View more great pictures from the awards ceremony!
Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2016 award ceremony.
Download Hot House Pdf Here: March 2017 Hot House Jazz Guide
Check Stephanie Jones' AFTER THE CALL podcast with guests drummer Kendrick Scott and guitar player Mike Moreno.
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Two percussionists who defy usual expectations have the featured CDs in this Winning Spins. One is from a drummer who doesn’t use his album as a showcase for his own razzle-dazzle displays but employs it as a vehicle for his compositions, many of them tending toward the lyrical and slower tempos. The other one presents a steel pans player who takes that mallet instrument far from its Trinidadian and Caribbean roots to place it firmly in a modern jazz tradition.
Juxtaposition, Vinnie Sperrazza (Posi-Tone), features the veteran drummer leading a quartet with longtime rhythm section compatriot Peter Brendler on bass, plus two musicians who never performed with him or together before: tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and pianist Bruce Barth. They play a dozen tracks, nine composed by Vinnie plus two from recently departed jazz musicians and one standard.
The opening number, “Chimes,” and the title track exemplify Vinnie’s warm, lyrical approach to the ballad-tempo tunes that dominate the album. The former mimics the sounds of the descriptive title, courtesy of Vinnie and Bruce, unfolding into a D-flat blues line from Chris’ tenor sax; while the latter finds Chris and Bruce weaving an hypnotic line in a languorous duet eventually joined by discreet bass and brushed cymbals.
Vinnie calls “Somewhere,” the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim West Side Story song, “the most beautiful, meaningful song of the second half of the 20th century.” It is a tribute to the drummer’s genuine gift for tunefulness that including it as the only standard on the album doesn’t make it the only memorable melody on display. Vinnie’s compositions hold their own very well in the tunefulness department, especially the infectious waltz “House on Hoxie Road” and the most traditional ballad, “Hellenized.”
His homage to Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude,” reimagined as “Solitary Consumer,” is distinguished by a lustrous tenor sax lead, incisive pizzicato solo from Peter, and strong input from Bruce both comping and soloing. In fact, with the leader playing a crucial but deferential role as composer and accompanist-facilitator, the album’s most distinctive voices are Chris’ keening sax and Bruce’s muscular but fluidly melodious piano.
The drummer’s meaty, bravura solo on James Williams’ “Alter Ego” is a highlight of the program, as is the tandem soloing and trades between Bruce and Chris on Vinnie’s Rubick’s Cube-like “St. Jerome.” Vinnie also reveals a questing, post-bop sensibility on his avant-leaning swinger, “One Hour,” with its Cecil Taylor echoes. The witty closer, “Say the Magic Word,” is a slippery line for Chris and Bruce that decelerates in tempo as it progresses.
Bright Eyes, Victor Provost (Paquito/Sunnyside), features the leader on steel pans, a percussion instrument he brings firmly into the jazz mainstream of today with his approach, which largely eschews reliance on Caribbean rhythms. The only out-and-out montuno beat occurs on “Homenaje,” and it doesn’t come until after a long, developing theme from an ensemble that includes alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera in his only appearance on the CD. After that long introductory section, pianist Alex Brown breaks into the 3/2 montuno as Paquito takes off on a rollicking solo.
Another track with a Spanish title, Tom Glover’s “La Casa Fiesta,” is more typical of the CD’s approach. Featuring a horn frontline of Etienne Charles, trumpet, and Ron Blake, soprano sax, it is a fast, snappy bop line, not an Afro-Latin theme at all, with Victor contributing a sweeping, racing solo more akin to a bop pianist than a Caribbean percussionist.
Victor’s conception often seems closer to that of a modern jazz pianist or vibes player than other steel pan performers. It is especially pronounced on the title track, his own “Bright Eyes,” taken at a light, heartbeat tempo and including solos from vibist Joe Locke and tenor saxophonist Tedd Baker preceding Victor’s own, a fleet, multi-mallet excursion that sounds of a piece with the previous jazz solos.
Although about half the tracks include Paulo Stagnaro’s Afro-Latin hand percussion, it is used mostly as peripheral seasoning, not to enforce a tropical beat. Drummer Billy Williams Jr. dominates with his tom-toms on the most tropical of Victor’s originals, “Song for Chelle.” But what makes this album so attractively listenable is the bright, sparkling jazz vibe, one infused with Victor’s integration of steel pans into the mainstream of jazz improvising.
Vinnie Sperrazza leads his quartet at Korzo, March 28, and Cornelia Street Underground, March 31. Victor Provost and his band play the music of Bright Eyes at Jazz Gallery March 9.
Photo Credit: Anna Yatskevich
Helen Sung: Tribute to Tristano by Elzy Kolb
Pianist and composer Helen Sung isn’t shy about taking on challenges. Case in point: When she was invited to play a tune of her choice for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Handful of Keys concerts, she wasn’t daunted to learn that the JALC Orchestra didn’t have a chart for her pick, McCoy Tyner’s “Four by Five.” She volunteered to write one herself. It became her third big band arrangement, after having done a couple while in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. Helen played her take on “Four by Five” at the Handful of Keys concerts last October and during a week on the road with the JALC Orchestra when she subbed for regular pianist Dan Nimmer.
She credits her BMI workshop experience and the input she received from Jim McNeely, Andy Farber, Ted Nash and Mike Holober with giving her the confidence to take on the writing project. But her fascination with jazz and her philosophy of lifelong learning also keep her open to new experiences, among them tackling the music of pianist Lennie Tristano at Birdland this month.
The Chicago-born Tristano was a jazz innovator who made his way to New York in the mid-1940s, and was Metronome magazine’s Musician of the Year in 1947. He played bebop with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, and is said to have been the first bandleader to try his hand at free group improvisation. Lennie pioneered explorations into atonal music and experimented with overdubbing, layering multiple piano parts on some of his recordings. A respected educator for more than three decades, Lennie’s students included Charles Mingus, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Connie Crothers and others. While Lennie may not have the name recognition of some of his prominent students and colleagues, he’s far from forgotten: His 1949 Crosscurrents album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013; a recognition of its historical significance.
“It’s great getting to play the giants of this music, to get to focus on the music for almost a week,” Helen says, pointing out that in Lennie’s era it wasn’t unusual for a band to be at a club for weeks or even months, and to have the same musicians together on the road for a year or more. “That’s what moves the music forward, you don’t want to play the same way every night. Now, the mind-set and experience is different, you usually don’t have the luxury of a week or a month to get into the music. But if you have a five-day gig, by the third or fourth night the music starts to shift. That’s the great thing about jazz—it lives in the moment. It could be more free by the end of the week; who knows what will happen.”
In addition to prepping for the upcoming Tristano gig, Helen is focused on finishing a new album, Sung With Words, part of a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation grant project. Despite what the title may seem to imply, don’t expect to hear vocals by Helen on the upcoming release. “No, no, no,” she declares, laughing. “I wrote the songs but I don’t sing!” Instead, it’s a collaboration with Dana Gioia, the California state poet laureate and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We wrote the songs together and did a concert, it has been great fun,” Helen says. The CD, which will be out later this year, includes trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, vocalist Charenée Wade, reed maven John Ellis and others.
Helen is also a regular with the Mingus Big Band on Monday nights at Jazz Standard. “I used to think I wanted to write to blend classical and jazz, then I discovered Mingus and realized, Oh, somebody’s already done it,” she notes. “I’m so impressed with Mingus’ music, I love it. And it continues to be relevant—his protest songs are staggering.”
Learning jazz after years of studying classical music “felt like being thrown into the deep end of the pool,” says the pianist, who views finding her voice in the music as an ongoing process. “I don’t want to take myself too seriously, but I would like to create something of lasting beauty and value,” Helen muses. “I fell in love with this music for a reason.” With an abundance of projects on her plate, “Sometimes I feel a little bit overwhelmed. But this is what I wanted, so I’m grateful and I’m enjoying the ride.”
The Tristano Project, featuring pianist Helen Sung, saxophonists Greg Osby and Jaleel Shaw, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, performs at Birdland March 21-25.
Bridge Crossings by Cary Tone
Roger Kellaway, one of the unheralded giants of jazz piano, has played with Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Bobby Darin, Eddie Daniels. He keeps one foot on the pedal of tradition, the other leaning into the future.
Q- Your musical life is so multi-dimensional it's hard to know where to begin. So let's begin with a recent development. When did you start exploring Beatles music?
A- Originally, in the 1960s. Recently, I was working on a concept for a concert honoring Sir Paul McCartney. Each tune had to be 85-100% his—I spent a year doing the research.
Q- The new release is titled Many Moods of McCartney. Are McCartney's compositions more interesting vehicles for improvisation than Lennon or Harrison's tunes?
A- Yes, because of his early “swing” music influence. You’ll understand when you hear my piece at the Sheen Center on March 23, 2017. I’m delighted to be part of the new “Jazz on Bleecker Street” series!
Q- The three previous recordings were music associated with Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and Bobby Darin. Why did you choose those projects?
A- I was Darin’s music director 1966-68. If you want to know how I feel about him, just listen to my arrangements on our album, Doctor Doolittle. Oscar was my main influence as a teenager, particularly his trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. Out of our respect and admiration, Eddie Daniels and I chose Ellington’s music for the subject of our IPO CD, Duke at the Roadhouse, winner of Record of the Year from the French Jazz Academy.
Q- You've played with so many jazz giants. Say a few words about your work with Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer?
A- Both major heroes! Our “Half Note” years together in NYC, helped to “frame” my thinking as an improviser. Our friendships were a treasure!
Q- What did you learn from playing with great horn players? Ben Webster, Zoot Sims, Pee Wee Russell, Illinois Jacquet, to name a few.
A- Every player that you accompany has a lesson for you, in what’s best for them. Especially horn players because they “breathe.” It’s different than “piano” thinking.
Q- How did you get so deeply involved with the music of Bobby Darin?
A- Like horn players, every singer has the same lesson for you. I loved his “sound,” his “Swing,” his energy. He taught me “Stage performance timing!”
Q- And I have to ask how you ended up working with Norman Lear and writing the theme for "All in The Family"?
A- Dave Grusin was working on a film for Bud Yorkin at the time. Dave recommended me to Norman.
Q- Did you take George Cables chair in Art Pepper's late quartet? What do you remember about Pepper?
A- I’m not sure about the “Cables” reference. My first impression of Art was that I had never spent enough time listening to him. What a wonderful player! Especially his clarinet playing! If one of his “cellmates” came to hear him, he’d start telling prison stories, in the middle of the set—for maybe 15-20 minutes!
Q- How has the music business changed for you over your lifetime?
A- The crafts have changed drastically. Film composition, song writing--both melody and lyrics--have suffered greatly in the last 30 years, with VERY FEW exceptions, unfortunately!
Q- If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you've heard here you'll remember there?
A- Sir William Walton’s Cello Concerto, or Brookmeyer; Miles; Gil Evans; Stravinsky, etc.
Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who would they be?
A- Frank Zappa, Igor Stravinsky and Ruby Braff. I once had the good fortune to be invited to dinner at David Raksin’s house with Frank Zappa and Luciano Berio…I’d like to do that again!
Roger Kellaway performs with Peter Beets at the Sheen Center’s new series Jazz On Bleecker Street March 23.
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Artists Talk Influences: David Weiss on Miles Davis’ “Lost” Quintet
Given his highly-acclaimed project Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter, it should come as no surprise that trumpeter and composer David Weiss is highly influenced and inspired by the legendary saxophonist. However, digging deeper into David’s life and music turns up a more unexpected source of inspiration: Miles Davis’ so-called “lost quintet,” the woefully under-recorded gathering of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette of the late 1960s.
This source of inspiration becomes particularly clear when one listens to David’s Point of Departure ensemble. Created in 2004, the ensemble gained momentum and a unique identity in 2006 during a long-standing residency at Fat Cat, when David found time to explore the possibilities of a smaller, piano-less group. Conceived as a vehicle to explore, re-examine and forge fresh takes on the breath-taking musical experiments in jazz and fusion during the late 1960s, Point of Departure has managed to examine and celebrate these classic works while still offering fresh musical experiences for the listener, paired with a new and unique ensemble identity.
For David, who encountered the lost quintet through bootleg cassette tapes in college, Miles’ ensemble provided a certain sense of inspiration. “I’ve been attracted to the energy of that band since I first heard it,” David explains. “It’s intense! I’ve always strived to be in a position where I could bring it like that. That wasn’t necessarily the goal of Point of Departure, but it was more like a starting point for the band.”
Listening to Point of Departure, one is treated to a dizzying array of musical styles, performed by a band that defies easy categorization. While the ensemble itself is not at all a copy of the Miles configuration and sound, one certainly hears strong conceptual similarities in both bands’ willingness to try anything musically.
“Everything in that period was unsettled, which is when the best music is made.” David explains. “There were so many different types of music they were trying and I saw that you could take this music in a million different directions once you get well versed in everything.”
Point of Departure’s latest record, Wake Up Call, truly does conjure up the image of music moving in a million different directions. David and his ensemble—guitarists Ben Eunson and Travis Reuter, saxophonist Myron Walden, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Kush Abadey, along with earlier bandmates JD Allen and Nir Felder returning for guest spots—guide the listener through a remarkable musical journey, covering the music of great composers of the 1960s. At the same time, while they wind their way through beloved musical standards, the group performs each piece with freshness, vitality and a sense of adventure that is utterly infectious.
Indeed, taken from that viewpoint, Point of Departure comes off as one of the most faithful descendants of Miles’ late 1960s work. By refusing to copy Miles or adhere strictly to any genre boundaries, the ensemble most effectively captures the essence of what he strove for in his music.
David Weiss and Point of Departure perform at Nublu on March 30 and at Fat Cat on March 31. To learn more, visit www.davidweissmusic.com.
Fresh Takes by Nick Dunston
A true tour de force, vocalist Tynan Davis hits at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola this month. Having a wide range of musical experience—whether it be opera, musical theatre, jazz or contemporary music—Tynan manages to keep her aura and integrity as an artist throughout these different environments.
On connecting her many genres with a common thread, Tynan says, “They’re all at a certain level of storytelling. Whether it’s through various textures in Roomful of Teeth [a Grammy-winning vocal octet], or telling a literal narrative in opera, or exploring the subtleties of language in jazz, there is always a story happening that I’m trying to convey.”
Coming from an inspiring musical household, Tynan recollects, “I learned early on that the things we do, it’s not for the money; it’s for the passion and all the good that comes with it. I come from a place of such generosity and my family placed great importance on commitment and hard work,” she says. “They encouraged me to find what made me happy and feel alive.”
Hear Tynan Davis at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on March 22.
Photo Credit: Joseph Moran
Gary Bartz: One in Four by Eugene Holley, Jr.
A virtuoso whose bold and broad discography includes everyone from McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Miles Davis to tours with Phyllis Hyman, saxophonist and educator Gary Bartz has been all about the music ever since he heard Max and Art in Baltimore, where he was born 76 years ago. Fortunately for him, Gary’s father owned a jazz club in Charm City where he practiced and jammed before attending Peabody Conservatory and the Julliard School in New York.
Since the 1970s, he’s released dozens of recordings as a leader that run the gamut of stylistic idioms, from the Afro-Swahili-centric albums of his Ntu Troop group, Harlem Bush Music, and I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies, his Mizell Brothers-produced hit, Music is My Sanctuary, and The Red and Orange Poems. But while he is proud of the scope of his work, he—like other great artists—chafes at being typecast.
“I didn’t set out to be a jazz musician. I set out to be a musician,” Gary declares. “I’ve had discussions with Duke, Mingus, Max, nobody likes that word. I’m a musician: I went on tour with Phyllis Hyman and opened for the Spinners and the O’Jays. I’ve worked in African bands. I’ve arranged for reggae bands. And I resent being segregated into some stereotype.”
In 2014, Gary, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster joined forces at the behest of pianist Larry Willis and played a gig at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in homage to the great Tyner. The gig was such a success that they formed a co-op ensemble titled Heads of State, and released their debut CD, Search for Peace the following year.
“We went in with one idea, and came out a group,” the saxophonist says from his new home in Oakland. He returns for the group’s follow-up CD, Four in One, featuring 11 tracks of jazz and popular standards and original compositions, with bassist David “Happy” Williams replacing Buster Williams.
Anchored by Al’s dancing and propulsive polyrhythms, David’s in-the-pocket basslines, and Larry’s profound and pulsing pianisms, Gary adds his sinewy and soulful alto and soprano sax signature on the mid-tempo Thelonious Monk-penned title track, John Lewis’ “Milestones,” and boppish up-tempo numbers like Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche,” and Miles’ “Sippin’ at Bells.” Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” is a deliciously, dark-shadowed waltz, contrasted by Al’s syncopated solo selection on “Aloysius,’ and they have a funky, finessed take on Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance.” “And He Called Himself a Messenger,” is Gary’s artful elegy to Art Blakey, who hired him as a Jazz Messenger in the early 1960s—an era where all the group’s members cut their artistic teeth, which accounts for their simpatico sound.
“Speaking for myself, it felt so comfortable playing with these guys,” Gary recalls. “We know each other, we know how to play with each other, and we love the way each other plays. We all realize that it’s not about you; it’s about the music.”
Gary’s fans appreciate his mercurial muse, which was equally at home with Miles’ Bitches Brew sessions and Roy Hargrove’s Cuban recording, Habana. In 2015, Gary was presented with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Jazz Legacy Award by Rep. John Conyers Jr., who read a Congressional Resolution on the House Floor in the saxophonist’s honor. He also garnered the BNY Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation that same year. And Gary dispenses his vast and varied knowledge as Jazz Studies Professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
“I tell my students any musician—I don’t care if you’re playing rock ’n’ roll, or if you’re in the classical department—you’re going to have to study music. You’re going to have to go to the same sources, because that’s where the information is,” Gary states. “I have a book, Phrasing and Articulation, it has nothing to do with jazz. But it has everything to do with music. And that’s what I study. One of my students was listening to a Bach duet, and he said it sounds like Charlie Parker. Of course, it does!”
Heads of State appears at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, March 17-19.
Coming next: Discover if Helen Sung is singing on her next CD Sung With Words.
Photo Credit: John Abbott
When an artist has shown she can do just about everything, it’s always interesting to see what she does when she has the opportunity to turn her focus to her own projects. That’s what cellist, composer and singer Akua Dixon is doing these days.
Akua declared herself retired a few years back, but don’t interpret that to mean that she’s turned into a couch potato. For starters, she’s recorded a new album, Akua’s Dance (Akua’s Music), her fifth as a leader since releasing Quartette Indigo (Landmark) in 1994, and her third since 2012’s Moving On (Akua’s Music). “I decided to jump in and go for it,” she says. “It’s time for me to step out front.”
Akua’s Dance mixes original compositions, with a traditional spiritual, Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo,” an Aziza Miller tune, and more. “Aziza was my college roommate, and later she was Natalie Cole’s music director,” notes Akua, who played in Natalie’s string section. “Aziza’s ballad fits on the cello so nicely.” The cellist even lifts her voice—a rare occurrence in recent years—on Abbey Lincoln’s classic “Throw It Away.”
Several of the album’s originals are drawn from an opera Akua has had in the works since the 1980s, based on the life story of Marie Laveau, a voodoo queen renowned in 19th century New Orleans. The cellist presented the first half of it in a 1989 concert at the Henry Street Theater, then took a “long hiatus.”
When writing music, Akua method is to “compose in my head, figuring it out math-wise and note-wise, then I put it on paper,” she explains. “I can do a short tune this way in spite of distractions, but a lengthy piece needs greater focus.” Since her post-retirement move upstate to Rhinebeck, Akua has completed the opera’s piano and vocal score, and even did some presentations recently. “I’m very excited about the opera, it’s great to be able to hear it with voices!”
A classically trained veteran of the stage and studio, Akua’s musical career has spanned decades and genres. She has done everything from appear with James Brown at the Apollo to record with Rahsaan Roland Kirk to play in Broadway show bands to the Symphony for the New World to accompanying divas such as Mariah Carey.
Akua laughs as she recounts the time she got a call about a gig and put off the meeting until she could finish feeding her little ones (who grew up to be singer Andromeda Turre and drummer Orion Turre). Overhearing her mother talking to “Lauryn,” Akua’s already-savvy daughter figured out it had to be Lauryn Hill and insisted on going along to get an autograph on her well-worn and much-loved copy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Now it’s Akua’s turn. “There’s a difference between creating art and working. Ultimately, it’s not easy to play the music the same way every time,” she muses. “To have the space to create art, you have to work. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do both in their own time. It was nice to be able to rely on a paycheck, plus freelance and teach. I had time for all of it, though now I wonder where I got the time and energy!”
Listeners will be sure to hear some excerpts from The Opera of Marie Laveau and other tunes from the CD when the cellist celebrates the release of Akua’s Dance at Sista’s Place in Brooklyn March 11 and at Trumpets in Montclair on March 17.
Photo Credit: Andromeda Turre