Saturday, January 19, 2019

PONCHO SANCHEZ & JAMES CARTER DOUBLE-BILL AT THE PARADISE JAZZ SERIES FALLS SHORT OF A REAL JOHN COLTRANE TRIBUTE


Poncho Sanchez
Long live John Coltrane! That’s what the Detroit saxophonist James Carter yelled to a capacity crowd Friday evening at the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall minutes before he performed a soul-numbing solo set of some of Coltrane’s signature works. The concert was the third of the 2019 series, featuring a double-bill with Carter and Latin jazz honcho the multi-percussionist Poncho Sanchez and his Latin jazz band. Both Carter and Sanchez were there to pay tribute to Coltrane. The audience got to witness the breadth of Carter’s virtuosity as he put Coltrane’s “Blue Train," ”Naima,” and “ My Favorite Things,” a standard that Coltrane immortalized, through death-defying improvisational feats.  This solo outing wasn’t the first time Carter has tackled Coltrane’s music solo. Carter gave a similar performance two years back in Philadelphia as part of Coltrane’s 90th birthday celebration. The footage is available on YouTube. Carter had the audience wrapped around his horns the entire set, but 30  minutes into making his horns honk, squeal, pop and signify, the improvisational horseplay became redundant, and I felt as if I was watching Carter in the throes of an unnecessarily long practice session. Strangely, though the concert was billed as a salute to Coltrane, neither Carter nor Poncho Sanchez said nary a word about Coltrane's influence on them musically or otherwise. Not one  single word  uttered by the musicians about Coltrane’s massive and lasting stamp on jazz. Sanchez was all over the place, opening his hour-plus set with “Blue Train,” followed by “Trane’s Delight,” the title cut from his upcoming album. From that point Sanchez’s set veered left, but not necessarily in a bad way. The music was wholesome, even delicious at times, and Sanchez’s band was tighter than Super Glue. The band has been together a whopping 35 years. Although the set was supposed to be all about Coltrane, Sanchez didn’t play hardly enough of Coltrane’s music, no "Cousin Mary," no "A Love Supreme,"  no "Alabama" no "Giant Steps". Coltrane favorites you wouldn't be wrong to expect for a Coltrane tribute. Instead, there were some original compositions by Sanchez’s bandmates and a medley of Sanchez’s music. Oddly, what aroused the audience most was the band’s Latin-infused take of a James Brown number. Had me wondering if Sanchez was attempting to make some Coltrane and James Brown connection. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been a Sanchez show without working in some obligatory Salsa music and dancing. To Sanchez’s credit, the audience was all in. Nonetheless, the performance came up short of remotely resembling a John Coltrane tribute.

Friday, December 21, 2018

JAZZ VOCALIST SHAHIDA NURULLAH TREATS AUDIENCE TO GEMS FROM THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK AT DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFE

Vocalist Shahida Nurullah
It’s shameful the jazz vocalist Shahida Nurullah doesn’t have a weekly residency at one of the many jazz venues in Detroit. Nurullah is inarguably one of the most well-rounded vocalists in the game, and she’s a masterful interpreter of the great American songbook, which she’s currently treating audiences to during her four-night engagement at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café with a wonderful rhythm section that includes bassist Jaribu Shahid, drummer Sean Dobbins, and pianist Ian Finklestein, an in-demand young lion on Detroit’s jazz scene who Nurullah has an obvious affinity for. Nurullah let the capacity audience know that Thursday night during her two-hour set, praising Finklestein after several of his solos. Nurullah’s voice was potent and lovely as she rejuvenated familiar standards. Nurullah’s rhythm section opened with Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” after which Nurullah joined them. In the spirit of the holiday, she sang the Christmas classic “This Christmas” with such feeling her voice would’ve given the song’s author Donny Hathaway goosebumps. After that Christmas favorite, Nurullah, Shahid, Dobbins, and Finklestein jumped feet first into the deep end of the American songbook, reworking classics written by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin. Nurullah is four-decades into her career, and her voice remains intoxicating. She made standards such as “Nice Work If You Can Get it,” and “I Was Doing All Right” seemed fresh off the assembly line. That’s Nurullah’s most glaring gift. Also, when Nurullah dug her heels into love songs, she possessed the magic to make the devil fall in love. Don’t get it twisted, Nurullah isn’t all polish and glam. She has a playful streak which the audience witnessed when she sassed things up, belting “I Can Cook Too”. The other attraction was the terrific piano playing of Finklestein who’s matured into a wonderful jazz pianist. Finklestein understands the nuts and dynamics of backing a vocalist of Nurullah’s genius. A hallmark of a well-rounded jazz pianist is the ability to accompany a vocalist. If Nurullah is ever given a residency at a top jazz club in Detroit, I beg Finklestein will be her regular pianist.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

YOU'RE UNLIKELY TO EXPERIENCE 'A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS' THE WAY PIANIST CYRUS CHESTNUT PERFORMED IT AT THE PARADISE JAZZ SERIES ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CONCERT


Pianist Cyrus Chestnut
The jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut is no stranger to cover projects. Two of Chestnut’s popular cover albums are “Cyrus Chestnut Plays Elvis” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the latter which Chestnut recorded sixteen years back. Friday evening at the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, Chestnut’s quartet performed cuts from a “Charlie Brown Christmas” and cuts from his latest High Note release “Kaleidoscope.” The concert was the Paradise Jazz Series annual Christmas hit, which over the years have been performed by female jazz vocalists. Chances are nobody there gave a rat’s ass this time around a jazz pianist was performing because Chestnut is one of the top pianists in jazz, and he rarely performs in Detroit.  Chestnuts has long been considered the leading jazz pianist of his generation. A generation that includes Jason Moran, Orrin Evans, Marc Cary, Anthony Wonsey, and Jacky Terrasson. Before Friday’s evening concert started, Chestnut warned the near-capacity audience the music they were about to hear would have melodies, rhythms, and changes they have never witnessed or would likely witness again. Then Chestnut, drummer Chris Beck, bassist Eric Wheeler, and saxophonist Steven Carrington turned selections from “A Charlie Brown Christmas such as “Skating,”  "My Little Drum,”  "Me and Charlie Brown,”  “ What Child Is This” into the blues, so much so you wondered if those compositions were blues originally. Hell, Chestnut even infused “Jingle Bells” with blues changes. When Chestnut performed cuts from his new record the audience got to hear his virtuosity unencumbered and hopefully the audience left the concert with a clearer understanding of why for decades now Chestnut has been so lavishly praised for his improvisational genius. Chestnut fingers at times zoomed across the piano keys. There’re beautiful flourishes that left the audience members cheering and wondering how in the devil he pulled that off. Chestnut’s band-mates were equally stunning too, particularly saxophonist Steven Carrington. Carrington has a meaty tone on tenor, and there’re many choice exchanges between him and Chestnut.

Monday, October 29, 2018

PARADISE JAZZ SERIES OPENS WITH THE DUO CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE & DIANNE REEVES, PLUS TIA FULLER

Christian McBride and Dianne Reeves
The 2018-2019 Paradise Jazz Series opened Friday evening at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall with a double bill that featured a duet from Grammy winner’s bassist Christian McBride and vocalists Dianne Reeves, and saxophonist Tia Fuller. Friday’s set was the second time McBride and Reeves have performed as a duo. From the onset, it was clear McBride and Reeves hadn’t spent much time rehearsing, and they were winging it. McBride and Reeves are master improvisers and performers and the duo was engaging, and the near-capacity audience was thoroughly enthralled by the performance from start to finish. McBride and Reeves have loads of chemistry and a high level of reverence for each other’s respective talent. Reeves spent most of the set scatting, which by the end of the set had become a bit annoying. Reeves undoubtedly has one of the greatest voices in music, and surely a large segment of the audience would’ve preferred she spent the set just singing. To Reeves’s credit, she has the scatting thing down to a science, and she’s arguably one of the best in the game. McBride surprised the audience toward the end of the set when he moved from the bass to the piano. Surprisingly, McBride is a pretty competent piano player, but he shouldn’t harbor any future aspirations of playing piano full-time. McBride and Reeves had the audience hyped for saxophonist Tia Fuller’s set. 

Tia Fuller
It was Fuller’s first time at the Paradise Jazz Series. Fuller is no stranger to Detroit. She is one of the stars on Detroit’s Mack Avenue Records, and she has an excellent body of recordings the most current being “Diamond Cut.” Fuller’s set was not one of her best, given the string of memorable performances she’s put on in Detroit over the years, particularly at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Fuller’s playing Friday evening was surprisingly inconsistent in spots and strong in others. She was test-driving a new trio. The new band has yet to gel fully. Fuller called selections from “Diamond Cut” and spent a good amount of time explaining to the audience the album's origins. Fuller’s set was a last-minute inclusion, which might explain why Fuller didn’t show up with her regular bandmates such as drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Mimi Jones, or some of the stars on “Diamond Cut.” The Paradise Jazz goers are experienced jazz-heads. Maybe Fuller wasn’t aware of that and that the series wasn’t the appropriate setting to dry run a new trio.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE JAZZ PIANIST ALEXIS LOMBRE WEEKLY RESIDENCY AT CLIFF BELS IS WORTH CHECKING OUT

Pianist Alexis Lombre
For a year or so, the word circulating around Detroit’s jazz scene is the jazz pianist Alexis Lombre is a serious talent, and after she gains more experience as a session leader and as a bandleader she could possibly fill the void in Detroit’s jazz community left by the death of the great jazz pianist and educator Geri Allen. That’s a tall order for Lombre to embrace, but Lombre embodies the passion for jazz and she’s certainly skilled. For those not yet familiar with the pianist, Lombre is a native Chicagoan and a senior at the University of Michigan. She’s studied under the great jazz pianist Benny Green, and she’s currently under the watchful tutelage of the Grammy-winning jazz bassist Robert Hurst. Lombre has been working professionally for seven years, and she’s earned a weekly residency at Cliff Bells, which was held for many years and made a coveted local gig by the dynamic jazz saxophonist Marcus Elliot. I caught Lombre’s show Tuesday evening, curious to discover if all the praised afforded her was deserved. Lombre performed with a marvelous trio bassist Brian Juarez and drummer David Alverez II, who’s Benny Green’s go-to drummer. Two numbers into the first set, I was sold on Lombre. Lombre open with a few cuts from her recording “Southside Sounds”. The depth of her chops was there for everyone to marvel over as her trio swung through “A Blues In Tyne,” and “Lonely Path,” a number she composed while still in high school. After Lombre got the audience going, the trio performed modernized interpretations of familiar oldies such as “Caravan,” and “Autumn Leaves”. The second set was also dynamic. Lombre invited a few special guests to the bandstand. There was some damn fine blowing from the promising jazz trumpeter Trunino Lowe, who’s building quite a name for himself around Detroit. Lombre never allowed the second set to morph into a jam session. The special guests mix perfectly with the trio’s chemistry. One of the many highlights was the trio’s rebranding of the Weather Report gem “Elegant People” and then seamlessly segueing into Herbie Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”. Lombre is foremost a swinger. She’s also, an adept arranger and composer, and she possesses an abundance of stagecraft. Most importantly you can hear history in her playing as if she invested time pouring over the music of great jazz pianists such as Wynton Kelly, Bobby Timmons, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock. The praise Lombre has received in such a short time on Detroit’s jazz scene, I’m convinced, is well deserved.

Monday, September 17, 2018

AT 89, JAZZ VOCALIST SHEILA JORDAN STILL WORKS A SONG & A CROWD,TOO

Sheila Jordan
It’s a shame the legendary jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan only performs in Detroit every decade or so. When Jordan gets booked in her hometown, however, you can bank on a memorable show. Sunday evening Jordan played two sets at the Willis Show Bar thanks to fellow jazz vocalist Joan Belgrave, who thought it worthwhile to bring Jordan back to Detroit for a two-night run. Belgrave opened for Jordan, and she got the full house sufficiently hyped for Jordan hour-plus set. Jordan is 89 and she still has an excellent voice Plus, she hasn't lost one bit of her stagecraft. She began the 7:00 pm set with “How Deep is the Ocean,” wasting no time wrapping her voice around the audience like an anniversary gift. Jordan was backed by a tight rhythm section bassist Marion Hayden, drummer David Taylor, and pianist Mike Jellick, who Jordan had a ball flirting with throughout the set. Hayden, Taylor, and Jellick aren’t Jordan traveling band, but they played as if they’ve been with the vocalist for years. They performed mostly standards such as “If I Had You,” and “The Touch of Your Kiss,” “Autumn in New York,” and “I Got Rhythm.” There was a goose bump inducing version of Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone.” Jordan dazzled the audience even more with her original “Workshop Blues,” which she encouraged audience participation. For decades now, Jordan’s hallmark has been infusing herself into whatever song she’s singing. It’s her unique brand of improvisation, telling stories in the middle of songs as if the melodies trigger distinct recollections. That’s what the audience enjoyed for nearly two-hours Sunday evening. Jordan kept the scatting to a minimum thankfully. At this late leg of her storied career, Jordan still knows how to work the shit out a song and a crowd, too. As for the Willis Show Bar, it proved to be the perfect venue to showcase such a beautifully seasoned voice. Let’s pray it won’t be another decade before Jordan returns home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

CLEVELAND SAXOPHONIST ERNIE KRIVDA ON HIS NEW ALBUM 'A BRIGHT AND SHINING MOMENT', HIS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS & THE SHORTCOMINGS IN JAZZ EDUCATION

Ernie Krivda is among a small group of tenor saxophonists after hearing them blow eight measures of a tune, for example, you’re able to identify them. Krivda’s playing is a mix of sophistication and raw horsepower. Those traits are evident on his new release “A Bright And Shining Moment,” an album Krivda made two-decades ago with his then popular band Swing City, but he never released. In fact, he forgot he even made it. Last year, he founded it cleaning out his basement, and after listening to it decided to put it out. The 16 tracks on the album cover a lot of ground swing, bop, and the blues. In his native Cleveland, Krivda is a jazz God with a work history that includes stints with Quincy Jones, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy DeFranco, and Sarah Vaughn. As a bandleader, Krivda has populated the planet with a string of hit albums such as “The Alchemist,” “So Nice to Meet You,” “The Glory Strut,” “Blues for Pekar,” and “Requiem for a Jazz Lady.” Being a jazz educator is equally important to Krivda as creating great jazz music. A few weeks back, I Dig Jazz talked with Krivda about “A Bright And Shining Moment,” his humble beginnings as an opening act at the famed Cleveland jazz club The Smiling Dog Saloon, and his perspective on the current state of jazz education.

Congratulations on another wonderful album.

Well, thank you.

I listened to it again last night, and I believe it's the kind of swing that you don't hear a lot of currently. Will you talk about the making of this album?

My wife told me that the basement was a pigsty and to go clean it. So, as I'm cleaning the basement, I came across this CD. I said, "Oh, I forgot about this." I listened to it, and I said "Wow." I really like this. I said, "Jeez, why did I forget about this?"

Were the musicians on the album from your Swing City band?

Yes. Swing City, the band on the CD was put together to teach at Tri-C jazz studies program, which had just started. It wasn't like this was the faculty, and then they put the band together. This band was put together to be the faculty. The program was all about teaching from the standpoint of the old-time mentoring. We all wanted the teachers to be guys that were working musicians because that's the way the young musicians back then learn. It always was for me.

I like the spectrum of jazz. If you listen, the music on this album actually combines a lot of different elements. There's like small group swing like you would hear in the 40's. Then there's kind of a West Coast elements that you would listen to in the 50's. It's kind of a combination. I wrote all the charts except two, and six of the tunes are mine. The band was a working band, and we were paid to rehearse by the school. We were doing programs all over town. It was a very unusual situation.
So, all the music had been recorded.

How popular did Swing City become?

We were working all the time, and we won local awards, and we did all kinds of programs. A lot of the music comes from some of our concerts. We did a tribute to Gershwin, and we did a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. So, we were doing all kinds of stuff. We were very prominent.

Why did you guys split up? Listening to the album, it’s obvious it was a unique band with loads of chemistry.

A guy that was very instrumental in putting this whole thing together was a guy named Max Dehn, a young guy who went to school in Michigan. Well, he's not a young guy now, but he was a young guy back then. He came in, and he wanted to do this. And he had a lot of experience getting grants for nonprofits.  He had a vision, and I shared his vision. So, we kind of worked together at putting this program together. And then he left. He went to become a lawyer. And so, when he was gone, the support for what we were doing kind of started dissipating. And so, we couldn’t keep the same personnel. Because the personnel came from all over. Like, the bass player was Marion Hayden, who I’m sure you know.

Oh, absolutely.

All right, and the drummer is John Bacon. John Bacon is from Buffalo. And the trombonist was the late, great Gary Carney. He's out of Columbus. So, we had people from all over the place.

Now that the album is out, do you have any plans to reunite the band for a tour to promote the album?

Well, I'll be traveling with a quartet playing music from the album. As far as putting together the old Swing City band, this is 20 years later. A couple of people, Marshall Baxter Beckley, who sings “Summertime “on the album passed away. And Gary Carney passed away. And everybody is a little older. We were always playing, continually rehearsing. It would be challenging to capture that again.

Did you have to do a lot of fine-tuning to the album?

I had it remastered. But the only thing I did then was put together the package. You know, liner notes and all that, and I got a digital artist to put the cover together and all that kind of stuff.

It was a great thing that your wife sent you down to the basement to clean up.

I know, that's the way things happen sometimes. I don't know if I would have found the recording otherwise.

Do you recall why you shelved it in the first place?

When it was finally done, that's when everything started changing at the school. I guess I went on and I was doing other projects. I went into a period where I recorded a lot of different music. So, that may have been how I forgot about the recording. Plus, the tension of what was going on at the school at that time, and everything changing, and the band not being together anymore.

You have a fantastic body of work. How does this album compare to your others?

It's like, I really can't compare. It's like your children. Because that's what it is. So how do you compare your children? Well, they're different, you know. And you could talk about the differences and the different things you were thinking about at this time or that time. But they were all unique to that time, which is probably why I recorded them.
How was Cleveland’s jazz scene back in the day when you were getting started professionally?  I heard that Cleveland had a fertile scene back then.

Well, it did. It was the 60's, and of course at that time jazz was a relatively popular form, and a lot of cities had good jazz scenes. Cleveland had a good jazz scene the location of which was in a kind of the middle of a circle of a bunch of other great jazz scenes. So like, Detroit, for example. Detroit was just a couple of hours away, and Detroit musicians always used to come down and play. I knew saxophonist Larry Smith. You know Larry?

Oh yes, Larry is one of the significant cats in Detroit. He has been for decades.

So, I knew Larry since 1950. You know, he was down here playing with Eddie Bachus. That's the first time I met him. And I got a great tenor man named Weasel Parker, who you probably don't know because he was in Detroit with the Basie Band. Then he came down here. Joe Alexander, a great tenor player, used to spend time in Cleveland and go back and forth to Detroit. Then you have over to the east, you have Pittsburgh, which is a great jazz town, especially then. And Buffalo. And down south, Columbus. All these cities are just like hours away. We were kind of right in the middle, and Indianapolis to the west. You got Cincinnati down there too.

So, all these jazz scenes kind of circled Cleveland. And the music always came through, you know, like touring bands. Like, if you were traveling, if you were going east you came through Cleveland. If you were going south, you came through Cleveland. If you're going west, the same thing.
So, there was a lot of, a variety of music that came through. But I always loved the music of the region. And there was a lot of common threads that bound the musicians together.

There was a trendy jazz club in Cleveland that was instrumental to your development because you were able to play with some nationally respected jazz musicians the club booked. And you were able to learn the trade from cats such as Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderly, and Chick Corea. Tell me about that club.

The Smiling Dog Saloon. I cannot tell you, describe to you the neighborhood it was in, which is the near west side of Cleveland. You know, if you're going to open a jazz club, this would be the last place you would open a jazz club.

And how it began, it's just an unbelievable thing. But it happened. It was an old converted building. It kind of had some size to it, but it was a dive. It was filthy. It had the smallest dressing room that I've ever seen in my life. But for five years, from 1970 to 1975, every touring jazz act of that period played The Smiling Dog Saloon. Everyone. It is easier to mention the musicians that didn't play there.

McCoy Tyner played there. Elvin Jones played there. Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz played there. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band played there. The Maynard Ferguson big band played there. Yusef Lateef played there. Eddie Harris played there.  Woody Shaw played there. I mean, it was just everybody. Every touring jazz act, six nights a week. And I was very fortunate to get the gig as the house band at The Smiling Dog Saloon.

And the club had this thing where a local group would open for the headliners. So, I had the band that opened for these guys. So, I was able to spend all this time listening, learning, seeing how they performed, the show that they put on, the showbiz aspect of it. And just all kinds of things. I was very fortunate to be able to sit in with many of the bands.

Some of them became my friends. Cannonball Adderley became a close friend, a mentor of mine. And I had always idolized Cannonball as a young musician. So, I couldn't believe this was happening. Anyway, and this environment, you know, Weather Report played there. It was also the time when composing started to become important. I mean, it was always going on, but it became important. So, I was writing, and I was encouraged to write.

And so, in that period, I developed the music that I eventually recorded for Inner City in 1976 and 1977 for that label. It was my first recording. I developed that music at The Smiling Dog Saloon. And I sold it. I was able to get to New York because Cannonball hooked me up with Quincy Jones. And I toured with Quincy, and I made some money, and I saved it up. That's how I went to New York, and I was there for four years. It all started at The Smiling Dog. The learning, the focus on specific aspects of what I was about, and it was an incredible time. I couldn't have paid for that kind of education.

It seems that being an educator is just as important to you as being a major player.

The Smiling Dog period, by the way, that was the end of the six nights a week thing. Because it was right after that, the reason that ended because many jazz musicians started playing concerts and could make more in one night than they could the entire week playing at The Smiling Dog Saloon.
So, that whole mentoring process of playing on the road with bands changed. So, everybody started gravitating towards education. And I always looked at it like this; jazz musicians, the first reason they get into teaching is that they need money. So, they start teaching.

After you've been teaching for a while, you start to become altruistic. You, say things like, "Well, the music has been really good to me. And I feel I need to give something back to the music." So, every jazz musician just patting themselves on the back as they become altruistic about teaching. You start to realize you need the students as much as the students need you.

As you get older, things change. Being around young people is wonderful because they have this incredible growth energy. They want to get better. They need to get better. And you feel that energy. And that helps you maintain.

They keep you learning, and music is a lifetime learning situation. You either get better, or you diminish. So, you need to be around the people that are trying to get better, and teaching that became so important to me just relating to these young musicians.

How do you feel about the way that young jazz musicians are coming up? It seems to me they are really learning more in academia now. Back in the day, the learning ground was sessions and playing in various bands and orchestras.

Well, that was the thing, that’s how we learned to be a part of a band and traveling.

Yeah, exactly.

You learn from the leaders, the different leaders that you play with. That was one of the reasons that the jazz studies program at Tri-C, that's how it got started with the idea of using working musicians. I felt that teachers were teaching, everybody was starting to play like they teach, rather than teaching like they play.

I have problems with a lot of jazz education. It used to be, you learn from bandleaders. Now, bandleaders, and what is the primary objective of a bandleader? The primary aim of the bandleader is to keep the band working. So, if you have a gig with somebody, you had to help him keep his band working. So, and you learn that.

Then if you went to another band, it was the same thing. A guy that had to keep his band working. How'd that happen? So, if you played in enough bands, then you started to learn how you keep working. And the big factor is, how do you relate to the audience? How does the audience relate to you? How can you work on this communication? Most of the young musicians are playing for each other. That's all they have to play for.

There seems to not be a lot of situations for these young jazz musicians to play with older musicians. In Detroit, for example, you have a lot of young musicians who graduate high school or college and immediately start their own bands.

Yeah.

So, it's a kind of learning as you go situation for them. And it's almost kind of sad to see. They're coming up in a time where there's no established band, and the youngsters must rely on their own devices. I noticed there is a severe lack of professionalism. You made a reference to how they relate to the audience, and you’re right. It seems like they only play for themselves. Most of the time, you can tell that they aren't rehearsed. They don't have set lists thought out. They're poorly dressed.
They're poorly dressed. They have music on the stand. They're reading off the stands.

Yeah, so do you believe that can be corrected? If so, how?

I still teach at Tri-C, and I have what is called The Jazz Workshop. That is my student band. Now, I run this band as if it is my band. I play with it. And we play, we don't just have rehearsals; We play gigs, all right? But they have to play as if they're playing in my band. There's a lot of guys that have been in this Jazz Workshop, and they're out there playing. Many have their own recording contracts and are doing it. 

Also, you must wonder if youngsters are out to develop their own sound.

Well, here's the thing; first, that used to be a mandate. We're talking about stylists. So many different stylists played this music. It's unbelievable that you can tell within the first eight measures who those stylists were. Right, now, this used to be something that was valued. And one of the reasons it was appreciated is leaders like to hire guys that had their own thing, which gave their band some distinction, and the audience would like that. 

You know, hearing something that was distinctive to the band. And of course, you had groups, like the Duke Ellington Orchestra where the whole band had its own uniqueness. But that was quite common then. It was like it was a marketing vehicle for a musician to develop his thing. So, it was encouraged.

There's no way you can really teach somebody to have their own thing, you know. But you can encourage that. And so, there, if you start listening seriously to players like Yusef Lateef. I think he was great, I loved the way he sounded. Oh, there's Paul Gonzalez. He had his own thing. Of course, Coleman Hawkins, you know, he had his own thing. Stan Getz, he had his things. So, you start listening to all these different people, and if you start listening seriously enough to the things they do will become part of what you do. And the combination of these things can make up a distinctive style.

At least, that's what I did. And I think a lot of guys do that. They put together various aspects of different people and came up with their own way of doing things. And that's one way to look at it.

The youngsters that I’ve heard are serious about the music, but what I hear mostly is technique.

Right, because you can teach technique. You can teach theory. You can teach patterns. But what happens is, everybody is coming out of school, and it's all the same. They're playing the same vocabulary, the same manner. And that is the problem. There are things that you do when you're trying to relate to an audience through the band that you develop, that you cannot teach in schools.

Saxophonist Ernie Krivda
Sounds like jazz education programs have some shortcomings.

Where else are we to go, though? I mean, frankly, if it wasn't for the schools, I don't know where the music would be. So, you have to say that. Jazz music has kind of given up on the idea of being important music to a large part of the country, to the world. It's kind of settled comfortably into being a niche. I have a big band called The Fantasy Big Band. 

The band has been together 27 years, but every time we play, whatever, the audience size is, whether it is like the thousand that showed up a couple of weeks ago at this Jazz Fest to hear us, or 75 people, or 20 people whatever the band plays it has an impact that's obvious to people. Why can't it impact much more? This music can’t just be some cerebral endeavor, a science project. There must be robust, emotional, and physical elements in the music. I mean, you're competing against Rock and hip-hop.

Right.

So, you can't compete with that music being up on the stand dressed like a bum, you know, with reading music off a wire music stand, up there and not really having rehearsed the music well. And not thinking how it's going to go over.

There must be, I think, more effort. And one of the things I say about the music on “A Bright And Shining Moment,” it's a people's music. It's there for people to groove to, and that music came out of an educational situation. We did it a little different, mind you, but that's where it came from. So, it certainly, if something can't be taught, it could be encouraged. So, anyway, that's my two cents on that.

It's not the young musician's fault. It's just the situation that they find themselves in. And they're trying their best given the cards they've been dealt.

Yes. And there aren't a lot of people explaining things to them.

That's another issue, too. Nobody is telling them you know, you don't show up for a gig wearing sneakers and skinny jeans. You should have on a shirt and a tie."

Right. You try to look like you're doing something important, you know.

Right, right.

You should look like playing jazz is an important thing. And it's got some gravitas. The other thing is if you think about it for a second when jazz education first started, and I talked about this before it began to build up in the 60's we got old guys who were kind of coming off the road. And they were starting to go to school. They went to school to get a degree so they could teach. Now, that first wave of guys who were teaching in school, those guys were ex-road rats. Those guys were working musicians that you know, now we're teaching. So, they had a direct connection to that which made jazz musicians. How many generations removed are we from that now? It's a considerable number. So, each generation has less of a connection to the stuff that we're talking about, that happened back then.

Was touring with Jimmy Dorsey your big break?

If it were the 1940's, it would have been my big break. But this was in 1964. And Lee Castle was running the band. He's a great player. And he played with everybody. And he had a close affiliation with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. And there were a couple of good players. But we were a ghost band, and so we were playing the hits of the Dorsey’s. And we're going around playing one-nighters. We weren't catching anybody's attention in the jazz world, really.

You know, we were just working. We were at the tail end of the big band thing. And it was the same 16 guys all the time, so we weren't picking up anybody like they started to do later. So, it was the same guys. So that was good. And it was a great learning experience. It was my first gig. I had to buy a tenor to play in the band because that was what was open. So that was a big deal. Because I always wanted to do that. 

And then, so I got an opportunity, and so I borrowed this and that and got a tenor. And that's when I started playing tenor. And so, it was the first road gig that I had. And it was the first working under a demanding leader. And so, once again, a little story here. So, Lee Castle was not a bebop guy. Tommy Dorsey was not a bebop guy. Lee Castle worshiped Tommy Dorsey. All right, I, on the other hand, was this young bebop guy. So here I am, and then once again, the leader's interest is to keep the band working. 

And so, to do, that at this time, the mission of the band was to recreate the music that Jimmy Dorsey and the band made famous. So I mean, they played "So Rare" every night. You know. The guy played that did a great job on that. But then there were various things that I had to do. There was this medley of tunes. 

And one of the tunes in the medley was "Indian Summer," which is a beautiful tune. And Lee says to play the melody, and I started adding all this bebop stuff, and Lee told me again to just play the melody, and again I started with all this bebop inspired stuff. And he comes to me, he says, "Look, if you don't play the melody on that tune, I'm fining you 25 bucks."

Now, I was getting 135 bucks a week. Next time we went to play the tune, I played the melody. 
That's jazz education. You're in a professional situation. You got to do what's necessary, you know. So, you must learn how to do that, or it's going to cost you money. When it starts to cost you money, then you begin to realize the importance of being able to do that.

Yeah, the band wasn't put together for you to be playing bop licks.


No, that was not the goal of the band. It was a dumb kid thing. I was 18. So that's how you learn. That's how I learned, the hard way.