Saturday, May 22, 2010


Of your six albums, "Mystic Journey" is the only one I've experienced. Azar, I've been a jazz journalist for awhile, and a blogger going on three years. I told a friend, who was shocked how many jazz album I haven't heard, that I'd have to live nine more lives to hear all the jazz albums available. Jazz has a vast history, so I will always be playing catch up. I get excited when I discover jazz musicians I never heard before. Since I started this jazz blog, my jazz knowledge has grown.

The first time I played "Mystic Journey" I was convinced you had channeled the spirit of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. I read Coltrane influenced you, and his pianist, McCoy Tyner, mentored you. I can only imagine the stories Tyner shared with you about his days with Coltrane.

This morning, I read an article by music journalist Russ Musto on Musto discussed your rise as a top saxophonist during the 70's, and how an addiction to cocaine nearly ruined you. Musto observed you started making big money performing with the likes of Phyllis Hyman and Earth, Wind and Fire you lost your way. Thank God, those dark days are behind you. Nowadays, you're blowing better than ever according to the reviews about "Mystic Journey".

Azar, you sound like a spiritualist throughout “Mystic Journey”. You blew with such force on the title cut, and “Starting Point,” I thought your horn was going to explode in your hands. On the ballad "Say It Over Again," your cushy phrasing reminded me of Coltrane's album "Ballads".

You assembled some fine talent as well. Pianist Benito Gonzalez stood out the most. Like McCoy Tyner, Gonzalez is percussive, so I get why you recruited him. He makes his band-mates shine. In 2007, I heard him with alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett. (Garrett is fond of percussive pianist, too.) They turned out the Detroit International Jazz Festival. I raved about Gonzalez soloing for months.

The late drummer Rashied Ali contribution was felt also. He pushed to unexplored heights. The album would not have been much of a journey without him, and trumpeter Eddie Henderson who playing is still vigorous. "Mystic Journey" is so good I'm going to trackdown your other albums.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I wish I were a magician so I could step inside your new album "Mess Around" to shower you with hugs and kisses. I wanted to spend all my time with this album. Robin, I've listened to my fair share of jazz vocalists over the years. None have the sass, grit, sophistication, and nerve you possess. Wait a minute! I have to retract that statement. Jazz vocalist Pamela Rose has those traits. Robin, maybe it's wrong to typecast you as only a jazz vocalist. Before I continue, I should introduce you to people who’re unfamiliar with you.

Robin began singing as a teen. She studied jazz at Miami University and Berklee College of Music. "Mess Around" is her third album. In 2006, she released "Introducing Robin McKelle, then "Modern Antique" two years later. Early on, Robin decided to be multi-faceted, so she worked in R&B outfits jazz bands, rock groups. Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald influenced her. She left out the blues singers who also had an influence. "Mess Around" could be mistaken as a blues recording.

On "Angel," my heart melted into my lap. On "Cry Me a River”, I wanted to beat up the man who snapped your heart. Tenor saxophonist Houston Person proved to be a wise gamble. He gave "Never Make a Move Too Soon" into a bluesy texture. Robin’s voice fit the songs you chose fit your voice. At heart, I believe you’re a frustrated blues singer. However, singing love songs such as "Angel" and "Since I Looked in Your Eyes" is your true passion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Pianist Hank JonesKim Heron, my editor at the Metrotimes, told me you'd died at Calvary Hospital Hospice in New York on Monday. I called Kim to discuss a story I'm working on about the resurgence of jazz jam sessions around Detroit. Instead, we talked about your passing. Kim wrote a nice obituary about you for the Metrotimes website, highlighting poignant episodes in your storied career, and what an important artist you were. Mr. Jones, your death caught me off guard.

Last year, I witnessed you steal the show on opening night of the Detroit International Jazz Festival. You seemed healthy then. I was in heaven listening to you play oldies but goodies. In fact, I timed your performance that evening. It clocked in just over an hour. That had to be a world record for a jazz pianist your years. Mr. Jones, you played elegantly. Some jazz pianists bang and hammer the keys as if they hate the instrument. You treated the piano like a high school sweetheart.

At 91, your stamina amazed me. In Tuesday's New York Times, music critic, Peter Keepnews, pointed out you're scheduled to tour Japan and Europe in June. Your doctor was against it, but you wanted to tour despite your declining health.

I remember marvelling at the solos you played on the classic jazz album "Ben and Sweets". Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison co-led the date. Columbia Records reissued the album in 1987. Do you remember playing on that recording? Ben and Sweets were on the album cover. Ben sported dark sunglasses and a cigarette dangled from the left corner of his mouth. Sweets set cross-legged blowing into a muted trumpet. You all performed standards such as "How Long Has This Been Going On," "My Romance" and "Embraceable You". Do those details jog your memory?

I am listening to the album right now. It boosted my spirits. What a star-studded affair. Did I mention bassist George Duvivier and drummer Clarence Johnston were on hand? Mr. Jones you may find this unbelievable, I used to play "Ben and Sweets" every night for months before I went to bed. I thought you had feathers attached to the tips of your fingers when you soloed on "Better Go”. "Did you Call Her Today" relaxed me like a lullaby.

Mr. Jones, you had a long run. And you rubbed elbows with many of the greats Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, and Coleman Hawkins come to mind. At last count, you made 60 albums, and I'd need an accountant to keep track of your portfolio as a sideman. You won a boatload awards the National Medal of Honor, and Grammy a lifetime achievement award.

I bet Thad and Elvin are happy you have joined them. What a great jazz family. I can only imagine the welcome home party they planned for you. I'm sure Ben and Sweets will be there. You deserve a parade because you gave the jazz world some wonderful music. Plus, you're the perfect jazz elder statesmen.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Bruce, I disliked "Home" initially. I told Paul Sipio so. Sipio works for DL Media, a public relation firm that handles publicity for this album. He praised the album, noting it resembles "Goin' Home," a recording saxophonist Art Pepper and pianist George Cables made 28 years ago, so, Sipio convinced me to give "Home" another shot. I listened to it all day Saturday. I must admit Sipio was right. "Home" is a worthwhile album. Sometimes, I have to tell publicists how much I disliked a recording they ask me to review. Believe or not, Sipio was the first to suggest I give an album a second chance. I'm glad I agreed to. You and Steve are lucky to have him in your corner.

On "Home," You and Steve are in tune like identical twins. The four tunes you wrote for this date fits Steve's style like a comfortable housecoat. Steve's phrasing on the cooker "Wall" reminds me of how Art Pepper used to zoom through chord changes. Bruce, you know Steve better than I do. Will he take my comparison the wrong way? Pepper deserves a lot of credit. Despite his personal woes, Pepper was an outstanding alto saxophonist. I bet Pepper influenced Steve. Every time, I replayed "Keep Moving" and "Blues Interruptus" I thought about Pepper's style,"

Bruce you're a sweet piano player. On the opener "All Through the Night," I thought the spirit of Bud Powell was in your left hand and Thelonious Monk guided your right hand. You created a lot of distance between notes. Steve fills up the space like a road crew potholes. A jazz fan with a keen ear will immediately notice you and Steve decided against rehearsing. I think that's a good thing. Rehearsing would've made this album feel less natural, and recording it at a home concert also made it intimate, which explains why you and Steve seem so comfortable with each other.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Before we comment on the three albums we’ve listened to for the past three hours, I want to thank you all for attending the first I Dig Jazz Listening Party. The turnout exceeded my expectations. I hope each of you enjoyed listening to “Focus Trio Live 2009” by Marc Cary, “Push” by Jackie Terrason and “Flying Toward the Sound” by Geri Allen. They’re amazing jazz pianists. Those recordings will be on my list of the best jazz albums of 2010. Compiling a list this early in the year might seem premature. Usually, I get an early start. Now we can talk about these albums. Who wants to go first? I will moderate, and say your name before speaking up. The man in the Thelonius Monk t-shirt you can go first.

“My name is Daniel Wolfe. I’m a big fan of I Dig Jazz. Charles you’re doing a great job”.

“Thanks Daniel. It’s rare that I get a chance to me my readers. Thanks for coming out.”

“The Geri Allen album was my favorite. I never heard her play solo. I first heard her some years ago on a pair of live recordings by bassist Charlie Haden. To me her style is as addictive as crystal meth.

“She always leaves you wanting more,” says the slim fellow seated to Daniel’s right.

“I felt like I was apart of “Flying Toward the Sound”. It was like I was there listening to her rehearse some of favorite tunes,” Daniel says.

“I like that Geri dedicated this recording to Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock. On tunes like “Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight” and “Your Pure Self,” I could hear how those pianists influenced her.”

“Allen is deep. I have to admit this album intimidated me a little,” says a man working on his fifth beer. My name is Franklin by the way. Her music was a little too complicated for my taste. It was like she was lecturing to me.”

“Would you give it another shot?” Daniel asked.

“Probably not. My first impression nine times out of ten is correct. This isn’t my favorite Geri Allen record.

“Which of the three albums stuck to your ribs,” Rose says. a petite lady wearing a red beret.

“For my money, the Marc Cary album,” Franklin says.

“Cary is an imaginative dude. He reminds me of Jason Moran. They can turn almost anything into music. I loved how Marc took an excerpt from a speech my Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and improvised on them. That was genius.

“I wanted more. I thought those selections were too short,” Rose says. “Overall Cary album is more eclectic, but “Push” wowed me. “

"I followed Jacky’s career for awhile. Then I lost track of him. I was thrilled when I found out about this album. It represents everything Jacky is. He's full or novel ideas and his music energizes,” Charles says.

“Marc, Jacky and Geri aren’t afraid to take risk,” Otis says. “You never know what to expect from them. I like the fact that they don’t release an album every half-hour.”

“I agree with you,” Daniel says. “It's obvious they really put a lot of thought into their projects.”

“Most of their peers think it is okay to reinvent the wheel.”

“My name is Calvin. I want to go back to Marc’s album. He’s a solid piano player, but I thought including bits of speeches of Malcolm and Martin made the album feel a little dated. I’ve heard rappers do a better job.”

“It sounds like you really didn’t like the album”

“It just seemed unfocused. Like Marc didn’t have a game plan. He was just winging it,” Calvin continues.

“You can’t deny he’s a brilliant pianist,” Daniel says.

“Even brilliant musicians have an off night. To me, he had an off night.

“Charles, What are your feelings about these albums? Do you have favorite,” Daniel asks.

“I liked them all, but my favorite is “Push”. Jacky is a special dude. Jacky, Marc, and Geri are incredible pianists.

“But you like Jacky the best,” Otis says.

“Absolutely. How many musicians would have the nerve to mix Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” with “Body and Soul”? It doesn’t get more risky than that.”

“Jacky did push the envelope on that one. It could’ve been a disaster, but he pulled it off,” says Franklin.

“And he modernized the Thelonious Monk staple “Ruby My Dear,” Charles says.

“He had me crying on that one,” Daniel says.

“Do you think Monk would’ve liked Jacky’s version,” Charles says.


“I picture Monk snuggled up with Nellie listening to it.”

“Jacky and Marc played ‘Round Midnight, whose version did you like most, Daniel,” Charles says.

“Marc, definitely. Marc captured the spirit of the tune.”

“I agree with you,” Rose says.

“Again, I have to go with Jacky. I loved the three tempo changes. Charles says.

“On “Beat Bop,” Jacky was zipping across the piano like he had an extra set of hands, “Rose says.

“We all agreed these albums are worthwhile. I would recommend each,” Charles says.

“Me too,” Rose agrees.

“It’s has been a good evening. I want to personally thank each of you for coming to this listening party. I promise I will have more listening parties in the future.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I came across your new album “Merge”, while tidying up my desk. Chris, forgive me. I should’ve listened to this album in April when Single Malt Recording released it. I finally listened to it a few hours ago. It’s a jazz album with plenty of attitude, but in the wrong hands will be classified as a smooth jazz recording. Before I talk about this album, I want to share a bit of your bio with readers who may not know you. Chris is a saxophonist from Chicago. “Merge” is his fifth album. He attended the University of Indiana, but I don’t know if he graduated. I hear the university has a fine jazz studies program. Anyway, Chris made his bones on the Chicago jazz scene, and he lists Maceo Parker, Sonny Rollins and Prince as major influences. I don’t have the space to recite Chris’s accomplishments. He assembled this quartet pianist Damian Espinosa, double-bassist Marc Piane, and drum Tyrone Blair in 2006. They’ve worked steady since, making quite a name. Chris, would comparing you to Kenny Garrett be offensive? I know Garrett plays the alto sax and you don’t. However, while “Good Riddance” “M. Tati” and “L.F.E.I (Let’s Get it Straight) Garrett came to mind. The both of you are relentless on up-tempo material. So, did Garrett’s style influence yours? Speaking of being relentless, on “Coffee ‘n’ Scotch” and “Lotus Blossom,” pianist Damian Espinosa covered all bases. Espinosa plays every square inch of the piano. Chris, some people may brand “Merge” a smooth jazz offering because of the contemporary feel of “Good Riddance” and “Borderline”. You gambled including those tunes, but I'm certain people with discerning ears will like “Merge” unconditionally.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Jazz vocalist Kurt EllingKurt, you know how to schmooze a crowd. Joking the Monterey Jazz Festival sextet touring, was merely a dress rehearsal for their gig in Detroit was priceless. The audience chuckled, but I took you seriously. You've played in the Motown before, so you know the jazz fans here have discriminating taste. You, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, and Regina Carter put on a terrific concert Saturday night at the Music Hall. Before I discuss the concert, I want to talk about some things that bothered me. First, the concert started late. That would never have happened at Orchestra Hall, Hill Auditorium, or the Michigan Theatre. Secondly, the MC didn't tell people to put their cellular phones on vibrate and that talking was forbidden. The woman sitting behind me phone rang twice during the second set. Finally, the men's restroom was messy. I've used Porter Johns at construction sites that were cleaner. Management, at the Music Hall needs to get their act together.

Aside from those annoyances, the concert was a blast. There're many highlights. My favorite was pianist Kenny Barron's duet with Regina Carter on "Georgia on My Mind". The violinist is a more reserved soloist now. A decade ago, she was an inferno. She played sweetly, and I doubt if she broke a sweat. It was slick how Carter weaved together pieces of "Amazing Grace" with "Georgia on My Mind". Carter was definitely the crowd favorite, not because she's a native Detroiter. She knows how to wow. Midway through her solos, the crowd erupted. I wondered if her band-mates were a little envious. Russell Malone rendition of "An Affair to Remember" was breathtaking.

The guitarist calmed the audience after Carter got them riled up. The man seated in front of me toyed with an iPad most of the first set. The gizmo must be addictive because he opted not to leave it at home where it belonged. I wanted to ask him why he wasted good money on the concert tickets, and then ignored what was happening on the stage. Six outstanding jazz musicians were playing their butts off, and he was surfing the net. He turned off iPad while Malone soloed on "An Affair to Remember". iPad guy snuggled with his date. She babbled with the woman seated next to her, who was visibly upset because an usher made her stop snapping photographs during the concert.

The audience was elated, Kurt, when your idol vocalist John Hendrix pranced onto the stage. The old-timer was decked out in white slacks, white shoes, and a Fuchsia blazer. He can still belt and scat impressively. He had the audience worked up on "In Walked Bud". You and Hendrix riffed like old drinking buddies. The standing ovations he received had to thrill him. Kurt, I've talked about some of your band-mates, but I've said little about you. I don't want you to feel left out.

You were magnificent. You probably not accustom to sharing the spotlight with other big named jazz musicians. Nevertheless, you behaved like a team player. The audience ate up your version of the Horace Silver ditty "Soul food". You made their bellies growl. Monday morning it'll all be over. Detroit was the Monterey Jazz Festival sextet’s last stop. The members will go separate ways. You all seemed like family.