Wide Open Jazz and Beyond


Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

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“When the music's happening, life is happening.... Why must we only join hands after the storm?... How true are you? Nothing else even matters." --Jef Lee JohnsonJef Lee Johnson, prolific, virtuosic, humble, was in some ways not made for this world. “I'm over the world," he sang. He was certainly made for music though.Time to tell the truth about Jef Lee Johnson. For too many, it's better late than never. His brilliance was evident enough, however in his lifetime many people, including fellow artists and the entertainment industry, weren't able to face his truth.News ...


A Question of Time

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Imagine you were given the chance to go back in time and witness four musical events (one each from jazz, blues, classical, and rock history.) What would they be? That's an after-dinner topic friends might discuss by candlelight. If your inner-child has completely matured, perhaps you could approach it as a potential film: if you were given a massive budget to authentically recreate four musical events, what would they be?This idea has intrigued me for a while, so when I interviewed Derek Trucks earlier this year I thought it would be interesting to hear his choices. Clearly, he ...

Introduction to Wide Open Jazz and Beyond

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Greetings fellow jazz-junkies, music aficionados and other folks searching for a little bit of meaningful life between the exit signs. My name is Peter Madsen and in real life I'm a professional pianist, keyboardist and composer that once a month will be masquerading as a music-writer for AAJ. Being that this is the maiden voyage of this monthly event I thought I would take the time to introduce myself and tell you some of my ideas for this column.

It all began thirty-five years ago when my poor mother wanted me out of the house and sent me for the ...

Warne Marsh

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One of my first great musical experiences in New York happened shortly after I had arrived here in 1980. I was rehearsing once a week with a band co-led by trumpeter Manny Duran and singer Carla White up in Breton Hall on 86th street and Broadway. During one of the rehearsals a shy thin gray haired man with a goatee walked in the room with a tenor saxophone and began to play with us. We were playing something like Tad Dameron's Hot House and this old guy begins to improvise like I had never heard before. With a sound that ...

Improvisation, Part 1-2

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Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2000 was as great a year for you as it was for me and I hope 2001 is even better.

The following is a letter from an AAJ fan with some questions about scales and improvisation. I was asked to try and wrestle these questions to the ground and turn the answers into an article (or two). Check out the letter:

I have a question, which might make a good topic for an article - maybe. In an old interview with Frank Zappa I read a while back, he talks a bit about his guitar ...

Improvisation, Part 2-2

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Welcome back to part 2 of an article in response to a question from Michael a loyal AAJ reader with some interesting questions that I was asked to write about. Once again here's the letter:

I have a question, which might make a good topic for an article - maybe. In an old interview with Frank Zappa I read a while back, he talks a bit about his guitar playing and some of the nuts and bolts of his group's improvisations. He makes an interesting remark about how in an improv; the soloist (i.e. Frank himself) might think, “let's play ...

Muddy Waters

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Muddy Waters! Muddy Waters! Muddy Waters!

Damn this man could sing and play the blues. Lately I've been listening to his very first recording done for the Library of Congress in 1941 in the fields of the Mississippi Delta. Absolutely some of the finest music ever!!

Beginning in 1933 music researcher and historian Alan Lomax was working for the Library of Congress traveling throughout the Southern United States making field recordings of American traditional music with his 300 pound so-called portable tape recorder. Just imagine carrying this huge beast around in the trunk of your car ...

Holiday Thanks

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Turkey Day has just passed and Christmas is just around the corner. It's that time of year again to remember and thank the important people in our lives! This year I want to shout-out some historical thanks to a few jazz and blues people who've helped to make my life pretty cool.

I want to thank:

Perry Bradford a black composer, publisher, agent and bandleader for hustling his ass off in spite of death threats to persuade the Okeh Phonograph Corporation to record a black singer named Mamie Smith in 1920. Mamie recorded one of Bradford's tunes called “Crazy Blues" ...

Kenny Wheeler

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For years I've admired the great Canadian musician Kenny Wheeler because of his fantastic compositions and arrangements, his incredible sound on both the trumpet and flugelhorn, his superb recordings as well as his wide open artistic vision. Last week I went to a big-band concert that featured Kenny as the guest performer and composer. At 70+ years of age Kenny still has the ability to amaze both as a player as well as composer. He sounds as fresh as any young lion and deep as any veteran. His pieces are full of complex harmonies and changing times and rhythms and ...

Dewey Redman

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There's a story about a saxophonist being approached by an excited fan after a concert to get his autograph. The fan asks him to sign a CD he says he had just bought of his. Happy to oblige he takes the CD, looks, and with mixed emotions sees that it's a CD recorded by his son, Joshua Redman. Of course this is a story about the brilliant and often under-appreciated saxophonist Dewey Redman. This is a telling tale of the commercial world of jazz today that the heavy promotion of a musician especially if they are young has become the ...

Taro Okamoto: Too Many Unknown Greats

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New York is full of improvising musicians that spend thousands of hours practicing their instruments and dream of becoming the next Joshua Redman or Joe Lovano. They come by the busloads from all over the world. Many enroll at one of the universities or schools in the area that have a world famous jazz program. They study hard with a well-known artist in hopes of furthering their knowledge and their career. Some come and try to jump right into the scene looking for any opportunity to play and be heard. Unfortunately there is little room in the jazz world for ...

Adam Kolker

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The sometimes heard, “those that can't do, teach" is a description not very fitting of the jazz world as hundreds of great musicians have become professors at some of the finest educational institutions around the world as well as teach privately at home. Many elder statesmen such as pianists Kenny Barron and Barry Harris as well as saxophonists Jackie McLean and Yusef Lateef not to mention trumpeters Donald Byrd and Bill Dixon (just to mention a few) have been teaching for many years. Many of the next generation of top jazz musicians have also taken up teaching including pianist guru ...

Pee Wee Ellis

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I was half-asleep in my bunk on a Fred Wesley tour bus a few years ago heading for the next where-the-hell-are-we European city when the sound of an amazing saxophonist literally pulled my eyes wide open. It sounded like an old bootleg recording of Sonny Rollins playing standards that I was unaware of, full of rhythmic and harmonic twists and turns. The sound was deep and rich and ever changing colors. I popped my head out of my bunk curtains wanting to confirm my assumption of Sonny's presence when to my surprise the response came back, “No, it's a live ...

Toninho Horta

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I've been very fortunate in my career to have met and sometimes even play with a few musical geniuses. These are special musicians who have developed an intimate relationship between their instrument and their inner selves to transcend the mechanical act of playing into the artistic act of soulful and spiritual self-expression. One such genius is the Brazilian guitarist, composer and singer Toninho Horta.

I first heard about Toninho Horta in the mid 1980's from saxophonist Billy Drewes who was playing in his band at the time. Billy described Toninho as a brilliant Brazilian composer who ...

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