Archive for the The Jazz Continues… Category

Jazz 2015 – Watch This Space!

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2015, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2015 by curtjazz

Sometimes, time can get away from you…

I knew it had been a minute since my last blog post but I looked today and realized that I hadn’t done anything new since an Atlanta Jazz Fest recap in late May…DANG!!!

Welp. Sorry about that folks! And here’s what I’m going to attempt to do between now and December 31. I’m going to try to post at least something once a day relating to jazz that happened this year. Even if it’s a picture or a video clip accompanied by a few words, I’m going to drop something jazzy…

Of course, this will include my 2015 Best Albums list. Just because I haven’t been blogging, doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening.

Speaking of The Best of 2015. Today’s post will include a sneak preview, with clips from three of the albums that are on the list, vocalist Eugenie Jones; bassist Carlos Henriquez and a Posi-Tone Records saxophone summit, featuring Doug Webb, Joel Frahm and Walt Weiskopf.

Talk to you tomorrow. Until then, the jazz continues…

 

 

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Tributes to a King – Max Roach – Billy Taylor – Duke Ellington

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on April 4, 2015 by curtjazz

martin luther kingAs most of you know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 47 years ago today in Memphis. Much has been written over the years about that tragic day in American history, including a previous post in this blog. So today, I choose to honor Dr. King with musical tributes from three of jazz’s all-time greats; Max Roach, Dr. Billy Taylor  and Duke Ellington.

Hope you enjoy them…

Max Roach plays a duet with excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 

If You Are Concerned Then Show It – from Dr. Billy Taylor’s Peaceful Warrior Suite – Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King

“Martin Luther King” was the 3rd Movement of Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings suite; one of the last symphonic works completed by Mr. Ellington. As he lay dying in his hospital room, Ellington dictated instructions for the performance  and orchestration of this piece to his son, Mercer. It was not publicly performed until after Duke’s death.

An added bonus! Here is a fourth clip that I just stumbled upon, describing a meeting between Dr. King and Duke Ellington – both, understandably, were in awe of each other…

Best Compliment EVER!!!

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , on August 18, 2014 by curtjazz

Lou Rawls - All Things in TimeYesterday my teenage son John (usually known in these posts as “Jazzy John”) and I were hanging out at home. My radio station, Curt’s Cafe Noir was playing softly in the background and John was playing a video game. A recording of the great Lou Rawls singing “You’re The One” came on. John stopped and casually asked me, “Hey Dad, is that you?”

He looked at me with a straight face, which let me know that this was not an attempt at getting a raise in his allowance but an honest inquiry.

Now I haven’t raised my solo voice in any kind of serious attempt at vocalizing since before John was born. All he has ever heard is me around the house and the occasional church solo.

But for John to even for a brief moment to entertain the thought that one of the most singular voices in soul/pop/jazz (and one of my vocal idols) could actually be ME, was one of the best compliments that I have ever received!

Even though I told him the truth, I had an ear to ear grin for the next hour and my son thought that I was nuts even more than he usually does.

Hmmm…maybe Jazzy John’s allowance is a little paltry…

How I “Met” The Duke

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on May 1, 2014 by curtjazz

Duke EllingtonI spent many hours in front of the television as a child. Growing up in the New York City area, we had at least a half-dozen stations (a lot for the 1960s) to choose from to keep us entertained. My favorite was Channel 11 (WPIX) because even then, my tastes were a little different from other kids my age. In addition to The Little Rascals, The Three Stooges and Popeye, I also enjoyed when they would drop in cartoons that were not the standard fare.

I remember seeing the animated feature below a number of times, when it was used as filler to get the programmers to their next time slot. It drew me in because the style of animation was different and the black man playing the piano was as cool and elegant as anyone I had ever seen. Even at age seven, I knew he had to be somebody special.  He was. He was Duke Ellington. The animated short was called “A Date With The Duke”. The creator was a man named George Pal and the early stop motion technique that he used to create his “Puppetoons” birthed Gumby, Wallace and Gromit, the work of Ray Harryhausen and many others that we know today. Mr. Pal also became quite controversial for his use of stereotypical black characters in some of his other shorts such as the “Jasper” series; which he tried to make amends for with “John Henry” (which was also in the regular filler rotation on Channel 11).

All of this, of course I found out many years later.  What I knew then is that I was always happy to see this “cartoon” featuring the elegant Duke Ellington and the cool perfume bottles, performing The Perfume Suite. It planted the seeds for what became a true love and appreciation for the Duke and his art.

I had been looking for it for years and I was happy again to see it pop up on YouTube recently.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and still do.

 

T.C. Carson – Jazz Singer

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Under The Radar, Video Vault with tags , on November 7, 2013 by curtjazz
TC CarsonMy wife and I were fans of the television series “Living Single” back in the 90’s. We always felt that “Friends”, which premiered a year later, was a poor copy of “Living Single” but that’s a story for another post.

I first heard actor T.C. Carson (aka Kyle from “Living Single”) sing a little jazz during an appearance on Arsenio Hall’s original show around 20 years ago. He was no dilettante. He demonstrated a solid sense of jazz timing and a good way with a lyric. On top of that, Carson appeared to be truly enjoying himself, continuing to jam as the band came back from commercial breaks.

A short time after that, I heard him dabbling in jazz singing on a couple of “Living Single” episodes; most memorably singing “My Funny Valentine” to his on again/off again paramour on the show, Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander). I remember remarking to my wife that I hoped that Mr. Carson would take it further and record a jazz album one day.

The show came to an end in 1998 and save for a few supporting roles, some game voice work (notably Kratos in the “God of War” series) and an R&B album (Truth) that had its moments, we unfortunately have not heard a lot from Mr. Carson in the last decade. Sometime within the last few years, T.C. Carson appeared on a show called LA JAZZ and recorded an impressive jazz set on which he sounds like a baritone Al Jarreau.

Now I hear that T.C. Carson is doing a live show/recording in Los Angeles on November 16. Though I won’t be in LA that night, I have a feeling that L.A. Jazz fans may be in for a treat. I look forward to hearing the resulting album.

Until then, the jazz continues…

More Halloween Jazz (Still No Tricks, Just Treats)

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2013 by curtjazz
"Musically Reclined" on visualparadox.com

“Musically Reclined” (c) visualparadox.com

This is a sequel to my Halloween Jazz post of a couple of years ago. Though to my knowledge no jazz artist has recorded an album of tunes related to this spookiest of holidays, there are some tracks whose titles, if nothing else, lend themselves to a celebration of All Hallows Eve. Here are four more:

“Be My Monster Love” – David Murray [From Be My Monster Love – Motema Records – 2013]

The title track to saxophonist David Murray’s latest album is pure scary perfection thanks in part to the creepy and witty lyrics by Ishmael Reed that are given a letter-perfect reading by Macy Gray. Ya gotta love a tune with a line like “Suck me until I’m anemic/Until I can’t get out of bed/Until the doctors give me up for dead”. And the tune swings like mad too, which adds to the fun. Ms. Gray has said that she dabbled as a jazz singer prior to embarking on her successful pop career. She sounds right at home here and we’d like to hear more. Marc Cary is right on the money on piano and Mr. Murray, known mostly for his avant-garde work, is terrific on this fairly mainstream number.

“Dracula” – Grant Green [From Green is Beautiful – Blue Note Records – 1970]

Another performance that celebrates a groovin’ Prince of Darkness. This one is from the great guitarist’s 1970 album Green is Beautiful. By now Green was firmly entrenched in the funky sound that would dominate his latter years. Written by organist Neal Creque this track is elevated by the first-rate solos of the sidemen, including Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Claude Bartee on tenor and Emmanuel Riggins on organ. Green doesn’t solo until about three minutes into the track and his statement is way too brief but it does demonstrate that the master still had plenty left in the tank at this point in his all too brief career.

“Frankenstein” – Jackie McLean [From One Step Beyond – Blue Note Records – 1963]

Now this is what I’m talking about! McLean was starting to dabble in free jazz by this point and those experiments inform this performance. He still hasn’t broken free of the conventional boundaries but his movement toward them is strong enough to give this track a bit of a scary vibe. It’s jazz with a nice infusion of the macabre. I would have loved to have heard this cut on the soundtrack of a really hip Frankenstein movie, with maybe Lenny Bruce as The Doctor and Godfrey Cambridge as The Monster. Nice solos from McLean, trombonist Grachan Moncur III (who wrote the tune) and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes.

“Thriller” – Joey DeFrancesco [From Never Can Say Goodbye (The Music of Michael Jackson) – HighNote Records – 2010]

The most prominent jazz organist of our time dropped a tribute disc to the music of “The King of Pop” a couple of years ago. It was honestly a hit and miss affair but quite a bit of it worked, such as this track. My only quibble is that I would have perhaps liked a guest vocalist instead of Joey D on the Vincent Price “rap” but hey he was in the groove and it was his date so who was going to stop him. Besides, his organ solo is a killer, which is no surprise. A lot of fun and a Halloween no brainer.

I Have A Dream – The Entire Speech

Posted in In Memoriam, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on August 28, 2013 by curtjazz

Martin Luther King - LPI’ve written posts here before about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he and his life and work meant so much directly to my parents and indirectly to me as I was not quite eight years old when he was assassinated. I’ve studied him at length over the years and I’ve grown to admire him greatly.

I recall that a few weeks after Dr. King’s murder, my parents bought the album that you see pictured here, which included Dr. King and many other speakers from the day, including Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis. The liner notes by the way, were written by the great jazz writer and 1st amendment advocate Nat Hentoff.

That album was on heavy rotation in my home for at least a year, maybe more. In that time I became extremely familiar with Dr. King’s words from that day and the majesty of his oratory. In addition, I was exposed to the stentorian tones  of Mr. Randolph and the youthful passion of Mr. Lewis both of which have stuck with me to this day.

As I got older and did a little acting, I was asked on many occasions to recreate Dr. King’s word from that day in 1963. As I took on the daunting task of memorizing the entire 16 minute plus speech, the words grew in meaning for me exponentially. I always felt that the public was cheated each year during January and February when television would truncate everything down to the words “I have a dream” and “Free at last, Free at last…”. To me it was if you had reduced the entire Holy Bible to “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).

In most cases, I was asked in performance to “skip to the good part”, beginning with “I say to you today my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…”. (This is the first mention of the immortal words, which occurs about 11 minutes in, when King decided to abandon his prepared text and decided to “preach”, using words he first had used in a speech in Detroit two months earlier.)   As a performer,  I understood why folks asked me to do this. There’s still a little over five minutes left in the speech and all of it is highly memorable.

But it was still frustrating as even five minutes was too much for some. I remember the youth pastor of a church that I was attending, begging me to come out to Jones Beach one Sunday evening to deliver “the good part” at a summertime concert. He asked me to come in full suit and tie, which made me feel ridiculous while everyone else, this pastor included, was in t-shirt and shorts. He then took a few minutes to apologize to the audience before I came on, because I was going to deliver “the whole speech” as he called this 5 minute segment and he then begged them not to leave while I performed.

Having been set up for failure, I nevertheless went on, in spite of being now mocked by some drunks who felt empowered by this man’s apology. The final insult came when this youth pastor returned as I finish to literally hold me in place on the stage while he told people “you see, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” While a loud, bad Christian rock band played behind us and he screamed about “Freedom” and “Brotherhood”, while hoisting my hand in the air with his. I’d never been a theatrical hostage before. It was a new experience. And I left feeling totally used and extremely angry.

Anyway I told that story because I had to finally get it off my chest after twenty years. I can now put it to rest. The main reason I write today is to post this video of the entire 16 minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was once titled “A Cancelled Check” during earlier drafts. If you watch this you may figure out why. I’ve also included a clip of Dr. Billy Taylor’s beautiful King tribute “His Name Was Martin” featuring  Dr. Taylor on the piano and the wonderful Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. And a fascinating piece by the great Max Roach, featuring his drum solo against some of the famous quotations from the speech.  I hope that you’ll enjoy that as well.

Until the next time, the struggle (and the jazz) continues…

Please, Your Highness! Let Us See It!

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , on July 31, 2013 by curtjazz

aretha amazing graceI’m a longtime fan of Aretha Franklin. I think that hers is a vocal gift that comes along once every century or so. I believe that one of her greatest musical achievements is Amazing Grace, her 1972 masterpiece, in which she “returned to the church” to record some songs from her youth as well as some modern gospel tunes. I don’t care how bad a day is, hearing Aretha sing “How I Got Over” will bring me out of the deepest funk.

I only recently learned that there was film footage of that concert. Not only that, it was shot by the late Syndey Pollack; an Oscar-winning director who happens to have made some of my favorite films (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Tootsie to name two). This was almost too good to be true – one of my favorite singers, in one of her greatest recorded live performances on a film directed by one of my favorite directors!

My ecstasy was dashed minutes later when I learned that the film has never been released and may never be released. The holdup is reportedly because of a disagreement of some kind between “The Queen of Soul” and the film’s producers. In order to use Ms. Franklin’s likeness in the film, the producers must have her permission and as of now, Her Majesty isn’t giving it.

I discovered this trailer on YouTube, the only part of the footage that we have seen so far. This looks like this could be one incredible documentary film. It’s seems a crime to allow it to languish in a vault somewhere. The release of it could only serve to enhance Ms. Franklin’s already impressive legacy and serve as a fitting memorial to a great director.

I know that I have no pull with “The Queen”, but if she somehow should see this post, I would ask her: “Please Your Highness, Let us see Amazing Grace as it was meant to be, where we could see you in your astonishing prime, as well as Rev. James Cleveland; your father, the great Rev. C.L. Franklin and others who were there then but not with us now.”

Your loyal subjects are waiting, please don’t disappoint us!

A Room of Our Own in Charlotte

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2013 by curtjazz

The Jazz Room - Spring 13In the dozen or so years that I’ve called Charlotte home, the city’s relationship with the music I love has been at best, tenuous. Big name artists will come to town occasionally for a night, on their way to somewhere else. There have been several clubs that have used the word “jazz” in their name but how much actual jazz was performed in them was often limited. I think that those involved liked the idea of being a “jazz club” and the aura of coolness that went with the moniker but most of the time what you got when you walked through the doors was rehashed instrumental funk and loud, second-rate R&B groups.

Meanwhile most of us lovers of traditional jazz were left to either wait for the headliners to pass through or support these local so-called jazz clubs, hoping to be thrown an occaisonal bone for our patience. All the while wishing to have a room of our own, where we could hear the jazz of Miles, Diz, Monk and Newk.

Thanks to Lonnie Davis and the great people of the Jazz Arts Initiative (JAI) of Charlotte, our patience has been rewarded.

Last month the JAI premiered “THE JAZZ ROOM”, which for now is occurring on the 3rd Tuesday of every month at the Stage Door Theater; a black box space in the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte’s Uptown business district. Through the magic of stagecraft, the space is transformed into an elegant jazz club, complete with candlelit tables in the front of the room and general admission seating toward the rear. The concerts begin at 6 pm, allowing those who are getting off from work in the area to come in after a hard day, have a drink and hear some great jazz played by some of the finest musicians that this region has to offer. Tickets for each event are currently a very reasonable $10.

The Jazz Room - Spring 13

The series got off to a great start in April with pianist Chad Lawson paying an outstanding tribute to the music of Bill Evans before a sold out and very enthusiastic audience. The series continues on May 21 with trumpeter Mark Rapp leading a quintet, playing the music of Miles Davis. This performance is already nearly sold out. The next two dates have also been announced with trombonist Tyrone Jefferson in a tribute to Slide Hampton on June 18 and saxophonist Tim Gordon honoring Dexter Gordon (no relation) on July 16th.

Jazz Room 3

Would we like for THE JAZZ ROOM to be open more than once a month? Of course; but let’s face it, you’ve got to crawl before you walk or run. Any kind of jazz series, contemporary or traditional, is a tough sell in this economy so building an audience incrementally is a wise business model. Right now it seems as if Ms. Davis and the JAI may be onto something which will work in the long run and we Charlotteans who love jazz are very, very grateful. Kudos to Lonnie, Ocie, Glyn and all of those in the leadership of the JAI.

By the way the onstage MC at THE JAZZ ROOM is a grizzled veteran jazz radio DJ/magazine columnist/blogger named Curtis Davenport. Please try to forgive his corny jokes; he writes his own material.

For more information on the JAI and THE JAZZ ROOM, visit the JAI Website. To purchase tickets for any of the upcoming JAZZ ROOM events, go to Carolina Tix.

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).