A Large Bite From the Big Apple: Reflections on IAJE 2004

C. Andrew Hovan By

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For this writer, it was the first time out at an IAJE event in NYC and the urge to take in other sites around the city mixed with an active conference schedule definitely led to a good case of a jazz overdose.
Even on an average week, New York City boasts an abundance of jazz concert opportunities that few cities could even hope to rival. Then you add to the mix the festivities related to the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education and the preponderance of musical activities is such that even the seasoned veteran of these types of things finds himself overwhelmed. For this writer, it was the first time out at an IAJE event in NYC and the urge to take in other sites around the city mixed with an active conference schedule definitely led to a good case of a jazz overdose. What follows in no way will serve as a comprehensive recounting of every event, but instead a sampler of my own bites taken from the Big Apple.

Wednesday, January 21

After winging into La Guardia on Wednesday evening, my buddy (a high school jazz band director) and I checked into the Sheraton New York Towers, one of the hotels that served as a hub for conference activities. Quickly grabbing a cab, we wasted little time in making our way to Smoke to catch an 11 p.m. set by the Hot Pants Funk Sextet. Featuring B3 organ champ Adam Scone and drummer Joe Strasser, this tight ensemble let loose with a danceable mix of tunes from the soul cannon, including James Brown numbers and AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” Up and comer Ian Hendrickson-Smith usually makes the scene with this group but was not on the bandstand this particular evening. Sill, with a good seat at the bar and after a few glasses of Riesling, you couldn’t help but enjoy the hang and guitarist Al Street amused all when in the middle of a solo he took his wireless guitar into the backroom for an extended jam.

Thursday, January 22

After sleeping in for a few extra hours and then grabbing some breakfast, it was off to a clinic by trumpeter Brian Lynch that offered a substantial introduction to the importance of the clave within Latin music. As a veteran of the bands of Hector Lavoe and Eddie Palmieri, Lynch is more than qualified to speak to the demands that the clave holds for jazz musicians hoping to master the challenges of the Latin genre. With the help of a percussionist, Lynch demonstrated with his horn how to adapt the Miles Davis line “Solar” to the Latin idiom, showing how important it was to change the placement of the accents to fit the clave. Lynch served up valuable lessons that surely benefited the novice and gave the initiated something to chew on as well.

It was a quick walk down the street over to the New York Hilton to take in the conference opening that would feature IAJE and ASCAP commissions honoring Quincy Jones. 17-year-old pianist Pascal Le Boeuf premiered his composition “Ray’s Brother’s Other Mother: Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” with the help of his brother Remy on alto saxophone and guest musician Chris Potter. Both the piece and the advanced soloing of these young brothers impressed the crowd and surely we’ll be hearing more form them in the future. Then, in the first of many such instances, I had to split this event if I wanted to make it over to Paquito D’Rivera’s Blindfold Test sponsored by Down Beat and led by writer Dan Ouellete. Although D’Rivera first quipped that the premise of this event was “kind of like taking a shower in public,” he proved to be a knowledgeable participant. Nailing one track after another, D’Rivera spoke fluently about Eddie Daniels, Chico O’Farrill, Danilo Perez, Benny Goodman, and Diego Urcola while being witty and entertaining to boot.

Following an afternoon of networking and then a break for dinner, it was back to the conference with a 7 p.m. concert by the Walt Weiskopf Nonet. A distinguished writer and saxophonist, Weiskopf has made a name for himself via his series of substantial Criss Cross recordings that include such nonet sides as A Song For My Mother and Siren. In a front line that included alto man Jim Snidero, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and trombonist Conrad Herwig, Weiskopf hit his stride early on with an incendiary set that made the most of some challenging originals and the encouraging support of drummer Billy Drummond. Pieces such as “Outsider,” “Three Armed Man,” “Turncoat,” and “End of Year So Soon” boasted performances that seamlessly married the composed with the improvised and each musician had more than his fair share of solo space. This was state of the art stuff that also spoke to the heart with its visceral punch.

Among the embarrassment of riches that off-site clubs provided during IAJE was a stand at the Iridium by guitarist Pat Martino that I managed to squeeze in Thursday evening. With Joe Lovano, James Genus, and Lenny White on hand, sparks were guaranteed to fly and that they did. Still, many probably weren’t aware of the kind of energy that pianist David Kikoski was capable of unleashing during the set, quickly forgetting that Gonzalo Rubalcaba was originally slated to appear. In a tribute to John Coltrane, Martino and crew held court during four lengthy jams including the closing “Africa.” While Kikoski ended up stealing the show, Martino was no less engaging even if he seemed demur by comparison. Lovano proved to be the weak link, sputtering about to no great effect throughout most of the set.

Back to the Sheraton after the Martino show, it was the late set by pianist Jason Moran that was next on my schedule. I have somehow been less than impressed with the pianist’s several Blue Note records as a leader and decided that I needed to check him out in person before giving up on an understanding of his idiosyncratic style. Sad to say, there was little in the way of illumination for this writer. Although Moran, along with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, manages some tightrope walking in terms of the development of his tunes, he never settles into one groove long enough to truly satisfy. Furthermore, the tape loops and samples were further unnecessary adornments to a set that was inconclusive and empty.

Friday, January 23

The first thing I took in on Friday afternoon was a panel discussion moderated by the Jazz Corner’s Lois Gilbert on the topic of the legacy of drummer Art Blakey. On hand were Bobby Watson, Brian Lynch, Ralph Peterson, and Jackie McLean. The stories were numerous and often humorous, with McLean often taking the lead. Pity that time allotted only an hour for such retrospection as this foursome could have gone on for hours.

About an hour later, alto saxophonist Jim Snidero took the stage to perform pieces from his critically acclaimed Strings album. Backed by pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Paul Gill, drummer Billy Drummond and a string ensemble conducted by Walt Weiskopf, Snidero showcased arrangements that allowed the strings to weave in and out of the melody statements and the subsequent solos. Fluid on both alto and flute, Snidero was at his best and the closing “Theme For Ernie” offered up a choice solo moment for Drummond.

Much like last year’s gathering in Toronto, the Jazz Journalist Association’s shindig on Friday evening was something not to be missed by us media types. Held at the soon-to-be-opened new jazz space Le Jazz Au Bar, the open bar boasted champagne and the classy waitresses kept the hors d’oeuvres at no more than an arm’s reach. AAJ’ers on hand included Michael Ricci , Nils Jacobson , David Adler , and Franz Matzner . In addition, I had the pleasure of chatting with writer Phillip Booth, Lois Gilbert, vocalist Kelly Johnson, and artist manager Nancy Barell.

My evening would conclude with a saxophone summit featuring Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, and Dave Liebman. A world class New York rhythm section would include Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart, but our fabulous threesome failed to connect and each solo seemed to wander out father and farther into the stratosphere. At the concert’s end, strains of discontent could be heard among the throngs, many of who found things to be just too far “outside.”

Saturday, January 24

Although the alarm clock seemed to go off way too soon, Saturday morning was the last possible chance I would have to take a trip over to the Jazz Record Center. Some two hours later, I would walk out with a handful of records, compact discs, and two volumes of the Atlantic Records discography. It was then time for lunch and a bit of rest before getting ready for the next wave of activity.

Down Beat’s First-Person Project with drummer Roy Haynes was well attended with journalist Paul de Barros leading the discussion along some very intriguing lines. DB editor Jason Koransky presented Haynes with plaques from the most recent readers and critics polls and a host of colleagues like ex-Coleman Hawkins drummer Eddie Locke were in attendance. Haynes shared stories about a host of jazz luminaries that he’s had the pleasure to work with over the years including Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, and Thelonious Monk. When asked about today’s up and coming jazz musicians, Haynes quipped, “I’m glad I’m not coming up now because I wouldn’t know who to copy!” As for his advice to those just starting in the business, the drummer advised, “You can’t solo all night and make a name for yourself.”

While arguably the most radical performance of the conference, a set by the Matt Wilson Quartet also seemed to be the most well attended, making a case for the virtues of avant-garde music that also speaks with a good deal of humor and humility. These guys are indeed wild, but their show is paced well and there are always moments of pure groove interjected within the chaotic outbursts to keep things interesting. Matt’s original written to the words of Carl Sandburg’s “Choose” has become a crowd pleaser, complete with Wilson’s military drum cadences and the band’s oral recitation of the poem. Tenor man Joel Frahm sat in for a few numbers including the closing “School Boy Thug,” where the guys donned glitter wigs and rocked out to great effect. For a dramatic closing, Andrew D’Angelo smashed a dummy alto horn to pieces, splashed water onto the crowd and leaped from the stage on the final downbeat. Words simply fail to give a complete picture of a Matt Wilson Quartet show and all I can say is that this group should be at the top of your short list when they come to your town.

Before retreating to a quiet seat at the hotel bar to wind down for the evening, there was one more set to take in at the Sheraton. Saxophonist Tim Ries has spent a good deal of his time recently on the road touring with the Rolling Stones. He’s taken that experience and decided to develop a new book of his own arrangements of some of Mick and the boys’ best tunes. Ries has chosen from some top shelf talent with an ensemble that includes guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Ed Simon, trombonist Michael Davis, bassist James Genus, and drummer Clarence Penn. A funky boogaloo groove made a fine jam out of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” while “Gimme Shelter” turned into a rhapsodic ballad with Monder contributing a wash of sound not unlike the work of Bill Frisell. Equally atmospheric was “Paint It Black,” as Penn softly rapped his toms with his fingers and Ries led the incantation with a hypnotic turn on soprano.

So there you have it, a down and dirty recounting of my experiences at IAJE 2004. Ask another attendee and you’d probably get a different story, but then that’s the allure of these kinds of things, giving each person something that matches their particular tastes and proclivities. Will I be in NYC again for IAJE 2006? You better believe it!

Visit my IAJE 2004 Photo Exhibit here .

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