

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Sherman Irby Quartet, Live at the Otto Club (Black Warrior Records)

Alabama-born Irby, a soul-jazz alto player in the mold of Cannonball Adderley, made inroads on the New York scene — playing with his own band and the likes of pianist Marcus Roberts, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and trumpeter Roy Hargrove — in the late ’90s, and released a pair of CDs on Blue Note. But he’s been a bit under the radar since, aside from playing in Elvin Jones’ last band.

Irby’s fourth disc for his own label documents a February 2008 show in Napoli, Italy, where he led a quartet on standards plus his own “Laura’s Love Song,” a shimmering, Latin-tinged ballad, and  Hargrove’s “Depth.” His sound is as big and warm and blues-drenched as ever, and his dexterity and the free-flow of his ideas are often astonishing; a case in point is the sprawling tete-a-tete with drummer Darrell Green that opens John Coltrane‘s “Countdown.” But the programming, aside from a surprisingly slow and sultry version of the Miles Davis burner “Four,” is on the staid side, and the half-American, half-Italian band is not his best.

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Frank Macchia, Folk Songs for Jazzers (Cacophony, Inc.)

Saxophonist-woodwind player and arranger Macchia, leading a heavy-hitting large jazz ensemble driven by drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Trey Henry, guitarist Grant Geissman and pianist Tom Ranier, takes on American folk songs in a manner that feels simultaneously reverential and tongue-in-cheek. Here it swings hard, there it’s cutesy, everywhere the compositions boast an appealing array of instrumental colors and cross-cutting figures.

Singer Tierney Sutton, not unexpectedly, handily finds her way into a haunting version of “Red River Valley,” while Ellis Hall gives a lift to a shifting-gears redesign of “Amazing Grace.” The leader gets some well-utilized solo time on a hard-charging, Latin-edged “Skip to My Lou,” a mellow “Tom Dooley” and a swirling, almost eerie “Kumbaya.” Not your dad’s big-band album.