Herbie's Take on Joni Mitchell, and the Value of Gigging

Fradley Garner By

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Herbie Hancock, winner of the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters, took the stage with collaborator and inspiration Joni Mitchell when he taped a show for Nissan Live Sets that debuted April 1 on Yahoo! Music. Mitchell sang three of her songs, "River," "Tea Leaf Prophecy" and "Hana." Hancock, backed by guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, vocalist Sonya Kitchell and DJ C-Minus, also played such classics as "Chameleon," "Watermelon Man," "Maiden Voyage" and "Rockit." The performance, including video streams of 10 songs and an audience Q&A, was posted on April 1. Hancock begins an international tour in May with stops in Brazil, Europe and many dates in the U.S. and Canada, including the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. More info at music.yahoo.com

Apropos Singers: "In a genre that celebrates its past, it seems odd that people are always looking for the next big thing when it comes to female vocalists," an interviewer for The Pitch, Kansas City, whined to vocalist Rachel Price. The fast-rising singer agreed. "I think that's an aspect of the music business and not necessarily jazz music itself," she said in a cell-phone interview at a bus stop. "It's how people are looking to sell things. There are tons and tons of amazing vocalists out there right now," she continued, "and a lot of them do a variety of things and not all of them fit into a specific mold. The whole idea of 'the next big thing' means something that's going to fit into a specific category and in the end isn't really going to mean that much to the music itself." The 22-year-old soprano, who has the multi-Grammy winner Nancy Wilson singing her praises, recently finished her studies at the New England Conservatory. "Why formally study jazz?" Price was asked. "Did you ever think that you should just be out gigging?" No, she said. "Luckily I was always doing both... I would learn something in ensemble or in class, and it was great because I could immediately put it to the test in my performances. Going to school was the best thing I ever did, and playing on the road is and will always be the best experience I'll ever get."

Cecil Bowles, general manager of jazz radio station WBGO, was among eight persons honored by The Newark Arts Council for promoting and supporting the arts in the city of Newark. The Arts Council held their major fundraising event, The Art & City Gala, April 9 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. For more about the Council, visit www.newarkarts.org

Summer Sheddin', DownBeat magazine's annual Jazz Camp Guide, is now posted online. The guide covers summer music workshops in the U.S. East, Midwest, South, West and International. For example, "Jazz in July," at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, from July 7-18, stresses improvisation within small combos and big band settings. The vocal program explores jazz phrasing and rhythms, preparing lead sheets and improvisation. There is room for about 70 students, aged 15 and up. And what a faculty—Dr. Billy Taylor, Geri Allen, John Blake, Steve Johns, Chip Jackson, Esperanza Spalding, Jeff Holmes, Fred Tillis, Dana Leong. Tuition is $600 per week. Check out jazzinjuly.com and other programs at www.downbeat.com/campguide.asp

Drew Gress is one of the busiest bassists in New York, leading two groups of his own and working with Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Don Byron, Tim Berne and others, writes Larry Appelbaum in the April JazzTimes. "As a composer, he studied with Hank Levy and spent time ghostwriting for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studios. He was artist-in-residence at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, and he's received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer. Asked about the crowded market of new releases, Gress says, 'I don't think it's worth doing another [recording] project unless you have something else to say. That's why mine are so few and far between.' His fourth and latest CD as leader is The Irrational Numbers (Premonition)."

Oh Pshaw? Oh No! Turn the clock back 67 years and see how top sidemen responded to a call from Artie Shaw to join what the clarinetist said "should be the greatest dance combo ever assembled." Wrote DownBeat on September 1, 1941: "Musicians never before heeded a leader's call as these men heeded Shaw's." Datelined New York, the story read: "When Artie sent out a call to his old sidekicks, asking them to return and be cogs in his latest orchestral venture, not a single man brushed off his invitation. Les Robinson quit Willy Bradley. George Auld refused to accept big money offers from others, and went without work six weeks until Shaw's rehearsals got under way. Lee Castaldo quit Bradley, too. And, Eddie McKinney toted his big bull fiddle right off Tony Pastor's bandstand and into Artie's room. "Lips" Page abandoned hopes to get his own jazz band clicking and made a beeline to Shaw's initial rehearsal. Mike Bryan fluffed Bob Chester to strum a guitar, even taking lessons to brush up on the electric box, which Shaw frequently likes to feature. Trombonist Ray Conniff junked his own band in preference to holding down a chair in the Shaw unit." That was another era.

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