Archive for 2019 Grammys

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

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by curtjazz

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM

In the second of the two biggest jazz categories, we have a race between a great saxophonist who is finally earning a little recognition; two of the finest pianists working today; a respected veteran who is still getting it done and a true legend, admired and respected by all.

The nominees are:

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

The crackle from the moment her alto enters…twenty seconds into the first tune (“In the Trenches”), I had that feeling that this album was going to be a great one. Ms. Tia Fuller has been on the scene for over a decade. She has paid the bills for a while, working with Beyonce’s road band, but whenever she steps into the studio under her own name, she is an unapologetic jazz player. She hadn’t released a project in six years, prior to Diamond Cut. She has been missed. This project is different in many ways, from her previous four albums; for one thing, it is produced by the amazing Terri Lyne Carrington. For another, there’s no piano. Guitarist Adam Rogers handles the chordal duties. And, there are two different bass/drum duos, splitting the work; James Genus and Bill Stewart are one set and the other two, you may have heard of: Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. As for Ms. Fuller’s sound, clearly, the Berklee professor was ready to take everyone to school. She masters what she needs to be in that moment; she is at turns, gritty, soulful and even a bit on the outside. Diamond Cut is a very strong album and Ms. Fuller deserves her first Grammy nomination for it. However, this category also features someone who has been making great music since before Tia was born. Most likely, it will be his night.


LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

This Fred Hersch album has been nominated for two Grammys. The odds of Hersch winning either are fairly long, despite the fact that it is another excellent disc, from one of the finest pianists of our time. What is the problem? Part of it may be timing; Mr. Hersch seems to often run up against a hot project that has caught the attention of the jazz public and media. When this happens, other master musicians, like Hersch, get lost in the noise. Another issue may be his steady excellence. Hersch is not flashy. Even though he wrote an interesting and well received autobiography in 2017, and he has had some fascinating life issues over the past few years, he still generally, flies under the radar. Fred Hersch is so uniformly good, that he is taken for granted. He has been nominated for 14 Grammys. Hopefully, the voters will wise up soon. This year, I don’t think it will be in this category.


SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

The story behind this album’s title, is as interesting as it should be. Apparently, Mr. Mehldau has a dream, in which the late, Oscar winning actor, Seymour Phillip Hoffman, was reading the U.S. Constitution. The tune that Mehldau heard, accompanying Hoffman’s voice, became the inspiration for the title track. Despite the odd title, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, is the most accessible album that I’ve heard from Brad Mehldau, in quite a while. The trio swings hard through a collection of originals, standards, minor jazz classics and Beach Boys tunes (yes, you heard right), with gusto and without condescension. Like Hersch, Mehldau is double nominated for this album (his 9th, without a win, so far). It’s fine work but he’s likely to run into a “Shorter” wall here. In the Best Instrumental Solo category, however, he’s got a good shot.


STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

I can’t believe that the saxophone wunderkind of the 90’s, Joshua Redman, has just turned 50. I can believe that he is still evolving and getting stronger at his craft, more than 25 years after he first floored us jazzheads with his debut album. Though he is the son of a famed avant-gardist, his early years were deeply in the tradition (as I’m sure Warner Bros. wanted it). On this latest album, which garnered his seventh nomination, he pays tribute to his dad, Dewey, and Old and New Dreams, a group that Dewey played in, from the mid 70’s through the mid 80’s. That group, which also included legends Charlie Haden and Don Cherry, itself paid homage to their mentor, the patron saint of avant-garde jazz, Ornette Coleman. Still Dreaming is excellent, start to finish – terrific compositions and it stretches the boundaries of form, without completely breaking them. It is similar to Christian McBride’s New Jawn album, also from last year. I confess that I only gave this album a passing listen upon its release, but now that I’ve returned to it, I truly dig it, a lot. Perhaps it should have been on my Best of 2018 list. However, we are talking Grammy here, folks. Redman has never won one. He is a respected veteran and his star has stretched outside of the insular jazz world at times, over the past quarter century. But, due to the presence of our next nominee, I’m afraid that his wait is likely to extend beyond this weekend.


EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Wayne Shorter is a true musical legend. He one of the greatest jazz saxophonists and composers of our time. In addition to his work as a leader, he has been an integral part of three of the greatest groups in jazz history. He has created transcendent musical art in every decade since the early 1960s. He has been nominated for a Grammy 21 times and has, so far, won 10, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2015. He is also now 85 years old. So no one would blame Wayne Shorter, if he were to simply sit back, at this point and collect all of the accolades that are due to him, no one would be upset. So what does he do? He creates a symphonic masterpiece and releases it, in an epic three CD (God only knows how many LP) set, that includes a graphic novel. These new and challenging compositions are performed by a symphony orchestra and then live, by his current working quartet! Emanon is a brilliant work of musical art (I confess that I have not yet seen the graphic novel). I hope that Mr. Shorter has more in him and keeps sharing it with us, for at least another 20 years. If, as some have said, this is his final work, then it is a towering valedictory. Will he win this Grammy? Ummm, Yeah.

As for the opinions and unscientific predictions:

Should have been nominated:

Origami Harvest – Ambrose Akinmusire; Both Directions at Once (The Lost Album) – John Coltrane; The Future is Female – Roxy Coss

Who should win: Wayne Shorter

Who will win: Wayne Shorter

I would not be disappointed to see them win: Tia Fuller

2019 Jazz Grammys Overview: Best Improvised Jazz Solo

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2019 by curtjazz

We’re about a week out from the 2019 Grammys, which will be held on Sunday February 10. As is now customary, the jazz awards will be presented during the Premiere Ceremony, which is streamed live before the televised show.

As is also now relatively customary, I like to take a look at each of the jazz category nominees and make my comments and totally unscientific (but usually accurate) predictions.

Lets start with the category that is closest to Record of the Year, for jazz. “Best Improvised Jazz Solo”

The nominees are:


SOME OF THAT SUNSHINE
Regina Carter, soloist
Track from: Some Of That Sunshine (Karrin Allyson)

First off, the fact that the album that this track comes from, Karrin Allyson’s Some of That Sunshine, is not nominated for the Jazz Vocal Album Grammy, is a crime, in itself. Nevertheless, I’m happy to see it get some recognition, through violinist Regina Carter, doing her usual impeccable work in a solo as a guest on the easily swinging title track. First with a joyous pizzicato, followed by bowing, and then trading fours with a scatting Ms. Allyson in the fade-out, Ms. Carter’s work is the cherry on top a beautiful musical sundae. Due to the lack of name recognition and the fact that this is an indie production, it is not likely to take home the trophy but I would not be at all disappointed if it did.

There is no clip of Regina Carter performing “Some of That Sunshine”, but here’s a nice one of Karrin Allyson & her trio, swingin’ it at WBGO


DON’T FENCE ME IN
John Daversa, soloist
Track from: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

I love the concept of this album, on which trumpeter John Daversa’s Big Band is comprised mostly of “Dreamers” young people who came to the United States as children under DACA, and now face potential deportation as adults due the current political nonsense. That said, I don’t love this track, nor am I fond of Mr. Daversa’s performance on it. I get why this old Gene Autry tune was re-purposed for this particular album (the irony is quite rich) but the arrangement is messy and unfocused. I think this track arrived in this category on the coattails of the album, American Dreamers, which is also nominated for the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Grammy. While I wish them the best, I think that there are far more deserving nominees.

WE SEE: Fred Hersch – Soloist

Track from the album Live in Europe (Fred Hersch Trio)

Fred Hersch, is one of our generation’s finest jazz pianists. Because of this, he has earned 14 Grammy nominations, over the course of his career. Fred Hersch also happens to during a time in which cats named Corea, Hancock and Shorter, among others, are still actively working and recording. As much as we hate to admit it, in the Grammy world, your chances of winning are directly proportional to your name recognition. “We See” is a terrific performance, of the Monk classic tune, off of a very fine Hersch album, Live in Europewhich is also nominated in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. Without any of those name recognition giants around to suck up the oxygen and with 14 nominations to get his name into the minds of the voters, I’d say that Mr. Hersch has a legitimate shot at winning in this category. The only one potentially in his way, is our next nominee.

DE-DAH
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Brad Mehldau Trio)

Brad Mehldau has been on the jazz scene for over two decades, as a sideman, leader and soloist but like Fred Hersch, he has also been overshadowed by the cats with greater name recognition. Like Hersch, he also has a large number of Grammy nominations (nine), without any hardware to show for it. This nominated track was also written by a great jazz composer, albeit one who has never gotten the recognition he deserved (Elmo Hope), and the album from which the track is pulled, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, is also nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. So in this tight race, I give the nod to Mehldau. It’s a longer track, which gives Mr. Mehldau more of a chance to stretch out and show his considerable skills. It also swings in an ingratiating manner, which will make it easier on the ears of a potential voter, who may be inexperienced in jazz idioms. I’m not surprised if it goes either way but I expect it to be Brad Mehldau, by a nose.

CADENAS
Miguel Zenón, soloist
Track from: Yo Soy La Tradición (Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet)

Another of our double nominees competing in this category Mr. Zenón has been making some incredible music over the last decade, much of it celebrating his Puerto Rican heritage and a rich musical tradition, beyond the popular rhythms of salsa. On the album Yo Soy La Tradición , as well as on this selection, “Cadenas”, Zenón weaves the sound of his alto sax, into, through and around the rich colorings of the Spektral [String] Quartet. This is the most different and musically compelling of the nominated pieces, by far. There is something new to discover on each of the dozen or so times, that I have heard it. The album itself, is nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album, bringing the career total of Mr. Zenón’s nominations to seven. It would be a deserving winner in either category but sadly, I don’t think it will happen.

My unscientific comments and predictions

Should have been nominated (but wasn’t): “Females are Strong as Hell”; Roxy Coss, soloist; Track from The Future is Female; “Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)”; John Coltrane, soloist; Track from Both Directions at Once [The Lost Album] “DPW”; Kenny Barron, soloist; Track from Concentric Circles

Should Win: Miguel Zenon

Will Win: Brad Mehldau

It would be nice if they did win: Regina Carter/Karrin Allyson

2019 Jazz Grammy Nominations

Posted in 2019 Grammys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by curtjazz

Usually I drop this list of jazz (and jazz-related) nominees, on the day of the nominations but we’re still about a month from the awards, so I figured I still had some time.

Interesting mix this year of nominees; some usual suspects and some first-timers. I will be dropping my thoughts and predictions for each category, periodically, over the next few weeks, leading up to the ceremony on Sunday, February 10.

The nominees are:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
For an instrumental jazz solo performance. Two equal performers on one recording may be eligible as one entry. If the soloist listed appears on a recording billed to another artist, the latter’s name is in parenthesis for identification. Singles or Tracks only.

SOME OF THAT SUNSHINE
Regina Carter, soloist
Track from: Some Of That Sunshine (Karrin Allyson)

DON’T FENCE ME IN
John Daversa, soloist
Track from: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

WE SEE
Fred Hersch, soloists

DE-DAH
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Brad Mehldau Trio)

CADENAS
Miguel Zenón, soloist
Track from: Yo Soy La Tradición (Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

MY MOOD IS YOU
Freddy Cole

THE QUESTIONS
Kurt Elling

THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE
Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, Gary Versace

IF YOU REALLY WANT
Raul Midón With The Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza

THE WINDOW
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

DIAMOND CUT
Tia Fuller

LIVE IN EUROPE
Fred Hersch Trio

SEYMOUR READS THE CONSTITUTION!
Brad Mehldau Trio

STILL DREAMING
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade

EMANON
The Wayne Shorter Quartet

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

ALL ABOUT THAT BASIE
The Count Basie Orchestra Directed By Scotty Barnhart

AMERICAN DREAMERS: VOICES OF HOPE, MUSIC OF FREEDOM
John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists

PRESENCE
Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band

ALL CAN WORK
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

BAREFOOT DANCES AND OTHER VISIONS
Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Best Latin Jazz Album
The intent of this category is to recognize recordings that represent the blending of jazz with Latin, Iberian-American, Brazilian, and Argentinian tango music.

HEART OF BRAZIL
Eddie Daniels

BACK TO THE SUNSET
Dafnis Prieto Big Band

WEST SIDE STORY REIMAGINED
Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

CINQUE
Elio Villafranca

YO SOY LA TRADICIÓN
Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
(aka Best Contemporary Jazz Album)

THE EMANCIPATION PROCRASTINATION
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

STEVE GADD BAND
Steve Gadd Band

MODERN LORE
Julian Lage

LAID BLACK
Marcus Miller

PROTOCOL 4
Simon Phillips

Best Instrumental Composition
A Composer’s Award for an original composition (not an adaptation) first released during the Eligibility Year. Singles or Tracks only.

BLUT UND BODEN (BLOOD AND SOIL)
Terence Blanchard, composer (Terence Blanchard)

CHRYSALIS
Jeremy Kittel, composer (Kittel & Co.)

INFINITY WAR
Alan Silverstri, composer (Alan Silvestri)

MINE MISSION
John Powell & John Williams, composers (John Powell & John Williams)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, composer (Alexandre Desplat)

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

BATMAN THEME (TV)
Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Wynton Marsalis)

CHANGE THE WORLD
Mark Kibble, arranger (Take 6)

MADRID FINALE
John Powell, arranger (John Powell)

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Alexandre Desplat, arranger (Alexandre Desplat)

STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
John Daversa, arranger (John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists)

Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals
An Arranger’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
Matt Rollings & Kristin Wilkinson, arrangers (Willie Nelson)

JOLENE
Dan Pugach & Nicole Zuraitis, arrangers (Dan Pugach)

MONA LISA
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Gregory Porter)

NIÑA
Gonzalo Grau, arranger (Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider)

SPIDERMAN THEME
Mark Kibble, Randy Waldman & Justin Wilson, arrangers (Randy Waldman Featuring Take 6 & Chris Potter)