Highs and Lows 2003
Just as 2002's Footprints-Live! was Wayne Shorter's first all-acoustic album, period, since 1967, Alegría is Wayne Shorter's first all-acoustic studio album since then. Apparently, the critics, our readers and the industry love Shorter unplugged because for two years in a row how he's won the honor of being our artist of the year as well as having the album of the year.
And did we happen to mention that he looks friggin' great at 70 years old? He and his buddie Herbie Hancock, a mere 63, must have made a Dorian Gray deal back in the day. They both are still incredibly youthful-looking and downright handsome.
Unlike Footprints-Live!, which swings with mad abandon thanks to Shorter's incredible leadership and the drive of his remarkable band-pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade-Alegría is a classical-jazz hybrid recording (with Brazilian and Latin overtones to boot) of the sort that doesn't always go down well with the public or the critics. Oh, pshaw. Alegría is a success through and through, and it proves (again) that Shorter is one of the greatest composers (and arrangers) in the history of jazz.
Here's what Thomas Conrad had to say in his review in our May 2003 issue:
"Because of the high profile of Footprints-Live!, its successor, Alegría, has been much anticipated. The personnel includes the same provocative rhythm section (Perez, Patitucci and Blade). Yet in many respects Alegría could hardly be a more different album from its predecessor. It is a studio recording rather than live (with much better sound). It presents an expanded ensemble with percussion, brass, woodwinds and strings, rather than a quartet. It is about composition and orchestration and the painting of complex, impressionistic designs on a broad canvas, rather than blowing. Its concept comes from highly conscious, detailed processes, rather than in-the-moment visceral inspiration. And it works."
Indeed it does.
Mr. Diana Krall
Apparently you have to do more than just get engaged to Diana Krall for Gary Peacock to consider you a jazz musician.
In November, Elvis Costello was scheduled to perform on opening night of a week-long 76th birthday celebration at Iridium for alto sax legend Lee Konitz, who had played on Costello's latest album, the jazzy, ballad-heavy North. The singer's name was prominently listed in the club's advertising and on its Web site and he did in fact appear at the soundcheck for the opening night of the week's run, but he received a less-than-enthusiastic greeting from bassist Gary Peacock, who proclaimed, "I don't play backup for no rock star."
With that pointed declaration, Costello left the club and never returned, scuttling plans for some duets with guitarist Bill Frisell as well as several numbers with the full band, which also included drummer Matt Wilson. Unfortunately, the club never notified patrons that Elvis had left the building, and when the Costello-less set ended a near riot ensued. Several enraged mooks, some of whom had driven in from as far away as Philadelphia and Long Island to see Costello (and had never even heard of Lee Konitz), loudly demanded their money back and almost came to blows with the club manager in the process. When confronted by the club's feisty publicist, an oblivious Peacock could only comment, "What? What's the problem?" As outraged patrons grumbled in a line-up for refunds, Konitz sat in the dressing room slightly befuddled by the whole unpleasant experience. And with club management so immersed in running damage control, they never got around to presenting Konitz with his $400 birthday cake shaped like a saxophone.
Somewhere Elvis is writing his most biting, angriest song to date-but there's no truth to the rumor that it will be called "His Last Name Sounds Like a Dirty Joke."
It was a banner year for the Village Vanguard. No, not just because the world's premier jazz club continued to showcase some of the universe's greatest musicians (including the Bad Plus, though some moldy figs claimed their rock-informed improvisation did nothing but sully the Vanguard's hallowed stage). Rather, the club continued to show why it inspires some of the greatest live albums (i.e., Fred Hersch's Palmetto release Live at the Village Vanguard), with Blue Note alone releasing three albums recorded at the club: Jason Moran's The Bandwagon, Joe Lovano's On This Day...At the Vanguard and Martial Solal's NY1.
Henry Grimes, the former bassist for Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman and Sonny Rollins, among many others, who disappeared from jazz more than 30 years ago and was long rumored dead, resurfaced in 2003, thanks to the diligent, hard work of social worker and writer Marshall Marrotte from Athens, Ga.
Grimes had been living in the same single-room-occupancy hotel in South Central Los Angeles for 20 years, but he sold his bass soon after he moved from New York City to California. He battled mental problems, and he managed to survive through a series of odd jobs and Social Security. (Grimes hadn't followed the jazz world at all, and he was surprised to find out from Marrotte that Ayler had died in 1970.)
While he hadn't played bass for more than three decades, Grimes told Marrotte he still missed it. When William Parker heard about this, he sent his fellow bassist an instrument: a green-tinted upright named Olive Oil, with the help of the Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund. Grimes took to practicing the instrument nearly around the clock, and he has since played many concerts and has been teaching improvisation part-time at a local high school. Welcome back.
Are Jazz Advocates "Jazz Masters"? Yes!
There was a little twist in the announcement for the 2004 National Endowment Arts' Jazz Masters Awards-and it wasn't just that the project had expanded from three to six recipients. The 2004 honorees, and recipients of $25,000 each, include pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Chico Hamilton, vocalist Nancy Wilson, arranger-composer Luther Henderson and-Nat Hentoff?
See, the 2004 NEA Jazz Masters Awards were expanded to include a "jazz advocate," and that honor has been granted to JazzTimes' own back-page columnist. Congrats, Nat.
That's right, you know longer have to spend hours with a Selmer Mark VI practicing the ins and outs of "Cherokee" to master this American art form-just sit down at a typewriter write your way to jazz mastery. Where do we apply?
Gene Deitch's The CAT on a Hot Thin Groove (Fantagraphics) presented a beautifully packaged compendium of drawings that originally appeared in The Record Changer magazine, which closed in 1957. Deitch's talent is put on gorgeous display in this large, landscape-format book, and it's a fascinating look not only at his art but also the attitudes of New Orleans hot jazz and hard-swing fanatics toward bebop and its supporters.
Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton by Howard Reich and William Gaines (Da Capo) was the latest look at the man who proclaimed himself the creator of jazz. Yes, that's right, latest book; there have been several. But as our Duck Baker noted in his review: "This book presents itself along the following astonishing lines: the great pianist-composer Jelly Roll Morton, whose music fell from popularity in the early '30s, has ever since been relegated to a position of undeserved obscurity from which this new 'definitive' biography now purports to redeem him." Mr. Jelly Roll is not "obscure" anymore than this book is "definitive."
Richard Cook brought the smart, conversational style that marks his and coeditor Brian Morton's style in The Penguin Guide to Jazz to Blue Note Records: A Biography (Justin, Charles & Co.).
Myself Among Others by George Wein and Nate Chinen (Da Capo) was the ultimate insider's account to the business of jazz. Add in all the musician characters that Wein has met, palled around with and battled, and you have one fun bio.
A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz: A Biography of Buddy DeFranco by Fabrice Zammarchi and Sylvie Mas (Parkside Publications) is a coffee-table book chock-full of photos, memorabilia and memories from the legendary clarinetist.
The October opening of Louis Armstrong's Queens, N.Y., home as a jazz museum, educational resource and historical landmark was one of the most joyous occasions of 2003.
Trumpeters such as Clark Terry, Nicholas Payton, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker and Jon Faddis (shown below with students from Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens) joined David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band and many other musicians-and neighbors-to celebrate the life of Armstrong. The official book, Louis Armstrong: The Offstage Story of Satchmo (Collectors Press), by director of the Armstrong House, Michael Cogswell, is way classy, too-just like the subject it honors.
Yankee Slugger, Ax Master
Rather suspiciously, New York Yankee's centerfielder Bernie Williams hurt his knee early in the baseball season, thus freeing him from the rigors of the diamond-aka the Emerald Chessboard, aka some dirt and grass-which in turn gave him more time to practice his ax for the big promo push his debut CD received from GRP. Turns out the man with the lifetime .305 average is also a wicked-good guitarist, as he proves on the Latin-jazz and pop-flavored The Journey Within, which featured stars like Béla Fleck, David Benoit, Rubén Blades, Luis Conte and other crossover artists.
In addition to performing at the MLB All-Star Game, Bernie Baseball and his band launched The Journey Within at Chicago's House of Blues. Even Sir Paul McCartney was impressed. The former Beatle signed Williams to a publishing deal and said: "I was intrigued to hear his music, so when I heard his CD I was blown away by his talent. Go Bernie, it's a home run!" (Ringo notwithstanding, McCartney was always the corniest Beatle.)
One Hot Dude
Though neither Los Hombres Calientes' CD nor his solo record received any votes in our industry poll about the best CDs of 2003, it won't change the fact that New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield came into his own last year. His band with drummer Bill Summers released another amazing travelog, Vol. 4: Vodou Dance, that documents the African diaspora, from the Crescent City and Jamaica to Brazil and Cuba. Then on his own, Mayfield released a tribute to the great photographer Gordon Parks, Half Past Autumn Suite, while Summers reteamed with his partners in the legendary Headhunters for Evolution Revolution. (All these CDs came out on the high-quality Basin Street label.)
This year also saw the debut of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Mayfield's answer to his former mentor Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The NOJO debuted Strange Fruit, Mayfield's most ambitious project to date: a 500-page, nine-movement, 90-minute tour-de-force chorale that tells the heartbreaking story of lynching in the Old South. The project recently premiered for an audience at Louisiana's Dillard University, where Mayfield serves as director for the school's brand new Institute of Jazz Culture.
Mayfield topped it all off by being named the international cultural ambassador for New Orleans by the city and the state of Louisiana.
Screw the industry and the critics. By any measure, 2003 was an amazing year for Irvin Mayfield, and the tireless trumpeter deserves all the honors he's received.
As the jazz world's very own Bill O'Reilly-a demagogue who doesn't always have his facts straight-Stanley Crouch has never been without a platform to state his ideas. But when JazzTimes decided to end his column because of Crouch's inability, for more than a year, to turn in clean copy even remotely on time, he went on a media rampage, roping in friends and publications to express his views on his "firing." Crouch decided to play the victim-how deliciously ironic!
Awards R Us
Excuse us while we pat ourselves on our backs....
In 2003 JazzTimes was named best magazine for the fifth straight year by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Then, on October 24, the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) announced the recipients of this year's Deems Taylor Awards, which recognize outstanding achievements in print, broadcast and new media coverage of music-it's like our industry's Grammys. Among last year's recipients were Jim Dulzo, writer of our October 2002 cover story, "Hard Bop, Hard Time: Music, Madness & Roy Brooks," and Laurence Hobgood, who wrote "The Art of the Trio," published in our JVC Jazz Festival Program, which was included as a supplement in our June 2002 issue.
To refresh your memory, Dulzo's story explored the effects of mental illness on the great Detroit drummer Roy Brooks, a veteran of Horace Silver's best group in the 1960s, examining his tragic life and the consequences of untreated mental illness due to a lack of quality healthcare. The article documented the rise and fall of the drummer, from inside the walls of the Parnall Correctional Facility in Michigan, where Brooks is still an inmate. (He was supposed to be released in winter of 2003, but he failed to be released at his last parole board review.)
It's not often you get to claim the naming of a genre of music. Alan Freed copped the phrase "rock and roll" from blues lingo to describe the backbeat heavy music of the early 1950s. And in March 2003 we here at the Mighty JT dubbed the confluence of jazz improvisation and electronica studio trickery as "jazztronica" in a cover story about the still burgeoning movement.
Many of you hated the word, and many you just bleated about the music, "It ain't jazz." But unless you're tin-eared, it's hard not to hear the jazz in the electronica-informed music released this year by Matthew Shipp (Equilibrium, Thirsty Ear), Dave Douglas (Freak In, Bluebird), Nicholas Payton (Sonic Trance, Warner Bros.) and more.
Mix one part improv, one part electric-Miles era groove and one part modern-day electronics, and what you get is one of the most stimulating developments in jazz. But like any new creation, jazztronica is fraught with perilous pitfalls, such as an overreliance on electric instruments to provide rhythm and texture, thereby nullifying the human element that courses through the best jazz. But as the machines become more flexible, more sophisticated, then so will the music, providing rich timbres and rhythmic and harmonic choices on the fly as easily as any acoustic instrument can. The future is now.
Next Big Things?
We're always on the lookout for fresh sounds and new talent to feature in our Hearsay section-and we can usually find both on the Fresh Sound New Talent label. Some of the people who broke out in 2003 include following:
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt released a gorgeous strings and swing CD, Close to My Heart, for his debut on MaxJazz.
The Strickland brothers-saxophonist Marcus and drummer E.J.-teamed up for another kickin' run through neobop on the reedist's Brotherhood (Fresh Sound New Talent).
Pianist Angelica Sanchez showed an uncanny mixture of Cecil Taylor's pyro and Paul Bley's chill on her debut, Mirror Me (Omnitone).
Pianist Robert Glasper made a splash playing on Terence Blanchard's Bounce, but his own debut, Mood (Fresh Sound New Talent), is just as good.
Tubaist Kendrick Oliver showed on his debut, Welcome to New Life (Sphere), that old-school, gospel-soaked, big-band jazz can still be as spiritually rousing as anything modern.
Pianist Tord Gustavsen and his trio seemed to play as slowly and beautifully as possible on Changing Places (ECM), making each note seem like a long, delicate kiss.
Pianist (and author) Elio Villafranca wowed with his debut, Incantations-Encantaciones (Pimienta), a hot Cubop chili that mixed Coltrane's verve, Mingus' harmonies and Santería's spiritual grooves.
Multireedist Gilad Atzmon's Exile (Justin Time/Enja) was a powerful political meditation on the plight of Palestinians from the view of a secular Jew-and one of a bebopper who's not afraid to mix Middle Eastern sounds into his jazz.
Pianist Vijay Iyer is just plain smarter than you and us. He proved so on the dense harmonies that propel Blood Sutra (Artists House) and on his brilliant collaboration with librettist Mike Ladd for In What Language? (Pi), a meditation on identity in our post-9/11 world.
Vocalist Lizz Wright was, along with Norah Jones, pegged as a next big thing in 2002. Her label, Verve, wisely held off on rushing out her debut, the beguiling jazz and R&B-tinged Salt, by having Wright tour and open for folks to get her name out there before the CD came out in 2003. Her name is out there now, for sure.
Pianist Hiromi is a rarity on the veterans-heavy Telarc label: a young, unknown artist. Her eclectic debut, Another Mind, is a stunning technical display. She's so talented, so fluid she doesn't always know what to do with herself-and that's a compliment.
Guitarist Doug Wamble found a home at the already dependable Marsalis Music, and his debut, Country Libations, is a gospel-blues-jazz CD that's as authentic as anything you'll hear by a white dude. He plays guitar like he sings, too: with supreme confidence.
Keyboardist and label CEO Marcus Johnson is one damn funky entrepreneur, as he proves on his crowd-pleasing (you can hear them roar) CD Live at the Blues Alley (Three Keys). He plays it smooth, sure, but he's got straightahead chops to spare.
Vocalist Peter Cincotti was covered in dozens of nonmusic publications for his self-titled Concord debut, driven as much by a fired-up hype machine as for his talent. But this Harry Connick Jr.-esque 19-year old-strong piano, nice vocals, good looks-will continue to garner coverage in the future for his music. We think.
Pop Pop, You Don't Stop
In this tough economic climate, it's not surprising that labels began to rely more and more on vocalists to keep themselves afloat (one Norah Jones CD funds about 10 instrumental jazz CDs on Blue Note). But in 2003 the labels didn't just turn toward the voice; they turned toward the pop voice. And those pop singers returned the favor by heading over to jazz labels. Here's a list of CDs that shows pop singers gone jazz-and jazz labels gone pop:
Aaron Neville, Nature Boy: The Standards Album (Verve); Boz Scaggs, But Beautiful (Gray Cat); Curtis Stigers, You Inspire Me (Concord); Rod Stewart, As Time Goes By: The Great American Songbook Vol. 2 (J); Elvis Costello, North (Deutsche Grammophon); Van Morrison, What's Wrong With This Picture? (Blue Note); Al Green, I Can't Stop (Blue Note)
We can't wait until Radiohead does a standards CD and Blue Note just says, "Ah, what the heck!" and starts releasing metal records.
Get Outta Here, 2003
Let the music and drama of 2004 begin! For a preview of the most anticipated releases of this year, check out our March 2004 issue, out February 3. Until then, keep swinging! Or not. Because jazz is whatever you want it to be these days (see the above for proof).
Originally published in January/February 2004