Archive for the JazzLives! Category

Right Back Where We Started

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2016 by curtjazz

Before writing reviews, before the “Browsing the Bins” column, before Live365 and Curt’s Cafe Noir and before this blog, there was live jazz radio… The mid-90’s as a jazz DJ on what was tCurtis with Birdhen WPBX, on the East End of Long Island, was the best gig of my life, of any kind, one I reluctantly gave up, when I moved south almost sixteen years ago. As I signed off in October 2000, I always knew that I would be back one day. I just didn’t think that my son, who was less than a month old when I left, would be ready to start driving when that day came!

THE DATE IS SET!!!

Thursday, May 12; 6 pm – 9 pm (EDT). The premiere of my new radio show “JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz” on Charlotte Community Radio. The show will be a continuation of the passion that developed in me during the twelve years of Curt’s Cafe Noir – jazz by active musicians.

We will play jazz from across the spectrum, from modern to bop to swing to avant-garde. So, what will all of the artists have in common? They are all still living and playing great jazz.

I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it – For jazz to survive in the 21st century, we have got to open our ears to some of the great young musicians who are bringing some fresh ideas from their own 21st century experiences. This means that on JAZZ LIVES!!!, we will play Sonny Rollins AND Kamasi Washington. We will play Kenny Barron AND Robert Glasper. We will play Dave Holland AND Esperanza Spalding. And you will definitely hear from Mimi Jones and the marvelous ladies of Hot Tone Music.

Hot-Tone-Music-to-Release-CDs-By-Bassist-Mimi-Jones-Saxophonist-Camille-Thurman-Drummer-Shirazette-Tinnin

(l to r) Camille Thurman; Mimi Jones and Shirazette Tinnin

And, thanks to the tireless efforts of people like my friends Ocie and Lonnie Davis and the Jazz Arts Initiative, Charlotte is gaining a national reputation for producing some terrific young jazz players. So expect to also learn more about some of the QC’s contributions to  jazz’s future, like Eleazar Shafer, Phillip Whack, Harvey Cummings II, Tim Singh; Troy Conn and Tim Scott, Jr. And a few amazing talents even younger than those I just mentioned, such as Sean Mason and Veronica Leahy.

tim scott, jr

Tim Scott, Jr.

We are also blessed to have a studio that will be big enough for interviews and live performances and we plan to take advantage of that space for chats and mini concert sets with some of the greats and soon to be greats who live in or visit the Charlotte area.

All we ask from you is to give us a listen. And let us know what you think – on Facebook (CurtJazz Radio); on Twitter (@curtjazz); or on Instagram (curtjazz).

To hear JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz and all of the great programming that Charlotte Community Radio has to offer, just click this link http://charlottecommunityradio.org/
We will also be available via Mixlr (http://mixlr.com/)

More to come over the days leading up to our premiere. Watch this space!!!

Album Review: Etienne Charles – Creole Soul

Posted in CD Reviews, JazzLives! with tags on November 8, 2013 by curtjazz

Etienne Charles will be appearing tonight, Friday, 11/8 at SubCulture in NYC. Two shows, at 7:30 & 10 pm. Check him out if you’re in the Big Apple this evening!

Curt's Jazz Cafe

The following review first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Etienne Charles

etienne charles

CREOLE SOUL – Culture Shock Music EC004 www.etiennecharles.com  Creole (intro); Creole; The Folks; You Don’t Love Me; Roots; Memories; Green Chimneys; Turn Your Lights Down Low; Midnight; Close Your Eyes; Doin’ The Thing

PERSONNEL: Etienne Charles, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Brian Hogans, alto saxophone; Obed  Calvaire, drums; Jacques Schwarz-Bart, tenor saxophone; Kris Bowers, piano, fender rhodes;  Ben Williams, bass; Erol Josué, vocals; Daniel Sadownick, percussion, vocals; D’Achee, percussion, vocals; Alex Wintz, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

One of the reasons that jazz is struggling with the public lately, is a lack of fresh voices. Whether it’s intentional or not, so many artists have a sound that is extremely derivative of someone who came before them. We who write about the music often aren’t much help as we rush to crown “the next Miles”, “the…

View original post 614 more words

A “Royal Jam” in The Queen City

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by curtjazz

In New York, Chicago, Philly or San Francisco, this night would have probably passed without notice. But in Charlotte, NC, where jazz jams occur on a basis closer to quarterly than nightly, this was an event of note…Ocie Davis, the veteran drummer, who makes his home base in Charlotte, was in town for a few days in early June, so he put out the word that there would be a  jam session, featuring his group, “The Queen’s Collective”  at 10 pm on Wednesday, June 6, at The Evening Muse, a funky little bar in the NoDa section of town, with a decidedly bohemian atmosphere.

These NoDa jams used to be regular weekly occurrences, but with Mr. Davis on the road quite a bit lately, they had pretty much died out…So when the word of this mid-week gathering went out via Facebook, Charlotte’s small but faithful jazz community was abuzz. I knew that my butt would be draggin’ when I got to work on Thursday morning, but hell, it was going to be worth it!

Eleazar Shafer (trumpet) and Zach Wheeler (sax) at the Queen’s Collective Jam on 6/6/12

I arrived a little before 10 and found a spot at the back of the club. The weekly Open Mic night was still going on and it would continue well past its scheduled conclusion time. By 10:30 those of us who had come to hear jazz were quietly getting a bit restless waiting for the game gaggle of college aged kids to relinquish the stage.  When they finally did, at around 10:40, Ocie and crew went quickly to work getting things set up for the session. He was joined by Queen’s Collective veterans, guitarist Troy Conn, Tim Singh on bass and percussionist Robert Beasley.  Conn is a UNC-Charlotte grad with fleet fingers, a gorgeous full tone and a touch of a CTI era GB influence. Mr. Singh is a young bassist who shows a world of promise.  Mr. Beasley is a veteran percussionist, versed in many styles. He is also without a doubt the coolest cat in the band, who with his shaved head and dark shades, resembles Roy Haynes’ younger Doppelganger.

Percussionist Robert Beasley at the Evening Muse on 6/6/12.

The collective kicked things off with a gritty untitled blues that featured Mr. Conn’s dirty guitar work. This was followed by a cool take on Joe Henderson’s “Recordame”. Conn and Singh set the table with their strong solos, followed by Davis and Beasley feeding off of each other in lockstep and showing the kids how it’s done.

Next was Trane’s “Impressions”; a ballsy move for any group that features a guitarist as we all have the sound of Wes Montgomery’s classic version from Smokin’ at the Half Note etched in our memories.  But as you’ll see in this clip, young Troy Conn is up to the task.

With the crowd now warmed up Ocie called for “Cissy Strut” – a staple for any percussionist with Bayou roots. Things then got even better when Mr. Davis summoned to the stand Eleazar Shafer, a 26 year-old Charlotte native who is now based in NYC, with a lot of Hubbard in his horn and in his attitude.  You’ve got to like a cat who takes the stage wearing a t-shirt that reads “I Am Awesome”; you’ve got to love him when he can back it up. Suffices to say, we love “Shafe”.

Davis then decided to take a break and relinquished the drum chair to Jacob Cavell. Another promising youngster, Zach Wheeler grabbed his alto sax and they then dove into one of my favorite Coltrane tunes, “Equinox”, with fine results.

There was much still to come as more musicians arrived, fully ready to go on all night long. Unfortunately however, I wasn’t, as I knew that I had to get out of there if I was to stand any chance of  being even semi-coherent at work later that day. So regretfully,  I had to cut out a little before 1 – missing in the process some great music and some fine new talent but feeling hopeful for the future of jazz in The Queen City.

It was fun y’all. Let’s do it again real soon!

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 3 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by curtjazz

The third and final day of this year’s Atlanta Jazz Fest was the best overall. The slight cloud cover throughout most of the day cooled the temperatures a bit. We were able to get started early enough to be in place in time to hear all Mainstage performances and best of all, the music was consistently strong.

The Mainstage acts kicked off with vocalist Yolanda Rabun, who was making her AJF debut. Ms. Rabun, an actress and attorney, as well as a singer; came to play; giving her all throughout her set. She is blessed with an oustanding vocal instrument and boundless energy. Her set was drawn for the most part, from her debut CD, So Real – a good idea as the album includes some very good original material, such as “The Good Wife”, “Marry You Again” and the outstanding title track. 

Yolanda Rabun, as she kicked off the final day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

However, Ms. Rabun at times veered dangerously close to allowing her set to become too theatrical; using vocal affectations and tricks that someone with an instrument as good as hers does not need to use, in order to effectively deliver a song.  And her 15 minute plus take on the old Gladys Knight & the Pips tune “Friendship Train”, which included Ms. Rabun leaving the stage to dash among the blankets and chairs shaking hands with the audience; may have been too much of a good thing.

In spite of this minor misstep, Ms. Rabun finished strong with a terrific version of “So Real”. She is a very promising performer, from whom we hope to hear more at future AJFs and around the jazz world, in general.

Next up was trumpeter Russell Gunn, who has taken many musical turns during his almost 20 year career, from hard bop to hip hop to jazz rock. I had wondered aloud on Sunday, which Russell Gunn would we see on Monday.  I got my answer during the sound check before his set as I saw a spate of electronic instruments being arranged on the stage behind Mr. Gunn’s trumpet.  This meant that we were getting Elektrik Butterfly, Mr. Gunn’s more recent aggregation, which celebrates the music of the iconic rock group, Black Sabbath.  I’d heard of, but not actually heard Mr. Gunn in this setting before now, so I didn’t know what to expect. 

Russell Gunn during his opening number at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

Mr. Gunn and group kicked off with a funk-rock Black Sabbath tune that was reminiscent of the type of music we got from Miles in the early seventies. It was hot, funky, edgy and it divided the audience as if it were politics.  As I looked at the  crowd, about half were bopping their heads and beginning to dig the groove. The other half sat there with furrowed brows, as if to say “what the hell is this?”.

Russell Gunn and Elektrik Butterfly performing at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest on Monday 5/28.

 As on Sunday, I missed the middle portion of Gunn’s set, for I hopped a cart ride over to the International Stage again. This time I caught the Melvin Jones Quintet.  Again, the crowd, though larger than Sunday’s, was still, very attentive and enthusiastic and with good reason. Mr. Jones, an Atlanta-based trumpeter and his group, which featured Mace Hibbard on saxes, were on fire; playing some extremely good straight ahead jazz.  I’ve been impressed with Mr. Jones ever since first hearing him at last year’s AJF. He did nothing to change my opinion in 2012.  This was my first time hearing Mr. Hibbard, who performed with his own group at the International Stage on Sunday. He was equally impressive. Here’s a clip what I saw and heard.

And here’s a little more:

In spite of the great music, we dashed back to the Mainstage to catch the remainder of Russell Gunn’s set and to meet with sax prodigy Grace Kelly, prior to hers. By the time we returned, vocalist Julie Dexter had joined Mr. Gunn on stage. More of the crowd was grooving, but there were some who would remain unconverted. No matter. Russell Gunn had done his job. He delivered a well-played set and he got the crowd buzzing. He had even made converts of two tough critics – my wife and son. My wife’s first words to me as I returned were “He is great! Do you have any of this music from him at home?”

Grace Kelly is interviewed prior to her set at the 2012 AJF

Grace Kelly walked into the press tent looking even younger than her 20 years, in a dress made partially of soda can tabs. She is as gracious and articulate a young woman as I have met in this business, who speaks with a stunning casualness about playing with legends such as Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Herbie Hancock. Yet when she took the stage, she played with the poise and artistry of someone at least twice her age. 

She played jazz classics and some of her newer compositions while engaging the audience in easygoing banter. Many had not heard of Ms. Kelly before her appearance, but by the time she was done, she had clearly acquired quite a few new fans – not the least of which was my son, age 11, who shyly asked me near the end of Grace’s set “Dad… Do you think that she’s attractive?”  Another rite of passage – Jazzy John had his first “Jazz Crush”.

Grace Kelly blowin’ hot during her set at the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

Whereas the closing acts on the first two night of the AJF had been steeped in nostalgia, the final night was decidedly different. As Robert Glasper, one of the hottest performers in jazz today, was the closing artist.  By the time 9 pm rolled around on Memorial Day evening, the crowd, which was slightly smaller than on the previous 2 nights, due in part to the coming work day for many, was also decidedly younger, a by-product of Mr. Glasper’s more youthful fan base.  During his set, I found myself as excited by the music as by the implications of what was happening around me.

Robert Glasper closing the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

For years the death knell for jazz has been sounded. Much of it by those who complained that  jazz had nothing to offer a younger audience, that could carry it forward into the middle of this century.  But the audience that night was thumbing its collective nose at the naysayers. As the Robert Glasper Experiment played a set of music from his breakthrough new album Black Radio, which has a strong mix of jazz and hip-hop, I saw crowds of twenty somethings dancing and forming pockets of fist-pumping excitement, especially when Glasper and company played “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  They were digging what they heard and they wanted more.  Jazz had offered them something and they were eating it up!  As the night ended, due to curfew restrictions, more than either artist or audience wanting to stop; Jazzy John asked if I could download Black Radio on his iPod…For me that was as good as it got all weekend.  For I know that, at least in my home,  jazz does have a future.

The Robert Glasper Experiment during the 2012 AJF

As we close the books on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, we do so with a lot of fond memories and great anticipation for the 2013 AJF. We will also make a vow to plan to spend at least one full day at the International Stage. 

The festival is free because the City of Atlanta has heard that this is an important cultural outreach. And they’ve heard it from those of you who are area residents.  If you are an Atlanta resident, please do your part to ensure that there is a 2013 AJF and that it remains free of charge, by contacting your local government representative. That’s the best gift that you could give to jazz today.

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 2 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by curtjazz

DAY 2 – Sunday, 5/27

The Sunday of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest had  a decidedly international flavor with artists from different parts of the world showing us a mixture of jazz and their homeland musical styles. It was another great day of music, but for me, it was almost eclipsed by what I heard when I ventured away from the Mainstage for the first time.

The day got off to a frustrating start, as the APD, which otherwise did an outstanding job of traffic control throughout the weekend, closed off access to the street that I had used to access parking every day since I first came to the AJF last year.  This was doubly frustrating because this rerouting caused us to miss the performance of Hatian Jazzman Mushy Widmaier

Determined not to let this blip ruin the day, we settled in and prepared for the performance of Gregoire Maret, the Swiss harmonica master who has been making quite a name for himself of late.  Mr. Maret is an excellent musician and he delivered a solid set; though at times some of the “quiet storm” style grooves that he laid down seemed more suited to late night at an intimate club, rather than a sweltering sunny Sunday afternoon in the park. When he tackled uptempo tunes, he did so with a stunning virtuosity that excited the growing crowd on the lawn.

Gregoire Maret performs at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

I have to confess that I saw the beginning and the end of Mr. Maret’s performance. In the middle, I took a harrowing ride on a golf cart to the other side of Piedmont Park; where I paid my first visit to the festival’s smaller venue, the International Stage.  This stage drew a more intimate crowd, that was all about the music.  The distractions of the large tents and people “stylin’ and profilin'” as they make their way around, interested more in calling attention to themselves than in hearing jazz; are vitrually non-existent at the International Stage.  What you do get, are world-class musicians, just with less recognizable names.

When I arrived, I was treated to the Son Jazzy Orchestra a Latin Jazz group, based in the Atlanta area.  They commanded the stage with a fire that gave me goosebumps. I immediately whipped out my Flip camera and recorded the clip of their performance of “Night in Tunisia” that you see below. Please excuse my shoddy camerawork, as I was in motion during most of the performance.  I also was interrupted in the middle by an attempt to arrange a ride back to the other side of the park, thus the inopportune break about 6 minutes into the film. I did return to catch the remainder of the performance.  Other than the group’s leader, Nelson Ramos, I don’t know the names of the rest of the group and their web page didn’t provide much more info. As I do find out though, I will update this post.

If I hadn’t left my family on the other side of the park, I would have likely remained at the second stage for a few hours longer, but sadly, I had to leave the International Stage and the Son Jazzy Orchestra after that one tune. But there were two more great artists awaiting when I returned to the Mainstage.

Lionel Loueke at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and his trio were next on the Mainstage. Many in the audience knew Mr. Loueke from his work with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock,  in additional to his two critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note. He captivated the crowd right off the bat with a beautiful sonic mélange that turned into “Skylark”.  Mr. Loueke’s set consisted mostly of tunes that started with a beautiful theme, highlighted by his vocalizing. Then as soon as the audience was lured into a place of serenity, Mr. Loueke reminded us to not get too comfortable, as the music would veer off into jazz-rock themes that were often dissonant.  From the looks on the faces of many in the crowd, many of the roads that the Loueke trio took were a bit confusing; but he would always return us home safely.

Tito Puente Jr. shows off his tattoo of his legendary father, prior to his set at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

The evening closed with a set from Tito Puente, Jr., who has now decidedly stepped  into his late father’s shoes as “The Mambo King”. He is also every bit the gregarious and gracious showman that his dad was; arriving early to spend a bit of time with us press types and staying late to patiently sign autographs and listen to reminiscences from those in the audience affected by his father’s music.

Tito Puente Jr. during his performance of “Manteca” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

Puente, Jr’s band was hot and road tested, as they cranked out the classics from the Latin Jazz canon, “Tanga”, “Manteca”, “Ran Kan Kan” and many others. Tito, Jr. also told many heartwarming and humourous stories about himself, his dad and the music that made them famous.  He also slipped in a few numbers from his own song book, such as the fiery “Junior’s Mambo”, which Tito, Jr. composed for his three-year old son, whom he referred to as “Tito Junior, Junior”.  Though there was no official dance floor impromptu ones sprang up all over the packed lawn, as people grooved in whatever way they knew how, to the infectious rhythms.

If you ever saw Tito Puente, Sr. perform, this facial expression is very familiar

Just when you thought they were finished, Tito told a story about a song that his father composed in the late ’60’s that was then made famous by a 19-year-old guitarist named Carlos Santana.  The pianist then hit that familiar syncopated block of chords and a near-riot broke out… With a big grin, Junior then held out the mike to the crowd, saying “I know y’all know it…sing it!” And thousands who had never spoken a word of Spanish in their lives, were now singing “Oye Como Va” at the top of their lungs.

It was a great end to a great second day. The best news was that there was still more to come on Monday on both stages.

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 1 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by curtjazz

The 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest couldn’t help but exceed its immediate predecessor, based on volume alone. This year’s festival featured three full days of free jazz in Piedmont Park, whereas 2011 had only two.  Four acts a day were featured on the Mainstage and another four on the other side of the park at the International Stage.

What follows over the next three posts, will be my thoughts on the festival, opinions on performances and observations on some things that caught my attention. In addition, there are some photos and video clips. So this is not so much a review as it is a recap.

DAY ONE 5/26

Have to confess that the fam and I moved slowly on Saturday morning, while leaving Charlotte for Atlanta. So slowly that it backfired a bit. By the time we got everything we needed, dropped the dog off at doggie care, drove the 4 hours to ATL, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, found parking and walked back to the park, we unfortunately had managed to miss the first Mainstage performance by Dwight Andrews.  We settled in as Cyrus Chestnut was finishing his first number, which meant that   I was too late to take pictures of the “Nut Man”.  A bit disappointing, but it was my own fault.

Ernie Gregory, the renowned jazz photographer and Atlanta Jazz Festival emcee. introduces Kathleen Bertrand

As for Mr. Chestnut and his trio, they were up to their usual level of excellence. Chestnut, Dezron Douglas on bass and Neal Smith on drums have worked together long enough now that they are in musical lockstep. By the time they reached “CC Rider” the crowd had joined them, rocking along and snapping fingers as one. Another terrific performance by a great group.

 Between sets, we got settled in, enjoyed gourmet popsicles from a vendor who called himself “King of Pops”. My son John and I also took time to shoot our first vlogs of the weekend.

Up next was Atlanta-based vocalist Kathleen Bertrand.  Ms. Bertrand, an attractive and appealing singer, immediately caught the attention of the crowd with her pop influenced jazz vocals and her form-fitting dress.  Most of her material came from her latest album Katharsis, including “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, the set opener and the strong originals, “Date Night” and “Don’t Let It Die”; which is a plea for the survival of mainstream jazz.  A medley of standards in the middle of the set missed the mark a bit, but Ms Bertrand recovered strongly with an appropriate set closer “Jazz at Piedmont Park”.  It was a good set overall and it left the crowd feeling energetic and ready for the headliner.

Kathleen Bertrand performs “Wrapped Around Your Finger” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

 And that headliner was the great Roy Ayers. I watched Mr. Ayers move slowly backstage prior to the performance (he is in his seventies, after all). However when his introduction came and he hit the stage, he did it with more energy than many men half his age.  He exhorted the crowd, sang, told stories and even played a little on the vibes. It was a virtual love fest as young and not so young on the by now packed lawn sang and danced along with “Red Black and Green”, “We Live in Brooklyn Baby”, “Searching”, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and the inevitable set closer, “Running Away”. Kathleen Bertrand even returned, joining Roy on vocals on one number. Roy Ayers is still a great performer and a very good vibraphonist. His vocals are by now, a bit shaky, but again, he is 71 and an R & B/Hip-Hop/Jazz legend.  He came and gave the crowd what they wanted and we all went home happy and anticipating another great day on Sunday. 

 

Roy Ayers exhorts the crowd during his performance at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

 

And Sunday was a great day, with a real revelation for me.

More on that in the next post, which will include more photos and performance footage.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by curtjazz

There is so much jazz going on at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which begins Saturday in Piedmont Park, that one stage couldn’t hold it all.  Though we’ve been talking about all of the Mainstage Acts (We still have to cover Monday!), there are a lot of terrific albeit lesser-known artists performing on the Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage. Many of these artists are based in the Atlanta area.  These performances will be going on simultaneously with the ones on the Mainstage, so you will have to choose. But either way you’ll win with some great jazz.

Among the International Stage names that caught my eye were trumpeter Melvin Jones, who made a big impression during last years festival as he backed singer Audrey Shakir; Saunders Sermons is a very fine vocalist/trombonist; Ernest “EC3” Coleman; a hard swinging drummer and Mace Hibbard, a strong saxophonist. Now that I look at the lineup, the International Stage would make for a damn fine festival, all by itself.

I’ve dropped the complete International Stage Schedule and a few video clips below. Check the clips out, then if you’re at the festival this weekend drop by the International Stage and check these artists out. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 26

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

For more info on the individual artists, click on their names to access their websites or Facebook pages, where available.

For more info on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest, visit their website http://atlantafestivals.com

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Cyrus Chestnut Trio

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , on May 6, 2012 by curtjazz

Though it will be Saturday afternoon, there’s a good chance that we will begin the 35th Atlanta Jazz Festival “in church”, thanks to the first two artists.  Opening the Festival at 3 p.m. will be reedman Dwight Andrews, who in addition to his prowess on the saxophone and flute, is also known as Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews – Senior Minister of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church.  We can expect the good Reverend Doctor, a Yale Music and Divinity grad, who is also an Emory University Music School Professor, to bring us some fine jazz with an ecumenical touch, such as in the clip below.

Dr. Andrews will be followed by the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. Mr. Chestnut has held a prominent position in the jazz piano world ever since he captured public imagination with his Atlantic Records debut Revelation, back in 1994.  Though Chestnut does not carry Dr. Andrews’ pastoral credentials, Chestnut’s playing has always had a very strong gospel influence, because of his deep church roots.  He has even included a non-secular track or two on most of his albums. In 2009, he went all the way, releasing the beautiful Spirit, a solo piano album of gospel tunes.  Last year, he returned to the trio format with Journeys.  His latest release is his first pure quartet date. It’s called, appropriately, The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet; it features the terrific young saxophonist, Stacy Dillard.

Mr. Chestnut and his trio are scheduled to hit the AJF mainstage at 5 p.m. I’ve seen him live a number of times and I’ve never been disappointed, he plays a bop/blues/gospel hybrid that is second to none.  If you’re planning on catching the Atlanta Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 26, make sure to get there in time for Cyrus Chestnut. He’ll leave you with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

For further information about the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival – Get Ready!

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , on April 18, 2012 by curtjazz

Official 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival Artwork by Corey Barksdale

You may recall that last May, I documented in this blog my family’s trip to the 34th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival. Last year, it was a spur of the moment decision that we made, based on the luck of our work schedules. The music was great and we had a great time, until my Sunday evening eye incident.

Well, this year we are well ahead of schedule. And I plan to carry plenty of insect repellent to keep nasty flying things out of my face. It’s a good thing, as the lineup is even stronger than last year’s.

First of all there’s an extra day of free music. Where the 2011 Festival had two free days; this year the free portion of the festival in Piedmont Park extends through Monday. And we will be there to catch every minute.

Here’s a look at this year’s lineup:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

In addition to these artists on the Main Stage, there will also be a lot happening on the Atlanta International Jazz Stage, where some fine up and coming artists will be featured, such as bassist Omer Avital, vocalist/trombonist Saunders Sermons and trumpeter Melvin Jones, who set the house on fire on the main stage last year, in an appearance with vocalist Audrey Shakir.  The International Stage shows go on simultaneously with the Main Stage shows, but it’s definitely worth checking out at some point during the weekend.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the AJF, that was not a typo earlier, it is free.  One of the largest and finest free jazz festivals in the country, or even in the world.  So get there early, bring your lawn chair and your cooler and make a weekend of it.  I’ll be dropping blog posts regularly over the next six weeks, leading up to the festival, with further information about the artists. I’ll also be vlogging live from the festival, as we did last year.

For information about Piedmont Park, a full event schedule and hotel accommodation suggestions, visit the Atlanta Jazz Festival website.

Well see you in the ATL on May 26th!

Concert Review – Delfeayo Marsalis in Charlotte, NC

Posted in JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by curtjazz

I’ve been a resident of Charlotte, NC for almost 11 years.  I must admit that during most of that time, the choices for mainstream jazz have been at best, limited.  Yes, there have been a few establishments that have called themselves “jazz” clubs, but they have mostly offered what we sometimes call “grown folks music”, that is, a mix of radio hit-based R & B instrumentals;  vocalists whose time atop the pop charts has passed and competently performed, but unimaginative “smooth” jazz.  Economic times being what they are, even those clubs have fallen by the wayside.  Though there would be the occasional appearance of a jazz star, they were few and far between.

I tell you that to tell you this.  To quote Martin Luther King, we straight ahead jazz fans are now “able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”.  Within the past 15 months, Charlotte has played host to well-attended concerts by notables such as Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, Branford Marsalis and now another Marsalis brother, Delfeayo; who brought a vibrant quintet to the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square last week.  I’m going to cut to the chase: it was the finest jazz concert I’ve seen since I’ve lived in this city.

The concert was presented by the Jazz Arts Initiative, a new non-profit organization composed of educators, cultural arts patrons, musicians and individuals, all dedicated to the continued development of Charlotte’s arts heritage.  Headed by Lonnie Davis, the JAI has shown great potential to succeed where other similar organizations have failed –  first because they have already produced tangible results, such as last night’s concert and the ongoing educational programs for elementary and secondary school students; second, because they have shown a willingness to use social media, to an extent that prior organizations have not and finally, because they are funded in part by The Charlotte Arts and Science Council, giving them needed legitimacy with local arts fundraisers.

The evening was kicked off in fine fashion by the JAI All-Star Youth Jazz Ensemble, a promising group of youngsters, all in their teens: Quinn Bannon on drums; Phillip Howe on trumpet; Claire Lucas, bass; Steven Ray (remember that name) on guitar and Alex Sherman, piano. These well-trained, enthusiastic kids delivered solid, swinging takes on Miles’ “Four” and Sam Jones’ “Unit 7”. Their performances bode well for the future of JAI and Charlotte area jazz.

Delfeayo took the stage immediately after the JAI Youth; relaxed, in good humor and ready to swing. Surprisingly, he played no music from his latest, album Sweet Thunder, an Ellington tribute. Instead, he delighted the audience with tunes from the jazz canon and his own compositional catalog.  He broke with tradition by kicking the set off, not with a flag-waver but with Strayhorn’s “Intimacy of the Blues”.  Marsalis and the quartet, consisting of his longtime pianist Victor “Red” Atkins, John Brown on bass and Charlotte’s own Ocie Davis on drums, had the crowd feeling “intimate” as we hummed, swayed and responded with sundry expressions of approval. 

Another regular Marsalis ally, saxophonist Derek Douget and trumpeter Ashlin Parker, a Charlotte native who shows remarkable promise; joined the group for a bouncy romp through the old warhorse “Drum Boogie”.  This delight was followed by one of the high points of the evening, Elvin Jones’ “The Lone Warrior”, a tune inspired, as we found out in Delfeayo’s expository comments, by Jones’ father’s refusal to answer his draft notice.  Marsalis and Douget and Atkins painted a story of haunting determination in their solos and the ensemble passages. You could envision the proud, resolute Jones père as he marched through his 25 mile journey. 

From a previous performance, here’s Delfeayo’s group on an excerpt from “The Lone Warrior”, featuring Mark Gross…

The second half of the show was devoted to numbers penned by Marsalis:  the dark, haunting “Lost in the Crescent”, the appropriately whimsical “Br’er Rabbit” (both from Marsalis’ underrated Minions Dominions album).  And the compelling set closer, “The Weary Ways of Mary Magdalene” from his debut album Pontius Pilate’s Decision.   That tune’s percussive piano vamp grabbed my attention when I first heard it nearly 20 years ago and it still moves me in the same way now.

After the concert was over, Mr. Marsalis returned to the stage for a Q & A session with the audience.  In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere that had been established, Marsalis was gracious with his time and expansive with his answers, peppering his responses with interesting anecdotes and raucous humor. 

To close the evening, there was one more selection.  Victor Atkins returned to join Delfeayo for reminiscence about the beginning of their musical partnership, followed by a duet on “What a Wonderful World”. It was truly a wonderful evening of jazz in Charlotte, one of many we hope to see in the near future here. Kudos to Delfeayo Marsalis and his fine sextet, to the JAI All-Star Youth Ensemble and to Lonnie Davis and The Jazz Arts Initiative; thanks to them, the future of jazz in this city looks very bright, indeed.

Delfeayo Marsalis website: http://delfeayomarsalis.com Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/delfeayo

The Jazz Arts Initiative website: http://www.thejazzarts.org Follow them on Twitter: http://twitter.com/theJazzArts