Archive for the Unsung Women of Jazz Category

Album Review: Lighthouse Reverie – Jen Siukola

Posted in CD Reviews, Under The Radar, Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , on October 17, 2017 by curtjazz

JEN SIUKOLALighthouse Reverie (Self Release)

JenSiukola-coverJen Siukola is an Indianapolis based trumpeter, educator and composer, currently on the faculty of the University of Indianapolis and Ball State University. On Lighthouse Reverie, her debut recording as a leader, she presents a program consisting of her original tunes, with a solid group of Indianapolis based musicians, as her sidemen. The date is produced by the veteran Indiana jazzman, Mark Buselli, who is also one of Ms. Siukola’s mentors.

Ms. Siukola is a very good composer and arranger. For a relatively young artist, she displays an impressive ear for bop and post-bop conventions. She lists Tom Harrell and Kenny Dorham as influences and some of these tunes sound like they came from the pens of those two legendary cats.

Lighthouse Reverie includes several winning performances, that show off the considerable chops of Ms. Siukola’s quintet. She is a technically solid trumpet player, especially in her middle register. When she picks up the flugelhorn, as she does on the title track, Siukola seems to be in her comfort zone; displaying a warm, buttery tone, that I could listen to all day. “The Homp Romp” is another standout, swinging in a hard bop bag, with strong solos by the leader, Steve Allee on piano and Rob Dixon on tenor. Mr. Allee is a new name to me and I was impressed with his work, throughout the album. “Bog Walking”, is a bright, melodic tune with a hummable melody, reminiscent of “Yardbird Suite”. Dixon and Allee again, are the standouts. Ms. Siukola’s best work is on “The Dawn Approaches Like Tears”, a melancholy, waltz-timed tune, straight out of Harrell, on which Jen again turns to the larger horn, for an achingly gorgeous solo, on the heels of another striking statement by Mr. Dixon; I need to explore his work, as well.

Jen Siukola is off to a very fine start with Lighthouse Reverie. I’m looking forward to seeing what her future holds.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars – A well written and well executed debut album

JAZZ LIVES!!! May 18th: My Final LIVE CLTC Radio Broadcast

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues..., Under The Radar, Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2017 by curtjazz

Well, it’s been fun…

CurtJazz Studio 225With Charlotte Community Radio going off air this month, the last LIVE edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, will air Thursday, May 18th from 6:00pm to 9:00pmEst.

When Bridget asked me last spring if I would be interested in having a program on Charlotte Community Radio (CLTCRadio), it was exciting, a bit scary albeit perfectly timed. I worked in AM-FM radio in New York City through most of the 90’s, ran a web-based jazz radio station from 2004 to 2016, but I had been away from live radio since 2000. So I was somewhat out of practice on May 12, 2016 when I first opened the mic, but my trepidation quickly dissipated and the joy returned.

Mike hackett

With trumpet master Mike Hackett

So I want to say “Thank You”; first, to Bridget B. Sullivan and Melvin Nix, co-founders of CLTCRadio, for the chance to knock some rust off these old pipes and remind me that this is “what I do”.

Nicci Canada 1

With vocalist Nicci Canada

And a huge thanks to my guests. The incredible, world-class musicians who call the Carolinas home and who took time out of their incredibly busy schedules to spend some time with us: Dawn Anthony; Lovell Bradford; Will Campbell; Nicci Canada; Tenya Coleman; Harvey Cummings; Lonnie Davis; Ocie Davis; Buff Dillard; Mike Hackett; Amos Hoffman, and Tim Scott, Jr.; I am forever in your debt.

amos hoffman collage

Guitarist Amos Hoffman – Live in the CLTC Studios

My biggest appreciation goes out to all of you who listened and hopefully, enjoyed the music, as I shared my passion for jazz and for the artistry of living musicians. Some of you were friends from long ago that I reunited with. Some are a more recent part of my life. You were all a huge part of rekindling an old dream and I will always be grateful to you for that.

I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @curtjazz, and on Facebook as CurtJazzRadio. My website is curtjazz.com. Let’s keep in touch.

God Bless You and Goodnight.

Maureen Budway – I Wish I Had Known…

Posted in In Memoriam, Under The Radar, Unsung Women of Jazz, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2015 by curtjazz

maureen budwayAs I opened the most recent issue of Downbeat magazine, looking, as is my wont when a fresh copy arrives, for new and interesting projects from artists who are unfamiliar to me, I came across an ad for Sweet Candor, the debut album from a vocalist named Maureen Budway. I grabbed a few tracks from an online resource and began to listen. I was immediately impressed by her easy swing, her tone and the pure soulfulness of her voice. And she totally won me over with a vocal version of “Del Sasser”, the Sam Jones tune made famous by Cannonball Adderley. I thought “I like this lady” and put her in my mental category of hidden gem vocalists who deserve wider recognition. My next thought was “I can’t wait to hear more from Maureen Budway”.

Sadly, there will be no further recordings by Ms. Budway, who as I found out when I read the glowing review of Sweet Candor later in the issue, passed away on January 12, 2015, at age 51, after a 20 year battle with breast cancer. She recorded the album last fall and had gotten to hear the finished product around Christmastime, a scant few weeks before her death.

I knew nothing of Maureen Budway until a few days ago, so any attempt by me to eulogize her would be fairly absurd. I will state a few of the facts that I’ve learned from my reading: She was a longtime part of the Pittsburgh area jazz scene and a respected and beloved vocal teacher at her alma mater, Duquesne University. Her brother David, is a fairly well-known jazz pianist (who performs on her album). She began singing professionally at age 18 and continued to do so, despite her illness, until just a few months before her death. And she has left us with one impressive album in Sweet Candor, which features guest appearances by trumpeter Sean Jones and flute legend Hubert Laws, among others.

In my younger days, I spent quite a bit of time in Pittsburgh, having a jazz musician close friend who lived there for a number of years. During those trips to the Steel City I dropped in to a number of its jazz spots so it’s possible that I crossed paths with Maureen Budway. If so, I wish I had known then what I know now; that Maureen Budway was a rare and beautiful jazz vocalist. She deserved to have a recorded catalog that was deep and wide. Nevertheless, we are grateful to MCG Records for ensuring that she can never be forgotten.

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”.

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!

Unsung Women of Jazz #10 – Terry Pollard

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz on November 5, 2011 by curtjazz

Terry Pollard (1931 – 2009)

 “A recording Pollard made around this time with…Dorothy Ashby caused one jazz critic to rate her as ‘one of the best in the country on piano’.  Her hard swinging, witty, soulful piano stylings would doubtless have made her a name artist had she not chosen to stay in the Motor City.” – Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women by Linda Dahl

“Where have I been? How is it that I never knew about Terry Pollard? I’ve researched jazz women. Hell, I was on the board of directors…of International Women in Jazz. Yet I remained clueless.”  – Andrea Wolper

Let me echo the words of my friend (and TDWR in her own right) vocalist Andrea Wolper. I cannot believe that I have missed Terry Pollard all these years.  I wish that I could even say that I learned of Ms. Pollard through Andrea but I even missed her then.  Sorry Andrea, I promise to read your blog regularly from now on!

I first heard of this gifted pianist/vibraphonist a few weeks ago, when putting together the post on Mary Osborne; as Ms. Pollard was the pianist who “battled” Horace Silver on “Anything You Can Do…” from Cats vs. Chicks.  A Google search on her name led me to the remarkable piece of footage below, from Steve Allen’s Tonight Show in 1956. 

At the time of the appearance, Ms. Pollard was at the point of her jazz career that brought her the most renown, as the pianist and 2nd vibist in Terry Gibbs quartet. She played and recorded with Gibbs from 1953 – 1957, when she returned home to her native Detroit to raise a family.  Gibbs had “discovered” her (though I hate that phraseology) in 1952, when she was working with saxophonist Billy Mitchell at Detroit’s famed Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.  Ms. Pollard recorded a number of albums with Gibbs; with her hard-driving swing moving Gibbs’ group decidedly out of the “MJQ” territory that many with similar instrumentation inhabited.

During that fertile period, Terry Pollard also recorded her sole album as a leader, for Bethlehem Records, in 1955. Though Gibbs was not featured, there were impressive turns by guitarist Howard Roberts and on trumpet, Don Fagerquist, another name that is new to me, but definitely worth further research.  I listen to her on this album and I’m floored by the creativity in her solos and the sheer joy in her sound.  I shake my head repeatedly, as I wonder how the hell did we let all this talent go to waste!  Others took notice at the time, for in 1956, Terry was a recipient of DownBeat’s New Artist Award.

Ms. Pollard did not retire completely after leaving Gibbs. She was in the Motor City, after all, which in the ’50’s, housed perhaps the most jazz scene in the U.S., outside of NYC and New Orleans.  She recorded with Yusef Lateef [Angel Eyes] and Dorothy Ashby (Soft Winds – I have got to get that album!) and she backed many a headliner passing through town, including George Benson, Earl Klugh and even Diana Ross and the Supremes. 

Terry Pollard died in 2009, at a nursing home in the Bronx, following a long illness.  Like many of the artists in this series, she left us in the world of jazz with a lot of catching up to do.

As this first part of the Unsung Women of Jazz series concludes, I’m again grateful for and humbled by the support that it has received from around the world. I only hope that we were able to pique your interest about some of these great ladies, who have been until now missed by the spotlight. Hear their music and wherever possible, buy it. Especially if the artist is still living.

Recommended Recordings:

Unsung Women of Jazz #9 – Clora Bryant

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , on October 23, 2011 by curtjazz

Clora Bryant

“It was a Sunday afternoon…They were trying to get Charlie [Parker] to play at the club next door, the Lighthouse, but no one could get him to sit in. Then he came over to where I was playing, borrowed a new Selmer tenor from somebody, and said, ‘Well, what do you want to play Clora?’ And I said, ‘Now’s the Time.’ So I set the tempo… and everybody got really swinging.”Clora Bryant recalls playing with Charlie Parker

She has played with Bird, Diz and Satchmo. She is a legend of L.A.’s Central Avenue Jazz Scene. Yet, Clora Bryant is barely known outside of Southern California.

Clora Bryant was a “trumpetiste” (her preferred term) for over half a century. Women trumpet player/leaders are still fairly rare today. In the ’40’s and ’50’s, they were virtually unheard of.  But that didn’t stop Ms. Bryant.

Born in Texas in 1927, Clora Bryant’s originally played the piano and sang.  She did not pick up a trumpet until her junior year in high school, after her brother was drafted and went off to serve in WWII.  She wanted to be in the marching band and the trumpet was her way in.  Clora was a fast learner. So fast that she earned trumpet scholarships to Bennett College and Oberlin, only a year later.  She turned down both scholarships, opting instead to attend Prairie View College in Houston, which was closer to home.

When Clora’s father landed a job in Los Angeles, Clora transferred to UCLA.  It was there that she heard the sound of bebop, coming from the clubs on Central Avenue, the center of African-American life in L.A. at the time.  Clora was drawn to that sound like a moth to a flame. She began sitting in during late night jam sessions, where she played with other West Coast jazz players, like Howard McGhee, Frank Morgan and Teddy Edwards.  She was a good enough player to get invited to sit in when some cats would come from the east, like Bird and Diz.  The bond with Dizzy was so strong that he became Clora’s mentor, starting a friendship that would endure until Dizzy’s death. 

Clora Bryant has always been resourceful. In addition to being a trumpet player and vocalist, she also learned to paly the drums. She was proficient enough on the skins to land a job with the Queens of Swing and tour with them for several years. In the early ’50’s Ms. Bryant returned to playing the trumpet. She backed Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker during that time. She also married and gave birth to her first two children.

In 1957 Clora Bryant recorded and released her first and only album as a leader; …Gal With a Horn, for Mode RecordsIt’s an infectious, mostly uptempo affair, with Clora singing as well as blowing on all eight tracks. She gets solid support from a strong group that includes veteran bassist Ben Tucker and tenor saxophonist Walter Benton.

Ms. Bryant spent most of the remainder of the fifties on the road, playing the hot spots in Chicago, Denver and Vegas.  During the sixties, she teamed with her vocalist brother, Mel, to create a successful song and dance act, even hosting their own TV show in Australia for a while.  Clora made international headlines in 1989, when she accepted then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s invitation to play in U.S.S.R.; becoming the first female jazz musician to do so. 

A 1996 heart attack forced Clora to put down her trumpet, but she barely skipped a beat. She continues to sing and lecture across the country about her rich life experiences and what it was like to be a pioneering woman in jazz.  Within the past decade, Clora Byrant has begun to receive some long overdue recognition.  She was Honored by Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with its 2002 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival Award, in 2002. And in 2007 a long-planned documentary Trumpetisically, Clora Byant,  was released.

As you can see in these clips that were recorded within the last year, Clora Bryant is still going strong at 84.  May she continue to do so for many more years!

Recommended Recordings: