Pianist John Bunch (1921-2010)

John Bunch, a top-shelf swing and bebop pianist who played in name big bands (Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich) before switching to small groups, including a six-year stint with Tony Bennett, passed away Tuesday in New York.

Bunch most recently played in a trio with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and bassist Jay Leonhart. He was 88. See critic Nate Chinen‘s remembrance here.

Jazz Fest Poster Unveiled: Louis Prima, by Tony Bennett

This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster has been unveiled, and it comes with an intriguing story.

The poster features the great New Orleans-born trumpeter, singer and entertainer  Louis Prima, who would have turned 100 this year.

The artist: Anthony Benedetto, AKA legendary jazz and pop singer Tony Bennett, who played last year’s Jazz Fest.

“He was an exceptional performer and a dear friend and he embodied the buoyant spirit of New Orleans,” Bennett said about Prima, who died in 1978, in a press release.

This year, Jazz Fest will feature performances by Prima’s son Louis Prima, Jr., his daughter, Lena Prima, and Keely Smith, Prima’s fourth wife and stage partner (they also appeared together in the 1959 film Hey Boy! Hey Girl! ) Also on the fest bill: Bobby Lonero’s Tribute to Louis Prima with Johnny Pennino & the New Orleans Express.

My first encounter with the joys of Prima came when I was a child, and I thrilled to Disney’s The Jungle Book, and its accompanying soundtrack. Prima was the voice of King Louie, the orangutan who kidnapped young Mowgli. The unforgettable tune: A swinging “I Wanna Be Like You.”

The Prima poster apparently will be the first in a series of Jazz Fest posters created by musicians, according to the official press release:

“Although we can’t match the reinventive force of Louis Prima, 2010 also marks the launch of the third generation Jazz Festival Poster Series: The Musical Artist as Visual Artist. Graphic artists creating mostly imaginary scenes dominated the first generation of the series in the 1970’s and 80’s, followed from 1989 through the 2000’s by painters depicting New Orleans music legends, harkening back to our celebration of legendary grand marshals in the first two posters. We now turn to artists whose talents are not bounded by a single medium and who bring a heightened level of understanding to the subject.”

For more info on the poster, titled “The Chief of New Orleans: A Portrait of Louis Prima,” click here. And to see more of Bennett’s art, click here.

Last year, Bennett, now 83, donated dozens of musical instruments to a New Orleans charter school. For details, check out the USA Today story.

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. 

Quint Davis: Jazzfest “The Greatest Entertainment Value for the Money”

Quint is right. He was quoted in a story that ran Dec. 17 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Thanks to Jazzfest font of knowledge Swag for alerting me (and others) to the story. Here’s the text of the piece:

STELLAR SOUNDS: Unveiling its lineup early, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival offers up a strong bill of old favorites and new headliners

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By Keith Spera

By 1970, the first year of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Tony Bennett had been a star for two decades. The members of scruffy rock band Kings of Leon were not yet born.

Both are bound for the 40th Jazzfest, now presented by Shell.

They’ll join Aretha Franklin, Sugarland, the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, the Neville Brothers, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Wynton Marsalis, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, The O’Jays, Pete Seeger, Ben Harper, Solomon Burke, Erykah Badu and hundreds more at the Fair Grounds April 24-26 and April 30-May 3.

Producer/director Quint Davis announced the 2009 roster Tuesday at the North Rampart Street offices of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the nonprofit that owns Jazzfest and spends its profits on cultural initiatives and free events throughout the year.

The festival has never unveiled its full lineup in December. The early rollout is intended in part as a hedge against a grim economic forecast that may cut into leisure travel next spring.

Ticket prices are unchanged from 2008: $40 per day in advance, $50 at the gate. Also, a new weekend package prices tickets at $35 a day. Tickets for children age 2 to 11 are $5.

Compared with the $125 cost of a single floor ticket to Britney Spears’ March 3 concert at the New Orleans Arena, Davis noted, a three-ticket package for Jazzfest’s entire first weekend is $105.

“And you can see Dave Matthews; James Taylor; Joe Cocker; Wynton Marsalis; Earth, Wind & Fire and many more,” he said. “This is the greatest entertainment value for the money that there is.”

In conjunction with festival co-producer AEG Live, Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans started booking acts in the summer. They scrambled in the past week to confirm as many as possible before Tuesday’s announcement.

“It was like trying to build a house,” Davis said. “You look at it with a week to go and think, ‘There’s no way this will be finished.’ ”

All headlining slots are filled except one second-weekend opening.

First-time Jazzfest performers include Bennett, Spoon, Sugarland, Kings of Leon, rapper Common, Cuban hip-hop band Orishas, soul singer Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Washington, D.C., “go-go” music pioneer Chuck Brown.

— Return visits —

The schedule is also laden with veteran acts: Bonnie Raitt, Taylor, Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Los Lobos, Robert Cray, Hugh Masekela, John Mayall, Maze, Johnny Winter, Seeger — who plans to celebrate his 90th birthday at Jazzfest — Toots & the Maytals, the Del McCoury Band and the hundreds of Louisiana acts that are the festival’s foundation.

In a sneak peak at the day-by-day schedule, Davis said the closing day’s Acura Stage lineup boasts Allen Toussaint, Franklin and the Neville Brothers, in that order.

Trumpeter Marsalis closes out the festival’s opening day by reprising his “Congo Square” composition with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Ghana-born percussionist Yacub Addy. They premiered the piece during the 2006 French Quarter Festival in Armstrong Park, site of the original Congo Square.

The Dave Matthews Band, which last appeared in 2006, is scheduled for the first Sunday.

Several multi-artist tributes acknowledge the legacies of departed local legends. Irma Thomas joins Mavis Staples and Pamela Landrum in a salute to Mahalia Jackson.

The late jazz banjoist and raconteur Danny Barker is the subject of a tribute by trumpeter Leroy Jones and a reunion of the Fairview Baptist Brass Band, which Barker developed into a farm team for local brass bands.

Deacon John hosts a “Dew Drop Inn Revisited” set featuring Wanda Rouzan, Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint, Robert Parker and Al “Carnival Time” Johnson.

The Meter Men features three of the four original Meters: Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. They first performed as a trio in August at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado.

Sugarland is this year’s contemporary country headliner. The band employs a New Orleans rhythm section consisting of bassist Annie Clements — daughter of local guitarist Cranston Clements — and drummer Travis McNabb. McNabb will perform with Sugarland the second weekend and with his “regular” band, Better Than Ezra, the first weekend.

— Plenty of rockers —

Perhaps taking a cue from competing festivals, Jazzfest has bolstered its roster of upstart rock bands. In addition to Kings of Leon, the list includes Wilco — the band’s bassist, John Stirratt, grew up in Mandeville — Spoon, Ben Harper and the Drive-By Truckers with guest keyboardist Booker T. Jones.

In another sign of the torch being passed, Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, is slated to perform a solo acoustic set.

In years past, Jazzfest has featured the music and culture of countries from Africa and the African diaspora. Several international acts will return, including the Crocodile Gumboot Dancers of South Africa.

For 2009, Jazzfest has augmented its selection of premium packages. The Big Chief VIP Experience includes access to raised, covered viewing areas at the main stages and other amenities. The cost is $850, or $1,000 with daily reserved parking, for the first weekend; $900, or $1,100 with parking, for the second.

The Grand Marshal VIP pass offers access to reserved viewing areas in front of several stages, at a cost of $550, or $700 with parking, for the first weekend; $600, or $800 with parking, for the second.

A new premium package, the Krewe of Jazzfest, provides seating at the main Acura Stage only. Krewe of Jazz Fest packages are $350, or $500 with parking, for the first weekend; $400, or $600 with parking, for the second.

— Marketing challenge —

Disposable income may be in short supply for many people next spring. Already producers of Prospect.1, the art extravaganza on exhibit throughout New Orleans until January, have cut their own attendance projections by half.

As the national economic outlook grew ever gloomier throughout the fall, Davis and his team realized they would need additional time to market Jazzfest.

“As the days and weeks went by, it became more important to have the greatest momentum we could so people can get excited and make plans,” Davis said. A national promotional campaign kicks off after Jan. 1.

With the early announcement, they also wanted to pre-empt other festivals that compete for entertainment dollars. Davis is also quick to distance Jazzfest from the competition.

“No other festival has an imperative to present 85 percent local music,” Davis said. “Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella — they’re not this. This is different.

“We like to think that if you’re going to do one thing, you’re going to do Jazzfest, rain, shine, flood or pestilence. Now we’ll put that to the test.”

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, at the New Orleans Arena box office and at the Louisiana Superdome box office (gate A, ground level). Ticket prices do not include service charges.