Sunday, March 29, 2009



I remember the first time I heard you blow. Sean, you’re a member of trumpeter Marcus Belgrave’s "trumpet summit" at the 2003 Detroit International Jazz Festival. Belgrave assemble a pack up-and-coming trumpet sensations from various cities he’s played in. You showed up your peers. I got the impression that wasn’t your intent. You appeared to be a lovable person not fiercely competitive. The performance wasn’t billed at a “battle royal” just a bunch of budding superstars having a lot fun. I had an inkling you’d reach stardom before the others I followed your career

I made it a priority to attend each of your subsequent performances at Detroit’s jazz fest. I wished you’d perform in Detroit at least three times a year. That never happened, but you did sign with the Detroit based record company Mack Avenue Records. You earned the first trumpet chair in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra conducted by famed trumpeter and bandleader Wynton Marsalis.

You introduce alto saxophonist Tia Fuller to Detroit. I wondered if Fuller was your protégé’. It seemed as if you and Fuller were meant to blow together. Fuller joined you at Mack Avenue Records a few years later. She became a respected session leader, and she landed a high profile side-woman gig with Tina Turner’s heir apparent Beyonce’ Knowles. I bet you’re proud of Fuller. Her debut for Mack Avenue “Healing Space” was a good album.

Sean I was peeved you didn’t, played the festival last year. I hoped you're scheduled this year. To date, you’ve released five albums “Eternal Journey,” “Gemini,” Root,” “Kaleidoscope,” and “The Search Within”. The latter is your new lateness offering, which Make Avenue released last week. I’m a big fan of your live performances, but some of you albums I liked and others I disliked. Your third albums “Roots” is my favorite.

“Roots” captured what an awesome horn-smith you’ve become. I’m not a big fan of gospel music, and I haven’t been to church since
I was 10-year-old. I’m, 42, now. After listening to “Roots,” a gospel tinged album, I wanted to be baptized. That album was that inspiring.

However, Sean, I can’t say the same about “The Search Within,” which I listened to Thursday. I wanted to like the album because I'm your fan. The more I played it the more felt it was crammed together. Given the album’s deep title, I was geared up to hear a recording with spiritual or metaphysical meaning. The Search Within” had a handful of nice solos, but not enough for me to endorse it.

On the opener “Transitions,” you soared in the upper register like your trumpet ancestors trumpeters Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown. You’re able to channel their spirits. Alto saxophonist Brian Hogan was competent throughout, but he couldn’t match the soul-mate chemistry you built with Tia Fuller. On “Life Cycle,” harmonica player Gregoire Moret seemed to be out of place as though the rest of the band were several car lengths ahead and Moret struggled to keep up. The harmonica player, the flutist and the vocalist was overkill. What it boiled down to was “The Search Within” needed some heavy editing.

Monday, March 23, 2009



You always give your fans worthwhile music. You’never make the same album twice. I admire that quality in a jazz musician. I received your new album “He and She” two weeks ago. I’ve listened to it periodically since then. I decided not to blog about it until I could give it my undivided attention. I made time yesterday. I played the album at 10:30am. By 7:00pm, I was convinced it was worthwhile. "He and She" will appear on my favorite albums of 2009 list. I know the year is still young, and more jazz albums will be released this year. Some of my reads will feel it’s way too early to start compiling a best of list.

It was ingenuous how you structured the music around the lengthy poem you wrote, and how you prefaced each composition with a section from the poem. The compositions felt like short stories. You played nearly every form of jazz imaginable ragtime, swing, be bop, hard bop, modern bop, and the blues. You made each co-exist without any friction or one form dominating the other.

Last year, I recommended “Two Men with the Blues,” the album you co-led with country music icon Willie Nelson. That was an ambitious undertaking that could've been a disaster, but somehow you and Nelson pulled it off, mixing your clean-cut manner with Nelson's gruff laid-back style. I wondered if you’d be able to top that album. I figured you could but it would take some years. Twelve months later, you followed up with “He and She”. I’m glad I didn’t bet against you.

In the past, I've criticized you. Especially when you're out promoting Duke Ellington's music. You're so engrossed I wondered if you considered yourself Ellington's heir apparent. That turned me off. Ellington was indeed a great bandleader and composer. I can understand why someone would want to emulate him. He was sharp and sophisticated. You took it too far. I also wondered if Ellington's spirit kept tabs on you. Or if Ellington visited you in a dream, thanking you for keeping his music alive. Before he stepped outside you dream, he told you to be careful not to become so caught up in his music you stop creating your own.

I boycotted your music and said some nasty things about you. I told a friend how I felt. She asked if I heard you live. I had not.A few months later, you gigged at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. She invited me. I escorted her. She said you should be experienced live. She was right. You swung from start to finish. After that performance, I retracted the ugly things I said about you. I still think about that performance.

I’m not writing you to reminisce. I’ll stop, and resume commenting on “He and She”, which is why I’m writing you. “The Razor Rim” and “A Train, A Banjo, and A Chicken Wing” were the tracks I listened to the most. Every trick you performed on the trumpet making it growl, laugh, groan, and swing pianist Dan Nimmer could do on the piano. Nimmer solo on “Girl” got inside me, and tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding and drummer Ali Jackson wouldn't let my attention loose. I stopped playing “He and She”yesterday evening. Your trumpet is still singing in my ears. You really know how to satisfy your fan's taste buds.

Continue to swing


Sunday, March 15, 2009


Hugh Masekela-

I have a confession. “Phola” is the only Hugh Masekela album I own. That’s shameful because I’m a board certified jazz journalist, and you’re an accomplished and respected musician. I should be familiar with your lengthy discography. Mr. Masekela I’ve only been in the jazz business over a decade. I have to admit I still have a lot to learn, and I’ll always be playing catch up.

Mr. Masekela, a few years ago, a friend who fashioned himself a jazz expert told me I needed to take a course in jazz theory and jazz history. I wasn't offended. I told him I’d have to live nine lifetimes to experience the music Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell made. Plus, it would require more time for me to stay afoot of the new jazz albums and musicians springing up.

Mr. Masekela I’m not a pompous know-it-all. I never want people that read my blog page to feel I’m a jazz expert. I’m a lifelong student of jazz. I’m constantly learning about more about listening and interviewing jazz musicians. Mr. Masekela I’m not writing you to discuss how I approach the music. I'm writing to congratulate you on making a fine album. It was easy for me to fall for “Phola” after only listening to it twice. In the liner notes, you said, “Phola" meant to be in a constant meditative state. That’s how I felt while listening to the album.

“Phola" was eclectic as well. Listening to some compositions made me feel like I attended a political rally and others such as “Moz” made me want to boogie. My favorite tracks were “Bring It Back Home” and “SonnyBoy”

On the former, you chastised the people who enjoy the employment and educational opportunities given to them after Apartheid was abolished, and how some have forgotten the struggles. You challenged them to bring their education and vocational skills back to their neighborhoods, villages, and communities to help inspire and uplift those less fortunate.

“SonnyBoy” was my second favorite song. It was an autobiographical song about self-actualization. On both “Bring It Back Home” and “SonnyBoy” you sang about what you experienced. That’s why “Phola” felt genuine and authentic.

On “The Joke of Life”, you made your trumpet sound like a human. You had an effortless quality on the instrument. Mr. Masekela “Phola” piqued my interest and I plan to log in more hours listening to it. Then I intend to explore some of your other recordings. I’m still playing catch up.

Continue to swing



Dear Alfred Lion-

I just returned home from the Blue Note Records 70th Anniversary concert at Orchestra Hall in Downtown Detroit. Seventy years has passed since you opened Blue Note Records, turning jazz musicians such as Sidney Bechet, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and many others into household names. Bruce Lundvall, Blue Note's CEO made the roster more diverse. Lundvall upgraded the lineup by adding R&B vocalist Anita Baker, Soul crooner Al Green, and pop vocalist and pianist Norah Jones to the lineup.

The moved worked. Jones’ became a platinum artist, and her album "Come Away with Me" won six Grammy awards, and Baker's album "My Everything" sold an estimated 500,000 units. I'm unsure if Green's 2008 comeback project "Lay it Down" paid off. Some jazz fans criticized Jones because she doesn’t sound like the run-of-the-mill jazz vocalist. Some unreceptive jazz purists contend the label heads watered down when they signed non-jazz musicians. For the record, diversifying the label was a good move, and I like Jones.

The profits from Jones albums sales, I’m sure has kept the label afloat, and subsidize projects by pianist Jason Moran, trumpeters Terrence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis, jazz artists that don’t sell a lot of units. Alfred, I’m not writing you to preach about how much your brainchild has changed, or to defend Jones. Jazz purists are entitled to their opinions. I apologize for deviating from my intent, which is to share with you the goodtime I had at 70th anniversary concert.

Friday nigh the Blue Note 7, the septet touring around the country, celebrating your achievements and your legacy gave an outstanding performance. When I left Orchestra Hall, smoke was coming from my ears. Pianist Bill Charlap, guitarist Peter Bernstein, drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Peter Washington, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, and tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane were the accomplished swingers called the Blue Note 7. Alfred, I wondered why the organizers of the celebration tour enlisted these musicians. Charlap is the only one signed to Blue Note. I also wondered why the organizers didn't use other musicians from the label.

The concert started promptly at 8:00pm. Charlap opened the first set with a composition written by trumpeter Lee Morgan “Party Time,” and Payton soloed as if Morgan’s spirit was on the stage whispering instructions into Payton’s ears. The trumpeter hit high notes like a sledgehammer. What like loved about the group was there wasn’t an anointed leader, and each member had equal billing.

Some weeks ago, I listened to the album "The Blue Note 7 Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records", and I was impressed how much the musicians mesh. I’ve always been leery of all-star bands, but the Blue Note 7 obliterated any biases I harbored. The last all-star session I attended-I won’t give any names- was a mess. Obviously, that ensemble either forgot to hearse or deemed rehearsing unnecessary. The Blue Note 7 clicked as though they’ve played together since childhood.

Charlap played the piano softly as if the black and white keys were made of foam. Even when the pianist navigated his way through the tricky chord progressions on pianist Thelonious Monk’s “Criss Cross “Charlap did so gently.

Nicholas Payton nearly blew the audience from their seats when he soloed on Freddie Hubbard’s “Hub Tone”.

Drummer Lewis Nash was the septet’s franchise player. On tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s “United,” instead of wailing on Nash scatted through his solo. When he soloed again put he his drumsticks away. Then he beat his drums with his hand. All night, Nash had the energy of a rookie point guard, and he was undoubtedly the crowd favorite.

Ravi Coltrane and Steve Wilson were passive the first set, but more assertive during the second. Coltrane bumped up his blowing a few notches when he soloed on an obscure Dexter Gordon composition. Coltrane had a light sound on the tenor. At any moment, his horn could’ve easily floated out his hands.

As for Steve Wilson, the saxophonist was in his nature habitat Jackie Mclean love song he dedicated to his wife “Ballad for a Doll”. The notes Wilson played were as pretty as a prom queen.

Alfred, I wondered if bits and pieces of your spirit and dedication to excellence fueled the musicians. Near the conclusion of the first set, I was concerned about the musician’s safety. They septet was immersed in the music. I thought they'd never come up for air. The audience was so hyped I worried they’d hold the septet hostage, demanding that they play on. The audience didn't fuss, however, when Charlap announced the guys would take a 15-minute break to allow their instruments to cool off.

The second set was just as good as the first. I won't consume any more of your time. Maybe for Blue Notes 80th anniversary Bruce Lundvall will encourage Anita Baker, Al Green, and Norah Jones to participate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009



You made an excellent trio jazz album. I received "Triosphere" last Friday, and I was smitten after the first listen. I lost track of the number of times I’ve listened to your album. You deserve high marks for the professional way you packaged the album; your decision to only use original material; and recruiting pianist Mike Jellick and drummer Nate Winn, budding stars on the Detroit jazz scene that helped you make “Triosphere" worthwhile.

“Triosphere” happened to be the finest trio jazz album I’ve experience since hearing drummer Roy Haynes trio date “We Three”. I found the album in the used record bin several years ago at Car City Records. I was elated as if I won the lottery. I had the same feeling of elation after I listened to your work.

You kept the album lean only offering eight original compositions. I’m glad you chose not to cram your debut with standard compositions. Your material whetted my appetite, and I wished you had included at least four bonus tracks. Leaving your listeners wanting more is the universal sign of a good bandleader.

Allow me to return to Haynes’ “We Three” for a moment. On that date, pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. and bassist Paul Chambers handled all the sideman duties. I heard elements of Chambers’ voice when you soloed. You made that huge instrument purr. On “J.J.” and “No Song”, the leadoff selections on “Triosphere”, you pushed Jellick and Winn into the spotlight. What an unselfish act. If a test audience has listened to the album before you released it, and were ask to identify the leader of the session, most would’ve picked Jellick, who made his presence felt. You refused to overshadow Winn and Jellick or regulate them to just timekeeping. You divvied up the solo responsibilities.

Winn's, soft and tasteful licks beg comparison to the quintessential drummer Bert Myrick and the chief session drummer during Blue Note Record's golden years Joe Chambers. Winn probably honed his drummer voice playing in a variety of small bands and backing vocalists. The youngster doesn’t have a flashy or ostentatious bone in his body. If forced to name my favorite player on “Triosphere”, it would be Mike Jellick.

In the past, I criticized Jellick. In 2206, I heard backing a vocalist and playing in small bands. I disliked his solos back then. He got tango, and seemed unsure of himself. On this album, however, Jellick proved he's grown considerably. He was confident. He played as if he spent months locked away woodshedding, I knew he'd eventually become a good pianist. My initial impressive of Jellick's competence no longer apply. I adored every solo Jellick took on “Triosphere” particularly on “You Said So” and “Final Decision”.

In fact, Ryan, Jellick swung like the captain of the album. You seemed unfazed. Clearly, your goal was to make a quality jazz trio album, and you succeeded big time. You were a professional on every conceivable level, and I appreciated how quickly you spent me a copy of the album after I agreed to spend time with it. The press kit was attractive. Those details may seem insignificant to some, but it proved you're serious a composer, a musician, and a bandleader.


Sunday, March 8, 2009



In January, at trumpeter Marcus Belgrave’s album release party at Bert’s Marketplace, pianist Bill Meyer asked me to listen to “Stylin’,” an album you and Meyer released in 2006. The pianist was anxious for me to experience the album, and I promised him I would listen to it when I had some free time, and I would a blog whether I liked or considered it sub-par. I finally spent time with “Stylin’” last week. I enjoyed it. You and Meyer put out a solid album.

You guys had fun playing together. “Stylin” was a well-organized jam session. Egos weren’t welcomed. The band was determined to make a damn good jazz album, and you and Meyer succeeded. Meyer has mastered the science of companying a jazz vocalist. Your voice matched his impeccable manner. I’m familiar with the pianist's stellar track record, but I’m unfamiliar with your resume’. I wondered how you and Meyer met, how long you guys have been partners, and what inspired this session?

The album didn’t have liner notes to answer those questions and other basic background information such as your birthplace, and who influenced you. I searched the internet for your biography, but the search was futile. Neglecting to provide informative liner notes was the only noticeable shortcoming. I like to read liner notes while listening to an album. Doing so is part of the listening experience. Actually, last week was the first time I heard you sing.

On the standards “Fools Rush In,” “Just One of Those Things,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” and “One for My Baby,” your style, phrasing, and execution was evocative of those dignified vocalists such as Johnny Hartman, Mel Torme’, Joe William and Frank Sinatra. I bet during your formative years you spent a lot of time studying each, but Sinatra was your favorite. I alternated from Stylin’” to a compilation album I own by Sinatra titled “Classic Sinatra His Greatest Performances 1953-1960”. I wanted to make sure my comparison was on the money.

Musically, was Sinatra, in fact, your chief influence? I know most musicians hate comparisons. Like Sinatra, your have voice was clear and robust. If “Stylin’” was your debut album as a co-leader, it should be considered your official coming out party. “Hello Detroit” was a nice way to end “Stylin,’’ and it was admirable you and Meyer kept the sideman duties in house by assembling only Detroit based jazz musicians. “Stylin’” is a worthwhile Detroit vocal jazz album.



I misplaced the “Stylin’” album cover, which I planned to run with this blog. I will find it soon. Until then, I uploaded the cover the Sinatra album I mentioned in the blog. I will remove the cover when I have located the “Stylin’” cover art.

Sunday, March 1, 2009



I finally spent quality time with “From My Heart to Yours” and “A Blossom Sings,” the albums you mailed me weeks ago. I planned to experience the albums sooner, but some unexpected things surfaced so I had to alter my plans. I listened to the albums damn near everyday last week. Today I re-listened to “A Blossom Sins” again. I lost count of how many times I’ve played the album. Of the two, “A Blossom Sings was my favorite. it was love at first sight. I think about the album nonstop.Each time I played the albums made me feel like a hopeless romantic. Naima, I liked “A Blossom Sings” more than any jazz vocalist’s album I’ve experienced recently. I know you released “A Blossom Sings” seven years ago, but it felt brand new to me. Regularly, I receive albums from jazz vocalists. Most of the albums are dull. “A Blossom Sings” qualifies as a classic. Your rendition of “Hello Like Before” engaged me as much as Nancy Wilson’s version. Wilson used to be my favorite jazz vocalists, but you replaced her. You're in the same league as vocalist Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrae, and Helen Humes. Naima let me know if I’m getting carried away. You possess that much talent and you belong in the same league as those vocalists. Your voice soothed me. On “You and Me Against" the World” and “Tristee,” you had this different way of scatting.It sound more like you were chanting, and you converted your voice into an instrument.

Your voice is made for love songs. You gave special attention to each lyric. “Sand of Love” I wanted to curl up with a warm blanket and listen to you sing. Because “A Blossom Sings” was released seven years ago, I can’t include it on my top ten albums of 2009. Naima, it was the best albums by a jazz vocalist I’ve listened to lately.