Stanton Moore: Living Outside the Box


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We [Galactic] feel like we've tried our best to digest the whole vintage approach to groove music.
These days, it seems as if everyone is obsessed with the phrase, "thinking outside the box. Aside from being the most over-used phrase in marketing, it also happens to be the most misused phrase. Typically, it is applied to the antithesis of the idea, like a fastfood chain. When in comes to music, in these days of prefab-prepackaged-made-to-order American-Idol music (i.e. as "inside the box as possible), things are more homogenized than ever.

Coming from New Orleans, with an openness to all forms of music, drummer Stanton Moore represents the epitome of "thinking outside the box. His gigs alone testify to his versatility: the funk institution Galactic, the musically unclassifieable Garage a Trois, his own highly experimental projects, B3 genius Robert Walter's Congress, with funk legends The Clinton Administration, and with the intense metal band Corrosion Of Conformity. Clearly, Stanton Moore not only thinks outside the box, he lives there.

New Orleans has an uparalleled lineage of drummers, dating back to the 19th century. From the African rhythms played in Congo Square to the syncopated beats of Second-Line, New Orleans has been infused in rhythm from the beginning. In the 1920s, Warren "Baby Dodds layed the foundation for jazz drumming in King Oliver's historic band with Louis Armstrong. Earl Palmer helped to define the role of the rock drummer in the 1950s with Fats Domino and Little Richard. Ed Blackwell moved jazz forward into the realm of free jazz, playing with icon Ornette Coleman. Idris Muhammad infused the soul jazz movement of the 1960s with a funky Second-Line inspired beat. James Black showed that virtuosity could be as readily applied to funk as it could to jazz. Zigaboo Modeliste and the Meters set the standard for funk music, and Johnny Vidacovich has been an institution on New Orleans since the 1970s, playing his slinky beats in every type of situation. Like his predecessors, Stanton Moore's playing is steeped in the history of the Crescent City. With a penchant for funk, jazz, rock, and everything in between, Stanton Moore shows what "thinking outside the box is really about.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.

Stanton Moore: Sure. Well, my mom started bringing me to Mardi Gras parades when I was eight months old. So I started kinda noticing the drums coming down the street and getting really excited about that right around probably three or four years old. And I started hittin' on all the tupperware in the house around five or six. I started askin' for a drum but my parents let me take piano lessons around third grade. And I kept askin' for a drum, playin' in school band in fifth grade. And they were like, "Well, if you still wanna do it in sixth grade, we'll let you do it. So, I still did and they were like, "If you still want a drum set by seventh grade we'll get you a drum set. So they did and then the deal was I was supposed to keep up with the piano lessons, but I didn't quite keep up with them as much as I should've. But I still play and I still have the piano they bought me when I was a kid. I have it at my house now, a little Baldwin upright.

So, yeah, my dad was just a dash board drummer, always hittin' on stuff. He was always encouraging me to hit on stuff. So I was kind of just startin' to get into it that way and then not really getting too serious until I went to Brother Martin High School because I heard that they had a really good drum instructor who is Marty Hurley. He taught me all the rudimental stuff and I started gettin' into jazz and funk and sought out Johnny Vidacovich and Russell Batiste, as teachers, senior year of high school. And I started tryin' to loosen up from that whole rudimental thing. You know, keeping all that control but also learning how to loosen up and develop my touch and tone on the drums. So then I started touring, you know. I started playing with bands when I was like thirteen or something like that, at my house, having people come over and learning songs and stuff. and then I started playing gigs around sixteen. And then I just started playing with everybody I could. All through college, I played with jazz bands and kinda like punk funky things and heavy bands, and all that kind of stuff.

AAJ: At what point in time did you realize, "I am gonna do this as a career, and how did your parents react to that?

SM: I think I was probably pretty young. I think I was like, I don't know, right when I first started playin' drums, I was an alter boy and once or twice a month I'd have to wake up really early and go serve 6:30 Mass. So it was like, "Whatever I do in life, I'm not gonna wake up early. So I was like, "Well, what about like bein' a professional musician you don't really have to wake up early, so let me do that. (laughter). Before that, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer 'cause my grandfather was really into airplanes, you know. He built model airplanes, and he was a mechanic.

AAJ: Who were the first drummers that influenced you?

SM: You know, really early in I started gettin' into classic rock stuff like Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, and Keith Moon. Also, I was startin' to get into the punk stuff and the heavy stuff like Black Sabbath. Then I started to get into, you know, right around the senior year in highschool was when I started to really start to try and absorb Zigaboo, and Elvin Jones, and Philly Joe Jones, and Max Roach. And then once I got into college I started to get into Idris Muhammad, and you know he was really, to me, the first cat who really kinda started effectively blending jazz and funk and improvising over funk grooves. Of course right around the senior year of high school I got into the James Brown drummers and all this kind of stuff. And those guys are still a huge influence on me. And through time I just keep adding to all those influences and try to learn a little bit of something from everybody that I hear. But I mean I could go on and on and on.

You know sometime around when I first started going to college I started hearing about James Black. I started trying to learn a lot about his stuff. He was, you know, considered one of the most talented drummers who is also an amazing composer whose songs are still very challenging and still ahead of their time really. I mean as melodic as they are for as much as they have going on in them, you know, odd phrases and meter changes and stuff. He was doing that in 1963 when I think they recorded those tunes for the first time. He's got this batch of tunes. "Whistle Stop, "Dee Wee' uh "Magnolia Triangle, and I mean it's pretty amazing what he was doing back then, dude. I mean even considering that he was doing it back then, it's still amazing today and you can listen to it a million times, and you're like "What the hell is he doing? It's crazy.

So as far as the influences, you know, I mean of course Johnny Vidacovich is a giant influence. And you know I've tried to learn as much as I could from everybody that I've encountered that I've really dug and just kinda blended it all into my own take on all that stuff, you know. I mean there's some obvious things that I've gotten from Johnny and some obvious things that I've gotten from Zigaboo, and Idris Muhammad, you know, and all these guys. Herlin Riley too, you know. I definitely borrowed a lot of stuff from him. But you check all that stuff out and then you try and blend it all in a way that is your own take on it, you know. That's what I've tried to do in my development.

AAJ: Let's talk about the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. That was your first big gig right?

SM: That was the first band I started touring around with really. We kinda toured around a little bit like goin' to Florida and stuff with this other little band I was playing with. But yeah, it was kind of the first band I played San Francisco with and the first band....I think it was the first band I played New York with. Yeah, it was. So yeah, it was the first band I really started tourin' around the country with, and I started touring with them in '94 when I was still in college. I would take off for a week or two at a time when I was still in class and still in college. So I then graduated and I was doing the Klezmer band and Galactic.

AAJ: How did Galactic come about? Did Galactic come out of the Klezmer band?

SM: No, no, I met Galactic before the Klezmer thing. I was doing Galactic, I mean it was Galactic Prophylactic. I started playing with Robert [Mercurio], the bassist and Jeff [Raines], the guitarist, in late '92. Our first gig was in '93, and we kind of dropped the "Prophylactic part of the name and then started playin' as Galactic and recorded our first record in '95. We started hittin' the road in '96. So we just played our tenth jazz fest in a row, so this year we're gonna celebrate our ten year anniversary as a band because we recorded the first record in '95 and toured in '96. It was our tenth jazzfest so we figured it was a good time.

So September ninth and tenth, we're doin' a 2-night-stand at Tip's [Tipitina's, legendary New Orleans club] with a lot of special guests. We're gonna try and make that a big fun event, you know, have a lot of people we've played with over the years, a lot of influences and also contemporaries, you know. So guys like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Cyril Neville. I think we're gonna ask Art Neville. Some of the those guys who are kinda' like our influences and some of our contemporaries you know, like...I don't know if Skerik is gonna be able to make it, but you know him and some of the MC's we have had over the years. So all those different people that we've worked with, toured with, had open for us, or opened for them, you know, affected our music in one way or another. So that should be cool.

AAJ: When Galactic started, was the focus more funk oriented, or was it more jazz related?

SM: Oh, it was definitely, you know, more of a funk thing. And we started to get, before we did our second record, we started to learn about the whole Blue Note soul-jazz groove-jazz kind of stuff. So we then started to kind of check out that kind of stuff and sort of incorporate that a little bit into what we were doin.' When we first started out, you know the only thing that we wanted to draw from was the Meters and James Brown, and do some kind of hybrid in between there. And then we started incorporating some of the Grant Green and Lonnie Smith and Jimmy Smith and Lou Donaldson stuff, you know.

AAJ: Were there any specific recordings that you drew from?

SM: Yeah, like that Jimmy Smith album Root Down, I mean that's really, really funky. And, you know, they're improvising throughout that whole thing. And some of those Grant Green records where they're doin' James Brown covers, where they're improvising througout the whole thing. I mean, in James Brown's catalog, I don't think there's really, except on some live things, there's not really any guitar solos. And then Grant Green kinda opened the whole thing up and said that you could play improvised music with a groove, you know. I mean he's not the only guy to do that, obviously, and not the first. But, you know that's one of records that we discovered, where...like, "Ah killin, you know, this is cool we can play funk and improvise. And so that was totally, you know, fun for us to discover all that stuff.

AAJ: Now contrast that with where you guys are as a band now in terms of the type of music you're trying to play and the direction that you're heading.

SM: We feel like we've tried our best to digest the whole vintage approach to groove music. We've checked out a lot of the funk stuff and the groove and soul jazz stuff. We're all playing on vintage instruments, and then we've tried to take what elements of current technology and current music that we dig. Say like if we use loops or something, we try to use loops of me, you know. We're not really using loops of drum machines. We've maybe done that a little bit, but in general we try to use loops of me and like maybe effect them with vintage pedals or something. So that we're not doing stuff like too much programming, you know. Obviously everybody records with Protools now 'cause they don't even make 2-track tape anymore, they quit manufacturing it. So you don't have much of a choice but to record with Protools or with some kind of computer technology nowadays. But we tried to, you know, as opposed to taking the Britney Spears approach to making music, we try to use that as a recording device.

We're still trying to come at it rooted in the vintage approach, you know, using vintage instruments. So nowadays, you know, we get into different sounds and tones, and really try to get experimental with the tones we're using. Like, Ben might be playing through different kinds of effects which he kind of got introduced to through Skerik. So Ben [Ellman, saxophonist] is playin' through different stuff, so some of the melodies that we have, it's hard to tell if it's a sax or a guitar through distortion. But it's all coming from, you know, vintage instruments. I don't think any of us are playing on anything made past 1970, really. (laughter). Everybody's got either 60s or 50s gear. I think Rich [Vogel] has got a 50s organ.

AAJ: Does your band feel like the modern instruments aren't as good?

SM: Well, for a long time companies weren't really makin' very good instruments, I don't think, you know. And now they're startin' to realize some of the value of what they were doin'in the 60s and early 70s. You know, a lot of drum companies, to me, I wasn't really diggin' their tone. Although Gretsch, I really dig their new drums, I've got one of their new kits and it's killin'! It sounds amazing. It's beautiful. But, I didn't really start playing any of their new stuff until I started endorsing them and got a new kit, and I really dig their drums. I think they really stayed pretty true. You know, they've changed some things about their kits, but the shells are still the same. They've changed the bearing edges. They've made the drums with a little bit clearer tone, but to me it's not like a cookie cutter drum tone. It's still very unique, and it's totally identifiable as Gretsch to me. So that's why I don't mind playin' the new Gretsch stuff. You know, like their custom high-end stuff. I think it's killin.' To me it's killin.'

But, you know, like a lot of companies, the guys don't really like the new guitars. As far as organs go, they don't make the organs like they did. They make some kind of digital thing. I mean Hammond makes some kind of organ that looks like an old organ, but it's got all these digital feaures, or something. I don't know. But Rich, he's got a couple simulators to keep on the bus, if we're going to do a radio show or like do an in-store or something like that. But, as far as like onstage, you know, he's got a whole bunch of different types of Hammonds. He's got a B3. He's got an A100, which is basically a B3 in a smaller cabinet. He's got a C, which I think is basically a B3, which is in a no-portable cabinet which is mostly for churches. I mean it's a gorgeous organ that you definitely don't want to take on the road. You know, the one he's got's in great shape, it's beautiful and looks like it's been sitting preserved in a church somewhere.

AAJ: Has getting an organ overseas been a problem for the band on tour?

SM: No, not too bad. I mean most people nowadays have organs. So it's cool. But we've definitely seen a surge in organ players and people carrying organs. I mean, down in New Orleans, there's probably ten guys I can think of, off the top of my head, who will not play a gig unless it's on an organ, you know. Big Joe Krown, Brian Coogan, John Grow, Rich. And now David Torkanowksy is bringing his organ around a lot. I mean there's a bunch of people I'm forgetting right now. Kelly Bernard, who's not livin' in New Orleans right now, but he was bringing his organ a lot. But yeah, there's a bunch of guys just in New Orleans that I could think of, that, you know, tote the organ around. Robert Walter, he lives in New Orleans now. But, I mean, I just played on his new records. I'm on two of his records, and he's on a record with me. We played in a Frequinox together. He plays in my trio. So he's a totally killin' organ player and I love playin' with him.

But, yeah, so there's all kinds of dudes doin' that. Whereas you didn't see that as much 10-15 years ago. Guys were playing these, you know, 80s keyboards and stuff.

AAJ: Like the Yamaha DX7.

SM: Ah, God, I know. Well, people started to realize that the shit didn't sound good. (Laughter) So, thank god. People we're like, "Oh yeah, now we don't have to carry around this big heavy thing anymore. But, yes, you do, unfortunately. But they do have some really good simulators now, that sound really good. But, you know, I mean, still there's nothing like an actual organ. So, yeah, I mean nowadays the instruments are not made the same. We like vintage stuff a little more.

AAJ: New Orleans is a town famous for its drummers. I'd like to get your impression on some of them, and some key records that epitomize their style. Let's start with Idris Muhammad.

SM: Cool! All those Grant Green records with him on them are killer. He's got a bunch of solo records out. There's actually a newer John Scofield record, Groove Elation, where his playin' on that record is phenomenal to me—that a guy, you know, could just keep getting better. You know what I'm saying? He keeps refining his whole approach and it's beautiful. It's killing, you know what I mean? He's as great today as he ever was man. He's amazing. I've seen him live and he's just unreal dude, just beautiful. He's done so many different things with so many different people. But, really, to me, that whole catalog he did, anything he did with Lou Donaldson or Grant Green is just killing!

AAJ: How about James Black?

SM: Unfortunately, he wasn't recorded as much as he should have been. But the things you can get are Eddie Bo's, Hook And Sling, which is just amazing, it's unreal the funk stuff that he was doing. Also, that Ellis Marsalis record, The Classic Ellis Marsalis. That's more his jazz record. So, those two records are just killing, must haves.

AAJ: Alright, how about Earl Palmer?

SM: Yeah, Earl Palmer. A lot of people call him, "The Architect of Rock and Roll. You know, he pretty much bridged the gap between jazz drumming and creative rock and roll drumming. He had to figure out something to play behind these wild men who were coming in playing straight eighths on the piano. Of course there were others. Chuck Berry, the guys who played with Chuck Berry, and some of the other guys. But Earl really started that stuff with Fats Domino. A lot of people think the first record was in '48 with Fats Domino. Earl is one of the most recorded drummers of all time. He went to L.A. And he did countless soundtracks and movie themes and TV theme songs. So he's this incredibly versatile guy who started off really kind of creating an approach to rock and went on to become one of the most recorded studio drummers of all time.

AAJ: How about Ed Blackwell?

SM: Ed, you know, taking a lot of African ideas and applying them to drumming. Also, taking a lot of melodic ideas and applying them. So, you know, a lot of the Ornette Coleman stuff, of course, you know, with Ed. I mean, he did so many records, but definitely checking out the Ornette Coleman stuff is cool.

AAJ: How about Johnny Vidacovich?

SM: Johnny, yeah, Johnny is a huge influence on me. I consider him pretty much my mentor. I mean the guy that really kinda took me under his wing and, you know, showed me anything I wanted to know. He's always been there for me. He and I are good friends now. I try to go and visit with him. You know, now I have a little 9 month old daughter, and he's got a three year old niece. So they watch his niece, and I'll bring my daughter over there. So, you know, we're playing with the girls! So that's fun.

AAJ: What records would you recommend that best represent Johnny's playing?

SM: His solo records are great. Mystery Street, in particular, is just a really, really fabulous snapshot of his playing. The John Scofield record that he's on, Flat Out, is really good. It's got him playing on, "Cissy Strut, playing his very, you know, slinky greasy street beat stuff which is just killing dude. I mean, it's amazing. It's worth buying that record for that track in particular. You know, Terri Lyne Carrington is on that record too, but as far as Johnny goes, the tracks he plays on that record are great.

His solo records and the Astral Project records. Oh, and the Professor Longhair that he's on, Crawfish Fiesta, is just astounding. It's killing. To me that's the Professor Longhair record that I recommend for people to buy, because it was with his road band. They had been on the road and they got a chance to get all that shit really tight. It wasn't like some guys who hadn't played with 'Fess and kinda coming into the studio and tried to figure it out. You know, they really had their shit dialed in, and just kinda super-charged. All the tempos are kinda like clippin.' That's a killing example of Johnny's playing...Oh yeah, the new Robert Walter record has me and Johnny on it. I think we're each on about half of it.

AAJ: How about Baby Dodds?

SM: Baby Dodds! I just read a book on Baby Dodds called, The Baby Dodds Drum Method, by Vince Hickey and Richard Berkeley. It's cool, it's kinda quirky, you know, but it's got some invaluable history and it really details his history and a lot of where he got some of his ideas. I guess his most, well back in the '20s, I think it was back in '23 he recorded with King Oliver and those records were, you know, some of the most popular records that he did at the time. But because of the way they did the recording they could not. If he played drums the needle would skip.

So on those records, unfortunately, he's just playing like woodblock and a couple little splash cymbals. But then in '27, he did a record with Jelly Roll Morton, and they let him play with the whole drums. 'Cause, you know, they were recording like onto acetate with a needle so it would make the needle skip in '23, but I think they got some new technology in '27 that he could play his drums. So he is playing, you know, snare drum and bass drum and startin' to ride on the ride cymbal. You know, one of the first guys to ever do that, if not the first and got on the cymbal playing that whole, you know, his approach to playing time on the snare drum. Bump—bizzzzzzzzz—ump—bizzzzzzzzz—ump. You know comin' from the march right? Then going to the ride cymbal—skang—skang-a-dang-skang-a-dang, and the way he would say it is "tie-tie-your-tie-tie-your-tie.

So you know his whole approach, and then he had a whole revival in the '40s and did a bunch of records in the '40s, uh, mid-'40s, where you can kinda hear his whole approach. And he became more melodic too, using his tom-toms and playing melodies on the tom-toms. And so in the '40s he got this set in the '40s with three tom-toms. So, a lot of people say, you know, he really influenced Max Roach's whole melodic approach. But you listen to some of those records Baby Dodds did in the '40s, man he's beautiful, you know. His playing on them is amazing, it's really, really killin'!

But the whole folklore of the thing is that he was doin' that since the '20s. He was playing like that since the '20s, you know. But unfortunately because of the technology, they weren't always able to record him in the way that he should've been heard, you know. And then stayin' in Chicago from the '20s to the '40s. And then playin' with a lot of people, doin' a lot of drinkin.' So he didn't always get recorded. But by the '40s when he made some good soundin' records and you could hear what he was doin,' it was killin'!!!!!

AAJ: New Orleans has produced so many great drummers. Let's talk about some of the younger players who have recently come out of the Crescent City. One of the newer players everyone talks about is Brian Blade.

SM: Of course! Yeah, I mean Brian, the first time I saw Brian I think I was still in high school. Just startin' to take lessons from Johnny, and I was totally blown away by his touch and his tone on the instrument. So, I mean, he is definitely an influence on me because no matter what he is playing it is always very organic and very hip and very suited to the music, but so rooted in the tradition, but still looking forward. I mean he's got an amazing touch, amazing energy, and you know, a very cool approach, and a very cool groove. When he plays grooves, you know his grooves are always killin,' you know really, really hip. When he plays jazz its very pushing, you know, its way on top. He's really pushing. And when he plays grooves, you know, its right there. And so he's definitely one of the most versatile cats out there. I mean, killin.'

AAJ: Something I see in the younger generation of drummers is an attitude of trying to get away from the tradition of "I'm just a rock drummer, or "I'm just a funk drummer, or "I am just a jazz drummer. What are your feelings on the idea of no bounderies in music?

SM: Yeah, coming up in New Orleans, I don't think there's too much of that. I mean that, "Oh, I am just a rock drummer. Oh I am just a funk drummer. I don't really hear that too much, you know. I mean hanging out with Russell or hanging out with Johnny, you know. Those guys really play everything, you know. And with Johnny it wasn't even like, "Oh you need to learn to play everything, it was just unsaid. It was like, "Okay, let's work on this funk groove today. Okay, now let's work on some snare drum Second-Line stuff. Okay, now let's work on your ride cymbal stuff, you know? Where you're puttin' the emphasis on the way different guys play the ride beat. Like Elvin [Jones] layin' into the skip beat...spang-spang-GAH-lang-spang-GAH-lang. And then some guys layin' into the two and the four....zing-ZANG-gah-dang-ZANG-gah-dang. You know, both of them swing. So, you know, we would work on all kinds of stuff and it was never like, "Okay, you really should learn how to play all the different styles of music! It was unsaid. It was a given, you know.

AAJ: Is that more of a New Orleans approach to music? Maybe it's not a generational thing.

SM: Maybe it is more of a New Orleans thing, I guess. Because, I mean, if you wanna work you gotta play everything, you know? 'Cause you might have a guy say, "Okay we're playin' this club, it's a rock club so we gotta play all these rock tunes. Then the same guy might get a gig playin' you know, more of a traditional jazz thing. You know you've got your trumpet players down there who focus on traditional jazz. I don't think you're gonna hear them playin,' you know, free jazz on the side. You know what I am sayin'? Some of them you will. What I am tryin' to say is not everybody is like, "Oh I play everything, you know? But you do have a lot of versatility. Especially with drummers, dude. I mean...you know. You've got Johnny who will just as soon play a slinky killin' street beat or funk thing and also play with an avant-garde trio and play free where the time is totally open. So, you know, I think that I learned from him about being totally open to all that.

AAJ: What is coming up for you in the near future?

SM: Well, I am trying to finish up this method book, get that out. Of course, you know, this has been a huge past year for me doin' that COC record and the new Garage A Trois record is just about to come out which, I think, is one of the coolest things I've done. I did a record with Robert Walter that's comin' out and I am about to do a trio record and then, also, with the Stanton Moore Bosphorus cymbal line and sticks and DVD's comin' out. Also, I am gonna play PAS (Percussive Arts Society) comin' up. All that stuff comin' up is cool. It keeps me busy!

AAJ: One last thing...your desert island picks...what would they be??

SM: Probably, like a James Brown greatest hits, The Complete John Coltrane Classic Quartet Boxed Set, Led Zeppelin's, Physical Graffitti, and like the Beatles stuff, and Jimi Hendrix. I don't know. To pick one record, you know, I'd have to put my three favorites in a hat and blindly pull one out. Probably like some James Black stuff 'cause he's killin.' Yeah, a couple Beatles records, a couple Hendrix records. That's like four records already. Then the Coltrane stuff and the Zeppelin stuff would take care of it right there. Okay cool.

Visit Stanton Moore on the web.

Selected Discography

Robert Walter, Super Heavy Organ (Magnatude, 2005)
Garage a Trois, Outre Mer (Telarc, 2005)
Corrosion of Conformity, In the Arms of God (Sanctuary, 2005)
Various Artist, Drum Nation, Vol. 2 (Magna Carta, 2005)
The Clinton Administration, Take You Higher (Magna Carta, 2004)
C. C. Adcock, Lafayette Marquis (Yep Roc, 2004)
Galactic, Ruckus (Sanctuary, 2003)
Garage a Trois, Emphasizer (Tone Cool, 2003)
Various Artists, World Traveller: Original Soundtrack (Intersound, 2002)
Galactic, We Love 'Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina's (Volcano, 2001)
Stanton Moore, Flyin' the Koop (Blue Thumb, 2001)
Robert Walter's 20th Congress, Money Shot (Fog City, 2000)
Galactic, Late for the Future (Polygram, 2000)
Garage a Trois, Mysteryfunk (EP) (Fog City, 1999)
Galactic, Crazyhorse Mongoose (Capricorn, 1998)
Stanton Moore, All Kooked Out! (Fog City, 1998)
Galactic, Coolin' Off (Fog City, 1996)

Photo Credit
Dino Perrucci

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