Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Obligation to Jazz

Is there an obligation to jazz? That is, is there an obligation among today's performers and promoters (and fans for that matter) to reach out to newcomers to the music; to help the music grow?
Interesting question. First some background.
This past Friday night I had the opportunity to visit a friend's house for an evening of jazz video viewing and single malt scotch tasting. He and his wife are avid jazz fans, and have done much over the years to promote jazz.
We were watching videos from the "Jazz Icons" series produced by Quincy Jones . The first was a video of John Coltrane from three performance dates in Europe. The second was a wonderful video of Sarah Vaughn (the host's favorite). The last was an absolutely wonderful 59 minutes of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt. In between that was a great CD by the late great Jimmy McGary called "Palidrome".
During the discussion of the music, the subject of National jazz performers came up. Specifically, in the past national recording artists like Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Milt Jackson, Charlie Parker and others would routinely tour through the smaller towns and venues; allowing local jazz musicians and fans to have the benefit of their talents in the form of local concerts and late night jam sessions. With today's "stars", that rarely happens. In fact, the vast majority of today's "stars" spend their time at festivals and other mostly underwritten events; rather than playing in smaller venues around the country. The net effect has been the slow erosion of the fan base, loss of radio outlets, and an overall decrease in new RELEVANT younger artists coming up.
My friend made the rather impassioned argument that today's "stars" owe nothing to the up and coming musicians; in fact they are making a living and competing for an ever shrinking audience. Therefore the "stars" should remain as status quo; only doing the occasional educational gig for the local college music program (for an additional payday, of course), and not worry about anything else.
Well, I submit that precisely this approach has caused the overall decrease in opportunities for everyone associated with jazz, and in fact has led to the marginalization of the music in the public's perception. Yes, those chosen few will do well, but the music overall will not.
When there is a jazz "scene" in a city; that is, when there are vibrant outlets where people can go and hear innovative music routinely, then the music will flourish. The history of the music is evolution, not stagnation. The music evolved from New Orleans jazz to big band swing, to be-bop,hard bop, modal, and free by the sharing of ideas. Not by musicians only playing retrospectives at the various NY or Chicago festivals.
If every city maintains a jazz "scene" then there is an opportunity to grow the music exponentially.
Which brings me back to obligation. Lee Morgan started in Dizzy Gillespie's big band, and played in the aforementioned Art Blakey's group. Lee Morgan in turn, had Billy Harper, Bobbie Humphrey, and Bennie Maupin to name a few in his succeeding groups.
Miles Davis was legendary in reformulating core quintets and sextets. Some of the graduates of Miles' efforts include Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarret, Wayne Shorter, among many more.
If Lee Morgan or Miles had the same attitude about the obligation to the music that some of these new "stars" have, then there would be no more jazz today.

We are indeed at a crossroads in jazz. I am 100% convinced that jazz continues to be a vibrant ever-evolving music that will continue to see new and relevant different changes and enhancements; while maintaining the core values of improvisation, swing, feeling, and "soul". There are many exceedingly gifted performers in the world today locally and nationally that must share their gift with future generations of musicians on a local level. Either with after hour or pre-arranged jam sessions, shared ideas through various communications (emails, etc) or just by being there for the music. Some sadly choose not to.

Several years ago, Clark Terry came to Cincinnati for a concert I was promoting. Mr Terry is such and elegant, gifted and caring individual; during the pre concert warm up, I witnessed Mr Terry giving an impromptu lesson to two of the young trumpeters on the date. There was Mr Terry, sitting on a couch, teaching these two up and coming stars. Priceless. Mr Terry gets it.
As I write this blog, a couple of musicians from here are in Cleveland recording with Benny Golson. These musicians describe Mr Golson in the same way. Mr Golson gets it.
As stewards of the music, Mr Terry and Mr Golson epitomize what is the best part of this music called jazz. They are willing to impart with knowledge that cannot be obtained in any music school whether the local school or Berklee, or Julliard.

Obligation to the music is mandatory in my opinion, if you have been blessed with talent, opportunity, and an outlet to perform. That obligation means that you do everything you can to help the music grow and flourish. Yes, I understand the bad economy, the need to "make income while you're hot", etc. etc. This does not absolve you from the responsibility of being a caretaker of the music which was passed down from King Oliver to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet; to Duke Ellington and Count Basie; to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins; to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; to Miles and Trane, to Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Art Blakey; to Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett.
Now that the newer generation is here, is this where the legacy and innovation ends? Or do the new generation "stars" finally continue the evolution of the music like the forefathers of the past.

I am interested in feedback; whether you agree or disagree with the obligation to the music. In any event, don't stay on the sidelines if you love this music.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm: A confluence of meteorologic events coming together to produce a weather event of unprecedented energy.
Bob Case, Meteorologist of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service's Boston office was the first to describe it about the October 1991 storm:

"The conditions were "perfect" for a monstrous storm, a meteorological time bomb that would explode in the northern Atlantic Ocean creating waves ten stories high and imperiling the New England fleet."
"It was an unprecedented set of circumstances," the now-retired weatherman said. "A strong disturbance associated with a cold front moved along the U.S.-Canadian border on October 27 and passed through New England pretty much without incident. At the same time, a huge high pressure system was forecast to build over southeast Canada. When a low pressure system along the front moved into the Maritimes southeast of Nova Scotia, it began to intensify due to the cold dry air introduced from the north," according to Case.
"These circumstances alone, could have created a strong storm," Case said. "But then, like throwing gasoline on a fire, a dying hurricane Grace delivered immeasurable tropical energy to create the perfect storm."
With all of the contributing factors coming together at just the right time, in less than 24 hours, the storm exploded to epic proportions and then headed toward the coast," the meteorologist said, adding that if any of the components were out of sync, the epic storm would not have happened."

A "Perfect Storm" occurred Saturday night (Valentine's Day) at the Greenwich club. King "Fruitbowl" Reeves, and Charlie "Bunns" Wilson led their working group Bowl and Bunns and Friends (Family) in a concert of epic proportions.
First, some background. Vibraphonist King Reeves and Pianist Charlie Wilson together have over 80 years experience in performing, composing, and touring here in Cincinnati and around the country. The duo won the 2004 Billboard Magazine jazz song of the year for the entire world for their composition and performance of the original "September 21". Reeves is truly an under-appreciated dynamo on the Vibes; his musicality is astounding. He is one of the very few Vibraphonists that has his own voice.
Charlie Wilson has no peer in the world on Piano. The vast majority of the best pianists in Cincinnati have been influenced by Wilson. Although one can hear elements of Cecil Taylor in his playing, he also has his own unique voice.
It is routine for musicians to list who they have played and recorded with; in this case, it is who has played with Reeves, and Wilson that other musicians list on their resume. They are in that class.
The "Friends" (Family) are the fiery Eddie Bayard on Tenor, the incendiary Mark Lomax on Drums, and the coolly intense Brandon Meeks on Bass.
The Perfect Storm? Think of Meeks as a Low Pressure cold front coming down from the north; Bowl and Bunns as high pressure fronts from the Midwest and southwest; Lomax as a Level 5 hurricane coming from the South Atlantic gaining strength; and Bayard as an F5 Tornado (Fujita Scale) heading toward the coast. These 5 elements meet over a receptive North Atlantic (the crowd) providing unprecedented energy!

The first song was a touching duet; a tribute to a fallen friend: "Naim's Spirit" for Greg Singleton.
This was the first time for this particular song to be performed; the duo handled it with deft understanding and civility; a moving remembrance for a loved friend.
Next up was the standard "Softly as a Morning Sunrise". This song started slowly, and built to a burning intensity fueled by Lomax's drumming. Bayard took flight, and gave a preview of the energy yet to come. Wilson kept the intensity going, in his own unique way.
"Stroke of Luck", a Wilson original, at first caught the youthful trio slightly off-guard, but they very easily followed Wilson and Reeves' lead taking this song to its expected energy level. This is when the intensity of Lomax and Bayard are increasing; they were at times feeding off each other's power... More on that later.
Following that, another original "Monkey Face" ratcheted up the energy; there was now a very palpable intensity with the crowd and the performers. This came to the forefront with the next song, "African Queen". The energy levels were off the charts; the combustion was controlled but furiously exuberant. Reeves and Wilson's solos were point-counterpoint. Both daring, exploratory, but reassuringly structured. Lomax at this time was dropping bomb after bomb; pushing all three soloists. Bayard benefited from this the most; it seemed like an energy duel between the two, fed by the crowd! Meeks had a calming, cool intensity throughout.

Next... a duet: "Footprints". Seemingly a quieter moment, but Wilson made this song his own with his interpretation. Reeves was equally expressive; one could envision footprints on a sandy beach during this interpretation...

John Coltrane has influenced countless musicians. This group was no exception. "A Love Supreme" was and is a landmark recording; it was treated with great reverence by the group.
Jon Ridley host of The Sunday Evening Jazz Show on WAIF 88.3, opened with spoken word; the words from the original message from Coltrane.
Next, Acknowledgment. The intensity level increased markedly; careening toward the final energy explosion. All soloists were pushed and prodded by Lomax; he seems to always find a way to provide just the right emphasis; the right accents; sheer lightning bolts of energy when required. Subtle burning just below the surface during quieter times. "Resolution" was just that for this event...a resolution of all the various energy forces into one sustained tsunami of sound and fury; fueled by the crowd. Reeves took the first solo; and increased the energy level markedly. Then Bayard took over.
For those who don't know Eddie Bayard, you'd be hard pressed to find a better, more energetic or expressive Saxophonist playing anywhere in the world today. (And I've heard a bunch of players, live and on record). Same with Mark Lomax; Lomax's energy level and dynamic range are on par with the best of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach. During Bayard's solo, these two forces of nature dueled with and against each other; every expressive exploration was answered thoroughly by Lomax's explosive bombs. At a crucial point, there was Bayard and Lomax alone, burning through the territory, with occasional urgings from Reeves with well timed vibe notes.

And was over. Two + hours of sustained fury; if Obama could find a way to bottle the energy produced Saturday night; we would no longer need foreign oil!

This group has to be heard more...if we are lucky, May or June at The Redmoor. And more after that. To hear what I'm talking about, I will direct you to two albums: "Acknowledgment", and "Live At The Hyatt" by Bowl and Bunns and Friends.

The Perfect Storm. Live in Cincinnati Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Art of The Jazz Trio

Jazz music historically has been played by musicians in a variety of group configurations, from individual solo performances and duos, to large orchestras, and big bands. The main tenets of the music throughout the years have been preserved in true jazz regardless of the configuration of the group or the variation of the musicians involved. The key determining factor has been the ability for the musician to interpret the song in their own voice; through improvisation or unique stylistic expression.
In the largest groups (big bands, for example) group identity is recognizable, although individuals are celebrated as well. In the best jazz trios, there is also a "group sound", but it is more heavily influenced by the individual performers.
When most jazz aficionados think of a jazz trio, the piano/bass/drums configuration comes to mind. However, there are many other types of trios that produce compelling music; the Eddie Bayard trio, with Eddie Brookshire on Bass, and Mark Lomax on Drums performed a wonderful concert a couple of years ago at the Hyatt jazz series. Late Tenorist Jimmy McGary had a wonderful trio with Wayne Yeager on Organ and Bobby Scott on Drums.
More recently, (two weeks ago), the Deep Blue Organ Trio performed a wonderful set at The Redmoor.
The Organ trio concept is unique in the fact that two out of the three instruments featured are traditionally used in jazz for chord structure and melody, not rhythm or pace. The organist supplies the bass lines; this provides for expanded possibilities for the organ and guitar to contribute.
Willie Smart, the drummer from the Ballettech Sunday jazz jam session said it best about the Deep Blue Organ Trio: "look in the dictionary for the definition of the jazz trio and you will see The Deep Blue Organ Trio".
Well, what makes a good true jazz trio? There are a lot of trios that sound like three individual musicians playing individually. The best trios are by musicians who first understand the concept of the group, and are able to mesh their individual brilliance within the confines of the group. Yet maintaining their individuality. Like any cohesive working group, there must be a general familiarity with each member, and there must be trust in the ability and decision making of each member. There also must be a willingness to provide support for each other; that translates to a "good vibe" for the listener. A disjointed trio sounds fractured; even the most casual listener can determine when there is friction within the group.
This was what was so great about the Deep Blue Organ Trio; their collective sound and the way the members worked together (Bobby Broom, Chris Foreman, and Gene Rockingham), it was clear they possessed all of the best attributes of a great working trio. It was a beautiful show; the music was as complex and rewarding as any show that I have heard.

In my opinion, the organ trio concept produces some of the most compelling music, regardless of size of the group, in jazz today.

There have been many organ jazz trio groups in the history of jazz; some of the best groups were led by very familiar organists; Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Dr Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Joey DeFrancesco to name a few.
Here is an example of the Jimmy Smith Trio playing "The Sermon":
Quentin Warren, Guitar; Billy Hart, Drums.
Very complex music from a trio.

This is The Deep Blue Organ Trio in performance:

So, the next time you have the opportunity to hear a great organ trio, don't miss it. you will be glad you took the time!
Support live music.