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All That Jazz Month: Phoenix, AZ, November 9-30, 2012

Patricia Myers By

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All That Jazz Month
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ
November 9-30, 2012

All That Jazz Month, in November 2012 at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), featured a star-studded concert series that included the saxophonist Branford Marsalis Quartet, vocalese masters The Manhattan Transfer, DIVA Jazz with saxophonist Grace Kelly, and a Django Reinhardt Tribute, all staged to introduce a newly expanded jazz history exhibit.

The month was launched Nov. 9-11 with an All That Jazz weekend that included concerts, curatorial talks, presentations by guests from the Smithsonian Institution and the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and live music by local jazz groups. MIM is an ethnic music museum that opened in April 2010 with collections representing five global regions. The original small American jazz component was expanded this year into one of the museum's larger genre exhibits, with three sections of 66 instruments, 31 video clips and 23 images that represent jazz from its early days through swing, bebop, cool, hard bop and contemporary forms.

MIM, a Smithsonian affiliate, expanded its permanent jazz collection by borrowing several instruments from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History for display including clarinets played by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, and a trombone played by J.J. Johnson. Other pieces include a trumpet mouthpiece and mute used by Miles Davis and a guitar played by Charlie Christian. A cornet associated with Louis Armstrong is part of the Early Jazz segment, a beaded gown and lyric sheets owned by Ella Fitzgerald is in the Women in Jazz exhibit, and a saxophone played by Mario Bauza and timbales are on loan to MIM from Eddie Palmieri for the Latin Jazz exhibit.

The month's focus also included concerts by saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett's "Cuban Rhapsody" with pianist Hilario Duran and 92-year-old congero Candido Camero, the Ivory & Gold duo (pianist Jeff Barnhart and flutist Anne Barnhart) and the opening of a touring exhibition, "Portraits from the Golden Age of Jazz: Photographs by William Gottlieb," on display through April 6, 2013. MIM is showcasing instruments and video footage of many of the featured musicians alongside 71 photographs of jazz legends.

Marsalis performed back-to-back evening concerts on Nov. 13 with his dazzling trio of pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. The leader chose tenor sax for "The Return of the Jitney Man," written by his longtime drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, that featured Faulkner, a 20-year-old explosion master who joined the group three years ago. (Revis and Calderazzo date back to 1997's Music Evolution (Columbia). The repertoire reflected the newest Marsalis issue, Four MFs Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music, 2012).

Marsalis switched between soprano and tenor saxophones to explore various moods and modes of subsequent charts, delivering Uzi-speed post-bop arpeggios against Calderazzo's equally agile keyboard work. The pianist's impressionistic composition, "As Summer into Autumn Slips," featured alternately fiery and tranquil segments. Thelonious Monk's "Teo" tribute offered a quirky contrast to the ethereal "Maestra," each buoyed by the solid warmth of Revis and Faulkner's awesome foundation. The encore of the 75-minute concert brought a 180-degree shift in content and style, Marsalis bringing out his tenor sax for a straight-ahead rendition of George Gershwin's last composition, "Our Love Is Here to Stay." It was a mystifying change of pace, but definitely audience-satisfying.

Manhattan Transfer performed four holiday-themed shows on Nov. 29-30 for age-mixed audiences that reflected the four-decade popularity of the vocalese aggregation. The first five songs were holiday themed and included Johnny Mandel's "A Christmas Love Song" and, later, a rendition of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." As expected, the most enthusiastic response was for keyboardist Joe Zawinul's "Birdland," the group's anthem since 1979 via the Jon Hendricks lyrics to the Weather Report hit.

The harmony charts were well-balanced and flawless, from founder Tim Hauser and original members Janis Siegel and Alan Paul in 1974 to longtime colleague Cheryl Bentyne, who replaced Laurel Masse after she was injured in a car accident in 1979. Solo spots showcased Hauser's ageless and mellow elegance that define the group harmony. Bentyne's soprano continues to be supple and high-energy, despite battling cancer during the past year and rejoining the group in July. Paul's relaxed charm is tailor-made as the ensemble's balladeer. Siegel's rich horn-style vocalese improvisations were alternately soothing and swinging. Musical director-pianist Yaron Gershovsky pleased the audience with his intro for the Count Basie version of "Corner Pocket (Until I Met You)." Like the Rolling Stones, these "elders" show no sign of diminishing energy or talent.

The DIVA Jazz, the core of the all-female orchestra created in 1992, is proof of musical intuition. Following the short opening set by a local jazz quartet featuring Eric Rasmussen (director of jazz studies at Scottsdale Community College), drummer-leader Sherrie Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda delivered their November 10th concert at the MIM as a solid collective, while affording individualistic opportunity in every chart. Powerful big-band drummer Maricle provided the propellant, but never eclipsed her coalition partners in this small-group setting. Ohno's keyboard invention was dazzling in concept and technique-strong, while Ueda delivered round warmth on acoustic bass, even adding a bit of scat. With a far-reaching repertoire, from the evergreen "Bye Bye Blackbird" to a most-modern "If I Only Had a Brain," the trio played a thoroughly satisfying set.

Then they brought on Grace Kelly, the 20-year-old saxophonist who's been stunning listeners around the world on alto and soprano saxophones. She was nothing less than fearless in her blazing bebop solos. Her astonishing technical agility created ear- boggling flights, but she proved equally capable of treating a ballad gently. While there was a rock-star element in her onstage movements and wardrobe choices, she obviously respected the genre of music she has chosen to pursue. This one is not simply a prodigy, but a talented and trained musician who has developed the confidence to challenge herself in each outing. Born in Massachusetts of Korean parents, Grace Chung was adopted by her mother's second husband, Robert Kelly.

Dorado Schmitt brought the 1930s sounds of the Quintette du Hot Club de France to the MIM on November 18 (the concert added to MIM's jazz month after the group's tour ended in San Francisco before returning to Europe). The French guitarist-violinist is dedicated to the gypsy jazz oeuvre of Jean "Django" Reinhardt, the genre known in France as "jazz manouche." Like Reinhardt, Schmitt merges swing and bebop via lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic bass and violin, plus an accordionist, as Reinhardt briefly used in his early years of performance. Unlike Reinhardt playing only acoustic guitar, Schmitt was on electric guitar for this concert, but his infinite control and speedy agility were amply displayed.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" was an anticipated rendition, also "Minor Swing" and "Nuages," with Xavier Nikq slapping the upright bass as Schmitt and rhythm guitarist Franco Mehrstein delivered counterpoint melodies. Violinist Pierre Blanchard rekindled memories of Stephane Grappelli's work with the Quintette, and Ludovic Beier impressed with his accordion prowess. Schmitt's "Bossarado" merged samba with Django-jazz for a fascinating change of pace. Schmitt has starred for the past 10 years at New York's annual Birdland Djangofest.

An added element of jazz month was the showing of "The Girls in the Band, a 2011 film that will be released soon, after its premier at a recent Palm Springs, Calif., festival. Director Judy Chaikin explored women's roles in jazz as instrumentalists, composers, arrangers and conductors. The archival footage and stills that Chaikin assembled were enhanced by interviews with many of the women themselves, among them drummer Viola Smith, trumpeter Billie Rogers and saxophonists Rosalind "Roz" Cron and Peggy Gilbert, also contemporary musicians including pianists Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor and Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, arranger/composer Maria Schneider, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Maricle.

Among the highlights were interviews with saxophonist Vi Redd, trumpeter Clora Bryant and trombonist-composer Melba Liston, who was one of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's preferred arrangers. Also cited was pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong's second wife who played in the legendary trumpeter's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings and was a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.

Footage showed Ina Ray Hutton, the Ada Leonard Orchestra and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Saxophonist Cron, 87, participated in a post-film Q&A session, recounting her experience as the only white musician when the International Sweethearts of Rhythm toured the South; she often stayed on the bus to avoid confrontations. Also speaking were executive producer Michael Greene and Ohno and Ueda from the DIVA Jazz Trio (leader Maricle was playing a concert elsewhere that night).

MIM was founded and funded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corp., of Minneapolis, Minn., a collector of African art and world museum enthusiast. After seeing the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium, Ulrich visualized one in the United States with more interactive elements.

Concerts were staged in the music theater of the 200,000-square-foot building, which has two floors of galleries displaying a collection of nearly 15,000 instruments and associated objects. MI offers both docent-led and self-guided tours using wireless audio guides that interface with the sound track for videos at more than 300 sites in 80,000 square feet. Hidden identifiers are installed at exhibits that cue the audio guides automatically to exactly the right sound-track as the viewer approaches each video screen. Built at a cost of $250 million, MIM also features a recording studio, classroom, café, coffee shop, courtyard and gift shop.

The museum's Artist Gallery includes George Benson's Gibson Johnny Smith model guitar and one of his many Grammy Awards; Carlos Santana's custom Yamaha guitar with inlaid Buddhist motifs; an early Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitar played by Santana, a precursor to the "Supernatural" guitar, named after his multiple Grammy-winning album; the Steinway piano on which John Lennon composed "Imagine," and the first Steinway piano, built in the 1836 kitchen of Henrich Engelhard Steinweg's home in Seesen, Germany. The Experience Gallery features instruments that can be touched and played.

A previous jazz focus was presented last August in connection with Jazz in AZ (a statewide nonprofit jazz-support organization established in 1977) that featured Arizona musicians performing with the Marty Ashby Trio from the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, PA.

The global collections were assembled by five curators who consulted with ethnomusicologists and organologists—musical instrument experts—under the supervision of the Musical Instrument Museum (www.mim.org) president Billie (Bill) R. DeWalt.

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