Music

Jazz musicians are forever adept at taking the old and making it new. That skill is on brilliant display in Take Five this week, notably on a remake of a tune first heard on a Miles Davis album in 1963. You'll also hear a spin on a rustic old fiddle tune, and an emulation of Ornette Coleman's melodic language — a reminder that "new" can be as much a state of mind as a place in time.

New Orleans has a long lineage of great piano players. Jelly Roll Morton, Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, and many more. Such a rich history of culture and music in the Crescent City is bound to leave a prominent imprint on the impressionable youth who hope to follow in their foot steps. Composer, pianist, and vocalist Davell Crawford was one of those kids. 

Sofia Rei's pan-American ambitions are inspiring.  A singer born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she was exposed to the African and Andean musical inventions native to her continent: folklore from Peru, Colombia, and Uruguay. Then she settled in New York City to surround herself with artists sculpting the downtown jazz scene, like composer John Zorn and guitarist Marc Ribot. In our studio session, Rei weaves all of these influences into one compelling tapestry not beholden to any tradition, and tastefully renders them all modernistic.


Jane Kratochvil

The cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, born on this day in 1903, came to his jazz career in a burst of youthful impertinence. For a white musician of his background — born into a striving German-American community in Davenport, Iowa — jazz was strictly disreputable stuff, and not just for its African-American ownership.

The music went hand-in-hand with a spirit of illicit associations — as well as an association with illicit spirits, which is what ultimately ended Beiderbecke’s life at the tragic age of 28.  

Mike Davis is 25, and plays Beiderbecke’s instrument with reverential flair. But he had a different path in most respects.

With Four in One, its sophomore effort, Heads Of State puts its money where its mouth is. As the album’s title suggests, this is a band that presents a unified front even as it showcases the individual talents of pianist Larry Willis, bassist David Williams, saxophonist Gary Bartz and drummer Al Foster.

Jimmy Katz / The Kurland Agency

Gary Burton opened his first set at Birdland on Tuesday night with “Bud Powell” — a tune by his longtime collaborator Chick Corea, set at a boppish saunter. Standing behind his vibraphone, four mallets ablur, Burton seemed in his element, perfectly at ease. There was no indication that this was a historic engagement: he was kicking off his final week-long run in a New York club, as part of a Farewell Tour.

 

Rob Paparozzi is a virtuoso of the harmonica, and played a box full of harps — different sizes, different keys — when he came to WBGO for a talk on Michael Bourne’s Blues Break. He’ll be the featured soloist on May 11 when the New York Philharmonic performs Henry Mancini’s score to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, along with a screening of the film.

 

Paparozzi recently played in the City Center Encores revival of Roger Miller’s musical Big River: Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He’s also performing with a reunited Blues Brothers band. 

Dave Valentin, a jazz flutist of virtuoso control, brisk rhythmic flair and a sprawling expressive language, died on March 8 in the Bronx. He was 64.

His manager, Richie Bonilla, confirmed his death. Valentin suffered multiple strokes over the last five years.

Bob Gore

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. In the spirit of the occasion, it’s worth spotlighting the Women's Jazz Festival at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, which runs through the end of the month.

The kickoff event in the series, which took place on Monday night, was organized and anchored by harpist Brandee Younger, a leading voice on her instrument.

Justin Lane

It was a trip to West Africa that set the career trajectory for Daniel Freedman. A drummer-bandleader born and raised in New York City, Freedman has a deep affinity for all things Afrobeat. But even though he's studied with djembe musicians and Gnawa masters, those traditions don't explicitly inform the music he makes. His African influences, Freedman suggests, are much more ambiguous and subtle.

Jay Gilbert

There are many paths to a killer groove, and few fixed parameters. The most important criterion is an intangible: just how good, how essentially right, does it feel? Every new track featured in this installment of Take Five is a winner in that respect, whether we’re talking about a hard-swinging churn or a minimalist swirl. As a bonus, you’ll see a first-rate drummer do a goofy dance.

Misha Mengelberg
Peter Gannushkin / DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET

Misha Mengelberg, a Dutch pianist and composer who embodied an irreverent yet fully fluent relationship to the jazz tradition, both in his influential solo career and as a founder of the Instant Composers Pool (ICP), died on Friday in Amsterdam. He was 81.

His death was confirmed by Susanna Von Canon, the manager of the ICP Orchestra.

Coco Montoya is the Sherman Tank of blues guitar.  Powerful. Explosive. Maybe he thunders so much from starting out as a drummer. One of his first gigs was (after a chance encounter) playing drums for blues master Albert Collins. He spent five years on the road with Collins, who taught him to be a guitarist.

Trombone Shorty has never made a secret of his affinity with New Orleans: the man and the milieu are inextricable, in musical as well as attitudinal terms. So it’s no surprise that the first single from his forthcoming Blue Note Records debut is a revamped classic from his hometown, “Here Come the Girls.”

The French gypsy guitarist Stephane Wrembel celebrates the 10th anniversary of his Django a Gogo Festival  on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, and he has lined up some six-stringers that you wouldn't normally associate with Django Reinhardt, the hot-jazz pioneer. Among them is the great Al Di Meola, who recently joined Wrembel in a unique studio session at WBGO.

Richard Kessler and John Zorn
Ang Santos / WBGO

The Stone, an internationally prominent performance space for avant-garde and experimental music in New York City, has secured a new home. John Zorn, its founder and artistic director, announced on Wednesday that after a scheduled farewell to its original location in the East Village, it will be revived in March 2018 as The Stone at the New School, inhabiting the Glass Box Theater at 55 West 13th Street in Manhattan.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States was also fighting a culture war. To counter Soviet propaganda, the U.S. State Department launched a public relations campaign called the Jazz Ambassadors program, sending Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck and other leading jazz musicians on tours around the world.

Jordan Kleinman

John Patitucci is a bassist of lightning reflex and strong footing, equally comfortable laying down firm bedrock or dancing around a melodic idea. That flexibility extends to his career: he’s the longtime anchor of the Wayne Shorter Quartet; a linchpin in its spinoff trio, Children of the Light; and a former wing man to keyboardist Chick Corea and drummer Roy Haynes, among others.

Craig Taborn Quartet
Bart Babinski / for ECM Records

Sometimes a theme emerges by chance, revealing itself in the moment. That’s true of this week’s installment of Take Five, featuring new music by a range of smart and searching pianists. A couple of these tracks are from brand-new albums, and a couple are from albums due later in the year. Each is an illustration of deep focus and alert chemistry, along with first-rate pianism.

Zoran Jelenic

George Burton has been a pianist to watch in Philadelphia, his hometown, for almost 20 years now — since the late 1990s, when I was a close observer of the scene, and he was a jazz performance major at Temple University. Burton has since put in countless sideman hours with artists both local (saxophonists Odean Pope and Bootsie Barnes) and international (singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello), not to mention intergalactic (the Sun Ra Arkestra). But he hadn’t released his own album as a leader until last year. 

If you're in Clarksdale, Miss., home of the Delta blues, everybody says you have to go to Red's juke joint. The hole-in-the-wall club is the real deal. It's just a small room, a few tables and a fridge full of beer. Red lights are strung around a low ceiling. On the night we visit, octogenarian Leo "Bud" Welch plays in the center of the room, hunched over a sparkly, hot pink, electric guitar. Red Paden, the owner, sits out front, surveying from behind the bar.

SiriusXM host Mark Thompson plays John Coltrane's "Alabama" at the end of every broadcast of his radio program, Make It Plain. Coltrane wrote and composed this song in 1963 in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that claimed the lives of four girls in Birmingham, Alabama.

Horace Parlan, an astute and soulful pianist whose unique style was informed by the partial impairment of his right hand, died on Feb. 23 in Næstved, Denmark.

 

He was 86. His death was confirmed by the jazz historian Frank Büchmann-Møller. 

 

Bill Evans was a genius: The jazz world, which can be roiled by factions and jealousies, usually agrees on that. He was a composer and pianist with a light, lyrical touch that was once described as what you might hear at the gates of heaven. But like many geniuses, Evans died too young — in 1980, at the age of just 51, after years of cocaine and heroin addiction.

A new documentary by filmmaker Bruce Spiegel helps capture that genius with interviews of musicians, family members, and archival footage of Bill Evans himself.

KASPER COLLIN PRODUKTION AB / COURTESY OF THE AFRO-AMERICAN NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES AND RESEARCH CENTER

 

It's been a good year so far for jazz at the movies. La La Land, a modern-day love story in the style of Jazz Age musicals, has a heap of Oscar nominations. Elsewhere, in a much quieter affair, the documentary film I Called Him Morgan — based on the story of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan — will open theatrically next month.

Kawai Matthews

Bilal makes headlines, whether he's performing a fiery (and most hilarious) tribute to Prince at the BET Awards, or making a cameo on Common's Black America Again tour. But forget all of the stage fireworks and politics for a moment. What makes this singer so great is his range — not just vocally, but also with his uncategorical Soulquarian goodness. He dirties up our definitions of sound, melding jazz, rock, soul, and R&B. This program features our own unique recording of Bilal with Igmar Thomas' Revive Big Band, as well as a recent collaboration with the LA-based producer Adrian Younge, In Another Life (2015).

Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Danny Clinch

Buried somewhere in the fathoms of YouTube is a recent clip of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, apparently filmed with a smartphone in Santiago de Cuba. The band, synonymous with the ebullient spirit of New Orleans, is playing a staple of its book, Professor Longhair's "Go to the Mardi Gras." What's notable about this version of the song, from December of 2015, is the punchy assist provided by some Cuban percussionists, who fall right into step with its second-line groove. 

 

Tigran Hamasyan knows his way around a dreamscape. As a pianist and composer, he draws inspiration from jazz, folkloric and classical sources, in ways that feel both hypermodern and practically ageless. This synthesis is well captured in the video for his composition “The Cave of Rebirth,” which has its premiere here. 

 

"Long Tall" Dexter Gordon is one of the best known and significant musicians on his instrument: he was one of the first tenor saxophonists to adopt the bebop style, and influenced players such as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Gordon's widow and former manager-producer, Maxine Gordon, and saxophonist Abraham Burton join Morning Jazz host Gary Walker to discuss the man and his music.

Marcia Ball is an old friend to WBGO's Performance Studio and Steinway B. When she plays solo, she fills the room with her busy left hand and raspy Southern-twinged voice - you don't miss a band at all. But Marcia's been leading a band for decades now.

She says though she never really mentored in a traditional sense, she always surrounds herself with superior musicians. "I have people in my band who can guide me musically." 

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