View more great pictures from the awards ceremony!
Metropolitan Room / Hot House Jazz magazine 2016 award ceremony.
Download Hot House Pdf Here: February 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
The two albums that comprise this Winning Spins both feature small groups with a three-horn frontline, as well as original compositions by the leaders. They also have one musician in common—saxophonist Jon Irabagon. And, in each case, they present work inspired by literature.
But the results are startlingly different: while pianist Noah Haidu develops his music solidly within the conventions of the mainstream of today’s jazz, bassist Moppa Elliott conjures up flights of fancy that challenge conventional ideas, creating a funhouse mirror take on early jazz styles.
Loafer’s Hollow, Mostly Other People Do the Killing (Hot Cup), is from the latest configuration of MOPDtK, Moppa’s fluidly configured small group, this time a septet with Jon on soprano or tenor sax, joined in the frontline by Steven Bernstein, trumpet and slide trumpet, and Dave Taylor, bass trombone. Rounding out the group are Brandon Seabrook, banjo and electronics; Ron Stabinsky, piano; Moppa on bass, and Kevin Shea, drums. Brandon’s ubiquitous banjo sound permeates most of the music, bringing a vintage hue to a warped, surrealistic take on traditional jazz.
The CD’s opening track, “Hi-Nella,” steps jauntily along on a two-beat Dixieland rhythm, Ron’s strums and slaps are prominent throughout. Jon’s soprano sax evokes Sidney Bechet and New Orleans; Steven’s sliding, smeared notes creating an a cappella centerpiece. The trad jazz feel continues on “Honey Hole,” Ron’s banjo and Moppa’s bass anchoring the Twenties pulse as Kevin ranges toward post-bop rhythmic freedom on his drum kit—all under a shower of wah-wah soloing from Steven and Dave.
The next five tracks are all dedicated to, and inspired by, the writing of novelists Moppa admires: James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace (in that order). “Bloomburg” evokes Joyce’s onrushing prose through Jon’s cascading tenor sax and tag-team solos, climaxing in tandem improvisations, from muted trumpet and trombone.
Off-kilter rhythms vie with strains of stride from Ron’s piano, periods of near silence and mouthpiece exhalations on “Kilgore;” “Mason and Dixon” features a stop-time banjo solo and Jon’s tenor leading a polyphonal ensemble; Steven and Jon (tenor again) share solo space on the slower “Meridian,” with echoes of “Makin’ Whoopee.”
“Glen Riddle” begins as two-beat Dixie that veers through decades with Ron and Moppa going modern before Brandon brings the vintage sound back. The album ends with “Five (Corners, Points, Forks),” a piece incorporating trad conventions with contemporary attitudes.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing perform at Cornelia Street Underground Feb. 19.
Photo Credit: Peter Gannushkin
ANOTHER REASON TO CELEBRATE by Elzy Kolb
Guitarist/composer Ralph Towner has written and recorded so much music, he’s surprised whenever he comes across his discography. “I’ve been on so many records because I’m so old at this point,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve been busy over the last 50 years; I’ve written more than 400 songs.” Besides dozens of recordings as leader or co-leader with the band Oregon and players such as John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock, Gary Burton and Paolo Fresu, Ralph also appears on albums by Duke Pearson, the Paul Winter Consort, Weather Report, Kenny Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, the folk singer Tim Hardin and many others.
His latest effort is a solo guitar album, My Foolish Heart (ECM), which comprises 11 originals, along with the title track, an Oscar-nominated standard from a 1949 movie of the same name.
Starting out as a young pianist in New York in 1968, Ralph was inspired by an iconic version of “My Foolish Heart” played by Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. “I was so moved by that,” he recalls. “I wanted to feel what it’s like to be in that space, play that way, have that feeling, that reverence.” Studying the trio’s playing on the tune set Ralph on the path to developing his own style. “I squeezed every drop of inspiration from that record on first impact. I internalized the feeling, which was the whole point: internalize, change it slightly and make it your own.”
About three years later, Ralph experienced a similar breakthrough when —on a whim —he bought a guitar, which soon became his primary instrument. “A guitar is actually an ancestor of the piano, it has a pianistic function similar to a keyboard. It’s kind of a portable piano with a special personal sound,” he points out. “It’s like a small orchestra. Everyone sounds different on guitar.”
Approaching his 77th birthday on March 1, Ralph is grateful for finding his flow through the Evans recording and the fluke purchase that turned him into a guitarist. “I’m blessed to have this as a profession. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, a wonderful experience to be in that zone; there’s nothing like it. It’s an out of body experience when things are going well. When you’re playing really well people breathe with you, they’re in tune with the smallest sound. It’s fun and you don’t get tired of it.”
Now based in Rome, Ralph visits New York to celebrate the release of My Foolish Heart at Jazz Standard Feb. 15-16. The CD’s title is a bit of an in-joke, he reveals, laughing: “I had a little problem with my heart two or three years ago, that’s all fixed now, but there’s a bit of dark humor, a little irony in the name of the record.”
Photo Credit: Caterina di Perri
HOT FLASHES by Seton Hawkins
Double Hat: Musician/Club Owner Bill Saxton
Tucked away in upper Harlem lies one of the best live jazz experiences for people who truly love the music: Bill’s Place. Every Friday and Saturday night, Harlem saxophonist Bill Saxton’s club, which is built upon the site of a Harlem speakeasy on the original legendary Swing Street, offers up a blend of ferociously swinging, intensely melodic hard bop steeped in Harlem’s rich history. A dry venue, in relatively close quarters, Bill’s Place is for many listeners a dream outcome: a small, intimate space to hear uncompromising music, surrounded by audience members there for the listening experience. Bill Saxton explains it best: “what we sell is music.”
In 2004, Bill and his wife, scholar and author Theda Palmer Saxton, sought to purchase a building, and came across a space on 133rd street that needed significant renovation, but proved promising. Buying the building as a home and a performance space, as well as for rental units, the Saxtons stumbled onto a treasure of jazz history. “Randy Weston was the first person to suggest to me that there was something special going on with the block I’m on,” Bill explains. “He encouraged me to research it. Sonny Rollins said the same to me, saying it was one heck of a block. Then I saw an article on Swing Street, and it went on to list all the speakeasies in Harlem during Prohibition, and my address was one of them! Later, we found out that Billie Holiday was discovered by John Hammond in this spot. So when I perform here, I let people know about where they are, and what came before.”
Opened in 2006 following a two-year renovation project, Bill’s Place has managed to maintain its drive and quality even as other venues around it come and go, thanks to the ingenuity and tenacity of Bill himself. Indeed, since its founding, Bill’s Place has held steady even amidst the closure of St. Nick’s Pub and Lenox Lounge, as well as the re-opening, closing, and re-opening of Minton’s Playhouse. Over the years, it has grown into a role as one of, if not the, last authentic voices of Harlem’s jazz heritage.
While the story and legacy of Bill’s Place may draw initial attention, what propels its staying power is the quality of the music it has engendered across generations of artists. Bill’s playing alone is a tremendous draw: sporting a massive tone and ample saxophone chops, Bill can conjure artists ranging from Coleman Hawkins to Jackie McLean, and to be sure, his ensemble playing reflects the wealth of mentorship he received from artists like Roy Haynes (who donated the drums at Bill’s Place), Dannie Richmond, Clark Terry and many others. In turn, Bill has passed and continues to pass on these lessons to young artists, notably through his project ATYMONY (And the Young Musicians of New York).
“Some of these young artists learn from me, because they don’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn in the way I got to learn,” Bill says. “I was fortunate to play with Clark Terry and with Frank Foster, and I’ve been able to teach younger artists the lessons I learned on the road.” Bill’s mentoring efforts span several generations of younger artists, as Theo Hill, Ali Jackson, Kyle Poole and many others can count Bill among their teachers and advocates.
Ultimately, to Bill the challenges of running a venue are worth the sacrifice in service of honoring Harlem’s jazz heritage and in passing it onto future generations. “Being born and raised in Harlem, I wanted to bring something back for the community,” he explains. “I believe if you want something, you have to do it yourself and take a chance. This industry can stress you out, and make you question yourself. And I refuse to deal with that, because if you get caught up in it, you will be lost. I hope I live my life as a model of what a musician can do, rather than wait for someone to give a gig.”
Bill’s Place holds live music every Friday and Saturday night, two sets each night. To learn more, visit www.billsplaceharlem.com.
Photo Credit: Paul Aresu
Movies, Valentine’s Day, and Residencies
Say What! A Geriatric Proposal is the brainchild of jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein and his brother Jeremy, and follows the story of a young jazz artist struggling with the travails of life on the road. A funny and engaging animated short, Say What can be viewed at https://www.rescuedogfilms.com/say-what.
The works of mixed media visual artist Sam Middleton will be featured at GP Contemporary, beginning February 1 in an exhibition entitled The Sam I am is Collage. Reflecting Sam's upbringing in New York City and immersion in Harlem's Jazz scene, the exhibit showcases his exceptional work in watercolor, gouache, and collage. The gallery is open Monday through Friday; for more details, visit www.gpgallery.com.
New York City offers a wide range of romantic jazz possibilities on Valentine’s Day. Vocalist Brianna Thomas has a special themed concert titled It Had to Be You at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola; learn more at www.jazz.org/dizzys. Nonpareil vocalist Catherine Russell appears at Birdland on Valentine’s Day, tickets are available at www.birdlandjazz.com. Bria Skonberg makes a one-night-only appearance at Jazz Standard, offering up a superb mix of material with special guest Houston Person. See more details at www.jazzstandard.com. Kevin Mahogany brings his singular crooning talents to Smoke Jazz & Supper Club for a special performance. Make a reservation at www.smokejazz.com.
One of the last bulwarks for creative and experimental music in Manhattan, The Stone will commence its final 12 months of life beginning this month, offering fans a beautiful series of residencies to close out its tenure. Of note, vibraphone master Chris Dingman holds a residency Feb. 21-26, bringing in an incredible roster of collaborators, including Fabian Almazan, Ike Sturm, Tyshawn Sorey and many more. For a full list of events, visit www.thestonenyc.com.
BRIDGE CROSSINGS by Cary Tone
Brandon Ross' music is sometimes quiet and deep, sometimes loud and mysterious. His guitar playing and compositions reveal themselves as simultaneously soothing and unsettling with an aesthetic, as you will read here, and hear when you listen, that is never static, always searching.
Q- Brandon, you have a few different groups you lead or co-lead. Tell us what you're working on with Harriet Tubman, Blazing Beauty, For Living Lovers? Or do you currently have other musical priorities?
A - Currently, my musical focus is on music I’ve written for a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant project, “Immortal Obsolescence” which is a musical response to a visual chronicle of psychotherapeutic artifacts, documented by Venezuelan visual artist, designer and photographer, Carolina Munoz. The music is composed for For Living Lovers—my acoustic duo with acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi—and additional instrumentation through a song cycle of 11 compositions for improvisation.
In addition to Harriet Tubman, (which has a new CD releasing on Feb. 24 on Sunnyside Records, Araminta) and Blazing Beauty, which will perform during my Stone residency this year (Feb. 14-19), I’ve found myself engaging with aspects of sound creation in the Glyph band, DarkMatterHalo, with sound designer, Hardedge and electric guitarist Doug Wieselman. Those are the projects that have released CDs in the last year. Additionally I have an “experimental” ensemble, Brandon Ross Pendulum, (Hardedge; Kevin Ross, electric bass; Chris Eddleton, drums) which I am developing.
Q- Three guitarist who sound to me like they influenced you: Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Sharrock, Pat Martino from a certain period in the '70s. Say a few words about these guitarists; or are there others you'd like to highlight?
A - That’s an interesting collection of approaches to guitar playing, each of whom I consider masterful but, none of whom I’d say influenced what I want/ed out of the experience of playing guitar. It’s nearly impossible to play modern electric guitar, and not “run into” the frame of expansion that Jimi Hendrix illuminated and illustrated so purely and powerfully. I remember the first experience of ...The Experience on LP, and being as young as I was, I stood literally, mesmerized by the SOUND of “Purple Haze” coming out of my older brother’s Webcor record player. Now, I understand how the combined sum of melody, harmony and rhythm approaches that coalesced in that group, produced something unprecedented, and unheard until then, which has not quite been “busted” yet.
Mr. Martino is a bad cat, to quote liner notes from one his LPs from the 70s. And it’s true, that he evoked a positively menacing intensity to his linear construction and delivery, which epitomizes the description of being “burning” on the axe…
And Sonny… Sonny was a visionary. He was a person who, was unafraid, in my estimation. I remember hearing him at the Vanguard when I was in high school. I went to hear Pharaoh Sanders, and was super excited to hear what I’d heard from his records. Well, of course, he didn’t do that! And he had this guitarist with him, who was Sonny, who seemed to be ah, intoxicated in some sense, who when he began to play, simply played glissandi dominant 9 chords, up and down the neck of his guitar, with a big grin on his face, with either the mic stand in front of him as a slide, or with manual tremolo at an extremely high volume. I did not get it, AT ALL! It makes me laugh now, because there’s a process of piercing orthodoxy that occurs at some point in an artist’s development, or is simply a natural outcome of who they happen to be, that at the age I was when I heard Sonny, was an insight I did not possess. Sonny was fully in the midst of that procession, which I would say I am a beneficiary of.
As for my influences, I would have to say that guitarists were not central to them. I was more interested in musical innovations and directions, than instrumental innovations - even though technique, per se, is a result of music. There are things about the guitar, or any instrument really, that have to do with the question of whether the instrument of choice, is actually the “right” instrument for that musician. I’ve come to understand that we can want a whole range of things, that may assert an impression of being right for us, when in fact, they have nothing to do with who we actually are. Influence is also an impact of anything that we like or find attractive or appreciate. It can produce a form of organizational orientation, that becomes a construct or pattern through which we perceive and in many cases, express. It’s an interesting contemplation.
In all honesty, I can’t recall being interested in emulating or finding myself influenced by any guitar players when I was learning to play. Blues and rock tropes can inundate budding guitarists and naturally, I picked up on those functional approaches. Beyond that, it was a kind of sound and a love of richly ambiguous, fertile harmony that called me to listen to and explore someone’s music. Some of the music/musicians that come to mind as having done that: Dewey Redman, Ornette Coleman, Leroy Jenkins, Joni Mitchell, Keith Jarrett, The Beatles, Cosby, Stills & Nash, Motown, Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach, Benjamin Britten, Taj Mahal, Leo Brouwer…
Q- You've played with such a wide array of musicians. Cassandra Wilson, Muhal Richard Abrams, Tony Williams, Arto Lindsey, Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake, Bill Laswell, Henry Threadgill only a partial list. How have you developed such a broad pallet?
A - I think Roscoe Mitchell put it very succinctly in an interview once. He said something like, and I’m paraphrasing here: “... If you are in love with music, if you’re having a love affair with music, then you are going to listen to all kinds of musical expression…”.
I don’t foster an attitude of musical apartheid. It’s about whatever touches me or gets my positive attention. In terms of being able to function musically with those artists, as I look at it, those people are people who have been and are, musically themselves. When I first came to NYC, I had the good fortune to meet Ornette Coleman when I was invited to play at his place in the school building he had on Rivington Street, on LES. He said to me, “Always be musically, yourself.” I assumed I knew what that meant. I did not. I have come to understand it, and live by it, and to have found myself in the company of musical mentors and colleagues who have made that choice also.
Q- Henry Threadgill won the Pulitzer Prize recently. What does his music mean to you and what was your like experience playing in his bands?
A - That’s a great big one! Well, let me say that Henry has been deserving of a Pulitzer for very long time, so it was a deeply satisfying acknowledgement for me, and lots of other musicians who know who Henry is musically.
I have known Henry for most of my adult life. He and I and a handful of others, are probably the only people who know that. What that means to me, is that long before Henry asked me if I wanted to do some playing with him, our connection had been “cued up.”
When I started playing with Henry in his "Very Very Circus” group, I remember coming home after the first rehearsal, and feeling kind of concerned… for my well-being. Really! There was a particular piece of music called “Exacto” that we were learning, and the nature of the harmony and feeling of the piece felt “obsessive.” It brought to mind an Edgar Allen Poe story, or the scene in the film “Amityville Horror” where James Brolin’s character has become overshadowed by the malevolent presence in the house he’s moved into, and is outside in the yard, relentlessly chopping wood… just chopping and stacking piles and piles of wood, and clearly… not himself. Haha! Anyway, I dreamt that first night about “Exacto,” and woke up with the thought, “I don’t know if I should be playing this music...”
Obviously, I pushed through that feeling, and into another kind of musical awareness and frequency. There was literally a reorganization of my vibrational and cellular orientation, because music actually does that. Once I’d adapted and adjusted to the terrain, it was energizing and exciting. There was another piece called “Driving You Slow And Crazy,” which could have been a soundtrack for the same film, and with the two tubas, and Henry’s inimitable sound and delivery, was in fact, rather ominous. In “VVC” the ensemble was two tubas; two guitars; saxophone/flutes; trombone (later, French horn); and drums. Because Henry is what I would say openly or broadly exact about instrumentation/orchestration, he asked the guitars to play any harmony with only two or three notes and open-voiced, at any given time, so that the amount of musical information would not imbalance the ensemble sound and orchestration. That request resulted in a sea change in the way I played and heard guitar up to that point.
I also had and still do have a great musical rapport with Henry. We were a great musical melodic foil, up front, in Make A Move, which was my favorite of his bands I was in. We had big fun too! If you’ve ever seen Henry’s smile… that’ll tell you volumes… if you know how to read.
Q- If you weren't a musician what other directions would your life have taken?
A - When I graduated from high school I was either going to music college or drama school. I was very active in theatre in high school, and won a few awards for roles I played and I love something about the engagement with a director and interpreting direction through a character. I follow actors the way I do musicians. Interestingly, when I work with the producer/musician Kip Hanrahan, it is very much like being directed theatrically. I sing on Kip’s records as well as play guitar, and Kip’s lyrics (which are more often prose-like than lyrical) can be elliptical and hard to align with the music they’ve been written for - as well as being written in the studio, sometimes line by line and handed to me while we’re recording - so he and I have established this 'pas de deux' that might well be a convergence of my theatrical and the musical inclinations.
Q- What do you know today that you didn't know 20 years ago?
A - I know today, that the importance of being oneself, and accepting oneself is the most important ability to cultivate in any (creative) endeavor.
When I first met Ornette in ’83, (I’ve shared this story a lot) the first thing he said to me was “How’s the music business?” To which I sheepishly replied (being young and star struck) that I didn’t know enough about it to say, after which he said, “There’s the music world and the music business. A long time ago, I decided that I’d rather be a part of the music world.”
I know that it is crucial to cultivate my Self, or to allow my Self to cultivate me. A solitary singular pursuit. If I can realize it, I am my own reward.
Q- What have you been listening to lately?
A - Lately, I have been listening to Dori Caymmi’s Poesia Musicada.
Q- Is the nature of jazz and improvisation a political statement?
A - In the context of politics, it would seem to be. In the context of true reality, it is a poetic facsimile of same. I define culture as the way of our lives. Politics would then be, in the way of our lives. The things we call jazz and improvisation are cultural gestures within a process of organization and manifestation. It’s what humans do. Daily. Some more than others.
Q- What's the last truly great piece of music you listen to live or recorded?
A - It was a concert. A great concert, by Jeff Beck, in August 2016. I find it so satisfying to experience any artist who manages to be self-possessed, more or less complete; themselves, gestural, natural, revelatory, inspired and inspiring. That was a time when those qualities showed up for me. I had a teacher who used to use the term, “It of itself” as a description of what was ineffable. Jeff Beck was that.
Q- What are a few pieces of music that made you the person or musician you are today?
A - “The Dawn Treader” by Joni Mitchell, “What Reason Could I Give” by Ornette Coleman, “Landscape For Future Earth” by Keith Jarrett, “Dogon A.D.” by Julius Hemphill, “Unrealistic Love” by Henry Threadgill, “Os Povos” by Milton Nascimento, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten, “For You” by Leroy Jenkins, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” by Lennon/McCartney, “Ostinato” by Herbie Hancock.
Q- You're having a dinner party and can invite three musicians. Who would they be?
A - Ornette Coleman, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris and Toru Takemitsu.
Brandon Ross has a weeklong residence at The Stone Feb. 14-19
Photo Credit: Junya Suzuki