Wednesday, April 29, 2009



Thanks for the recommendations you gave me Friday evening at Border's Books and Music. I copped alto saxophonist and composer Oliver Nelson's 1964 big band date “Fantabulous”. The album was 50%, a bargain. I wonder if the executives at Border’s know what jewels they’ve literally giving away. I also I copped “Out of the Cool” by Gil Evans. You said I should add that album to my collection. I’ve only listened to the album twice, but I plan to spend more time with it soon.

Evans was, indeed, an imposing composer. I have to be in a sure certain frame of mind to comprehend the many nuances in his arrangements. He wasn’t a chump by no means, which explains why Miles Davis adored him. I’m not implying Nelson’s arrangements were easy. He was more swing oriented.

“Fantabulous” was an easy read. It grabbed my attention faster than Evans’ album. Evans was sort of a jazz intellectual. He wanted his listeners to think. That’s fine because some music enthusiasts want the music they buy to challenge them. Nelson on the other hand, wanted his listeners to have a ball. I had a grand time with Nelson’s recording. I have “Fantabulous” on right now, in fact. Nelson’s gang just finished running through “Hobo Flats”.

Now flutist Kenny Soderblom is in the middle of his solo on “Post No Bills”. Nelson just segued in. His tone and the way he shuffled through the changes makes me think about alto saxophonists Charlie Parker and Sonny Criss. They probably were his chief influences.

Ken, “Fantabulous” was the first big band date I ever had a dream about. I never dream about music. In my dream, Nelson’s orchestra played in my backyard, and my neighbors gathered. I sat near the orchestra in a lotus position. The music made me sway back and forth, as if I was in a tennis match.

On the ballad “Take Me with You,” some of my neighbors slow dragged. Even the squirrels that inhabit antic enjoyed the music. They twirled as the band wailed on “Daylies’s Double”. During the first chorus, one of the squirrels yelled: “That’s my Jam”! I haven’t enlisted an exterminator to rid my antic of the critters. They have good taste in music. It was a surreal dream. I wanted it to go on an on.

I’m glad we met. Right away, I knew you’re a serious jazz enthusiast. When I saw you with all the albums tucked under your arm, I thought you'd need a grocery cart to haul all your fines to the cash register. We talked nearly an hour. Nowadays, I rarely meet fellow jazz mavens. I used to encounter them often. People download music now, and record stores suffer.

Mom and Pop record stores are atop the endangered species list. Unfortunately, the next generations of music enthusiasts won’t know record stores ever existed, and how important those stores were.

I recall when I could go to a neighborhood record store and chat for hours with some kindred stranger who was passionate about jazz as well. I would leave the record stores feeling as if I had spent hours in church listening to an uplifting sermon. Ken that’s how I felt after talking with you.

I can’t recall the last time I conversed about jazz with a stranger. Driving home, I told my wife about you. She asked if we exchanged telephone numbers. I wish I had. I’m confident we’ll meet again. Did you enjoy the Lee Morgan and John Coltrane dates I recommended? When you listened to Morgan’s album keep, your eyes opened for baritone saxophonist Pepper Adam’s solos. I guarantee they will floor you. If either album leaves you unsatisfied, I’ll reimburse you.

How many of the albums you purchased that evening have you listened to? I bet you don’t have any regrets. Ken, I appreciate your recommendations “Fantabulous” and “Out of the Cool. Maybe before Border’s liquidate their entire stock of jazz albums, we will meet again.

Continue to swing


Sunday, April 19, 2009


Lately, Hilary, various jazz record labels and publicists have bombarded me with new albums by female jazz vocalists that I’ve never heard of. Are female jazz vocalists the latest trend? Ten years, ago Max Jazz put out a series of good albums by female singers, but I haven’t from much about the record label since. I hate being unaware of new trends. Save for “Haunted Heart,” your new album, most of the offerings I’ve received were dull at best. I won’t diva hate by saying names. Their recordings were overwrought. One vocalist, for example, used an orchestra. The orchestra drowned her. She had a wonderful voice. The songs she chose fit her voice, but the album needed heavy editing. That wasn’t the case at all with “Haunted Heart”.

After I listened to “Haunted Heart”, I rummaged through my album collection for vocalist Sheila Jordan’s albums, especially her debut recording for Blue Note Records “A Portrait of Sheila,” which remains my all time favorite album by a jazz vocalist. Blue Note released it four decades ago. It was her only record for Blue Note.

I’m not lying, Hilary. I still get goose bumps jazz when I think about Jordan’s album. I’m not kidding. Did Jordan influence you? Your conversational phrasing is akin to Jordan. I mean as a compliment, Hilary. Some jazz musicians hate comparisons. I don't like to pit one musician against and other. I couldn’t help myself.

“Haunted Heart” was the first time I heard you. I’ve played the album often since your publicist sent it to me. Every morning last week, for example, I awoke with your whisper sweet voice humming in my ears. In the grocery store, at the gas station, and at the bank I caught myself humming the chorus of “What’ll I Do” and “Deed I Do”, two memorable standards on your album.

Hilary, your album was perfect. You made smart choices. You did overload “Haunted Heart” with tricky arrangements and unnecessary instrumentations. You rhythm section was not rambunctious at all. They sound as if their parents reared to accompany vocalists.
Hilary, I could spend hours listing what I liked about “Haunted Heart”, but that would monopolize too much of your time so I’ll end by stating this: On “It’s Love” and “Like a Lover,” I wanted to jump inside the album and slow dance with you.

Like a secret, I wanted to keep “Haunted House” all to myself. However, like a hot piece of gossip, I’ve told my friends about the album. I even spread the word to my friends that dislike vocal jazz albums. I guaranteed if they gave your album a shot your singing would change their negative views of jazz singers. I’m elated you made this album. I’ll ask around if in fact, female jazz vocalists are trendy again.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Drummer Brian Blade
Dear Miles Davis-

I planned to write you last week. I couldn’t find the time. I had to revise an article I wrote about a local musician who has an orchestra much like Gil Evans'. The revision took longer than I hoped. Then I had to attend a concert I forgot I had tickets to. I should've stayed home. The concert was a waste. Anyway, Mr. Davis, I want to share with you the experience I had last Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mi. Did you ever play in that college town? The jazz aficionados there are hipper than the ones from Detroit.

I know you played in Detroit at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, and the Minor Key. I wasn’t born when you performed at those clubs, but I heard some interesting stories. I won’t share them with you now. You’re probably busy painting or working on some new music. Last Saturday, pianist Chick Corea, and guitarist John McLaughlin performed--jazz musicians you had on your payroll--Hill Auditorium. They’re still going strong.

Corea and McLaughlin talked about meeting during the birth of “In a Silent Way,” your first fusion albums. Then they played a selection from that album. Corea said the name of the composition. I didn’t catch it. The audience was noisy all night. They’re grateful to spend two hour listening to accomplished jazz musicians playing their asses off.

I forgot to mention earlier, Mr. Davis, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade were in the band. I’ve been a jazz journalist awhile. I’ve attended many jazz concerts. Most were memorable other not so. The show Corea and McLaughlin put on was astounding. When they walked on the bandstand, the audience went nuts. That happened for the band played a single note. The audience even gave Garrett an ovation midway when he soloed on “The Disguise”. I never witnessed that before.

Mr. Davis, I understand why you adored Garrett. The man locks himself into his solos. His discography is hit or miss. The saxophonist has made some bad albums, and some praiseworthy ones. To appreciate what a consummate swinger Garrett is, he should be experienced live setting. Most of applauds was for Brian Blade. The drummer was the Most Valuable Swinger of the band.

Mr. Davis, you would have put Blade on the payroll. The man is uninhibited. I heard Blade play for the first time last year at Hill Auditorium with tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. It was the weirdest concert I’ve attended. Shorter’s group walked on the bandstand. They had for over an hour. Then they left the stage. Shorter never acknowledged the audience, announced the material they played, or introduced his band-mates. I felt dismissed. I avowed never to attend a Wayne Shorter concert again. Mr. Davis, I digressed.

Blade had an almost obscene way of playing the drums. When he soloed, Blade made me blush. The man is short and thin, but he played with the power of three drummers. I detected bits and pieces of drummers Sonny Murray, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones in Blade soloing.

Bassist Christian McBride received the least amount of solo time. When the opportunity surfaced, McBride walked the bassist through Hill Auditorium onto State street, grabbed a latte’ at Star Bucks on the way back. Then he returned to the bandstand in enough time for the band to close out the tune. Mr. Davis, all that didn’t occur. I apologize. I got carried away. That was my way of expressing how wonderful McBride is. McBride isn’t a greedy bass player. He always complements the bands he plays in.

Corea and McLaughlin spent a lot of time fawning over each other. I sensed their affection was genuine. They’re harmonious during both sets. The Concert was marvelous. Corea and McLaughlin are eligible for Social Security soon. Both are still evolving as composers, musicians, and bandleaders.

Mr. Davis, how often do you visit Corea and McLaughlin dreams to thank them for keeping the spirit of your music going? I’ve consumed enough of your time. I will stay in touch with you. If that’ okay with you. I want to share with you the impact you had on me when I was a rookie writer.


Friday, April 10, 2009


Vocalsist Dianne ReevesThe jazz people who attend the Bank of America Paradise Jazz Series at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Mi are normally hard on jazz vocalists. In January, vocalist Sophie Milman shared a double-bill with saxophonist Phil Woods. Dianne, it was ugly. Not that Milman gave a bad performance. Her voice was lovely, but she lacked stagecraft. The Orchestra Hall jazz crowd likes jazz vocalists to be personable and sassy.

Milman was stiff as new work boots. She just stood at the microphone. The audience was aloof, which I’m sure hurt Milman’s feelings. Anyway, that wasn’t the first time I witnessed the audience at Orchestra Hall give a vocalist the cold shoulder. I was confident the audience would welcome you. You’re a native Detroiter, and you know how to work a crowd. I watched you do it last year at the Detroit International Jazz Festival.

That was the first time I heard you live. I was infatuated with the range and power of you voice. You’re humorous. You could’ve been a successful comic. Your timing was sharp and your punch lines tickled the audience. The Dianne Reeves I experienced at the jazz festival was different from the Dianne Reeves I heard Thursday evening.

I hated the first set. You squandered time reminiscing. Your yapping about your experience with actor George Clooney was damn near pornographic and inappropriate. People paid good money to hear you sing. You became so worked up salivating about Clooney I thought you’re going to have an orgasm. You talked too much. By the third song, I wanted to shout: “Dianne, stop with the stories and just sing”! I kept my composure.

You seemed jetlagged. I you said the band toured South Africa. I figured touring had worn you out. Was that why you performed three songs during the first set sitting on a stool? You’re more energetic after the intermission. Did you realize you shortchanged the audience the first set, and you wanted give them a better performance? When you performed the gospel tinged song, you gyrated and belted out the lyrics as if you caught the Holy Ghost. That number was the highlight of both sets

Your scatting on “Afro Blue” would’ve made--if they’re still living--Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald envious. Your rendition of the Temptation’s classic “ Just My Imagination” rivaled the original, and the Temptation Walk you did at the end was a nice touch. The first set was dull. The second set was lively and eclectic, and you transformed into the Dianne Reeves who infatuated me last summer.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Diana, allow me to explain my listening process. When I receive or purchase an album, in most cases I listen to it for weeks before I feel comfortable commenting about it. I rarely rely on my first impression because I want to be able to clearly express why a love or loath a recording. Those are a few self-imposed guidelines, which I vowed to adhere to.

Occasionally, however, I deviate, and trust my first impression. That may occur once a year. Yesterday, I purchased your new album “Quiet Nights”. Weeks ago, when I learned Verve Records planned to release your new album, I tried to get an advance copy to review copy. Your handlers referred me to several people who never responded to any of my emails. I bought the album at Targets. The album was on sale for $11.98 plus tax. That was a bargain, and I listened to “Quiet Nights” the same night.

I cringed when I heard the orchestra in the background on the opener “Where Or When”. I’m not a fan of orchestras backing jazz vocalists, or for that matter, any jazz musicians. All those instruments are disruptive. Vocalists end up competing against the orchestra. In the past, I’ve maintained that be bopper Charlie Parker was the only jazz musician that sounded good playing with an orchestra. After listening to “Quiet Nights”, I changed my mind. Diana, you made it work.

The accompaniment on “Walk On By,” and “You’re My Thrill,” added to the relaxed vibe you maintained throughout the album. You know how to set a mood, and never stray from it. I love how carefully you handle the piano. You have a wholesome manner like you playing around with a bunch of kids.

I became addicted to your voice in 2000. The year you paid tribute to Nat King Cole on your album “All Four You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio. That was my first Diana Krall experience, and I play the album so often I memorized the lyrics to every song. “All For You” is my second favorite jazz vocal album. Jazz Vocalist Sheila Jordan’s “Portrait of Sheila” is my first.

For years, I was a loyal fan, but that changed when you started winning music awards, selling a ton of albums, and wed a rock icon. You became a pop sensation so I withdrew my support. You put out a handful of awful recordings. You strayed so far off course I wondered if you'd ever find your way back. Eventually you returned to your roots, and you won me back with the released “Girl in the Other Room” and “From This Moment On”.

“Quiet Nights” felt like a cozy blanket. You have sound as if you’re in love with each song on the album. You’re a red-blooded romantic, indeed. Listening to “Quiet Night,” I felt as though you sang each song to me. I bet other people that experienced this album felt likewise. “Quiet Night” satisfied me and made me feel good all over, too.