Friday, September 16, 2016

RODNEY WHITAKER: THE JAZZ BASSIST ON BEING ONE OF THE CATS, COMING OF AGE IN DETROIT & WHY JAZZIN' ON THE RIVER IS A MEANINGFUL MUSIC FEST

Rodney Whitaker
Rodney Whitaker has played jazz festivals big and small globally. Whitaker has built quite the reputation in Michigan, his home state, and internationally as a high-ranking jazz bassist and music educator. Whitaker, 48, held the bass chair in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra six years, made seven well-received albums as a bandleader, and has run the Jazz Studies program at  Michigan State University for over a decade now, building it brick by brick into one of the most respected music programs nationally.
 As a sideman, his work history includes stints with marquee bandleaders such as Bob James, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Jimmy Cobb, Mulgrew Miller. Hell, an entire afternoon could be spent reciting all the bands he’s gifted with his boundless music acumen and knack for drawing the best from musicians who share the bandstand with him.

Whitaker is part of Jazzin” on the River, a compact and serious jazz festival in Detroit stacked with some of the city’s best jazz talent. Whitaker wants it on the record he’s proud of being a part of Jazzin' on the River. The festival takes place Saturday at Alfred Bush Ford Park on the Detroit River in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.

There’s an after-party at Atwater in the Park. The festival has added meaning for Whitaker because it’s in the neighborhood where Whitaker grew up and dreamed of becoming an important jazz musician, or in his words, “I always wanted to be one of the cats”. Wednesday evening, Whitaker let I Dig Jazz pick his brain about his coming of age in that eastside Detroit neighborhood, his thoughts about the Grosse Pointe Park, Detroit controversy, and the occasion of the re-release of his first albums “Hidden Kingdom,” and “Children of the Light”.  
What was it like back then, growing up in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood? Was it vibrant musically? Were there other jazz musicians who were coming up at that time? I heard saxophonist JD Allen is from that neck of the woods.
Oh yeah. JD lived near the park. He lived on the eastside but over by Burns near that park where the kids play baseball. He lived in a different neighborhood. In my neighborhood, one of the first musicians I ever saw play live was the great Perry Hughes. He grew up a couple of blocks from me.
He was in the neighborhood, and there was a guy on my block who he had a funk band with. They were teenagers. I met Perry before he even became a jazz musician. I was a little kid back then. We go way back , so we're from the same neighborhood.
Also the group Bird-Trane-Sco-Now. I don't know if you're familiar with that group?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
That's where it started at Remus Robinson Middle School in that neighborhood. Donald Washington [saxophonist] was my middle school band director. What happened was that he got laid off, and then somebody new came in and became the music teacher. He kept the group Bird-Trane-Sco-Now together, and I got into the group when I was in ninth grade, we used to rehearse in Harris Park, in the recreation center.
That's where we rehearsed and then we started rehearsing later at his house. He was teaching on the west-side and then James Carter got into it when he was about thirteen. It started in that neighborhood.
Some great jazz musicians came through Bird-Trane-Sco-Now! such as Cassius Richmond, and James Carter.
Cassius and I grew up like three blocks from each other. We went through elementary, middle, and high school together. He was a couple of years older than me. A lot of the musicians from our middle school went to King High School, and I followed them there a couple of years into it.
You’ve played jazz festivals big and small nationally and internationally. With smaller jazz festivals such as Jazzin’ on the River, which you’re a major part of, what does playing a small festival mean to you?
I think historically when you think about jazz festivals all over they started after World War II. The Paris Jazz Festival started in 1948 or 1949. It was a way to bring tourism back to Paris. Traditionally jazz music has been used to revitalize economies all over the world, to help tourism, and it brings these hot musicians to those places, and then tourists will follow them. I think it's befitting that we use the music the same way in the urban communities, taking the music back to where it came from.
If it can bring awareness to a community, even if there's an issue of blight, or it needs to be revitalized, maybe people might come and see something and go home to their neighborhoods, and fall in love and want to buy and fix up a home, or do some renovation, or do some building. There's some building going on in parts of my old neighborhood where people are building houses. I think anything that you can do that creates a positive environment, you know, why not use the music?
You’re headlining the festival’s Jazzin’ after-party, which is also a big part of the festival. It seems as if the festival’s organizers are trying to mend the divide between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit. I don't know if you're aware where Grosse Pointe borders Detroit was barricaded.
I saw it with my own eyes.
What're your thoughts about that situation? How they're trying to use the festival to bring Detroit and Grosse Pointe closer?
I have to keep my eyes on that because I'm a pretty forgiving person. If things are going to change, somebody's got to do it. One side of me, when I saw that barricade in the disguise of a fruit market or whatever it was, I was in shock. I was eating, and I wasn't aware of it. I just knew I was driving, and I had to go around it.
So, I drove around it.  I didn't know what it was at first. I was doing kids' concerts in Detroit, and I didn't want to go to a Coney Island for lunch because I wanted a salad. I went to a middle-eastern place right there in the beginning of Grosse Pointe. Then we realized what it was, and we went and took pictures of it. It was just reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa. That's one mindset that I struggle with, but at the same time, anything that we can do to bring people together is a positive thing.
We can be critical, but I think definitely in the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King, he had to humble himself a lot of times. I'm glad that people spoke up on it, but I'm also glad that people are trying to do something to bring change. I wasn't even aware that this performance had something to do with those politics, but at the same time, somebody's got to do something to bring change. If something like a jazz festival can make us be more aware of our shortcomings and try to fix it, I think it's a good thing.
When you were asked to participate, was there any initial reluctance given what you had witnessed?
For me, that didn't even feed into the equation. Again, I'm a musician, and I play gigs all over the planet. There have been official boycotts in places where I didn't necessarily go. There was a boycott in South Carolina at one point. There was a boycott in Arizona at one point years ago. A lot of the artists that I work with wouldn't go there to play. I definitely support that.
What are some of the projects you have in the works? Are you working on a new album?
Yeah, I'm in the process of putting together a new album. Hopefully, I'll be recording it in the next couple of months. If not, probably in the early part of the New Year. My goal is to put out another album in May or in June. My first recordings [“Hidden Kingdom” and “Children of the Light”] that I released twenty-something years ago just got re-released in Japan, which is quite a nice thing. They put them out on CD.  That was cool because I made folks aware of it on facebook and I had 3,500 people who wrote me and didn't know about the CD. Those two CDs that had Geri Allen, Nicholas Payton, and all those great cats.
What was the occasion for the reissue?
I was doing a tour. Carl Allen and I were playing last spring in Japan. We were doing a gig, we had my daughter [vocalist Rockelle Fortin], Xavier Davis, and myself, and we were over there playing at the Coffee Club in Tokyo.
The new producer, a young lady I can't think of her name at the moment, came out to the gig and expressed interest in wanting to put out the first two CDs. The second CD, I think it was that she wanted to put out. I started talking to her about the first one, and she wasn't aware of it. Then she got excited about it and went back to the vaults and checked it out and decided to put both of them out at a reasonable price.
Do you still keep a full teaching schedule?
I do a lot of teaching nationally, and I do a lot of touring, playing nationally. Whether it's with my group, or with Carl Allen, then I do a little freelance stuff. I'm playing with Lewis Nash a couple of times this fall with his crew. I'm keeping busy. I'm recording with a lot of people, so it's busy, and it's a challenge to try and juggle it all, but I have the support of my wife. I couldn't do it without her.
Going back to your formative years, growing up in Detroit, did you envision becoming as accomplished as you have become?
I always wanted to be one of the cats, since I was thirteen. That's when, as I always tell my students, the jazz bug bit me. Nothing else was going to do. I wanted to be one of the cats my whole life. I had no other plans
I would always have people say to me that I should be a lawyer, a doctor, and all that stuff. I studied music education and all that sort of stuff. I just wanted to be a musician. In a haphazard way, I eventually became a teacher. That was something my parents were more proud of me than me being a musician. Because to them, that represented stability. That's what I am until I die. I'm going to do this forever until I can't do it anymore.
That was my dream. That's always been what I wanted to be. I wanted to be one of the cats. And my old neighborhood man, to be honest, was encouraging. People would see me catching the bus with my bass. They would tell me to keep going man, do your thing. That they were proud of me, and there were a lot of great cats in that community who had great record collections that they would share.
I had a neighbor in that community named Charles Darling, and he got me listening. He saw me with an upright bass, and he'd say hey, come check this out, check out this record. He helped me to start my record collection.
Listening is everything when you play jazz. He used to turn me onto Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, you know. I was thirteen, and he had me listening to Ornette Coleman.
I remember the first Ornette record I got was “Love Call” with Jimmy Garrison. I was maybe fourteen when I bought that. You know how Detroit is all about the music. Everybody's got a collector's taste. If they weren't die-hard jazz cats, they would be listening to Roberta Flack and all those early records she did. Just something musical. People in that neighborhood always turned me onto something.
For me, it was always like a beautiful experience. Maybe until I was a teenager, the neighborhood was beautiful. It was a beautiful place with parks and a river. You've got three parks in a row in one neighborhood. People were keeping their houses nice. Then in the mid-eighties, crack came in, and just took the whole place down. People were still trying to live. They were still trying to keep their humanity and keep their property together. It's an interesting dynamic.
Jazzin’ on the River is Saturday September 17th at Alfred Brush Park 100 Lakewood St. Detroit, MI 48215 12:00 PM-8:00 PM/ 9:00 PM Jazzin after-party 1175 Lakepointe, Grosse Pointe Park 48230

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

NEW MUSIC FROM TRUMPETER TILL BRONNER, VOCALISTS ALLAN HARRIS & AMINA CLAUDINE MYERS


The jazz trumpeter Till Bronner decided to make his voice the centerpiece of his new album “The Good Life”. Bronner has built a bulletproof reputation as a skilled  jazz trumpeter, particularly in his native Germany. There Bronner’s success as a jazz musician is well-known. In America, Bronner has worked with such jazz immortals as James Moody, Dave Brubeck, and Ray Brown. Bronner is also a damn good jazz vocalist. His trumpeting is equally as lovely as his voice. “Good Life” on Okeh Records, which has bassist John Clayton, pianist Larry Goldings, drummer Jeff Hamilton, and guitarist Anthony Wilson manning the rhythm section, features Bronner’s vocal chops. Bronner chose often-performed material from the American songbook such as the “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Her Smile” and “I’ll Be Seeing You”. Bronner's relaxed easy to get into phrasing is akin to the great jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. Throughout “The Good Life” Bronner sounds a lot like the late trumpeter. There’s no proof that Bronner’s motivation for making “The Good Life”—which by the way is genuinely special and worth spending quality time with—was to emulate Baker’s style, or in some way pay homage to him.

Allan Harris is a red-blooded American jazz vocalist who owns a voice that could melt your soul. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn native isn’t as wildly popular as he ought to be. However, in a music career nearing three decades Harris has consistently put out wonderful music. There isn’t a public record of the number of babies conceived to Harris’s albums. Harris’s new album for Love Productions Records “Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better (Black Bar Jukebox Redux) is a noteworthy outing. The album is a mix of familiar jazz standards, originals, and re-imagined pop songs performed tenderly and thoughtfully by a vocalist comfortable and confident navigating any musical genre. Harris is at his best, however, singing slow jams. He does so beautifully he could make Satan fall in love.

“Sama Rou-Songs From My Soul” is jazz pianist and vocalist Amina Claudine Myers eleventh album. It has three Myers originals, and spirituals such as “My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord,” and “Go Down Moses’. “Myers infused the spirituals with new spirits. This is a hauntingly beautiful solo album. On piano, her style straddles the fence of free-jazz. The Arkansas native has worked with free-jazz lions such as Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp, Antony Braxton, and Charlie Haden. Vocally, Myers’s singing begs comparison to Nina Simone and Abbey Lincoln. “Sama Rou-Songs From My Soul” is so good, so powerful. If you aren’t careful, it will paralyze you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

FRED HERSCH TALKS ABOUT NEW TRIO ALBUM, FONDNESS FOR THE VILLAGE VANGUARD & WHAT TO EXPECT FROM UPCOMING MEMOIR


Fred Hersch
“Mr. Hersch, with his fluent exposition, his rapturous clarity, and his elegant assurance of touch, leads the way. Mr. Hersch has been making acclaimed trio releases since his debut as a leader 30 years ago.”

“When it comes to the art of solo piano in Jazz there are currently two classes of performers: Fred Hersch and everybody else”.

Those are quotes from respected jazz critics Nate Chinen of the New York Times and Dan Bilawsky of All About Jazz lavishing much deserved praise on the jazz pianist Fred Hersch. No doubt Hersch is one of the more elegant jazz pianists around. His playing in any context has such beauty and warmth. Your best bet to get a clear understanding of his gift is to experience Hersch in a solo situation or a trio setting with his trio bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.

I Strongly recommend Hersch new live trio recording “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” out last month on Palmetto Records. The jazz trio Gods were hanging out with the trio that Sunday night. Each member is of superior form. The ten track album is the epitome of perfection. Hersch is the album’s star. Since he formed the trio, the focus has been largely on Hebert’s and McPherson’s brilliance.

This time around, Hersch softness and warmth on “cuts such as “A Cockeyed Optimist,” and “Calligram” is what you’ll wake up thinking about the next morning after experiencing “Sunday Night at the Vanguard”.  I Dig Jazz spoke with Hersch via telephone about the album and some other topics dear to him.

I enjoyed your new trio album “Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard”.

Thank you so much.

 I understand it was a special occasion for you,  John Hebert and Eric McPherson making the album, your 60th birthday--

Actually no. That didn't have much to do with it honestly. I'd been toying with making a live record with this band again. I actually made arrangements to record then canceled the recording. Then put it back on, then canceled it again. Then I came in on Tuesday night for the sound check, and I don't know, I said, "I just think we should do this." I felt like we had some nice new material. The band was in a good spot. Friday and Saturday, frankly, weren't all that great. I thought "Okay well, we'll throw some money down the drain here," but Sunday night we just all hit it. Just one of those lucky things that happen sometimes.

 Do you attribute the outcome of this wonderful recording to luck?

Well, luck and a lot of playing together.

. How long have you guys been together now?

About seven years.

Is that typically how long it takes for a band to truly gel?

Sometimes bands can be great at the start, like love affairs, they're great. Then you realize they're not as deep as you thought they would be. This one just seems to get deeper. We just played a week at the Vanguard. We just closed this past Sunday night. We are even at a higher level than from the recording in March. It just keeps getting more interesting.

What do you attribute to that? What do you think is the cause of you guys growing like that?

I don't know. I give the guys a lot of freedom to be themselves. I don't make set lists anymore. I just decide we're going to play, or I'll ask them what do you want to play. There's not a whole lot of control going on. I don't know how many trio records I've made. I've made quite a number going back to 1986. 30 years I've been making trio albums. I think this “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” is among the very best ones. It shows the trio's range and the way we play with each other, just the quality of the playing, and the level of attentiveness to the music.

A lot of trios are power trios. That's one kind of format. That goes all the way back to Oscar Peterson, that kind of power trio. Then there are the conversational trios. I like to play lots of different kinds of music. Stuff that swings hard and stuff that's a little to the left. Some things that are very lyrical. Some things that are, on the surface very simple, but very deep. With Eric and John, I feel like I can play anything.



It feels like breathing up there. It's a wonderful thing.

Especially at the Vanguard. There's no better place to play this kind of music. The acoustics, the history, the level of attentiveness from the audience, the intimacy. You're not going to find that usually in a club somewhere else or in a more formal concert hall setting. You don't quite get that. It's a very special place.

It sounds as if you guys feed off the audience too?

Yeah. People are just so with us, whatever we want to do. It's become kind of a thing. I play there at least a couple times a year, sometimes three. It's sounds like my living room. I'm just so comfortable there. I even have my picture up on the wall. I feel very lucky.

That's a big thing. It's more like the Vanguard's wall of fame.

Yeah, it is. It's better than a Grammy for me to have my picture up there. It means more to me.

How long has it been there? When they first put it up was there a ceremony or something?

It's been there about five, six years maybe. Maybe a little longer. It also happens to be on a great spot on the wall. It's super visible. It's nice they did that.

There are piano players who are very percussive piano players. They hammer away at the piano like they're working out some aggression. You have this very beautifully elegant approach to the piano, almost like a love affair, a genuine respect for the piano. Talk about your style of piano playing?

Everybody has a different physical approach to the piano. Everybody has different size hands. Everybody learns a different way.

I worked for a long time with a particular teacher who brought out certain elements in my sound. I play with a very flat hand. Super relaxed. I have a very active left hand, more than most people. That's just developed over time. It's just something that always interested me, so I just kept doing it 'til I started having some success. There might be guys that play more decibels than me, like physically louder, but I would say that my piano playing is about as clear as anybody.

Sometimes, if you go to a Broadway play, and you see a Hollywood star making their Broadway debut, there's all this hype about this big film star. A lot of times, they don't know how to do that. They end up shouting. Stage actors know how to work their voice so you can be in the back of the theater and you feel like they're talking right to you.

They're projecting. It's technique. I think I'm more of that kind of player. We can certainly get raucous. I try not to make really ugly sounds even when it's a high decibel, I still go for, of course, good rhythm, but clarity. Sometimes people can play a lot of notes and then you don't get the story. You just got a lot of notes. I want to tell stories. That's what I would like to do.

Who were some of your main influences, or some of the piano players early on during you formative stage you admired or wanted to emulate?

Well, a whole bunch. I grew up in Cincinnati. I just figured out playing jazz by doing it with older guys. Bought records in used record shops. I didn't know what I was buying half the time. Certainly, Ahmad Jamal made me discover the very top end of the piano which I also use more than a lot of other people. That top octave or octave and a half. He had a beautiful sound up there.

 Earl Hines who's a predecessor of Ellington and Monk. He's one of my all-time favorites. I was very close to Tommy Flanagan and Jimmy Rowles when they were alive, so I got to hear them play a lot. I've also been influenced by Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, and Miles Davis.

 Do you prefer doing live recordings? Is that a better situation for you to record in as opposed to doing studio sessions?

The last number of years more of my records have been live than in the studio. It's just how it's been. I don't know if it's always going to be that way. The next album that I have planned will probably be a studio album. It will probably have to be a studio album. I'll probably do it in a concert hall. It's a solo project of pop tunes that I grew up with the Stylistics, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon, the Beatles. The songs that I knew before I played jazz. I'm trying to revisit some of that material to see if I have a record in there. I'm not sure what it's going to be yet, but we would record in a small concert hall. I would have the feeling of the live performances as opposed to being in the studio with close microphones and more of a dead sound.

Is there any particular challenges recording or playing solo as opposed to playing in a trio, or a quartet, or a larger ensemble?

They're the same in some ways, and they're completely different in many other ways.

Solo, I am the band. I'm doing everything. If I stop, there's silence. It all demands concentration, but solo particularly demands super concentration. I love playing solo. I think I'm kind of a specialist at it. I love all the duos, people I play duos with all the time. I love doing that. I love playing with the trio. Adding some horns is another thing, being more of a band pianist. Even when I play with a quintet, which I'll do at the Vanguard in January, I don't call it a quintet, I call it the trio plus 2. It's still the trio, but it's like an expanded trio, not just a quintet. Sometimes I use the horns just to play melodies and stuff they don't even solo all the time. I just kind of use them as orchestral elements.

I love all of it. Solo, duo, trio are the things I do the most. I get so much from all of them; it's hard to pick.

If I do too many solo dates, then I start to get a little crazy. I need to interact with people.




In 2008 you had, a serious scare where you were in a coma for two months and after you came out of that, you had to learn how to play the piano again.

Yeah, that was tricky. I was very weak, and I didn't have much fine motor coordination, but I was very determined to start playing again as soon as possible, even if it wasn't my best. People close to me seemed to be sure that I could do it. I didn't want to wait for the perfect moment. I just went out there and did it. It wasn't as great at first, but by January of 2009, I was leading a quintet at the Vanguard. I got back on the horse pretty fast.

What was your regimen like? What did you have to do to get your chops back up?

I think it was just playing, not doing so much technical stuff, but just spending time at the piano. I'm not big on practicing. I just spend time at the instrument, but I don't sit and do scales and stuff like that. I don't do that right now.

Coming back from such a terrible experience, I, first of all, had to lower my expectations. I had to say, "Well, whatever it is, it's going to be good enough for now, and it'll get better." I think once I gave myself permission to just not put any expectations on myself; I think I play much better now than I did before I was sick. I think right now; I'm playing the best that I've ever played.

Not to be fat-headed but, going into your 60's it's nice to feel like you're still doing really good work and maybe even getting better. I'm very lucky to have all the opportunities I have to play around the world, and I have a great job.

It sounds as if there was never a time during that period that you believed that you wouldn't play again.

No. I was not going to give up. I was determined in my recovery, physical and mental recovery. I was very, very determined and that's what it takes. When you come back from something you have to. Your life is different, and some things are easier, and some things are harder and also I'm getting older. That was now eight years ago. I was only 52 then. I think certain things get easier as you get older, and certain things are a little harder. Travel takes a lot more out of you now than it used to, but that's normal.

 I've wondered about this for years, is music a form of medicine?

Oh yeah. Music is powerful. The things that make me feel best are after a show, somebody will come up to me and just say they were moved, or it made them think of this person they lost or made them feel optimistic or happy and if I can move people, then I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. If it just becomes an intellectual exercise, playing stuff for other musicians to check out, I'm not that interested in that.

 When I was listening to “Sunday Night at the Vanguard,” it put me in a certain state. The playing is just so beautiful, lovely. It just made me feel a certain way that I haven't felt listening to a jazz record in a long time.

I think the sound if you feel like you're there. The way it was recorded is deliberate. I wanted to make it sound like what the Vanguard sounds like. You heard the set more-or-less as it went down. It has the natural arc of what we usually do in performance. It's like you got the best seat in the house. That's the idea.

How are you feeling now physically?

I'm feeling fine. Always playing the lead for the Vanguard, I need a couple of days to recover. Just a lot of energy output. I'm working on a memoir that's coming out a year from September from Random House. I'm out at our place in Pennsylvania working on the book because it's due November 1st, so I've got a lot of work to do.








What are some of the things that you are addressing in the memoir?

Just my life in its entirety. Being in New York in the late 70's as a gay jazz musician, dealing with health issues, and coming out issues, and my thoughts about music and composing and just some of the experiences that I've been through. Good and funny and also not-so-good. It's roughly chronological order with some diversions. It's a heavy lift, but I'm really glad I'm doing it.

It's been about 30 years now since you were diagnosed with HIV.

Yeah, about 1986.

 Did you think that you would be here 30 years later?

No. Not at all. No way. I didn't think I would live to be 40, and 70's looking pretty possible. I just had some bad luck, but I've had some good luck, too. I'm still here, and I can't say the same for many other people I knew who didn't make it. For whatever reason, I've made it. I'm going to talk about it all.

All along the way, the music has been right there.

Yeah, you’re right. Music has kept me going, and back in the dark days, if it was March and I had a week at the Vanguard in June, I'd say, "Well, I've got to be alive to play that week." So I just tried to keep busy, you know?

Monday, September 5, 2016

JASON MORAN RETURNS TO THE DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL WITH LONGSTANDING TRIO THE BANDWAGON

Jason Moran
In 2011, the jazz pianist Jason Moran was set to play the Detroit Jazz Festival. Moran’s concert was to follow the Sun Ra Arkestra. A thunderstorm hit, and Moran’s concert was cancelled. Now, five years later the Houston native and MacArthur Fellow returns to the DJF with his longstanding jazz trio. Moran started building his name in the 90’s as a student at the Manhattan School of Music, and as a key member of alto saxophonist Greg Osby’s band. In less than a decade, Moran became one of the more respected pianist of his generation--a generation that includes Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Reed, Anthony Wonsey, Marc Cary, and Craig Taborn. Moran has cut nine highly regarded jazz albums for Blue Note Records and he's toured extensively. In 2010, he became a MacArthur Fellow.  Currently, he’s the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center, and his last album “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller” was nominated for a Grammy.  Over two decades now, Moran has been performing with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. The trio is known the world over as the Bandwagon, and it isn’t a run-of-the-mill jazz trio. No sir. On a good night, you’re likely to hear a performance mixed with Moran's originals such as "You've Got to Be Modernistic" and "Gangsterism on the Rise," some Thelonious Monk favorites, a gem or two from Fats Waller, plus a time-honored number from hip-hop icon Afrika Bambaataa. Part of Moran's appeal is his use of sound effects while improvising. Hearing Moran improvise to, for example, two women having a telephone conversation, or someone scribbling on a notepad is truly something to behold. No telling what Moran has planned for his DJF show. Nevertheless, bank on being awe inspired.

Jason Moran and the Bandwagon performs Monday 4:15 PM on the Water Front Stage

Sunday, September 4, 2016

TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON'S ENSEMBLE, 'MOSAIC PROJECT,' HAS PRIMO SLOT AT DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL

Terri Lyne Carrington 
Lester Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, and David Sandborn are some of the big-name bandleaders the Grammy-winning jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington has performed with. Carrington also has an equally vast R&B resume. Carrington grew up in Medford, MA. Carrington is extraordinary. Her parents were musicians. Her grandfather played drums in bands led by Fats Waller and Chu Berry. As a pre-teen, Carrington earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. Every since moving to New York in 1983, she has been in demand. "Real Life Story," her debut recording received a Grammy nomination. Her work as a bandleader ranks among her best given her lengthy track record. Carrington was the first female jazz musician to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for “Money Jungle Provocative In Blue, “a remake of the 1963 classic album co-led by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. Lately, Carrington has been making wonderful music with a band of female instrumentalists and guest vocalists known internationally as The Mosaic Project. The band swings like crazy. You can count the number of female jazz groups of prominence on one hand. Straight Ahead and the Diva Jazz Orchestra come to mind. It's rare for female groups to get a primo slot at a major international jazz festival. Nonetheless, Carrington surely has earned it. Not sure if Carrington's set list will only include music from her  last album "Love and Soul", or if you play music from her discography. Her set is a must-see.  

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project performs Monday 3:15 PM on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage

Sunday, August 21, 2016

JAZZ LEGEND RON CARTER ON DETROIT JAZZ FEST RESIDENCY, WHY THE MILES DAVIS QUINTET WASN'T THE GREATEST BAND HE'S PLAYED IN & ADVICE TO UP-AND-COMING JAZZ MUSICIANS

Ron Carter
The jazz bassist Ron Carter, 79, is fifty plus years into his career, and he’s still turning out great jazz music. In June, High Note Records released “Chemistry,” Carter’s sixth duo recording with tenor saxophonist Houston Person. “Chemistry” is the duo’s sweetest session yet. Carter is of excellence form on every cut accompanying Person. Last year, Carter put out another gem “My Personal Songbook Ron Carter and The WDR Big Band”. On that album, Carter is the centerpiece, guiding the WDR to extraordinary realms musically. Getting nothing short of the best from his bandmates is just one of Carter’s gifts.

One of Carter’s accomplishments is having played with nearly every major jazz musician under the sun the past five decades, including Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, and of course Miles Davis’s highly touted quintet. Listen carefully to the recordings the quintet made you’d have to acknowledge Carter was the soul of that group. Carter has played on a whopping 2,200 albums as a sideman—surely that’s a world record --, and some of Carter’s albums as a leader are classics. 

Interviewing Carter has been an item on I Dig Jazz’s bucket list for some time. That item was deleted from the list a few weeks ago when Carter talked with IDJ via telephone after he returned home from touring Europe. Carter talked about what fuels him at this golden stage of his career, if Davis’s quintet was the greatest band he’s been a member of, and why he’s nervous as hell about being the 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival’s artist-in-residence.

At this stage of your career, what keeps you inspired?  
I play every night. And I try to get better. My job is to make the person I’m playing with want to hire me when they come back to town. That’s a big thing for a musician in my age category.

I asked that question because I recently listened to Chemistry, the duo album you co-led with tenor saxophonist Houston Person-
That’s a great record, man.

It's one of the best I've heard so far this year.
All the music was one take with just two guys making some music. Houston is a great, great player. I get upset that his name isn't mentioned among those very important saxophone players in the history of the music. He belongs up there, man.

You've played with every major jazz musician under the sun from Miles Davis to Eric Dolphy. Is there a musician on your bucket list that you want to collaborate with?
Years ago, when I was getting into this business so to speak, I did an interview with a magazine whose title I forget, but they asked me did I have a list of musicians I wanted to play with before I stopped playing. Well, I explained to them that I don't have an ending set to my career, but I do have a list. On this list, these are the names and to this day I've played with all of them but [pianist] Ahmad Jamal. I was told that he’s retired now, so I have to try to track him down, and make him play with me in his house for one set. One tune.

What is it about Jamal that makes you want to collaborate with him?
He's one of the early piano players that allowed the bass player to be in charge of how the music sounded. There would be piano players along the way don't misunderstand me, but he allowed the bass player to call the shots. That’s very important to the development of the music and the bassist. So I want to see what the old man has to offer [laughs].

Well, I hope that collaboration happens.
If it does, you'll be the second person to know. I'll be the first.

Much has been written about Miles Davis's second quintet, which is regarded as one of the greatest jazz quintets of all times. Was that the greatest band that you’ve played in?
I have to say this out loud. I made over 2,200 CDs. That's 2,200 groups I've played with. And that's about 2,200 groups that had a choice of hiring a different bass player than me. I may not have been their first choice. Having said that those other groups to feel my presence was essential to their music whether I was the first call or the 19th call they're all important to me. They all offered me a different view of music. A different level of responsibility, and of course a different way of learning how best to make the bass be a part of those musical propositions, musical attempts at a sound that they wanted to hear.

So if I say that Miles's band is the best band, that means the other people were half-stepping, and I don't mean that at all. If I were talking to someone else, I would ask them, who was the best band they played with just to see how they would respond to that kind of question. Those who I know and trust would have to mumble for about a half hour, and I'd have to let it go.

Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock,  and Wayne Shorter moved into jazz fusion. Why didn’t you follow suit?
Three things were happening during that time. One, I was starting to get really active in the New York recording scene, and I was helping my wife raised two kids in New York. At that time, the education system there were striking every year with people complaining about the lack of equal education for the African-American kids who were in the 4th and 5th grades. Therefore there were a lot of teacher strikes in the early 60s. 

I didn’t think it was fair for me to be working in California while my wife was scuffling, trying to work out where the kids could go while the strikes were going on. Number two, I finally started to get an understanding of how a bass could work in a musical organization. I learned all that stuff working with Miles and of course freelancing. That kind of crystalized the magnitude of the bassist influence in the music of that moment. Number three, I was doing pretty good, and I wanted to see if I could live and play without being on the road so much.

Who was the bass player that had the biggest influence on you that you wanted to play like?
Well, none at all. I was influenced most by J.J. Johnson, who I played with a few times, and I was amazed that he could find all of those notes with that kind of fluidity and not go past the bell of the trombone. And there was Cecil Payne when he was with Randy Weston as I was for over a year when I came to New York. 

Cecil played the same horn as the major baritone players Harry Carney, Jerry Mulligan, and Pepper Adams. Yet, Cecil found his own sound that was different than those other guys. I thought if I could conceptualize how the bass has its distinct sound, and to have the facility that J.J. Johnson had on trombone maybe I could stumble on to something not just stumble around looking for the right notes.

How did being from Detroit help shape you musically during your formative years?
I was exposed to all the classical players in Detroit, and I didn't get to the Detroit jazz scene basically until I came home for summer vacation from college. I was working in Rochester, New York as a bass player in a house band. Outside Rochester they had a club called the Ridgecrest Inn a lady would book single acts and play a weekend or a week at this club, and I was in the house band.

I didn't get on the jazz scene in terms of going to the clubs and playing somewhere until I returned to Detroit in 1959. I would come home for vacations and because no one recognized me as being a jazz player I didn't make any gigs. I wasn't called for the jam sessions, or I couldn't sit in with anybody who was in town, and that was okay because I understood the pecking order. If guys don't know you all you can do is buy a ham sandwich and go home.

At some point, that changed, and jazz became your focal point.
Yes, that was because the classical world at that time was not ready to accept an African-American in their orchestras. I was told that twice before I got to age twenty. I believed them the second time. Any group that refuses a talent in their company is missing something whether it's me as a black guy or someone raised in Japan or somewhere else that is not the normal looking person in the orchestra.

You've played the Detroit Jazz Festival many times. What does it mean to you to return this time around as artist-in-residence?
I can't believe that they picked a bass player to do that. Bass players traditionally are kind of the guy hiding behind the palm tree in the band. You know, all you see is the top of his scroll and maybe his glasses and shoes. To have this guy come in front of the bandstand and be in charge is quite an honor and I'm thrilled to be thought of as a guy who can handle this kind of a situation. I’ll do my best.

You've played jazz festivals the world over. How does the Detroit Jazz Fest compare to other major jazz festivals?
Well, it's a weird question because I go to these festivals on the road so to speak, and I'm there just for the festival. I have no personal connection with the environment, you know? Maybe some friends come who I've seen at the same festival five years ago, but with the Detroit jazz fest there’s the more personal connection in that I graduated from Cass Tech, and I expect to see people I know from 1955 who will come to the festival who I will see for the first time since graduation day. 

The other festivals don't offer me that excitement to see people I haven't seen in forty, fifty years. The home I grew up in is still standing in Ferndale. Detroit has that personal connection for me. The Detroit Jazz Festival is a really heart pounding festival for me because I expect to be almost too excited to play, but I'll work it out.

For an up-and-coming jazz musician wanting to have the type of extraordinary career that you've had, the successes and accomplishments that you've had being on 2,000 records-
2, 220, get it right. I'm just teasing you now but go ahead [laughs].

What advice would you give?
I'd tell him, or her first of all get a teacher because music is really getting complicated. Learn where the notes are on the instrument. It's important to have that skill level. It's not enough to be talented and enthusiastic. 

The second thing is to understand the more visible you are, the more active you are, the more you play with different groups, the more complete you become in your concept. You can see how other groups work. How they keep their band members. How their library is, who writes the music. 

The third thing I think that's important is to understand that there is a chance to play wonderful music every night in the jazz band. Look forward to that as I still do.

That's a great answer.
I've been working on that answer for 60 years. I got it right I think.