Thursday, December 31, 2009


Choosing my ten favorite jazz albums of 2009 was tough. Almost every jazz album I listened to last year was worthwhile. There were many deserving albums that didn't make my list such as Hank Jones' "Pleased to Meet You", Wynton Marsalis' "He and She", Pamela Rose's "Wild Women of Song", Chris Potter's "Ultrahang" and Norah Jones' "The Fall". I replay those recordings often, and they still make the hairs on my neck dance. Although they did not make my final cut, I want to congratulate those musicians. Each album was wonderful, and I said so when I reviewed them.

Making a best of list, I have a sense of what a baseball manager experiences when he has to make final cuts. It's a heartbreaking task. I bet a manager hates informing a prospect who worked hard during spring training he did not make the team. Of the many albums I listened to, choosing my ten favorite wasn’t easy. I managed to do it. If you haven't already experienced these albums, you should buy them immediately. You won't regret it. I guarantee that.

By the way, the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper based in Detroit, Mi, published my list Wednesday in the music section of Without further ado, here are my ten jazz albums of 2009.

1) James Carter, Heaven on Earth (HalfNote Record): This is the third stellar live recording from saxophonist Carter. Organist John Medeski and the saxophonist are musical soul mates.

2) Dave Holland, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chris Potter and Eric Harland, The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival Record): The definitive all-star jazz quartet is captured live on this disc, and I've already ruined a pair of by best Sunday shoes because I couldn't stop dancing!

3) Gerald Wilson, Detroit (Mack Avenue Records): This accomplished big band leader and composer is 91 years old, but he still has the energy and enthusiasm of a young lion.

4) Jeff "Tain" Watts, Watts (Dark Key Music): I was once convinced that a jazz band couldn't swing without a piano player. Well, I was on my third serving of Wattsbefore I realized the piano player was absent!

5) Matt Wilson, That's Gonna Leave a Mark (Palmetto Records): True to its title, this album left me with many marks — emotional, psychological, all good — and drummer Wilson's thunderous rim shots are still ringing in my ears.

6) Kenn Cox and Donald Walden, Duet at Kerrytown (N/A): They were jazz royalty, and they bequeathed this gem-recorded to their fans in 1994, though it didn't see release until this year.

7) Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra, Brush Fire (WSG Records): This is Gwinnell's first big-band offering. And such inspirations as Duke Ellington and Oliver Nelson would've probably loved this recording.

8) Eric Alexander, Revival of the Fittest (High Note Records): The tenor saxophonist consistently makes great albums, but the ballads on this year's terrific offering is enough to make your soul cry.

9) Dana Hall, Into the Light (Origin Records): The drummer has built a reputation as top-notch sideman, and his first album as a leader feels something like a coming-out party

10) Ryan Enderle, Triosphere (Self-released): The jazz bassist created a trio date here that's on par with jazz great Roy Haynes Trio's We Three.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Tuesday night, Scott Gwinnell honored you. Are you familiar with his reputation? . Mr. Morgan, Gwinnell is the best jazz piano player in Michigan that I’ve listened to so far. That’s my opinion. I’m sure they’re others who concur. Let me tell you a little bit about him. He's a tall white fellow. He lives in Harper Woods, a small community near Detroit. We’re neighbors. He gigs mostly around Detroit. He supplements his income by giving piano lessons in his home. His peers only have good things to say about him. He's a self-less bandleader, and he writes amazing charts for the Scott Gwinnell Orchestra, which he formed ten years ago. The orchestra is outstanding. Gwinnell loaded it with some fine jazz musicians.

This summer, the orchestra headlined the 2009 Detroit International Jazz Festival. The capacity crowd cheered, and begged for an encore. The performance was a hit. It was the orchestra's first international exposure. They handled the pressure like pros. Gwinnell is also known for writing challenging charts. His album “Brush Fire” is his best work yet. That's some of Gwinnell's biography. Now, I'll tell you how Gwinnell honored you at the

Cadieux Café Tuesday night. The place was packed. Gwinnell scaled his orchestra down to a ten-piece ensemble. The ensemble played some of your obscure compositions such as "Our Man Higgins", "Totem Pole" and "Desert Moonlight". Trumpeters Paul Finkbeiner and Justin Walter solos were memorable. Neither trumpeter tried to copy your style. They played your music their way. Finkbeiner was the more seasoned. There're traces of trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw's DNA in Finkbeiner solos.

Sax men Keith Kaminski, and Steve Woods were brilliant. Kaminiski arranged "Our Man Higgins", and he wrote the juiciest parts for himself and drummer Scott Kretzer. They passed musicalnotes back and forward like cheat sheets. Steve Woods amazed the crowd. Woods is an old school tenor player. His phrasing is conversational, and his tone is big as an economical recession. Gwinnell's ensemble had a blast playing his arrangements. Finkbeiner told me after the first set that playing in Gwinnell's ensemble is like bowling night for musicians.

Mr. Morgan, I set next to three white teenagers. During the intermission, I eavesdropped on their conversation. They were knowledgeable. They knew about your tenure with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, They sounded scholarly discussing albums you made for Blue Note Records such as “The Sidewinder", ”Cornbread" and "Candy”. They recited facts about your career like a baseball fan reciting
his favorite players stats. The teens probably knew the color socks you wore when you first met Blue Note founder Alfred Lion. Most African-American teenagers probably never heard of you, which is shameful.

I wonder why others appreciate jazz geniuses such as you, and most blacks don’t. When I think about how blacks take black artists, writers, and musicians for granted I get upset. Years ago, a friend told me if weren't for hip whites black culture would've died along time ago. Maybe my friend was right. Most of the critics, historians, and scholars who write about black culture are white. Many of my friends who love jazz are white. To them jazz is just as essential as food, clothing, and shelter. Mr. Morgan that's enough preaching. I'll finish telling your about the performance.

Gwinnell didn't solo much. Which was okay because the club doesn't have a piano. Gwinnell played a Casio keyboard. He introduced the compositions and the soloists. This year, I've experienced him as a bandleader and as a sideman. He never hogged the spotlight. Anyway, Gwinnell's ensemble handled your music like family heirlooms. He put the spotlight on his band-mates, and they didn't let him down.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Kurt, I have to level with you. “Reflections”, your new album, is the only Kurt Rosenwinkel album I own. Some may consider that admission shameful because I'm an experienced jazz journalist and blogger. Jazz has been around over a hundred years, and it not humanly possible to listen to every jazz album made in one live time. I will always be playing catch up. I'm fine with that. I will be constantly discovering old and new jazz album to listen to and that excites me. I've had “Reflections” for a month, and I finally played it last night.

The folks at DL Media, the company that handles publicity for the album, reminded me I promised to review it. Around 8:30am Sunday, I played it. It's 8:00pm Monday and I'm still listening to it. I woke up this morning humming the melody to "Falls, and "As Me Know" two of the eight songs on this album. I'm not familiar with your other recordings yet. "Reflections" made me curious.

I plan to track down some of your other albums, and others you've appeared on as a hired gun. I want to experience you in a larger context. I'm anxious to know how you handle yourself as a sideman. You have a impressive background. You attended Berklee School of Music. You toured with the late tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. You’re a member of the Brian Blade Fellowship. To date, you've played on roughly 53 albums. "Reflections" is your tenth as a leader.

Throughout the album, your soloing was delicious as holiday desserts. I'm sure you have a wild side, but you controlled it. You didn’t mess up the standards you performed. You treated each tenderly and respectfully. "Ana Maria", and obscure Wayne Shorter tune totally relaxed me. Your original "East Coast Love Affair" made me feel cozy all over.

For years, I've listened to bassist Eric Revis swing like a jackhammer with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, but this was the first instance I heard him play so melodically. On Thelonious Monk's ditty "Ask Me Now", Revis fingers dripped down the strings like melted chocolate. Drummer Eric Harland flourishes in any situation he's put in. He was marvelous throughout. Kurt, “Reflection” satisfied my sweet tooth.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Monk, have you watched the HBO documentary Jazz Baroness? Hannah Rothschild, Pannonica's(Nica) niece made it. HBO air it last week. Did you ever meet Hannah? I wondered if Nica ever talked about her. Most of the documentary I enjoyed. The interviews with Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes, Quincy Jones and Archie Shepp were not insightful. Your son TS Monk was candid. He appeared to know more about Nica than the other musicians. Maybe it came across that way because of how Hannah edited it. TS felt that Nica loved you the first time she listened to the album 'Round Midnight". As the story goes, pianist Teddy Wilson played the recording for her. Nica made Wilson play the recording over and over. I'm sure she told you how much she adored it when she finally met you. I've always wondered what made Nica tick. Hannah explored that. TS mentioned Nica helped many jazz musicians just because, and she never asked for anything in return.

Monk, your BFF (best friend forever) was eccentric, tooling around New York in a Bentley, sharing her home with nearly 200 cats. (She knew each cat name.). She did not do drugs, but Nica was a drinker. Of course, her family disapproved of her behavior. After all, she was royalty. Royalty was supposed to be dignified. Nica never bought into that. Jules de Koenigswarter, her husband was a civil engineer, a French diplomat, and a bore. He hated jazz. He didn’t understand why she liked it. Whenever, Nica showed up late for dinner, Jules would punish her by breaking her jazz albums. Monk, I would've filed for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty after he smashed just one of my albums, but Nica endured the foolishness. They had three girls and two boys. Jules and Nica eventually divorced. The eldest daughter stayed with Nica. Hannah did not say if the daughter liked jazz. Nica's kids wouldn't participate in the documentary. Hannah didn't explain why. Maybe Nica's kids did not trust Hannah telling their moms story. Maybe they were ashamed of how Nica chose to live her life.

The documentary was a love story proving a woman and a man mutually attracted can be pals . The friendship was unconditional. Monk, did you and Nica ever considered crossing the line. George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, said not a chance. You’re committed to Nellie, your wife, 100%. Fooling around with Nica would've screwed up the friendship. Both women were concerned foremost about your well-being. I wondered if being so close to Nica bothered Nellie.

When the New York state police busted you for drugs, Nica took the rap. Some would say that was stupid. Such a self-less act proved her devotion. Nica couldn't fathom her BFF caged up like a zoo animal. Monk, I have a friends who I love dearly, but I wouldn't do jail time for them. I'm certain the feeling is mutual. That's a lot to expect from a friend, but Nica didn't think twice about it. Hannah's film was a nice homage. Nica was dedicated patron of jazz, and she was tough as an overcooked steak. She was unfazed by what people thought about her. Hannah did a fine job capturing what made Nica tick, her commitment to you, and her benevolence.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Mrs. Holiday. I interviewed Sonny Rollins two years ago. I asked about his influences. He talked about Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. I asked him about the saxophonists excessive drinking, The question irritated him, but he answered:"everybody has to do something to get through live". I think about his adage often. I used to believe addicts were weaklings, but I don't anymore. Mrs. Holiday, I read your autobiography Lady Sings the Blues.It took me awhile to finish it. There was so much pain in it. I couldn't read it in one sitting. The racism you endured trying to earn a living with you're God given talent would've pushed most strong willed people over the edge. When you talked about the time the Southern sheriff called you a black bitch, I wanted to jump inside the book to defend you. There were other stories equally appalling and dehumanizing. You had a hard life. Reading your book helped me to understand what Mr. Rollins meant. I know a thing or two about addiction. I've never been hooked on drugs or alcohol, but my father was a big drinker. He died at age 51 because of it. Sober dad was a sweetheart. On the other, hand he was meaner than a Pit-bull with a toothache when he was drunk. He never abuse his family, but I heard him a few times verbally abuse his girlfriend, who was also an addict.

Dad was 6'5" tall. He weighed 275 pounds when healthy, but cancer ate away 100 of those pounds. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. Mom never talked about him, but grandma did, especially When I criticized him. Although my parents split up, dad and grandma remained friends. She wanted me to love him unconditionally, which I eventually did. His drinking got worse. His binges lasted longer. Dad always knew that he needed help. Midway through a binge, he'd check into a detoxification facility. When he'd sobered up, he would call me. I'd give him a ride home. He would never talk about the binging.Not even on his deathbed. He never lectured me.

Last month, I asked my mother about his drinking. She wanted to know why. I said I'd been reading your autobiography, and it made me think about him. Mom hates reminiscing. She said your life was much harder than my dad. I kept pushing, and she opened up. In the mid-60's they're students at Northern High School. Back then, for some drinking was a pastime. Dad was a basketball player and smart. Four colleges offered him full athletic scholarships. After school, my father and his friends would get hammered. One day, he showed up to school wasted, and he threatened a teacher. Security searched his locker and found several bottles of cheap wine. Dad was expelled. The incident was a big deal. It made both daily newspapers. The colleges withdrew their offers. His drinking led to a series of mental breakdowns. He lived in halfway houses until he got his act together

He got a job at the United States Postal Service sorting mail. He moved to a studio apartment, and he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, My older sister and I talked to him often. We offered to go with him to some AA meetings. He declined. Attending the meetings didn’t help him much. He kept relapsing, and the binging increased. I was fed up, and severed our relationship. I excepted he was going to drink himself to death. My aunt kept in touch with him. She'd called me periodically to update me on his condition. One day she call to tell me he needed my help. Dad was living in a rundown Hotel and he was in bad shape. I hadn't seen or talked to him for months. The chambermaid convinced him to go to the hospital. She took me to his room to gather his belongings, two black baseball caps, a large plastic comb with some of the teeth missing, a portable radio without batteries,a pair of navy blue slippers, and a 3.75oz tube of Vaseline. I stuffed the items into a black 30.oz garbage bag, and drove to the hospital.

Dad had cancer. When I saw him stretched out in the hospital bed, a oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. His size 15 feet dangled over the hospital bed. He was skin and bones. He was so thin I could see his heart beat. It looked as if it wanted to jump out his chest. The cancer had spread throughout his body. A doctor told me he couldn't pinpoint where the cancer began. I broke down. I asked dad why was he living in that crappy hotel. He said God told him to go there to die. I whimpered. He asked me to leave, noting that my crying wouldn't make things better. Mrs. Holiday, I was so upset it took me nearly an hour to get out the hospital's parking structure. The next day, his doctor took me into a conference room and gave me the bad news. Dad's condition was terminal. I had to put him in hospice. His days were number.

My father was the youngest patient at Northwest Nursing Home. A hospice social worker helped me find the nursing home, and make dad's funeral arrangements. She told me what stages he would go through. I forgot the name of the cancer he had. The name was long and seemed to contain every letter in the alphabet. The social worker said my father would pick up weight. He gained 20 pounds, A few times he called me at 11:00pm. He wanted me to bring him some hamburgers from White Castle. She said my father would appear to be recovering. Then he would experience dementia. One day, he woke up talking crazy. He was convinced someone had come into his room while he slept and stole his mattress. That was the final stage. Two days later, he died.

He was in hospice two months. I was with him everyday. I wondered if he thought about his life, and wish he had made better choices. I wondered if he regretted allowing the drinking to get out of hand. I wondered if he felt relieved knowing his troubled life would end soon. I didn't have the nerve to ask. Oddly, Mrs. Holiday, I learned more about myself in those two month than about him. Friends tell me I'm sarcastic. He was that way. He was generous. So am I. Mrs. Holiday, you're probably wondering why I told you about dad's life. Your autobiography made me think about my dad's drinking problem. At 19, my parents married. They had two kids three years later. Trying to support a family at that young age probably made him drink more. Mrs. Holiday, Sonny Rollins adage helped me understand why some people need drugs and alcohol to cope.