Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Mr. Rollins, please forgive me. I planned to blog about your new album Road Shows Vol. 1 last week when Doxy Records sent it to me, and after I'd listened to the album twice. But I got sidetracked. I purchased a book titled Three Wish an Intimate Look at Jazz Greats written by Pannonica de Koeningswarter. Nica, as she was known among jazz musicians who she befriended, book is loaded with photos she snapped of your peers having a good time at her house. (Thelonious Monk named Nica's pad the Cathouse because, I'm sure you already know, she owned 144 cats).

Nica's book included a few black and white photos of you. On one you’re shaved, wore a black cowboy hat. She snapped a photo of you and Thelonius Monk. You guys looked youthful. Monk was seated at a piano, and you set on a sofa nestling your tenor sax. It looked as if you were conversing with it .

I often wondered about Nica's infatuation with jazz musicians. Her granddaughter, Nadine de Koenigswarter wrote the introduction to Three Wishes. She offered some basic biographical information, but nothing any jazz enthusiast couldn't track down on the Internet. From the introduction, I gathered Nica was a bit eccentric.

Mr Rollins, let me stop yapping about Three Wishes. The book just made me feel good, and the Road Shows Vol. 1 did too. The time I alloted to blog about your album I used to write Nica a letter, expressing how Three Wishes touched me.

Mr. Rollins I listened to Road Shows Vol. 1 at least five times so far. I never rely on my first impression. I play albums over and over. I dug the Road Shows Vol. more than Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (2005). You used most of the personnel from that date trombonist Clifton Anderson (who produced the Road Shows Vol. 1), guitarist Bobby Broom, percussionist Kimati Dinizulu, and pianist Stephen Scott.

On More Than You Know, and Tenor Madness you were vigorous as if you had something to prove. On your last live album your band shouldered the workload, particularly pianist Stephen Scott. Scott fingers raced across the keys a la pianist Bud Powell. On the Road Shows Vol. 1, you handled the manual labor.

You navigated your way through Blossom like a museum curator, proving that you're still a champion improviser.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Charles Mingus and Pannonica de Koenigswarter
Dear Nica,

I’m Charles L. Latimer a jazz blogger and journalist based in Detroit, MI. Yesterday I purchased a copy of your book Three Wishes an Intimate Look at Jazz Greats from Barnes and Noble in Grosse Pointe, MI. I read the book today. What I novel idea to ask jazz greats such as Thelonius Monk, Barry Harris, Anita O’Day, Coleman Hawkins, and many others what would they ask for if granted three wishes.
You befriended a lot of jazz musicians. They treated you like their little sister, especially Monk who you helped when his mental state worsened, and he became reclusive. You treated musicians like human beings not commodities. Monk named your pad the Cathouse because jazz musicians congregated there, and you actually owned 144 cats.

Did you name each cat after a jazz musician? If I owned a male cat I’d name it Mingus, and a feline Mary Lou. Those are catchy names I think. I want a cat, but my wife doesn’t. She loves dogs. I’m the opposite. So we’re at an impasse.

Jazz musicians hung out at the Cathouse. You snapped photos of them. It appeared to be a haven where they could unwind. I wished I could’ve been there when you photographed drummer Roy Brooks sitting at the drums in a soft leather jacket sporting a scruffy bread, and saxophonist Charlie Rouse wearing a fur coat and matching hat standing next to pianist Sonny Clark who look like a pimp down on his luck, and pianist Barry Harris snuggled up with one of your cats. The photos were just as compelling as the musician’s answers to your question.

The musicians were candid. The consensus was steady work, good health and a livable income. Duke Ellington elegantly said: “My wishes are very simple. I just want nothing but the best”. Pianist Barry Harris wanted a room with a Steinway and a good record player, where he could be alone with all the Charlie Parker and Bud Powell records. Drummer Roy Brooks wished for prosperity, happiness and three more wishes.

Some musicians were longwinded. Others were direct. After reading Three Wishes, I felt as if I personally knew each musician. Nica, your life was a dream surrounded by musicians who cherished you.

I wondered why you left Charlie Parker out. Back then, maybe Parker was in bad shape. Did you ask Bird for his three wishes? I imagined he would've answered he wanted to live a clean life.

A biographer should’ve written about your life, Nica, explaining your affinity for jazz, and why you befriended jazz musicians. I bet you had some great stories to tell. Your life seemed like an endless jam session.

Three Wishes inspired me to give you my wish list. First, the local jazz musicians I interviewed would benefit from the articles I write about their lives,
Secondly, God would allow the late pianists Teddy Harris and Harold McKinney to return to Detroit so they could resume mentoring the next generation of jazz musicians.
Lastly, I want to learn how to play the piano like Craig Taborn and Cyrus Chestnut.

--Charles L. Latimer

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Pianist Dave Brubeck Pianist Dave Brubeck opened the Bank of America Paradise Jazz Series 2008-2009 Thursday night at Orchestra Hall. Brubeck, 88, ambled onto the stage.He wore a fitted black tuxedo, and his hair was a little tousled. Before he made it to the piano, the capacity crowd gave him a lengthy ovation. When they settled down, he introduced the band. Then he removed one of the seat cushions from the chair planted at the piano. He dug into the piano like a hungry man at the dinner table.

He opened with two slow-tempo tunes from his current album 50 years of Dave Brubeck Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1957-2007. I figured that the pianist would cruise through the evening. I was wrong. On the third tune, Brubeck called an up-tempo ditty that had a flunky and bluesy feel. At that point, alto saxophonist Bobby Millitello took over.

The first set, Millitello carried the bulk of the workload. Much like Brubeck’s running buddy of the 50’s alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, Millitello played duets with himself, and played bluesy and fast tempo tunes proficiently. Millitello bent forward when he soloed as if trying to pour the music out his horn. On Brubeck’s, Koto’s Song, It seemed that Millitello played two flutes simultaneously.

The quartet performed five songs. Then they took a coffee break. Not that they needed one, but audience needed a moment to catch their breath. It was mostly seniors in attendance. They were hyped like they were at a hip hop concert.

The second set was the best. The some in the audience shouted songs they wanted Brubeck to play. Two perfumed elder ladies seated in front of me bobbed their heads like they were at a heavy metal concert when Brubeck played Paul Desmond’s classic Take Five. At one point, I thought the old dames were going dance up and down the isles.

Millitello controlled the first set, and drummer Randy Jones the second. Jones took a lengthy and well crafted solo on Take Five. He had fragments of the melody flying about like they were coming from a snow blower. The capacity crowd roared when he finished.

As for Brucbeck, he never overexerted himself. He played some pretty preludes, but he delegated the bulk of the workload to Millitello and Jones. The pianist kept pace with his band-mates. From time to time, he tried to trip them up by playing a few extra chords, but they weren’t fooled by the pianist antics.

Brubeck put on a fun show, indeed. He was spunky, humorous, and charming. He ribbed hecklers who interrupted him while he introduced tunes, and he poked fun at his band-mates, particularly Millitello. The pianist was hospitable, treating the audience like guests at a Brubeck family cookout.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


It’s rare that I blog about a recording after only listening to it once. I’m careful never to rush to judgment. I want to offer a thorough critique, not just a knee-jerk reaction. Tim, your latest album One For Shirley-dedicated to your mentor the late organist Shirley Scott-grabbed my attention immediately. I purchased it yesterday at Street Corner Music in Beverly Hills, MI, and I played it this morning. I bobbed head, patted my feet, and snapped my fingers for 77.41 minutes straight, the length of this album.

Man, One for Shirley is a fabulous tribute album. If Scott were alive she would be proud. Not because you honored her. Mostly because of the groomed jazz musician you’ve become, which I’m sure Scott nurtured those years you played with her.

It’s nice to know there are still jazz musicians who’re sticklers about details, and who wouldn’t dare release an album until every inch of it is finely tuned. I knew you were a special when I first heard you at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI at the Blues, Roots, Hunks and Moans concert blowing in bassist Christian McBride’s band, which motivated me purchase A Cool Blue two (1995) and Gentle Warrior (1997) superb Criss Cross Jazz released in .

I liked your command of the tenor saxophone. I also liked your spiffy demeanor. That concert happened awhile back. When I listened to your new album it was evident that you’re still meticulous. I wondered what you were up to since you released Jazz Is (2002).

After listening to One for Shirley, I figured you’d spent the last six years crafting this album because every each of it is chiseled and polished. You assembled a strong supporting cast trumpeter Terell Stafford, organist Pat Bianchi, drummer Byron Landham and percussionist Daniel G. Sadownick. They filled every each of the space you carved out for them.

Bianchi was a good choice to play the organ. His aggressive and churchy nature is akin to how Scott once wailed away. Where did you find Bianchi? On the closer, Yours Is My Heart Alone he sounded as if Scott attended the recording session and coached him.

As a rule, when I blog about a recording, I never rely on my first impression. I listen to an album over and over until I’m absolutely sure I either love it or I hate it. That changed this morning when I played One For Shirley. This album exicted. You really captured Scott. She could make you dance and cry in the same breath. This album is a fitting gesture of appreciation to the lady who taught you to swing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Earl, I must apology for blogging about your latest album The Spice of Life months after Koch Records released it. I asked a salesperson at Street Corner Record where I purchased it if he’d listened to the album, or heard any reviews. He endorsed it, commenting that it’s eclectic. Shortly, after I bought The Spice of Life I planned to review it, but I got sidetracked. Man, I’ve been busy writing articles and concert reviews.

I had to perform major surgery on a piece I wrote about alto saxophonist Larry Smith’s comeback after being away from the jazz scene for five years because he suffered two strokes. My editor disliked my first draft. So I rewrote it. Are you hip to Smith? I’m certain you are. To his fans and peers, Smith is be bop pioneer saxophonist Charlie Parker’s heir apparent. Man, what a compliment.

Anyway, Earl, I’m finally ready to offer may take of The Spice of Life, your 31st album. Congratulation! Before I start, I have to level with you. I’m not what you may consider a Smooth Jazz enthusiast, although I like saxophonist Randy Scott, keyboardist Al McKenzie and flutist Alexander Zonjic.

Lately, I’ve been more receptive to Smooth Jazz. At heart, I’m still a red blooded jazz purist, but I started paying more attention to Smooth jazz after I heard saxophonist Everett Harp and keyboardist Bobby Lyle years ago at the Idlewild Jazz Festival.

I never knew Smooth jazz musicians could swing so hard. I was pleasantly shocked. Earl, forgive me for not getting to the point. I thoroughly enjoyed The Spice of Life. The album is mostly cuddling music, music that’ll unwind you.

Don’t mistake my description of this album the wrong way. I’m not attempting to tacitly tag your album elevator music. That’s not what I’m trying to convey. The album is uncomplicated, and easy listening. At certain points of this album, however, I felt the urge to snap my fingers and pat my feet. Mostly I was completely relaxed like I slipped on a warm robe.

Earl, I disagree with the salesperson assessment that the album is eclectic. You established a comfortable groove, and stayed on course. I looking forward to experiencing you live November 7th at Orchestra Hall.