Archive for the Video Vault Category

Who’s Hazel Scott? (Unsung Women of Jazz #11)

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2019 by curtjazz

I must admit, it did my jazzy little heart good to hear Alicia Keys give a shout out to Hazel Scott during her impressive dual piano stint on the 61st Grammy Awards. As soon as she sat down between the two keyboards, I thought of Ms. Scott and her scene in the 1943 film The Heat’s On which clearly was Ms. Keys’ inspiration.

“The Heat’s On” [Dual piano comes in the last 1:30]

I’ve been an admirer of Ms. Scott’s for many years. Both for her piano prowess (though she usually only played one at a time) and for her willingness to take a stand for herself, as a black woman, even though it cost her considerably in her career, at a time when women would generally not do such a thing.

I first became aware of Hazel Scott, when as a teenager, I was causally watching the TV soap opera “One Life to Live”, with my mother, who was a huge fan. There was a wedding scene on the show between the two major black characters, Ed (played by the magnificent Al Freeman, Jr.) and Carla (Ellen Holly). Black love was very rare on television in that day, so it caught my eye. When this regal looking woman sat at the piano to play and sing, my mom says to our neighbor, who had stopped by to watch, “That’s Hazel Scott, ain’t it?” The neighbor watched closely for a few seconds and said “Yeah, that sure is. I haven’t seen her in a long time!”. I was struck by their excitement over this woman, so I asked. “Who’s Hazel Scott?”. My mom’s brief explanation (I was interrupting her “stories” – a cardinal sin), was that Hazel Scott was a singer, who used to be married to Adam Clayton Powell. I decided not to push it, lest I be banished.

“I Dood It”, with Red Skelton

I filed the info away, until I got to college a few years later and a real interest in jazz had taken hold. Here again, was the name Hazel Scott, accompanied by a striking album cover photo. The album was called Relaxed Piano Moods. She was leading a session, with Charles Mingus on bass and Max Roach on drums. By then, I knew Mingus and Roach pretty well. I figured if they were on this date, she must have something to say… Yes, she did. She was classically trained with a jazz style influenced by James P. Johnson’s stride and Ellington’s swing. The bop based backing of Mingus and Roach was a little new to her but she held her own. Relaxed Piano Moods is a good album.

So, who is Hazel Scott? She was born in Trinidad, in 1920. Her family moved to Harlem, when she was four. She was a piano prodigy, who was accepted to Julliard at age eight. By age fifteen she was opening for Count Basie and hosting her own radio show. By age eighteen, her classical and jazz hybrid piano style was packing them in at New York’s first integrated nightclub, Cafe Society.

By WWII, her talent, vivacious personality and beauty, had caught the attention of Hollywood. She was invited out West for screen tests and lit up the screen. But Ms. Hazel Scott knew her worth and her power. She was a civil rights activist from the beginning and the pianist/actress, by now in her early twenties, flatly refused any film role that she felt would cast her in a degrading light. She would not play a maid. She had riders in her film contracts, which gave her final approval, over her screen appearances and costumes. On the music circuit, her swinging classics, had made Hazel a national sensation, pulling in what would be in 2019, over $1,100,000 a year, for her club work alone.

In Hollywood, she was also quite popular. Her roles were never large, she usually was singing and playing piano but she was always gorgeous, dignified and elegant – a nascent feminist and an early model of black pride. In addition to The Heat’s On, with Mae West, she appeared in I Dood It, directed by Vicente Minelli; with Red Skelton; Rhapsody in Blue, with Robert Alda and Something to Shout About, with Don Ameche, among other films. Her Hollywood career came to an abrupt end, after a falling out with the all-powerful Columbia Pictures president, Harry Cohn, over a costume that she felt was stereotypical and demeaning. Cohn wanted black women, seeing their husbands off to war, to be dressed in dirty clothes with messy hair, while their white counterparts were dressed to the nines. Scott stood her ground, on behalf of herself and the rest of the black “war brides”. The production was shut down for three days. Ms. Scott won the battle, but Cohn vowed that she would not work again in Hollywood for the rest of his life. A vow that he kept.

With Charles Mingus on bass

She was also a staunch anti-segregationist. At a time when black entertainers were expected to perform in clubs that would not welcome them as patrons, or if so, they were shunted off into separate parts of the venue, Hazel Scott would have no part of it. She would not perform in any club that did not have integrated seating. She told Time Magazine “Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?” She was literally escorted out of the city of Austin, TX, by Texas Rangers, for refusing to play in front of a segregated audience. She and her traveling companion, were refused service at a restaurant in Pasco, WA, in 1949, because of the color of their skin. Scott successfully sued the restaurant, which caused challenges to discrimination laws throughout the state and changes to Washington State laws within a few years.

The year was 1950. The new medium of television was in its infancy. A lot of work in the early days was being done in New York. By now, Scott was married, to the legendary flamboyant minister and congressman, from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. She was also mother to a young son, Adam III. Staying close to home was a better option. The fledgling DuMont network offered Hazel her own show. When in premiered, in July 1950, The Hazel Scott Show, became the first network TV show, to be hosted by a black woman. Her show aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 7:45 pm – 8 pm (they had 15 minute shows in those days). It was a musical program, that featured her and her guests performing various musical numbers. It received positive reviews and it looked like a hit that was set for a long run. However, the early days of television were hampered by a rampant “Red Scare”, in which artists were accused of being Communist Party members. Ms. Scott, was not then and never was a Communist. However, her no-nonsense manner and her controversial husband, along with her color, made her a prime target of the red baiters. Her name appeared in the rag, “Red Channels”. She voluntarily appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in mid-September 1950, and vehemently denied Communist Party membership. It didn’t matter. The sponsors ran for the hills and The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled on September 29, 1950.

Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

By the late 50’s the Red Scare had affected Ms. Scott’s career. Her marriage to Powell, was also crumbling, due in large part to his philandering. To escape marital troubles, racism and political stupidity, Ms. Scott moved to Paris, in 1958. She then divorced Adam Clayton Powell in 1960 and married Swiss comedian Ezio Bedin, in 1961. They divorced amicably a few years later. By 1967, Scott, struggled to make a living in Europe, despite speaking seven languages. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, also meant that life had, legally, improved in the U.S. It was time for Hazel Scott, and her son, to go home.

Hazel Scott worked sporadically, over the last 15 years of her life, including the two episode OLTL gig, that I mentioned earlier. Sadly, she passed away from cancer, in October 1981. She was 61 years old.

If a simple shout out from Alicia Keys, will lead to a renaissance for this brilliant, overlooked, American artist and pioneer, I am all for it. Not too many of her recordings are currently in print but I will list a few below. There was also a definitive biography, written by Karen Chilton, in 2008.

Hazel Scott – Partial Discography

Relaxed Piano Moods (with Mingus and Roach) [OJC]- her best album. Short in playing time but worthwhile. Get it while it’s still available.

‘Round Midnight [Fresh Sound] – An after hours style, easy listening album.

Hazel Scott 1946-47 [Classics] – a nice overview of her style, combining short classical solos and swing jazz pieces. Recording quality is spotty. OOP and hard to find.

The Book

Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC – by Karen Chilton; September 2008; University of Michigan Press

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A “Blowin’ Session” in the QC

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2019 by curtjazz

Jazz lore is filled with stories of the “Blowing Session”; where the great instrumentalists who played the same instrument, would gather on a stage and demonstrate their prowess. Usually this would begin with the basic head arrangement of a well known standard and from there, the combatants would take things to the next level, in their solos, each vying to outdo the last. Often, these were friendly completions; other times, if some of the cats had “beef” with each other, this could be a battle nearly to the death.

Sometimes, the cats would take these battles to the studio. There, we would get a mixed bag; the constraints of studio time costs and realizing that the results would have to fit onto at least one side of an LP, could dampen some of the fancier flights. However, we still have some classic and near classic recordings, and many of these, to no surprise, involved tenor saxophone players. I’ll drop a list of some of the best at the end.

Right now, you need to know about a little bit of the revival of that tradition that will be happening in Charlotte, NC on January 17 – 19, in Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. We will have have some of the finest tenor players from the area, coming together to do battle. Each will appear with our all-star rhythm section (Lovell Bradford – piano; Aaron Gross – bass; Malcolm Charles – drums) and in various combinations on stage together. The musical sparks are bound to fly!

Juan Rollan

Over the weekend, our lineup will change from night to night and it includes the following sax masters: Chad Eby; Greg Jarrell; David Lail; Brian Miller; Juan Rollan; Annalise Stalls and PhillipWhack

Chad Eby

The accompanying clips are samples of a few of our tenor masters, smokin’ their way through some of their prior gigs. Now, image what we will get when we bring all of these ingredients together.

Phillip Whack

Two sets nightly, from Thursday, January 17 – Saturday, January 19, means you will have six opportunities to be a part of JAI’s Tenor Madness. Thursday and Friday, the times are 6:00 pm and 8:15 pm; Saturday sets are at 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm. THE JAZZ ROOM is located at The Stage Door Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. I will be your MC for all sets but please don’t let that stop you from coming!

Annalise Stalls

Tickets are a true bargain! $14 in advance and $16 at the door, until there are no more. To get them, go to CarolinaTix.org

For further info about Jazz Arts Initiative, visit their website thejazzarts.org

Oh yeah, I did promise a list of recordings that include some great tenor battles. Here are five to get you started, in no particular order:

Boss Tenors – Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt [Verve]

A Blowin’ Session – Johnny Griffin (w/ John Coltrane & Hank Mobley) [Blue Note]

Tenor Conclave – Al Cohn; Zoot Sims; Mobley; Coltrane [Prestige/OJC]

Tenor Madness – Sonny Rollins (w/Coltrane on the title track) [Prestige/OJC]

Alone Together – Tough Young Tenors (Walter Blanding Jr.; James Carter; Herb Harris; Tim Warfield; Todd Williams) [Antilles/Verve]

Jazz Clip of the Day: Sasha Masakowski

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2018, CD Reviews, Unsung Women of Jazz, Video Vault with tags , , , , on January 13, 2019 by curtjazz

I’ve been fortunate to work with this delightful and gifted young vocalist, a number of times, over the past few years, as she has been a frequent guest/headliner at jazz events, produced by the Jazz Arts Initiative (the organization I am associated with), here in Charlotte.

My musical introduction to Ms. Masakowski, came through her Wishes album, in 2011. I loved the eclectic feel of the disc; the fact that it included tracks penned by Brazilian stalwart Baden Powell, Ellis Marsalis (the Marsalis family patriarch, and one of Sasha’s teachers) and renowned guitarist/educator Steve Masakowski (Sasha’s dad), as well as her own, contemporary based work.

In 2018, Sasha released Art Market, a captivating, eclectic set, that creates a perfect blend of her New Orleans roots, her jazz education and the downtown, electronic New York scene that also has a considerable affect on Sasha’s artistry. I loved what I heard. I loved it so much, that Art Market is on my list as one of the Best Jazz Albums of 2018.

I’ve learned that I am not alone in my appreciation of Ms. Masakowski’s artistry. In 2015, Vanity Fair, listed her as one of the top young jazz musicians on the scene. And already in 2019, Paste Magazine has tabbed Sasha as one of the 12 New Jazz Artists to Watch, in this year.

As an introduction to Sasha, I’ve included two clips, that will show you two of her multiple facets: the enjoyable, official video for “Sister”, one of her compositions included on Art Market and her performance of Marcos Valle’s Brazilian classic “Summer Samba (So Nice)”.

Of course, you can hear “Sister” and several other tracks from Art Market, in regular rotation on CurtJazz Radio, throughout January of 2019. Click HERE to listen now.

Jazz Clip of the Day – Brenda Navarrete

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, curtjazz radio, Video Vault with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2019 by curtjazz

Brenda Navarrete.

Read her name. Say it. Commit it to memory.

She is the most exciting new artist that I have heard in Afro-Cuban music in at least a decade.

I first heard her in the fall of 2017, when her U.S. label sent me a copy of Mi Mundo, her debut album as a solo artist. I don’t know what excited me more, her passionate vocals or her mastery of multiple percussion instruments. Though the official release date of her CD was not until January 2018, I decided to, in my excitement, include Mi Mundo on my list of the Best Jazz Albums of 2017. I could have easily included it on my 2018 list as well.

A native of Cuba, Ms. Navarrete has been making her mark in her homeland, since the age of 9. She grew up in a musical home where in addition to the legends of her native island, such as Benny More, Celia Cruz and Celeste Mendoza, she was also exposed to and gravitated to the music of American jazz artists, like Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Cassandra Wilson and Take 6.

In 2010, Brenda won a national competition during Cuba’s prestigious Fiesta del Tambor, wining first prize in the category of Bata drums, as well as for best interpretation by a female artist. She quickly came to the attention of modern Cuban greats such as Roberto Carcasses, Joaquin Betancourt and Alain Perez, who put her right to work in their groups. In a field that is dominated by men, Ms. Brenda Navarrete has quickly set herself apart from the pack.

As for Mi Mundo, which was recorded in Havana, I will simply quote my own words from my 2017 year-end review: “I was floored from the first notes of “Baba Eleggua”, as in this young woman’s playing and vocalizing, I felt the spirits of Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Armando Peraza. Yes, she is that good. The album, which includes four of Brenda’s compositions, is deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban traditions, with a touch of modern influences, such as American R&B. Her version of “Caravan”, is a killer, as is her original, “Rumbero Como Yo”, with its multi-tracked vocal line. She demonstrates her jazz chops on “A Ochun”, with its flute driven mid-section and a call and response finish, over insistent jazz chords. There’s not a bad track here… A very impressive instrumental and vocal debut.

Alma Records recently released a rather captivating and sensual video clip of “Mulata Linda”, one of the tracks from Mi Mundo. I also came across a wonderful clip of Ms. Brenda from the summer of 2018, as she opened the “Havana Meets Kingston” concert, at Royal Albert Hall, in London. I hope you enjoy them both.

Click on the links throughout this post to get your own copy of Mi Mundo You can also hear several tracks from the album, now in heavy rotation on CurtJazz Radio. To listen click HERE.

Jazz Clip of the Day – Christian McBride’s New Jawn

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2018, CD Reviews, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2019 by curtjazz

Okay everyone. I have figured out a way to get me posting more often.

There are a lot of terrific performance clips, EPKs and in this day and age, video clips that jazz artists produce, support of their work. They can often get lost in the glut of YouTube content.

What I will start doing, is posting at least one a day, when there is nothing else that I want to blog about, in long form. Hopefully something will connect with you and cause to seek out an unfamiliar artist, or at least brighten your day, with something from an old friend.

Our first will be from one of the albums on our Best Jazz of 2018 List; bassist Christian McBride’s New Jawn. Though still in his 40’s Mr. McBride has been a major part of the jazz scene for almost 30 years. He has performed and/or recorded with virtually every major figure in the jazz world, since 1989. He has also compiled an impressive array of recordings as a leader; heading groups from duos to big bands. He is also consistently willing to stretch himself and record in aggregations that seek out new ground.

“New Jawn”, is no exception, as it is the first album as a leader (other than his duet album), that McBride has made, without a chordal instrument, such as piano or guitar. Musicians often find this type of group allows a certain amount of freedom, as they are not as bound to conventional chord structures. However, that lack of structure can also be frightening as it can easily expose the limitations of less creative players.

Fortunately, with a world class quartet that includes Nasheet Waits on drums; Marcus Strickland on tenor sax; Joshua Evans on trumpet and McBride on bass, they are on the money, from first note, until the last. As intended, they stretch conventional boundaries to the edge of the avant-garde, but they are anchored just enough to keep the traditional jazz listener interested. It’s a thrilling ride.

I also have to give props to the ultra cool album cover, which appears to be a 21st Century take on the iconic artwork for the classic Wynton Kelly album, It’s All Right!

By the way, “Jawn”, is a term in Philly parlance, for “a person, place or thing”; it can change with the situation. Which makes it appropriate for this group.

The two clips here are live performances of two tracks from the album, “Middle Man” and “Pier One Import”, filmed live in performance, at radio station KNKX in Tacoma, WA. These tracks and others from Christian McBride’s New Jawn, can be heard in regular rotation on CurtJazz Radio click HERE to listen now.

Best Jazz Vocals of 2017 (Part 2): A Closer Look

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, CD Reviews, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2018 by curtjazz

Happy New Year, everyone.

Well, this didn’t work out the way I intended.

ori dagan nathanielI posted my “Best of; Pt. 2”, list a couple of weeks ago, fully expecting to follow quickly with comments on each of the albums. This vicious strain of the flu that is out this season, had other ideas. The last thing I will say about Flu 2017/18, is I haven’t had any bug knock me out like that in at least 20 years. It’s real, it’s quick, and it’s strong; so please take care of yourselves.

Now back to the Music – The five best jazz vocal albums that I heard during the last half of 2017, in alpha order by album title:

 

Code Noir – Carmen Lundy (Afrasia)

Another brilliant work from this vocal master, Code Noir (which takes its title from the infamous French colonial slave laws) is a lush and dreamily soulful album. Don’t let the ethereal qualities lull you into a false sense of relaxation, lest you miss some of the most poignant lyrical messages of Ms. Lundy’s career. The marvelous Patrice Rushen is on the keys, reminding those who may have forgotten, that she is far more than just “Forget Me Nots”. The underrated Jeff Parker plays some dynamite guitar.  Listen once (or twice) for the lyrics, then let yourself get lost inside of the marvelous instrument that is Ms. Lundy’s voice. There’s not another one like it today in jazz.

Dreams and Daggers – Cecile McLorin Salvant (Mack Avenue)

I must keep reminding myself that she is not yet 30 years old. But that’s a frightening statement because it’s also a reminder that, as good as she is, Cecile McLorin Salvant, has still not yet reached her pinnacle. This is her first live album (mostly recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard), a two-disc set and there’s not a dud in the bunch. She is wondrously accomplished, self-assured, captivating and funny and often, she is all of these things, at once. I also loved the fact that there are very few tired old warhorses; Ms. Salvant mines the songbooks of Bob Dorough, Langston Hughes, (a hilariously raunchy) Bessie Smith, and the quirky, tongue in cheek sides of Broadway scores. And she makes them all her own. I will also no longer compare her, even favorably, to some of her legendary forbearers, for Cecile McLorin Salvant, has arrived, on her own terms.

Grace – Lizz Wright (Concord)

I would love this album, if only for the fact that it once and for all, reclaims Allen Toussaint’s wonderful “Southern Nights” from that crude and misguided megahit Glen Campbell version, after forty years. But there’s so much more here.  On her own work, Ms. Wright consistently delivers a beautiful and deeply personal amalgam of jazz, gospel and bluesy folk music. I’ve been listening intently since her impressive 2003 debut, Salt and she has never been better than she is on Grace. It is a starkly beautiful and majestic work of art, with songs by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If you love the sacred or the secular, you will be completely filled with Grace.

Nathaniel (A Tribute to Nat King Cole) – Ori Dagan (Scat Cat)

There were higher profile vocal tributes to the great “King” Cole in 2017 but none were better than this surprising effort from the up and coming Canadian baritone. Ori Dagan keeps proceedings fresh by using his customary sense of humor and by adding 5 of his own compositions, most of which are quite good. In fact, a couple fit in so well, that I assumed that they were quirky, novelty rarities from the King Cole Trio’s heyday, until I read the liner notes. Mr. Dagan also wisely avoids anything that would even approach a perceived impersonation of one of the great voices and stylists of the 20th Century. So, what do we get? We have one of the unique talents of contemporary jazz singing, bringing us his interpretation of some tunes closely and not-so-closely associated with the legend. I like what he was going for, and overall, I loved how it turned out. Plus, he’s got the estimable Sheila Jordan, guesting on a delightful take of “Straighten Up and Fly Right”. Even a Cole fan like me, couldn’t ask for much more.

Rendering – Kellye Gray (Grr8)

This album by this husky-voiced vocalist has the most interesting backstory of any on this list: In 1989, Kellye recorded Standards in Gray, her debut album, for Justice Records, a small Houston area label (I loved many of their releases). It received good press and sold relatively well. However, when Justice fell on hard times, the album went out of print. In 2015, 25 years after Standards in Gray’s release, Ms. Gray gained ownership rights to her album. She decided to crowd-fund and produce a live concert/album, in tribute to the original album, including new recordings of some of the tracks on Standards… The result is the terrific Rendering, a 2 CD set, that includes the new live recordings and a copy of the first album.

Ms. Gray had escaped my notice, until this package arrived at my door. Suffice to say, I am very impressed. While Standards in Gray, is a portrait of a young, big voiced singer, with loads of promise, Rendering, shows us that in the ensuing 25 years, Kellye Gray has made the transition from earnest singer to jazz vocalist. That wonderful instrument of hers has developed nuance and a certain bit of inimitability. She has learned her way around and through a song; which makes the live album, very compelling and worthy of multiple listens.  The arrangements are first rate, as are her sidemen, including the late drummer Sebastian Whittaker, who played on the first date and poignantly, in one of his last recordings, on the live album as well. If your new to Ms. Gray (like me), my advice is to start with these two albums and work your way back. There’s a lot of fine music there.

And those are my five vocal favorites for the 2nd half of 2017.

A reminder, these were my selections for the 1st half of the year:

You can click HERE to read my post about that Fab Five.

Now that the flu is almost behind me, I’ve got a lot of posting to catch up on. Next will be the Instrumental album for the second half of the year.

Tracks from these albums and more can be heard on the new CURTJAZZ RADIO, our 24/7 jazz radio station, on the new Live365.com.

Stay healthy, my friends!

Birthday Video Tribute: Thelonious Monk is 100!

Posted in Video Vault with tags , on October 10, 2017 by curtjazz

Thelonious Sphere Monk…

The name is synonymous with jazz. His quirky and hip look (the suits! the glasses! the hats!), is synonymous with jazz, his style of speaking, his impromptu dancing, his compositional style, with its melodic dissonance and odd twists, all are the epitome the music and its singular lifestyle.

Don’t Blame Me 

IMO, Monk is jazz’s greatest composer, next to his idol, Duke Ellington. Artists of all ages and abilities have performed some of his music: “‘Round Midnight”; “Straight, No Chaser”; “Epistrophy”; “Pannonica”; “Ruby, My Dear”; “Well, You Needn’t” and so many more of the classics of jazz.

I Mean You

Thelonious Sphere Monk, Jr., was born 100 years ago, in Rocky Mount, NC on October 10, 1917. He died on February 17, 1982, at the home of his dear friend, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Many others, who are far more qualified, have written so much more about Monk, so I’m just going to share four video clips of some great live performances, featuring his longtime saxman Charlie Rouse, drummer Ben Riley and others.

Rhythm a Ning

Happy 100th Birthday, Monk! Thank you for all the gifts that you gave us.

‘Round Midnight