The annual IAJE Conference is presumably aimed at music teachers, but professional musicians, music students, industry reps, and fans way outnumber the professors. Fewer name musicians appeared this year, possibly due to economics. In their places college bands and contest-winning players were invited. Also there were more workshops (fewer music performances). Generally jazz education (rather than entertainment) and a relatively conservative musical philosophy were more prominent than before. Attendees could usually choose from four or five events at a single time. There was a huge exhibition hall peopled with prominent musicians, musical instrument companies, magazine publishers, you name iteven All About Jazz had a booth. Overall the Convention was a huge success with many L.A. locals vowing to cut back on cigarettes and candy to pay for their trips to New York next January. Vocalists Anna Serafinska and Judy Bady were the big surprises for me.
Trombonist Bill Watrous
assembled his big band for the opening concert. The music reminded me of 1950's Basie (Neal Hefti charts), but there were some modern touchesplenty of soprano sax in the ensembles, frequent tempo and rhythmic shifts, and an over-the-top ending on "Windows", arranged by Tom Kubis. Watrous offered one of his trademark soliloquies on Jerry Goldsmith's moody "Chinatown".The Thelonious Monk Institute
sextet sounded like a working band grounded in group dynamics and swing. A band like this depends so much on its drummer, and as it happened James Alsanders was up to the job. Herbie Hancock
, mentor of the sextet, was presented with an award for lifetime achievement to music and to jazz education. He played a lovely, meandering piano solo after which the sextet joined him for a simmering "Dolphin Dance."
Oscar Castro-Neves, guitar and synth, led an Antonio Carlos Jobim Tribute
mainly featuring instrumental versions of tunes from the classic record Jobim made with Elis Regina. Dori Caymmi, Paulo Jobim, and other Jobim collaborators performed a couple of tunes each, but Dave Liebman on soprano contributed the strongest musical statement, demonstrating Jobim's transcendence in the process.
Trumpeter Terrell Stafford took one burning solo after another as the other horn in the Clayton Brothers Quintet
. Smiling (a la Billy Higgins) bassist John Clayton authoritatively kicked the ensemble and played a stunning unaccompanied piece with the bow. Jeff Clayton on alto simultaneously stayed fresh and kept the blues in mind.
Pianist Geri Allen
was her usual high energy self, reeling out thoughtful and passionate variations on her own compositions. Premier drummer Billy Hart did not allow things to drop below scorching.
A cross-cultural conversation panel including Joe Zawinul and Oliver Lake evolved into familiar discussions of radio play, technology, and marketing. Before that Zawinul said the most creative global music often comes from musicians adapting their own folk music into jazz.The Southwest Horns
is a five-member saxophone section who teach at various southern U.S. colleges and get together when the opportunity presents itself. Accompanied by a local rhythm section they played passages from arrangements by Frank Foster and others and took turns discussing subtleties such as phrasing and vibrato as a section and the importance of listening to the lead alto. They are also a performance band, and they concluded with the chop-busting Supersax chart on "Be Bop" played to a T including a couple of blowing choruses each.
Composers James Miley
and Sherisse Rogers
both received awards for new music written for the occasion. Miley's multi-faceted and evolving piece, played by the Fresno City College Jazz Composers Orchestra, integrated extended soloing by Tim Reis on tenor and soprano. Rogers presented a rhythmic-oriented piece with the full sound of the Bob Florence Orchestra.Horns in the Hood
(three tenors, bass, and drums) was something of an update on the Dexter Gordon - Gene Ammons "tenor battle." Drummer Ali Jackson led the band and together with bassist Reginald Veal created plenty of tension for the horns to play off. Craig Handy switched to bass clarinet and Tim Armacost played soprano on a loping "Beach Remark" by Robert Hurst. (Walter Blanding stayed with tenor.) "Timelessness" had an open sound, and finished with the horns trading 8's, 4's, 2's, and 1's. The blues "Jugsville" called for all three horns to improvise together which they did with ease and artistry. Horns in the Hood was the hottest band I heard at the convention.
Vocalist Claudia Villela
was at her musical peak in two duet pieces with complimentary guitarist Ricardo Peixoto: a smoldering "Zingaro"and a programmatic piece that sounded stream of conscious. She brought all the energy she needed, and her back-up players only demonstrated that more was less on the other pieces.
Thirty years ago a teen-aged pianist learned to superficially imitate Bill Evans. He put out a couple of pointless records that generated some wows but were soon forgotten. San Diego high school student Eldar Djangirov
sounds like he similarly started with Oscar Peterson but has mostly escaped to become a real musician with his own instincts and swing. His improvisations are not that memorable or flowing yet, but he sometimes comes up with an interesting chorus or two. His repertoire is mainly limited to tunes like "Caravan" and "Round Midnight." Djangirov played with a very competent bassist and drummer, but I'm guessing he'll have to inhabit a more challenging context before he's booked at the Vanguard.
Percussive pianist Jovino Santos Neto
is fluent in Brazilian rhythms. Technically gifted, he filled up the space with notes and miked the piano close to the strings for a metallic sound that added to his carnaval
sound. Saxophonist Harvey Wainapel contrasted with a less repetitive, more lyrical approach.
Winners of an international contest for colleges students, the Sisters in Jazz
played it safe, concentrating on ensemble playing and keeping their solos short. Apparently their best soloist was pianist Carmen Staaf, although I only found that out the next day (see below).The Clifford Brown - Stan Getz All Stars
were also student contest winners. They seemed comfortable as a band, probably having played together before. All six players got it going on a blues. Eldar Djangirov also played in this band and accompanied the horn solos with drive.
Like his contemporary Art Blakey, Roy Haynes
loves to surround himself with ambition and energy. His latest project, Fountain of Youth
, allows him to direct and shape his music. At times he would alter tempo, ask a player (sometimes himself) to lay out, switch the order or length of solos, or bring a piece up or back in intensity through his drumming. For me pianist Martin Bejerano was the standout soloist. He knows how to take a solo, and he is fluid rhythmically.Bob Florence
is not widely noted as a pianist, but he is a master accompanist for singers, and he's equally gifted at extended introductions, eloquently reharmonizing pieces such as "Emily". Unfortunately the piano was out of tune and miked improperly (the only sound problem I noticed during the convention) so the effect was minimized. His big band came in to finish the tune with some very musical variations. A new Florence composition dedicated to Stan Kenton also started with a (much shorter) piano interlude. Partly based on "Artistry in Rhythm" the piece evolved into a Larry Koonse guitar solo over screaming brass.
I only heard a couple of tunes by singer Diane Schuur
(It is difficult for me to get past her vibrato and tiny voicesomething like early Teddi King.), but Schuur and her band, notably trumpeter Brian Lynch, performed to the satisfaction of her large audience. She sang tunes from her new Caribbean jazz collaboration with Dave Samuels.The Alan Pasqua Collective
worked its way through some advanced Pasqua originals. Pasqua's piano solos were varied and individually evolved, but I sensed a sameness in saxophonist Jeff Ellwood, especially in the way he builds then climaxes a solo with cries and honks.Bill Cunliffe
demonstrated a successful approach to a piano lesson. First he asked the student (Carmen Staaf) to play something. Staaf came up with a subtly crafted, wonderfully realized arrangement of swing and professional quality. He complimented her harmony and rhythm, but suggested she play the piece again with the melody more in evidence. They played piano together, and he noticed she occasionally stabbed at unneeded bass notes and suggested she economize her playing in general. He mentioned singing along is a good tool for that since it forces the pianist to play less and concentrate on the melody. He asked her what she was working on, which pianists she was currently listening to and suggested a few things to consider in those areas.
Tenor saxophonist Marco Pignataro led a faculty septet from the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico
in a varied program. Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" got a complicated but natural-sounding Cuban treatment, and "Longing for Home" by Pignataro was a somber tango that gradually built to a crescendo.Laila Kteily-O'Sullivan
, Cedarville, Ohio University, presented a paper on religious aspects of Kurt Elling's music, particularly his recent recording of "Resolution" in which Elling set words to the second segment of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." Kteily-O'Sullivan discussed similarities between Elling and Coltrane especially in their perceptions of the deities (Both address many instead of only one deity.) and in their roles as auricles/servants for the spiritual side of music. She also went into Jon Hendricks'influence on Elling's vocalesefor example words are often more important for sound or rhythm than for literal meaning.
Pianist David Hazeltine
discussed some ideas he's used in arranging standard tunes. He played his recordings of "What Kind of Fool Am I," "Moon River," and others, then explained how he sometimes worked backwards to arrive at his chord substitutions or gave part of the melody line to a single horn to break up the "arranged" feeling. He converted "Moon River" from a waltz to 4/4, but retained something of the waltz with a 6/8 feel. He usually simplifies the blowing chords from those of the theme statement but keeps one or two of the more complicated sequences as a tie-in.
A workshop discussing the art of writing songs in the 21st century did not get off to a promising start so I left to hear Monk by Five
(Indiana University). This band gets Monk's music and does something with it.
Pianist/composer Rachel Z.
talked about investing creativity into pop music through imaginative voicings. She has worked extensively with both Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel and demonstrated uses of clusters over triads that both composers have employed. Her street kid persona was a big hit with the audience.The University of North Texas Singers
(18 voices) recalled the Singers Unlimited of the 1970's. They sang difficult and advanced arrangements flawlessly. As might be expected the emphasis was on harmony, but there were a lot of little things besides that to hear. It was mainly an ensemble performance, but one of the singers stepped up for a solo and had it down as well.
In a blindfold test I would give the room scheduler about two stars for the Bill Holman Big Band
concert. The audience was shoehorned into every crevice of the room with some people turned away, but the claustrophobic conditions seemed to spark to the band. As expected they played with swing and abandon and the charts were among Holman's best. Saxophonist Pete Christlieb stood out, particularly on "Al and Zoot," a tenor duet with Ray Herman. "Two Faces of Willard," something of a bi-polar piece, was the most interesting composition.
Like Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and other Californians of the 1950's Bud Shank
has replaced his laid-back, Lester Young-inspired sound with a hard-edge approach. (There was a hint of his old sweetness on "Nature Boy.") With a crackling rhythm section of Bill Mays, Bob Magnusson, and Joe LaBarbera Shank stretched out beyond anything I'd heard from him before on tunes from his upcoming CD featuring the assembled band and Phil Woods.
I dropped in briefly to hear the swinging pianist Mike Melvoin
across the street at the Westin Hotel. The Westin presented music all four nights of the convention, mainly featuring singers.Larry Fisher
, East Stroudsberg University of Pennsylvania, presented a paper derived from his telephone interviews with the late guitarist Sal Salvador. Beginning as teenager hanging with Phil Woods, Salvador got his big break in show business when he joined the Kenton Orchestra. Surprisingly the job turned out more creative than might be imagined. Rather than sentencing Salvador to rhythm guitar Kenton's writers would often "tacit" the piano part, allowing Salvador to comp behind horn solos. After the body of his performing and recording career in New York Salvador taught guitar to college students in Connecticut. Fisher finished with a recording of Bill Holman's dazzling "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet" featuring Salvador and Maynard Ferguson with the 1952 Kenton Band.
Bassist Brian Torff
discussed the rise and fall of the jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Part of his discussion came from his interviews with several early band members including Fred Lipsius, Bobby Colomby, and Steve Katz who have since gone on to other careers. One of the first pop bands to fully integrate horns, Torff considers their second record with the spectacular "God Bless the Child" arrangement as their great musical success. After that the band's democratic charter (no bandleader) resulted in a lack of musical direction and fracturing. The band disintegrated as a creative musical force within a couple of years, although it continued on much longer with a series of replacement musicians.Judy Bady
sings with the authority and depth that only comes from the church. She has a big, powerful voice, she swings like mad, and she owns anything she sings including old-time blues. She did as much as possible with "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Blue Monk," and an idealistic "If Only One Could See," (music by Billy Harper), but she sounds like she needs help in the repertoire department. (I admire her choice not to sing courtship-oriented show tunes.) Bassist Louis "Mbiki" Spears propelled her back-up band.
Philosophical clarinetist Eddie Daniels
didn't like the idea of holding a master class, so he threw out ideas and invited audience interaction, alternating talk with performances by his quartet. "East of the Sun" was a groovy bolero, and a major/relative minor "I Want to Be Happy" started out as a Benny Goodman take-off, but evolved into more serious matters kicked along by drummer Joe LaBarbera. Daniels discussed the importance of relaxing, that freedom is defined by context, and that it matters how you play more than what. He read a hilarious critique of himself as teacher by a gifted, but impatient teenaged student who ultimately admitted she had improved by learning a piece she considered uninteresting. Daniels finished with a touching chorus of "Stardust" in memory of Artie Shaw.The Nashville Jazz Workshop
recreated music by the 1950's-60's George Shearing Quintet. The ensemble and the piano solos were note-for-note, but guitarist Larry Seeman improvised his own statements. For me it was more nostalgia than creativity, and a couple of tunes were enough.
Bassist Charlie Haden
did take a Blindfold Test of records by jazz bassists. He tried to remain positive, refusing to put musicians down, but asked the technician to interrupt tunes by Avishai Cohen (repetitive) and William Parker (out of tune). He responded to "linear" music by Dave Holland's big band, adding personal and musical admiration for Holland. He regretted Steve Swallow's switch to electric bass but complimented Swallow's sound on the instrument and commented favorably on a Carla Bley piano solo from the Swallow record. Haden announced he has completed another of his celebrated Liberation Orchestra Music records with Bley, possibly in response to recent U.S. political trends. After a thoughtless audience member interrupted the mood with an extended cell phone alarm Haden quipped, "Suicide hotline, please hold."Ronnie Cuber
led a baritone sax band (Howard Johnson and Gary Smulyan played the other baritones.) in tunes associated with early Gerry Mulligan"Walkin' Shoes," "Line for Lyons," "Bernie's Tune." None of the three play anything like Mulligan, and rather than tiptoeing around in understated rhythms they tore into the pieces egged on by drummer Joe LaBarbera. Cuber did quote from Mulligan's original solo on "Bernie's Tune" leading into some burning exchanges between LaBarbera and Smulyan. The best piece was "Waltz for the Rounders," a Cuber blues over a Coltraneish vamp.The Montreux Jazz Festival Competition Winners
were led by Polish singer Anna Serafinska. Part percussionist (accompanies others' solos with Elis Regina clicking), part saxophonist (phrases like a horn and trades fours with the actual drummer), she is fearless, and she makes virtually everything she tries. She slips into and out of scat/vocalisms as the moment suggests. Her voice is rangy and sweet, and her command of English is more than adequate. As a ballad singer she only sang a half chorus of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" before jumping into a high energy, modern Cuban feel, but a dynamite "In a Sentimental Mood" from a demo CD she gave me after the concert showed she can do that as well. Although he doesn't have Serafinska's magic Hungarian pianist Robert Botos is probably just as promising a musician as he showed on his wailing trio feature.
Guitarist Kenny Burrell
has evolved into an entertainer, and he was happy to let the other musicians do the heavy lifting, much of which was forgettable. He is still a premier blues player, and he took some heartfelt choruses on Ellington's "Main Stem." He played an extended solo introduction to the J.J. Johnson blues ballad "Lament", a piece that also featured close interplay between Burrell and pianist Mike Melvoin. As his feature tune Melvoin offered an elegant trio take on "I'll Be Seeing You." Most local jazz fans also know Burrell as a first-rate singer. He concluded the convention with a Ray Nance-inspired "Take the 'A' Train" vocal.
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