Wayne Shorter Rides Again, Via His Sprawling “Emanon”

Few veteran (read: older) jazzers find their way into the pop culture conversation as effortlessly and effectively as Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist/composer probably best known for his work with Miles’ Second Great Quintet and electric-jazz giants Weather Report.

The former group, with the two joined by the rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and the late Tony Williams, remains a standard bearer, in terms of what jazz is about, and what jazz can do. And the latter, with Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius and others, still stands as one of my two favorite fusion bands.

And so it goes with “Emanon” (Blue Note), Shorter’s just-released sprawling set featuring three discs of music and a related graphic novel. Call it Shorter as superhero, as his brilliant quartet, with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, alone on some tracks and elsewhere joined by the 34-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

It’s an ambitious collection of music, drawn in part from Shorter compositions that first appeared on the group’s “Without a Net” album, released in 2013. Bottom line: Inspired compositions and arrangements, high-level group interplay, surprising improvisations. Jazz for now, jazz for the future.

In the music’s sweep and grandeur, there’s something cinematic about these pieces. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising — Shorter is a major film buff, as I learned during a wide-ranging interview with him long ago for the Tampa Tribune, advancing his quartet’s appearance at Tampa Theatre. Our talk constituted one of my most memorable interviews with a musician, during my days on staff with daily newspapers.

“Emanon” (read as “no name” backwards) has all the right publications paying attention — even Rolling Stone, which seldom pays attention to jazz these days, and the New York Times, which notably has cut way back on its jazz coverage. My full review of the CD will appear in a forthcoming issue of Relix magazine.

Some “Emanon” reviews and features:

With ‘Emanon,’ Jazz Elder Wayne Shorter Grandly Sweeps the Stars — NPR.org (Nate Chinen)

Wayne Shorter Unveils a Sprawling Multimedia Opus on ‘Emanon’Rolling Stone (Hank Shteamer)

Wayne Shorter, Jazz’s Abstruse Elder, Isn’t Done Innovating Yet New York Times (Giovanni Russonnello)

With ‘Emanon,’ Legendary Saxophonist Wayne Shorter Finds a Way to Marry Comic Books and JazzLos Angeles Times (Sean J. O’Connell)

At 85, Wayne Shorter is Still Pursuing the UnknownBoston Globe

‘Emanon’ by Wayne Shorter: Grand Ambitions on Full DisplayWall Street Journal

 

 

 

 

Public Libraries For the Win!

(BOOKS)

books

Libraries have been a big part of my education since elementary school, when I regularly checked out books from the libraries at Cleveland Court and Southwest elementaries in my home town, Lakeland, Florida. I also recall getting my parents to buy me some books at the annual Scholastic “book fairs” at those schools.

In high school, I researched and wrote several papers via the resources of the Lakeland Public Library, still located on the shores of the beautiful Lake Morton, home to a family of nesting swans and the annual Mayfaire by-the-Lake art festival.

There, at age 14 or 15, I checked out one of my earliest “real jazz” albums, a vinyl (of course) copy of Miles Davis’s “Milestones.” I distinctly recall listening to the record, and then asking my Lakeland High School band director, Ron Wilder, why Miles made so many “mistakes.”

(BTW, Ron remains a first-class trumpeter, and he played on two tracks on the 2016 CD release by my band, Acme Jazz Garage).

Books, of course, can open doors for kids, particular those for whom buying a book might be out of the question.

“A kid who thinks critically and reads” can go far in life,” as bestselling author Karin Slaughter said Saturday at Bouchercon, the huge annual crime/mystery fiction conference, this year held in St. Petersburg. Someone who develops those skills will have the opportunity to find a job, and contribute to society.

“It’s so much cheaper to give a kid a book than to imprison him for the rest of his life,” said Slaughter, founder of the Save the Libraries project. The initiative has raised more than $300k for the DeKalb County (Georgia) Library Foundation. She writes about her fight for libraries here.

“According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community,” according to sociologist Eric Klinenberg, writing for the New York Times.

” … in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed.”

Read more here. 

All of this is to say that … public libraries are important. Get a library card today — or renew yours if it has expired.

Support libraries when and where you can.

 

“Making ‘Treme’ ” – Tonight on HBO

Just got the word from Basin Street Records head Mark Samuels: “Making ‘Treme,’ ” a behind-the-scenes look at “Treme,” a new series focused on New Orleans music and culture, post-Katrina, airs tonight on HBO.

Kermit Ruffins, the charismatic trumpeter and singer who plays himself on the series — like anyone else could step into that role — has recorded for Basin Street since 1998. His latest CD, “Livin’ a Treme Life,” was released last year. “Treme” debuts on April 11.

Check out Kermit’s version of “St. James Infirmary,” recorded at Tipitina’s, below.

And here’s a long New York Times piece, written by Wyatt Mason, on how David Simon (“The Wire”) went about creating “Treme.”

Key graph from Mason’s story: “As much as crime of every kind was central to “The Wire,” music is the focus of “Treme.” New Orleans-born and Juilliard-trained Wendell Pierce (William “Bunk” Moreland in “The Wire”) plays a trombone player looking for any gig he can get; Steve Zahn plays a feckless singer-songwriter with an allergy to paying work. As in “The Wire,” many nonactors, in this case professional musicians, have been cast in “Treme” in leading roles: the violinist Lucia Micarelli plays a street musician; a charismatic local trumpeter, Kermit Ruffins, plays himself; and dozens of other musicians — from Dr. John to Elvis Costello — appear in smaller parts. The cast is different from “The Wire,” however, because a number of more famous actors are part of “Treme.” John Goodman plays an English professor-novelist enraged by federal and municipal post-Katrina intransigence; the Academy Award-nominee Melissa Leo is a civil rights attorney with a soft spot for starving artists; and Clarke Peters, the distinguished stage and screen actor memorable in “The Wire” as the miniature-furniture-making detective Lester Freamon, plays an independent contractor and a Mardi Gras Indian chief.”

NY Times Critic Ben Ratliff Talks To Readers

Want to ask a question of a New York Times music critic, actually get a response, and perhaps see the exchange published?

Now's the time.
 
Ben Ratliff, who writes about jazz, rock and pop for the Times, and penned
last year's acclaimed The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music, a collection
of interviews with jazz greats, this week is making a point of responding
to readers' questions.
 
Below is the announcement of the feature, and an initial q&a.
 
Ratliff offers a quite sound response to a question regarding the relatively small
audience for jazz. To that, I would add:
 
1)The if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods truth: If the average music listener/consumer
doesn't read or hear about jazz (or, for that matter, blues or world music or
altcountry), then how does he or she know that that music exists? There is often
 -- but not always -- a direct correlation between the music that gets the most
hype, and the Billboard charts. This is related to the below:
 
2)FAR too many music "critics" spend the bulk of their time/energy
chasing celebrity culture, rather than writing actual music. Case in point:
The acres of forests giving their lives this week for oodles of stories on
the allegedly new and improved "American Idol." What's that abomination
of a "reality" show have to do with music that matters?
Nothing.
 
Related to the above is an irony: The folks who continue to be loyal to
newspapers, in print, are generally older readers. Within that group are
those who cite arts and entertainment coverage as a primary reason for
continuing to purchase newspapers. Many of those older readers have
little use for coverage of '"American Idol" and the likes of Miley Cyrus
and the Jonas Brothers, etc. 
 
Here's the irony: The younger audiences (Teens? Tweens?) who are interested
in that kind of stuff have already abandoned print papers for online sources, so
they're not being served when that coverage appears in print. And the readers
still loyal to print newspapers are simply annoyed when papers emphasize
teen/pop celebrity coverage at the expense of arts/music of substance. So -- to 
clarify -- they're catering to an audience that's already gone and in the process
pissing off regular readers. 
 
Smart thinking, huh? 
 
Here's the link to the ask-the-readers feature. And below is the announcement
published in the Times:
 
January 12, 2009 
Talk to the Newsroom: 
Ben Ratliff, Jazz and Pop Critic 
 
Ben Ratliff, music critic, is answering questions from readers Jan. 12-16, 
2009. Questions may be e-mailed to askthetimes@nytimes.com. 
 
Mr. Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic at the New York Times since 1996. 
 
Born in New York City in 1968, he grew up in London and Rockland County, 
N.Y., and studied Classics at Columbia University. He is the author of 
"Jazz: A Critic¹s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings" (2002), 
"Coltrane: The Story of a Sound" (2007) and "The Jazz Ear: Conversations 
Over Music" (2008). 
 
Among hundreds of reviews, reported stories and obituaries in these pages, 
he has written about Duke Ellington, Slick Rick, Shirley Caesar, Dorival 
Caymmi, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Paycheck, Cat Power, Slayer, 
Donald Lambert, the Stooges, Tito Puente, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Gal Costa, Bo 
Diddley, Bebo Valdes, the Texas A&M University Marching Storm, community 
singing in East Lansing, Mich., the praise-rock house bands at the High 
Desert Church in Victorville, Calif., and much else. 
 
These discussions will continue in coming weeks with other Times editors and 
reporters. 
 
Why Isn't Jazz Audience Bigger? 
 
Q. Why isn't there more of an audience for "straight-ahead" jazz? Or put in 
a different way, how come established jazz artists who have been active 
since the '50s or early '60s are given only niche status (or no visibility 
at all) by the media? Do you feel the media plays a role/responsibiltiy 
regarding the public awareness of such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Barry 
Harris, Cedar Walton, for example? Why is it that the general (U.S.) public 
have no awareness or appreciation of this genre? 
-- Paul Loubriel 
 
A. Paul: This is a big question. I'll try to hit some parts of it but I 
probably won't answer it to your satisfaction. 
 
In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and 
far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to 
do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When 
you dance to music (in all ways -- partner dancing, stepping, headbanging -- 
just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. 
A lot of people born since 1960 don't feel that they own jazz. 
 
Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn't know 
who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media -- obviously we're not 
talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the 
cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you're talking about) 
-- doesn't, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream 
jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements. 
 
Mainstream publications, generally, want to run music stories about what's 
new or radically different, or about trends. (This could get into a larger 
issue about the shallowness of the general perception of "news.") With 
classical music, they put a lot of stock in premieres or big, notable new 
compositions. In jazz there are few premieres and few big, notable new 
compositions. One has to sniff out what's interesting, however it presents 
itself: it could be a one-night gig attended by 15 people or a sold-out run. 
 
As for the general public, they're not buying albums as much anymore, and as 
much as jazz is a recordings medium at all, it's still an album art. 
 
I believe that jazz needs more jazz clubs (with small cover charges), 
because it's still a social music. The way to know about Cedar Walton in 
2009 is to go see him at the Village Vanguard. 
 
By the way, I see that The Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times, in 
reviews and articles and listings, since 1980. Not too bad. 

Music Blogs Sprouting; and Hentoff Exits the Voice

With the widespread elimination of arts-writing positions and numerous layoffs of talented writers from newspapers, it’s probably inevitable: More and more music journalists are running their own blogs.

The upside: Pure freedom to write about anything at all, at any time. No more waiting around for some editor, somewhere, to give approval to a review of any particular CD or concert.

Nobody to stand in the way of publicly asking questions, like:

1)Will Obama actually do anything to help the cause of jazz and jazz education, or is he all talk?

2)If Obama does care about jazz, then why aren’t jazz musicians front and center among Inauguration Day concerts?

3)Related to the above, when will Oprah start featuring jazz and blues musicians on her show?

4)How and why did the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) collapse? Or, more to the point, how, exactly, did that organization manage to keep its financial woes hidden for so long?

5)When will another national jazz organization come along to replace IAJE, and how long will it take for that organization to put together an annual jazz meeting as impressive and beneficial — in terms of great music, worthwhile clinics and the quality of networking — as those put on by the IAJE?

Nothing like setting one’s own agenda, and on the way helping to shine a light on deserving music and musicians.

The downside to running an independent music blog: Unless one is a celebrity or a quite well-established writer, it’s all but impossible to gain a large following.

Ken Franckling, a longtime jazz writer and photographer, celebrated the end of ’08 and the start of the new year by launching his own blog – Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes.

For his most recent post, he noted what has to count for the most foolhardy newspaper layoff of 2008 — Brilliant jazz and civil rights scribe Nat Hentoff was let go from the Village Voice AFTER 50 YEARS at that publication. The Voice, founded by Norman Mailer, and once regarded as a bastion of blue-chip arts writing, was bought by New Times media in 2005.

As noted in the New York Times story on the layoffs, Hentoff’s column will continue to be carried by the United Media Syndicate, and he will continue to contribute pieces to the Wall Street Journal. Hentoff’s latest book, At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene, is scheduled for publication this year.

Speaking of jazz blogs, here are several others, some of which are already included in my blogroll (all are penned by music journalists, unless otherwise indicated):

New York Times writer Nate Chinen wrote about jazz blogs, and other web outlets for jazz information and music, in a piece published in late 2006.

Do you have any suggestions for jazz blogs that ought to be included in this post? If so, send them my way.