View more great pictures from the awards ceremony!
Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2016 award ceremony.
October 2016 Hot House Jazz Guide Now Available!
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
The guitar has always been one of jazz’s most versatile instruments and the two seasoned guitarists whose new albums comprise this Winning Spins both deliver a variety of sounds, but in very different ways. Freddie Bryant expands on his role in Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet by presenting a program devoted to Thelonious Monk’s music, but in trio and guitar duo contexts. Saul Zeb Rubin, who played guitar in Sonny Rollins’ band, showcases his writing and arranging skills, as well as his guitar and piano playing, on a CD featuring multiple horn and rhythm players.
Zeb’s Place, Saul Zeb Rubin (Zebulon Sound & Light), puts the eponymous leader firmly in the spotlight, as leader, producer and, on five of the nine tracks, composer as well as arranger. That last talent is amply displayed on the opening track, Zeb’s “The Android,” a bop-swing burner featuring a horn line of trumpeter Josh Evans, alto saxophonist Lummie Span, tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trombonist Frank Lacy. All of them get to shine in relatively short solos, as does Zeb, and then they trade fours with drummer Victor Lewis. The same horns harmonize on “Oh God Show Me the Way,” framing Zeb’s central solo colloquy from his guitar, bass guitar and string synthesizer. The horn lineup is back once more, on Zeb’s diptych “Mean Old Joe/Darkness,” an eerie double theme with the leader enhancing the melodrama on piano before the mood picks up for tenor sax and trombone solos.
A veteran of Roy Hargrove’s Big Band, Zeb enlists its leader for a memorable cameo appearance, a luscious duet for guitar and flugelhorn on the resonant standard “The Gypsy.” Another captivating classic, “Autumn in New York,” is given a solo treatment by Zeb, his amplified guitar reverberating with ringing overtones and fingers sliding on the fretboard to create added intimacy.
The late saxophonist Thomas Chapin is represented by his engaging “Who,” done as a bossa for quintet with Stacy and Josh on the front line with Zeb’s guitar, which quotes “Girl from Ipanema” during his solo. Zeb’s trio, with bassist Neal Caine and drummer Charles Goold, also brings bossa and swing to “All or Nothing at All.” The closer, “Halal Falafal” is Zeb’s tongue-in-cheek ode to New York street food with guitar synths vying with mouth-watering recitations of the title and “baba ganoush.”
Saul Zeb Rubin plays a CD release gig for Zeb’s Place at Small’s on Nov. 6.
Learning by Listening by Stephanie Jones
At the foot of a hundred cascading red-upholstered seats, under a pale blue spotlight, a piano line plays out of time. In the center of the bandstand, Christian McBride has lowered his head. One glance to his right, and his head stays low as he listens and continues to listen.
From the moment he picked up the bass as a 9-year-old in Philadelphia, Christian has encountered the same lesson over and over again throughout his career: “What you listen to will determine what you need to do. Then everything else will fall into place.”
The kind of deep listening Christian brings to each session and live gig began back in Philadelphia when, as a child, he indiscriminately wore out every record in his house, learning to play each bassline by ear. As he listened, he quickly understood his instrument accounted for one half of the DNA for each style of music he heard, and if he wanted to get inside the music—all the music—he would have to listen beyond the styles he loved the most.
“I realized as a professional musician, my two loves are jazz and soul music,” he says. “But I better learn more than that if I want to really think of myself as a good musician.”
Listening to and learning a rich cross-section of musical expressions, Christian opened himself, professionally and personally, to a host of artistic opportunities that include ongoing associations with some of the music’s most talented and creative drummers. Playing with rhythm shamans, from Roy Haynes to Steve Gadd, served as an affirmation for Christian—one he shares with each new generation.
“Young players study every element down to the way these drummers hold their sticks,” he says, “but sometimes forget the main component of their playing was listening. These drummers have decided the best thing they can do to make the band sound good is develop really—really—really strong time, and stay out of the way.”
Though he believes the strongest players develop enough confidence in their time and feel to stay out of the way, Christian acknowledges he, himself, still has work to do. “As a bass player, I don’t think I’m there. I play too busy for myself sometimes. But I think that comes with time—literal time.”
Beyond teaching formally at the university level—as well as informally in the kitchen at the Vanguard or in the green room at the Rose Theatre—Christian remains a colossal figure in the preservation and forward motion of the music.
This year marks his fifth as an architect of the TD James Moody Festival at NJPAC, a month-long series of original programming that, according to NJPAC Executive VP and Producer David Rodriguez, “doesn’t look at a particular era or demographic, but looks at jazz as a whole, and all those musics jazz has influenced.”
The festival evolves year to year as new artists emerge and veteran musicians become involved, but the spirit remains rooted in the leadership unique to Moody’s mission as an artist—a mission Christian takes seriously.
When young players bemoan the passing of apprenticeship legends Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Ray Brown and Miles Davis, he has two answers ready for them: “One: ‘So you think if Miles Davis were alive it would be that easy for you to hook up with him and be his apprentice?’ Two: ‘All those people died 20-plus years ago; so you mean to tell me, inside of 20 years, you don’t think there’s one jazz musician you can learn from other than the people you just named?’”
Citing such living legends as Dianne Reeves, Kenny Barron, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Mike LeDonne, Christian compels young players to seek out situations that might make them uncomfortable in order to grow as artists.
Believing they want to play with established artists, but knowing their nerves get in the way, Christian seeks to offer young players opportunities as part of the natural order of the music.
“Of course you got a couple guys who think they already have it, and if you do try to kick their butt, they just get on Face Book and whine,” he says. “But the bulk of them—they’re looking for an opportunity—and it would be smart for any band leader to keep themselves on their toes by having young blood in the mix. I’m always looking at Christian Sands and Jerome Jennings, ‘Y’all got some ideas?’”
As he reflects on the scattered footprints along his path as a listener, an educator and an artist, he says, “Sometimes in life you get these curve balls. You don’t quite know what to do with it, you just roll with it and see where it takes you.”
Jazz Advisor for the NJPAC’s TD James Moody Jazz Festival, Christian McBride also performs Nov. 18, celebrating James Brown, and Nov. 19, remembering Sarah Vaughan.
Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb
World of Music
Most jazz musicians are pretty versatile but singer Kaylé Brecher may be one of the very few who has actually called square dances. “I have a Whoopie Goldberg attitude—she once said she’d take any job she was offered for the experience of doing it,” Kaylé explains.
Kaylé credits growing up in the Bronx for shaping her eclectic taste in music and her ability to blend genres. “There was a ragman who wailed the blues out in the alley, Cuban music blaring out of windows, Mahalia Jackson on the TV,” she recounts. “Jazz has always been there for me from the time I was very little. Our house was always filled with music. My brother studied jazz at Juilliard at a youth program; I’d be playing with the dog and he’d be in the other room playing vibes. I never knew everyone didn’t improvise.”
She absorbed everything she heard and, armed with that knowledge, started singing blues and standards in basket houses in the Village as a young teen. Her education didn’t end there: Kaylé earned a degree in jazz performance, composition and arranging from Temple University in Philadelphia, her current home town. She also studied with respected figures like Jim McNeely and Michael Abene, and was a member of the BMI Orchestra.
Her arranging attracted the attention of greats including Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard, who approved and published her versions of some of their most well-known tunes, including “Dolphin Dance” and “Red Clay,” respectively. The two arrangements, dubbed “Sea of Dolphins” and “Back to Red Clay,” appear on her new CD, This is Life (Penchant Four). Kaylé prepared all of the music on the album with particular people in mind, choosing chords, feelings and general shapes that they could improvise over.
She’ll make a rare New York appearance when she celebrates the release of This is Life at the Cornelia Street Café on Nov. 1 with Ratzo Harris on bass, Frank Butrey, guitar; Grant Calvin Weston, drums; Benjamin Sutton, violin, and David Dzubinski on piano. The gig is part of the VoxEcstatic series curated by singer Deborah Latz. Kaylé and Deborah started out as Face Book friends, before meeting at one of singer Rhiannon’s vocal workshops.
“The workshops are a wonderful place for community, for letting go and experimenting,” Kaylé says. “It’s a lovely place to go, to sing together and sing with a lot of people who really know how to improvise.”
Singing has been a lifelong constant for Nancy Marano, who cites her father as her first and best teacher. As a youngster she would sing along with records that she’d grab from a tall stack of vinyl she kept in her bedroom, learning all of the arrangements, studying tunes in the fake books, learning to transpose and having a ball while doing it.
“The whole thing was about loving to sing, loving the music so much. The music was with me from the womb and it’s still here now,” she says.
From the start, Nancy was drawn to the Great American Songbook and composers such as Alec Wilder, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Thelonious Monk and Antonio Carlos Jobim. When crafting her arrangements for small ensembles, Nancy conceptualizes them as if she were writing for a little big band. “I write lines for vocalese and horns; I sing shout choruses. I sacrifice having a drummer in the band in favor of the horn as it offers more color.”
Though she’s written lyrics to tunes such as Tom Harrell’s “Sail Away,” Nancy mainly sticks to arranging the compositions and leaves the wordsmithing to the masters she admires: “The melody and chords come easy, but the lyrics I write don’t come close to the ones I love,” she explains. “I have to like the lyrics to sing them; they have to be meaningful.”
In immersing herself in music, “My search has always been for the pursuit of truth. I want everything I do to be a metaphor for who I am—I don’t want to go backward, I want to go forward,” Nancy declares. “All you have in the end are your principles, your integrity. Don’t cheat the music; that’s who I am, that’s the one constant I don’t want to change; I don’t want to sacrifice that.”
The vocalist recently took a two-year break from gigging, but don’t imagine for a second that means her life was music-free. She teaches privately as well as at the Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University, and has written a book, Musicianship for the Jazz Vocalist.
Nevertheless, performing is important to her and she started to get an inkling of how much she missed it when she would find herself getting teary while playing piano for other vocalists.
Singing at a recent house concert convinced Nancy that she’s ready to head back to the stage. She also discovered at the event that the hiatus has yielded unexpected benefits.
“I’m in a great new place; I’m singing for its own sake, just like when I was starting out,” she reveals. “I don’t have to think about why I do it: I missed it, I love it, it nourishes me.”
Catch Nancy’s return to the bandstand on Nov. 2 at Jazz at Kitano, with John DiMartino on piano, Joel Frahm on tenor and Steve LaSpina on bass.
Hot Flashes by Seton Hawkins
Blue Note at Sea
While one might not know the name Michael Lazaroff or his company Entertainment Cruise Productions, his output is very well established: as the producer of The Jazz Cruise, the Smooth Jazz Cruise, the NYC Jazz Scene with Marcus Miller and more. Michael unquestionably leads the jazz world’s efforts in jazz cruises and jazz outings, offering an immersive, music-first approach that has proved a highly popular jazz destination for nearly 20 years.
“Our cruises are high-profile and, above all, fun presentations to an incredibly dedicated set of jazz fans,” Michael says. “We want to produce spectacular musical experiences with authenticity and skill, and yet have a good time and make it accessible.” Indeed, the sold-out cruises and returning audiences speak to their success in that measure, inspiring further growth and diversity.
As ECP expanded and grew, so did its artistic goals and outputs, significantly through the addition of bassist Marcus Miller, who provided further artistic guidance and advice, while also serving as the cruise host.
Building upon this further, ECP unveiled its latest cruise offering, announcing the Contemporary Jazz Cruise’s debut in 2017. “What we have are highly respected vocalists and instrumentalists in the world of jazz, but who aren’t strictly straight-ahead or smooth jazz players,” Michael explains. “I wanted to get away from categorization and just focus on presenting great music.”
The line-up is quite impressive and, to be sure, genre-defying: Pat Metheny, The Bad Plus, Chucho Valdés, Wycliffe Gordon, Geoffrey Keezer, Grace Kelly and many more fill out the bill. “There was a day when I was just going to call it The Really Good Music Cruise!” he jokes.
Naturally, when the possibility of joining forces and collaborating with Blue Note Records arose this year, Michael jumped at the opportunity. Following Don Was’ assuming the helm of the vaunted label in 2012, Blue Note has enjoyed a small revival, bringing on new artists, releasing a series of highly acclaimed records and offering a new sense of life and innovation in the jazz world; indeed, for them, the prospect of diversifying into jazz cruises seemed a natural move.
“I’d been in contact with Blue Note Records for a while and earlier had introduced them to Cunard Cruise Lines for a project they were working on,” Michael explains. “We stayed in contact, though, and through conversations we found a way for them to pivot to our program and for us to work together. In fact, Don Was joined us on one of our cruises, and so he got a chance to see what we do. So the stars aligned, and we were able to change streams—literally—from The Contemporary Jazz Cruise to Blue Note at Sea.”
As the cruise undergoes its rebrand, the parties are already in discussion about how to plan and execute the 2018 cruise, which will serve as the first collaborative outing for the merger. With ultimately three groups—ECP, Blue Note Records and Blue Note Entertainment Group—coming to the table, a great deal of resources and an equally great deal of specific needs will come to bear, laying the groundwork for something truly unique in the jazz world.
“This is going to be an amazing collaboration,” Michael explains. “We’ll be able to take the best from Blue Note Records, and the best from Blue Note Jazz Clubs and bring that to the ships. It’s going to be spectacular.”
Blue Note at Sea’s inaugural cruise runs February 4-11, 2017. For bookings, visit www.bluenoteatsea.com.
Crossing Bridges by Cary Tone
Kenny Wessel is a sensitive, soulful guitarist and composer with a vital personal voice. A dedicated educator, he also worked with Ornette Coleman for 12 years and is active in world music circles. Weights & Measures, his most recent recording, received four stars in Downbeat magazine.
A- Kenny Wessel is a sensitive, soulful guitarist and composer with a vital personal voice. A dedicated educator, he also worked with Ornette Coleman for 12 years and is active in world music circles. Weights & Measures, his most recent recording, received four stars in Downbeat magazine.
Q- You've played and studied music from around the world, what are the intersection points between jazz and music you play from other cultures?
A- I think if there are musicians that are open, curious, good listeners and generous spirits there is always a starting point or an entrance to make music together and I feel pretty lucky to have met and played with musicians with those qualities. I have found that musicians are usually more than willing to share, teach and involve others in order to communicate together. In terms of points of intersection, for example with north Indian music—the classical tradition (raga) is mostly improvised, so those musicians are well equipped to create spontaneously (as jazz musicians do). Not really having harmony as an element in the music, the elements of rhythm and melody are very deep and sophisticated and there is so much richness there to appreciate and learn from. The rhythmic element is so deep that it’s a bit intimidating—even the idea of the lines leading to '1' as opposed to lines starting from '1' (which is a bit more western). I remember speaking to a friend and great percussionist/oud player from Morocco, Brahim Fribgane, who described coming here and not really understanding everyone counting off and starting tunes or grooves on '1' ... his musical experience had been that the rhythm has no beginning or end point, it was more cyclical in nature. These concepts and perceptual differences or shifts are fascinating to me. What's really cool is the transformations that occur from people working together from different traditions and cultures.
Ornette used to say that, 'Style was the death of music' and I think he was interested in playing and collaborating with anyone, regardless of culture or tradition.
Q- How did you figure out what to do when you were playing Ornette's symphonic music?
A- Ornette used to always tell us to 'play yourself' so that was always the bottom line. But with the version of 'Skies of America' that he had arranged for Prime Time, there were sections when Prime Time played alone, other sections where individual musicians were soloing over orchestral chords, and sections where the Orchestra and Prime Time were playing together. Ornette had written some Prime Time material into the score (some of these pieces were ones that we were already playing in concerts like 'Dancing in Your Head,' 'Spelling the Alphabet,' etc., and others were pieces we hadn't been). Themes and motives were moving around the orchestra and I think I treated it as another voice to interact or relate to—of course with so many musicians, you have to play a bit less than with a smaller group.
I remember one of the orchestra members, standing up during the rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic, when we performed in NY with Kurt Masur—he asked Ornette sort of shyly and respectfully to clarify one of the notes in his music, 'I'm not sure if this is a B or a D in bar 56' Ornette responded that he could choose either note, whichever he liked better. The musician explained that he was only trying to play the music Ornette intended and just wasn't sure what was written. Ornette said 'if you have a better note, than you should play that.' With increasing frustration, the orchestra member explained that he wanted to play his music correctly and Ornette told him that he would really like to hear what he wanted to play in that section. This went on for a while with the orchestra member getting red-faced and a bit upset that he wasn't getting the answer that he wanted (which was a specific note to play). Finally he said that he didn't understand what Ornette wanted him to do and Ornette responded, 'Just because you don't understand something, it doesn't mean it’s not true.'
Q- Tell us a few brief highlights of your 12 years playing with Ornette.
A- Wow, there were so many. Certainly a highlight was the opportunity to rehearse and talk about music in depth with Ornette for such an extended period of time. He was such a gentle, philosophical and generous spirit—he could, and would, discuss a musical concept for hours, looking at an idea from many different perspectives. He had this wonderful, perceptive and incisive mind that worked in a somewhat non-linear fashion. Being a more analytical, somewhat anal and structured person myself, interacting with Ornette always challenged all my preconceptions and established approaches to music (and other subjects). He challenged me to be myself and to really be an improviser. Early on in the band, he said to me, 'You're playing road maps. I don't want you to play what you know, I want you to play what you don't know.'
Q- You're also on my favorite Donald Fagen recording, Morph the Cat. What do you remember about that session?
A- That was an incredible experience. I was a Donald Fagen (and Steely Dan) fan and got a call from him, I had been recommended by the great trumpet player, Marvin Stamm. He wanted me to come in and play some guitar solos for the record and gave me some music to look at. This wasn't something that was in my normal sphere or experience to be honest, and I remember calling a friend, Jerome Harris, to ask what I should do (should I bring my low-tech gear or use the studio equipment? what should I wear? as I'm not really a studio session master—a little rough around the edges). Jerome wisely advised me to get my sound and be myself. Donald was totally cool and immediately made me feel comfortable, telling me, after I set up, that he loved my sound and also seemed familiar with my career. I was overdubbing over the tracks (which seemed pretty complete) and it was just the two of us (with an engineer) for about 5-6 hours in the studio. Donald blew me away with his breadth of musical knowledge and he was particularly conversant with jazz, which doesn't surprise me, talking about particular recordings, solos, obscure references, etc.
The tune he had given me to check out had a long form with some very involved harmonic movement, which I had checked out and shedded on before the session. We did a number of passes on that one and then he asked me to play on another tune, 'Security Joan', which he played for me. I also recorded a number of takes of that solo (he assured me that he liked to work that way, piecing things together 'Frankens-tein-style'). I had heard rumors of studio floors being littered with guitarists' tracks so I was pretty excited and honored that the solo made it on the record. Interestingly, it wasn't the song that I had shedded on, but the one he showed me in the studio. In retrospect, maybe I was being more spontaneous on the second tune. The song I ended up on, 'Security Joan,' is about guy falling for an airport security agent while going through check-in ... with a chorus, 'You won't find my name on a list, honey, you know I ain't no terrorist'. I told him that it was an interesting post 9-11 love song, that only he could write. He responded, 'Yeah, that's me, love among the ruins.'
Q- You've performed all over the world. Do you have a favorite country or city to play in?
A- I love traveling and feel very lucky that music has afforded me that opportunity. Its hard to choose and I think I'll quote Ornette here. He was giving a press conference at a festival somewhere in Europe and one of the journalists asked him how he found the audiences there. Ornette replied, 'There are only two kinds of audiences - the ones standing up and the ones that are already in the ground.'
Q- Can jazz be taught? Talk a bit about your experience as a jazz educator.
A- Yes, I think so, although I think the paradigm can change a bit. In many academic institutions the primary focus is the bebop language. While I feel that it’s very important to learn this as a strategy for learning harmony, negotiating changes and a particular stylistic approach to jazz, I also feel that in 2016 we can incorporate other methods of teaching improvisation, learning harmony, and dealing with rhythm that might lead to a more expansive approach. I also feel strongly that in studying music, there are some important (extra-musical) elements explored, for example: aesthetics and appreciating beauty, learning how to practice (and grow, in any field), working together, and listening skills (we really need this right now). I enjoy teaching and the creative interchange that occurs when dealing with students. It challenges me to look at things from different perspectives and to think and express myself clearly. I feel the challenge (and mission) is to encourage individuality and creativity, while also building up particular basic skills and getting some information across.
Q- What recordings have you been listening to lately? What’s the last truly great piece of music you listened to?
A- I think Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields is an exquisite piece of music. The writing and the playing on that album are incredible (it’s also a group that has some history together, which is really evident) ... sublime. Wolf Valley by Norwegian pianist Eyolf Dale is a wonderful record that's been on heavy rotation around here—was turned on to it by an old friend and vibraphonist/composer, Rob Waring, who plays on the record. It’s an octet and Eyolf's tunes, arrangements and orchestrations are beautiful and compelling.
Q- If you were starting out now would you change anything?
A- Less coverage of Donald Trump worldwide (make that no coverage).
Q- What do you struggle with in your creative life?
A- Getting time or space to compose is difficult—it’s a little like pulling teeth for me to compose, although I usually like it when it’s over. To find that quality of 'quiet mind' is sort of essential to sitting down and composing effectively (people who know me wouldn't characterize me as someone who was quiet in any capacity). I am involved in a number of different types of musical projects, all of which are very challenging to me—and although I enjoy variety, I have my work cut out for me in the woodshed (always feel a bit over my head ... which I guess is good, keeps me on my toes).
Q- If there's an afterlife, one piece of music you heard here that you'll remember there.
A- I was just told a joke by a great saxophonist, Anders Lonne Gronseth, which went something to the effect of hell being a place where you heard your favorite piece played over and over, indefinitely.
Q- A favorite musician or two playing or composing today?
A- That's a tough one as there are so many that I enjoy. Peter Apfelbaum comes to mind as a musician that I always love to listen to, music just flows out of that guy. His band, the Heiroglyphics Orchestra, has been a favorite of mine and his new group, Sparkler is very cool.
Q- What are a few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today?
A- Jim Hall's playing (all of it, but to name a couple: Sonny Rollin's The Bridge, Jim Hall's Live and It's Nice to Be With You) was a big influence on me in approaching music and the guitar. He was always so musical, lyrical and horn—like as a player and was such a consummate ensemble player—you could feel him listening when you saw him play-and not just to the rest of the band, but to himself. In a way that made his playing so organic, motivic, logical and beautiful. Also his use of space and color was so wonderful. I think Jan Garbarek's records Paths and Prints and Wayfarer were very influential with their simplicity and sonic beauty, space and breadth.
Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who would they be?
A- I guess I can be a little guitar nerdy here and say it would be really cool to invite Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix to dinner. Not sure what I'd serve, but it would be a cool hang. Those guys were probably the most important guitarists for me as a developing musician.
Kenny Wessel performs Nov. 12 at Greenwich House Music School as part of the Sound It Out Series with Fay Victor’s “In Praise of Ornette” featuring Darius Jones, saxophone; Sean Conly, bass.