Monday, February 23, 2009


Pianist Kenn Cox and Marion Hayden


I hope you’re having a ball in heaven with pianist Teddy Harris, drummer Roy Brooks, and saxophonist Donald Walden. By the way, how are they doing? I’m sure they were elated when you joined them. Did they give you a big welcome home jam session? Kenn, I would’ve contacted you sooner, but I wanted you to settle in first. I hoped you’re not upset I missed your home going celebration. I planned to attend. The night before I even picked out the outfit I planned to wear: black slacks, a shirt white spread collar dress shirt, a Camelhair blazer, a solid black necktie and polished black Chelsea boots.
That night I had insomnia. I finally drifted off around 3:00am. I overslept. I woke up at noon the next day; an hour after the celebration commenced. Days later, I heard the church overflowed with, your friends, your former students and your peers wanting be a part of you sendoff. Kenn, I hate that I missed out.

Kenn, yesterday, I attended a tribute concert in your honor held at the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church organized by bassist Marion Hayden. She did a stellar job. As an attendee, I finally got the chance to participate in an event honoring and celebrating your contribution to Detroit music culture. After Marion introduced the all-star band she handpicked, the bassist said she hoped for a modest crowd, but the horde of people showed up exceeded her expectations. I estimated well over 100 people attended.

Last Wednesday, the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, published an article I wrote about Marion’s music career. A month ago, I spent a few hours interviewing Marion, and she talked about her relationship with you. Did you know when you guys were band-mates in Donald Walden’s band over twenty years ago Marion believed you hated her. She said you gave her some discouraging feedback about her playing. She asked me not to reveal what she thought about you back than.I convinced Marion to allow me use those recollections.
The tribute concert was a hit. To make it memorable, Marion assembled members of the various bands you led during your storied career, which included vocalist Shahida Nurullah, drummer Djallo Djakate, pianist Buddy Budson, and a wonderful percussionist who name I can’t remember. He was a member your last band Kenn Cox and Drum. I used to see him regularly at the Om Café. Save for the Duke Ellington’s composition “Caravan,” and a obscure ditty composed by George Gershwin the tribute band played your compositions “Mandela’s Muse,” “What Other One,” “Trance Dance,” and “Bridges”.

Poet Melba Boyd read poems she wrote about you and Donald Walden. Saxophonist Anthony Holland and Marion accompanied her. Boyd is a good jazz poet. She nailed you and Donald’s personalities. I must say something about how Holland. He’s a sweet saxophonist, and he sounds better every time I hear him. Playwright Bill Harris, an admirer of jazz musician from Chicago told me after the concert Holland has ties to Chicago. Harris was uncertain if the saxophonist was born in Chicago and relocated to Detroit or vice versa.

I talked with jazz historian Jim Gallert and his wife Dawn. I sat behind them when the concert started. Jim looked as if he wanted to cry. His cheeks were flush. I could tell Jim really loved you. A few years ago, I had dinner with Jim. He said you taught him about jazz. He also mentioned you’re his best man when he married Dawn. At that dinner, I got the impression Jim considered you a father figure.
The music was inspiring, Kenn. I thought the church’s pastor was into it. I thought he was going to start moonwalking and break dancing when Holland soloed on “Trance Dance”. I wonder if your spirit was there holding your wife’s hand. Kenn, I won’t consume more of your time. You’re probably busy composing new music. Heaven must be a swell place to make music. You don’t have any distractions. I had fun last night. Kenn,you don’t have to worry about your musical legacy because Marion is making sure it lives on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I had to soak my feet in Epson salt, and had my wife massage my neck late Friday night after your concert at Orchestra Hall. John, you put on a memorable show. (The best I experienced so far this year). I’m certain other attendees had to soak their feet too. I bobbed my head; I patted and stomped my feet non-stop. Your music was the engaging and eclectic.

You had the crowd pumped on “Green Tea” and “You Bet”. Then you calmed them when you played a ballad softly like a lullaby. You forgot to announce the title, and tell us which of your many albums the ballad appeared. You concluded the first set with a fast tempo number, which I thought was a taste of how hard you, the drummer and the bassist planned to swing during the second set. You and bassist Matthew Penman worked feverishly on the closer like ditch digger’s shovels.

During the intermission, I noticed that I had worn an hole in the left sole of my left leather boot I sported, stomping like a lunatic when drummer William Stewart played soloed on” Strangeness in the Night,” which changed tempos as many times as a runway model switched outfits. I enjoyed William the most. The drummer never abused his drums. William’s lush and sophisticated matter was comparable to drummer Joe, a session drummer for Blue Note Records during it heyday. Chambers had a soft drumming style.

Frankly, John, I was glad you gave the audience a twenty-minute breather before you started the next set. We needed the time to recoup. So did my left foot and ears. The cashier in Orchestra Hall’s gift shopped noted I was physique. She asked if I had enough stamina left to hear the second set. My left foot was definitely ready to split, but my ears begged for more.

You started the second set with a ballad. That caught me off guard. Then you guys played an obscure Charlie Parker composition titled “Wee,” which some jazz authorities claim be bop drummer Denzil Best actually wrote. Although my overworked left foot throbbed, I continued stomping my left foot and wiggling in my seat. The second set was satisfying like the once. You showed you are comfortable effectively fuse Jazz, Funk, and Rock, making the mix danceable and listenable.

John you guys deserved the lengthy ovation. The audience wanted a bonus set. Of course, you couldn’t oblige, but they appreciated the encore you played.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Terrence Brewer/Photo by J-notes.comI listened to your new album “Groovin’ Wes” everyday since I received it last week. Honestly, Terrence, it was the first time I’ve heard your work, and I couldn’t tear my ears always from the album. “Groovin’ Wes” impressed me that much. You put your heart and skills into every square inch of this recording, and I’m sure your fans appreciated you more for making this prefect tribute album. You can add me to your fan base. After I listened to “Groovin’ Wes,” I wanted to know more about your life. I searched the web for biographical information.

I read several articles that raved about your talents, but none offered basic information such as how you got started, who taught you to play, and who other than Montgomery influenced you musically. The biography on your website only cited your accomplishments, and excerpts from music critics who critiqued some of your live performances.

I read similar information on the trustworthy jazz website I’m familiar with your accomplishments, but I’m still unfamiliar with your personal life. Are you married? Do you have kids? Were your parents musicians? What did you fall in love with first Jazz or the guitar? I found out you reside in Alameda, California, and you own a record labeled Strong Brew Records, which released your albums “The Calling Volumes One and Two,” and “Quintessential”.

Your plan for “Groovin’ Wes” was simple: “Lots of guitarist can imitate Wes Montgomery. I wanted to pay tribute to him with my own voice,” you said in the album’s press release. You kept your word, and somehow, you managed to channel Montgomery’s spirit. Throughout “Groovin’ Wes”, you played as if the guitarist was inside the recording studio coaching you. On “Road Song,” your staff organist Wil Blades and drummer Micah McClain were spunky as they raced up and down every chord change. You sound like you played two guitars at once on “Speak Low” and “Bumpin”. The ballad “In Your Own Sweet Way” was the showstopper. You damn near made your guitar cry.

You took on a big challenge, Terrence, tackling the music your idol immortalized. “Groovin Wes” made me reminisce about the first time I heard Montgomery. It was in the late 90’s. I was in the music department of the Detroit Public Library on Woodward Ave. I found a jazz album titled “Bags Meets Wes” by vibe player Milt Jackson and Montgomery. On the cover photo, both men wore hats, wool overcoats, and they hugged. I played that album over and over, trying to figure out how the musicians made the guitar and the vibraphone mesh. I never discovered how, but I admired the musicians anyway.

Yesterday, I purchased the current issue of Downbeat magazine. Montgomery graced the cover. I also bought two albums Montgomery made for Riverside Records “Boss Guitar” and “Full House Wes Montgomery Recorded Live at Tsubo-Berkeley, California”. I devoured both albums today. I ate the first album for breakfast and had the live one for lunch.

Downbeat magazine featured the 75 great guitarists, and Montgomery led the pack. The editors omitted many accomplished guitarists who deserved recognition. The editors re-published an article the jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote in 1961, about Montgomery musical evolution and the guitarists Montgomery admired such as Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow. Terrence, if Montgomery was still alive and, had listened to “Groovin’ West,” I guarantee he would’ve loved it, and appreciated the care you employed honoring and perpetuating his music.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Normally, Jeff, I try not to make predictions. Rare instances have occurred, and I couldn’t resist. I listened to your sixth album “Watts” recently. The band you assembled cast a spell on me, and I told friends “Watts” would be number one on jazz aficionado’s best album of 2009 list. I felt that strongly about your new album. I know, we’re only two months in 2009, and there will certainly be other worthwhile jazz recordings released this year, but none that’ll measure up to the swinging captured on “Watts”.

You’ve performed with saxophonist Branford Marsalis, bassist Christian McBride, and trumpeter Terrence Blanchard many times before. You guys always seem to have loads of fun making music. “Watts” came off like a jam session not the typical everyday studio session. I must say, I had ball listening to “Watts,” and you inadvertently disproved my belief for a band to swing hard it must have pianist. I find piano-less jazz bands hard to digest.

You only used a pianist Lawrence Fields on “Owed…”. On the other selections, you and McBride shouldered the manual labor. The band swung so hard on “Return of the Jitney Man,” Dancin’ 4 Chicken,” and “The Devil’s Ring Tone” I didn’t noticed the pianist let off early.

“Watts” could’ve easily turned into an ego fest with the future Hall of Fame jazz musicians on the album, but you all didn’t waste time jockeying for the spotlight. The band was in harmony throughout. Marsalis has received accolades for his fiery work on the soprano and tenor saxophone. The saxophonist is an exceptional balladeer as well, and he showed his softer size on the ballad “Owed”.

“Katrina James” should be required listening for budding jazz musicians with aspirations of one day becoming a bandleader. The teamwork the band displayed on “Katrina James” alone would be good source material on how a band should click. I listened to “Dancin’ 4 Chickens,” and “Brekky with Drecky” with my eyes shut, imagining I was inside the studio watching the band create the music while I soaked up every note and chord change.

On “Wry Köln,” you had your hey-mom-watch-me moment. The band stepped dutifully aside, encouraging you to swing freely. You covered a lot ground, indeed. I thought you were playing three drum kits at once. Jeff, I’m going to stick with my prediction “Watts” will be the top jazz album of 20009.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Jaimee, I promised Stephanie Brown, a publicist for DL Media, I would spend time with your new album “At Last” this weekend. Brown mailed me an advance copy in January, and I wanted to experience it sooner, but I was sidetracked. Yesterday I finally listened to “At Last”. Frankly, I neither loved the album nor hated it. I was conflicted, and wished you'd made the album without an orchestra. It was overkill and disrupted the overall flow.

It was an ambitious endeavor, indeed. Covering classics songs immortalized by vocalists Etta James, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, and other Hall-of-Fame worthy vocalists. “At Last” was a nice homage to those women. However, some parts of the album irked me. The orchestra hindered you. The album would’ve been nearly flawless with just you and a rhythm section. You’re voice was that engaging.

On “Sentimental Journey”, you’re inviting; on “You Didn’t Do Right By Me" and “Over the Rainbow” your voice was cozy and comfortable like a winter sweater. Would I recommend “At Last”? Sure, on the strength of your voice alone, but I would have to add the orchestra was an eyesore, and the album would’ve flowed better without those strings instruments backing you.