Check out the video of our 2015 Hot House Jazz magazine / Metropolitan Room Fans’ Decision jazz awards ceremony!
Mark your calendar for next year: Monday Sept. 19, 2016!
Click on the announcement below to see who the winners are!
Pictures from the 3rd Annual Fans’ Decision Jazz Awards (click here)
October 2015 Hot House Jazz Guide is available! Download or read below!
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
It is relatively easy to classify, some would say “pigeonhole,” horn players as belonging to a certain style or school of jazz. It’s much less clear-cut for pianists, especially when they play as unaccompanied soloists. Since most of them are not only versed in jazz, but also in the classical and contemporary piano repertoire, they are as much, technically, piano players as they are jazz players. And jazz pianists have often occupied a parallel and independent space in jazz history, defying the usual stylistic groupings or pigeonholes.
This Winning Spins features solo albums by two jazz pianists eluding any easy stylistic descriptions―Fred Hersch and Steve Colson―who each create a distinct musical universe out of the keys of a concert grand piano. To further confound things, Hersch is also a distinguished contemporary music composer who leads a chamber ensemble, as well as a jazz pianist with a celebrated trio. And Colson, although he may be closely connected with the avant garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), is often far from a “free” style jazz player.
Tones For, Steve Colson (a.k.a. Adegoke Steve Colson) (Silver Sphinx), a two-CD album, is described as “an epic journey through historic African-American struggles. He explores the spectrum of history from the battle against slavery through early civil rights fighters Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass to recent headlines from Ferguson, Missouri and Charleston, South Carolina. It spins a narrative of determination, commitment, faith, tragedy, and triumph.”
The results sound a lot less programmatic and doctrinaire than that description, the 16 titles never invoking any specific full person or place name; “Truth Sojourned, The North Star Spoke” and “But Yes, Sister Moses” come the closest.
The music is more abstract and impressionistic, employing a variety of modern piano techniques in improvisations that sometimes range toward the openness of free jazz but more often develop from melodic, harmonic, rhythmic or motivic kernels. The results are frequently impressive, if a bit daunting, over two CDs.
While some of the longer tracks veer toward over-indulgence, many of the shorter ones are discrete minor gems of concise feeling. Among them are the spare, contemplative “The Burden,” the alternating moods and wistful undercurrents of “A Thousand More, If Only They Knew” and the lyrical songfulness of “Lingering.” With this album, Colson asserts his place as a solo pianist of the first rank.
Steve Colson and singer Iqua Colson appear at an AACM NY 50th Anniversary concert Oct. 23 at the Community Church of New York City.
Coming next: Fred Hersch and his “found object” Solo.
Pat Martino: Legend, Not a Star By George Kanzler
Once a prodigy who played with such jazz masters as organist Charles Earland and saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Willis ‘Gator’ Jackson as a teenager, guitarist Pat Martino, 71, is now a veteran jazz master himself. And while he still does recording dates with other famous musicians – he was in the studio last month for a leader he couldn’t mention, although he did say he was part of a section that included bassist Christian McBride, pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Lewis Nash – he has not done sideman gigs since the late 1960s, preferring to lead his own bands.
“I like to work with players on a regular basis,” Martino said from his South Philadelphia home, “players who have a familiarity with the material and the mutual interaction of a collaborative unit.” Of his current trio, with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre, he says: “I take them out on the road worldwide and there’s a rapport that comes to pass after quite a bit of experience in knowing each other’s personalities, in terms of phrasing and a number of other subjective elements in our playing and improvisations. After a certain length of time, it becomes magic.”
In 1980, Martino had surgery to remove a brain aneurysm. It resulted in amnesia that included his inability to play the guitar. But with the help of friends and recordings, Martino slowly recovered his memories and relearned how to play, emerging back on the jazz scene over a quarter of a century ago. And now that he can recall his earlier career, he regrets some of the changes he has seen on the jazz landscape over time.
“More than anything,” says Martino, “the culture has changed and so what is in play is quite different now than it used to be. The majority of performances now are in concert, not like it used to be in the 60s and 70s when there used to be establishments that thrived upon intimacy, not just with the performers but with the audience too.”
He recalls fondly such places as Newark’s Key Club and Philadelphia’s Pep’s and the Showboat: all now gone. “After a performance, you could come back down and intermingle with the audience. Nowadays, one of the true results of the culture change is that a majority of groups perform on stage in concert halls and you rarely see more than a dozen or so fans who are allowed to come backstage. That’s very different than it used to be.”
He allows that young jazz players today, most of them products of jazz departments in colleges and conservatories, are equipped with “volatile abilities in the sense of their being so virtuosic it’s sometimes startling,” but something is missing from their virtuosity because the culture around jazz has changed.
“The down on the ground experience of what we used to refer to as jazz, as part of a communal social element where all of us new each other, has faded. We knew these different jazz friendly areas in different cities worldwide.” Martino says. “Now when you’re on tour, what you know more about is airports; you know more about travel than you know about the things that were happening, like we did decades ago.”
The major collaborative jazz venues today, Martino points out, are jazz festivals, not the more intimate performances in small clubs with greater contact between the artists and their listeners. When he works with young players, he says he tries to “bring to their attention music as an effect, as a force that can be expanded in a much broader way” than merely the music business itself. Musicians may seek stardom as a goal, he says, but what is more important is being what he calls a legend.
A good example, he says, is Lennie Tristano and others of that stature who became legendary without becoming big stars. “And Charlie Parker was at that time a star, but today if you had a Charlie Parker, he wouldn’t be a star because that environment no longer exists.”
But Martino is still optimistic: “The old culture and venues don’t exist anymore, but other things are happening now that are actually just as rewarding as long as you have an open mind and an open heart.”
Pat Martino judges and performs at the Wes Montgomery Jazz Guitar Competition at Merkin Hall, Oct. 10. His quintet with saxophonist Adam Niewood and trumpeter Alex Norris joining his trio with Pat Bianchi, B3 organ, and Carmen Intorre, drums, play the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May, Nov. 7.
Stay tune for “a musician worth the wait”
Hot Flashes By Seton Hawkins
The decline of major labels and the rise of self-released material did not come without its drawbacks. However, a particular type of musician, one blessed with a unique blend of creative vision and entrepreneurial spirit, has been able to capitalize on the new environment and advance striking projects and create personal expressions unlike anything heard in earlier eras. One such artist is saxophonist Sam Newsome, a talented multi-reed player whose musical journey has recently led him to explore the soprano saxophone in solo performance.
Pursuing this concept in a highly individual setting, Newsome has self-released a series of truly one-of-a-kind albums, including The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation, Monk Abstractions and The Art of the Soprano, Vol 1. A remarkably creative figure, Newsome has also found himself increasingly busy as a writer and on Sept. 24 he self-released Life Lessons from the Horn: Essays of Jazz, Originality and Being a Working Musician, a collection of his writings.
Newsome’s efforts as a writer emerged somewhat in tandem with his developing soprano saxophone projects, particularly as he began to seek grant funding. “As musicians, we tend to speak in colorful language, but it’s often language that lacks clarity,” Newsome laughs. “When you have to write grants, you have to be very specific and say exactly what you mean. That experience really got me thinking differently about my music and gave me a new sense of focus.”
This foray into writing may well have remained fairly low-key in Newsome’s working life; however, a fortuitous encounter with Peter Watrous of the New York Times changed that. “When I was releasing my first solo album, I reached out to Peter to see if he’d write the album’s liner notes,” Newsome explains. “He asked for the CD, which I sent him along with some notes and thoughts I had prepared while I was recording the album. A few days later, he called me back to tell me he was impressed by my writing and he offered to help me write my own liner notes.”
This encouragement led Newsome to launch his own blog, Soprano Sax Talk, where he would go on to tackle a wide range of topics from saxophone technique, to professional advice, to interviews, even to more philosophical considerations of the music.
While Newsome’s writing work sprung out of his musical efforts, he notes a reciprocal relationship between the worlds of writing and performing. “By writing about what I want to do, and by writing about that music I’m passionate about, I gain more clarity in my mind,” he explains. “That clarity in turn makes it easier to work toward the goals I’m setting. As I started working more on solo saxophone projects, I found that writing about solo saxophone topics helped to give me additional confidence to pursue it.”
Drawing from material that initially appeared on his blog, he selects key pieces that may be of inspiration and value to younger players building their careers and developing their own musical voices. For more details, visit Sam Newsome’s website, www.samnewsome.com.
Sam Newsome leads a quintet featuring Josh Evans on trumpet, Luis Perdomo on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums at Smalls Jazz Club Oct. 9-10. To learn more, visit www.smallsjazzclub.com.
Fresh Takes By Nathan Kamal
Pianist and composer Arcoiris Sandoval, a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, has evolved in her five years in New York through influences of film music and the metric complexities of modern jazz. It didn’t take long for Sandoval to acquire her musical companions, which include Mimi Jones and Steve Wilson, fellow MSM grads, among her earliest New York connections. In addition to their prolific small-ensemble work, Sandoval and Jones lead the D.O.M.E. Experience, a multimedia jazz philharmonic.
For inspiration, Sandoval draws on cultural issues on a global scale. “One of the things that I’m really interested in is environmental awareness, and a lot of my pieces are dedicated to that. One of them, ‘Absence of Free Will,’ is about how it feels like we don’t have control.” The three-section tune uses odd meters to convey a sense of instability, which is resolved in the “open” solo section. “It makes the mood of the rehearsals very passionate.”
Pianist Arcoiris Sandoval is joined by her quartet, Sonic Asylum, at Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab on Oct. 11. Her project consists of Steve Wilson on saxes, Mimi Jones on bass, Nathan Ellman Bell on drums and Sandoval alternating between piano and Rhodes.
Crossing Bridges By Cary Tone
Born in 1986 in Connecticut, saxophonist Noah Preminger plays with the grace and expression of a jazz veteran. Having studied with Dave Liebman and attended the New England Conservatory of Music, he seems to have arrived on the NYC scene fully formed. The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Preminger designs a different kind of sound for each note, an individual destiny and story.”
Q. Talk about this new, live quartet recording.
A. This new record, Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar, has a few different concepts that I’ve been exploring over the past few years. I stopped listening to music a number of years ago, but occasionally I will put on the blues. The region of blues music that seems to touch me the most is from the Mississippi Delta – The cats sang and played with such a sense of urgency, honesty and grit! That is exactly what I want my playing to portray when one listens. The musicians also had a very natural way of phrasing that I seem to have always been able to relate to. Because their storytelling is so brilliant and truthful, I decided my band (comprised of my favorite storytellers) would record two lengthy songs where we improvise based on melodies by the blues singer Bukka White, using chordal pivoting as a tool to dig more deeply into each story.
Q. Why did you stop listening to music?
A. I stopped listening to music because there’s constantly melody and rhythm in my head. I can’t get rid of it. What’s odd is that a lot of times I’ll catch myself running through scales and patterns in my mind and fingers, but I never play patterns when I improvise.
Q. Is this your first recording as a leader with saxophone, trumpet front line, no guitar or piano?
A. This is my first recording as a leader with the sax/trumpet/bass/drums lineup, although I do have one recording from 2010 under the Fresh Sound label that is chordless as well.
Q. You’re spending more time in Boston than NYC these days. Is that working out for you?
A. I was offered a teaching job at a college overseas, but decided I wanted to get another degree first in order to diversify my teaching abilities as well as continue to develop my personal identity as an improviser.
Q. Anything you’d rather be doing other than playing music?
A. Sure! I’d love to live in the mountains and be a ski bum, or join the PGA tour, or train for the heavyweight boxing title.
Q. What do you know today that you didn’t know ten years ago?
A. I think I have a much better grasp on the music business. I would love to teach a class on that subject!
Q. What do you struggle with in your creative life?
A. Finding time to escape, both mentally and physically, is often something I struggle to find time for. Traveling for pleasure is one of my favorite ways to discover creativity and become more excited. Having a constant source of intensity in my life is completely necessary for me to feel like I am moving forward.
Q. If there’s an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here that you’ll remember there?
A. My parents are and always have been my biggest inspiration. Growing up they surrounded me with amazing and diverse music and have always supported my decision to be a player. Musically, Charlie Parker has been my hero from the beginning. But in the end, all I want to be surrounded by is silence.
Noah Preminger performs at 55 Bar Oct. 6 and at Smalls Oct. 14 with Jason Palmer, trumpets; Kim Cass, bass and Ian Froman, drums.