Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Dear Concord Music Group-

Normally, I celebrate Christmas on December 25, but I had a reason to do it early this time around. Your publicist sent me remastered copies of "Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane," "Jazz at Oberlin: The Dave Brubeck Quartet," Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section," Way Out West," and "Virtuoso," five classic jazz albums every jazz purist and budding purist should have. My readers haven't heard from me since March 23rd because I've been hole up in my study listening to these remastered pearls. I told my wife not to disturb me. At dinnertime, knock twice. Then leave it outside the door. I haven't showered since I began listening to the albums. I'm kidding. Seriously, spending quality time with the reissues was heavenly to say the least.

The digitally remastered albums are so clear and distinct I felt as if the musicians were giving me a private concert. Monk and Coltrane were the perfect companions. When they played and recorded together, their styles didn't clash. "Jazz at Oberlin" remains my favorite Brubeck album. The pianist and his buddy the great alto saxophonist Paul Desmond were a stunning jazz tag team. In 1957, trumpeter Miles Davis subcontracted his rhythm section to alto sax man Art Pepper. I always felt Pepper never received his just due. He was a wizard on the alto, and unfortunately underrated. I liked Pepper's mellow phrasing, and he could sprint through chord progressions without losing his breath. He demonstrates both styles throughout "Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section". At the time, Davis had Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers, and Red Garland on staff.

Many years ago, I read Pepper's autobiography "Straight Life the Story of Art Pepper". Pepper was a twisted dude, who lived a troubled life, but he made some wonderful music nonetheless. As I recall, at the end of the book, Pepper recounted winning a cutting contest. He took on fellow sax man Sonny Stitt. For those unfamiliar with jazz parlance, a cutting contest is when a musician out plays a rival. I thought Pepper stretched the truth a bit. Anyway, Pepper didn't squander his time with Miles' rhythm section. They adapted to Pepper's dual styles. I'm listening to the album as I write. Pianist Red Garland is tickling the keys like an infant's stomach on "Red Pepper Blues". And Paul Chamber is picking at the bass strings like removing lint from his Sunday suit. I wonder if Davis worried, some of his guys would defect. As for Pepper cutting Stitt's head, maybe I should've given Pepper the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had an extraordinary night. The undisputed Sonny Rollins knows a thing or two about being extraordinary.

For six decades now, Rollins has been the reigning king of the tenor sax. "Way Out West" was Rollins in his glory, playing with a trio bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. In 2007, I interviewed Rollins. I asked why he excluded the piano. Rollins said he isn't anti-piano. It had been his experience that some musicians are too depended on the piano. The pianist can compensate or cover up mistakes. A musician has to be exceptional to make it in a piano-less band, Rollins said. I always believed, until recently, a band couldn't swing without a pianist. That outlook changed last year, listening to drummers Mat Wilson album "That Gonna Leave a Mark" and Jeff "Tain" Watt's date "Watts". Neither employed a pianist. I didn't realize it until I was on my third helping of each albums. I no longer believe that. Studying "Way Out West," I concur with Rollins. theory. Brown and Manne virtuosity drips off this recording.

Guitarist Joe Pass is another virtuoso. On the amply "Virtuoso," Pass decided to do this album stag. I listened to the album while driving. I like driving alone because I get to have my Walter Mitty-like moments where I envision myself in various incarnations. I always have the car stereo blaring. Sometimes, I envision myself as a renowned jazz pianist a la Bud Powell, Craig Taborn, Cyrus Chestnut, and Walter Bishop Jr. Maybe one day I'll get up the nerve, and have enough disposable income to take piano lessons. Of course, I'll never reach the pianists that I named ability.

I recall listening to an interview with bassist Charles Mingus. He made a solo piano album. He said although he enjoyed playing the piano, he knew he'd never be a virtuoso on that instrument. It was too late in life for him to develop his left hand. Anyway, listening to "Virtuoso," I felt as if Pass was sitting in the passenger seat of my Jeep Wrangler strumming breathtaking melodies. Spending time with the reissued albums has been a treat indeed. Christmas hit early this year, and I'm not ashamed at, 43, to admit I still believe in Santa Claus.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Anat CohenAnat, forgive me for running the photo of you biting your clarinet. I want to let my readers know that although you’re a brilliant and accomplished musician you have a silly side. You're not uptight like some musicians that I know. Sunday afternoon, I had a ball listening to you and guitarists Howard Alden, the reigning king of the seven string guitar, kid around between tunes at the Detroit Groove Society's concert. For those unfamiliar with the DGS, it's run by Andrew and Diane' Rothman. They have concerts in the living room of their West Bloomfield home. Such renowned jazz musicians as pianist Geri Allen, George Cables, and Gerald Clayton have performed there. The Rothmans know how to put on a concert. It's first,class all the way.

I laughed when you jokingly directed Howard to keep the audience entertained while she refilled her wine glass. I bet it’s difficult to have a crowd laughing like crazy one moment, and dancing in their seats the next. Somehow, you and Howard managed to do that. If being a jazz musician hadn't worked out,you could've made a living as a stand up comic. I like when musicians don't have a set list mapped out, or have rehearsed before a performance. It leaves more room for improvising, and that's what jazz is mostly about, making something wonderful happen on the spot. It was neat how you and Howard warmed up the crowd opening with three Duke Ellington tunes. You guys covered a lot of ground, playing tunes by Fats Waller,Jelly Roll Morton, and Django Reinhardt.

You and Howard were a great duo. You mentioned you've performed with Howard off and on for two years. I would've guessed both of you have been a duo longer. Anat, you have a strong tone. On "Cry Me a River,"you had the roof of the house bouncing. After the first set, Andy had to open up every window on the first floor. You and Howard had the room smoking. You converted the elderly woman sitting next to me. Before the concert started, we chatted. She admitted to not being a jazz fan at all. She’s a friend of Andy's mom.She invited her to the concert. She accepted because she didn't have other plans. She left a fan Anat Cohen fan. She purchased a copy of your new album, which she planned to play on the drive home. At one point during the second set, you blew with such force, I thought you'd shatter every window in the house.

Anat, I enjoy the Rothman’s home concerts. I get to hear fabulous music in an intimate setting. I mingle with the musicians between sets, and dine with them after the concert. That never happens when I attend shows at jazz clubs, and concert halls in Detroit. I have to go through a lot to rub elbows with musicians. Management literally subjects me to a security check as if I tried to get permission to sleepover at the White House. The Rothman’s are welcoming. Andy always kids me about being late.

The first home concert I attended, I was over an hour late. It started at 8:00pm. I showed up and 9:00pm, and mistaking rang the doorbell while pianist Bill Mays was playing. Andy didn't bust my chops though. I never told him that I actually left my house at 6:00pm. I always head out early in case I get lost. I got lost,and it took me damn near three hours to find Andy's house.

Sunday, I arrived early, and Andy was shocked. He’s a nice guy and serious jazz fan. A few months ago,he sent me a copy of the Oliver Nelson classic "Blues and the Abstract Truth". He was out record shopping, and he knew I didn't have that album. He bought it for me. I believe he missed his calling. He's a lawyer, and I’m sure he's successful. He should've been a jazz historian. He can rattle off dates of classic jazz albums, and what musicians played on them like a baseball fanatic can recite stats of his favorite players. Anat, I was thrilled I had the chance to spend Sunday, afternoon listening to you and Howard swing and kid around.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Bassist Alexander BlakeI had an ulterior reason for attending your concert last night at KerryTown Concert House. Of course, I was anxious to hear your trio. Mr. Weston, the last time you're in Michigan I missed out. I can't recall why. However, several friends told me your African Rhythm Trio put on an outstanding show, and they boasted about your bass player Alex Blake. They said he did some way out tricks on the bass. Blake's handling of the instrument inspired two of my friends, who're poets to write poems about the bassist unique style. I wanted to see Blake play. I founded some video footage of him performing on YouTube. Sure enough, he was everything my friends described. Mr. Weston, I attended your concert last night mainly because I wanted to experience Blake firsthand. The concert was magnificent. I appreciated how you prefaced each song the trio performed with a story. You came across like a professor of African culture and history. Blake was quite the showman.

He manhandled the bass all night long. It was indeed something to behold. On your original "Blue Moses," I thought the audience should've been required to wear safety glasses. He was ferocious. At any moment, I thought Blake's strings would snap. I never seen the bass played so rambunctiously. During Blake's solos, I wondered if he's a frustrated drummer, or if he was a percussionist in a former life. I guess I'll never know, and it was too weird of a question to ask him. I did ask Blake after the first set to describe his style of playing. He said he plays the bass like a percussive instrument. (Maybe my frustrated percussionist observation is true.) Blake can also, at the drop of a hat, turn off his rambunctious side, and play the bass sensually as if he's caressing a beautiful woman's leg. .

Mr. Weston, perhaps I shouldn't be boasting about your sideman. It was your gig after all, and you did a great job of keeping the capacity audience going. I bet many will have sore necks and swollen feet because they stomped their feet and bobbed their heads nonstop all night. You're spiritualist at heart. I understood your statement that every person is an instrument. Their voices are music. You spotted trumpeter Marcus Belgrave sitting in the audience, and asked him to join the band on the cooker "High Fly". Belgrave made the concert more special.

Belgrave resisted at first because he didn't have his horn on hand. You made him go get it. After the audience pressured him, Belgrave agreed only because he lives near the concert house. Mr. Weston, it was a good night. Worth the hour drive from Harper Woods to Ann Arbor. Your playing was wonderful. I wondered if your ancestors blessed your fingers, given the way fingers moved across the piano keys.

My friends were right about Blake. He's certainly a unique jazz bass player. I wanted to ask him, after the second set, about his influences. Over the years, I heard a ton of jazz bassist. None more animated as Blake. So I'd wager he was influence by the style of bass playing in Africa. I didn't get another chance is question him. He was surrounded by other well-wishers who're just as awed with his playing as I was.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Bandleader Wynton Marsalis I used to consider you a jazz snob, and a Duke Ellington wannabe. You music was too traditional for my taste. Your conceit-which I discovered was only good old-fashion American confidence-turned me off. I recall the time you walked on the bandstand uninvited to challenge Miles Davis. Instead of indulging you, the trumpeter asked you to leave. Crashing Miles' gig, and challenging him took balls. I wonder if you think about that episode, realizing you behaved foolishly. Back then, you're cocky. Ten years ago, I heard you perform live. My opinion of you changed drastically. I have a friend who loves the ground you walk on., and will stand toe to toe with anyone who criticizes you. I've dealt with her wrath on several occasions. In 2001, she dragged me to your performance at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. I didn't put up a fight. She's pushy, and she normally gets her way.

You performed with a quintet. I loved the concert. I wanted to retract every accusation I made about you. After the concert. I pledged to never criticize a musician before I listened to them live. Wynton, I boasted about that performance for a good month. The music was textbook swing, and your soloing was unpretentious. The quintet swung from start to finish, To this day, that concert ranks as one of my all time favorites. I agree with the fans, the critics and the jazz historians who consider you jazz most dignified ambassador. Whenever, you come to Detroit, I make sure I'm front and center at the concert.

Wednesday evening, I heard the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra perform at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI, and it was the first time experienced the orchestra live. Wednesday afternoon, I watched a movie on cable television about the great bandleader Glen Miller. James Stewart played the bandleader. Throughout the movie, he was obsessed with finding this certain sound for his orchestra. It took some doing but he finally accomplished his goal. No matter what adversity he had to deal with, the bandleader kept forging on. So, Wynton, after watching that movie, I was hyped up, and I wanted to hear some good swing music. Your orchestra provided that.

Your orchestra was polished like expensive silverware. I thought the orchestra was going to play some of Duke Ellington's compositions. I was surprised they didn't. Instead, you opened with three jumping selections popularized by the Count Basie Orchestra "Sleep Walkers Serenade," "Midnight Blue," and "Seventh Avenue Express". The tempo the orchestra played on "Midnight Blue" put me and the couple seated to my immediate left in a trance. You refer to the slow groove as grown-folks-tempo. The capacity audience got a kick out of that. For the rest of the evening, the orchestra performed songs from the album "Portrait in Seven Shades," a suite commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art. Wynton, I want to take a minute to breakdown the suite for my readers. Saxophonist Ted Nash wrote the suite, which has seven movements inspired by famous painters such as Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall and Pollack.

In the movements, Nash expressed how various paintings from the artists inspired him. He didn't attempt to capture the painter’s personalities. Rather Nash captured their spirits. Each movement was engaging, but I have two favorites. The section dedicated to Monet, and Pollack. I bet playing the Monet section was challenging given the odd 13/8 time signature. Playing it, I suspect was tantamount to running a marathon in half the time,

On Pollock, the entire orchestra was able to get their hands dirty, especially pianist Dan Nimmer who was genius all night. Native Detroiter drummer Ali Jackson was licking his chops like the late big band drummer Jo Jones. Pollack used to splash paint on canvas. Each band member during their solo splashed musical paint on the stage. Wynton, if the painters I mentioned were alive, I bet they would've been happy with the music Nash composed commemorating their style of painting. Wynton, my player hating days are over. I was young back then and judgmental. I didn't have a sufficient reason to dog you.

I'm middle age now. I no longer have a knee-jerk assessment of things. Driving home from the concert, I thought about how tight the orchestra was, and I realized what Glen Miller was shooting for. He wanted his outfit to sound different then the other popular big bands of his era.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I won't take up too much of your time, Cindy. I want to discuss your new album "Another Lifetime," which you dedicated to the late jazz drummer Tony Williams. It's commendable you’re keeping his' music alive. The guy was an exciting drummer, and he should’ve received more accolades. Williams wasn't just ordinary post-bop drummer. I understand your attraction to his style and his music. Like Miles Davis, Williams was constantly searching. As you already know, “Another Lifetime” hit the streets in late February, so I'm a little late reviewing it. Monday, I listened to it for a few hours, and I found it perplexing. "Another Lifetime" is hard to sum up. I know accomplished musicians don’t like being categorized. While I listened to your album, I wondered who’s your target audience? It's certainly not jazz purists. They’d probably find this album too intangible. And “Another Lifetime” might even be too out there for the most open minded avant-garde jazz fans. Moreover, I wonder if there's enough jazz fusion aficionados left who'd value this effort. The first time I played "Another Lifetime", I thought it was too weird for my taste, and I'd have to be stoned to understand it. It’s definitely not the kind of music I could listen to daily. Sometimes, I double-check my first impression of things. So, I decided to give the album another shot. Cindy, you're a wonderful drummer, but I don't get the album. "Another Lifetime" seems out of style, overly self-indulgent, and a throwback to the jazz fusion invasion of the '70's when bands such as Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Mahavishnu Orchestra were hot. I understand the Tony Williams angle. Were you trying to revive jazz fusion, or attempting to establish some sort of hybrid between rock and jazz?

Friday, March 12, 2010


Terrence Blanchard Last night, was the first time I heard you speak openly about composing film scores. You're an articulate guy, I left with the impression that writing music for films is your second love. When I got wind you're performing music from your album "Jazz in Film" with the Wayne State University Jazz Orchestra Friday night at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, I cleared my schedule, which amounted to canceling date night with my spouse so I could attend the concert. If you're wondering why I didn't bring her, I will take a minute to explain. She's not a jazz fan at all.

She's into neo-soul and R&B. In a heart beat, she'd dump me to run off with Brian McKnight or Eric Benet. She tolerates jazz because it is important to me. I tried to convert her many years ago but I failed miserably. Now and then, she'd accompany me to jazz concerts. That all changed shortly after the minister pronounced us husband and wife. The ink had not dried on our marriage license when she quit going. I'm not kidding you.

There's an upside to her aversion. I never have to worry about her fooling around with my jazz albums. Honestly, Terrence, I should have known attempting to convert her wouldn't pan out when I took her to hear saxophonist James Carter and she fell asleep during the first set. Aside from her disinterest in jazz, she's a loving wife. That’s all a man really needs.

Anyway, I enjoyed listening to you talk about the science of scoring film, and how you approach it. You explained the process in such a way the average Joe could understand it. I was concerned the orchestra would have a difficult time keeping up with you. You're on the same level the greats Clark Terry, and Miles Davis. However, the conductor Christopher Collins had the WSU jazz orchestra in tiptop form.

On "Degas' Racing World" the orchestra swung so hard they tousled the hair of the women seated to my right. When the tune ended they looked as if they were driving with the top down on a windy day. Man, on "The Pawnbroker," you blew with such fire I thought you’re going to burn a hole in the stage. I appreciate how you treated tenor saxophonist Levi Jensen when you both traded measures on "Anatomy of a Murder".

You could've blown the lad out the building. Instead of embarrassing him you challenged him, and he held his own, I bet he bragged to his friend that he survived standing toe-to-toe with the great Terrence Blanchard. I know it was hard for you to hold back, but allowing the lad the room to shine did a world of good for his confidence. I heard the concert was organized on a whim. I was shocked because it was so well organized and jam-packed I figured it took months to organize and promote.

Friday, March 5, 2010


You probably don't remember me. Vocalist Joan Belgrave introduced us last year at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. We set together in the VIP section at the main stage, waiting for Stefon Harris to take the stage. It was drizzling, and I held an umbrella over you. I asked about Beyonce', who you have toured with. Do any of those details jog your memory? If not it isn't a big deal. You probably meet unsuspecting jazz journalists at festivals all the time. Meeting you, however, was a thrill. You're the first professional female saxophonist I ever met. I've been following your career since you signed with Mack Avenue Records in 2006. A year later, I heard you live with the remarkable trumpeter Sean Jones. He was already signed to Mack Avenue, and he was making his presence known in jazz circles.

The first time I saw you perform live, you looked fresh out of college, and eager to make your mark. On the alto sax, you had a pastry rich tone. I took to you right away. You weren't trying to emulate Charlie Parker or any other noticeable alto saxophonists. You weren't afraid to be yourself, and I admired that greatly. Your first album for Mack Avenue, "Healing Space," was worthwhile. I predicted you'll make many outstanding jazz albums before you decide to hang up your horn.

Tia, I've been listening to an advance copy of your upcoming album "Decisive Steps" for a month straight. The album doesn't have any shortcomings. (I’ll let my readers know the album hit the streets March 16, and they should buy two copies. If they wear out one, they’ll have a backup.) It's your most eclectic album to date. Your considerable talents were displayed throughout the album. Tia, over the years, you have become a tremendous soloist and a skilled composer. I appreciate that you had the courage to write all the tunes on "Decisive Steps". So many jazz artists nowadays have a play-it-safe mentality.

You and Sean Jones are the perfect companions. On “Windsoar,” you guys were like an old married couple who’s in touch with each other feelings. “Ebb&Flow” was an old-fashion blowing session. "Steppin'," the duet with the tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, was a teaser. The ballad "Clear Mind" slowed down my heart rate. The closer "My Shinning Hour" showed that you have a free jazz streak. I got wrapped up in the tug-of-war you and pianist Shamie Royston had near the conclusion of the tune. Tia, excuse me if I sound corny proclaiming that “Decisive Steps” is your shinning hour.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Joe HenderesonI woke up this morning thinking about you, Joe. Years have past since I've listened to your music. Since I began this jazz blog, I've been flooded with new albums, and I've neglected some of the classic jazz albums I have. When jazz became a vital chunk of my life, a decade ago, I used to play "Inner Urge" and some of Mile Davis' albums daily, especially when I had a writing assignment. Joe, I can't explain the influence "Inner Urge" had on me. I could hammer out an assignment easily. That changed over the years. Now when I write an article, an album or a concert review my home office has to be spick-and-span, and completely silent. Anyhow, I've digressed. I’m sure you're not interested in my habits. You're probably wondering why I'm bugging you.

Last Friday night, I spotted saxophonist Steve Woods at Borders Books and Music in Grosse Pointe. Steve was thumbing through the new Thelonious Monk biography, and I was debating if I should buy the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack. Steve and I exchanged greetings, and chatted awhile. Then he invited me to an upcoming concert Tuesday night at the Cadieux Cafe, a neighborhood hangout on Detroit's eastside where you can get a hearty meal, an inexpensive beer, and hear some fine jazz music twice weekly. Scott Gwinnell's ten-piece ensemble performed there Tuesday night. Are you familiar with Scott? He's a pianist, a bandleader, and a gifted arranger.

At the cafe, in January, his ten-piece ensemble performed the music of bassist Charles Mingus and trumpeter Lee Morgan. I patted and stomped my feet all night long, and when I returned home, my feet were so swollen I had to cut my shoes off. I'm being silly, Joe. I did have a good time. Tuesday night, Scott's ensemble dedicated the second set to your music. Scott and several members of the ensemble wrote new arrangement for your compositions "Recorda-me" "Shade of Jade" and "Lazy Afternoon". The latter piece you did not compose, but you rather immortalized it. Joe you would've had a blast listening to the ensemble's take on your music. By the way, Steve Woods was in the band. I can't praise the guy enough. Steve disagrees with the consensus that your brother Leon was a better tenor sax player.

Playing ballads is Steve's his natural habitat. Soloing on "Lazy Afternoon," he slow-dragged with the tune. Back to Scott, on "Recorda-me," the pianist rearranged your solo. He divvied it up among the baritone, the tenor, and the alto. They traded measures back and forth like cheat sheets. Baritone saxophonist Carl Cafagna stood out. Until last night, Joe, I was unaware Carl played that instrument. I've always experienced him either singing or playing the tenor. He sounded as if he'd channeled the late baritone sax God Pepper Adams. I chatted with Carl when the set ended about his resemblance to Adams. Carl blushed, and confessed the horn is tough to tame, and he actually dislikes playing it. That shocked me because he played the horn sweetly to borrow one of Dexter Gordon's expressions.

Joe, Scott handled your music carefully and respectfully. He's a serious bandleader. He runs a tight ship. There's no grandstanding allowed. Not that any of the members would dare try to hog the spotlight. Drummer Scott Kretzer and bassist Shannon Wade relish in their respective roles of keeping the ensemble on course. Thanks to Scott, I'm listening to your music again. I played "Inner Urge" last night.