Sunday, August 13, 2017

Assignment Newport

George Wein
This was the 37th consecutive year that I've gone to Newport on assignments to cover the Jazz Festival and/or the Folk Festival. 

That long  run started when George Wein brought the jazz festival back to the City-by-the-Sea in 1981 after a 10-year absence. 

This year' s coverage was for Jazz Times and New Orleans-based Offbeat magazine, as well as this blog.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images of New Orleans musicians published by Offbeat.  

It's been a splendid run so far. I look forward to 2018 and documenting the festival's continuing evolution.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival looks to its future

There was a palpable shift in the musical air at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which the new artistic director, Christian McBride, put his stamp on the event. 
Christian McBride, George Wein

Founding producer George Wein, 91, still heads the Newport Festival Foundation that runs the jazz and folk festivals in Newport. But the musical choices mostly were McBride's, and that lineup delivered the largest weekend attendance the festival has seen in quite a few years.

Combined attendance was 25,500 for the three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park and a sold-out opening night concert at historic Newport Casino on Friday, August 4. Saturday's attendance at Fort Adams was 9,600, just 500 tickets shy of a sellout for the day.
Maceo Parker

The biggest crowd draws were Maceo Parker and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on Friday, the collective Snarky Puppy on Saturday, and Sunday's main stage closing act, The Roots, the hip-hop and rap-laced backing band on NBC's Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  

Benny Golson
McBride drew mightily on his native Philadelphia's music scene for the 2017 festival, blending adventourous, talented players from the jazz tradition and beyond. The grand old man of this year's performers, Benny Golson, 88, is a Philly native. 

Other talents from the City of Brotherly Love included McBride's own powerful big band, B-3 organ player Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Questlove. The Roots drummer also teamed with McBride and pianist Uri Caine  for a Quad Stage combination they called "Philadelphia Experiment" with DJ Logic as a special guest.

Introducing DeFrancesco's set that closed out the Quad Stage on Friday, McBride said "This feels like a Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts reunion." (DeFrancesco, Questlove (Amair Khalib Thompson) and The Roots' rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) were classmates of McBride.

Favorite weekend acts for these eyes and ears:
  • Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster WiIlliams and drummer Carl Allen.
  • The modern bop collective One For All, now in its 20th year of performances. The band includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi (who flew in for Austria for the gig), trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
    Spalding and Carrington
  • Terri Lyne Carrington and Esparanza Spalding's poignant "Flying Toward the Sound" celebration of late band mate Geri Allen, who died from cancer in June. Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and Christian Sands shared the piano duties.
  • On the main stage, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene's quartet on Friday, the Christian McBride Big Band, with special guests Warren Wolf (vibes) and Sean Jones (trumpet) on Saturday, and Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra on Sunday.
  • Joey DeFrancesco's quartet, The People.
  • The Danilo Perez-led Jazz 100 project, which honored the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Mongo Santamaria and Ella Fitzgerald on the centennial of their births in 1917.
  • Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci's octet featuring vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, and drummer Antonio Sanchez & Migration.
  • The supergroup Hudson, with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist John Medeski and guitarist John Scofield, whose powerful set blended jam band-style originals and jazz covers of classic rock tunes.

Trombone Shorty
Newport for many years has solidified its link to the birthplace of jazz. New Orleans musicians were a solid presence again this year, with clarinetist Evan Christopher, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, pianist David Torkanowsky and saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet.

At the start of his Friday afternoon set on the Quad Stage at Fort Adams State Park, Christopher told the crowd his band, Clarinet Road, “is not even about the clarinet anymore. It’s about presenting the great music of New Orleans, which turns 300 next year.”

Trombone Shorty, who plays trombone, trumpet and sings, headlined Friday’s opening night concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino, the charming original home of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.

The Newport Jazz Festival's presenting sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images for Offbeat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Exceptional jazz with firepower

John Allmark’s Monday evenings at the Met Café in Pawtucket RI generally feature his very fine big band. This past Monday, Allmark presented his octet, a brass-rich band that gives each player a bit more time in the spotlight than the big-band format permits.

For that evening, the horn line included Allmark (trumpet), Tucker Antell (tenor sax), Mark Vint (alto sax), Angel Subero (trombone) and Bob Bowlby (baritone sax), Dennis Hughes (piano), Bill Miele (electric bass) and Jim Lattini (drums) comprised the rhythm section.

Allmark, Antell
The octet’s first set included a wide range of bop classics from the likes of Horace Silver, Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, artfully arranged to feature the textures and possibilities of the horns. The band also dug deep into Dave Holland’s “Blue Jean,” which was a feature for Bowlby, and a spirited take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that closed the set.

Antell turned the evening from something very fine into something way over the top – in a good way. The southwest Florida native, now based in Boston, is blessed with limitless ideas as a soloist and possesses incredible endurance as a player. He was on fire on Golson’s “Blues After Dark.” But that was just a precursor for the night’s finest moment.

Tucker Antell
Allmark featured Antell on Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” which Stitt recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins on Gillespie’s 1957 album “Sonny Side Up.” Allmark introduced that Antell spotlight by quipping “the rest of us are going to go home now and kill ourselves.” The other horn players exited the stage but were within earshot for what transpired.

With just the trio backing him, Antell launched into a seven-minutes-plus solo with wave upon wave of musical passion. It was reminiscent of tenor player Paul Gonsalves’ famous “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” interlude on Duke Ellington’s career-reviving 1956 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

It was stunning to say the least. [Here's a link to his live feed on Facebook that evening.]

Allmark will be back at The Met on August 7 with his big band, the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra.  
Allmark, Antell, Vint, Subero, Bowlby, Lattini

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Musical impacts linger in jazz and beyond

If you’ve ever experienced a musical epiphany, you know of what I write.

It’s about those special encounters with music – not necessarily jazz – where you walk away with goose bumps from the experience. The memories linger for a long time. Perhaps it was the band’s chemistry and musical conversation, perhaps some other intangibles, something that leaves you almost speechless, beyond saying “wow.”

I was reminded of that impact of music last weekend in western Massachusetts at Mass MoCA, the sprawling contemporary art museum in North Adams, housed in a 250,000 square-foot former mill complex.

Mass MoCA’s many exhibits include Dawn DeDeaux and Lonnie Holley’s collaborative installation, Thumbs Up For The Mothership. 

Their multi-faceted installation consists primarily of found objects that were recrafted and are exhibited in ways designed to provoke serious thinking about the issues facing our planet.

The Strength of Music.....
Holley’s portion of the exhibit space included the folk artist and musician’s installation called Vox Humana III: The Strength of Music Lives After the Instruments Are Destroyed.

This Alabama-born artist, now based in Atlanta, combined a wide range of junked/destroyed musical instruments into a visual commentary. To me, it said, the best musical experience lingers long after the notes ebb into the night.

Other viewers may have different takeaways. That's just fine. That's art's purpose. Right?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When less is more

Simplicity can be a breath of fresh air in jazz. One such example occurred on Thursday, July 20 when drummer-singer Patricia Dean performed at the Venice FL: Performing Art's Center's Local Spotlight Festival, an intimate summer lobby series.

Patricia Dean
Dean appeared with bassist Don Mopsick and guitarist Dave Trefethen as "Patricia + 2." Their performance was inspired by singer Sarah Vaughan's classic 1962 recording Sarah + 2 with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Joe Comfort.

The slimmed-down format brought simplicity and sensitivity to the material they dug into because none of the musicians got in each other's way. The result often was simultaneously cool and sultry, with Dean offering beautiful vocals and preferring brushes to drumsticks most of the night.
Dean, Mopsick, Trefethen

The material favored the Great American Songbook - with a few pleasant exceptions. There were two Jobim bossa novas ("Once I Loved" and "Corcovado"), Bobby Troup's "Baby, Baby, All The Time," the Etta Jones staple "Don't Go to Strangers" and Dean's cool version of the Kingston Trio hit "Scotch and Soda." Dean also stepped away from her drum kit to update Nancy Wilson's classic take on "Guess Who I Saw Today."

Trefethen had terrific solo spotlights on the Bill Evans ballad "Sometime Ago" and "I'm Old Fashioned." Mopsick was featured on "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" and "Love Was Made for Me and You."

It was quite fitting that Dean included one tune from Sarah Vaughan's classic Sarah + 2 recording. It was "Key Largo," which jazz great Benny Carter wrote for the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name. This version was wistful and understated, ideal qualities in this context.

The jazz portion of this Venice Institute for the Performing Arts summer series concludes on Friday, August 4 with vibes player Dave Morgan's trio (originally scheduled for August 10).
Patricia Dean, Don Mopsick, Dave Trefethen

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pianist will be remembered at Newport

Suffice it to say, Geri Allen will be there in spirit.

The pianist had been scheduled to perform at this year's Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday, August 5 in the all-star, all-woman trio that has featured her with bassist Esparanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
Geri Allen at Newport, August 2004

That changed late last month when Allen succumbed to cancer.

Under the new plan, Allen will be honored with a one-set performance being called Flying Towards the Sound: For Geri, With Love. Carrington and Spalding will share the stage at Fort Adams State Park with three pianists who were proteges, collaborators and/or friends of Allen: Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Christian Sands. 

"Geri was a beautiful person whose impact on the music she loved will last forever. She was a unique artist, dedicated to the rights of men and women. She cannot be replaced. I'm glad to have known her for so many years," said George Wein, Newport Jazz Festival founder in a news release from Newport Festivals Foundation.

Festival producer Danny Melnick said the musicians "will honor and celebrate Geri's life and music in a poignant and personal way." 

It should be quite emotional for the performers and the audience.  

Natixis Global Asset Management is the Presenting Sponsor of this year's festival, scheduled August 4-6 at Fort Adans and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. 

Other artists in the extensive lineup include The Roots, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Snarky Puppy,  the One For All collective, Joey DeFrancesco, saxophonists Benny Golson, Branford Marsalis and Maceo Parker, the Christian McBride Big Band with special guests, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and the supergroup Hudson with Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield. Also, Trombone Shorty, clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeters Dominic Farinacci, Sean Jones and Wadada Leo Smith, and singers Cyrille Aimee, Andra Day, Rhiannon Giddens, Leslie Odom Jr. and Cécile McLorin Salvant.

For the complete lineup and more information, visit

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gates and Morgan – two different takes on vocal jazz

Giacomo Gates
Hot House, New York City’s long-running monthly jazz guide, asked me to profile singer Giacomo Gates, as well as preview singer Melissa Morgan’s metro-area gigs for its July issue, which is now out.

It can be read online or downloaded - or picked up at the many metro NYC jazz venues. 

Gates and Morgan have their own jazz vocal niches because of their approach and specialties. 
Melissa Morgan

You can read here about Giacomo, a master of many trades.

Melissa’s spotlight is available here

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The jazz of summer

The concert season in southern Florida pretty much mirrors the months when the area has the most visitors and seasonal residents.... say October through late April or early May. While that makes great sense, some programmers are also taking note that a considerable number of Floridians don't go north for the summer, or for the full summer.

A fair number of restaurants still offer jazz entertainment for their patrons year-round and there are concert gigs if you look for them.

Here's one of the latest examples. The Venice Institute for Performing Arts is running a Local Spotlight Festival throughout June, July and August in the lobby of the Venice Performing Arts Center. It includes a Summer Jazz Series of once-a-month concerts featuring fine area musicians.
Dick Hamilton

The first such jazz event was a Thursday, June 22 concert by Dick Hamilton's quartet, which featured the leader on keyboard and trombone, guitarist Steve Martinucci, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore. All four musicians are based in Sarasota.

Their fare included a wide range of jazz staples and material from the Great American Songbook. 

Dick Hamilton & Steve Martinucci
The finest moments included Martinucci's feature on "Emily," which revealed his beautiful warm instrumental tone, and several tunes on which Hamilton shifted to trombone and went head-to-head with the guitarist in trading melodic ideas. They included Harold Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee," "Here's That Rainy Day" performed with a bossa-nova feel, and "You Stepped Out of a Dream."

The Venice-based South County Jazz Club now holds several of its major concerts at VPAC (three are scheduled in the 2017-2018 season) and helped the Institute with the programming for this new summer series. The remaining concerts feature drummer-singer Patricia Dean's trio (with bassist Don Mopsick and guitarist Dave Trefethen) on Thursday, July 20, and vibraphonist Dave Morgan's trio on Thursday, August 10.
Johnny Moore, John DeWitt, Dick Hamilton, Steve Martinucci

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The music community helps its own

When a musician gets in a life-altering jam, the music community tends to respond in a very big way.

One of the latest instances involves West Coast bass player Marc van Wageningen. He and drummer David Garibaldi were injured severely on January 12 when struck by an Amtrak train while were walking to a Tower of Power performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland CA.

Marc VW, a 30-year fixture on the Bay Area’s jazz, funk and Latin music scene, has been subbing in the funk band since 2002. He was the most seriously injured of the pair. He underwent surgery to remove his spleen and repair broken bones and facial fractures. Like many musicians, he had no health insurance.

Multi-instrumentalist and music producer Peter Michael Escovedo organized a benefit concert to help van Wageningen and Garibaldi. He also set up a session the next day to record a studio album to benefit the bassist, called Raise the Marc. The many participating Bay Area musicians included saxophonists Dave Koz and Marc Russo, percussionists John Santos, Jesus Diaz, Pete Escovedo and his daughter Sheila E., guitarist Ray Obiedo and pianist Peter Horvath.

The CD will be released July 14 on the producer's Peter Michael imprint. It’s now available as a digital download here. One track, "Oakland in Da House," was included from an earlier Sheila E. album, captures her band onstage at Yoshi's. It is the only song on Raise the Marc on which Marc VW plays. All proceeds from the CD and digital download sales will benefit Marc and his family, who have been facing substantial medical expenses.

Van Wageningen and Garibaldi were hit by a train near Jack London Square about 20 minutes before the band’s scheduled show at Yoshi’s. Police said four people tried to cross the tracks — while the warning guard arms were still down — after a freight train slowly chugged by. They didn’t see an Amtrak train traveling from the opposite direction on another track. Garibaldi and Van Wageningen were not able to jump out of the way.

In addition to January benefit concert to help both musicians, a Go Fund Me initiative has raised more than $55,000. A second GoFund Me effort has raised an additional $81,000 to date toward van Wageningen’s considerable expenses. 

Dig in and help if you can.

Monday, June 5, 2017

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Antonio Adolfo, Mike Longo, Yoko Miwa, Norbert Stachel, and John Stein and Dave Zinno.…

Here’s a fascinating tip-of-the-hat to jazz composer Wayne Shorter by pianist and arranger Antonio Adolfo. He re-arranged eight classic Shorter tunes in ways that give each of them Brazilian rhythmic cushions. The material includes “Deluge,” “Footprints,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Prince of Darkness,” “Black Nile,” “Speak No Evil,” “ESP” and “Ana Maria.” 

Adolfo at various points uses the baião, guarânia and samba rhythms to great effect. The exotic results are quite beautiful, such as the octet’s guarânia treatment of “Footprints,” which features Ze Renato on wordless vocals, and the horn section’s major feature on “Speak No Evil.” Marcelo Martins’ tenor and soprano sax, and flute work is marvelous throughout. Adolfo closes the project with “Afrosamba,” a propulsive original that combines samba and the afoxé musical genre to celebrate Shorter’s influences on his own work.

Mike Longo Trio, OnlyTime Will Tell (Consolidate Artists Productions)
Pianist Mike Longo spent 26 years as Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist and musical director. This fine recording is Longo’s 26th CD as a leader since forging his own musical path as a composer and player in the early 1990s. In addition to performing several originals, Longo, bassist Paul West and drummer Lewis Nash put their own updates to classic jazz material and one unexpected popular standard: a samba version of “Tomorrow,” the hit song from the musical “Annie.” Favorites: their romp through Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark” and Longo’s poignant and beautifully evocative title track.

Yoko Miwa Trio, Pathways (Ocean Blue Tear Music)
Japanese-born pianist Yoko Miwa won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in 1997, intending to stay just one year. Twenty years later, she’s still in Boston – where she has developed into an integral force on the area’s thriving jazz scene with her fine, straight-ahead playing and creative spirit. Pathways is Miwa’s first CD in about five years. It stacks up as one of the finest releases to cross my desk so far in 2017. 

She’s teamed with her longstanding trio mates, bassist Will Slater and drummer Scott Goulding, who is her husband. Brad Barrett has since taken over the bass role, and plays here on the final track, her exploration of the Lennon-McCartney ballad “Dear Prudence.” Every track here is a gem. The band’s 11-minute exploration of Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” is the most stunning. Other favorites include two originals, the McCoy Tyner-ish “Lickety Split” and the dreamier “Lantern Light,” and a romp through Marc Johnson’s “Log O’Rhythm.” Check this one out.

Norbert Stachel, Shades of the Bay (Cheeseburger)
Saxophonist Norbert Stachel is a talented instrumentalist who has been working for decades as a sideman and section player for many big-name jazz, pop, rock and soul groups. On this project, we get to hear many of his facets as a writer and a player. While a dozen other players are featured on various tracks, Stachel is all over the place thanks to multi-tracking. On some tunes, he’s a virtual reed chorus all by himself. 

Here’s one example: “Step On It,” layers Stachel’s playing on soprano and baritone saxes, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and shaker. Others include tenor and bass saxophones, tambourine, keyboards, African shells, and bass. The gems here include “Crawdaddy Dance,” the funky “Last Minute Blues,” and “For Tito,” which he wrote to honor Tito Puente, one of many bandleaders he worked with over the years. His sidemen here include Karl Perazzo on congas, Ray Obiedo on guitar and Dave Mathews on piano and organ. Stachel sticks to flute alone for his wistful “Goodbye Elgin Park.

John Stein and Dave Zinno, Wood and Strings (Whaling City Sound)
The fine art of musical conversation, rooted in timeless jazz standards that become a shared vocabulary, is at the heart of this fine new CD from two New England jazz stalwarts. Guitarist John Stein and bassist Dave Zinno showcase their talents as improvisers who respond deeply and inventively to each other’s ideas. They allow those ideas to linger and sink in, not talking over each other. In addition to four originals from Stein and one from Zinno, they explore the nuances of nine jazz standards. Favorites: Stein’s sprightly “Switch-a-roo,” Zinno’s “Song for Now,” Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes’ pensive “Modinha,” as well as  Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s timeless “But Beautiful.” But in these hands, everything here is a gem to be savored.