Sun, 29 November 2015
"Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” – Duke Ellington
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn, one of the greatest jazz composers of all-time. Podcast 5__ celebrates the life and works of the man called by man names - "Strays", Swee' Pea","Weely" – and remembered by all who love jazz.
Strayhorn was a collaborator – and much more – with Duke Ellington from late 1938 until Strayhorn’s untimely death from cancer in 1967. At one time or another, Strayhorn was Ellington’s arranger, composer, pianist, collaborator and muse. Many have felt that Strayhorn’s arrangements were the reason that the many incarnations of the Ellington band sounded the way they did, and that as a result, he may have been more important than Ellington himself to the creative process. In David Hajdu’s fine biography of Strayhorn, Lush Life, he suggests – but never insists – that Strayhorn may have been deprived of songwriting credits and appreciation by Ellington during their time together. Instead of fighting for recognition, Strayhorn seemed happy to remain in Ellington’s shadow.
One of the reasons that Strayhorn may have been content to stay in the background was his homosexuality. Strayhorn was a private person, and was publicly gay, with a small, tight circle of friends to support him. A man about town, Billy was dapper, sophisticated and always ready with a quip, He has been called “the Truman Capote of the jazz world”. But he was also an ardent supporter of civil rights,and developed a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, who he immortalized in the song "King Fit the Battle of Alabama"
His compositions have survived far longer than he did, and his reputation continues to grow as more musicians discover and reinterpret his works. Here is more than an hour of Billy Strayhorn compositions, and one appreciation, by a variety of artists, including:
James Carter – “Take the A Train”
Joe Lovano and Hank Jones – “Chelsea Bridge”
Don Byron – “Snibor”
Jimmy Heath – “Ellington Strayhorn”
Chick Corea – “Lush Life”
Dianne Reeves – “My Little Brown Book”
Duke Ellington – “Flirtbird”
Phil Woods Quartet – “Blood Count”
Joe Henderson - "Johnny Come Lately"
The 14 Jazz Orchestra - "UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)"
Thu, 26 November 2015
We all have much to be thankful for today, and so let us begin the day by sharing the sentiments of this song, written by Irving Berlin and sung here by Diana Krall, the Official Straight No Chaser Song of Thanksgiving Day:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
Wed, 25 November 2015
Twenty-four hours to go before the big Thanksgiving feast! What would go better with some turkey than some "Giblet Gravy", courtesy of guitarist George Benson.
Those who only know Benson from his smooth jazz or Top 40 recordings don't realize that he was one of the funkiest and fastest guitar slingers in his early days. Here he plays with a team of top notch musicians in 1968 sessions, including Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Pepper Adams (sax) and Billy Cobham (drums). It's worth noting that three of the four - and Benson as well - are all Miles Davis Alumni.
Click here for a tune well suited to those last minute preparations around the kitchen. Cue it up and let the gravy fly!
Fri, 20 November 2015
With the possible exception of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, no jazz album has found its way into non-jazz fans’ record collections over the years more than John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Recorded fifty years ago this week in Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, two days of recording resulted in another seismic shift in the world of jazz.
On November 20th a two-disc (and deluxe three-disc) version of the album will arrive in stores. A Love Supreme - The Complete Masters will go beyond previously released outtakes to give us studio chatter, false starts and more, creating a complete picture of what happened during hose two mighty days. For those who want to dig deep into Trane's creative process, this is the holy grail.
To get further inside the recording of A Love Supreme, check out Podcast 458 when I spoke with journalist Ashley Kahn on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the album's release. Kahn contributed an essay about Coltrane and the album for the new CD set.
Tue, 17 November 2015
The worlds of classical music and jazz lost a leading light earlier this year when Gunther Schuller passed away at the age of 89. Since the Pulitzer-winning composer would have celebrated his 90th birthday on November 22, it seems appropriate that two of Boston’s leading musical ensembles—the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera— will unite onstage for a special concert honoring his memory. To make it even more special, the concert with be on the campus of the New England Conservatory in Boston, a place he helped build and make flourish over the years.
Gil Rose will lead BMOP in two enjoyable narratives for all ages, Schuller’s Journey Into Jazz and The Fisherman and His Wife, joined by Gunther’s sons Ed Schuller (bass) and George Schuller (drums) as special guest artists, and Odyssey Opera, featuring Met Opera regular, mezzo-soprano Sondra Kelly. Rounding out the program will be Schuller’s sinfonietta work Games.
Ranking among the most eclectic of his generation or any other, Schuller combined jazz and classical music in new ways. He was a part of Miles Davis’ The Birth of the Cool project, and took those concepts to a new level with a revolutionary, hybrid style that became known as “Third Stream,” and entered the classical music mainstream. Schuller served as President of the New England Conservatory, where he established a successful degree-granting jazz program, from 1967-1977. He made his home in Newton, MA, and passed away on June 21, 2015 in Boston at the age of 89.
Whether you consider his work jazz or classical, we must consider Gunther Schuller a giant in 20th century American music. Podcast 505 is my talk with Gil Rose about his late collaborator and friend, featuring musical selections from Schuller’s jazz related history, including “Transformation” from The Birth of the Third Stream, which features jazz stars like Art Farmer (trumpet), Jimmy Knepper (trombone) and Bill Evans (piano); “Variants for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra” from Journey into Jazz; and “The Soul” an excerpt from Charles Mingus’ Epitaph, which Schuller conducted when it finally was performed almost twenty-five years ago.
Sunday, November 22 at 3:00 p.m. (pre-concert talk 2:00 p.m.) Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston, MA, T: Green to Symphony. General $20-$50/Students $10. To purchase, contact BMOP at BMOP.org or by telephone 718.324.0396. Also available from the Jordan Hall box office in person or online at tix.com.
Direct download: Podcast_505_-_A_Conversation_with_Gil_Rose_about_Gunther_Schuller.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:45pm EST
Thu, 5 November 2015
This is my 500th podcast. When I started this project as a creative outlet more than ten years ago, I never thought that it would go on so long, and become such an important part of my identity. Thanks to the many generous and welcoming people in the world of jazz, I have gained access to music, gone places I never thought I would go, and met people that I never dreamed I would meet,
The podcast is, to paraphrase a Bill Evans album title, a conversation with myself, as I share six songs that trace my jazz education.
Dave Brubeck Quartet - “Blue Rondo a la Turk”
I begin pretty early - jazz was something that I heard in my playpen. My father, Bert Siegel, was a jazz fan and persistent record collector. He played double bass and accordion as a teenager and college student, and was a huge fan of West Coast Cool Jazz, and “The Chairman of the Board”, Frank Sinatra. Although his bass stood in the living room as a decorative touch rather than a working instrument during most of my life, he stayed a jazz fan. Some of my earliest memories involve hearing the music he played on the Hi-Fi.
Steely Dan – “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”
By the time I was a teenager, I was into rock music and had inherited my father’s lust for purchasing vinyl, spending much of my spare money down at E.J. Korvette at the Trumbull Shopping Park. Very little of the rock music I bought and listened to appealed to my father. He liked anything that sounded like Simon & Garfunkel or the Moody Blues, so I’d be safe playing cassette tapes of Seals & Crofts or Cat Stevens or even Crosby Stills & Nash in the car when we drove together. He liked Chicago enough to take me and my friends David Speicher and Paul Freidman and I to see them at the New Haven Coliseum, our first rock concert..
Where our tastes started to come together, and where I had my first “a-ha” moment regarding jazz, came when I played my new copy of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic for him. He liked the band, and pointed out the jazz references – the cop of “Song for My Father”on “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number”, the name-checking of Charlie “Bird” Parker tunes on “Parker’s Band”:
You'll be riding by, bareback on your armadillo
There was also a wah-wah filled cover of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” that closed the first side of the record. Pretty heady stuff for a 14 year old to digest.
Return to Forever – “Majestic Dance”
At the start of my junior year in high school, I was hipped to a band that had just played the area called Return to Forever. Apparently they had a 22 year old guitar player named Al DiMeola who put the rock gods of the day to shame.. Something to check out.
It was in the Trumbull Public Library, of all places, that I found Romantic Warrior. This music was something entirely new to me. The group played instrumental sounds on electric instruments, and they weren’t afraid to play them loud. I really liked it.
Stan Getz – “Captain Marvel”
I was listening to Romantic Warrior in my bedroom one evening when Dad came in to check out what the musical ruckus was about. He asked who – actually, I think he said “what” – it was, and I pointed to the borrowed record jacket on the floor. He picked it up and in a few words, changed my musical compass forever.
“Oh, sure. Chick Corea. I liked him when he played with Stan Getz. But not this stuff. Listen to it with your earphones, okay?’
I had to get this straight. My Dad – Frank Sinatra-listening, Steely Dan-tolerating Dad – listened to Chick Corea? Liked Chick Corea?
He came back into my bedroom a minute later and flipped an album onto my bed. It was a two record reissue on Verve called The Chick Corea/Bill Evans Sessions and had a record’s worth of Corea playing piano in a quartet that included Stan Getz. When I got around to listening to it, I had to admit that it was pretty good. What Chick Corea played then was a far cry from the wild electric sounds he made with Return to Forever, but hey, the record was recorded in 1967, before half of that equipment had been invented. In retrospect, what amazed me the most was that a jazz-rock hero who attracted high school fans like Chick Corea had come from a straight-ahead jazz band that attracted a previous generation. Rock musicians that I listened to and held in high esteem didn’t seem to come from other bands, much less completely other genres.
Jeff Beck – “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”
Soon after the Great Chick Corea Awakening, I was introduced to two other guitar albums that further changed my musical perspective. My main radio station was New Haven’s WPLR-FM, and their number one album of the year in 1975 (the year I turned 16) was “Blow by Blow” by veteran British guitarist Jeff Beck. Not only had I never heard of Jeff Beck at the time, but the album sounded nothing like anything else on the radio at the time. Completely instrumental, and produced by George Martin of Beatles fame, “Blow by Blow” featured all the toys that ‘70’s guitarists lived for, including the “talk box”. ‘PLR loved Beck’s talk box-infused version of the Beatles “She’s a Woman”, giving it heavy rotation. They played the two songs Stevie Wonder gave Beck as well, the ballad “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” and the jittery “Thelonious”. Hearing these songs between Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and Little Feat in a Stoneman set could be a startling experience. Clearly, electric guitar could go places and makes sounds that I hadn’t thought of before.
George Benson – “Breezin’”
The other guitar album that reshaped my way of thinking about music, and jazz in particular, I first heard at my friend Brian Tracey’s house. His younger brother was learning to play guitar and had become obsessed with an album by George Benson, called “Breezin’” Benson was a bona fide jazz player, a real guitar hero who had cut seminal soul-jazz albums for Prestige and Blue Note while still in his teens. Perusing my Dad’s record collection one day after being forced to listen to the album over and over at Brian’s house, I found he owned a copy of “White Rabbit”, a Benson album from 1971. “Breezin’” became the first album that I recommended to my Dad and he not only bought, but thought was great. Even today, when some parts of the album seem overly polished and smoothed out, I really enjoy the way Benson’s guitar slides through the strings on the title track, or the way he works through and around Phil Upchurch’s guitar and Ronny Foster’s keyboards.
By the time I began college at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, the seeds had been well watered, and jazz was germinating. College buddies turned me on to Pat Metheny (another guitar player), Keith Jarrett (my Dad turned out to already own a copy of “The Koln Concert”) and especially Miles Davis. I saw Grover Washington, Jr play on campus, along with the likes of Phil Woods, Ron Carter and yes, my Dad’s favorite guitar player, Joe Pass. There was a whole world of music to explore. Jazz was cool. I liked jazz. A lot.
Tue, 3 November 2015
One of the more exciting fresh voices I’ve had the fortune to listen to this year comes from a 22 year old singer-pianist named Ariel Popock. Based currently in North Carolina, she is a graduate of the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and a double-award winner at the Essentially Ellington Competition at Lincoln Center - Outstanding Pianist and the Ella Fitzgerald Outstanding Vocalist Award.
Touchstone is her debut CD, and it has taken a twisted path to reach jazz fans, starting with a prematurely shortened stay at Verve Records, and ending on the fine Canadian label Justin Time (home of Hank Jones, Rana Lee, Halle Loren and others). Fortunately, Ariel was able to keep her Verve advance, and put the money to good use, assembling a killer band that any musician would die for. Imagine your first recording in a studio with Julian Lage (guitar), Eric Harland (drums), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Seamus Blake (saxophone). Where do you go from there?
The CD is a fine mix of standards, pop covers (James Taylor, Randy Newman), and even a Popock original, “Barrell Roll.” All of the arrangements were written by Ariel, and she sings and plays with a straight ahead confidence that belies her age.
Podcast 505 is my conversation with Ariel, as we talk about her song selection, how she got the band together, and even what music is on her Spotify list. Musical selections from Touchstone include “Ugly Beauty/Still We Dream”, “Barrell Roll” “When I Fall in Love” and the album’s highlight, “Real Emotional Girl.”
Direct download: Podcast_506_-_A_Conversation_with_Ariel_Pocock.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00pm EST
Wed, 28 October 2015
The passing of Phil Woods last month is still being felt in the jazz world. One of Woods’ protégées, alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, will take a moment to honor his long-time mentor and friends this Thursday with a concert called “One for Phil” at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club in New York City. Snidero’s band – Snidero on Alto Saxophone; Alex Sipiagin on Trumpet; Andy LaVerne on Piano; Ugonna Okegwo on Bass; and Jason Tiemann on Drums – will play three sets at Smoke, in what promises to be a memorable evening.
Snidero first met Woods in 1975, and then studied with him until moving to New York in the early 1980's. They kept in contact over the years, with their last visit being this past June. “Phil was the guy that inspired me to commit to the music, and for that, I will always be grateful" states Snidero. "Without question, he was one of the greatest jazz musicians and alto saxophone players of all time".
As strong a player as Snidero may be, he may be even more important as a jazz educator. He has written three 11-volume series of jazz etude books keyed to play-along CDs that are becoming the standard for students around the world. He also has produced courses in jazz improvisation and performance for The Jazz Conception Company that earned rave reviews.
Podcast 504 is my conversation with Jim, as he talks about his friendship with the late Phil Woods, what aspects of Woods’ playing and personality made him great, and even picks a favorite Woods tune or two. Musical selections for the episode feature Phil Woods performances from across his career, including "Freedom Jazz Dance", a sultry "The Summer Knows", "Chasin' the Bird" and a frenetic take on "Shaw Nuff". From Snidero's latest CD Main Street comes his original composition, "Oxford Square."
Special thanks to my friend Jeff Kirschenbaum for assisting me with selecting representative Woods’ recordings. Sorry I had to pick a different take of "Freedom Jazz Dance", since the one he wanted me to choose was more than 25 minutes long.
Fri, 23 October 2015
“Part of our human consciousness constantly searches and yearns for the divine, unspeakably beautiful, eternal, In my world, I call this place Everblue.” - Yelena Eckemoff
I have enjoyed the piano-based jazz albums of Yelena Eckemoff for a number of years now. The Moscow-born pianist was a child prodigy, and had been classically trained at the finest Moscow schools. Her teachers included Anna Pavlovna Kantor, who also trained the celebrated Evgeny Kissin, and she also studied with Galina Nikolaevna Egiazarova at the Piano School of the Moscow State Conservatory. But she also had an ear for jazz, which she has developed more fully since her arrival in the United States about fifteen years ago.
Residing with her family in North Carolina, Yelena rarely plays live, and so the series of CDs she has released are her primary creative output. She writes all the material for each CD (except for her latest), and brings in the finest musicians to help her flash out the sounds she hears. These sidemen have included drummer Peter Erskine on her Cold Sun CD; Mark Turner (saxophone), George Mrasz (bass), Joe Locke (vibes) and Billy Hart (drums) for A Touch of Radiance; and now Tore Brunborg (sax) , Arild Anderson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) for her latest CD, EverBlue.
I’m not the first listener to think that her music would not be out of place on a label like ECM, as it often evokes a sense of serenity and wonder, with pastoral overtones. There is not much swinging on one of her CDs, but her nature-centric compositions are strong, and her fellow musicians flawless.
Podcast 503 is my conversation with Yelena, as she tells how she arrived in the US, who her early influences were as she moved into the world of jazz, and how she came to work with so many fabulous musicians. Musical selections from EverBlue include “Sea Breeze” and “Blue Lamp”, and “Pep” is from A Touch of Radiance.
Direct download: Podcast_503_-_A_Conversation_with_Yelena_Eckenoff.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:00am EST
Thu, 22 October 2015
It may be hard for many of us who learned about Jazz from the recordings of Michael and Randy Brecker to accept that Michael is gone, and that Randy will turn 70 years old in November. He must have a recent taste for nostalgia, as he reassembled many of his jazz buddies for a Brecker Brothers Band Reunion CD/DVD set in 2013, and now goes back to his days as a first-call studio “cat“ who could play any music or write any chart a producer or artist needed. Randy’s reputation was well-earned, considering the timeless recordings featuring his trumpet, including iconic albums by Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The album is called RandyPOP! and it’s already a favorite of mine.
What makes this more than a look back at past glory are the “derangements” of memorable pop tunes by Kenny Werner, who refuses to simply cover a song. Instead, there are key, tempo and meter shifts, along with time to stretch out for memorable solos. And what a band Brecker has put together for this live recording: Werner ( Piano, Keys), David Sanchez (Tenor Saxophone), Adam Rogers (Guitar), John Patitucci (Bass), and Nate Smith (Drums).
Brecker’s daughter Amanda lends powerful vocals to several of the tunes, most notably on “New Frontier”, which Werner has dramatically altered in time, making a hard song even more difficult to sing. Watch for a new project from her next year in collaboration with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Podcast 502 is my conversation with Randy, where he tells some of the best stories you will hear in a podcast this year – how the Brecker Brothers Band came together, why he left Blood, Sweat & Tears before their ultimate commercial success, and fly-on-the-wall accounts of sessions with Parliament (Mothership Connection) and writing horn charts for Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run).
Musical selections from RandyPop! include “Let Me Just Follow Behind” (originally recorded by Bette Midler) and a dramatic “Think/I’ve Got a Bag of My Own” medley with spoken intro by Randy. Past glories are highlighted with the Brecker Brothers Band’s “Sneakin’ Up Behind You” and the dynamic horn section of Randy and Michael Brecker, Wayne Andre and David Sanborn playing the classic chart for “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” from Born to Run.
Direct download: Podcast_502_-_A_Conversation_with_Randy_Brecker.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:52am EST