Archive for the Under The Radar Category

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…

A Song That Always “Picks Me Up”

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , on October 23, 2013 by curtjazz

Elli Fordyce - Songs Spun of GoldWe all have those tunes that can lift us out of the darkest doldrums; a performance that helps to put the “pep back in our step” and gets us through that rough patch.

There are a few songs like that for me. One is the old Kern/Fields tune “Pick Yourself Up” as performed by the wonderful jazz singer Elli Fordyce. “Pick Yourself Up” is lyrically upbeat to begin with and I’ve heard many, many versions of it over the years; but there’s something about Ms. Fordyce’s performance and the finger snapping arrangement led by pianist Jeremy Manasia, that makes me almost giddy.

For those who are unfamiliar with her, Elli Fordyce is a NYC native who has only recently returned to singing after a hiatus of many years. In fact, Songs Spun of Gold, the critically acclaimed album (see our review HERE) that includes “Pick Yourself Up”, was recorded and released in 2009 when Elli was 72.  It is her second album, following on the heels of her excellent 2007 recorded debut Something Still Cool (yes, June Christy is a strong influence).

Elli is still coaching aspiring vocalists and performing today, at age 76.  If you get a chance to hear her live, you should not pass up the opportunity.

I listened to “Pick Yourself Up” a number of times while preparing this post. I feel better than I have all day.

Thanks Elli for once again “picking me up”.

“Under The Radar” Jazz Guitarists – Part I

Posted in Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by curtjazz

Ed CherryIt’s been a few weeks since our last “Under The Radar” post, for various reasons, none of which really matter to most people. So let’s fire it up again with a quartet of great jazz guitarists that deserve more recognition than they get. There will be a Part 2 as there are quite a few guitarists that I want to pull your coat about. As always, they are in alphabetical order:

Ron Affif

Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Affif was a student of the great Joe Pass and the son of a well-respected middleweight boxer, who passed along to his son his love of jazz. Mr. Affif, who now calls Brooklyn home, released five strong albums for Pablo Records during the ’90’s. My personal favorites are Ringside and 52nd Street. Most times he works in the trio (guitar, bass, drums) format, which leaves ample room for his creativity.  He still presides over Monday nights at the Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village; as good a reason as any to check it out.

Sheryl Bailey

Another Pittsburgh native (there must be something in the water there that produces great jazz guitarists), Ms. Bailey constantly finds herself being compared to Emily Remler, the patron saint of female jazz guitarists. To take nothing away from the late Ms. Remler, of whom I’m also a fan (as is Ms. Bailey), I think that Ms. Bailey is better. For my money Sheryl has a slightly better sense of swing and a warmer tone but why quibble, just love them both. Her last two albums A New Promise and For All Those Living have been on Curt’s Cafe’s Best Jazz Albums lists in their respective release years.  According to her website, Ms. Bailey has a new trio album coming out soon. Be on the lookout!

Roni Ben-Hur

Born in Israel and now based in New Jersey, Roni Ben-Hur fell in love with the recordings of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall at a young age. He was also a fan of the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia. After moving to New York in the mid ’80’s, Mr. Ben-Hur was exposed to the music of Baden Powell, the great Brazilian guitarist. Having all of those influences turned Ben-Hur into a musician with a sound that is strikingly lyrical, yet he swings as hard as anyone on the scene today. In New York Ben-Hur came under the tutelage of the great bop pianist Barry Harris, learning many priceless musical lessons during his time in Harris’ band. He is passing on what he has learned through jazz camps that Ben-Hur and his wife, vocalist Amy London, conduct around the world. Though his recorded work has been uniformly excellent, I recommend 2007’s Keepin’ It Open and 2012’s Our Thing, with Duduka Da Fonseca and Santi Debriano as the best of the best.

Ed Cherry

Musicians dig Ed Cherry. It’s time for the public to join in on the praise. This New Haven native first garnered attention during the decade-plus that he spent with Dizzy Gillespie, performing in the legend’s small group and big bands. Mr. Cherry then struck out on his own releasing his first recoding as leader, First Take in 1993. Over the last twenty years, Cherry has lent his blues drenched sound to albums by Big John Patton, Henry Threadgill, Paquito D’Rivera, Hamiet Bluiett and many others. Whatever he plays, Cherry’s lines are clean and soulful, with a sound that makes you give up that audible “Yeah!”.  HIs third date as a leader, 2001’s The Spirits Speak, on Justin Time and his most recent, 2012’s It’s All Good on Posi-Tone are still in print and available. Get them while you can.

As always, we encourage you to support the music of any of the artists that you like in this post by buying their CDs or legal digital downloads.  Or even better if they come to your area, go out and see them live and then buy their music.

More to come soon. Until then, the jazz continues…

Four “Under The Radar” Tenor Saxophonists

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by curtjazz

elias haslangerAs we said last week, there are a lot of fine, living saxophonists out there who are not getting their due. Last week we dropped a few alto players on you. This week we have four tenors. Again, there are others, these are just four that I’m listening to now. Each paragraph includes a link to the artist’s website, if any, and a link to a place to buy some of their music.

Elias Haslanger

When I’m looking for someplace to hear a great tenor saxophonist, I normally don’t head to Austin, TX. After hearing Elias Haslanger, I may have to add another stop to my itinerary. Elias has been on the scene for about 25 years. A Texas native, he attended the Manhattan School of Music and has played and recorded with Maynard Ferguson, Ellis Marsalis, Bob Dorough and even Bruce Springsteen. After paying his New York dues for many years, Haslanger decided to return home to Austin, where he has set up SRO shop at the famed Continental Club on Monday nights. Haslanger has named Stanley Turrentine as one of his major influences and you can hear traces of Mr. T all over Elias’ big soulful Texas Tenor sound. His latest album Church on Monday is a stone groove in the Turrentine/Shirley Scott mode, with Dr. James Polk, Ray Charles’s longtime musical director, on the B3.

Erica Lindsay

I first became aware of Erica Lindsay via her work with one of my favorite “Under The Radar” pianists, Sumi Tonooka. Born in San Francisco, Ms. Lindsay spent much of her formative years in Europe with her parents who had moved there during the sixties. This exposed her at an early age to the jazz of other American expatriates, such as Dexter Gordon, Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron.  Ms. Lindsay returned to the U.S. to stay in 1980, settling in New York and becoming part of the jazz scene, the performance art scene and writing music for television and dance.  On tenor, her sound is robust and powerful. The Coltrane influence is strong but you can also hear a bit of Gordon in there as well. Ms. Lindsay’s  discography is limited but quite good; the most highly recommended being Dreamer, her 1992 debut and Initiation, her 2008 collaboration with Ms. Tonooka.

Dayna Stephens

Like many fine musicians, you’ll see Dayna Stephens’ name in the credits of many of the better jazz albums of the last few years but his  discography as a leader is small. You can easily why others track this cat down. His tenor sound is a big, warm and clear, out of the Joe Henderson/Wayne Shorter school. Nevertheless, I would not call him a clone of either of these two giants as he has his own sound that is growing more distinctive. Those who he has played with include Gerald Clayton, Gretchen Parlato and Taylor Eigsti, who have all returned the favor on Stephens’ recordings. You can check out any one of his three albums but a great place to start is his most recent one, this year’s That Nepenthetic Place on Sunnyside Records.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that though Dayna Stephens is still active, he has been facing some very serious health problems. He suffers from a congenital kidney ailment, undergoes daily dialysis and is awaiting a transplant. His medical expenses, needless to say are tremendous. If you would like more information on how to help, you can go to HelpDaynaStephens.org.

Brandon Wright

The great James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley said that “Brandon Wright is a young White cat who sounds like an old Black man.” Well, I’ll leave the judgements concerning Melanin count to Fred.  I will say that Brandon Wright can play his butt off. A New Jersey native, Wright, who is now in his early thirties, is a veteran of the Mingus Big Band, Chico O’Farrill’s Big Band and an apprenticeship with Mr. Wesley. His two albums on Posi-tone, Boiling Point and Journeyman are impressive pieces of post-bop, in which Wright acquits himself quite well while surrounded by a veteran group of sidemen. Wright says that one of his earliest inspirations to play the saxophone came from seeing Lisa Simpson of the animated Simpsons, play her sax. Lisa has had a very successful run, let’s hope the same for Mr. Wright.

As always I hope that there’s a new discovery for you in at least one of these artists. If you like their work support them by seeing them live, buying their CDs or legally downloading their music. That’s the only way that we will keep jazz alive.

More “Under The Radar” living jazz artists next week. Until then, “The Jazz Continues…”

Four “Under The Radar” Alto Saxophonists

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by curtjazz

tk blue - latin birdYou know what y’all? There are a lot of good saxophonists playing under the radar these days. As I set out to write this piece, I planned to scribble a few names down, pare it down to four and get it done. But a strange thing happened, as I scribbled the list just kept growing and growing. Long story short, there were so many that we’re splitting this first go around into alto and tenor saxophonists. Alto this week and tenor next.

So here in alpha order are four fine alto saxophonists who should get a wider hearing:

T.K. Blue

I first heard T.K. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe or Eugene Rhynie) several years ago when he was playing on a session by a drummer whose name I now forget. As I now recall, Mr. Blue was the only redeeming thing about that session. I’ve kept up with his work from that point on and he has continued to impress me both as a sideman and on his own releases. Like many alto saxophonists, Mr. Blue has been strongly influenced by Charlie Parker but his Caribbean roots add another layer to his sound that makes him unique. I strongly recommend his two most recent projects: Follow The North Star, a fascinating musical retelling of the story of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave and Latin Bird, which as you may have guessed is a Latin and Caribbean tinged romp through the music of Charlie Parker.

Sharel Cassity

This Oklahoma City native got her big break when she sat in at a New Year’s 2008 jam session in NYC. She followed Roy Hargrove and Antonio Hart’s solos on “Be-Bop”. She acquitted herself so well that Hargrove and Jimmy Heath, who was in attendance, both asked Ms. Cassity to join their big bands on the spot. In addition to stints with both of those bands, this graduate of The New School and Julliard has appeared with the Diva Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield and many others. Her greatest triumph though has been Relentless, her critically acclaimed 2009 disc. We expect to hear much more from Ms. Cassity in the future.

Tim Green

Like this writer, Tim Green was “raised in the church”; like me, he also was influenced by all kinds of music, secular and Christian.  The Baltimore native, who finished 2nd in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition, has played and recorded with a wide range of artists from Kirk Franklin to Kenny Burrell to Donnie McClurkin and Hubert Laws. His work on the alto  has been lauded by musicians of all stripes and Jazz Times has called Green ” a player to watch”. His most recent release Songs From This Season, has been heralded by the critics and will likely end up on a number of this year’s “Best Of” lists. Mr. Green is not likely to be under the radar for long, be the first on your block to ‘discover’ him.

Sherman Irby

A melodic alto player out of the Cannonball Adderley school, Mr. Irby has been around for the better part of 15 years; as a solo artist as well as a sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts and others. He released a couple of strong albums for Blue Note in the late ’90’s, Full Circle and Big Mama’s Biscuits but they got lost in the glut of “New Young Lions” releases of that era. Of late, Irby has been a member of Wynton’s Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and produced some very strong work on his own Black Warrior record label, of which two albums, Black Warrior from 2006 and 2011’s Live at the Otto Club, are standouts.

Be sure to use the links throughout this post to get more info about the artists whose music you enjoy and most importantly, support them by attending their concerts if they come to your area and buying their CDs or legally downloading their music.

Next week we’ll cover some tenor sax players.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

Fred Wesley and Two Saxophonists to Watch

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , on June 9, 2013 by curtjazz

susanne altIt’s funny sometimes how a search for one thing can lead to another. During the May edition of THE JAZZ ROOM here in Charlotte, I was introduced to the talents of tenor saxophonist Phillip Whack, who was playing with Mark Rapp during the Miles Davis tribute. Mr. Whack turned in an impressive performance that night that arguably stole the show.

I spoke to Phillip after the show and found out a little about his background. He is a Carolinas native, that unfortunately he does not have any available recordings at this time and that he has spent a bit of time touring with Fred Wesley, the legendary trombonist of the J.B.’s; James Brown’s backup band.

Phillip Whack

Phillip Whack

I was inspired then to go to YouTube in search of some footage of Whack and Wesley. I found a good bit of it but I also made another discovery; on the bandstand during several of the performances was a young woman next to Whack, playing alto sax. The fact that she is fairly easy on the eyes is immediately apparent. The next thing you notice is that she is a very good saxophonist and her presence on the stand is by no means a novelty. Her name is Susanne Alt.

This led me to widen my search for more information concerning Ms. Alt. She was born in Germany and is now based in Amsterdam. She has released five albums as a leader, which range in styles from post bop to house to J.B.’s style funk. She has her own YouTube Channel, Venustunes where you can view and hear copious evidence of her musical talents. I can recommend a trio of her albums – Nocturne, her straightahead 2004 recording debut; On Track a funk steeped 2009 release that features Mr. Wesley and Live at Bimhuis from 2011, which covers all facets of her musical personality.

So here you have two gifted saxophonists that you’ve probably heard not a lot about, Phillip Whack and Susanne Alt. The two-part video clip included here features a dynamite performance of “Chameleon” from a Fred Wesley and the New J.B.’s club date at JazzClub Minden in Minden, Germany, that was featured on Venustunes. This was the set opener so everybody gets a turn. Alt starts at about 5:25 of Part 1 and takes it to the end. Whack opens Part 2 and shows that he will not be outdone.

It’s great funk from some master musicians and a chance to make a few new discoveries. Enjoy!