Straight Ahead: 16th Annual JJA Awards; UF jazz prof/trumpeter Gary Langford honored; Herb Snitzer a photography nominee

Jazz musicians and the music’s movers and shakers will be honored in 40 categories at the 16th annual Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Jazz Awards, slated for June 20 at the Blue Note in NYC.

Pianists Horace Silver (left) and Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter are up for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards.

Saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods and Joe Lovano, pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarists John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell,  drummer Paul Motian, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and singers Kurt Elling, Freddy Cole, Tierney Sutton and Karrin Allyson are among the other veteran musicians nominated for awards, as well as rising-star talents including bassist Esperanza Spalding,  trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, guitarist Mary Halvorson, vibist Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland.

(A Tampa Bay area note: The gifted St. Petersburg-based photographer Herb Snitzer, whose work was featured at the Tampa Museum of Art in recent months, is up for the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography)

Organ Monk, a quartet led by Greg Lewis, will play the event, along with two duos: singer Paulette McWilliams and pianist Nat Adderley, Jr., and guitarist Gabriel Marin and bassist John Ferrara.

The ceremonies will also honor esteemed jazz writer Albert Murray with the “Music and Words” award, co-sponsored by the JJA and the Jazz Foundation of America.

A number of Jazz Heroes–  “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” — will be honored at a series of affiliated JJA Jazz Awards satellite parties in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Schenectady, and Tucson, as well as locations in Ca nada and New Zealand.

Two of those parties will be held in Florida — June 20 at B-Sharp’s Jazz Club, and June 21 at Leonardo’s 706 in Gainesville. I’m happy to say that the jazz hero being honored in Gainesville is my former jazz band director at the University of Florida, the gifted trumpeter and very influential educator Gary Langford. The Marty Liquori Jazztet will play that event.

Here’s the official citation for the award, as written by JJA member Dustin Garlitz:

“R. Gary Langford is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who as UF’s Director of Jazz Studies from 1981-2006 regularly taught a popular jazz history course that introduced thousands of undergraduates to the music. A trumpeter who, during his graduate studies at North Texas State University was a soloist with the One O’Clock (Jazz) Lab Band, he’s also an accomplished arranger and composer.

Gary held offices in the International Association of Jazz Educators, Florida Unit (President from 1984-1986), and was honored by IAJE in 1982-1983 as its Outstanding Jazz Educator.  He has been the recipient of many other honors: Teacher of the Year from UF’s College of Fine Arts, a TIP award for excellence in teaching, twice a finalist for the prestigious UF Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award, the Foundation For The Promotion of Music’s 1997 Musician of the Year and the 1998 College Music Educator of the Year for the state of Florida (conferred by the Florida Music Educators Association).  In 1999 he was awarded the prestigious “Distinguished Service to Music Medal” by Kappa Kappa Psi, the national band fraternity and he was named most co-UF Teacher of the Year for 2006-2007.

He has directed numerous county, district and all-state bands, including the Alachua County Youth Orchestra; he’s been music director and conductor for more than 25 years.  He’s a Gainesville Jazz Hero deserving wider recognition, and thanks to the JJA is getting some.”

More info on the Gainesville event is here.

The NYC Jazz Awards gala is a fundraiser for the 24-year-old JJA, which numbers jazz writers, broadcasters, photographers, new media producers and other supporters of jazz journalism among its membership (I’m a longstanding voting member).

For more info on the JJA, visit the organization’s site – Jazz House. Complete details on the JJA Jazz Awards 2012 is available here.

The Village Vanguard at 75

Belated happy 75th birthday wishes to the Village Vanguard, the basement jazz temple on Seventh Avenue South opened by Max Gordon, who launched the nightclub as a home for folk music, poetry, and comedy.

I’ve been privileged to visit the Vanguard — intimate, acoustically pristine, its staff eminently respectful of the music and devoted to the arts of jazz playing and listening — quite a few times over the years, for shows by the likes of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and an all-star group gathered to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.

For that 1985 occasion, I met and interviewed Gordon, who passed away in 1991; his widow, Lorraine, subsequently operated the club. If/when I track down the piece I wrote for The Villager, during my brief stint as a grad student at NYU, I’ll pull some quotes/observations and include them here.

How and why has the 123-seat Vanguard survived, while other famed Greenwich Village jazz clubs, including Seventh Avenue South, Sweet Basil, and Bradley’s, have not?

“It’s not fancy,” as Lorraine Gordon told Lara Pellegrinelli for a story published at NPR.org. “It’s not pretentious. It doesn’t serve food. It doesn’t take credit cards. It doesn’t allow cell phones or cameras. It doesn’t do a lot of things, but it does give good music.”

The Vanguard celebrated its 75th last week with a residency by saxophonist Joe Lovano’s Us Five, with pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummer Otis Brown and Francisco Mela. Sad to say that I couldn’t be on hand for any of those performances, but happy to report that I’ll get the chance to see the group in late April at Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

More than 100 jazz albums have been recorded at the club, starting with a 1957 classic capturing performances by saxophonist Sonny Rollins‘ pianoless trios.

Gordon’s “Live at the Village Vanguard,” published in 1982, remains the essential biography of the Vanguard’s first half-century. Lorraine Gordon’s bio, which I’ve yet to read, “Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life In and Out of Jazz Time,” co-written by Barry Singer, was published in 2006 to great acclaim.

And the music isn’t slowing down: The Vanguard’s schedule includes upcoming performances by drummer Al Foster‘s quartet (March 2-7), and trumpeter Payton’s quintet (March 9-14).

And a March 16-21 appearance by drummer Paul Motian‘s trio with pianist Jason Moran and saxophonist Greg Osby looks to be one of the highlights of New York’s spring jazz season. Motian doesn’t tour, but he’s playing the Vanguard show to support a new CD with Moran and saxophonist Chris Potter, Lost in a Dream (ECM), due for release March 9.

Gary Peacock: “You’re Always at the Beginning” (Bass Player magazine)

Jazz bass great Gary Peacock is best known for his quarter-century’s worth of work with drummer Jack DeJohnette in pianist Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio.

But he’s also released a long list of intriguing albums as a leader, and such projects as last year’s Insight,  a duo project with pianist Marc Copland.

I recently spoke with Peacock for an interview published in Bass Player magazine. Check out the story online here, or read my somewhat extended version, below:

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More than 25 years into his collaboration with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette, digging deep into the American Songbook and finding dazzling musical insights in pop chestnuts and jazz standards, and Gary Peacock isn’t so sure that the gig is permanent. “There are no guarantees in that group,” Peacock says from his home in small-town Claryville, in upstate New York, where he relocated from Westchester in 1993. “So every time that we go to play it’s the first time we’re going to play and the last time we’re going to play. We make it so that we can be totally present with the music. I hear their music imbued with the same kind of dedication and same kind of commitment.”

To be sure, the so-called Standards Trio, a critical and commercial success on recordings and concerts around the globe, is likely to go on indefinitely. And the group’s prominence owes in no small measure to Peacock’s penchant for following his muse, his confirmed identity as a musical seeker. That open-mindedness led the Idaho-born musician to drop piano and drums at 21, in 1956, and migrate to bass. Within the year, he had left Army life in Europe and moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly found work with the likes of saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper, pianist Paul Bley, and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Peacock’s long and fabled career has encompassed work in mainstream jazz and free jazz, stints with Miles Davis in 1964 and 1965, a self-imposed hiatus from music in the late ’60s, and a string of solo albums. Most recently, he has applied his highly creative soloing, heartbeat-steady walking, and gifts as a composer to trio and duo recordings with pianist Marc Copland. And that long-running gig with Jarrett and DeJohnette? There’s no end in sight.

You live in a rural area. What effect does that have on your playing and your composing?

It’s very, very supportive. It’s quiet. The mind quiets down just because the atmosphere’s quiet. If I need excitement, I can always go into the city. It’s much easier to get into a daily routine here than in the city. The external noise from the car horns was very distracting. Living where it’s quiet, I can sustain concentration.

Do you play bass every day?

Yes, every day. I have a very strict routine. I get up early, at five or six o’clock, and have tea and then sit and do Zazen (meditation). I have yogurt and coffee and then play the bass for an hour and a half or two hours. The morning is very patterned, a real routine. I usually don’t answer the phone until 10 o clock in the morning. And then after that, I do whatever business I have to take care of, answering emails or making calls.

Are there any particular exercises that you play?

I don’t really work out of a book. What I’ve been doing for years is basically trusting my ears and listening and asking myself what’s coming up to work on. It may be an arpeggio, it may be tenthing, or breathing. I spend a lot of time just improvising.

How do you describe your physical relationship with the bass?

There’s the physical aspect, and the intellectual and psychological, emotional aspect and there’s the intuitive aspect of it. There is a physical relationship between the actual performer and the instrument and I mean that literally. It’s the physical relationship that very often is not stressed, is not considered enough.

You’ve talked about approaching each playing experience as if you were a beginner. What do you mean by that?

You’re always at the beginning. That’s an attitude that can be understood intellectually. It’s an attitude that can be conceptualized. If it becomes real, then it does change things. If you’ve come close to death a few times or what you thought was death, you’ve realized there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be alive in the next instant. So my approach to playing is the realization that there are no guarantees anywhere. So where do I want to be, what kind of state to do I want to be in when I’m playing? It helped me to be really focused in a profound way and be really present.

Did you have that feeling the first time you played with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, on your album “Tales of Another” (1977)?

Yes. On that recording, I had written some free pieces. One of the free pieces was “Major Major” and there weren’t any changes, it was just a head. Keith said, “What do you want to do when you finish the melody?” I said, “I’ll just do whatever comes next.” Keith said, “Oh, okay.” It was where that “okay” was coming from that made a difference. He knew what I was talking about. That was a special moment for me because it was very clear that we were on the same page. (When they began playing) it was real clear that he absolutely understood.

Do you feel like you have a different connection with those guys than you have had with other musicians?

My experience with Keith and Jack is unique. The experience I had with Paul Motian and Bill Evans is unique. The experience I had with Paul Motian and Paul Bley is unique. Not the same, and not different. There are musicians that a person has a certain affinity with. It’s kind of like an acre of ground, very very fertile ground, and in that ground there are flowers in all different shapes and color and sizes, and different longevities. And at the same time they come from the same undeniable source, the same ground. That’s as close as I can get to an analogy of the experiences I’ve had with the different bands I’ve worked with.

Is “Insight” a project that you had wanted to do for a while?

We’ve only done a couple of duo performances. It’s something I like to do because of the bare-ass nakedness of it. No other support is going on except for what’s going on with us. I’ve always felt comfortable in duo settings whether with piano or with guitar like Ralph Towner. There are nuances that I would naturally hear that I would play, whereas with drums I probably wouldn’t. It does make a difference. It’s something that we both enjoyed and looked forward to doing.

When you first began playing bass, you made very rapid progress.

I was woodshedding and jamming with people, playing blues in all 12 keys. I had a Simandl method book, boring as hell. I went through that pizzicato, and realized very quickly that what I was really after I wasn’t going to get out of a book. I’d been playing a little less than a year and Bud Shank and Bob Cooper came over for a European tour and they were looking for a bass player and I got the gig. And then I went back to Los Angeles and was there for about five years, working with just about everybody in LA. I realized one morning that I had to go to New York.

Having had a background playing drums and piano, did you come at the bass with some advantages?

I think any bass player should sit down to a set of drums and play drums so they get a sense of it. And for sure they should spend some time at the piano. That’s for ear development, particularly for being able to intuit harmony. The keyboard, the acoustic piano, is the source for hearing any kind of tonal relationships, even if you’re getting into free jazz or stuff where you’re not playing tonal music. The lessons you learn transcend tonality. Years and years ago, just before I moved to New York, Scott LaFaro came in town and we hung out at his place. He put on a record. It was Anton Webern. It was dubbed atonal. What was interesting was that I was into Bartok, particularly the quartets, something that I listened to daily. That I could hear. In Scott’s case it was Webern. It was 15 years before I started listening to Webern again. When I did I said “Whoa, I hear what’s happening.” There are short little melodic fragments – 12-tone rows. I suddenly realized, “This person really deeply understood tonality.”

Was Scott Lafaro one of the players who had a major impact on your jazz conception?

Yes, and Paul Chambers, and Ray Brown — there wasn’t anybody that I wasn’t listening to. When I first started playing, when I got to L.A. I had two books that I made of my own transcriptions — one was transcriptions of Ray Brown, his walking lines and choice of notes. One was Red Mitchell’s solos that I copied from his records. I used those books as etudes. It was something that was real to me I didn’t have any fear at all that I’d become a clone. Doing the transcriptions was wonderful ear development. You really have to put in the time and the energy and the willingness.

Were there others whose music you transcribed, and learned from?

Of course. Miles Davis, just in terms of phrasing and intuition and sound. Stan Getz. Pianists from Horace Silver to Wynton Kelly. Red Garland, then later Bill Evans, and Brubeck for a little while. Russ Freeman. Chet Baker, too.

You’ve said that Miles taught you a lot about the art of listening. How so?

He didn’t miss one thing. He heard everything that was happening all the time. I could hear that he was hearing it. There was that kind of focus, that kind of attention, that kind of commitment to what’s happening. It was a great experience really a great lesson. Miles was a great teacher, without teaching. He didn’t teach everything, or anything, and yet taught everything.

Were there other leaders along the way who had a big impact on your playing?

In terms of listening, that certainly happens with Keith and Jack and it also is an integral aspect of what Mark and I play, although very differently.

Do you have plans for more solo recordings?

I’m looking at a solo recording project for the early part of next year.

Unaccompanied?

Yes. It’s something I’ve been threatening to do for years. I think I’m starting to feel like, “Yeah, I’m ready now.”

Playing completely unaccompanied presents its own challenges and joys.

Oh yeah. It’s completely different than anything I’ve ever done in a sense. My whole approach to music and jazz in general was more coming from the standpoint of being a support player. When I got in a band, I wanted to make sure that everyone sounded the best they’ve ever sounded in their life. That was kind of my goal, that I really lit their fire. That’s kind of what I felt with Ray Brown — How could somebody play with Ray Brown and not sound unbelievable? How could you not sound great, with what this guy’s lahying down? For me to go from that to being a soloist, unaccompanied, is daunting, really scary. I think I’ve finally turned that corner. That’s my plan.

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GEAR

Bass: Arnold Schnitzer flatback, 3/4, circa 2005. Until 2008, Peacock favored his British-made Samuel Allen, a 7/8 bass made in 1875. “It sounds like an organ. It was always problematic in large halls. I was looking for a smaller instrument, with the assumption that a flatback would have the opportunity to not be muddy and to be clear and have more of a point on it. It (Schnitzer) has ash for the back and for the ribs, but the deck is maple. It’s clear as a bell, and projects well.”

Strings: Thomastik Spirocore, orchestra gauge

Pickup: Fishman Full Circle

Bow: German-style bow, made by G. Werner “It tends to be on the heavy side, but it balances really well.”

Rig: SWR SM-400 amp; SWR Goliath 410

Heard on: Gary Peacock/Marc Copland, Insight (Pirouet, 2009); Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Yesterdays (ECM, 2009), My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (ECM, 2007), Setting Standards: New York Sessions (ECM, 2007); Toninho Horta, To Jobim With Love (Resonance, 2008); Bill Carrothers, Home Row (Pirouet, 2008); Marc Copland/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian, New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (Pirouet, 2007); Marc Copland/Gary Peacock/Bill Stewart, New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 1: Modinha (Pirouet, 2006)

Listening to: Works by Shostakovich and Mozart

David Via: Memorial

How will David Via be remembered?

As a superb drummer, whose sensitive touch and sheer musicality elevated the playing of everyone with whom he played, yes.

But also … Dave will be remembered for his passion for playing, listening to and studying jazz, his generosity in sharing his musical knowledge with everyone he knew, his sly sense of humor, his fanatical dedication to the New York Yankees, his kindness, his decency, his ability to tell some great stories.

Those were some of the themes that emerged this afternoon during  a memorial to David Via held at the Players School of Music in Clearwater, where Dave taught for about 10 years beginning in the late ’90s. He also taught at Musicology in Clearwater, and previously held an adjunct jazz faculty position at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Jeff Berlin, the acclaimed bassist and Players School director, shared fond memories about working and playing with Dave, as did Jack Wilkins, saxophonist and USF jazz studies director, whose friendship with Dave extended back to their early days in North Carolina; Matt Bokulic, pianist and Players School teacher; Vicky Berlin, of the Players School; and one of Dave’s cousins.

Berlin and Bokulic turned in a reverential reading of “Blue in Green,” by Miles Davis, one of Dave’s heroes (he also frequently sang the praises of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Paul Motian and Adam Nussbaum, among others). Dave’s drum kit was set up nearby.

One story recounted during the memorial: Someone once asked Dave how it was possible that such a great drummer could come from small-town Mayodan, N.C. Dave’s (joking) response: “Between slopping the pigs, we listened to a lot of Charlie Parker records.”

Wilkins recalled Dave’s stories about a State Department-sponsored trip to Yemen. (And I paraphrase): The musicians barely escaped with their lives when war broke out, and Dave joked that he wanted to keep watching news coverage of the conflict to see if his abandoned drum kit wound up in the hands of the Yemen Revolutionary Marching Band.

Many of those who had played with Dave and/or taught alongside him attended the memorial, as did many of his students. Dave touched many lives with his gifts as musician, and his friendship, as was evident by the turnout – thanks to the Players for organizing the very moving ceremony.

I’m sorry that I won’t again get the chance to play with Dave, or to joke around with him, and I regret that I didn’t ever quite let him know how much he taught me about musical communication and jazz rhythm, without uttering a single word.

Note from guitarist Chuck Hill: “Ira Sullivan, at his concert this afternoon at HCC, also paid tribute to David, dedicating ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ in his memory.”