To make a longish story short, we ran out of room in our new January/February 2011 issue, which just recently shipped to subscribers and will hit newsstands on Jan. 4. That issue includes plenty of great year-end coverage, including results for our annual Critics’ and Readers’ Polls, Brent Butterworth’s best-of-audio-gear column, and Nate Chinen’s picks for best gigs. But we had to cut the Highs & Lows section, our yearly excursion through the best, worst and weirdest in jazz. Here it is as an online supplement, with a noticeable emphasis on the “best.” That’s a good thing, we think.
We Did Inhale
JazzTimes wasn’t the only jazz thing that began in 1970. Miles Davis made jazz-rock official with his essential Bitches Brew, which Sony Legacy reissued earlier this year in a super-deluxe 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition as well as a more reasonable Legacy Edition; both packages include a must-see, previously unreleased DVD program featuring Miles with Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette in Copenhagen in 1969. Also in 1970, Creed Taylor launched CTI Records and created a sound and look that captured the zeitgeist of the ’70s and still resonates today. With Pete Turner’s vivid color photography on the gatefold covers and an electric funky sound played by who’s who of modern jazz artists, from Freddie Hubbard to George Benson, CTI albums proved to be huge sellers. A well-put-together box set, CTI Records: The Cool Revolution, and reissues like California Concert and other material from the ’70s, brought home the legacy of Taylor and his incredible stable of artists. But did they know what we used those gatefold covers for?
Our Men in Havana
It wasn’t quite the triumphant trip that the 1977 cruise was-the one in which Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and other jazz greats went to Havana during the Carter Administration-but it was still triumphant. In October, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra traveled to Cuba and performed for and with the locals, in a cultural exchange that reflected a brief thawing of the embargo which had returned to Cold War levels under George W. Bush’s administration.
Earlier this month, Arturo O’Farrill took his orchestra to the Havana International Jazz Festival. And given that his late father, the Cuban jazz bandleader Chico O’Farrill, had left Cuba in the ’30s and never returned, that visit promised to be an emotional and cathartic one for the pianist and bandleader. In turn, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés toured the U.S. for the first time in seven years, further reinforcing the value of cultural exchange with that little island 90 miles from our shores.
We Met Them in St. Louis
The Jazz Education Network rose from the ashes of the International Association for Jazz Education, but the educators who founded the nascent organization were determined not to fall prey to any of the financial trapdoors of its predecessor. The JEN leadership, including Mary Jo Papich and Lou Fischer, stressed a grassroots focus on education and an all-volunteer approach to organizational development.
In June, the new organization hosted a conference of lesser scale than the old IAJE conferences and in a less-than-jazzy location (St. Louis, Mo.). Nonetheless, nearly 1,000 educators, students and musicians came to host and attend clinics, talk shop and convene on jazz education matters. The organization is expecting much larger numbers for its second conference being held in January in New Orleans, a decidedly jazzier location certainly.
Marcus Has Miles to Go
As one of the architects of the sound of ’80s Miles Davis, Marcus Miller has certainly had the bona fides to toss off tribute shows or albums to his former mentor. However, it wasn’t until this past year, nearly 20 years after Davis’ death, that Miller saw his way to revisiting the material he produced with Miles. Inspired by a young band featuring trumpeter Christian Scott and saxophonist Alex Han, Miller reinvented the songs from the albums Tutu and Amandla during a tour of North America. Tired as we are of hearing jazz musicians quote the riff from “Jean-Pierre,” which seems to have replaced “The Flintstones Theme” as the most ubiquitous reference by jazz groups, Miller gets a pass for being there in the biggest possible way when Miles created that music.
Songs for Michael
PBS gave Michael Feinstein some serious face time with a three-part series that aired in October. Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook was produced by filmmaker Amber Edwards, who followed the singer/pianist around the country and captured him on and off stage, always in pursuit of the stories behind the songs we love. Among their discoveries? Two missing choruses by Irving Berlin for “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” I smell a new series for the Discovery Channel-something like “Song Sleuths.” Let’s do lunch.
Chick Is a Gig Magnet
Chick Corea cannot be stopped. He started off the year by collecting a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Live by the Five Peace Band he co-led with John McLaughlin. Just months later he began touring with his Freedom Band featuring Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Roy Haynes. He also found time to perform shows in a trio format with McBride and Brian Blade, and in a duo setting with Stefano Bollani. He closed out the year with a tour with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra in Norway and Sweden. Yes, he got around. Although he didn’t have any new releases (on the heels of a year when he released three albums), there was a box of some of his most exquisite solo piano work recorded for ECM-a three-CD set featuring his Piano Improvisations plus Children’s Songs.
Perhaps even more impressive is how 2011 promises to move along at the same pace, with another Return to Forever tour in the works, this time with Bill Connors on guitar. An acoustic trio double-disc featuring Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, Forever (Concord), will be released in the U.S. in June 2011, and Corea has already scheduled duo concerts with Gary Burton. As evidenced in his tour with RTF personnel and McLaughlin, when Corea reunites with past collaborators he only has the future in mind.
A Purchase Both Sweet and Savory
Christmas came early for Loren Schoenberg, the executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Schoenberg acquired the collection of William Savory, an associate of Benny Goodman’s who recorded numerous jazz shows during a five- to six-year period starting in 1935. This treasure trove of ’30s-era jazz consists of 975 aluminum and vinyl discs, adding up to over 100 hours of material, from jazz greats such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and many others. Like something out of a spy novel or maybe a Raymond Carver story, Schoenberg picked up the material from Savory’s family in Illinois and drove it himself to NYC in a rented truck. The museum is currently in the process of transferring the material to digital format and is making much of it available to the public through listening sessions.
Size Does Matter
With many artists, notable and obscure, releasing just about everything they’ve ever played, it’s refreshing to see a few artists hunker down and produce major works using big ideas along with big ensembles. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Music, Wynton Marsalis is no stranger to the large-scale work. This year he premiered his “Swing Symphony” in the U.S. and released a recording of the Vitoria Suite commissioned by that European festival. Presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in November, Ramsey Lewis’ “Proclamation of Hope” featured his jazz trio and a wind ensemble in a symphonic poem inspired by the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
Pianist Kenny Werner drew on a more personal experience, the death of his teenaged daughter, as the theme of his work for jazz trio, vocals and wind ensemble-No Beginning, No End, for Half Note Records. Finally, Gerald Wilson paid tribute to his hometown with a performance of his jazz suite “Detroit” (originally released on Mack Avenue in 2009) at the Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, D.C. It’s good to know that composers and musicians haven’t scaled back their creative reach just because the record industry is struggling.
70 Is the New 40
If it seems like Herbie Hancock has been on the jazz scene forever, it’s probably because he’s been so active decade after decade. During his 70th year, Hancock kept up the pace with an ambitious concept album, The Imagine Project (Red), in which he collaborated with musicians around the world on anthems of peace and social change. He then proceeded to take that music back around the world on a lengthy tour that included a special birthday celebration concert at Carnegie Hall, where players from his past sat in, including Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Ron Carter and Wallace Roney. Lesson learned? You’re never too old to strap on that keytar!
We Wanted Miles (and We Got Him)
A massive multimedia exhibit was mounted in the spring at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Quebec. The show, “We Want Miles,” featured photography, art and artifacts from the late, great trumpeter’s life. The show had previously been mounted at the Musee de la Musique in Paris. There was also a lavish coffeetable book published as a companion to the exhibit, with the provocative if somewhat contradictory title, We Want Miles: Miles Davis vs. Jazz (a translation thing, apparently).
Written by Franck Bergerot, the editor-in-chief of JAZZ magazine in France, the book also included remembrances of Davis by Dave Liebman, writer John Szwed, Ira Gitler, George Avakian and others. However, the images comprise the main attraction here. Included is nearly every iconic image of the trumpeter, from Don Hunstein’s photos of Miles in the studio recording Kind of Blue, to Irving Penn’s stark and dramatic portrait for the Tutu album cover.
It was not enough that Davis was one of the music’s greatest innovators. As this exhibit and book demonstrated, he was also one of its more important visual stylists.
Ray Charles + Jazz = Genius
The folks at Concord Music Group had a busy year putting out all sorts of excellent music, including Definitive sets from Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane. But perhaps the most surprising and pleasing of all was the reissue of Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz album in a deluxe package that also included three other jazz albums from the legend. Those LPs, My Kind of Jazz, Jazz Number II and My Kind of Jazz Part 3, were released on Ray’s own labels in the ’70s. This four-album edition, with new liner notes from Will Friedwald, was released as a two-CD set. Charles never really got around to making a jazz record in his later years, though he often mentioned a possible collaboration with his old friend Milt Jackson. So this collection will have to suffice for jazz fans wanting to hear Ray swing, in this case with a kick-ass horn section of Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Al Grey, Frank Foster, Snooky Young, Joe Wilder and Frank Wess. I’m no genius but that just sounds like a smart idea.
Fred Hersch: Healthy and Inspired
While jazz coverage in the mainstream media continued to dwindle, in January the New York Times magazine ran an outstanding profile of pianist Fred Hersch. The lengthy piece, written by David Hajdu, detailed the harrowing AIDs-related health problems Hersch experienced in 2007 and 2008, including a descent into dementia and, eventually, a two-month-long coma and loss of motor functions.
But Hersch miraculously rehabilitated and has returned to the scene with a vengeance. Hersch released Whirl (Palmetto), one of the year’s best piano-trio records, and began working again feverishly. He is currently laboring over My Coma Dreams, a multimedia project that will feature jazz instrumentation plus a string quartet and a speaker/singer. As Hersch told our David R. Adler, it is slated to premiere this spring.
In May, guitarist Kevin Eubanks announced that he’d be leaving his longtime post as the music director for the Tonight Show With Jay Leno to pursue his own music wholeheartedly. While Eubanks surely walked away from an extra-large salary, we at JT were glad to hear the news, and not only because of our pro-Coco stance.
Before he moved from the guitar chair to replace then-director Branford Marsalis in 1995, Eubanks was a leading young voice on the Blue Note roster and a standout guitarist, combining the Wes/Burrell/Benson bag with convincing rock and funk playing. Eubanks kept his chops up alongside Leno, but he also spent a lot of time chuckling at jokes that implied he was a pothead and a pervert during his off hours.
Well, he has returned, with a cooking comeback record, Zen Food (Mack Avenue), featuring his old Leno pal Marvin “Smitty” Smith. Fans of fusion and the edgier side of contemporary jazz take note.
Do the Robot
For our April issue, David R. Adler wrote a cover story on Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion project, an album and world tour in which the ambitious-going-on-batty guitarist brought a large ensemble to life via solenoid robots. The album, which made it onto our year-end Top 40, wasn’t as revolutionary as the process, which Metheny attributed to a long-running fascination with player pianos and orchestrions. The title suite could have been mistaken for a new long-form work by the Pat Metheny Group, and when the solenoids attempted to swing they sounded like, well, robots.
But the 2 1/2-hour live show was an essential experience-dare we say a once-in-a-lifetime gig. It was long, sure, but varied: solo acoustic numbers, would-be tutorials on why and how Orchestrion came about, live improvisations on Ornette Coleman’s “Broad Way Blues” and back-catalog repertory were included, in addition to a performance of the record. And the Willy Wonka factor alone was worth the price of admission: clanking cymbals, pounded pianos, blown bottles and more sounded without human assistance in plain view, as if operated by a (literal) ghost band.
Jazz Is Undead
Generalist newspaper reporters and their misled readers tend to know two things about jazz: that it’s dead and that it’s been co-opted by a vague and mysterious notion of purism. The next time these geeks start up with that noise, point them in the direction of Manhattan’s West Village, where in 2010 two grassroots festivals offered proof of life. In January, the annual Winter Jazzfest presented its typically smart and edgy mix of artists for attendees of the concurrent Association for Performing Arts Presenters convention. Critics like Ben Ratliff in the New York Times and our Nate Chinen commented on how healthy the scene was: packed venues and music equally overstuffed with influences and information.
The Undead Jazzfest, in June, was molded much the same, except that festivalgoers were sweating instead of freezing. At three tiny West Village haunts-Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny’s Castaways and Sullivan Hall-an imposing lineup justified the $30 two-day pass tenfold. Steve Coleman, Tim Berne, Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas, Happy Apple and dozens more made for a couple of whirlwind nights. Winter Jazzfest 2011 runs Jan. 7-8 in New York.
NEA Jazz Masters*