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Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell: Harlem on Her Mind by Elzy Kolb

Throughout her vibrant career, Catherine Russell has proved that she’s at home in virtually every genre of music. But with a couple of recent projects, she’s reminding her listeners that she’s a lady who really digs the blues.

“Blues is as big a word as jazz; it’s a big category,” the vocalist points out. “You can listen to the blues your whole life and you can’t hear all of it. Jazz and blues are styles that are inseparable to me. They inform each other and there’s a mix of history in there—you can hear how people needed this music to get them through. It’s a survival thing—the music got them to the next plane. There were prison songs that got the job done; there were tunes that helped people and healed them.”

In her new CD, Harlem on My Mind (Jazz Village), Catherine explores blues-inflected jazz associated with Harlem in the first half of the 20th Century, through compositions by Irving Berlin, Fats Waller, Benny Carter, Clarence Williams and others. The singer, who is constantly on the lookout for new material, came across the title tune while putting together a show dedicated to the vocalist and actress Ethel Waters.

“Every African-American artist in every genre played Harlem,” she said “I thought I could expand on that for an album.” She also drew inspiration from the song stylings of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, with tunes associated with each diva: “Swing! Brother, Swing!” and “Let Me Be the First to Know,” respectively.

Catherine’s reason for choosing “The Very Thought of You” came from even closer to home. “That was a hit for my dad’s orchestra in the 1940s. I always like to include something associated with him, or that he wrote. And, he played Harlem.” Her father, Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong’s long-time musical director, as well as a renowned pianist, composer and band leader in his own right.

She has jazz pioneers on both sides of her family tree. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a guitarist, bassist and singer who worked with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams and Sy Oliver. Catherine’s grandfather played brass with James Reese Europe’s orchestra during the World War I era.

For Harlem on My Mind, her sixth recording as a leader, Catherine had a very special guest artist who brought first-hand experience with the musical era: Fred Staton, tenor saxophonist for the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, was 100 years old at the time of the recording. “He’s the nicest, most respectful human being I have ever met,” she says, enthusiastically. “He came in and nailed it. It was thrilling to have him there. What a beautiful tone; he graced me with his playing.” Catherine doesn’t know if the saxophonist will sit in at her CD release gig, “But it would be incredible if he could be there.”

Catherine is also involved with a second, separate blues-related project, Ladies Sing the Blues, in which she shares the stage with vocalists Charenee Wade and Brianna Thomas. “They are incredible, we’re singing funny songs everyone found and brought in. It’s a complete package in itself.”

With a busy international touring schedule, sold-out gigs, numerous awards, scores of critical accolades and a handful of chart-topping CDs as a leader, Catherine has reached a level of recognition and acclaim afforded to few jazz musicians. But the vocalist achieved her goals long before fame came her way. “I just wanted to be a working musician, and travel; that was my original incentive,” she says.

She found her early success 20 feet from stardom, providing backup for David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Levon Helm, Samantha Fox, Rosanne Cash and Carrie Smith. Her efforts comprise an exhaustive range including jazz, pop, country, rock, traditional American string bands, gospel, blues, a cappella harmony alá the Tallis Scholars, and R&B.

Catherine appeared on more than 200 recordings as a singer, guitarist, keyboardist and percussionist before she considered putting out an album of her own. But when it came time to record as a leader, she knew what she wanted: It had to swing. “I like all eras of jazz, but traditional music is where I live.”

Catherine Russell has her CD release party for Harlem on My Mind at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Sept. 29.

Photo Credit: Sandrine Lee

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Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker: Paying homage to Lew Soloff by Ralph Miriello

Anyone who grew up during the turbulently creative late 1960s and early 1970s has undoubtedly heard of Blood Sweat & Tears. This genre breaking, horn-centric band broke onto the scene with its debut album The Child is Father to the Man in 1968. The brainchild of organist/singer Al Kooper, the band was a prescient merging of rock and R&B using a jazz horn section, à la Maynard Ferguson, and it redefined the music of the era.

One of the original members was the jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker. Randy had been paying his dues with stints in the jazz bands of Clark Terry and Duke Pearson and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Unfortunately, the original BS&T was short lived. After a rift between Kooper and other founding members, the band had a shakeup. Randy joined Horace Silver’s group before entering the age of fusion. A year and a half later, he went with his brother Michael, drummer Billy Cobham and trombonist Barry Rodgers to create the fusion super group known as Dreams and the music changed forever again.

Concurrently, BS&T was totally revamped and began to veer more heavily into the pop realm. They added a new lead singer, Canadian David Clayton Thomas and two new trumpet players—Chuck Winfield and Lew Soloff. Lew was a year older than Randy and honed his jazz chops with groups led by Machito, Tony Scott and Maynard Ferguson.

The second album titled Blood Sweat & Tears hit a chord with the public and won a Grammy in 1968. Lew’s trumpet solo on “Spinning Wheel” is legendary and he stayed with the group until 1974, eventually leaving to pursue more mainstream jazz and studio work.

Randy and Lew shared more than a few passing commonalities. Besides the BS&T connection, the two were both very active as in-demand studio musicians. Their contributions can be heard on countless iconic albums by artists including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra and George Clinton. With Lew’s sudden passing in March 2015, it comes as no surprise that fellow trumpeter and friend Randy Brecker would want to pay tribute to his fallen comrade in the best way he knows how: by playing his music.

“Lew was one of the all-time characters. He was one of the first trumpet players I had heard when I was thinking of moving to New York,” Randy recalled. “When I first heard him on a tape of keyboardist Barry Harris’ group, I thought to myself, ‘Oh man, I’m going to have to practice a lot before I get to New York in order to keep up with everybody’ because Lew sounded just great.”

After Randy got to New York, it was he who recommended Lew to BS&T after Al Kooper had left the group in a dispute over bringing in a new lead singer. “They begged me to stay and said they were cutting in everyone equally going forward. ‘We’re sharing things. We think we can go far with this new lead singer.’ But I had an offer from Horace Silver that I wanted to pursue so I begged my friend Lew Soloff, who I met at a Joe Henderson big band rehearsal the next day, to take my place. He was pretty anti-rock, which is kind of ironic. He really didn’t want to do it. He said ‘I don’t want to play in a rock band, I want to play jazz.’”

The rest is history. “Blood Sweat & Tears went on to record their next album, which had hits like ‘Spinning Wheel’ and ‘And When I Die’ and went on to sell 11 million records. So Lew’s salary went to, I think it was $5,000 a week, which in 1968 was like $20,000 a week. I went out with Horace Silver making $250 a week, which was better than the $100 a week, but I didn’t know Horace was going to take taxes out. I think I netted $147.50 out of which I had to pay for my own hotel, which I didn’t know at the time.”

But Randy held no remorse for throwing Lew the gig. “He was one of my closest friends and I miss him very much.” And as for Lew’s chops, “Lew had total command of the instrument. He was one of the first guys that could literally do anything. If you wanted him to play lead he could do it. If you wanted him to play solo, he could do it. He was a great section player. If you wanted him to play a classical piece he could do it. He was the world’s greatest jazz piccolo trumpet player. After Miles, Lew was Gil Evans’ trumpet player for years.”

Randy Brecker and saxophonist Lou Marini join the NJCU Jazz Big Band, under Richard Lowenthal’s direction, to play music from Lew Soloff’s career at J. Owen Grundy Pier in Jersey City on Sept.16.

New Jersey Jazz by Gary Walker

Photo Credit:  Fran Kaufman

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Roxy Coss

Age of Enlightenment

The six years between albums has been a time of personal and professional growth for saxophonist Roxy Coss, as the Seattle native explored how to navigate her way around the music business and life. She wrote the ten original pieces for her new CD, Relentless Idealism, between 2011 and 2014, while in the midst of an extended residency at Smoke, plus going on the road with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and working regularly with others.

“It was a steep learning curve, all about learning to live in New York, being a musician and becoming an adult,” Roxy observes. “I was doing the whole tour life with Jeremy and learning how to balance everything.”

That quest for balance is more than hinted at in her choice of album title. Hunter S. Thompson employs the phrase in his book Rum Diaries, crediting the tension between a restless idealism and a sense of impending doom with keeping him going.

“There’s a challenge in how we can look at a tiny little view of our lives and how it reflects on what’s going on around us in our community and in the world. We could be making progress or going into a black hole; and we’re not certain which way we’re going,” Roxy muses.

“There’s no secret to success; some of the most talented people have given up and quit. But if you commit to work and keep going, constantly taking risks as an artist, I think this is the right direction. Trust that it’s the right way, choosing idealism over doom, gaining perspective and hoping for longevity—that’s hard to remember in a climate of instant gratification.”

Roxy’s looking forward to her release gig at Jazz Standard Sept. 14, with Jeremy, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Rick Rosatto and drummer Jimmy MacBride. The band will focus on material from the recording, but there may be some surprises. “It’s always a challenge to come up with a set in a case like this. I want to celebrate the CD and connect people with what’s on it, and I also want to play the new music I’ve written since then.”

Besides fronting her own band, Roxy has played with Clark Terry, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band and drummer Louis Hayes. She has a private wish list of elders she hopes to play with and learn from. “I grew up looking up to these artists. Being a servant to that music is important to my music.”

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Eri Yamamoto

Beyond words

This is a year of milestones for pianist Eri Yamamoto. She’s celebrating 20 years in New York; the release of Life (AUM), her tenth CD as a leader; and her 17th year of weekly gigs at Arthur’s Tavern, from which she’s taken breaks only when she’s on the road.

Eri doesn’t feel that two decades in New York have affected her style or writing. She began composing at age 8 as a way to communicate. “I started because I was afraid of writing with words; so many people are so much better at it. I was so shy in speaking out and showing what I feel. Music is the best way to express my feelings; it’s like a diary for me.”

Although she downplays her skill with words, Eri’s liner notes for Life contain marvelously concise, poetic descriptions of the source for each tune. But she has no interest in writing lyrics for any of her compositions, feeling that could limit people’s interpretation of her work. “It’s really up to the listener. Some might feel a piece is so cheerful, another might feel it’s sad or nostalgic. That’s why I love writing music.”

Eri’s creative muse can be triggered by an idea she gets while walking, by a snatch of overheard chatter or simply by being outside. “I get inspired by nature, I get many tunes from looking at the sky. Or from the experience of having a conversation with people when I travel in different countries. This world is big and full of inspiration when you open your eyes and ears.”

The pianist thrives on living in the moment. “Every day is important. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m thinking ahead musically, but have no particular goals.” Eri is considering writing a “bigger” piece of music, maybe a suite, perhaps for a band larger than her standard trio format. “But I won’t tell yet,” she declares with a laugh.

Through her ten albums, weekly gigs and extensive touring, Eri has accrued an international following that constantly surprises, and thrills, her. “There are people who come out to hear me every time they visit New York; I have met so many interesting, wonderful people,” she says. “And I receive emails from countries I haven’t been to, from people who are very passionate about my music.”

Join Eri and her trio in celebrating the release of Life at the Cornelia Street Café on Sept. 25.

Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins

Photo Credit:  Jimmy Katz

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The Bad Plus

Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins

Contemporary Jazz Cruise Artist Spotlight: The Bad Plus

In this age of all-star supergroups, pick-up bands and guest spots, it’s rare to find a working jazz band that holds a consistent line-up. Rarer still, is to find a successful working jazz band operating under a collective leadership model. This is a shame since, historically, such outfits—the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the World Saxophone Quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others—have developed some of the most extraordinary music in jazz while forging truly iconic identities.

Therefore, it’s no small wonder that an ensemble like The Bad Plus has stood out so profoundly in this century. Co-led by pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King, this Midwest trio burst onto the scene more than 15 years ago and has remained the gold standard of modern piano trios with its unique fusion of multitudinous styles. Making its cruise debut on the 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise, The Bad Plus undoubtedly stands out as a highlight in the already stellar line-up.

The polymath approach and shared leadership of The Bad Plus has been a hallmark of the group since its origins. “I think we’ve managed to be a force in the jazz world in saying that this needs to be group music,” Ethan notes. “Historically, you’ll find the jazz records we love have a group aesthetic. You may see ‘John Coltrane Quartet’ on the cover, but A Love Supreme exists because of the way those four musicians played together. The music we loved from jazz and from rock—groups like Rush and The Police were very illuminating for us—had this group aesthetic. What’s great about this is that every night all three of us are equally invested in communicating the group message.”

Indeed, even a cursory glance at its discography demonstrates the collectively negotiated and shared vision of three highly distinct musical personalities; and it has allowed them to tackle anything from standards to Bowie to Bacharach to Stravinsky, with their interpretations of The Rite of Spring standing as a particular group highlight.

Most recently, the band turned heads with a highly acclaimed quartet outing, inviting Joshua Redman—who also appears on the cruise—into the fold for tours and a successful recording. “There are many connections between us and Josh,” Ethan notes. “So when we had a week at the Blue Note and were asked to bring in a guest, we suggested Josh. It went really well and that led to our making the recording.”

As the group prepares for their first voyage on a Jazz Cruise, they’ll be going in with fresh material and concepts. Their latest album, It’s Hard, hit stores in August, offering a series of refreshing takes on works of Prince, Cyndi Lauper, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ornette Coleman. Indeed, the ensemble has never stood still musically and has frequently offered game-changing epiphanies on where this music is capable of going. On the cruise, they will be one of the most exciting prospects.

To book a space on The Contemporary Jazz Cruise, visit

Photo Credit: Josh Goleman

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Eddie Palmieri

The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons

Eddie Palmieri: Master of Tension and Release

Pianist Eddie Palmieri exudes self-confidence: “I don’t guess that I will excite you with my orchestra,” Eddie says, “I know it.” The groundbreaking NEA Jazz Master has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and ten Grammy Awards; he recorded with Tito Puente and he changed the recording industry format from 3.5 to 8.5 minutes with his “Azuca Pa Ti,” which was added to the Library of Congress in 2009.

Eddie thinks that performing is about making people feel good. Being on stage is “the most sacred moment of my life,” he says, “because at that moment, whoever works so hard to buy tickets to come to see me…there is nothing else on their mind except the music that I am giving them: they are not thinking about their problems, the rent they have to pay, their bills, the low wages that they are receiving; all of that is erased as soon as I start playing.”

The pianist, who describes himself as a “frustrated drummer,” says that the secret to successful performances has to do with the mastery of tension and release. “To reach the maximum rhythmic and harmonic musical climax,” he explains, “you have to have tension and release within all these compositions. That takes study; that takes knowledge; that takes reading. That took me many years.” And rhythm is what Eddie thrives on: “The drums, to me, in the rhythms section, is the pulse of my life,” he says. “There’s no other rhythm in the planet that excites me like the structures that came out of Cuba. I learnt them intuitively and then I learnt them scientifically.”

So Eddie prefers to call his music “Afro-World” rather than salsa, about which Tito Puente used to say, “I put salsa in my spaghetti, baby!” “It’s not just one country that knows how to play the instruments,” Eddie says. He also likes the term “Afro-Caribbean.” “The influence that the Puerto Ricans received coming from Cuba in the 1950s and the 1960s is what kept the music going after the embargo in Cuba,” Eddie explains. “So it became Afro-Caribbean and now it’s Afro-World.”

As far as the future of salsa music, Eddie is a little pessimistic. “There is no real Latin orchestra that plays what I play and what they do on the radio is really Latin pop,” he says. He describes Latin pop as “toned down salsa.” “They took away the tension and resistance so it will never excite you,” he adds. “They don’t know how to generate that anymore.”

Now Eddie is having his music orchestrated for symphonic orchestra. “I would like to do a debut at Carnegie Hall with my music and also playing some classical piano pieces that I was playing when I was a young man.”

On Sept. 17, Eddie Palmieri performs at the Lehman Center for the Arts in the Bronx with his Salsa Orchestra featuring vocalist Herman Olivera.

Photo Credit:  Erik Valind

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Sylvie Courvoisier

Crossing Bridges by Cary Tone

Born in Switzerland and residing in Brooklyn since 1998, pianist and composer Sylvie Courvoisier has over 25 recordings as a leader and is a formidable creative force on the international improvising scene.

Q- What do you think life would be like for you if you had remained living in Switzerland, where you were born and raised?

A- I would play piano, play gigs and write music, like I do now. I probably would have started a venue or a music festival in my hometown and invite my favorite musicians to come and play there.

Q- In the most general possible terms, what are some of your influences; music, books, movies, dance?

A- Since 2010, I have been working with the great contemporary Flamenco dancer Israel Galvan from Sevilla, Spain. Israel has been a huge creative influence and I toured for six years with him on his project "La Curva." I wrote the music and played the piano in "La Curva." We performed about 200 shows in a six-year period and finished the tour with our last show, almost 3 weeks ago!

Music: So many. Every day I discover new great music and musicians.

Books: Les écrits de Laure and so many others. I'm a big fan of Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir . . .

Just to name 3 movies: Women in the Dunes, Hiroshi Teshigahara; Top of the Lake, Jane Campion; Paris Texas, Wim Wenders.

Q- Do improvisations come from compositions? Or the other way around?

A- For me improvisation and composition have a similar relationship. One feeds the other.  Some musicians and composers describe improvisation as a spontaneous composition. Ideally it is.

Writing music is a slow process and gives you a chance to choose your notes more carefully. When composing, you are not limited to technique. Writing music is also a great tool to expand and push you beyond your limits.

Q- If you were telling someone about musical improvisation and they were completely unfamiliar with what that meant, what's the first thing you would say?

A- Musical improvisation is a conversation and reflection between musicians. Sometimes it is a conversation on a specified subject and sometimes it is totally open.

Q- Two musicians with whom you have close associations, John Zorn and Mark Feldman. How did those relationships develop?

A- John Zorn and Mark Feldman are amazing people, musicians and composers. They both challenge me to become a better musician and composer. I've been playing music with Mark for 19 years and we have been married for 16 of those years! It is hard for me to talk about how our relationship developed. I just know that we play better now than 19 years ago. John Zorn is just an incredible composer and musician who cares about his community and his friends. He has been a great inspiration for me, even before I met him.

Q- What makes musical relationships last?

A- Respect, challenge, recordings and gigs.

Q- What can be taught about music and what can't?

A- Theory, technique, form and harmony can be taught. Poetry and individuality cannot.

Q- What do you know today that you didn't know 20 years ago when you moved to NYC?

A- How to practice; how to rehearse and prepare music efficiently.

Q- If you weren't a musician what would you be doing with your life?

I have no idea. Ever since I was 8 years old, I have wanted to be a musician. I don't have any other talents. Maybe I could be a cat sitter or a dog walker.

Q- What have you been listening to lately?

A- Yesterday I listened to Steve Lehman's new album called Selebeyone. It is ridiculously amazing.

This week I heard many great musicians playing John Zorn's Bagatelles at the Village Vanguard. The lineup included the fantastic Craig Taborn, Mark Feldman, Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Evans, Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Dan Weiss, Kim Cass and many more who were all so inspiring. I also heard the beautiful duo of Tim Berne and Hank Roberts at Korzo.

Tonight I'm going to hear more Bagatelles with Kris Davis's 4tet with Drew Gress, Tyshawn Sorey and Mary Halvorson and later I will hear the Mary Halvorson 4tet with Miles Okazaki, Tomas Fujiwara and Drew. I'm very excited about this and I'm also thrilled to hear women leading their own bands and presenting them at the Village Vanguard!

Q- If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here that you'll remember there?

A- The Goldberg Variations.

Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who are they?

A- Thelonious Monk, Glenn Gould and Igor Stravinsky.


Sylvie Courvoisier performs at Roulette Sept. 16 with Ikue Mori's OBELISK and Sept. 18 for Ned Rothenberg's 60th Birthday Party.

Photo Credit:  Caroline Mardok

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