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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: February 2015
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Leaders of larger units in jazz today can find inspiration in a vast swath of history, to tap traditions or to plant footsteps on a forward journey expanding the parameters of the assemblage of musicians known as the big band/large ensemble. Our Winning Spins this month look both forward and back in their creation of new ensemble jazz.
The big band tradition encapsulated in the Swing Era is the template for the George Gee Swing Orchestra, a decades-long staple of the Manhattan neo-swing dance scene and expanded on in the band’s latest album. Orchestral jazz, as developed by the likes of Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer and the Third Stream movement of the mid-20th Century, provides inspiration and points in new directions for Rufus Reid’s large ensemble recording of a suite inspired by and celebrating the works of African-American sculptor Elizabeth Catlett.
Swing Makes You Happy!, George Gee Swing Orchestra (Rondette Jazz), generates Swing Era feeling and spirit with a compact unit consisting of nine musicians, plus two singers and a stimulating leader. The band boasts the Count Basie Orchestra as a main inspiration, but in the last five years, under the musical direction of trombonist David Gibson, the scope of the repertoire has expanded, while always maintaining an allegiance to the core value of swing as exemplified by Basie and Swing Era formats.
Among the 19 tracks on the album are direct borrowings from Swing Era bands like “Lindyhopper’s Delight,” a two-beat romp from Chick Webb’s group, and “Midnight in a Madhouse,” adapted from Larry Clinton’s popular late 1930s dance band. Director Gibson contributes five charts, ranging from a swing-bop “Bedrock,” recalling Four Brothers era Woody Herman, to a Basie-esque blues, “Hash Mash.” His “The Road to Roscoe’s” transcends swing to suggest a funky Dizzy Gillespie band in a retro mood.
Gibson’s charts make inventive use of instrumental choruses and inter-sectional voicings, but also employs cornerstones of swing arranging like riffs, shouts and vamps and he knows how to feature soloists, whether instrumental or vocal. Tenor sax Michael Hashim plays the Sinatra role and then some on a winning “It Was A Very Good Year;” John Dokes brings a Joe Williams vibe to blues and swing vocals and Hilary Gardner matches the bright buoyancy of swing band singers. Gibson’s biggest stretch is a swing setting of Herbie Hancock’s “A Tribute to Someone,” a commanding trumpet feature for Freddie Hendrix.
The George Gee Swing Orchestra celebrates the release of its new CD at Smalls, Feb. 1, plays at the newly reopened Rainbow Room Feb. 2, and continues its weekly Tuesday performance at Swing 46.
Coming next: check the CD review of a Grammy 2015 award nominee… posting scheduled mid-February!
Dianne Reeves: It’s All Music
by George Kanzler
With the recent nomination of Beautiful Life (Concord) for a Best Jazz Vocal Album, Dianne Reeves could add a fifth Grammy in that category this year. But Reeves doesn’t think of the album as jazz, she thinks of it like she thinks of her singing: as music. “It’s the record companies that come up with all that stuff [genres, categories] to sell the music,” she says from her home in Colorado. “I don’t think that you should have to do just one thing, you can do a whole lot of things. I’m always open to different configurations, going out with different people because they inspire things that lead to other things. You know: new music!”
As examples of doing a lot of things, Reeves cites having recently toured with singers Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo in a program celebrating Nina Simone and doing concerts where she sings with just the guitarists Romero Lubambo and Russell Malone. Many collaborations are on Beautiful Life with performers as diverse as Gregory Porter, Esperanza Spaulding, Terri Lynne Carrington, Sean Jones, Gregoire Maret, Tineke Postma and Reeve’s cousin, the late George Duke.
“When I was growing up it was nothing to hear Marvin Gaye talk about Sarah Vaughan or Stevie Wonder about Duke Ellington, or even world music. I didn’t know about Cuban music until I heard Dizzy or about the music of Brazil until Wayne Shorter.” The diversity of her musical background goes back to her teen years in Denver; she recalls: “Clark Terry [an early mentor] had me working with these amazing jazz musicians like Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Jimmy Rowles or Roland Hanna; then I was working with my band called the Mellow Moods doing all Top 40 music. And at the same time I was in a concert choir doing madrigals and classical music. It was all just music to me. I’ve always been a curious spirit and my curiosity has led me into some places you wouldn’t think I would be,” she continues. “But experiences kind of washed over me and became part of my palette, and they just come out― and I allow them to.”
Case in point: “Tango,” a track she wrote for Beautiful Life, features a wordless vocal, less jazz scat and more like a made-up language. “The whole thing with ‘Tango’ is that it is a tribute to Celia Cruz and all those other great singers like Miriam Makeba who sang in other languages that as a kid I would listen to. And it didn’t matter I didn’t understand anything Celia was singing because I was dancing, I was feeling it and in my heart, I felt what she was saying. So on ‘Tango’ I just made up a language and sang it and the odd thing is people listen and think they understand it.”
On Bob Marley’s classic “Waiting In Vain,” the reggae beat is subtle, de-emphasized in Lubambo’s arrangement. “The funny thing is that Bob Marley was in my life and I was living in America and he was in Romero’s life, and he was living in Brazil. So what I’m saying is good music just goes; in my life this wasn’t reggae music or world music; it was Bob Marley, that’s all,” Reeves says. “When people listen to my records and say this is this and that is that but it’s just music. Don’t you listen to a lot of different music? You know on my mix tapes I have everything.”
Reeves feels jazz musicians have invariably mined the popular music of the day for inspiration. “They’ve always taken pop music and given it jazz sensibilities,” she explains. “The American songbooks were always the essential language for jazz and when they first came out they were pop music. But my generation is listening to everything. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music― music that has really touched me and that’s my American Songbook.”
That diversity is reflected in Beautiful Life, where Marley coexists with Fleetwood Mac, vintage Gaye with a Carrington soul duet with Porter, and Ani DeFranco with Harold Arlen: a seductive “Stormy Weather.”
Meanwhile, Reeves is preparing to go into the studio with a new project later this year and hopes to do some more gigs with the two guitarists. You can find some excerpts from their concerts on YouTube.
Dianne Reeves returns to Jazz at Lincoln Center for the second year for a Valentine’s Day show, Feb. 13-14, with a quartet of Peter Martin, piano; Peter Sprague, guitar; Reginald Veal, bass and Terreon Gully, drums.
Coming next: two times Grammy award winner Alan Broadbent
ANOTHER REASON TO CELEBRATE BY ELZY KOLB
Attitude of gratitude
If composer/pianist Justin Kauflin hadn’t lost his sight to a rare disease at age 11, he might never have found his way to jazz or taken to it with such gusto. Kauflin began studying violin at age six and took up classical piano soon after, but music was just one of the youngster’s many interests: TV, video games and playing outdoors topped the list. “That all went away, it vanished when I lost my sight,” he recalls. “Music and faith became central. Music was something to do that I enjoyed and I started working really hard at it.”
Though Kauflin knew little about jazz, he auditioned for his school’s jazz program. “There was a realistic reason to switch from classical, where sight reading is so central. I played Scott Joplin for my audition; fortunately, they didn’t know anything about jazz either and they accepted me,” he says, laughing. Things began to click as Kauflin delved into jazz. “I realized I could express myself in a personal and unique way, that it could be different each time; it’s always evolving,” he says. “When everyone in the band is on the same wavelength, there’s no better feeling. There’s a whole world of personal expression within the community.”
Kauflin pursued jazz studies at William Paterson University, where he met the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, who became his mentor. “Clark’s influence started the moment I met him,” the pianist states. Their friendship and influence on one another is documented in the film Keep On Keepin’ On, directed by William Paterson alumnus Alan Hicks and produced by Quincy Jones.
When Hicks told Kauflin he wanted to make a documentary involving him, Kauflin’s immediate thought was, “Good luck, this is going to be a boring little movie!” However, the touching portrayal of the pianist’s relationship with Terry is earning good reviews and made the Academy Awards shortlist for top documentary nominees. Kauflin is now appearing at screenings at theaters and schools, answering questions and sharing ideas. “The movie focuses on mentorship, so it’s an outreach initiative: We show the movie and talk about the process. That’s why I agreed to make the film—because of the educational outreach.”
In addition to Keep On Keepin’ On, Kauflin is excited about his new CD, Dedication (Harmonia Mundi Jazz Village), which contains a dozen originals honoring musical, familial and spiritual guides. “It’s not the safest thing to do for an emerging artist, an unknown, to jump into unsafe territory with originals, instead of playing things people are familiar with,” Kauflin admits. “It started with ‘Song for Clark,’ he’s the reason I’m here, and I want to give him a thank-you. Then it started coming together with a song for my mother and others who are important to me. There’s so much I’m grateful for and I express that through music.”
Join Kauflin and his quartet as they celebrate the release of Dedication at Jazz Standard Feb. 10.
NEW JERSEY JAZZ BY GARY WALKER
HOTOKE / FEBRUARY 5
His playing has been described as “a bucket of ice water for the senses.” For drummer Winard Harper, it started not with a bucket, but rather some cans fashioned into a drum kit at the age of five. Harper’s fireworks have been seen with Dexter Gordon, Betty Carter, Ray Bryant, Pharoah Sanders, Jimmy Heath and Winard’s trumpet-playing brother, Philip, in the Harper Brothers Band. Harper is not trapped in the traditional drum setting, expanding his creativity through proficiency on the balafon, the West African equivalent of the marimba. He’s fun to watch and has an infectious smile, while creating pulses which get right inside you. Harper’s quartet, including pianist Tada Taka Unno and bassist Vince Dupont, is also a regular Friday night feature at Moore’s Lounge in Jersey City.