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

 

 

 

 

The World’s Most Recorded Jazz Bassist?

Yes, most of us already suspected this to be true. But now it’s been confirmed by researchers: Ron Carter is the most recorded jazz bassist in jazz history, according to Guinness World Records.

Ron Carter

Carter, he of the luxuriant tone, reliable time, and rhythmic acuity and creativity, has racked up 2,221 individual recording credits as of Sept. 22, 2015, per Guinness.

Not a surprising achievement for a musician who was THE first-call jazz session bassist for many decades. I think I first heard Carter via one of his recordings with Miles’ second great quintet. After that, he seemed to show up in the credits of every other jazz album I came across.

Carter and Ray Brown, Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen and Stanley Clarke were the biggest early influences on my upright playing, in terms of enlightening me to what a double bass should and could do in a jazz context.

As a side note: Where do Brown and Milt Hinton land, in terms of the volume of recording credits?

So … congrats, Ron Carter.

More details. Visit Ron Carter online here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buster Williams & Jay Leonhart Talk Touring With An Upright Bass

(originally published in JazzTimes)

“Is That a Cello?”
INSIDE THE PLIGHT OF THE TOURING ACOUSTIC BASS PLAYER

Acoustic bassists of a certain age will remember Rufus Reid’s step-by-step, photo-illustrated instructions on taking a double bass on a plane, included in his classic book The Evolving Bassist, originally published in 1974. In those days, a traveling bassist could opt to use a fiberglass trunk to transport the instrument in luggage, or simply purchase a half-fare ticket for it and place it in the cabin.

“When I first started traveling, we didn’t have bass cases, we just took the bass on the airplane and put it on a bulkhead seat and strapped it in,” says Buster Williams, 71. Williams, whose Something More group has U.S. and European dates in 2014, has played a prized, century-old Hawkes bass since 1963, when he bought it in London while on tour with Sarah Vaughan. “You never knew what to expect, as far as the flight attendant standing in the way or the captain refusing to allow the bass on the plane. But you always found a way to make it work.”

Later, airlines variously refused to let basses be transported in the cabin. Fast forward to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent heightened security: The upshot was a profusion of confusing size restrictions and additional charges that often varied from airline to airline. As several bassists have recounted, the answer to the gate-security question “Is that a cello?” was always, “Yes.”

Jay Leonhart addressed the traveling bassist’s woes humorously in “Bass Aboard a Plane,” a song from his one-man show, The Bass Lesson. “If you wanna ’cause a problem, if you wanna ’cause some pain,” he sings, “simply go down to your local airport, and try to put a bass aboard a plane. … The ticket lady looks at you in horror, she stares at you in disbelief.”

Not long ago, Leonhart, 73, decided to quit fighting with the airlines and stop flying with his primary bass, an Italian instrument made for the Gibson factory in 1939 and renovated by the Kolstein shop that was formerly owned by George Duvivier. “I’ve left too many basses in storage at airports in the last two years,” he says. “They don’t want your bass on the plane.”

Williams reached the same conclusion: “Up until about five years ago I traveled with my bass. But it became so stressful—the closest to impossible that you can get. If you did take a chance and take your bass on the road, the cost would sometimes outweigh the real practicality of it. And then you’d run into situations where they just refused to take the bass, for no other reason than they’d made a decision not to take basses or cellos.”

So what’s the solution? Some bassists, including Williams, Esperanza Spalding and Dave Holland, have used basses with detachable necks, including David Gage’s Czech-Ease Road Bass, which has an abbreviated body but boasts playing dimensions similar to a standard upright. Many have tried upright electric basses, with varying degrees of satisfaction. Leonhart says he’s been thinking about picking up the electric bass again, at least as a backup, after having played it in the ’70s with guitarist Jim Hall.

Williams and Leonhart, though, both prefer to rent or borrow a good upright for any gig requiring a flight. “I just jump on the plane and arrange it in advance,” Leonhart says. “That means keeping a nice page in your book about where you’re going to try to get a bass from, and who’s going to pay for it.”

Adds Williams, “I have a very stringent tech sheet that specifies an adjustable bridge, and the sort of pickup I want, and the type of bass it should be.”

Flying with a bass could get much easier soon, thanks to the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which was slated to go into effect by February. The American Federation of Musicians successfully lobbied for an addition allowing musical instruments to be checked as long as the linear dimensions do not exceed 150 inches and the weight does not exceed 165 pounds, far more lenient than before.

The International Society of Bassists is urging its members to carry a printed copy of the legislation when they travel. “We need the airlines’ support so that musicians can work,” says Madeleine Crouch, the ISB’s general manager. “Airlines could even promote themselves as job creators if they’d only be nice to us!”

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Gerry Gibbs, Ron Carter, Kenny Baron, “Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio” (Whaling City Sound)

gerry gibbs thrasher

For his seventh album as a leader, relatively unsung drummer Gerry “The Thrasher” Gibbs enlists two revered jazz veterans as rhythm-section partners, bassist Ron Carter and pianist Kenny Barron. Both were childhood heroes to Gibbs; he was 10, in 1974, when he first heard Carter, and 11 when he heard Barron, courtesy of albums bought at a used-records store in California. So why not call the group his dream trio?

Fortunately, the session isn’t merely a document of hero worship. Instead, the three connect as equal partners, with Barron and Carter, who figure heavily in each other’s discographies, livening Gibbs’ compositions. “When I Dream” is a pulsating, stair-stepping tribute to McCoy Tyner; “Here Comes Ron” is a spritely bebop tune for Carter, bolstered by some deft brushes work and a rubbery extended bass solo; “The Thrasher” is a bluesy groove tune for Don Pullen; and “The Woman on the TV Screen” is a lush ballad penned for Gibbs’ wife, Kyeshie.

The three also draw from the elder statesmens’ books, with the twists and turns—and hard swing—of Carter’s “A Feeling,” which he first recorded four decades ago, and the driving bossa rhythms and textures of Barron’s “Sunshower.” And the three explore plenty of tunes they’ve played on various bandstands over the years, including a lively version of Monk’s “Epistrophy,” a sprint through Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye of the Hurricane,” a surprising rework of Coltrane’s “Impressions” and a quick “Beat Box Version” of Miles’ “The Theme.” Another highlight is the swinging stroll through Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” No worries here.

 

 

John Patitucci Talks “Melodic Arpeggios” (his new ebook) and online lessons

(originally published in JazzTimes)

GearHead: John Patitucci’s New ebook and Online Lessons

Technology beyond technique

John Patitucci, the first-call double bassist, bass guitar virtuoso and current member of Wayne Shorter’s critically acclaimed quartet, draws from a wide variety of teaching experiences in Melodic Arpeggios and Triad Combining for Bass, a recent Kindle eBook published by David Gage String Instruments, the renowned New York bass shop.

The book, aimed at double bassists and bass guitarists alike, is being released in multiple instalments. Episode One offers six chapters, with exercises ranging from moderately easy to challenging; the lessons open with a focus on intonation and single-string shifting before moving to arpeggios and closing with a major arpeggio etude based on a theme by Bottesini. The project is something of a sequel to Patitucci’s book 60 Melodic Etudes.

“I felt like it would be good to do a book that would show the directions I’ve been going as a teacher and as a player,” Patitucci said recently from Atlanta, where he was playing sessions for a recording by pianist and composer Ted Howe. “A lot of books offer exercises in a very rudimental, up-and-down technical way. I wanted to develop a book using arpeggios in a very melodic way. Instead of just sounding like you’re running scales, you have the melody that arpeggios can bring. That has been influenced by Wayne—his stuff sounds like these combinations of sounds and arpeggios. There is obviously some chromaticism and scales mixed in, but the lyricism from the way he combines arpeggios is quite astounding. Obviously it’s a little harder to get around on the bass, but it’s a worthy challenge.”

Episode One also includes an emphasis on hearing and understanding intervals. “That helps with ear training,” the bassist said. “Using your ear to identify what intervals are coming at you is a powerful thing.”

The Kindle project isn’t Patitucci’s first foray into new media. Last year, he launched an interactive bass school through ArtistWorks; the online program has Patitucci provide video tutorials and written materials to students all over the globe, and give commentary on students’ work. “It takes kids from, ‘This is how you stand and hold it,’ all the way through grooving and tradition and jazz playing and information about Brazilian and Afro-Cuban stuff,” he said. “There are hundreds of lessons there, and basically a bass book of downloadable stuff you can get.”

The end game, Patitucci explained, is always to lead players in the direction of freedom, achieving technical mastery and accomplishing high-level “hearing” in order to free themselves up to more fully play in the moment, to connect directly with the music and fellow musicians: “If you’re struggling technically, it gets in the way of your rhythm and everything else. It’s all really about tools that will help you play more musically and expressively, with more richness, no matter what style. It’s to help you be freed up on the instrument no matter what music you play on the bass, to get around freely.

The Brooklyn native, 53, who spent his teenage years in Northern California and later lived in Los Angeles before returning to the New York area, has plenty more on his CV in terms of education. He recently began his second full year as an artist-in-residence at the Boston-based Berklee Global Jazz Institute, headed by his Shorter Quartet bandmate Danilo Pérez. A music professor at the City College of New York for a decade, Patitucci, who followed his hero Ron Carter into that position, earlier served as artistic director of the Bass Collective in New York. He has also worked with the Thelonious Monk Institute and Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program.

To some degree, Patitucci views today’s culture of formal jazz education as akin to an alternative mentorship. He thinks jazz degree programs might be the next-best substitute for the type of informal on-the-road training once more widely available to younger players.

“Schools are trying to pick up the slack,” he explained. “Nothing can replace being on a gig for years and going on the road and playing hundreds of gigs, but we’re trying to do our best to mentor and put students in performing situations and teach them history and practice and theory—and the practicality of it.”

Give the Bass Player Some: Ron Carter & Esperanza Spalding Top 77th Annual DownBeat Readers Poll

Veteran bassist Ron Carter and young bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy-winning star, grabbed the top spots in this year’s DownBeat Readers Poll.

Carter, an enormously influential double bass master heard on thousands of jazz recordings, a successful solo artist but probably best known for his association with Miles Davis’s second great quintet in the ’60s, was ushered into the Hall of Fame, just beating blues legend B.B. King.

Spalding, a gifted vocalist, upright and electric bassist, and songwriter who has wowed audiences as a leader and as a member of Joe Lovano’s US FIVE band (#14 in the Jazz Group category), won in the categories of Jazz Artist and Jazz Album of the Year, the latter for her pop-infused “Radio Music Society.”

Interestingly, neither won in the two bass categories: Christian McBride won for (double) Bass, while Stanley Clarke, who rode Return to Forever to stardom, won for Electric Bass.

Wayne Shorter, Carter’s old colleague in that Miles band, won in two categories — Soprano Saxophone, and Composer

The more than 17,000 voters in the poll, somewhat surprisingly, honored the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the Jazz Group category, and Big Band honors went to the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose leader also won for Arranger.

(Complete list of winners)

Other honorees:

  • Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis
  • Trombone: Trombone Shorty
  • Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett
  • Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins
  • Baritone Saxophone: James Carter
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen
  • Flute: Hubert Laws
  • Piano: Brad Mehldau
  • Keyboard: Herbie Hancock
  • Organ: Joey DeFrancesco
  • Guitar: Pat Metheny
  •  Violin: Regina Carter
  • Drums: Jack DeJohnette
  • Vibes: Gary Burton
  • Percussion: Airto Moreira
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans
  • Female Vocalist: Diana Krall
  • Record label: Blue Note
  • Blues Artist or Group: B.B. King
  • Blues Album: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton, “Play the Blues: Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center”
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Robert Glasper
  • Beyond Album: Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio”

For more on the poll, including interviews with the winners, get the mag’s December issue or click here.

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.