The first month of the New Year certainly got off with a bang, as New York jazz fans brought in 2004 running from one jazz event to the next. There was as close a reunion of Herbie Hancock’s ‘70s sextet Mwandishi as has been in some time in NYC, though unfortunately they all weren’t at the same place at the same time.
The final set of music I heard last year was also the first show of the first day of my 2004: (Mwandishi) Herbie Hancock’s smoking quartet at Blue Note featured drummer Terri Lyne Carrington who almost stole the spotlight on both occasions. The group’s collective and individual strengths - in modal playing and improvising through every possible time signature - expertly dissected familiar melodies such as Cole Porter’s “I Love You” and Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” beyond recognition within the first few bars. Occasional reminding traces appeared through their 20 to sometimes 30-plus minute deconstructions. After one set, drummer (Jabali) Billy Hart was joking about how he could get behind the drum kit before Carrington for the following set.
Trombonist (Pepo) Julian Priester is scheduled to play after press time at Jazz Gallery on the final two nights of January, and two of the three remaining Mwandishi members - multi-instrumentalist (Mwile) Bennie Maupin and bassist (Mchezaji) Buster Williams - were found at Sweet Rhythm, the former playing, the latter listening. In what is an early candidate for “Best Shows of the Year”, Maupin (whose show was only his second in NYC as a leader since 1972!) brought in a piano-less quartet of drums (Michael Stephans), percussion (Mungo Jackson), and bass (Robert Hurst). From his strong bop chops on tenor (Monk’s “I Mean You”) - on which he utilized a unique two-handed approach, his right and left hands playing the top of the horn - to his exquisite unaccompanied bass clarinet (“Neophilia”) - Maupin being one of the greatest and most individual of the post-Dolphy players on the instrument, to his blues work on an actual gift from Coltrane - a curved soprano (“C.C. Rider”), Maupin even played piano to catch his breath. To round things out and not neglect a single instrument he brought cross-country, he even played a gorgeous alto flute (“Penumbra”). Unfortunately no sign of trumpeter (Mganga) Eddie Henderson this month though he is at at Jazz Gallery early this month.
The month also included several successful record label showcases. Palmetto’s at Jazz Standard featured tenor saxophonist Ted Nash’s Still Evolved Group, a Fred Hersch piano solo set, and the label’s first signed jazz singer, the new sensation Kate McGarry. At Sweet Rhythm, MAXJAZZ reserved several nights to showcase their vocal and instrumental talent (amongst them pianists Peter Martin, Bruce Barth and Mulgrew Miller; piano-playing vocalists Dena DeRose and Patti Wicks; and trumpeters Terell Stafford and, the talent to keep close tabs on, Jeremy Pelt.)
The 2-week long promotional Umbria Jazz in New York event brought Enrico Rava’s quintet (featuring pianist Stefano Bollani and the sensational young trombonist Gianluca Petrella) for a week-long residency at Blue Note. Their theme-like opener “Algir Dalbughi” set the stage for a night worth remembering. Rava’s respect for Miles was obvious in his rendition of “Nature Boy”, reminiscent of the elder trumpeter’s work on the fairly obscure French film, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. His slurs and punctuating escalated runs were a real treat. We hope not to have to wait until 2014 to hear Rava again!
And then there was the 31st Annual IAJE (International Association for Jazz Educators) conference which was, quite simply, overwhelming. From nearly the break of dawn to the wee morning hours of the following day, there were clinics, panel meetings, concert performances, research presentations and booth exhibits by record labels, publishing companies. All could only be digested to a certain extent before total exhaustion set in. One person’s IAJE experience was certainly like no other’s - with so much simultaneously planned, you simply had to accept that you couldn’t make it to everything. Though this is a common fact for any New Yorker’s nightly jazz existence anyways, what we’re usually accustomed to in the evenings and late nights also occurred during the daytime without reprieve, and for four straight days!
The NEA Jazz Master Awards ceremony was certainly the jewel of this year’s IAJE. This year’s awardees were guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, pianist Herbie Hancock, the late Luther Henderson, writer Nat Hentoff, and singer Nancy Wilson in a ceremony on the penultimate night presented in front of many of the surviving NEA Jazz Masters who were in attendance - all living legends and treasures.
Some shared highlights of the this year’s IAJE...the panel of “Jazz on Indian Music: The Global Conversation Continues” featured Dave Liebman (a pioneer on the subject since the ‘60s) as moderator/panelist with such esteemed guests as vina master Karaikudi Subramaniam, as well as pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Each spoke particularly about the so-called “fusion” of traditional Indian music with jazz and vice versa. In the case of Indian classical music and jazz, Liebman and tabla player Badal Roy were two of the forerunners of such experimentation with John McLaughlin on his My Goals and Beyond, and then with their group Lookout Farm. McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra was brought up on numerous occasions, as of course so was his group Shakti, though Liebman wanted to make particular mention of Coltrane’s “India”. Though not as obvious a “fusion”, it did indeed carry traces and hints of the influence Indian music and Ravi Shankar had all the way back to the early ‘60s when Coltrane performed and recorded it at the Village Vanguard. Vijay referred to jazz as a “how” versus a “what”, explaining that, “I look at this tradition [of jazz, as well as of his Indian heritage] not as something to represent, but to learn from.” It was interesting to note the distinct differences between North and South Indian music and the regional instruments and instrumentation, and whether one or the other has been taken more into account as a musical influence here in America, a subject that came to an abrupt halt when the hour panel discussion’s time limit quickly arose. This wound up being a common complaint of most panels which were just getting warmed up by the time it became time to wrap up. The other major criticism was the occasional disrespect audience members showed by answering cell phones, as well as incessantly zipping and unzipping purses, ruffling plastic bags, eating (Popcorn? Come on!), and conversing while significant personalities and even living legends where speaking. The distractions regrettably, but inevitably, diminished these people’s messages and the subject-s at hand. Next IAJE, perhaps better crowd surveillance for these spoilers should be taken into account, or at least a preliminary announcement should be made.
Such an occasion occurred actually during the “Jazz on the Frontline (sponsored by BET Jazz): A One-On-One with Harry Belafonte”, which was presented with panel moderator and BET Jazz GM Paxton Baker and featured unannounced and unadvertised panelist Wynton Marsalis. Belafonte, as always, was thoughtfully and provocatively eloquent in his responses and speech, but a woman directly behind me never seemed to be able to sit still even with the dirty glances she received. In any case, Belafonte undeterred and perhaps not even noticing, continued on, speaking of the social role a musician inherently plays. People in positions of power generally feel that, “(You are considered) out of your league if you want to play music other than to entertain...I find protest (is) very entertaining, very instructing”, were his words of wisdom. Another dimension of what defines an artist, Belafonte explained is, “that art is not to show life as it is, but to show life as it should be...Art is the language of its time...We live in this aspect of timelessness and spacelessness...We are the chicken, and we are the egg!” What a way Belafonte has with words. And though many may agree or disagree with Wynton, one must say that he is technically gifted and eloquent in his message, though perhaps narrow in its scope with regards to his defining inclusiveness of what is and what is not “jazz”. Obviously affiliated with a major corporate organization that is pumping a lot of money into his/their message not to mention the new Jazz at Lincoln Center location hovering over Columbus Circle (which officially opens in October of this year), he contributed a point to the subject of integration in music, which can also be seen more generally in life when you step back, “Integration really means you must extend yourself...Don’t try to figure them out, just get in there with them...When you come together, you’ve got to give something up.”
The Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band performed with special guest, altoist Phil Woods, proving that high caliber musicians are still being pumped out of military groups today, and that it wasn’t just a phenomena of the ‘40s or any wartime for that matter. The “Researching Legendary Jazz Greats” panel concerned itself with the music and history from one of jazz’ more neglected figures, pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, who influenced and invited over countless names we all know off the top of our head: Monk, Bird, Bud Powell, and Charlie Christian amongst them. Featured panelists included Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies representative, Anne Kuebler (Dan Morgenstern’s right-hand who spoke about the new Mary Lou archives now available), Father Peter O’Brien (perhaps one of the greatest living resources to Mary Lou, especially with regards to her final decade, being her manager around that time), Dr. Billy Taylor, pianist Geri Allen (who will be performing at the Kennedy Center shortly in a multi-night tribute to the music of Mary Lou Williams), and biographer Penelope Williams (whose book on Mary Lou will be coming out within a few months time).
The Jazz and Indian Music Collective performance featured Liebman once again, this time demonstrating live the success that the two traditions of jazz and Indian music have had, and can continue to have, in their “fusion”. With Subramaniam (not heard to great effect due to the sound levels in the, once again, packed standing-room only ballroom space), his student violist Tanya Kalmanovitch and bassist Ronan Guilfoyle (both panel participants from earlier) with special New School guests on reeds and drums – the music rocked and swung successively in a meditative fashion, incorporating the elements of Indian composition and jazz improvisation.
The “Critics and Musicians: A Conversation” panel was moderated by Jazziz Editor-at-Large Larry Blumenfeld with three writer/journalist panelists and three musician panelists who discussed the relationship between musicians and critics as well as the critic’s responsibility to the music and what (and how) they tend to write. Amongst the triad of musicians which included Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Douglas, Arturo O’Farrill (son of the legendary Cuban bandleader Chico) appropriately mentioned that, “The role of the critics is to serve as a conduit for a musician and what (he/she) does.” The excuse, but reality, of editing has always been an issue for writers and what is seen and read as the end result of a review or feature may not in actuality be the same feature or review as what was originally submitted. As a matter of fact, it’s a rarity of an occurrence that a writer is ever even told to “make it longer”, said Taylor from his extensive experience in the business. Writer Ted Panken felt it should be mentioned that the difference between a journalist and critic needed to be distinguished, and that he feels more like he is of the former camp than latter. Two well-respected “critics” which both sides agreed deserved kudos for their contributions to the music as writers were Jon Litweiler and Ira Gitler (the latter who was in attendance for the panel). As a sidebar, Dr. Billy Taylor wanted to throw in an IAJE plug that, “every aspect of what jazz is, is here at IAJE.” Many aspects of what is considered “jazz” and the various aspects of the music certainly were, but there were also some blatant potholes as well (I hate to use the terminology, but the so-called “avant-garde”/free music was kept pretty much under wraps if uninvolved in the massive 4-day programming), though Cecil Taylor’s presence as an NEA Jazz Master helped lessen the effect of this neglect.
The NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Jazz Masters photo shoot, a private media-only affair on the 45th floor suite of the Hilton Hotel, was jam-packed with photographers documenting what may well be “the most historic photograph taken in the 21st Century” (in the words of NEA Chairman Dana Gioia). Many, if not most, of the surviving NEA Jazz Master Award recipients showed up, lining up and down a spiral staircase for what was a spine-chilling historic occasion though impractical photo op. It was certainly the most historic jazz moment I have ever bared witness to: Horace Silver and Cecil Taylor sharing stories with one another; the normally towering Ron Carter looking of normal height for the first time next to Randy Weston; Anita O’Day mumbling, and singing to herself, pointing to everyone taking shots for nearly the entire hour it took; and the non-stop laughs originating from the rowdy crowd of James Moody, Percy and Jimmy Heath, Roy Haynes, and Clark Terry; George Russell and Louie Bellson meanwhile waited patiently at different ends of the stairs. Jim Hall himself said after the event, “I almost went into shock, (going into a room) to have the picture taken with all these old geezers! ... It was absolutely amazing.” Other than the Masters who have since passed, the surviving awarded members who did not make the shoot were sorely missed. Amongst them: Donald Byrd, Ornette Coleman, Barry Harris, Jon Hendricks, Ahmad Jamal, Elvin Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Jay McShann, Max Roach, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Marian McPartland and Sonny Rollins (two of the few surviving members of the classic “Great Day in Harlem” shot), and two of this year’s recipients of the award: Herbie Hancock and Nancy Wilson. Unfortunately, there was more than the occasional reference by oblivious media folk, referring to IAJE President Elect David Baker as the “guy with the blue tie...Could you move a bit that way?”! Or to Jimmy Heath, as, “Excuse me sir, yes you, with the turtle neck and mustache...Could you move a little further to your right?” Where’s the respect? Where’s the acknowledgement? We’re talking about teaching kids about legends and contributors to this music, people’s names that should be brought up in school curriculums, but even our folks in the media who are hired to take pictures of these Jazz Masters have no inclination as to the historic proportions of the shot they are taking? The irony of it all.
In any case, following this slice of history, it was off to the “University of Art Blakey” panel discussion featuring several Jazz Messengers: trumpeter Brian Lynch, drummer Ralph Peterson (who was a member of Blakey’s two-drummer big band), and altoists Bobby Watson and Jackie McLean (trumpeter Donald Byrd was a no-show unfortunately, though an empty seat waited for him). McLean shared some very insightful and perhaps never heard stories about Blakey, who he described as “swing(ing) to the point of death every night!” Their personal as well as musical accounts overflowed with laughs as if their time as Messengers had only recently ended (even though the leader passed away over a dozen years ago). McLean shared the bandstand with Blakey and Miles in what Miles considered his band, but everyone including Blakey knew was his own; and McLean was more than occasionally invited back as a Messenger, even to one of the final editions of the group with Lynch, as well as previously even with Watson. Watson shared that, “Art would never say goodbye.” Evidently, Blakey would hang up the phone before you knew it, or would slam the door in your face, so he was never faced with farewells of that kind. Peterson affectionately mentioned a facet of the man that everyone immediately groaned in agreement to, “He was a man of his word...I feel the responsibility of carrying on what I learned from him. He was a great teacher.” The panel came to a close much too short. Almost in synch, the panelists (headed by moderator and Jazzcorner.com founder Lois Gilbert) said, “We’re just getting warmed up!”
The “NEA Jazz Masters” panel featured three of the four being awarded this year: singer Nancy Wilson, guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, and writer Nat Hentoff. A.B. Spellman moderated over the discussion which covered the current status of the NEA and how jazz is seen in the media. The middle to older-aged crowd reflected a common characteristic of the IAJE’s presentations of panels versus performances in particular: the students and younger attendees preferred to flock to the live concert events, ignoring the interesting discussions on the many aspects and subjects of jazz that were held in the panels - many by living jazz legends as such was the case here. Trumpeter Jimmy Owens was in the audience, and was called upon to ask his question he had for all the new NEA Jazz Masters, which was to share a funny story they each had when out on the road touring. Both Hamilton and Hall had rodeo stories, and it wasn’t even during the time they were performing together in Hamilton’s group either! What are the chances?!
Flutist Hubert Laws (a name you don’t hear often enough in these parts) and altoist Phil Woods performed a “Tribute to Herbie Mann” for another jam-packed ballroom event. They focused on Mann’s more bop-oriented earlier playing, back to when he and Woods worked together as teens and Mann was then playing more tenor than flute. Woods and Laws were joined by trombonist Jay Ashby whose presence was felt on many separate occasions throughout the conference. The frontline of these three worked an intricate and inspiring harmony around the melody of Ellington’s “Azure”, each giving a lesson in how to take a concise yet full solo. Laws, with the piano trio accompaniment (the other horns stepped off the stage), was featured on a searing piccolo soaring over the changes of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”; then Woods played the blues out of “Lover Man” as the sole horn man, making it an absolute wonder why his name is not as often included in the list of the greatest living jazz improvisers. He showed grace and natural improvisational ability in playing even briefly modal and atonal styles, utilizing clicks and reed pops, all with the most amazing sense of spontaneity in his soloing.
The jewel of the IAJE was the actual NEA Jazz Master Awards ceremony which was being taped to be televised by BET Jazz. Nancy Wilson, Chico Hamilton, Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, the late Luther Henderson, and writer Nat Hentoff were all being inducted and honored. The packed event started off with each surviving Jazz Master in attendance being announced walking down the aisle to a continuous standing ovation before taking their respective seats. All their heads could basically be seen making their way down between the rows, that is other than Frank Foster and Clark Terry who were each wheel chaired in (though you could see the shining bell of Terry’s trumpet traveling downwards, as he held it high with one hand). The announcement that with being a Master, each recipient is given a $25,000 check drew appreciative and deserving “Ahhhs”, while the fact that they also received a thank you letter from President Bush and the first lady drew a general grumble of hissing and boos!
Performances included the Heath Brothers, whose performance of Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia” was particularly timely, with the average age of an NEA Jazz Master certainly close to 70 I’d imagine. Percy’s baby cello introduction was the first of many memorable music moments that evening. Later in the evening, Percy and the Heaths were joined by Clark Terry who broke out his flugelhorn and muted trumpet, conversing with himself on the two horns and playing in a bass duet with Percy on “God Bless the Child”, another historic musical moment. Though his introductory statement, which is like clockwork these days before he performs - “The golden years suck” - has gotten older than him, he can still blow a beautiful flugelhorn, even in his “golden years”.
Paquito D’Rivera’s piano-accompanied opener on his woody clarinet was followed by the addition of the New York Voices musical tribute to Nancy Wilson and a rendition of “Save Your Love for Me”, the group featuring the fine bass playing of Rufus Reid. Strangely the New York Voices were invited back, as were the Heath Brothers (as if New York City had a shortage of talent to flaunt). Not sure what the thinking was there, especially since the New York Voices had left the stage before the Nancy Wilson award and then came back to perform again. At least trombonist Jay Ashby added a nice extra element, interweaving subtle lines between and during the vocals.
Hubert Laws was actually in the program as performing with the New York Voices, but thankfully chose not, playing piccolo with the their rhythm section of Reid, Alon Yavnai (piano), and Mark Walker (drums). Billy Taylor’s trio performance with Winard Harper (drums) and Chip Jackson (bass) provided another musical highlight of the evening. Some people play as good, if not better, than they ever have and Taylor – even through the adverse situations he has had to endure over the last few years in particular – represents such an example whether on upbeat tempos or softer ballads alike (Ahmad Jamal and Vince Guaraldi are players that immediately came to mind, after listening to Taylor’s set, who simply must have been influenced by – if not at least have had tremendous respect for – Taylor’s playing).
The other major musical highlight was Dave Brubeck’s trio performance of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with quite confident student accompanists, Joe Sanders (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). The trio then went into a subtle and tender rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” which was introspectively played by the leader in particular. Brubeck showed off his amazing blocked chords and exquisite note flourishes.
The new Four Brothers group (featuring Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Kevin Mahogany, and Mark Murphy; with pianist James Williams, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Ben Riley) was a super group of sorts. Hendricks unfortunately, though, lost his voice before coming on stage, and so the three remaining Brothers compensated for his part through “Moody’s Mood for Love”. Hendricks instead showed off his adversity by resorting to blues inflected whistling and his inimitable vocalizing bass solo chops which were still in tact on the Oscar Pettiford tune (which Hendricks also wrote the catchy lyrics to), “Swinging ‘Till The Girls Come Home”.
Each of the 2004 NEA Jazz Masters were first introduced by someone appropriately connected to them as close musical associates if not actual close friends. Before coming up to accept their respective awards, they and everyone in the crowd were treated to a special video retrospective dedication of their career. Presenting the first award for the evening to Chico Hamilton was fellow drummer Roy Haynes, who actually preceded Chico as Lester Young’s rhythm provider. Hamilton’s gracious acceptance included a memorable saying (as he said something to the effect of a “quote of a quote from a quote someone told me about a quote that quoted..... et. al.” You get the picture), that “One who dares to teach should never stop learning”.
When Nancy Wilson came up to accept her award from Bill Strickland, her first words were, “I love that (referring to the video tribute)...Very well put together.” One of the most gracious and well-spoken of all the NEA Jazz Masters, she went on to reveal that she’s been with the same manager, John Levy, since October 1959 and without a contract the whole time. Simply unheard of, especially in this day and age, and certainly a compliment, revealing one of her biggest character traits of sincerity. She seemed to be the crowd favorite. After all, she was only second to The Beatles in record sales at one time!
Ron Carter presented Jim Hall with his award. Hall, in acceptance, said something quite outrageously off-the-wall which received several chuckles, “I feel like Lou Gehrig without the disease!” He did go on to say that he, “is proud to be among the peacemakers”. George Wein then presented Nat Hentoff his award, and Hentoff graciously accepted and then deferred the attention to the JFA (Jazz Foundation of America) by sharing their background of assisting musicians, not to mention JFA’s mailing address and phone number, too. Hentoff realizes the significance he’s played for musicians and First Amendment rights, and obviously continues to do what he can to plug others who similarly help in those departments as well.
NEA Chairman Dana Gioia then came out and profoundly stated a fact that kids today only know the names of the hundred top NBA and hip-hop stars. It’s a hard road ahead that jazz faces, but Gioia proudly shared his commitment as head of the NEA, “We aim to change that!”
The late Luther Henderson was also awarded, and his was accepted by his widow, son, and daughter who were genuinely appreciative. Ms. Henderson emotionally shared with the audience the brief period during his final time on this planet that she shared with him, a point which he became aware of his sickness and of being awarded, though knowing he wouldn’t make it to the point of personally accepting the award. To be in the company of the other NEA Jazz Master awardees certainly says something to the effect of how significant his contributions were to the jazz world, though his name may be the least familiar amongst the others.
Horace Silver presented the absentee Herbie Hancock his award, and accepted it for him on his behalf, though there was a displayed video acceptance speech by Hancock as well. It ended a memorable, if not historic, evening and represented the apex of the 2004 IAJE Conference here in New York.
- Monthly New Release Picks:
- Pablo Aslan - Avantango (Zoho)
- Rosemary Clooney - From Bing to Billie (Concord)
- Marc Copland/Gary Peacock - What It Says (Sketch)
- Rob McConnell Tentet - Music of the Twenties (Justin Time)
- Dom Minasi - Time Will Tell (CDM)
- Mario Pavone - Orange (Playscape)