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Keep Calm and Clave On – An Afro-Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 3

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by curtjazz

The clave (/ˈklɑːveɪ, kleɪv/; Spanish: [ˈklaβe]) – a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms
(From Wikipedia)

Got it now? The clave, is the heartbeat of great Afro-Cuban music. You can fill your stage with world class musicians but without the clave, you’ve got nothing. You can bring in all the explanations you want but you’ve got to have the heartbeat.

I’m going to stop trying to describe it now because I am woefully unqualified to do so. Percussionist Dafnis Prieto, is very qualified and I’ll let him do so, briefly, in the clip below:

Also more than qualified; clave wise; are Orquesta K’Che; one of the best Latin Jazz bands in the Carolinas. They will be with us in JazzArts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM on April 24 & 25, as we pay tribute to The Music of Cuba. A sample of their remarkable artistry is below:

So come out and join us THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. And before or after the show, check out the history of the music by checking out the last five of our Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneers:

  • Chano Pozo (1915 – 1948) Luciano Pozo González contributions to the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz during his short life are incalculable. A dark-skinned Cuban, who was a devotee of the Santería religion, he scuffled his entire life to survive. His talents as a drummer were discovered at a very early age. However, the bandleaders, who admired his work, would not hire him, because of his skin color. He immigrated to the U.S., in 1947, in search of a better life. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to add Cuban percussion to his big band. His friend, Mario Bauzá suggested his newly arrived friend, Pozo. The rest is history. Diz and Chano’s collaboration lasted only 14 months but during that time Chano’s innovative style on the congas, melded with the sound of Dizzy’s brash bop based big band, to create a sound like nothing jazz had ever heard before. This was the beginning “Cubop”. It was a thrill for audiences to see the muscular, shirtless, Chano; strutting around the stage, chanting in Yoruba as his rhythm drove the band. He and Gillespie collaborated on writing the standards, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. They also created an unforgettable version of “Cubana Be; Cubana Bop”. Sadly, their amazing collaboration was cut short, as Chano Pozo was shot dead, in a Harlem bar argument at age 33.
  • Arsenio Rodríguez (1911 – 1970) – A musician, composer and bandleader, Rodríguez played the tres (Cuban guitar), as well as the conga. Born in Cuba and blinded at the age of seven, when kicked in the head by a mule, Rodríguez was considered a master of the son Cubano, son montuno and rumba. He also established the modern Cuban conjunto, adding piano, horns and congas to the traditional Cuban sextet or septet. This format became the standard for most Afro-Cuban music that was not being performed by a big band. Several of his former musicians, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez, saw a late career revival, due to the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, which drew heavily on Rodríguez’s style. Rodríguez was a prolific composer, who wrote over 200 songs. He was unable to musically transition, when interest in the mambo waned, by the mid-60’s. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, in 1970.
  • Mongo Santamaría (1917 – 2003) Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. He heard Herbie Hancock play “Watermelon Man”, while Herbie was working as a fill-in pianist in Mongo’s band. He got Herbie’s permission to record it, it became a smash pop hit and thereby helped spawn the boogaloo (bugalú) craze.  His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in and was recorded by John Coltrane and Cal Tjader, among many others. Mongo is a legend in jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B and pop music. Arguably, he is the musician with the widest influence in this grouping.
  • Carlos “Patato” Valdés (1926 – 2007) Once called “The greatest conguero alive”, by Tito Puente, Patato invented (and patented) the tuneable conga drum. Traditional nail-head conga drums used nails to secure the skin to the wooden drum, which could be ‘tuned’ somewhat by using a candle or Sterno under the head of the drum. A visonary, Patato had long been experimenting with securing the skin to the drum-head with a metal ring which could be adjusted with a square box wrench, allowing a conga player to tune his instrument as would a violinist or pianist. After emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, Patato’s first album in the US was Kenny Dorham’s classic Afro-Cuban. During his illustrious career, he worked with virtually every legend of Afro-Cuban and jazz music, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría; Willie Bobo; Grant Green and many more.
  • Chucho Valdés (1941 –    ) Arguably the greatest Cuban pianist ever,  Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, is a true living legend. The son of Bebo Valdés, who was also a pianist (1918 – 2013) as well as the leader of the orchestra at Havana’s famed Tropicana club; Chucho has been instrumental in the spread of the influence of Afro-Cuban Jazz, into the 21st Century. Chucho first garnered attention outside of Cuba, when he formed Irakere, in 1973, with some of his bandmates from Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a Cuban big band. Irakere blended Afro-Cuban, jazz and influences from modern rock, funk and pop, into their sound. Though some of the early members of Irakere, such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, defected to the U.S., Valdés remained in his homeland. However, as tensions between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw in the 90’s, Chucho became a frequent presence in the U.S., for recordings and concerts. He has won six Grammy Awards and although he yielded the piano/director chair of Irakere to his son, Chuchito, he continues to work and garner acclaim, with his current band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Hope to see you in THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. For additional info, visit the JazzArts Charlotte website TheJazzArts.org

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …

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Don’t Call it “Salsa” – An Afro Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 2

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2019 by curtjazz

Cuba has produced a rich catalog of musical styles, especially since the beginning of the 20th Century. We will briefly describe some of these styles, shortly. However, one thing that you should not do, is refer to these styles as “Salsa”.

The reason was explained by Afro-Cuban jazz legend, Mario Bauzá, during a 1992 television interview. Said Bauzá: “After the [Cuban] Revolution…they started calling everything ‘Salsa’. That’s why I don’t like it. Because ‘Salsa’ don’t mean nothing. There’s no rhythm that you can say is a ‘Salsa’ rhythm…Any Cuban music, they called ‘Salsa'”.

Ever since I heard those strong words from Dr. Bauzá, I have tried very hard, to avoid using that term, except when speaking of what I like on my tortilla chips (though I have occasionally slipped). So before we get to five more great names in Afro-Cuban Jazz, let’s briefly describe some of the more well-known Cuban musical styles:

Cha-Cha-Cha – A style that developed out of the Danzon-Mambo, in the 1950’s. According to Enrique Jorrín, one of the acknowledged creators of the style, he noticed that most of the dancers had some trouble following the highly syncopated rhythms of one of his compositions. He then simplified the musical texture, using as little syncopation as possible. When the dance was coupled to the rhythm of the music, it became evident that the dancer’s feet were making a peculiar sound as they grazed the floor on three successive beats. “Cha-cha-cha”, described this sound.

Benny Moré,

Descarga – An improvised jam session consisting of variations on Cuban music themes, primarily son montuno, but also guajira, bolero, guaracha and rumba. The genre is strongly influenced by jazz and it was developed in Havana, during the 1950s.

Guaguancó – A subgenre of Cuban rumba, combining percussion, voices, and dance. There are two main styles: Havana and Matanzas.

Mambo – a genre of Cuban dance music pioneered in the late 1930s and later popularized in the big band style by Pérez Prado. It originated as a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, mambo had become a “dance craze” in the United States. Mambo continued to enjoy some degree of popularity into the 1960s and new derivative styles appeared, such as dengue.

Rumba – a secular genre of Cuban music involving dance, percussion, and song. It originated in the northern regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions. Traditionally performed by poor workers of African descent in streets and solares (courtyards), rumba remains one of Cuba’s most characteristic forms of music and dance. Vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing and poly-rhythmic drumming are the key components of all rumba styles.

Son Cubano – a genre of music and dance that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba during the late 19th century. It is a genre that blends elements of Spanish and African origin. Among its fundamental Hispanic components are the vocal style, lyrical meter and the primacy of the “tres”, derived from the Spanish guitar. Its characteristic clave rhythm, call and response structure and percussion section are all rooted in traditions of Bantu origin.

Machito and his Afro-Cubans

We’re going to stop at six styles, with the full knowledge that we are leaving out others, such as Bolero, Charanga, Guaracha, Montuno, etc. To keep this post from becoming book length, we had to quit while we were ahead. Feel free to continue the research on your own. And whatever you do, don’t call it “Salsa”

Here are five more names, in our list of fifteen notable pioneers of Afro-Cuban music, along with a currently available, representative album, to use as an introduction to their music.

  • Graciela (1915 – 2010) – Graciela Pérez Gutiérrez, was a female vocalist, who like Celia Cruz, insistently made her way in that male dominated field.  Graciela was known for her big voice and risqué stage presence. She first came to prominence in the big band led by her adoptive brother Frank “Machito” Grillo. She emigrated to New York in 1943 to help Mario Bauzá front Machito’s band after Machito was drafted during WWII. Upon her brother’s return, Machito, Bauzá and Graciela were a force that dominated the Palladium, for the next twenty years, until the legendary ballroom shut down.
  • Irakere (1973 – present) – The legendary Cuban band, that was an incubator for living legends such as Paquito D’Rivera; Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdés. Irakere, was founded at the height of the cold-war tensions, in 1973, and out of it grew musical ideas that influenced jazz, Cuban pop, rock dance and Afro-Cuban music. Despite jazz being literally outlawed in Cuba, at the time when the group came into being, Valdés (the musical director), Sandoval and D’Rivera found creative ways to bring the jazz that influenced them, into their performances and get around their government censors. In doing so, they discovered some remarkable new ideas.
  • Machito (1908 – 1984) – “Machito” was the nickname given to Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, a bandleader, who played a major role, along with Dizzy Gillespie and Mario Bauzá, in the development of Cubop and other Afro-Cuban jazz styles. Under Bauzá’s musical direction, and with his younger sister Graciela, on vocals, Machito’s big band, the Afro Cuban’s, became extremely influential. Jazz greats such as Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton, all listed Machito’s band as a musical inspiration.  George Shearing pointed to Machito as someone who helped him understand what “Latin music was about”. A teenaged Tito Puente made some of his first recordings, with Machito and a young Willie Bobo, acted as a roadie for Machito, just to be near the band, in the hopes of eventually getting to play; he did, which gave Bobo his start.
  • Benny Moré (1919 – 1963) – Bartolomé Maximiliano (Benny) Moré, possessed one of the most beautiful and expressive voices to ever grace Afro-Cuban music. Known as “El Bárbaro del Ritmo” (The Master of Rhythm), Moré was considered a master of numerous Cuban musical styles, including mambo, son, guaracha, son montuno, bolero and cha cha cha. From 1953, until his death, he led one of the most popular big bands in Cuba, “La Banda Gigante”. Although he could not read music, Moré would compose and arrange music by singing each part to his arrangers. He had become extremely popular, throughout Mexico, the Caribbean region and even in the U.S. (he sang at the 1957 Oscars), by the late 1950’s. Had he chosen to leave during the Cuban Revolution, his fame would have likely increased. However, Benny Moré chose to remain among what he called, “mi gente” (my people). An alcoholic, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1963.
  • Chico O’Farrill (1921 – 2001) – Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born in Havana to an Irish father and German mother. He rejected his family’s desire that he go into the family law practice. Instead, Chico gravitated to the jazz that he loved. His family was scandalized by Arturo’s desire to hang out with the local black musicians but Arturo would not be dissuaded. A Julliard educated trumpet player, he had done some arranging and composing for among others, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, who gave O’Farrill his nickname, because he had trouble pronouncing “Arturo”. An acolyte of Dizzy Gillespie, O’Farrill was there at the beginning of “Cubop”, along with Diz, Bauzá and Machito. His conservatory training caused O’Farrill to fully voice the Cuban rhythms, while also providing robust big band charts as well. His “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite”, for Machito’s Orchestra, featuring Charlie Parker, stands as one of the great Afro-Cuban jazz works of all time.
Chico O’Farrill (Trumpet; Dark Suit)

In the third and final part of this primer, we will touch on five more great Cuban musicians with many more rare video clips.

In or near Charlotte and want to hear some great Afro-Cuban Jazz, live? Then join us in Jazz Arts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM, on Friday and Saturday, April 26 & 27; as we will be en fuego, with the authentic sounds of Cuba. For tickets and info, visit the Jazz Arts Charlotte Website www.thejazzarts.com.

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz – Thursday, 11/17: Joe Henderson Tribute – Featuring Dave Finucane

Posted in Charlotte Community Rado, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2016 by curtjazz

joe-henderson_jazzlives225On this week’s edition of JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, on Charlotte Community Radio (CLTCRadio), we will honor the music of a tenor saxophone giant, who only truly received the appreciation that he deserved during the final decade of his career; Joe Henderson.
Our broadcast tribute will air one day before a live tribute to the Mr. Henderson’s music will begin, in The Jazz Arts Initiative’s JAZZ ROOM, on Friday, November 18 and Saturday, November 19. Durham, NC based saxophonist/educator Dave Finucane will be the headliner.

joe-henderson-1
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. Mr. Fitzgerald never met Joe Henderson. Mr. Henderson first came to prominence in the jazz world in 1963, with the release of his debut album, Page One, on Blue Note Records. The album featured two compositions that would become jazz standards: “Recorda Me” and “Blue Bossa”, which was written by Henderson’s frequent early musical partner, trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The next three years would see Henderson release four more albums on Blue Note that became jazz classics: Our Thing, In ‘n Out, Inner Urge and Mode for Joe.

joe-henderson-2
A 1967 move to Milestone records was not as fruitful. After moderate success with his first LP, The Kicker, Joe received little notice as a leader, for the better part of the next twenty years. Ironically, it was the revival of the Blue Note label in the mid 80’s that spurred renewed interest in Joe Henderson; as he recorded a live trio set at the Village Vanguard, boldly titled The State of the Tenor, which took the resurgent straight-ahead jazz world by storm. Verve records took notice. They signed Henderson in 1992 and promoted him heavily in a series of “songbook” projects, which highlighted the music of Billy Strayhorn, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis among others. The albums, which were critically and commercially successful, re-established Joe Henderson as one of the premiere saxophonists in jazz, a place he occupied until his death in 2001.

dave-finucane

Dave Finucane

Dave Finucane is co-founder and director of the Durham Jazz Workshop. He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and since he has been teaching in New York and the NC Triangle region. Dave is currently on faculty at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill, teaching jazz improvisation and jazz saxophone. He performs extensively in the NC triangle and has recorded an excellent album, titled Valerie’s Song. He has also been a sideman on at least a dozen recordings.

Be sure to join me on JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, as we honor the musical legacy of Joe Henderson and play tracks from Dave Finucane’s album Valerie’s Song; Thursday, November 17; from 6 pm – 9 pm (EDT); on CLTCRadio.

And don’t miss Dave Finucane as he pays tribute to Joe Henderson, in the Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. Friday, November 18, at 6 pm & 8:15 pm and Saturday, November 19, at 7 pm and 9:15 pm. For ticket information, visit www.thejazzarts.org

JAZZ LIVES!!! with CurtJazz, airs LIVE every Thursday from 6:00pm to 9:00pm via CharlotteCommunityRadio.org, CLTCRadio.org OR use the Mixlr app where you can listen and chat with our hosts and guests alike.

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!

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.