Thursday, April 29, 2010


Drummer Roy HaynesThe downside of attending the annual Detroit International Jazz Festival press conference is you have to sit through a bunch of boring speeches from City Council members, and corporate sponsors, going on and on about why the jazz festival is relevant. The past two years, a certain council member has recited the same speech of how as a lad how he looked forward to attending the annual event with his dad who was an avid jazz enthusiast. As if the attendees who rearranged their work schedules to make the press conference gave a damn about his boyhood recollections. I've been going to the festival for a decade. I've never seen him there. After the conference, I planned to test the council member to find out if he love jazz as much as he claims. I didn't get a chance because he left after his I-love-jazz-so-much speech. A genuine fan of the music would've stuck around to hear Mulgrew Miller, the festival's artist in residence, perform.

The rep from Chase Bank remarks really took the prize. She talked about how the media is guilty of bashing the banking industry. She alleged the media rarely reports all the good banks do. I guess the institutions goodwill should trump charging their customers 29% interest on credit cards and hefty overdraft fees. Their customers they claim to love so much could get lower interest rates from a loan shark. Her "bank bashing" remarks were asinine, and I wanted to boo her, but I decided not to.

After the speeches, the jazz festival's artistic director, Terri Pontremoli, announced the lineup. The festival theme is "Flame Keepers". The lineup is loaded with jazz all-stars. Pontremoli booked Matt Wilson, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Bobby Watson, Tia Fuller, Randy Brecker, Kenny Green, Maria Schnieder, Donald Harrison, Kurt Elling, Louis Hayes, Eddie Henderson and Danilo Perez. That's enough music to last a lifetime, but there's more. Pontremoli has made the festival more smooth jazz friendly by including of its most celebrated proponents saxophonist Kurt Whalum. He will perform the music of Donnie Hathaway.

Pontremoli has done a bang up job since becoming the artistic director, but she's not without sin. She didn't say which regional jazz musicians and bands who will participate. Regional cats always complain about mistreatment from the festival brass. Not announcing which Michiganders will perform seemed odd. I wonder if the brass consider regional acts priority.

Drummer Roy Haynes, who's in his late 80's and who's still swinging will perform with his Fountain of Youth band. If we're lucky, Haynes will perform some material from his classic albums "Cymbalism," "Out of the Afternoon" and "Cracklin'". People familiar with pianist Mulgrew Miller will be able to experience him in many incarnations.

If you're unfamiliar with Mulgrew's prodigious chops, I recommend you track down his albums “Mulgrew Miller Live at Yoshi's Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.”. Live is the best context to experience the pianist. His elegance and swing ability will catch you off guard. Someday, those are destined to be classics. Pontremoli like to end with a bang, so The Manhattan Transfer will close out the festival. There’s a lot of music scheduled. You should bring an extra set of ears. Let me know if you spot a council.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Well guys you have done it again. How does it feel to have another stellar recording under your belt? Each album has been a stepping-stones it seems. The self-titled debut album "The Hot Club of Detroit" was the quintet's inauguration into the Detroit jazz community. "Night Time," the second offering, proved the quintet wasn't a one hit fluke, and if you all remained tight knit national acclaim was assured. The new project "It's About That Time" should achieve that end. The album is that good. It's more eclectic than the others are. It has material my Joe Zawinul and Charles Mingus but remains sincere to the Hot Club of Detroit’s gypsy jazz roots. To stray from the topic for a moment, from 2000 to 2005, Detroit jazz community experienced a rebirth of jazz bands. I saw a movement brewing in the late 90’s. Jazz historian Jim Gallert concurred, pointing out to me over lunch some years ago, there’re many mom-and-pop jazz bands performing around Detroit during the 40’s, 50's and 60's.

In the early 2000, local jazz bands sprung up all around Detroit. The bands had catchy names such as Bop Culture, Urban Transport, Gerard Gibbs and Organized Crime, organissimo and, of course, the Hot Club of Detroit. Each band was unique and reputable, but they were short-lived. There wasn't enough jazz clubs in Detroit to sustain the bands, so the band members chased more lucrative projects. For example, Trombonist Vincent Chandler, the co-founder of Urban Transport moved to New York. He's back in town now, and he sounds better than ever. (I’m still a little sore with Chandler for breaking up them ensemble.) Organist Gerard Gibbs, the founder of the trio Organized Crime received a regular paycheck touring with saxophonist James Carter, which was a smart career move. Gerard was able to display his considerable chops for a national and international audience. The co-founder of Bop Culture trumpeter Mark Byerly toured with pop icon Justin Timberlake. (Turning down the chance to tour with Timberlake and make a pile of cash would've been foolish.) The gig was lucrative. With some of his earnings, the trumpeter built a home studio. The bands, during their heyday, made some wonderful albums, which I consider documented proof the bands existed. Right now, the Hot Club of Detroit and organissimo are still together and working regularly

Forgive me for digressing. I'm supposed to be commenting on "It's About That Time". So far, it's the Hot Club’s best outing. I liked every inch of it, especially the Charles Mingus swinger “Nostalgia in Times Square". Guys, it was a bold move, tackling bassist Charles Mingus' tune. Mingus material could tricky. The clap-along accompaniment midway through it, gave the song the feel of Mingus' opus "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting". I tip my hat to the member who was courageous to mix gypsy jazz with gospel rhythms. I bet the departed bassist would've loved how you all revamped his composition.

You all aren’t reluctant to take risks. Some members are bandleaders and have other musical interest outside the band. The saxophone player, and my favorite Hot Club member, Carl Cafagna, supervise his own band North Star Jazz, and he sings in the vocal group Metro Voices. I met Cafagna last month at the Cadieux Cafe on Detroit’s Eastside. He was playing the baritone sax in the Scott Gwinnell dectet. After the second set, we chatted. I complemented his phrasing on the baritone, saying it was similar to how sweetly Pepper Adams sounded. To my surprise, Cafagna said he dislikes playing that instrument. We also talked about family and his involvement with the vocal jazz outfit Metro Voices. I wanted to tell him I enjoy his playing more than I do his singing, but I didn’t have the heart to.

Two weeks later, I met another member of the Hot Club member rhythm guitarist Paul Brady at Anat Cohen concert at jazz concert promoter Andrew Rothman’s home. Brady had been into New York working toward a master degree. He had an independent study project with New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff. Brady shared a funny story about Ratliff, which I won't repeat because I believe the critic confided in guitarist. He shared the story after he consumed several glasses of red wine. I blushed when Brady told me he enjoyed reading the articles I've written for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit. I told him I had recently received an advance copy of "It's About That Time" and his solos on "Restless Twilights" and "Duke and Dukie" were arresting.

Combining the late jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul's ditty "It’s About That Time" with Django Reinhardt's "Heavy Artilleries" was risky undertaking, but the Hot Club pulled it off. It's a sign of just how savvy the quintet is. Headstrong members occupying the same space could be hazardous, but you all have a real democracy going. Maybe that's part of the band’s appeal. When I listened to "It's About That Time", I sensed when guitarist Evan Perri formed the band everybody locked up their egos. Perpetuating the Gypsy jazz tradition was serious business. This album may get them some much deserved national attention.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Mr. McLean, I stopped by Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, MI. last week. I bought two outstanding albums you recorded for Blue Note Records, "Let Freedom Ring" and "New and Old Gospel". Do you remember making them? The former you made at Rudy Van Gelder studio in 1962. The latter you recorded in 1967. You wrote the liner notes for "Let Freedom Ring," explaining how your style was becoming more aggressive and your improvising more imaginative. You pointed out that Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker were key influences, but a daring improviser named Ornette Coleman inspired you to reevaluate how you approached the music. Do any of those details jog your memory? If not, I understand. You recorded 21 albums for Blue Note during your heyday.

I've played "Let Freedom Ring" non-stop since buying it. The title threw me. I thought it was a political jazz album given you recorded it during the civil rights era. In your eyes, freedom meant you're open to new ways of improvisation. Ornette Coleman had established new rules, and you followed suit. Mr. McLean, on "Melody for Melonae" and "Omega," two standout tracks, you literally redefined the meaning of a jazz blowing session is. I'm sure the album appealed to people with different taste although it could've marketed as an avant-garde jazz album. "New and Old Gospel" was clearly a free jazz album. It was the first time I heard Ornette Coleman play the trumpet.

In his autobiography, trumpeter Miles Davis criticized Coleman, saying he didn't have the proper formal training on the instrument. To me, Coleman sounded good throughout "New and Old Gospel". Of course, Coleman wasn't in Miles' league, or as savvy as trumpeters of Miles' generation. However, you believed Coleman‘s ability. Maybe Miles was jealous because Coleman was getting more attention at the time. Coleman put new ideas on the table. Miles criticized Eric Dolphy, too. Miles said Dolphy sounded as if somebody was standing on his foot while he played. That was a cheap shot. Miles refused to accept the music was changing, which is interesting because a decade or so later the trumpeter was credited for starting the jazz fusion movement.

"New and Old Gospel" felt like a jam session where like-minded musicians tested new ideas. Mr. McLean, on the suite "Lifeline" you showed you’d changed from a hard-bop wailer to a free-jazz explorer. On Coleman's cooker "Old Gospel," you had the alto sax testifying. Mr. McLean, listening to "Let Freedom Ring" and "New and Old Gospel was a welcomed relief from the kind of basic jazz albums I've been exposed to lately. I'm a jazz journalist and jazz blogger. As such, record companies send me new release regularly. Some are worthwhile and others aren’t. I've finally, figured out what's missing. The albums don't have a wow factor. You and jazz musicians such as Coleman knew how to wow.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Organist Dr. Lonnie SmithI heard a funny story a few weeks ago during intermission at the Sonny Rollins concert at Orchestra Hall. To old-timers were talking about upcoming jazz concerts in Detroit. Dr. Smith, they mentioned your weekend engagement at the popular jazz club Cliff Bell's. Decades ago, the old-timers attended your performance at a nightclub here called Watts Mozambique. That night a fight erupted. Moments later gunshots rang out. The one old-timer said when things settled down the owner of the club found you hiding under your organ. The old-timers chuckled. I wondered if you knew what kind of club Watts Mozambique was before you agreed to play there. I don't like hanging out at nightclubs, especially ones located on the eastside of Detroit. Mozambique had a reputation for attracting thugs. Dr. Smith, do you recall the incident?

Saturday night, at Cliff Bell's, which has become a popular jazz club in town, you didn't have to worry about dodging bullets. The club doesn't attract riff-raffs. It's a classy establishment and the owner Paul books top local jazz musicians. At times, the club is smoky and noisy, but that has changed the past few months. Now if you talk during any performance, Paul will you booted out. Chatting during a performance, in my book, is disrespectful. As for the smoking, the smoking band kicks in next month, and I couldn't be happier. As a non-smoker, it's hard being in a jazz club. Smoking is a big distraction, and I can only tolerate it for one set. My eyes get irritated and my chest start to feel as if someone is standing on it. Okay that's enough preaching for one day.

I had a swell time Saturday night. I don't know if Paul informed you that the concert was sort of a dry run. He wanted to know if booking a national act would be successful. Paul is contemplating booking more nationally respected jazz musicians. Dr. Smith, you have a wonderful supporting cast in drummer Joe Dyson and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. They're just a soulful as you are, especially Kreisberg. He sounds as if he locked himself up with a bunch of Charlie Christian albums, and dissected each one until he had the bop guitarist style down to a science.

I overheard a guy in the audience ask his friend if he purchased the same kind of guitar Kreisberg has would he sound like him. I wanted to tell him to save his money. A guitar doesn't come with any magic potions to make an aspiring guitarist sound like a virtuoso. To perform as impressively as Kreisberg did, takes many years of woodshedding.

On a different note, Dr. Smith, I've noticed a pattern. Musicians of your experience like picking on the drummers in their band. I watched Sonny Rollins ride his drummer, Kobie Watkins, a few weeks ago. And you singled out Dyson on a couple tunes during the second set. You had the youngster running laps around the drums like at basketball practice. Dyson kept his composure and indulged you as if he wanted to prove he could handle anything you subjected him to. Dyson has such a big sound I thought he was playing two drum kits at the same time.

Dr. Smith, I have to be upfront with you about the organ. It isn't my favorite instrument. I can't put my finger on it. That may sound silly. The organ has a melancholy quality that annoys me. But Saturday night, you had the organ testifying. Cliff Bells can be noisy, but the crowd was attentive both sets. They seemed hypnotized. Plugging your upcoming album after each song you played was a good marketing plan. I glad you weren't performing in a hostile environment where you had to duck bullets.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Fabizio, I have to apologize for taking so long to review your new album "Inner Dance". I had it for nearly a month now, and I've listened to it twice. I wanted to experience it a few more times because I never trust my first impression. I promised Paul Sipio, a publicist for DL Media, I'd comment on "Inner Dance" and the new album by the Hot Club of Detroit in due time. I admit that I've been dragging my feet.

Yesterday, Sipio let me know the E1 Entertainment has been hounding him for reviews of your album. Last night, I planned to watch a rerun of Law and Order. Instead, I listened to "Inner Dance". The album is a winner. Fabizio, in my career as a jazz journalist and a jazz blogger, I've listened to many jazz guitarists. By far, you’re the most elegant. To back up that statement, I'd recommend people listen to "Brief Talk" and "Amancecer". Both selections feature vocalist Claudia Acuna.

On the album, you paid homage to two jazz saints organist Jimmie Smith and guitarist Wes Montgomery. I assume that Montgomery was one of your chief influences. I hear a lot of him in your playing, especially on slow tempo selections "Blue Whisper" and "Amancecer". Fabizio, you're ambidextrous guitarist, but your forte is ballads, which this album has plenty of. Your fingers cried while you strum your guitar strings. On the title cut, "inner Dance" and” you showed you have a daredevil streak as well, strumming away like a maniac on Mr. T.M.

"Inner Dance" works as a tribute album because you and organist Sam Barsh didn't attempt to copy Montgomery and Smith's style. You have your own manner. You relied on it, and it paid off. Barsh was reserved throughout. His skills are equal to yours. He never once tried to upstage you. Some organists can be mavericks if you let them. On "I Thought So" and "Last Chance," Barsh was the consummate professional. If memory serves me, Fabizio, "Inner Dance," is your coming out party for E1 Entertainment. Signing you was a smart investment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Kobie WatkinsI've been thinking about you lately. It's been two weeks since you performed with Sonny Rollins at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Have you recovered from the workout Rollins subjected you to that night? Kobie, I felt bad for you. I wondered if you've ever worked that hard before. There was an ambulance parked outside Orchestra Hall. I overheard someone jokingly say it was there because you needed medical attention immediately after the second set. I don't know how long you've worked for Rollins. Does he work you that hard every night? If so, you may want to contact an attorney. I'm almost certain Rollins violated some labor law. He took it easy on Bobby Broom and Bob Cranshaw. All night, you're professional. You never buckled under the pressure. I admire any jazz drummer that can withstand Rollins improvisational assaults night after night. In my book, you had the right to resign because no human being should have to work as hard as you did. Rollins definitely got his monies worth.

Rollins has a reputation for working drummer like a sharecropper's mule, and he didn't cut you any slack. Kobie, where do old-timers such as Rollins get their endless supply of energy? I heard other stories of old-timers overworking young lions. The late pianist Harold McKinney told me his nephew, pianist Carlos McKinney, who made his bones playing with drummer Elvin Jones, used to complain all the time that Jones was working him to death. Kobie, I know it's been an honor to work for Rollins. You would've been a fool to decline joining his band. Many drummers would've pawned their souls for chance to work for him. I wondered if you expected a heavy workload. You appear to be a smart guy, and I don't think you believed for a second playing with Rollins would be a cinch.

Renowned drummers such as Al Foster, Roy Haynes, and Shelly Manne worked for Rollins. Haynes is scheduled to headline the Detroit International Jazz Festival this year. If the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit that I write for, assign me to interview the drummer, I'll ask him if Rollins worked him to the bone. Being on Rollins' payroll must be gratifying. Kobie, I've interviewed Rollins twice. His stories about Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young marveled me. Rollins even discussed his addiction to drugs early in his career, and he set the record straight about the Williamsburg bridge urban myth. The jazz critics, historians, and journalists only got part of the story correct. Has Rollins ever talked to you about it?

Back then, as the story goes, Rollins lived in the same apartment building as drummer Wilbur Ware and his wife, who was pregnant. Rollins practiced all times of night, and it bothered her. So, Rollins decided to practice on the Williamsburg Bridge. That's the meat of the story, which has been twisted and embellished over the years. During one of my interviews with Rollins, I inquired about his association with Hawkins and Young, and their well-publicized alcohol abuse. Rollins pointed out most human beings need something to help get them through life. Hawkins and Younger were no different Rollins emphasized. Believe it or not, his insight made me reevaluate how unfairly and how quickly I used to judge addicts.

Kobie I can only imagine the stories and wisdom Rollins has shared with you. You are a lucky guy. Not many jazz musicians have Rollins on their resume. You haven't wasted your time with him. I bet Rollins is hard on you because you're an exceptional drummer destine to be a legendary figure in the music. As I said earlier, I'm checking on you because you've been on my mind lately. Over the years, I've attended a lot of jazz concerts, and honestly. I've never seen a drummer work as hard as you did that night. Kobie, in 30 years or so, when you've become a legend, you'll subject some up-and-coming sideman to the same pressure night after night as Rollins heaped on you.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Dizzy Gillespie I'm in hot water again, Dizzy. I attended the Danilo Perez: 21st-Century Dizzy concert Thursday night at Hill Auditorium instead of taking my wife out for her birthday. I'm sure that qualifies me for some terrible husband citation, and I guarantee my wife will make me pay dearly. For the next six weeks, I will be eating vegetarian TV dinners. Dizzy, between you and me, what I did was insensitive, but I don't regret it because your protégé' pianist Danilo Perez put on a great show. The concert promoter didn't label the group as an all-star band. The jazz musicians Perez recruited are all-stars in my book. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar were on the frontline. Bassist Ben Street, drummer Adam Cruz and percussionist Jamey Haddad handled the rhythm section duties.

Having that many stars occupying the same stage could've been a disaster. Perez run a tight and a discipline band. The musicians left their egos out in the cold. The concert was about paying tribute to your music. Perez adhered to that. He didn't govern the band with an iron fist. He gave the musician leeway, and they demonstrated their appreciation.

Perez opened the concert with a suite to get the band warmed up before tackling your signature material. Dizzy, it didn't take long for the band to get going. On the next tune, Sanchez, Mahanthappa and ElSaffar got into a shoot out. You would've liked ElSaffar. He's comfortable dwelling in the upper register of the trumpet. When he hit those hard to reach notes soloing on "Salt Peanuts," he rose on his tiptoes as if he was reaching for can goods in the kitchen cabinet.

Sanchez arranged "A Night in Tunisia," and he kept the juicy parts for himself. I have several of his albums, but I never experienced him live. He's a powerful tenor player. I was concerned he would blow the people in the front row from their seats. I was awed by how Mahanthappa mountain climbed the changes on "Woody N You". Dizzy I'm hard on drummers. Cruz was bombastic but in a good way.

I've experienced Perez twice as pianist for hirer in Wayne Shorter's quartet. As a pianist Perez is sophisticated and explosive. Most jazz pianist I know are either or. Perez showed his sophisticated side on the Thelonious Monk pearl "'Round Midnight," opening with a picturesque passage that would've made Monk tear up. Dizzy, Perez is a wonderful job keeping your music going. The audience gave a lengthy ovation, and demanded an encore. If Perez hadn't obliged, there would've been a riot for sure. Perez and his band merry band of swingers refined your classics.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Sonny RollinsRecently, I had a conversation with a friend about you. Honestly, Mr. Rollins, it wasn't much of a conversation. My friend did most of the talking. I love the guy to death even though he’s opinionated. He said despite your vast discography and your many accomplishments you're prone to having off nights. That's not the first time I heard someone say that. Jazz critic Stanley Crouch made a similar claim in an article for the New Yorker magazine some years ago. At times, Crouch, comes across as a know-it-all bully. My friend and Crouch are full of crap. I pressed my friend to elaborate on his definition of an off night. Rather than explain, he wanted to change the subject.

I wish Mr. Crouch and my friend had come to your concert last night at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI. They would've had to eat their hats. It's mind boggling how at 80, you have the stamina of a prizefighter. I normally don't monitor the stats of jazz musicians. Your solos on "Global Warming" clocked in just under twenty-five minutes. I wonder if that set or broke some longstanding record. I liked when you walked to the edge of the stage and played hunched over. It looked as if you're pouring the music from your horn onto the people in the front row.

The three songs your band performed during the first set were lengthy, and sapped the audience's energy. During the intermission, they had a chance to recover. I guarantee there will be a lot of sore necks tomorrow morning. I thought you'd be more reserved during the last set, and would play a few ballads, but you picked up where you left off. I felt sorry for your drummer Kobie Watkins.

You took it easy on Watkins the first set, delegating most of the manual labor to bassist Bob Cranshaw and guitarist Bobby Broom. They played competently. The guy sitting next to me is a guitarist. I asked how he felt about Broom's solos. He disliked them. He pointed out Broom lacked taste. I didn't understand what he meant, and I didn't press him for an explanation. Broom is a solid guitarist, and I liked his latest album.”Monk Music". It almost made the cut for my ten favorite jazz albums of 2009.

Watkins shouldered the workload the second set. Mr. Rollins, you worked the drummer like a summer intern. You lit a fire under him, and he didn't melt. When you traded measures with Watkins on "Why I was Born," I figured the lad would have a tough time keeping up, but he maintained his composure. Watkins is a busy drummer like the great Elvin Jones was, and he has Jo Jones' finesse and work ethic. There was an ambulance waiting out front after the show. Someone remarked it was for the drummer. That tickled me. The last set was about you and the drummer. Cranshaw and Broom could've stayed in the dressing room. Nobody would've missed them. Mr. Rollins, unlike my friend and Crouch, I don't believe you're capable of having a bad night. You performance last night convinced me of that.