Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TOP 10

I Dig Jazz top ten jazz albums of 2010.

1.) Geri Allen, Geri Allen and Time Line Live (Motema)
Throwing a tap dancer into the rhythm sections, Allen proves she's not afraid to take big risk. Allen did not mind that the tap dance stole the show.

2.) Tia Fuller, Decisive Steps, (Mack Avenue Records)
Fuller’s break out album that announced to the jazz world that Fuller is a clever and formidable saxophonist.

3.) The Clayton Brothers, The Same Old Song and Dance (Artist Share)
The Clayton's are the first family of jazz. I'd take them over the Marsalis clan any day. This album is a straight up swing fest from start to finish.

4.) Azar Lawrence, Mystic Journey (Furthermore Records)
Often, compared to the great John Coltrane. This spiritually driven jazz album shows Lawrence is his own man.

5.) Jacky Terrasson, Push (Concord Jazz)
The best rendition of Thelonius Monk's Ruby My Dear and 'Round Midnight I've ever heard. Terrason has been unsung for too long.

6.) Marc Cary, Focus Trio Live 2009 (Motema)
I can't say for sure civil rights advocates Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were jazz fans, but I bet they would've loved how Cary improvised around excerpts of their speeches. Cary is the most creative jazz pianist to every sit at a piano.

7.) The Asian American Orchestra, India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane Live @ Yoshi (Water Baby Records)
This is best Coltrane tribute album since saxophonist Archie Shepps Four Trane. The AAO put their twist on some latter day Coltrane classics.

8.) Milton Suggs, Things to Come (Skiptone Music)
Suggs is the kind of jazz vocalist you would get if you mixed Johnny Hartman's and Kevin Mahogany's DNA. Suggs version of We Shall Overcome and Lift Every Voice and Sing made my pitbull cry.

9.) James Moody, Moody 4B (IPO Recordings, Inc.)
My sentimental favorite. The recently departed saxophonist was a blue-collar jazz musician who knew how to make good down home swing.

10.) Benito Gonzalez, Circles (Furthermore Records)
A percussive pianist in the tradition of McCoy Tyner. This is album is a bombshell. Then again, it’s impossible to blew it with a supporting cast of Ron Blake, Myron Walden, Azar Lawrence, Christian McBride, and Jeff -“Tain” Watts.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Tenor saxophonist James Moody (1925-2010)
"James Moody is dead,” my friend Cory the barber announced. Then he paused. In the background, I heard James Moody’s last album Moody 4B playing. The tenor saxophonist wailed away on Billy Stayhorn’s Take the A Train. The great pianist Kenny Barron hounded Moody like an ornery supervisor. The news Moody died from pancreatic cancer upset Cory. He considered Moody a fine jazz musicians who never surrendered to any jazz fads. Moody deserved the accolades he received four Grammy nominations, Medal of Honor for Music, and countless other recognitions. The horn-smith always made superb jazz music. He played meaty and meaningful solos. He never resorted to purposeless flights of improvisation. The guy was too darn classy for that. Such behavior was for rank and file amateurs starved for attention. Moody was a skilled tradesman at heart. He developed his chops in the Dizzy Gillespie big band along side future stars Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clark, and Milt Jackson. 
“My editor informed me yesterday,” I said,
“I hate I missed his set at the Dirty Dog last year.
“I interviewed him a week before. At, 85, he still toured over 200 days a year,” I said.
“The man loved his job.”
“You got that right”.
“The music he made will live forever.”
“That's for sure.”
“How many times did you interview him”?
” Twice”.
“I heard he was funny.”
“The first time I interviewed him he was touring with pianist Benny Green, and vocalist Nneena Freelon. I forgot who the other band members were. Anyway, when I talked to Moody they were on a tour bus. They stopped at Cracker Barrel restaurant to eat. Moody stayed on the bus. He refused to patronize a restaurant with the word cracker in the name, he said. I laughed, but the man was dead serious. It dawned on me Moody came of age when bigotry and racism was overt. The second time I interviewed him we talked about his music, his bout with alcoholism, and his opus Moody’s Mood for Love. When the song exploded, Moody lived in Europe. Jazz vocalist Babs Gonzales begged Moody to come home to take advantage of the song’s success. I played At the Jazz Workshop, an album he made in 1959, while I interviewed him. Moody asked who was playing the flute. He was surprised when I said It was him.
“You couldn’t expect him to remember every solo,” Cory said. He yelled to his daughter, Be bop, to get her things ready. Her mom was coming to pick her up.
“How's Be bop dealing with his death”?
“She’s been playing his albums Wail Moody Wail, Moody’s Mood for Blues, and Homage for the past two days,” Cory said.
“I was sad at first. Then I realized Moody had a great life. He spent decades traveling the world playing music he loved. Eighty-five years, is a long life. I can only hope I live that long,” I said.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster
Today, Mr. Webster, I found a copy of Jazz Masters of the 30’s by jazz trumpeter Rex Stewart. I purchased the book a few years ago at Street Corner Music, and I just got around to reading it this afternoon. The book is different from other books about noted jazz musicians written by jazz critics, historians, and journalists. However, Jazz Masters of the 30's was Stewart's personal account of his relationship with many jazz greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Sidney Catlett. Stewart revealed things about them only an astute insider would know. Many of the articles in “Jazz Masters of the 30’s” Down Beat magazine published. A fine jazz journalist Stewart proved to be.

As I write this, Mr. Webster, I am listening to an album you made with Coleman Hawkins for Verve Records in 1957 Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster. Do you remember that recording? The great Norman Granz produced the album, and he hired an all star rhythm section Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Alvin Stolier. You all kicked off the recording with Blues for Yolande and followed up with the ballad It Never Entered My Mind. You and Hawkins took turns seducing the melody. Do any of those details jog your memory? You made a ton of fine albums, so it would be foolish of me to believe you would remember all of them.

Anyway, Stewart also wrote a piece about Hawkins, which I disliked. Stewart implied the saxophonist was aloof and pompous. Stewart recounted this scene where Lester Young and Billie Holiday played a set at a dive in Harlem. Hawkins showed up and cut in. After the set ended, the crowd cheered, and Lady Day told them it was her pleasure to play with the greatest tenor saxophonist of all times Lester Young. The club was so quiet you could hear a fruit fly belch, after Lady Day made that statement.

Mr. Webster, Jazz Masters of the 30’s was a little gossipy. Stewart shared his colleague’s idiosyncrasies. In The Days with Duke, an essay about Duke Ellington. Stewart said Ellington was a clothes horse, and superstitious. If a button was loose on his coat or his blazer, Ellington would immediately discard it. Some members of the orchestra took advantage of Ellington’s superstition. For instance, if Ellington wore a coat they liked, after he took it off, they would deliberately loosen a button, knowing Ellington would give it away. Stewart did not say which members tricked Ellington.

I particularly, enjoyed the account of his relationship with you. In the articled Frog and Me, Stewart exposed your soft side. According to jazz lore, you had a quick temper. I heard you threw a woman out a window. I cannot remember where I read or heard that, but I figured it was a lie. Stewart acknowledged you were temperamental at times. However, you were equally generous, too.

Stewart revealed things about you I bet most people are unaware of. Mr. Webster, did you really save fellow tenor saxophonist Lester Young from drowning? Stewart explained Young was swimming in a river his hamstring cramped. You rescued him. Stewart also detailed how you stopped a woman from committing suicide. Friends down on their luck could rely on you. Stewart wrote you were a pool shark as well, and you avoided cutting contests. You believed they were frivolous. Showing up a rival seemed beneath you.

You were sort of a novelist on the tenor saxophone. I loved the ballads you immortalized Where Are You, When I Fall in Love, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me. You played each ballad at what Wynton Marsalis dubbed grown folk’s tempo. I enjoyed Frog and Me the most because Stewart exposed your gentle side.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Miles Davis
"I’ve been in a Miles Davis frame of mind lately,” my friend Cory said passing me a cold Heineken. He picked up the slim infrared remote control for his Bose Wave Music System to adjust the volume. Then he flopped down on his chocolate leather Troy sofa from Crate and Barrel. Cory played Davis’ jazz fusion opus Or the Corner. I stopped by his place. I wanted him to check out the new jazz albums Moonlight by saxophonist Steve Cole and Opus One by saxophonist Shauli Einav. Cole is a smooth jazz bigwig, and Einav is an Israeli saxophonist. I liked both projects.
“I’ve been listening to some of the albums Miles recorded for Prestige,” I said taking a swig of the beer. I placed the bottle on a coaster on Cory’s glass coffee table.
“Did you see the Stanley Crouch and Mtume debate”?
“I saw it on YouTube last week. It was a good discussion.
“It’s been years since I listened to On the Corner,” Cory said.
“Mtume made some valid points. But I have to side with Stanley.”
“You believe Miles was a sellout”?
“He was all about staying current.”
“What’s wrong with that,” Cory asked.
“Rock-n-roll was popular back then, and Miles found away to capitalize on it.” I took another swig. Cory cellular phone vibrated on the coffee table. He picked it up, looked at the LD screen and put the phone down.
“I’m on Mtume side. Miles pushed musical boundaries, and the jazz fusion thing was innovative.”
“I agree with Stanley. Jazz fusion was a fad. None of those bands are around,” I said.
“Even if those bands were still around and selling records, Stanley would still knock the music. Honestly, I can’t stand that guy. He always plays the devil’s advocate. Miles was all about change.”
“Miles was about following trends. When the hip-hop thing started to gain momentum Miles jumped on that bandwagon. He made a hip-hop album. It was really ridiculous. I forgot the name of it.”
“That’s it?
“What’s wrong with him mixing things up”?
“A 60-year-old jazz icon playing hip hop, in my book, was ridiculous,” I said finishing the beer. Cory offered another. I declined.
“Mile had the right to play whatever music he wanted,” Cory said.
“Stanley pointed out that Clive Davis told Miles he needed to up his game because his records were doing poorly. That’s when Miles traded in his Brooks Brothers clothing and started wearing those outlandish rock-n-roll outfits. Miles changed because his record company pressured him to.”
“Mtume said he had many private discussions with Miles about jazz fusion. Miles simply wanted to come up with something new.”
Cory’ cell-phone vibrated again. This time he answered it. It was his daughter, Be bop. Cory grabbed my empty beer bottle, and walked into the kitchen. I heard him tell Be bop I was visiting. Then he asked when she needed to pick her up from Oakland Mall. Several minutes later, Cory asked if I wanted to ride with him. We could finish our discussion, and listen to Cole and Einav me album in the car.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


For a Wednesday afternoon, 100% Barbershop was unusually crowded. Three customers waited on Cory the barber. Dana worked on his tenth head. Kenneth, the new staff barber, swept up hair around his barber’s chair into a black dustpan. Two customers played dominoes waiting for Wes. He'd gone to lunch minutes before they arrived. Be bop, Cory’s 12-year-old daughter set in KB’s, the shop owner, workstation reading the liner notes to guitarist Kevin Eubanks new album Zen Food. KB watched NBA highlights on Sport Center on the flat screen television mounted to the wall by the shoes shine booth. I spoke to Be bop. Then I removed my black leather bomber jacket. I stuffed my wool pageboy cap into the right jacket pocket, and I hung it on the coat rack. After KB and I shook hands, I flopped down in the barber chair. He wrapped a black cape that had a pair of gold scissors embroidered on it around my neck, and pumped up the chair with his left foot. I instructed him to trim down my hair. Then I asked Be bop if she liked Eubanks’ new album.
“He’s cute,” Be bop said.
“You bought the album because he’s cute”?
“Dad gave it to me.”
“Does he like the album”?
“Dad said the music sounds like the soundtrack for a cartoon series,” Be Bop said.
“He can be hard on musicians he dislike,” I said. I heard KB turn on his clippers.
“Dad likes Mr. Eubanks other albums. Dad just hates this one. I told dad he should give it another chance because there’re some really good songs s on the album like The Dirty Monk Café, Adoration and G.G,” Be bop said. She passed me the cd case.
“It’s a good album.”
“Dad said all those years Mr. Eubanks spent playing on the Tonight Show made him soft”.
“I disagree with that.”
“I do, too.”
“The kind of soft jazz he plays is pretty good.”
“That’s a good name for it, soft jazz”.
“What do you like about Zen Food”?
“Besides Mr. Eubanks being really cute, each song made me feel different. On the last track Das It, Mr. Eubanks sounded like he was playing with four hands instead of two, and the way he horsed around with drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith like kids after school was cool. The other thing is Mr. Eubanks on fast tempo songs plays a lot of notes like a rock guitar player. That was cool, too. He’s not a slave to conventional jazz licks. He can excite you and make you sad in the same breath. Naming the album Zen Food, I thought it was going to be really weird and deep like the kind of avant-garde junk my dad has been listening to lately where the musicians almost sound like they don’t know how to play their instruments. But Mr. Eubanks’ album is really understandable and really fun to listen too,” Inez said.
KB said Be bop was destine to be a music critic one of these days. I countered that she was already a music critic. Cory the barber walked into KB’s workstation.
“Bop, are these unsophisticated old farts bothering you,” Cory asked his daughter after he shook my hand.
“Bop can handle herself. She’s back here schooling us about music,” KB said.
Cory told Be bop he had one more customer. Then he’d take her to get something to eat if she was hungry. Bop said she’d wait because she was having fun schooling us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


"Are you a big Randy Weston fan,” Cory the barber asked then dipped a breaded zucchini appetizer in some ranch dressing. At Mama Rosa's Pizzeria we set at the booth near the cash register. Cory was excited about the new Randy Weston album “Randy Weston and his African Rhythm Sextet the Storyteller Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
“That has to be the longest album title in the history of jazz,” I said.
“You didn’t answer my question”.
“I heard him live at Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor early this year. He put on a great set. I was really impressed with his bass player Alex Blake.”
“I missed that gig,” Cory said.
“This is my first Randy Weston album”.
“For a jazz journalist, you are way behind. Randy is one of the top pianist in jazz in the game,” Cory said.
“Jazz is old as dirt. I will spend the rest of my life catching up.
“Do I need to bring you up to speed on Randy’s track record”?
“I know he mixes African rhythms with jazz.”.
“Do you like this new album”?
“With this sextet the African thing works better”.
“What do you mean”?
Before I could answer Corey, Sharon, our server, placed a large pizza on the table. Cory pulled out a slice,  bit into it, and then he dropped the slice on his plate. He fanned his mouth with his right hand. The hot slice had burned the roof of his mouth.
“I got more of a sense of the African influence with the inclusion of the saxophone, and the trombone. Blake really brings it home with the percussive way he plays the bass”.
“I wonder how he'd sound in a traditional jazz band,” Cory said. He took another bite of pizza. It had cooled down.
“I can’t imagine him fitting into a traditional band. I think Randy digs Blake because Blake is unconventional.” I said. Then I put a slice of pizza on my plate. Sharon reappeared. She asked if everything tasted okay, and if I wanted another diet Coke.
“Randy's wouldn’t be as amazing without Blake,” Cory said.
“How about his classic Hi Fly”?
“This version is my favorite so far".
“Randy had the audience spellbound”.
“Normally, on live recording, you will hear the people chitchatting. On this album, they’re attentive.”
“You should buy some more Randy Weston albums”.
“I want the earlier stuff”.
“Stopped by the house next week. I'll loan you Get Happy, The Modern Art of Jazz and With This Hands,” Cory said.
“Lets finished this pizza. It’s starting to get busy in here.” I said.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater
If Eleanora Fagan (Billie Holliday’s birth name) were alive, Dee Dee, I would write her a letter expressing what a spectacular concert you put on Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI. Dee Dee the letter would say the following:

Dear Mrs. Fagan,
You don’t know me from Adam. I am Charles L. Latimer, a jazz journalist from Detroit Michigan. On November 5th, I attended jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Billie Holliday tribute concert at Orchestra Hall. I’m sure by now you’re familiar with Dee Dee. In my book, she’s one of the top jazz vocalists in the game, and Friday night she put on a marvelous show, performing songs that you immortalized. Bridgewater has stagecraft, and she knows how to engage an audience.

Her set Friday night was successful because Bridgewater didn’t try to emulate your style. Listening to Bridgewater workout on “Fine and Mellow”, “Strange Fruit”, and “God Bless the Child”, I wondered if she conversed with your spirit in the dressing room before the show began. Mrs. Fagan, it felt as if your spirit gave the vocalist a pep talk. If such a conversation transpired Bridgewater carried out your advice to the letter. Let me recap some of the highlights.

Bridgewater had an excellent band that she’s totally in love with saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Greg Hutchinson. Bridgewater is no spotlight hog. She shared the glamour with her band-mates, and she engaged in an improvisational exchange with each. On “Fine and Mellow”, she traded measures with Handy-who she affectionately referred to as the Handyman. They shared a kinetic connection all night long.

Two songs later, she called out Hutchinson. Mrs. Fagan, it was the first time I witnessed an improvisational exchange between a drummer and a vocalist. Bridgewater and Hutchinson traded notes like stockbrokers. Near the end of the concert, Bridgewater and Davis had a duet.

Davis is a sensational jazz bassist. They played a song you wrote in the 30’s “My Mother’s Son-In-Law”. At the end of the composition, she worked in a few choruses of “Hit the Road Jack”. The audience went bananas. The sure-footed pianist Gomez arranged all the material her band played, and he stretched out on several up-tempo selections, but overall he was more of a behind-the-scene-guy.

As for Bridgewater, she’s a very sensual vocalist. Mrs. Fagan forgive me if I sound perverted. Bridgewater seemed to make love with every note she sang. She prefaced songs with plenty of sexual innuendo. Honestly, it became tiresome at times, but that's the only bad thing I can say about an otherwise great performance. She knows how to captivate an audience.
Charles L. Latimer

So Dee Dee, if Lady Day were still alive this is the letter I’d spend her. You really honored Holliday in grand fashion. I bet she would appreciate that you did so without emulating her style.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Trumpeter Eddie Henderson
Be bop, Cory the barber’s 12-year-old daughter stormed pass KB's work station carrying her book bag. She slammed and locked the restroom door. A minute or so later, Cory walked into the shop. Cory wore a Levi denim jacket, a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap turned backward, and a new pair of Timberland work boots. He hung the jacket on the coat rack next to the shoeshine booth. Cory knocked on the restroom door. He told Be bop she could forget going record shopping at Melodies and Memories Saturday. Cory was hot. He ignored me and KB who was trimming up my hair. Whenever Cory is upset, he cools down by playing Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”. He couldn’t find it, so instead he played “For All We Know”, the new album by trumpeter Eddie Henderson. When I arrived at 100% Barbershop for my bi-weekly cut, KB was the only barber there. Cory usually opens the shop. KB explained Cory received a call from Be bop’s school. Mrs. Cotton, the school’s principal, suspended Be bop because she got in an altercation with a fellow student. Be bop threaten to beat up a classmate because the classmate said James Carter, Be bop’s favorite jazz musician, was overrated. Cory believes Be bop inherited her bad temper from her mom.

Eddie Henderson version of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz played throughout the shop. Cory flopped down in the shoeshine booth chair.
“That girl is becoming more and more like her mother everyday. Those kids at that school are too smart for their own good. Be bop got into an argument about James Carter.”
“She loves James as much as she loves you," I said.
“You got that right”.
“Is thatMiles Davis”?
“No. That’s Eddie Henderson”.
“He still sounds like Miles”.
“Miles influenced him.”
“You would think as long as Eddie has been on the scene he’d have his own voice by now.”
“He’s carrying on a tradition of lyrical trumpeting. In my book, there’s nothing wrong with sounding like Miles,” Cory said.
“That’s a hip arrangement of ‘Jitterbug Waltz.”
“Do you think it’s better than Eric Dolphy’s version on Music Matador?
“The arrangement is hipper. Eddie’s opening passage is deceptive.”
“How so”?
“He makes it seem like he’s going to play a ballad,” I said.
“I thought the same thing when I first heard it.
Like Miles Davis, Eddie treats every note like precious pieces of art.”
“He puts a lot of distance between notes, too.”
“Yeah, he gives John Scofield and Doug Weiss plenty space to do their thing improvisationally speaking. I like the fact that Eddie left the piano player at home, and replaced him with a guitarist.”
“You can’t go wrong with Scofield.”
KB saw Be bop slide a sheet of paper under the restroom door. He turned off his clippers, walked over to the restroom and picked up the note. Then he read it, giggled, and he gave it to Cory. He read the note aloud.

“Mr. Stubblefield, you are hypocritical. It isn’t fair that you put me on punishment for standing up for my favorite jazz musician. I know I could have handled the situation with Raquel a little better. But I hate her. She is so stupid and fake. I knew you’re embarrassed when principal Cotton told you about the argument I had with that ugly cow. I guess you are right. I inherited mama’s bad temper. Dad I have witnessed you lose your cool on many occasions. What about the time when you loan Uncle Billy the “Booker Ervin and Brass” album and he returned it all scratched up. You called him every bad name under the sun and refused to speak to him for months although he’s your only brother. You behaved just as foolishly and as childishly as I did today, but you didn’t see fit to punish yourself like you punished me for giving Raquel a piece of my mind. In fact, the next day, you went to hear Kurt Elling at the Music Hall. Daddy, will you please reconsider by punishment. I haven’t been to Melodies and Memories in a long time. I was looking forward to hanging out with you Saturday. I‘m sorry that I threaten to beat up Raquel. Honestly, it’s partly your fault because you turned me on to James Carter’s music in the first place. If necessary I will-although reluctantly-apologize to Principal Cotton and horse face Raquel.
your loving daughter who has been a straight A student since pre-school

After Cory read Be bop’s note, KB and I laughed. Whenever Be bop is mad at her dad she refers to him as Mr. Stubblefield.
“Be bop is a piece of work,” KB says turning on the clippers.
I heard the restroom door click. Be bop emerged. It was obvious she had been brooding. Her eyes were red. She finally spoke to me and KB, and she hugged her dad. Cory had cooled down. She told her dad she was hungry. He fished some money out his pocket. He told her to go next door to Jet’s Pizza. She asked if we wanted anything.
“As a rule, I hate when there’s no piano player, but Eddie makes it work,” I said.
“Billy Drummond sounds amazing, too,” Cory says. His solo on “Be Cool” was tasteful.”
“That’s a good way to describe his overall style”.
“Eddie can play the shit out of a ballad. Listen to his phrasing”.
When Cory made that statement, Henderson was soloing on “For All We Know”. Scofield followed, soloing softly like snow melting on cotton.
“Miles played ballads beautifully.”
“Better than any other trumpeter I can think of.”
“I won’t argue with that,” Cory said.
“You have to let me borrow this album”.
Before Cory answered Big George, one of Cory’s regulars, walked in. Be bop was behind Big George, carrying a small Jet’s Pizza box. Cory motioned Big George to sit in his barber’s chair. KB handed me a mirror so I could inspect my haircut.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Plus Loin Music, the French record label, mailed me your third recording “Nina”, which is sort of a tribute to your musical hero Nina Simone. I listened to the album several times before I read the press release. This album doesn’t feel like a tribute album because you’re so original. You have depth, and it's impossible to categorize this album. You didn’t get carry away with the arrangements. Your rhythm section guitarist Marvin Sewell, bassist Francois Moutin, and drummer Andre Ceccarelli weren’t overprotective. You’re able to pull off many styles. However, you’re most recognizable gift is serving up a love song. “Do What You Gotta Do” and “Wild is the Wind” slowed down my heartbeat. On “July Tree”, you and Sewell behaved like newlyweds. Your voice is easy to love. On “Mood Indigo” Sewell playing had a celestial quality that blended with your soft phrasing. Kellylee, I receive many albums by female jazz vocalists. Most are cookie-cutter and unmemorable. “Nina” is flawless like a pricey wedding gown. Moreover, you never set out to emulate Nina Simone’s style although you chose to performed songs she made her own.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Django Reinhardt
At the Michigan Theater Friday night, the Hot Club of San Francisco and the Hot Club of Detroit belatedly celebrated your 100th birthday. The Gypsy jazz movement you co-founded with your pal violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1934 still thrives. There's Gypsy jazz bands spread throughout the United States and overseas as well. Django, I’m happy to announce that your musical legacy remains intact. I want to share some highlights from your 100th birthday bash. I was confident the Hot Club of San Francisco and the Hot Club of Detroit would put on a wonderful show. Neither band disappointed.

The HCSF took the stage first. The quintet started with one of your 12 bar blues followed by two of your medium tempo tunes. Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Isabelle Fontaine sang in French, and while her hubby guitarist Jeff Magidson soloed, she swayed her hips as if seduced by every note Magidson played. The HCSF were loyal to the tenets of Gypsy swing. After they performed the three compositions, the Hot Club of Detroit joined the party.

The HCD opened with the burner “Heavy Artilleries/It’s About That Time”, the title cut from their recent album. When the band finished, I overheard a woman asked her date “How do you follow up that”? Well, Django, the HCD followed up with another hot number “Nostalgia in Time Square”, and saxophonist Carl Cafagna wolfed down the changes like the last supper. The HCD is guitarist Evan Perri’s brainchild. Perri is a fair and undemanding boss, and he gives his band-mates freedom and encouragement to flex their creative will, but Cafagna is clearly the franchise player. I doubt if the HCD would be the same swing conscious group without him. Cafagna’s contribution is that vital.

As a surprise, the HCSF showed two silent films. Paul Mehling, the leader of the HCSF explained Gypsy bands traditionally showed films when they performed. The HCSF accompanied “It’s a Bird” by Harold Muller and “The Land Beyond the Sunset” by Harold M. Shaw. The audience enjoyed Muller’s work the most. The music Mehling scored for Shaw’s film meshed well. Whereas, the music the quintet performed during Muller’s film was mismatch. Both bands were sensational. The encores were unnecessary and over the top. Mehling and Perri never allowed the performance to become a battle. The even was about celebrating your legacy.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Billy Strayhorn
Mr. Strayhorn, are you familiar with Sean Dobbins, Kurt Krahnke and Tad Weed? They’re Michigan based jazz musicians. Around the state, they’re known as the DKW Trio. In 2009, they released “The Music of Ellington & Strayhorn: Swing is the Thing Vol. 1”. At Orchestra Hall, last Wednesday, I interviewed drummer Sean Dobbins for an upcoming article for the weekly newspaper the Metrotimes. Dobbins runs Civic Jazz , a jazz program for kids sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. After the interview, Dobbins gave me a copy of “Swing is the Thing Vol. 1”. Before I talk about the album, I will share with you bits of each member’s background.Dobbins is a sought after drummer. He was a member of the ultra hip jazz ensemble Urban Transport. A few years ago, he started his own band Sean Dobbins and the Modern Jazz Messengers. The Messengers are popular now, and at their concerts Dobbins has a knack for channeling the spirit of Art Blakey, Dobbins’ musical hero. Bassist Kurt Krahnke studied at the New England Conservatory and graduated from Berklee College of Music. He’s played with some heavyweight jazz musicians such as saxophonist Joe Henderson and Jimmy Giuffre. Krahnke has built a solid reputation. Pianist Tad Weed has the most diverse music portfolio, having done stints with Paul Anka and free-jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd. The DKW is a sophisticated trio, and they did a wonderful job of performing some of the music you co-wrote with Mr. Ellington. The DKW Trio is a democracy. However, on "Swing is the Thing", Weed stands out the most, and it’s easy to mistake him for the leader. Weed has the most Kodak moments. He plays gutbucket blues licks on “Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear from Me”. His stride piano prelude on “Daydream” was brilliant. It would’ve made Jimmy “The Lion” Smith a little jealous. There’s an unforgettable moment on “Take the “A: Train” where Dobbins makes his drums talk, but other than that he keeps a low profile throughout the album.
Mr. Strayhorn, I have your P.O , Box address in heaven, so I'll FedEx you a copy of “Swing is the Thing”. I bet you will like it, and the next time the DKW Trio performs, I will let you know in advance. Maybe if you aren’t busy you will attend.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Johnny O'Neal (photo by Frank De Blase)
You covered a lot of ground Friday night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café’. To recap for those who missed the concert, you opened the set with the Stevie Wonder favorite “Overjoyed”, taking the melody on a few improvisational excursions. Next, you performed the Billy Preston ditty “With You I’ m Born Again”. From there you volleyed from jazz standards to blues tunes you concocted on the spot. The blues you sang kept the crowd pumped. The talkative fellow seated next to me at the bar kept grabbing my shoulder, telling me how great your voice was. This year, I have attended many good jazz concerts, but your set left a mark.

You know how to wow an audience. Plus, you kept your cool when some of rude patrons talked during the show. The talkative fellow’s date asked about your background. She was amazed you could play more than one style of jazz. I explained your dad Johnny O’Neal Sr. was a big shot jazz pianist and vocalist around Detroit. As a teenager, you hung out at many of his local performances. He bought you a piano, and you taught yourself to play. Many years later, you got your big break in New York when the drummer and bandleader Art Blakey hired you. I stopped there because you called “Sudan Blue”, a tune you performed often as a Jazz Messenger, and I wanted to hear Sean Dobbins’ solo. The drummer and bassist Marion Hayden complemented you because they are just as versatile.

Dobbins has matured a lot over the years. Early in his career, he was accustom to showboating when the spirit hit him, making funny faces, and twirling his drumsticks in the air. At first, the showboating was cute, but over time, it became annoying. That changed, however, when Dobbins struck out on his own, and formed the ensemble Sean Dobbins and the Modern Jazz Messengers. Last night, Dobbins soloing was discreet, and he never had a hey-mom-look-at-me flashback.

As for Hayden, a student of hers from the University of Michigan Dearborn attended the show. He asked my opinion of her. I explained Hayden is a priceless jazz bassist. She never grandstands or takes long solos. Musically, she has plenty of mother wit, always giving her band-mate support, but she never babies them. All night long, she kept time better than an alarm clock. Dobbins and Hayden were a dynamic supporting cast. The enthusiastic crowd showered your trio with appreciation all night. The more they applauded the harder you all worked.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pianist Gerald Clayton
I was concerned I wouldn’t get to hear your final set Saturday night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. When I arrived, people were waiting to get inside. Fortunately, I bumped into Andre and Lisa Reid, friends from high school. They were next on the waiting list, and Lisa knew the hostess. She set them at a table with enough room for a third person, so my friends invited me to join them. They’re celebrating their eleventh anniversary. 'Dre even paid for my drink. Lisa picked the restaurant, and 'Dre was anxious to hear your band-mate drummer Justin Brown. Lisa has become a serious jazz fan. Before the set began, she talked about the wonderful time she had at the Detroit jazz fest this year, and she likes saxophonist Stan Getz and Abby Lincoln. My friends heard you’re a promising jazz pianist and bandleader, but that’s all they knew about you, so as an anniversary gift, I shared some of your history. I told them you’re 26-year-old, and you’re born in the Netherlands, but you grew up in California. You served an apprenticeship in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s band. At the Detroit Jazz fest in 2008, I heard you play for the first time. Your style caught me off guard. Many jazz pianists play the piano as though they’re mad at it. At the jazz fest, you played gracefully. I yapped on and on about your solo performance at the Detroit Groove Society concert series in 2009.

That afternoon, you performed every form of African-American music. I told my friends you come from a musical family. Your pop, John Clayton, is a Grammy winner and an internationally known jazz bassist and composer. Your uncle, Jeff, is an outstanding alto saxophonist. My friends asked about your discography. I explained you’ve only been a bandleader for a few years, so you only have one album on the books as a leader. However, you performed on Hargrove’s excellent album “Ear Food”, and “Brother to Brother” and “The New Song and Dance”, two dates co-led by your pop and uncle. Last year you released a highly anticipated debut “Two-Shade”. I added although “Two-Shade was an impressive coming out album, it failed to capture how gifted you are. Brad Meldau’s influence is evident in your playing. That's all I said about the album of your debut, figuring you’d perform some tracks from “Two-Shade”.

Gerald, I gathered from my friends applauding after each solo, they enjoyed the set. The entire set, Brown’s drum work excited them. 'Dre was hyped. Gerald, I’ve attended many concerts at the Dirty Dog. This was the first time the crowd was attentive. I only have one bone to pick with you. You should've announced the tunes. That’s one of my pet peeves. Oftentimes, jazz musicians neglect to announce or to preface tunes. Anyway, after the set, Lisa asked for my thoughts. Honestly, I’ve heard you swing harder, I told her. The Dirty Dog attracts a conservative crowd. They probably would be unresponsive to a band wilding out. Not to suggest your trio is prone to horsing around. You kept the set respectable. It was ingenious how you stitched together four compositions, playing them as if they’re a suite. It was supernatural how you guys read each other’s thoughts. Your trio was responsible for my friends having a joyous eleventh anniversary although 'Dre complained the $20.00 hamburger he ordered was slightly bigger than a White Castle burger. Nonetheless, they only had wonderful comments about the music.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Mr. Coltrane, excuse me for bothering you. Will you grant me a few minutes of your time? I want to discuss “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane”, the latest recording by Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra. Are you familiar with Brown? If not, I’ll share with you bits of his bio. Brown is a jazz drummer. He’s a Californian, and he has a PhD in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley. He’s collaborated with greats such as Max Roach, Cecil Taylor and Julius Hemphill. The drummer formed the Asian American Orchestra in the late 90’s and the AAO has performed the works of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk. As you can see, Brown is a smart fellow and a serious jazz musician.

This new project is the AAO’s twist on some of the music you made after you put your hard bop roots in storage and began exploring multi-cultural music. Brown recorded “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane” live at Yoshis, a popular jazz club in the Bay Area. Water Baby Records released the project last month. The drummer divided the album into two suites “India Diaspora” and “Suite: Africa. The former is straight ahead jazz, and the latter is avant-garde. My only disclaimer is you have to be patient with this album because it starts slow.

Steve Oda plays the North Indian lute, and Dana Pandey wails on the North Indian drums on “Tabla-Sarod Duet”. Midway through the composition, they trade measures, and it’s really a crowd pleaser. On “Exaltation” Kenneth Nash chants while playing African percussions. Nash tries to channel your spirit. He chants your name, and breaks into a chorus of the spiritual “Amazing Grace”. Frankly, it’s a little weird. “Africa” gets my vote for the best cut on the album. Tenor saxophonist Masaru Koga plays the kind of fat licks you invented. Koga blowing seems effortless. Mr. Coltrane, “India & Africa a Tribute to John Coltrane” is a solid album. It works largely because the AAO feeds off a live appreciative audience.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Composer and Pianist Michel Camilo
Michel, if you had denied the  audience an encore last night at Orchestra Hall in Detroit,  a riot would have erupted. Your big band had the audience that  hyped. Never in my years as a jazz journalist have I witnessed such a spectacle. You proved it is possible for a big band to swing over an hour without coming up for air.  A man seated next to me commented an audience has  to be in  shape to endure a Michel Camilo  concert.  The performance last night exceeded expectation. It would have been impossible to fail with natural born swingers such as Antonio Hart, Gary Smulyan and Conrad Herwig participation. Surely, the crowd appreciated you prefacing each composition with what inspired it.  On “Dream Light” and “On the Other Hand”, the band had a Count Basie-esque swing ethic. The  second set,  I figured you would coast by playing a few ballads, but you increased the swing, starting  with a funky Calypso composition, and then playing “Just Kidding”, blending elements of classical, ragtime, and Caribbean music. Michel, you  have the stamina of a tri-athlete. I heard the Maria Schneider Orchestra a month ago at the Detroit jazz fest. The orchestra was superb , and I wondered if any working jazz big band could rival that orchestra’s intensity. Your big band came really close.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Outside my house, Cory the barber honks his car horn. A few hours ago, Snethkamp Chrysler-Jeep and Dodge delivered his new 2010 Jeep Cherokee. Cory is taking me for a spin. The passenger side window is down. The new Clayton Brothers’ album “The New Song and Dance” booms from the car stereo.
“Man, this is nice”.
“No more catching the bus for me,” Cory says pulling away from the curb as I strap on the passenger seatbelt.
“That’s a big upgrade. Cutting heads must pay well”.
“It’s been a good year,” Cory says turning onto Beaconsfield.
“The new Clayton Brother’s album is nice”.
“Yeah,” Cory says adjusting the volume.
“One of my Facebook friends raved about it.”
“You haven’t bought the album yet”?
“Not yet”.
“I’ll take the Clayton Brothers over the Marsalis’s any day,” Cory says slowing the Cherokee to a crawl. A Harper Woods’ police patrol car sneaks up, and then zooms around us.
“Is that Terell Stafford on the trumpet”?
“Yep, I believe Jeff and John made him an honorary Clayton. Check out this solo on “Battle Circle,” Cory says. He rewinds to track three. Stafford wolfs down the changes like chocolates.
“Is that John’s son, Gerald, on the keys”?
“Yep, he’s on the brink of greatness, and he’s not even 30-year-old,” Cory says.
Cory and I saw Gerald perform with Roy Hargrove’s band at the Detroit Jazz fest three years ago. Gerald shocked us. We liked his style immediately. He babies the piano and takes short solos. He’s unlike most contemporary jazz piano players, who tend to manhandle the piano.
“On this album Gerald changes styles with ease.
“On the Clayton Brother’s last album ‘Brother to Brother’, Gerald sounds like Gene Harris and Brad Melhdau, but Gerald found his voice on ‘The New Song and Dance’. He sounds more self-assured. His dad and his uncle push him. On ‘Soul Tango’ and ‘Chicago Bop Steppin’ they’re riding him like a superintendent. Gerald handles the pressure.
“Gerald and Terell are good together. Terell is a strong trumpeter”.
“He could blow the sun out of the sky”.
“John’s solo on ‘They Won’t Go When I Go’, is outrageous as though Ray Brown’s spirit guides him”.
“John is classy like Ray Brown was.”
“So do you like my new ride”?
“I was so wrapped up in ‘The New Song and Dance’ I wasn’t paying attention to how the car rides. Let me keep the Cherokee for a few days. Then I’ll be able to give you a better review. Deal”?
“I would loan you one of my kidneys before I’d loan you my new car,” Cory says.
“How about loaning me ‘The New Song and Dance” album instead?
“I’d give away the other Kidney before I’d let go of this album.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Big George, the new barber at 100% Barber Shop, tapes a sign on the wall behind his workstation that reads: Free Haircuts Tomorrow. I chuckled, and sit next to a customer reading Michael Rosenberg’s sports column in the Detroit Free Press. Dexter adjusts the blade on his clippers. Dane and Marcus play dominoes on the end table near the big framed window that offers a clear view of Plymouth Road. Cory the barber listens to his iPod sweeping up hair. I am twenty minutes or so early for my bi-weekly appointment. Dane says, KB. my barber went to Lee’s Beauty Supply. When Cory notices me, he props the broom and dustpan against his barber’s chair. Then he removes the white earphones, and asks if I’ve heard the new Cyrus Chestnut album “Journeys”. He gives me the cd case.
“I listened to it last night.” I return the cd case.
Cory shuts off the iPod, wraps the white earphone wire around it, and stuffs it in the breast pocket of his smock.
“It’s the best album Cyrus has put out in a while. Lately, his recordings have been hit or miss, Cory says.
“I’ve been a big fan of his music since hearing Linda Yohn of WEMU play ‘Revelation’ on her program Morning Jazz.”
“Cyrus made one great record after another, but when Atlantic Records closed their jazz division, he kind of regressed.
“He made a few great albums after the company downsized him. ‘Soul Food’ was one of his best,” Cory reminds me.
“I wore out two copies of that record. A lot of my favorite players were on that album James Carter, Christian McBride, Marcus Printup, and Gary Bartz made a cameo appearance.”
“To me, Cyrus’ best work is his trio recordings ‘Revelation’ and ‘Dark Before the Dawn’. ‘Journeys’ is in the same league.
“He’s at the stage now where he’s a storyteller. This album sounds very personal.
Cory mentions Cyrus composed all ten tunes.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his amazing compositions”.
“When he soloed on ‘Little Jon’, I thought he had three extra fingers per hand the way he ran those notes together.”
“Cyrus played in Betty Carter’s band. She encouraged her band-mates to write,” Cory notes.
He recounts an incident Cyrus had with Carter when the pianist joined her band. One night, the band performed Miles Davis’ arrangement of “If I Were a Bell”. Cyrus played the arrangement note for note. After the concert, Carter summoned Cyrus to her dressing room and lit into him, reminding him that she didn’t bring him on board to play standards the same way they were played 40 years ago.
“Be bop Betty was tough. She raised a lot of great musicians.”
“Cyrus is a democratic bandleader. Dezron and Neal had an equally stake in the album,” Cory says. “It’s rare to find a trio album where the sidemen aren’t subservient”.
“I don’t have a favorite track on this album. He carefully designed each track. So many albums are unfocused, and you really can’t get into a groove. I didn’t have that problem with ‘Journeys’. I never wanted to turn it off.”
“Cyrus is a craftsman,” Cory says.
Cory glances at his watch. He realizes it’s time to pick up his daughter, Be bop, from school. My barber, KB, walks into the shop carrying to bags filled with supplies. Cory slips off his smock. He puts on a denim jacket. He fishes his car keys from his pants pocket, and rushes out the shop.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I invited you to my blog because I want to introduce you to my readers. Milton, make yourself comfortable. There’s plenty to eat and drink so help yourself. Most of my reader’s arrived early, and I played them “’Round Midnight”, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, two songs on your forthcoming album "Things to Come". Everybody loved your take of those songs, and was anxious to hear the other tracks. Before I play the entire recording, I want to delve into your background if that’s okay with you.Milton Suggs is 27-year-old, and a native of Chicago. He's a baritone in the tradition of Joe Williams. Suggs’ dad was a popular musician around Chicago. Suggs started out on the drums. Then he switched to piano, studying with pianist Willie Pickens. Suggs attended DePaul University. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis encouraged Suggs to take his singing career seriously after hearing Suggs perform. In 2008, while a graduate student at DePaul, Suggs won Down Beat magazine’s Outstanding Vocal Performance Award. On Suggs’ first recording, “Just Like Me”, he tackled some Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn oldies. Now that my readers are up to speed, I want to comment on “Things to Come, which hit the streets Tuesday.The album is perfect. Thelonious Monk would've enjoyed your version of 'Round Midnight'. You turned the spirituals "We Shall Overcome" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing"  into the blues. Your phrasing on "JL's Blues (Every Night and Every Day)" is akin to the great Kevin Mahogany. "'Cuz I'm in Love with You" is the best song on the album. It has the sincerity and raw emotion that fuels great love songs. I have a prediction: “Things to Come” will catapult your career.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Tenor Saxophonist Ernie KrivdaI’m in hot water again. Ernie, I promised my wife money to have her hair styled this weekend. I’m a little short, and you're partly the blame. I caught part one of your album release party at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café’ Wednesday night. Some of the money I promised my wife I spent on your new recording “Ernie Krivda and the Detroit Jazz Connection Live at the Dirty Dog”. Last year,I heard the tail end of your set at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. I wanted to experience your Detroit Connection band at a smaller venue, so the Dirty Dog was perfect.

The turnout for a weeknight surprised me. I set at the bar next to a jerk. He was tipsy and he yapped the entire time the band played “The End of a Love Affair”. He obviously ignored the sign posted at the bar, asking customers to keep quiet during the performance. The jerk finally shut up when pianist Claude Black soloed. Black has been around forever. He’s still sharp, and has the longest fingers I’ve never seen. Smoke issued from the piano keys after his soloing on “Blues by Any Other Name” and Sonny Rollins’ ditty “St. Thomas”.

Drummer Renell Gonsalves and bassist Dan Kolton are reliable role-players. Both put in some overtime setting up your cadenzas on “All the Things Your Are” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. The crowd was lively, especially the little girl who hung out with her parents. Did you see her? She held a small stuffed animal, and danced off key but enthusiastically. Her folks were there for the chow. It’s a shame they left before the set concluded because obviously she wanted to hear the entire performance. .

To borrow Dale Turner’s expression--the troubled character saxophonist Dexter Gordon portrayed in the movie “’Round Midnight”-- you played sweetly. Your manner was engaging. You looked animated. For instance, when you soloed on a medium tempo number, you leaned forward and poured the music out your horn. On up-tempo tunes, you wrestled with the sax as if it wanted to jump out your hands. When your sidemen had their moments, you closed your eyes. You, swayed back and forth as though you felt every note they culled from their instruments. Like the great tenor saxophonists Ike Quebec, Jimmy Forrest, and Arnett Cobb, you know how to work ballads. Overall, your band made swinging look easy. Ernie, maybe my wife will read my comments and forgive me for spending a portion of the cash I promised her.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda performs four nights at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I called Cory the barber to ask if he wants to catch the 8:30 set Saturday night. Be bop, Cory’s 11-year-old daughter, answers his cellular phone. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s, new album “The Gates BBQ Suite” plays in the background. Be bop tells me that her dad is showering. I tell her to give him the message about the Krivda performance.
“Uncle Chuck, you don’t want to talk to me,” Be Bop asks. Her real name is Inez. A famous jazz drummer, who she met recently nicknamed her Be bop, and she demands everybody calls her that. Inez loved the nickname so much she asked her parents if she could legally change it to Be bop.
“Don’t you have homework, and where is that horrible noise coming from.” Be Bop says her dad sings while showering.
“He sounds like a wounded animal,” Be bop jokes.
“Have the neighbors complained”?
“Uncle Chuck. Dad is a pretty good songwriter, but he has a really bad voice. I would rather listen to my English teacher drag or fingernails down her blackboard than listen to my dad sing,” Be bop says.
Be bop has an open relationship with Cory. She makes fun of him constantly. The ribbing never bothers him. Be bop inherited her mom’s sense of humor. I always enjoy talking to Be bop. For an 11-year-old, she is mature and a good conversationalists. We talk mostly about jazz. She knows the music like a mechanic knows a transmission.
“Is that Bobby Watson’s knew album playing”?
“Yeah, dad bought it a few days ago.”
“Do you like it”?
“Not really. It’s supposed to be a suite dedicated to his favorite hometown Barbeque joint. I'm surprised dad bought it. Dad is a vegetarian. I think it’s odd he would pay good money for a record about Barbeque,”
“Uncle Chuck, the album doesn’t have any soul. You would think music about a soul-food staple would have a lot of soul,” Be bop points out.”
“That’s a good point. Do you have any other albums by Watson?
“Dad have jams Bobby Watson performed on with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s and most of Watson’s Horizon albums.”
I listened to ‘The Gates BBQ Suite’ a few times, and I was unimpressed, so I understand Be bop feelings about the album.
“It’s really hard now to get into a big band record after listening to the Maria Schneider Orchestra at the Detroit jazz fest,” Be bop admits.
“Maria’s orchestra was amazing. I was reminiscing about that performance yesterday. Maybe, in fairness to Watson, you should take another stab at ‘The Gates BBQ Suite a few months from now after the residue from Maria’s orchestra has worn off.
“I don’t think that will change my opinion,” Be bop says.
“Give it a shot anyway.”
“How do you feel about the record”?
“I’ve heard high school big bands that sound more polished.
“Uncle Chuck that’s mean.”
“The album, in part, was a showcase for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra. The album didn’t sound like a suite at all.
Be bops asks me to hold on. I hear Be Bop talking to her dad. She informs me her dad is free Saturday evening, and he finds it hard to believe I dislike Bobby Watson’s new record.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Jazz Vocalist Sachal VasandaniI caught your performance at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café last night. I set next to the owner Gretchen Carhartt-Valade. I jotted down notes on a notepad, and nursed a cranberry juice with lime on the rocks. I wanted to experience you live. In 2007, I purchased your debut album “Eye’s Wide Open”. I liked your voice right away, but I had mixed feelings about the album. None of the songs fit your voice. I heard the album established you. Sachal, before I comment on your performance last night, I want to share some of your background and career highlights.

The vocalist grew up in Chicago. His folks had eclectic taste in music. Sachal gravitated to jazz. He attended the University of Michigan. In 1999, Down Beat magazine named him the Collegiate Jazz Vocalist of the Year. He was a semi-finalist in the 2004 Thelonious Monk Institute Competition. Two years later, Mack Avenue Records signed him, and the following year, the company released his debut “Eyes Wide Open”.

Sachal, last night, before the last set began I chatted with several people who were upset because drummer Kendrick Scott was a no-show. I got the impression they were more interested in hearing the drummer. The Dirty Dog's bartender explained that Scott stayed in New York. I figured the drummer had a better offer. Scott is a powerful drummer, but your performance was successful without him. Maybe leaving Scott out the lineup was smart. You had a proficient support staff bassist David Wong and pianist Jeb Patton. Patton--a disciple of Sir Roland Hanna and a chartered member of the Heath Brother's (Jimmy and Percy) outfit--fingers melted on the piano keys like butter. Wong has a strong work ethic, knowing when to pour it on and when to hold back. The Dirty Dog Jazz Café’ is a swanky place in the upscale suburb of Grosse Pointe, MI. Some of the people who frequent the café are conservative and proper. You are probably more accustomed to performing for a looser audience.

I appreciated how you mixed things up, performing music from your new album “We Move” as well as material written by Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk. Your voice is built for ballads. Your phrasing is akin to Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme. It’s neat how you lower you voice to a whisper midway through ballads. You kept the scatting to a minimum. Sometimes it’s annoying when vocalists scat more than they sing. You know how to balance the two. At times, the crowd was inattentive, but you stayed composed. You never resorted to any shenanigans to get their juices flowing. You put on a respectable show.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Cory the barber stood on my front porch. He held a sky blue envelope and a copy of saxophonist Kirk Whalum's new album "Everything is Everything the Music of Donny Hathaway" in his right hand. Before he stepped inside my house, he passed me the envelope. Then he gave me the black man’s handshake. The handshake is too complicated to describe. At the Detroit International Jazz Festival, I hung out with Cory and Inez. I invited them over to watch the men’s finals of the U.S. Open. Novak Djokovic challenged top ranked Rafael Nadal. Rafael chased his first grand slam. He was the favorite. Cory and Inez love tennis, and I developed a fondness for the sport when I finally learn how officials score the individual games, what deuce, love, break point, and match point meant. I called in a few favors and scored Cory and Inez a backstage pass to the jazz fest.

September 4, Inez turned 11-year-old. She met and took photos with a number of her favorite jazz musicians Tia Fuller, Branford Marsalis, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Turre, and Roy Haynes. Haynes liked Inez immediately because she had listened to all his classic albums, and she knew all the sidemen who played on the recordings. When Inez is excited, she talks rapidly. The drummer likened her speech to how fast Bird and Dizzy sped through the changes to be bop staples such as “CoCo” and “Cherokee”. Haynes nicknamed Inez Be Bop. Her dad felt that was a suitable pet name.
“Where is Be bop,” I asked. I closed the front door after Cory entered.
“She's at some family get-together with her mother. She wanted to come, but her mom laid a guilt trip on her, so she decided to hangout with her mom.”

I led Cory the barber to my family room. Whalum’s album played. The saxophonist performed with Hathaway’s daughter Lalah, at the Detroit jazz fest. We missed the performance. I bought the album, and planned to listen to it with Cory and Inez before the tennis match started. Cory had a copy of it. He did not know I purchased it. When Cory flopped down on my brown sectional sofa in the family room, track 5 “A Song For You” played. I opened the envelope Inez asked her dad to give me. Inside it was a thank you card and several photos Cory took of Be Bop backstage. The card read:

“Uncle Chuck, thanks for letting me and my dad hang out with you at the jazz fest last weekend. I had an amazing time. I never thought I would ever get a chance to meet my favorite jazz musicians. Tia Fuller was really nice, and Branford Marsalis was really funny and smart. Roy Haynes was the coolest. Do you like the nickname he gave me, Be Bop? When I grow up, I’m going to have that name on my business cards. Inez “Be Bop” Little. Uncle Chuck hanging out with you and dad listening to live jazz was the best birthday present I’ve ever receive. Thank you so much!
Never stop swinging,
Be Bop

I felt good after I read Be Bop’s thank you card. I never told Cory that I secretly wished Inez were my daughter. I placed it on the coffee table next to a photo of my oldest nephew Jalen in his football uniform clutching a football, and a photo of me hugging my wife on our wedding day.
“It safe to say Inez really enjoyed the jazz fest,” I said. I set on the opposite end of the sectional.
“That's all she’s been talking about,” Cory said.
“It’s amazing how much she loves music ”.
“Her mom was the same way. That’s why I fell in love with her. But our mutual love for music wasn’t enough to keep us together. Inez was the one thing we did right.”
“She’s something special. Has Be Bop listened to Whalums album”?
“My daughter is a jazz purist--maybe the youngest jazz purist on earth. She hates smooth jazz.
“I don’t like this album.”
“I think it’s pretty good.”
“The album is all over the place. It sounds as though Kirk couldn’t decide what kind of album he wanted to make. He supposedly was honoring Donny Hathaway, but it doesn’t feel or sound like a tribute about at all,” I said.
“Kirk is a great saxophone player. He sounds a lot like Grover Washington Jr. during his heyday,” Cory said.
“His saxophone skills are solid. I will give him that much, but this album is like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“I like the collaborations on the album with Musiq Soulchild on ‘We’re Still Friends’ and ‘You Had To Know” with Lalah Hathaway. I think those collaborations added to the overall appeal of the album.”
“I like the collaboration with Lalah. I will admit that, but the album was too heavy with cameos, and I thought Kirk’s playing got lost. The album needed some heavy editing.”
“I thought the album showed his versatility. You know, Kirk is one of those cats who like to mix things up. He can play R&B, Gospel, and straight up instrumental music.”
I asked my guest if he wanted something to drink or eat. He declined. I excused myself to grab a bottle of water. When I returned Cory had changed his mind, and asked for either a soda or a glass of juice.
“Including all those genre on one album is tricky. Most musicians who try to mix things up are unsuccessful,” I said.
“Was there anything you liked about the album,” Cory asked.
“On ’Trying Times’, Kirk was really blowing his ass off on that one. Overall, the album was overwrought. I couldn’t get into any one groove because Kirk kept changing gears. At times, the album made me dizzy.”
“You’re being dramatic,” Cory said.
“Honestly, ‘Everything is Everything’ could’ve been a good album if Kirk had held back some. The album just had too much going on. ”
The album ended with the titled cut “Everything is Everything”, which was the weakest song on the album. I peeked at my wristwatch. It was 3:45pm. NBC broadcast of the tennis match began at 4:00pm. I clicked on the television. Nadal and Djokovic trotted on the court.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Drummer Justin FaulknerThis was the Detroit International Jazz Festival's most diverse year. People heard hard bop, avant-garde, Latin jazz and smooth jazz. The festival had a few performances that were weak. Take 6 with the Mulgrew Miller Trio was flat. The a cappella sextet performed some compositions trumpeter Miles Davis put his stamp on. The sextet strayed too far away from their gospel roots. They tried humming and scatting the melody to "Seven Steps to Heaven" and "Flamenco Sketches". On the latter, one member even tried to emulate how Davis' muted trumpet used to sound. At best, their scatting was amateurish. The highly anticipated piano duet with Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller was uninteresting. They had similar styles.
The soul dance band Tower of Power was the best non-jazz act. Saturday was packed with memorable performances. Saxophonist Salim Washington & Arts Ensemble of Harlem was the most eclectic. The Tia Fuller Quartet and the Terence Blanchard Quintet put on memorable shows. Maria Schneider Orchestra was the front-runner for the festival's best performance. Schneider's compositions were deep, complex and comparable to Gil Evans. Her orchestra brimmed with some damn fine soloists such as saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Steve Wilson. Trio M's performance was hot as well. Myra Melford played the piano with her hands, forearm and elbow. Legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes played a hit set. As a sideman, Haynes is known for taking long solos. With his Fountain of Youth band, the drummer solos were short and lively. His pianist Martin Bejerano took a few long improvisational excursions. The youngster knows a thing or two about swinging. Haynes is up there in age. He never micro-managed the workload to young band mates. Haynes was in the mix from start to finish, matching their prowess.
The Branford Marsalis set was enjoyable. He changed bass players like dress shirts. The great Eric Revis has been the saxophonist’s go-to-man for years. Marsalis gave a Revis a coffee break on, and invited bassist Christian McBride and Bob Hurst to play a few tunes. Marsalis has replaced his running buddy Jeff "Tain" Watts with Justin Faulkner. Watts, an acrobatic drummer is irreplaceable. Faulkner is a promising young drummer. He has been rolling with Marsalis for nearly a year. Obviously, he listened Elvin Jones and Tony Williams records, and memorized their licks. The downside of attending the Detroit jazz fest is you have to make hard choices. Do you catch the Allen Toussaints set, or the Manhattan Transfer? Or do you try to experience some of both?


Maria Schneider

The Maria Schnieder Orchestra's performance was the best set at the Detroit jazz fest so far. That is a major compliment given Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, Trio M and the Defenders of the Groove featuring Ernie Andrews performed. Like the great jazz orchestral sage Gil Evans, Schneider compositions have depth, and she has a knack for getting the best from her work force. On Schneider's, original Sky Blue", saxophonist Steve Wilson horn melted in his hands. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin had the stamina of a long distance runner on "Journey Home" and "Hang Gliding" . Nowadays, it's hard to tell the difference between the many jazz orchestras out there. The Maria Schneider Orchestra stands out. I felt bad for the Wayne State University Big Band featuring trumpeter Terence Blanchard because that big band followed Schneider, which performance was impossible to top.


I did not know that Michigan has so many excellent trombonists until I caught Ron Kischuk & Master's of Music Trombone at the Mack Avenue Pyramid stage. This trombone summit was the brainchild of Kischuk, who is a competent bandleader and JJ Johnson and Kai Winding authority. Kischk honored both. Kischuk managed to dig up some lesser know JJ Johnson compositions such as "In Walked Horace" and "Sweet Georgia Gillespie" which combined the changes to the standard "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Dizzy Gillespie's classic "Salt Peanuts". To pull off this tribute, Kischuk recruited trombonists Ed Gooch, Randall Hawes, George Troia and Johnny Trudell. All blew as if Johnson's spirit was on the bandstand instructing the trombonists on what notes to play.


Those fans of jazz pianist Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller expecting an old fashion cutting contest at the Carhartt Amphitheatre stage was disappointed. Barron and Miller are classy pianists. They take their jobs seriously, and neither player is much for horsing around on the bandstand. Neither pianist attempted to outplay the other. They have similar styles and are showboating is beneath them. They never deviated from the script. The played extended versions of familiar standards from the great American songbook, and that seemed to be good enough for the capacity crowd, but I found the duet lacking. Both has similar styles. It would have been more interesting if it were two pianist who have little in common performing. Barron and Miller are too proper to get their hands dirty.


It's impossible for a group that has Eddie Henderson, Louis Hayes, Bobby Watson, Steve Turre, Melvin Sparks, and the blues vocalist Ernie Andrews to strike out. The Defenders of the Groove never came close to putting out a bad product Sunday evening. Steve Torre blew fire out his seashells. Andrews’s voice was stronger than a bodybuilder's biceps. The man is 82-year-old and he was bouncing around the stage like a fitness instructor. There was an annoyance worth discussing. The Defenders of the Groove apparently travels with a hype man. I did not catch the fellows name but he was corny and waisted a lot of time trying to get the audience fired up. When his unfunny wisecracks failed, he walked through the audience attempting to involve them in the performance. Bassist Christian McBride was supposed to introduce the band, but the hype man kept interrupting the bassist. Fed up McBride gave the microphone to the attention greedy hype man. Then McBride gracefully walked off the stage. Despite the hype man's constant interference, Andrews and company had a memorable set.

Sunday, September 5, 2010



Saxophonist Tia Fuller, the first lady of Mack Avenue Records, is a bona fide jazz saxophonist. Her current album "Decisive Steps" is her best recording output so far. Saturday afternoon at the Absopure Riverfront stage, her quartet gave an outstanding performance, playing selections from the new album. Fuller showed that she is a democratic bandleader, giving her staff pianist Shamie Royston, bassist Mimi Jones, and drummer Randy Royston a fair share of the spotlight. Royston, Fuller sister, played a picturesque solo on "Windsoar". On "Decisive Steps", Mimi Jones walked the bass like a family pet. Fuller had some noteworthy quality moments, trading with the drummer on "Clear Mind", and how she made her horn sound emotional on the ballad "I Can't Get Started". By the end of the tune, tears streamed down the side of her sax.


Multi-reed player and bandleader Salim Washington & the Harlem Arts Ensemble played an eclectic set at the Mack Avenue Pyramid stage. The ensemble is cross generational, and employs a few familiar faces such as the multi-gifted trombonist Frank Lacy, and guitarist Keith Owens. This is a jazz ensemble impossible to typecast because Washington likes to mix things up, which he did successfully performing obscure material by Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, and George Duke. What a diverse set-list. The ensemble handled the material by those jazz luminaries skillfully, but Washington's ensemble seemed right at home performing his original works "Elder Washington" and "Recognition". The clever jazz pianist Pamela Wise managed somehow to work in some boogie-woogie licks while his soloing on "Elder Washington". On "Recognition", viola player Melanie Dyer proved her overall net worth. Lacy was the most colorful and entertaining member, He kept right on blowing and improvising although the sound engineer had a tough time adjusting the volume on his microphone. Washington has a scholarly understanding of the inner workings of the tenor sax. He solos were like musical lectures


Pepper Adams acolyte baritone sax man Gary Smulyan and the last be bop king pianist Barry Harris put their chops together for a tribute to the godfather of the baritone sax Pepper "the knife" Adams. According to jazz lore, Adams jazz running buddies nicknamed him "the knife" because he sliced up a legion of jazz saxophonist stupid enough to challenge Adams at jam sessions. Smulyan and Harris performed compositions Adams either wrote or had a hand in immortalizing. Smulyan and Harris opened the tribute with "That Freedom", a 16 bar blues composed by the recently departed Hank Jones. Then they followed up with one of Adams original's "Musing". Overall, it was the type of picture perfect performance fans of Simulyan and Harris have grown accustom to witnessing. Smulyan played like Adams' spirit blessed his horn before the gig.


Trumpeter Terence Blanchard's band is made up of hungry jazz musicians, who gladly shoulder the bulk of the band’s workload. At the Carhartt Amphitheatre stage, Blanchard delegated most of the soloing to tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Joshua Crumbly and pianist Fabian Almazan. The Cuban born pianist played as if he were the boss. His mannerisms and phrasing was akin to Keith Jarrett during Jarrett's heyday. Winston, a rugged tenor player wolfed down the changes to "A Time to Share" and "Him or Me" like a hungry man a home cooked meal. Blanchard solos were brief and fabulous. He played hunched over with the bell of his trumpet almost kissing the stage floor. The youngsters behaved as if they did not mind being overworked.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Pianist Mulgrew Miller

The a cappella gospel sextet Take 6 took a huge risk Friday, the opening night of the 31st Detroit International Jazz Festival. Accompanied by the Mulgrew Miller trio, Take 6 started their hour long set unearthing several tunes the late jazz trumpeter and rock star Miles Davis immortalized "Seven Steps to Heaven", "Flamenco Sketches" and "Freddie Freeloader". The a cappella sextet seemed out of their league although they performed the same tunes with Miller awhile ago at Jazz at the Lincoln Center. The sextet seemed unpolished. Alvin Chea almost made a mockery of himself making his voice sound like an acoustic bass then attempting to match wits with Miller's clever young bassist Ivan Taylor. It was obvious to any audience member with jazz savvy ears that neither member was completely facile in the fine art of jazz scatting. They did a decent job considering, but I wonder if it would have been a complete disaster if Miller were not on hand to help them navigate the jazz tunes. Miller was brilliant from start to finish, which those familiar with his music expected. Midway through the set, Take 6 switched the focus from Miles Davis's jazz favorites to spirituals. They were more at home and creative performing the spirituals. On the first number, they switched tempos a few times dubbing it the Detroit remix. The audience ate it up. Toward the end of "Mary Don't You Weep" Mark Kibble and Cedric Dent became in embroiled in sort of a gospel-cutting contest. That was definitely the highlight of the set and got the audience all fired up for the closing act Tower of Power.


During the Tower of Power set, the man seated to my immediate right tapped me on the shoulder. Then he whispered in my ear Tower of Power was not playing jazz but they were definitely super bad. That statement pretty much summarizes the funk ensemble's performance, which almost had every able body in attendance dancing. The bands over the top performance will make the festival highlight reel. The ensemble has been around for four decades. Larry Braggs is a wonderful funk vocalist and a skilled showman. He knows how to get the females all steamed up. On one tune, Braggs gyrated and thrust his hips as if he was auditioning for a porno. The five women seated in front of me went wild. One unhooked her store bought ponytail and twirled it in the air. That really did not happen, but she was worked up. Braggs is the lead singer, but he understands that the ensemble is the star. People do not come out to experience only one member. They come to experience the whole. They performed many of their greatest hits and new material from their latest album "The Great American Soul Book". The best part of the ensemble's set was the medley of James Brown's song they performed. Of course, some of the member did their best Godfather of Soul impersonation.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Milton Suggs
Milton, I just finished eating your upcoming album "Things to Come". It was hearty and satisfying as a holiday meal, so. I urge people to buy two copies when Skiptone Music releases it on September 28th. I suggest purchasing two because people should have a spare on hand in case they wear out the first, which I guarantee will occur.For now, that's I'll reveal about “Things to Come”. I'll post a full review on the release date. Before I sign off, I'll share some of your background if that's okay with you.
Milton is a Chicagoan. He has been musical since childhood, starting on the alto saxophone. Later on, the lad switched to the piano. He started riffing and wailing as a teenager. As a graduate student at De Paul University, Milton won the Down Beat Magazine Student Music Award. His buddy trumpet great Wynton Marsalis encouraged the vocalist to pursue his singing career. This spring, Milton released his first album “Just like Me: The Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn". The Chicagoan has worked with Wycliffe Gordon, Phil Woods, and Winard Harper. That should be enough of Milton's background to arouse your interest. Milton is a superb jazz vocalist. Just imagine the kind of vocalist you would get if you mixed Johnny Hartman's and Kevin Mahogany's DNA.