RIP, Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela was a rarity — A global jazz star who didn’t hail from the US.

Born in South Africa, the trumpeter and flugelhorn player studied in the UK & US, where he befriended Coltrane, Miles and Mingus, and gained international acclaim via 1968 hit song “Grazing in the Grass” and other recordings.

Later, Masekela came to attention among even more listeners thanks to his work with Paul Simon on the 1986 “Graceland” recording and tours, and on Simon’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” album, released in 1982.

Masekela, also an anti-apartheid activist, died Tuesday at age 78.

Check out these print, video, and audio pieces:

New York Times — https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/obituaries/hugh-masekela-dies.html

Billboard — https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/obituary/8095489/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-legend-dies-78

JazzTimes — https://jazztimes.com/news/trumpeter-hugh-masekela-78-dies/

DownBeat — http://downbeat.com/news/detail/masekela-succumbs-to-cancer-at-78

The Guardian — https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/23/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-trumpeter-dies-aged-78

CNN — https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/23/africa/hugh-masekela-dies-intl/index.html

NPR — https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/23/579885226/hugh-masekela-father-of-south-african-jazz-dies-at-78

 

 

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Disc of the Day: Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle”

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse” (Resonance Records)

Before Wes Montgomery became the commercially successful star guitarist known simply as Wes by fans, he was, of course, a burning bebop guitarist of the highest order. “Smokin’ in Seattle” handily captures the calm before his career explosion, with Wes and longtime collaborator Wynton Kelly’s trio joining forces for a set at popular Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded live — via four-channel tube mixer — for a radio show hosted by Jim Wilke. Shortly later, the 43-year-old guitarist’s Verve album “Goin Out of My Head” started climbing the R&B charts on the road to selling a million copies and scoring a Grammy.

Wes couldn’t have found more suitable musical partners than pianist Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb (both ex-Miles) and young bassist Ron McClure, recently with Maynard Ferguson. The guitarist and Kelly’s original trio, with another former Miles sideman, Paul Chambers, had notably worked together on the live “Full House” and the widely acclaimed “Smokin’ at the Half Note”; the latter disc was called “the gold standard” by guitarist Pat Metheny, a Wes devotee,

It’d be hard to beat Montgomery’s soulful “West Coast Blues,” with its inventive twists and the guitarist’s unpredictable, typically brilliant and rambunctious solo work, or Sonny Rollins’ uptempo “Oleo,” which closes the set but, unfortunately, fades out midway through the tune, as does “Blues in F” (blame radio-broadcast conventions). There’s lots more to savor here, including the start-stop head and steady swing of Montgomery’s “Jingles,” the rich balladry of Bob Haggart’s “What’s New?”, and a Jobim tune, “O Morro Nao Vez.” And four tracks featuring Kelly’s trio minus Wes.

As if that weren’t enough, the set is contained in the kind of vessel that makes one happy CDs are still being produced: the beautifully designed package includes a 40-page booklet featuring contributions by Cobb, McClure, Wilke, disc producer Zev Feldman, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Pat Metheny, and jazz journalist Paul de Barros. It’s a keeper.

Jimmy Cobb

Ron McClure

Resonance Records

 

 

 

Shorter Gets a Guggenheim

wayne shorterThe disappointing news: Only one jazz artist received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year.

The good news: Wayne Shorter has won a Guggenheim for his work as a composer of brilliant, challenging but melodic and inviting jazz tunes, including the likes of “Footprints” and “Fee-Fi-F0-Fum.”

The tenor and soprano saxophonist, leader of his own remarkable quartet, a co-founder of fusion heavyweights Weather Report and an integral player and writer in the second great Miles Davis Quintet, “has left an indelible mark on the development of music for the last half-century,” according to the official announcement of the award.

Shorter, 83, also recognized as an NEA Jazz Master, is one of 178 US and Canadian honorees in the arts, sciences and humanities.

For some quick recommendations of Shorter’s best material, check out Howard Mandel’s column on Shorter.

 

 

Best Jazz of 2014: Tom Harrell, Chick Corea, Frank Kimbrough, Snarky Puppy & more

In 2014, Jazz meant a profusion of intriguing and sometimes provocative releases by veterans (Tom Harrell) and young stars (Ambrose Akinmusire) alike, the music as the nominal subject and/or driving force of the score in several films (“Whiplash,” “Low Down,” “Birdman”), and several unfunny satires of jazzers, followed by dust-ups in the jazz community (the Sonny Rollins “interview” in the The New Yorker, etc.).

Full-time institutions of jazz — namely Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and SFJAZZ in San Francisco — continued to flourish, with many, varied events, as did several competitions (Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition), and a profusion of festivals in the United States and abroad, although some of the festivals continued to lean heavy in the pop/rock direction while de-emphasizing their middle name.

Jazz clubs in NYC are still going strong, and still at the heart of the jazz world, as I was reminded during visits to the venerable Village Vanguard (for Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet; see my review) and Birdland (for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with my friend and former bandmate Jonathan Powell on trumpet; see my review). There are dozens more great venues, of course, in NYC.

More great jazz was released than one person could hear, of course. Here are 10 stand-outs, in a list I was asked to contribute to JazzTimes, NPR Music, the Jazz Journalists Association. and elsewhere.

TOP 10

tom harrell trip

1. Tom Harrell, “Trip” (HighNote)

2. Chick Corea, “Trilogy” (Concord)

3. Frank Kimbrough, “Quartet” (Palmetto)

4. Snarky Puppy, “We Like It Here” (Ropeadope)

5. Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, “Viper’s Drag” (Impulse)

6. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, “Landmarks” (Blue Note)

7. Ambrose Akinmusire, “The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint” (Blue Note)

8. Stanton Moore, “Conversations” (The Royal Potato Family)

9. Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, “Juice” (Indirecto)

10. Keith Jarrett-Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM)

HISTORICAL/REISSUES

1. Charlie Haden and Jim Hall, “Charlie Haden-Jim Hall” (Impulse)

2. John Coltrane, “Offering: Live at Temple University” (Impulse)

3. Miles Davis, “Miles at the Fillmore — Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3” (Columbia/Legacy)

4. Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions” (Omnivore)

5. Thelonious Monk, “Paris 1969” (Blue Note)

VOCAL

  • Tierney Sutton,  “Paris Sessions” (BFM Jazz)

DEBUT

  • Ben Flocks, “Battle Mountain” (West Cliff)

LATIN

  • Arturo O’Farrill, “The Offense of the Drum” (Motema)

 

“Kind of Blue” Redux: Brilliant Art-Project Gambit or Gimmick?

The critically acclaimed NYC band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, led by bassist Moppa Elliott, often offers jazz and jazz-rooted music that’s as openly provocative as the group’s name.They’re a group of first-rate players who mix original compositions with evocations — and, sometimes, detonations — of jazz from other eras.

“It’s a jazz quartet with a diligent grasp of history but an anarchic take on convention,” as Nate Chinen wrote a 2009 review in the New York Times.

And now they’ve gone and done it. The group, for now a quintet with Elliott, trumpeter Peter Evans, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Kevin Shea, is preparing to release a note-for-note remake of Miles Davis’s classic “Kind of Blue.”

The album, “Blue,” is due Oct. 14 on Elliott’s Hot Cup Records, with a CD release concert slated for Nov. 9 at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York.

So is it an audacious move, an inspired art project — you know, re-contextualizing vintage sounds — that will yield some kind of unusual effect?

Or is it simply an attention-getting gimmick, the equivalent of Gus Van Sant’s color shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho”? You know, rather pointless. As in, why not spend all that time, energy (and studio cost) by coming up with creative new versions and re-arrangements of the music rather than simply duplicating it?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Meanwhile … wondering what drummer Jimmy Cobb, the last surviving “Kind of Blue” musician, has to say about it. Also, I’m assuming that Irabagon, on the recording, in addition to playing Cannonball Adderley’s alto parts, also plays Coltrane’s tenor parts. Who will play those parts for the live performances?

 

 

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.”

 

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine Talk Ride Cymbals

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine On Ride Cymbals

What to look for in jazz’s essential cymbal

It begins from the inside out, explains Peter Erskine, the Weather Report veteran and noted bandleader and educator also recognized for his work with Steely Dan, Diana Krall, John Abercrombie and others. “What you hear in your head is what you’ll draw out of any instrument. I expect the cymbal to do something and I can usually draw that out,” Erskine said recently from Brooklyn, his home base while playing—in the pit and onstage—for the New York City Opera’s production of Anna Nicole.

A 22-inch Zildjian K Constantinople medium ride is Erskine’s go-to ride cymbal, but two other 22-inch rides have called his name. “The [K Constantinople] Renaissance model that was developed by Zildjian with Adam Nussbaum is a tremendous ride cymbal, not quite as dark as the [regular K] Constantinople. It’s remarkably versatile. And the [forthcoming Zildjian Kerope] is the closest thing to 1950s Ks that were played by all the drummers in the ’60s. … I’m pretty flipped by it.” The most important quality? “I look for clarity,” says Erskine.

Twenty-seven years ago, Erskine joined Elvin Jones on a memorable outing to the Zildjian factory in Istanbul. “Instead of going tip-tap and that kind of thing, Elvin took both sticks and just started roaring on the cymbal, playing on the edges with the shaft of the sticks for a good minute or two,” Erskine remembers. “There was this wash of white noise. Elvin was smiling and playing this thing and he got it moving. He really opened the cymbal up, got it warmed up and loose.

“That’s one of the important things, ultimately, when you’re trying out a cymbal: See how quickly it recovers from a crash or that roaring sound back to stick articulation. Any good cymbal should function as both a ride and a crash. Any of your drumming heroes, you’ll spot pretty easily that they’ll play that way. Tony [Williams] and Elvin and Mel Lewis said that, too.”

NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Cobb, whose heartbeat ride playing and impeccable swing fueled Miles’ classic Kind of Blue album, is working with Sabian to find the right cymbals to replace a set stolen during an overseas gig. The latter cymbals, including 20-inch and 18-inch Zildjian rides, were loaned to him by Mel Lewis as a temporary replacement for another set that was stolen.

Cobb, recently heard leading his trio at the Village Vanguard and continuing to play with his “So What” Band, the 4 Generations of Miles group and Javon Jackson’s We Four: Celebrating John Coltrane project, concentrates on tonal aspects and decay rates: “One I had was between bright and dark—I could hear the beat on the cymbal, hear the wood on the cymbal and hear the quality of the cymbal. For me, I don’t want it to be overbearing. I want to be able to hear the beat and not have it resound too long. I want a quick, sharp beat to it.

“With Miles,” he continues, “one time I was using a Zildjian with a couple of tacks in it, a sizzle. My setup was a 20-inch ride [on the right] and an 18-inch ride on the left. So I would play the big one when I was playing with horns and trumpets and the little one when I was playing with the piano or the bass.”
The best ride cymbal, Cobb argues, is the most versatile. “I look for one that sounds good in all kinds of situations, a cymbal that can be substantial all the time—it fits most rooms you play in,” he says. “That’s hard to find. You have to go through a lot of cymbals.”

(A personal note: Some years ago I had the great privilege of playing bass in an entire concert with the great Jimmy Cobb, and a stage full of great players, including Larry Willis, Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring, Rob Bargad and Longineau Parsons. It was a memorial concert for Nat Adderley, at Branscomb Auditorium on the FSC campus in Lakeland, Fla. I had been asked to bring my bass for Walter Booker to play, as he had previously liked playing my bass at the Child of the Sun Jazz festivals in Lakeland. He was felled by asthma, and I was tapped to play at the last minute).