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Mark your calendar for our 2017 awards ceremony celebrating Hot House Jazz magazine's 35th anniversary: Monday October 9th, 2017.
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Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2016 award ceremony.

Download Hot House Pdf Here:   August 2017 Hot House Jazz Guide




JC Hopkins

Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

Let’s put on a show

Pianist and composer JC Hopkins’ Biggish Band has a feel-good origin story that would be at home in a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie of the 1930s. A California native, JC started out as a Bay Area singer/songwriter before gravitating to jazz. He worked steadily in piano bars in San Francisco and even penned a jazz musical, Show Business, which he describes as a “smash hit in the underground scene,” with a six-month run at Café du Nord. Though JC and his band stayed busy, “San Francisco musicians didn’t have the sound I was looking for. I wanted a hard bop sound more than swing.”

The pianist visited a friend in Brooklyn, fell in love with the place and moved cross-country in 2001. “I went around to clubs saying, ‘I have this big band…’ which I didn’t,” JC explains. He didn’t begin putting one together until he actually landed a gig. Now, he reels off names of Biggish Band alumni including baritone saxophonists Claire Daly and Patience Higgins, percussionist Warren Smith, drummer Victor Lewis, French horn maven Vincent Chancey and a host of lauded singers, including Norah Jones.

“I was still looking for a sound, for musicians who played the way I heard the music. I didn’t have a lot of money, but if musicians don’t have a gig, they’ll come in. They want to play. It was magic,” he says, a word that comes up often as JC talks about the fluidly configured large ensemble.

“We had a residency at the Slipper Room, a burlesque club. The band filled a void with people who like jazz, cocktails and dressing up. It fit like a dream and it was all organic the way it happened. In the early days, sometimes it was the greatest band in the world; at other times, it was a train wreck.”

Numerous gigs and residencies followed the stint at the Slipper Room, including a lengthy run at Minton’s, the inspiration for the Biggish Band’s newly released second CD, Meet Me at Minton’s (Harlem Jazz). A lineup of players from 20-somethings to jazz senior statesmen join JC on the album’s baker’s dozen standards and originals. For JC, a high point was recording “How I Wish (Ask Me Now),” a Monk tune with lyrics written and performed by Jon Hendricks, joined by rising star Jazzmeia Horn.

“It doesn’t get any more magical than Jon and Jazzmeia singing together, trading scats. Jon was 94, so there was a 70-year age difference.” Each singer had a daughter with them at the microphone, adding to the poignancy of the moment: Jon’s daughter Aria stood with him to lend support; Jazzmeia, who had a last-minute childcare glitch, held her tiny daughter Ma’at in her arms as she sang. “Talk about magic—this was beyond magic!”

JC cites more magic in “Looking Back (Reflections),” another Monk/Hendricks piece. “Andy Bey singing about a man looking back on his life, with Brandee Younger playing harp, was so poignant and evocative,” the bandleader notes. “Claire Daly has a baritone solo and when Andy hands it off to her, she’s right in tune with the sentiment of the song, showing her expertise and genius.”

Join JC Hopkins and his Biggish Band in celebrating the release of Meet Me at Minton’s Aug. 4 at Django at the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca. Expect to hear Biggish Band mainstays, plus featured performers from the album, including vocalist Brianna Thomas; Dancer DeWitt Fleming Jr., is also on hand, singing and tapping, plus there’s a very strong chance of appearances by special guests.

Photo Credit:  Grayson Dantzic

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Roberta Piket

Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

It’s a first!

Roberta Piket likes to stay busy and have multiple projects in the works. “I get bored easily and I like to keep things interesting. There are so many options in music and it’s fascinating to explore the possibilities,” the pianist and composer says.                 

She’s recently put together a new trio book featuring material by the likes of Chick Corea, longtime inspiration Marian McPartland, and John Hicks. Roberta recalls John’s kindness to her when she first moved to New York. He used to come to her gigs, often with several friends in tow, and he invited her to sit in when he played at Bradley’s.

Her respect for the pianist and composer stretches back even further: “One of the first LPs I ever bought was by John Hicks: Hells Bells. I do ‘Yeminja’ from that album, it’s a great tune. John was a great player and composer; his music isn’t played often enough. His memory should be sustained.”

She’s also planning to release a piano trio album she recently recorded in California with bassist Darek Oles and drummer Joe LaBarbera. “Joe was on my favorite Bill Evans record; I first got to play with him at Cal Arts, and it felt natural from the first note. I’ve wanted to record with him for a long time.” Guitarist Larry Koontz, whom Roberta calls “the best guitarist on the West Coast,” guests on the recording, which should be out by early 2018.

Though she used to think of herself as “a closet singer,” Roberta is coming out. She cites a lack of confidence in her vocal skills and the challenge of integrating her harmonically modern playing with the songbook tunes she was drawn to as among the reasons she used to call herself “not really a singer.” But in recent years Roberta has become more comfortable mixing the modern and the conventional, and notes that as she approaches her 52nd birthday, she worries less about what people think.

Roberta has never done a birthday gig before, but decided it will be fun to give it a try at Mezzrow on Aug. 9. “Originally, I resisted the idea; I don’t want people to feel pressured to show up,” she explains. “Musicians love to play; we’d play every day if we could, and Mezzrow has such a warm, friendly atmosphere, it’s perfect for a birthday.”

Bassist Harvie S and drummer Billy Mintz will be on hand to help her blow out the candles. Expect to hear the trio present material from the upcoming album. “As a bonus, I’ll be singing some standards,” Roberta says, “and we may have some special guests.” You can also catch Roberta with Billy Mintz’s quintet at iBeam in Brooklyn on Aug. 26; and keep an ear out for her on an upcoming CD from tenor great Virginia Mayhew.

Photo Credit:  John Abbott

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M Balia Singley

Fresh Takes by Nick Dunston

Singer and songwriter M’Balia Singley is based in Philadelphia, but her mark as an artist rings loud and clear in the New York jazz scene as well. Characterized by her striking ability to connect with a wide variety of audiences, M’Balia explains: “Growing up with parents from the south, music was casually in my household. I knew all the hymns, all the church songs. Later being in the singer/songwriter scene, there would be times where I would have to perform for people who didn’t even know that there was going to be live music! That taught me a lot about ways to connect with people.”

Having earned degrees in history from Yale University and law from Temple University while continuing her pursuit of music, M’Balia recollects “I felt at first that my skills could be put to best use as a lawyer, to help people. It wasn’t until I had my first child that I realized I wanted to present myself to them in my most honest form and be someone that they could look up to as an artist.”

M’Balia sings at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club with Josh Lawrence on trumpet, Sarah Slonim on piano, Adrian Moring on bass and Anwar Marshall, drums on Aug. 17.

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Carli Munoz

The Latin Side of Hot House by Emilie Pons

Carli Muñoz: Going with the Flow

Carlos “Carli” Muñoz plays jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and even country music. “I find my life a lot easier going with the flow of things,” he says. The pianist sounds like Bill Evans who, for him, is “neither overly aggressive nor overly passive.” But Carli can also play the bass and he enjoys playing the drums for fun. He performed on Hammond B3 and piano with the Beach Boys for more than a decade.

 “What characterizes me most as a performer,” he explains, “is the duality of being able to wear the hat of rock ’n’ roll and jazz totally independently, without mixing the two.” That versatility probably comes from Carli’s background, including playing professionally at 13. “I come from a big mixture,” he says. “Some of my early experiences were with Afro Cuban jazz. The jams were phenomenal. The musicians wanted to keep playing until seven in the morning.”

That thirst for playing hasn’t left Carli: He performs every night at his club Carli’s Fine Bistro and Piano in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a venue he opened in 1998. “It’s a working studio for me,” he says, “a place where I try new things and I challenge myself. I intermingle my original songs with the original American songbook.

“I am one of the last mainstream jazz players from that school of being self-taught,” he says. “I don’t go by the book. I do what I need to do. I use my ear.” A naturally musical person, he has performed with luminaries Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette who advised him not to take classes because, he says, he had already developed a method. “And I enjoy it very much,” he adds.

For Carli, having his own way provides his music with a certain edge. When he learns a new song, “it’s like a discovery, a process,” he says. “I have a term for that, which is ‘demystifying.’ It’s like decoding…it’s challenging and it opens a whole world for me. I try to decode complex songs.”

For his performance at Saint Peter’s Church, Carli has no set list. “I never have the slightest idea of what I am going to play until I play it,” he says. In that sense, Carli is a true improviser — a true jazz player. For bass player Gary Peacock, improvising is about forgetting oneself and allowing the music to simply “play him.” Carli operates in a similar way.

The pianist just finished recording a rock album as well as a tribute album to Kenyan activist and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. “I am always drawn to Africa,” Carli says. And not surprisingly, he composed all the tunes of his new world jazz album, which will be released on vinyl. Bass player Eddie Gómez and drummer Billy Drummond, vocalist Catherine Russell, guitarist Vic Juris and percussionist Manolo Badrena are part of the project. And, now that painting has also become part of Carli’s life, one can certainly expect future creative surprises.

On Aug. 2, Carli Muñoz plays with bassist Jesse Murphy at Saint Peter’s Church.

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Billy Mintz

Crossing Bridges by Cary Tone

“If you're a fan of modern drumming but haven't heard Billy Mintz, you haven't hear it all,” JazzTimes writes.  His recently released third recording as a leader, Ugly Beauty is a small masterpiece with a two-horn front line including tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. Billy is one of jazz music's stunning secrets whose time for discovery is now.

Q: You compose and arrange for different size and styles of bands, even orchestra. But, as far as I can tell you had no formal training. What was your process in acquiring the necessary knowledge?
A: I don't have any formal training in composition, arranging or orchestration. I do almost everything by trial and error. Sometimes when I compose, the music will come to me in my head and I have to go to the piano to get the melody. In the past, I would ask my friends to help me with the chord changes. I've been writing my own chord changes now for at least 15 years. There was one time when no one was available to help me, and that’s when I started to find chord changes. About three years ago I wrote a saxophone soli for the Two Bass Band for soprano, alto and tenor, for the tune “Flight” which has a lot of chord changes. The first draft my wife played for me on the piano. It was so horrible and stupid sounding that I couldn't stop laughing. Five or six rewrites later it started sounding better.

Q: You're often compared to Paul Motian. What are your thoughts and experiences with Paul and his music?

A: When I was on tour with Charles Lloyd 1989 we were in Europe touring and we had a layover at a train station in a small town in northern Italy, so we found the guy who works at the train station and he locked all our stuff up. We had suitcases and instruments and the bass player’s bass and my cymbals. We found a little restaurant down the street and we were having a great time eating, drinking some wine, and then one of the guys looked at the clock and said “Oh shit! We're gonna miss the train!” So, we ran back to the train station but we couldn't find the guy with the key so we were all in a panic. Finally, we found the guy to open up the storage room. We got all our stuff and ran like crazy to the platform. The train was leaving. It was maybe going 1 mile an hour, then two miles an hour, and we're running along the side of the train trying to get on the train. It’s getting a little faster and finally a long arm reached out of the doorway of the train and a voice said, “Give me your stuff.” We started handing all our stuff to this guy and we looked up and it was Ernie Watts from Quartet West. We handed the stuff to him and he handed the stuff to Alan Broadbent, and Alan handed it to Paul. And that’s how I met Paul that day on the train. I got on the train and introduced myself to him and the first thing I said was, “Thank you so much. Your playing on the Village Vanguard sessions with Bill Evans was so beautiful.” He said to me, “Oh, I don't remember that.”

Regarding Paul's music, I went to see him play at the Vanguard a couple of times shortly before he passed on. Prior to his passing I had friends playing with him at the time but I didn't really pay attention to the tunes, but I loved the open concept of the bands that I heard. A couple months ago I was in a recording studio with a couple of musicians and they brought in a couple of Paul's tunes and I started to get them and understand them and appreciate them. A couple weeks ago at the Greenwich Music House there was a fundraiser and they were playing Paul’s music that night. So, I got a chance to play some more of his music and hear a lot of it and I have a bigger appreciation for Paul’s music now.

One more very important thing: when I first heard the Bill Evans record with Paul and Scotty at the Vanguard, the whole concept of that trio, the way Paul played with Bill and Scotty and the sound of Paul's ride cymbal with the sizzle and his brushes was one of those times in my life which changed me.

Q: The Two Bass Band has been around for 25 years. How did that get started and how has that band evolved over the years?

A: I don't really remember how it got started. But one of the first gigs was with four or five bass players and a bunch of horns and piano and myself. It started out where everybody would bring in sketches. It's a nine-piece band: two basses, two saxes, two trombones, two trumpets. When it started out we would approach the music very loosely. The music has evolved over the years. I got more into arranging and orchestrating, but there's still room in that band for looser interpretation.

Q: You're from NYC. In the 1980s, you relocated to LA. Then moved back to NYC around 2001. Why did you leave NYC and why did you come back?

A: I grew up in Queens. I lived in Manhattan during the 70s. I moved to Los Angeles in 1980 because a friend of mine, Mike Garson, moved out to LA to play with Stanley Clarke's band. Mike would call me to play a bunch of gigs with his trio for a few months in LA, and then I’d go back to New York for a few months, and go back to LA for a few months; and so, in around 1980 or 1981, I just stayed out there for 20 years. It was a great experience and I got a chance to play with great musicians.

I moved back to New York I think maybe around 2002 for a couple different reasons. The scene started changing in LA. Also, I met a woman in New York, a great pianist, in 1998 and we had a long-distance relationship starting in 2001. So, the timing to move back to New York was right. (We’re married now.)

Q: Talk about a few leaders you played with who particularly influenced you.

A: I used to play club dates (weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.) in the 70s. This guy Herb Sherry was a very big-time club date bandleader. I did some gigs with him. During one of the gigs, me being somewhat inexperienced, I presumed to play a something or other. I don't quite remember what it was. He came up to me on the break and said, "Don't assume anything."

I would say that the most basic common thing that I learned playing with great bandleaders is the commitment and focus they have to the music.

Q: What topics do you focus on in the two highly regarded instructional books you've published?

A: The book Different Drummers is drum transcriptions that I did in the 70s of all the great guys–Philly, Tony, Elvin, Roy, Max and others. I didn't do it as a book. It was a period of my life when I was curious to see what exactly these guys were playing. So, I would take it off the record. At the time, mid 70s, a friend of mine was the music editor of Amsco Music Publishing Company. He asked me to do a drum book. I basically handed him the drum transcriptions. The second book is called Advanced Sticking and Sight-Reading. That's another thing I didn’t intend to be a book. Over the years I would write down all these different sticking exercises that I came up with and it turned into a book. But I do have to say the original great drum book of sticking exercises is Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone.

Q: What do you struggle with in your creative life?

A: I have a desire to become a better musician and that bleeds over to my personal life—my thoughts and my feelings about things. So, in that process I guess I'm striving for the indescribable thing that turned me onto music in the first place, but it’s hard sometimes to look at yourself that closely.

Q: A few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today.

A: A lot of music I’ve heard and played has had an effect on me, to name a few: Horowitz playing Liszt Consolation No. 3, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” Van Cliburn playing Rachmaninoff Prelude in Eb, A Love Supreme, Ben Webster playing “Tenderly”… There’s so much!!!

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

A: I'm not sure about hanging out with people; I just enjoy listening to their music.


Billy Mintz performs with his quintet featuring Tony Malaby and John Gross, saxophones; Roberta Piket, piano; and Hilliard Greene, bass on Aug. 26 at I-Beam.

Photo Credit:  Mark Keller

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