Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Mirth and Melancholy is Branford Marsalis’ fourth duet album. Branford made one with his father, Ellis, and two with singer and piano player Harry Connick Jr. This time around, Branford teams up with his longtime bandmate Joey Calderazzo, who in 1998 replaced Branford’s regular piano player Kenny Kirkland. Joey found his voice in Branford’s band, and Joey has recorded two albums on Branford’s label Marsalis Music.

Mirth and Melancholy, which Marsalis Music released on June 7, is the best of Branford’s duet albums. The music on the album is what the title proclaims. There’s two mirthful songs the opener One Way and the closer Bri’s Dance. Branford and Joel have a field day improvising on those songs. 

Mirth and Melancholy is more melancholic, but in a good and interesting way. It also has a classical music feel. You will be taken by Branford and Joey’s virtuosity. Branford always makes great albums, and his musical achievements are known. But, his cerebral way of improvising gets overlooked. Branford’s musical imagination is on par with Sonny Rollins.

Back to Joey. In Branford’s band, Joey’s chief responsibility is backing Branford, which is a big undertaking because Branford is a note monger. Count the notes Branford plays on Face on the Barroom Floor, and Precious. In a one on one setting, Joey seems less stressed.

That’s clear on The Bard Lachrymose and Endymion. Joey isn’t face with the everyday chores of a jazz piano player. Joey roves and explores freely. Mirth and Melancholy shows two virtuoso jazz musicians making each other look good.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


After graduating from Michigan State University and winning the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Competition for Double Bass, Ben William became sought after, playing on two important albums for Concord Records Stefon Harris’s Urbanus and Jacky Terrasson’s Push. On June 28, William’s debut album State of Art will go on sale nationwide.

State of Art is Williams’s first go round as a leader, and he takes some risks. Williams successfully blends hip-hop, R&B, and classical music. That’s a lot of calories to consume on a debut.

William’s staff saxophone player Marcus Strickland and piano player Gerald Clayton are bandleaders, and they have more work experience. Neither has any issue working for an inexperienced boss.

Clayton soars like a hang glider on Mr. Dynamite. Strickland has a tone fattier than cheesecake on Moontrane and This Don’t Exist. Williams plays with a puppy love kind of charm and innocence on Little Suzie Intro.

How is Williams as the boss? Williams is the kind of boss every dedicated employee wants. Williams shows complete faith in staff. State of Art is as much about them as it’s about Williams.

Lee Morgan Story is the only stain on State of Art. Rapper John Robinson raps about Morgan’s life story while trumpeter Christian Scott apes Morgan’s style. A rapper reciting Morgan’s life story seems like a novel concept on paper. On State of Art, the song seems misplaced.

At Michigan State University, Williams was exposed to jazz bass player Rodney Whitaker. Whitaker runs the university’s jazz studies program. Whitaker’s gentlemanly manner of playing the bass rubbed off on Williams.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Mitch Winehouse is pop scarlet Amy Winehouse’s father. Until recently, he was a cab driver in the UK and a closet jazz singer. In March, Winehouse’s debut album Rush of Love went on sell. Winehouse is 60-year-old. He never felt it was too late in life to start a singing career. Amy used her star power to help her Father get going.

For Rush of Love, Winehouse choose songs from the American songbook such as Please be Kind, Tell Me, I Apologize and April in Paris. Winehouse decided to go big, So he used a big band on all but one song, Tell Me.

 Winehouse is a hopeless romantic with a voice that’s smooth like body lotion. On the tearjerker Tell Me, he gives us a taste of how sweet he sounds back by only a rhythm section.

Maybe Winehouse will only use a rhythm section on his next album. Anyway, Rush of Love is a wonderful debut. And Winehouse sounds as if he had a swell time making it.

Friday, June 24, 2011


"Ernie Krivda is one of the best jazz tenor sax men in the world,” the late jazz critic Harvey Pekar once stated. If you require proof Krivda deserves praise, buy Krivda’s new album Blues for Pekar. Pekar and Krivda were friends. Blues for Pekar is Krivda’s second album in two years. Last year, Cimpol released Ernie Krivda & the Detroit Connection Live at the Dirty Dog.

Save for adding Detroit bass player Marion Hayden, Krivda uses the rhythm section that played on Live at the Dirty Dog piano player Claude Black, and drummer Renell Gonsalves. There’re cameos from trumpeters Sean Jones, and Dominick Farinacci. Blues for Pekar is the kind of straightforward bop album that Krivda loves making and his admirers expect. 

The album opens with The End of a Love Affair. Wear a hardhat listening to this song. Krivda blows forcefully enough to demolish an abandon warehouse. On the ballad More Than You Know, the notes drip off Krivda’s tenor like tears off an infant’s cheeks. At the end of the ballad, Krivda plays a catchy cadenza.

Krivda is a generous bandleader. He shares the wealth with his bandmates, particularly Claude Black. Black and Krivda have been together for decades. They’re comfortable like an old married couple.

Black—a down home bebop piano player a la Duke Jordan and Walter Bishop Jr —presence resonates. On Valse Hot and Fried Bananas, Black takes the tunes on a 5k run. And Jones and Krivda trade measures like hot gossip. Farinacci, a trumpeter with  journeyman’s chops,  digs into the song like a landscaper.

Pekar was a hard-ass and he never minced words. Not many jazz musicians would dedicate an album to a jazz critic. Check around, Krivda might be the only one. Harvey Pekar and Krivda were close. Blue for Pekar is a celebration of their friendship.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Stefon Harris, David Sanchez, and Christian Scott have a few things in common. They’re Grammy nominated jazz musicians. (Sanchez won a Grammy in 2005 for best Latin Jazz Album.) They’re signed to Concord Records, and are the faces of  Concord’s jazz division. They’re successful bandleaders with a string of good jazz albums on the market.

Scott is younger than Harris and Sanchez, and presently Scott is more of a daredevil. Harris and Scott are time tested. Proving themselves is no longer a priority. I heard Scott for the first time in Detroit with alto saxophone player Donald Harrison’s band. Scott was only 17-year-old at the time. Scott had that rugged and piecing sound New Orleans’ trumpet players have. Scott had a lot of heart as well, and he seemed comfortable among musicians twice his age.

Harris and Sanchez hit the jazz scene in the mid-90’s when major record companies such as Atlantic, Blue Note, Criss Cross, Evidence, and PolyGram were giving young and promising jazz musicians such as Mark Turner, Christian McBride, Mark Shim, Cyrus Chestnut, and Anthony Wonsey sweet recording deals. Doing so upset many veteran jazz musicians because they couldn’t get the same although they had a fan base.

By 2000, those record companies downsized, and many of those promising jazz musicians lost their deals. Harris and Sanchez survived the downturn, and have successful recording careers.

On the new album Ninety Miles, which Concord Records made public on June 21, Harris, Sanchez and Scott, combine their work experience, resulting in one of the finest jazz album I’ve come across this year. Harris, Sanchez and Scott made Ninety Miles in Havana Cuba, which explains the album’s Cuban favor.

Ninety Miles starts out running and never makes a pit stop. Harris, Sanchez, and Scott brought to the session a swinger's mentality, and their distinct styles mesh.

The album has a bonus tracks, and a DVD that gives insight into the album’s creation. Including a DVD suggests Concord Records knew bringing Harris, Sanchez, and Scott together was epic. And their fans would enjoy a sneak peek of the making of Ninety Miles.

As a leader, Scott has been off course, preoccupied with fusing other forms of music with jazz. Scott hasn’t put out a red-blooded jazz album yet, leaving some jazz people wondering if Scott will ever return to his jazz roots. The wondering can stop because Scott is back to his jazz roots on Ninety Miles, blowing with heart and enthusiasm on City Sunrise, Black Action Hero, and Brown Belle Blues.

Harris and Sanchez are brilliant. Sanchez slow dances with his tenor on The Forgotten Ones. Harris probably has to rub down his vibraphone because of the workout Harris subjects it to on Brown Belle Blues and on La Fiesta Va. If Ninety Miles is hits--which undoubtedly the album will be--Concord Records should encourage Harris, Sanchez, and Scott to record together again.

Monday, June 20, 2011


For 40 years ago, jazz singer Ed Reed was a self-loathing heroin addict. Reed served four stints in San Quentin State Prison for drug related crimes. Strangely, in prison, Reed developed his chops, performing with other musically inclined criminals in a 17-piece ensemble called the Warden’s Band. Reed said jazz great alto saxophonist Art Pepper was in the band. “At one point, Art played on all the songs I sung in that band,” Reed recalled.

Reed grew up in California. Reed began singing as a kid, and he dreamed of stardom as a jazz singer. Reed became an addict in the Army. The addiction sidetracked his dream.

In 1986,  Reed had an encounter with a smelly fat man at a bus stop that compelled Reed to get clean. Reed has been clean now for 25 years and he works with addicts and their families at the Kaiser-Parmanente’s Chemical Dependency Recovery Program in Vallejo, California.

At 82-year-old, Reed is vibrant. Reed is also candid. Reed is an old-school jazz singer and balladeer a la Bill Henderson and Johnny Hartman. Reed’s voice has a literary quality, built for songs that convey stories. Reed put out two popular jazz albums Ed Reed Sings Love Stories and The Song is You. 

The father of jazz journalism, Nat Hentoff, has praised Reed. In 2008 and in 2009, Reed placed fourth in DownBeat magazine prestigious critic’s poll for Male Vocals, Rising Star. Tuesday, Blue Shorts Records makes public Reed’s new album Born to be Blue.

On June 15, I Dig Jazz had a telephone interview with Reed. Reed discussed starting his recording career at 78, kicking heroin, and why Born to be Blue is his crowning achievement.

Why did you start your music career at age 78?

Ed Reed: You know, I spent so much time being crazy. I was just interested in my recovery. I wanted to know what makes people drink and do drugs until they are dead. That's where my interest was, and still is.

Singing was like dessert. I had always sang, but I didn't take it seriously until I went to Jazz Camp West and Peck Allmond [ jazz trumpeter and composer]  asked me where my records were. He said you got to record and he hooked me up with Bud Spangler, and the rest is history.

When you were using, were you performing?

Reed: If I came across some money to tide me over, I would sing occasionally, but when I was an addict singing wasn't that important to me. I didn't believe that I had anything to offer the world musically.

Born to be Blue is a blues album... 

Reed: There's only one blues song on it, but the other songs are stories of sadness, confusion, hope, and being unable to talk that sort of stuff. If you look at the picture on the cover, I was like 5-year-old, and I was really unhappy, and it made me realize when I looked at that picture that was the way I started out being unhappy, and out of shape.

I talk about that in my classes. That community and family shapes character, and we all have the blues. We should acknowledge the blues so we can free ourselves of it, and live in the moment. That's where the concept for the album came from.

Jazz vocalist Ed Reed

Was there a jazz band in San Quentin?

Reed: San Quentin had a band that performed for the Warden Show. The Warden Show was a tour the warden set up to show professional law enforcement people about what the penitentiary was like. The warden had a tour twice a month, and there would be a dinner. The band played at the dinners.

 Art Pepper was in that band.

Reed: Art Pepper played on every tune that I sang. We had some great players. That band was a trip.

How much time did you serve?

Reed:  I had four stints, from 1951 to 1953. The second time I went back from 1955 to 1958. Then I went backs from 1960 to 1963. Then I went back 1964 to 1966. It was like living life on an installment plan.

You had plenty time to hone your craft.

Reed: I did that and I worked in the library. I was trying to find out what was wrong with me.

What did you discover?

Reed: You know, I don't think anything was really wrong with me except by ignorance. I didn't know how to take care of myself. Most people don't. By that I mean, we don't understand what other people do is because of them not because of us. And what we do is because of us not others. To understand that took me a long time. The discomfort of the belief system that somebody did something to make me mad is the kind of stuff that creates addiction.

When did you hit rock bottom?

Reed: I was sitting on a bus bench and I was brokenhearted. I smelled something like a dead animal. And it was this big guy who looked like he was 400 pounds. He smelled like he was dead. He was coming to sit on the bench, and I told him, 'Man you can't sit here. This is my bench'.

I heard that and I said here I am claiming a bus bench. If this was the only thing I had in life was to claim a bus bench, I needed to do something to change my life. But, I didn't know what to do. Back then, I didn't believe in God. So I went to an AA meeting. It was really painful to know I was claiming a bus bench. That was in 1986.

How does Born to be Blue compare to Ed Reed Sings Love Stories and The Song Is You?

Reed: The first two albums all I did was sing the tunes. I didn't have much to say about how the tunes were going to be played, and who was going to play on them. And there were time constraints. This time around, I'm the co-producer and I had a lot of say about what we're going to play.

Which tunes are your favorites?

Reed: I really like Inside a Silent Tear and Abbey Lincoln's Throw it Away. That song it about letting the stuff go that bends us out of shape.

When you decided to make this album, what kind of songs, did you want?

Reed: I wanted songs that everybody wasn't singing. The songs needed to be beautiful to me. Harmonically, they had to say something I wanted to say. I wanted to do the songs my way, and they had to say something about dreaming and being happy.

Do you listen to your albums often?

Reed: I have a hard time listening to my recordings...

That's odd. you have such a wonderful voice.

Reed: Every time I listen to my albums, I find something that I should've done or should've changed.

Were you pleased with the outcome of the other albums?

Reed: No. They got a lot of attention, but they left a lot to be desired. I never got to do the tunes the way I want to. I wanted to try the tunes on with the band. I never got a chance to do that. I didn't get to sing with the band. They laid down the tracks and I recorded over them.

You’ve come full circle . Are you happy?.

Reed: I was thinking about my addiction the other day. Man, what a miserable human being I was. But now I have a good thing going. I have somebody that loves me, and I love her. You know we've been married 43 years now. These records wouldn't be out with out her.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Salim Washington (photo by Ricardo Thomas)
Before saxophonist Salim Washington began his set Friday night at the Detroit Institute of Arts, he gave 15-year-old tenor sax player Steve Grady some pointers. Grady was at the concert with his parents and his sax teacher JuJu Johnson. Three tunes into the set, Washington put Grady on the spot, inviting him to sit-in. 

Grady wasn’t scared. Grady’s tone and phrasing revealed he's spent quality time listening to Hank Mobley’s albums. Grady could play rhythm changes. After Grady soloed, the crowd erupted. Washington told them when he was a teenager his idol saxophonist Pharoah Sanders put him on the spot on many occasions.

Washington played two stunning sets. The first set Washington called familiar free-jazz tunes such as Frank Lacy’s Aquarius Rising and Andrew Hill’s Symmetry. Washington hired Detroiter's pianist Pam Wise, drummer Djallo Djekete, and bassist Marion Hayden. 

Friday was the first time Hayden had played publicly with Washington, but you couldn’t tell. They clicked immediately. Hayden is best backing saxophonists. Hayden did some of her best work with the late Donald Walden. Hayden has never demanded much solo time. All night, Washington encouraged Hayden to stretch out.

Hayden was featured on You Can Fly, a song Washington wrote for his sister. Hayden’s intro was dazzling. On Is That Jazz, Djekete was powerful. Djekete is a blue-collar jazz drummer. He always shows up prepared and he keeps the beat masterfully. The second set Washington called mostly his originals.

The set began with Elder Washington, a nod to Washington’s father. Washington explained he wanted to express the hurt a father experiences mourning his daughter’s death. Surprisingly, Elder Washington wasn’t mournful. There’re several tempo changes, and a Jaki Byard-like solo by Pam Wise.

Washington’s playing resembled Pharoah Sander's style. Washington is a true free-jazz sax player, and his blowing wasn't too way out to understand. Washington closed the concert with Sun Ra’s Inner Stellar Low Ways, Grady joined in again. Washington tried to trip up Grady, but he didn’t take the bait. The concert was uplifting like a church sermon. Washington used his sax to preach.

Friday, June 17, 2011


In 1980, alto saxophone player Art Pepper played two nights at Ronnie Scott’s, a jazz club in London, England. That was Pepper’s first time performing in London. Mole Jazz recorded the concerts, and titled the live album “Blues for the Fisherman”. Jazz Mole only released four tracks, which stayed atop the British charts for a year.

Pepper's rhythm section included drummer Carl Burnett, bass player Tony Dumas, and piano player Milcho Leviev. Back then, Pepper was signed to Galaxy Records. And Galaxy wouldn’t allow Pepper to record as a leader for another label. So, Jazz Mole listed Leviev as the leader, which didn’t seem to bother Pepper one bit.

On June 14, Widow’s Taste Records, owned by Pepper’s wife Laurie Pepper, unveiled nationwide “Blues for a Fisherman,” in a four-disc set. In 2006, Mrs. Pepper formed the record label. Since then,  Mrs. Pepper has put out one Art Pepper album per year. 

Because “Blues for the Fisherman” was a do-it-yourself endeavor and Mrs. Pepper had a small budget, she produced a limited number of  box sets. Mrs. Pepper sent reviewers a 67-minute sampler disc. The eight songs sampler represented the best moments of the live album. 

The sampler opened screaming. Pepper played an original “Blues for Blanche”. Blanche was Pepper’s beloved cat. Pepper followed that with “Rhythm-A-Ning”. Leviev is listed as the leader. At times, his playing seemed misplaced. Leviev played a barrage of notes. On “Blues for Blanche,” he sounded like he was firing an Uzi, and  his hammering the piano keys  on the ballad "What's Now" was odd.

Pepper troubled past is known. Pepper talked candidly about his heroin addiction and stints in prison in  his  autobiography Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper. Despite his troubles, Pepper made some acclaimed jazz albums “Straight Life,” Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section,”  "Intensity,” and “Art Pepper+Eleven”.  Undoubtedly, Pepper was a great alto saxophone player. “Blues for the Fisherman” ranks among Pepper’s finest recordings.

Pepper’s playing had a thick tone laced with sadness. The blues was Pepper's natural habitat. All hell broke loose on the title cut. Pepper ripped open his chest, and poured his heart all over the bandstand. Near the end of Pepper’s cadenza, he had a barroom kind of exchange with Leviev, which the audience ate up.

The production quality of “Blues for the Fisherman” was topflight. Listening to the album, you feel as if you're  inside Ronnie Scott’s, seated near the stage drinking Pepper’s music like cocktails. The audience was considerate.

On so many live jazz albums, you hear people talking while the musicians work their tails off. On “Blues for the Fisherman,” the audience was silent, but at the end of the concert, they erupted.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Last week, I Dig Jazz received four upcoming jazz albums "Ninety Miles," "State of Art," "Born to Be Blue," and "Monty Alexander Harlem-Kingston Express Live! at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, NYC. Each album is worth the sticker price and will be on the market in late Junes.

Saxophonist David Sanchez and vibraphonist Stefon Harris are survivors of the jazz youth movement of the late 90's when many jazz record labels only singed musicians under 25-year-old such as saxophonists Mark Turner, Teodross Avery, Mark Shim and a host of others. The movement was short-lived, and many of the musicians—who were pretty good—got canned when record companies closed their jazz divisions. Sanchez and Harris were the exception, and now are label-mates. For Concord Records, Sanchez, Harris and new jazz lion trumpeter Christian Scott are the co-leaders of “Ninety Miles”. I predict “Ninety Miles” will be favorite among jazz writer's. ”Ninety Miles” takes off running and never stops. Scott has experimented with different forms of music lately. I figured he'd completely forsaken his jazz upbringing. And I questioned if Scott would ever play hardcore jazz again. “Ninety Miles” is the first hardcore jazz album Scott has been an integral force on in years.

I first heard jazz bassist Ben Williams play with rising jazz vocalist Jesse Palter. And I liked Williams—a student of the accomplished jazz bassist Rodney Whitaker—right away. Since graduating from Michigan State University, and winning the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Competition for double bass, Williams has become an in demand bassist, playing with many of today's leading jazz musicians. On June 28, Concord Records offers to the public Williams' debut album “State of Art”. The album is a cogent example of the fusion course some new jazz lions are traveling these days. Williams was influenced by jazz, hip-hop, R& B and classical music. Williams successfully blends those forms, which is a lot of calories to consume on a debut album. 

Jazz singer Ed Reed was a self-destructive junky most of his adult life. And Reed was in and out of jail also for various drug related offenses. Reed never gave up on himself, and the one thing he loved more than anything, singing. Reed is 82-year-old now. The hard knocks phase of his life is behind Reed. He's buried  that monkey on his back two decades ago. When Reed is not recording and performing around the Bay Area , he helps other addicts change their lives. Reed has put out two acclaimed albums “Ed Reed Sings Love Stories and “The Song Is You” since getting his act together. On June 21, Blue Shorts Records debuts his third album “Born to Be Blue,” which finds Reed wailing on some blues tunes. Reed has a slow conversational manner comparable to the great Andy Bey’s style but not has lucid. Anyway, Reed can sing his ass off and he seems at home with the blues tunes he picked for “Born to Be Blue”.

Jamaican born jazz pianist Monty Alexander has been in the jazz business for 50 years. Alexander started celebrating that milestone in March when Retrieval Records released the wonderful trio album “Uplift” (one of I Dig Jazz's all time favorite Alexander trio albums). Alexander has more than enough seniority to call it quits . But instead of kicking back, propping his feet on his laurels—or at least slowing down some—on June 14, Motema Records will make available for purchase Alexander's second album this year “Monty Alexander Harlem-Kingston Express Live! at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, NYC”. The album is a Reggae jazz album that only Alexander could pull off. The albums has Bob Marley covers as well as familiar jazz staples "Freddie Freeloader" and a Reggae tinged version of "Sweet Georgia Brown".

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Saxophonist Dexter Gordon
Dexter, Thursday the Detroit Jazz Festival held a screening of the film “’Round Midnight” at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. After the screening, your wife, Maxine, discussed the making of ‘Round Midnight’. Maxine also, revealed that you alway talked about moonlighting as a famous actor. Twice you had a small role on the series “Crime Story”.

Maxine told the audience you're convinced the Academy of Motion Pictures would nominate you for a best actor. Maxine was surprised it happened. Maxine said you wrote an acceptance speech. I wonder if Maxine kept it. Dexter I have “’Round Midnight” on DVD. I’ve watched the film countless times. Wednesday evening “’Round Midnight” was part of a jazz movie marathon on the cable network TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

The jazz marathon began with “’Round Midnight,” followed by “Thelonious Monk Straight,” “Eastwood After Hours,” “Bird,” and “Young Man with a Horn”. I watched each. “’Round Midnight” and “Young Man with a Horn” were my favorites. There’s a Detroit alto saxophonist, Larry Smith, who resembles, Dale Turner, the troubled jazz musician you portrayed in “’Round Midnight”. Are you familiar with Larry? Larry is a terrific alto player in the same league as Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. Dexter if you email me your address in heaven, I’ll send you a copy of Larry’s albums “Estate’,” and “Larry Smith& Company Live at the Slovak Philharmonic”.

Dexter did you ever see “Young Man with a Horn”? Kirk Douglas played a trouble jazz trumpeter. Director Michael Curtiz based the film on trumpeter Bix Biederbecke's life story. I won’t give details. I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you plan to see “Young Man with a Horn”.

Anyway, Maxine talked about the making of “’Round Midnight”. Making the film was stressful for director and co-author Bertrand Tavernier. Bertrand developed a stomach ulcer. Bertrand believed making a film with jazz musicians would be easy. 

Maxine said you declined after reading the first draft of the script. Bertrand depiction of jazz musicians was inaccurate. But you’d reconsider participating if Bertrand reworked the script. You explained if you’d played Dale Turner as written the NAACP would’ve revoked your lifetime membership. The jazz musicians you knew had their demons, but they were smart and hardworking. You wanted them depicted as such. Begrudgingly, Bertrand made changes, and “’Round Midnight” was successful.

Warner Bros. considered killing “’Round Midnight”. Your inexperience concerned Warner Bros. Actor and director Clint Eastwood—a diehard jazz fan—supported you, offering to finance the film. You proved Warner Bros wrong.“’Round Midnight” received Oscar nominations, including best actor in a leading role.  Paul Newman won for The Color of Money". 

Dexter, during the Q&A segment, I planned to ask Maxine three personal questions about you. But I didn’t get the chance. First, when did you and Maxine first meet, and how long were you all married? Secondly, how was it being married to one of the greatest jazz saxophonist of any era? Lastly, did you have annoying habits such as leaving the toothpaste uncapped? 

Maxine shared a story about your relationship with the great tenor saxophone man Ben Webster. You and Ben toured. “Body and Soul” was on the set list. Ben liked to play "body and Soul" straight. Once you  deviated from the song's structure, playing the bridge like John Coltrane used to. At the bridge of “Body and Soul,” you played some of the changes to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”.

Ben was irate and accused you of destroying the song. Ben stopped speaking to you for months. Dexter, the audience at the Michigan Theatre laughed when Maxine said Ben apologize, and gave you a gold Cartier cigarette lighter. Dexter, Maxine is doing a swell job carrying on your legacy. Maxine is scheduled to give a lecture during the Detroit Jazz Festival. Maybe then, I’ll get the chance to ask those silly personal questions only Maxine can answer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Big band leader Gerald Wilson made three albums dedicated to his favorite cities. In 2003, Mack Avenue signed Wilson.  He was already a Hall of Fame worthy bandleader, and he had enough seniority in the industry to retire, but he did nothing of the kind. Mack Avenue released Wilson’s “New York New Sound”. Back then, Mack Avenue was small, vying for respectability. Landing Wilson was a big score that paid off. 

“New York New Sound” received a Grammy nod, and Wilson became Mack Avenue’s best selling artist at the tender age of 84. In 2009, Wilson made “Detroit,” a homage to the Motor City, and Wilson’s best album for Mack Avenue.

By 2009, Mack Avenue was a household name with top jazz musicians on the roster such as Sean Jones, Kenny Garrett, Ron Blake and Christian McBride. Wilson remained the company’s ambassador, making a string of hit albums. At 92-year-old, Wilson still has the imagination and verve of a man half his age. You find that statement unbelievable? Then check out Wilson's new album “Legacy,” a nod to Chicago. "Legacy" will be available nationwide on June 21st.

With “Legacy,” Wilson shares some of the spotlight with his son Anthony Wilson and grandson Eric Otis. Wilson’s son wrote “Virgo,” and Otis wrote “September Sky”. Seems as if the elder Wilson is preparing his kin to run the big band  if he retires.

“Legacy” has two drastically different moods. First, the top half of “Legacy” has a jazz meets classical feel. Wilson’s big band performs “Theme by Igor Stravinsky,” and “Variation on a Theme by Giacomo Puccini”. Obvious nods to Wilson’s classical heroes.

“Variation,” is intricate. Wilson mix blues and classical. Plus, Wilson send the composition through two  tempo changes. Blues coexisting with classical is a novel concept. The mixture works because piano player Renee Rosnes is proficient in blues and classical music. 

Secondly, the other half of “Legacy” is a suite titled “Yes Chicago Is… (suite)". It starts with the glum movement “Jazz Mecca”. The suite ends similarly with “A Great Place to Be”. Those movements are the suites’ weak links.

But, the other movements are upbeat. Wilson put his faith in key soloists—Terrell Stafford, Ron Blake, and Gary Smulyan—to convey musically and succinctly the influence Chicago had on Wilson. They didn't let Wilson down. The soloists are accomplished jazz musicians with egos, of course, but in Wilson’s big band they mesh swimmingly.

Stafford, Blake, and Smulyan give the suite a richness that would be missing had either musician not participated. So how does “Legacy” compare to Wilson’s “New York New Sound” and “Detroit”? “Legacy” deserves a high mark, but Wilson's nod to New York and to Detroit are better.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Sachal Vasandani has many things working in his favor. Vasandani is handsome, dapper, and classy. And Vasandani is signed to a record company that respects jazz musicians. Above all, Vasandani is a wonderful singer. His vocal style is a mix of Frank Sinatra and of Mel Torme'. Vasandani definitely embodies their lounge singer swagger. 

On June 21, Mack Avenue Records releases nationally Vasandani’s third album "Hi-Fly". It’s Vasandani best so far. On his previous albums—particularly “Eyes Wide Open”—Vasandani sang some songs that didn't fit his voice. That’s not the case on “Hi-Fly”. Every song fits perfectly.

There’re oldies galore on “Hi-Fly,” and Vasandani only sings three of his own songs, which is unfortunate for us because his songwriting is powerful like his singing. (On his next album, he should include more originals.) Of course, singing oldies isn’t a bad thing. Many jazz singers do so marvelously, and Vasandani is no exception.

Vasandani obvious flair is singing love songs. Keep tissue handy while listening to Vasandani sing, “Love Is a Losing Game,” “That’s All I Want From You,” and “Flood”. Vasandani is careful with each song like pushing them up a street in a baby stroller. 

Vasandani can also sing the blues and scat convincingly, which he has a ball doing with his idol Jon Hendricks on “Mint Julep” and the title song. “Hi-Fly” is Vasandani's best albums so far, but not his magnum opus. That’s coming in the near future. Bank on that. “Hi-Fly” proves Vasandani is among today’s top male jazz singers.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Vibraphonist Gary Burton has a fresh start. Mack Avenue Records signed Burton back in February, which was a major score for the company. Burton has a new band. And Burton has a new album, Common Ground, due out Tuesday. Common Ground is Burton’s first album in 5 years, and Mack Avenue's best album so far this year.

During Burton’s 5 year break, Burton kept his chops up. Burton still has a keen eye for gifted jazz guitarists.  In the past, Burton worked with Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, three of jazz’s more creative minds. Burton help shape their reputations.

On Common Ground, Burton works with drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Scott Colley and Guitarist Julian Lage. Sanchez and Colley efficiently handle all the manual labor.

On “Never the Same Way, Colley spreads notes around like fertilizer. Sanchez swings toe-to-toe with Burton on the title cut. Lage is the dominate voice throughout Common Ground. It seems Burton designed Common Ground as a platform for Lage.  

Lage is a maverick with good gut instincts. In April, Lage put out a concept album Galdewell. The album shows his knack for writing intriguing compositions.

On Late Night,  Lage uses those instincts to navigate the changes. Burton and Lage have a sentimental father and son moment on My Funny Valentine.  Burton has new musical soul mate in Lage. .

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Andy, I finally listened to Frank Rosolino Quartet Featuring Sonny Clark Complete Recordings you gave me in April. I would’ve listened to the album sooner. But I was swamped with new albums. This years, new albums have been rolling in faster than I can review them. Over the weekend, the mail carrier dropped off a stack of albums from High Note Records that'll take me a good two weeks to listen to. 

Anyway, the Frank Rosolino Quartet Featuring Sonny Clark Complete Recordings was everything you promised, clean old fashion be bop. A long time has passed since I’ve heard a pure be bop album. I guess I’ve been longing for one. Rosolino quartet with the great be bop piano player Sonny Clark—in my book the greatest ever, that’s not a slap in the face to Monk and Bud—was a good be bop band.

Andy, you have great taste in jazz, and a nose for tracking down obscure jazz musicians who never received—for whatever reasons—the praise they deserved. To your credit, Andy, you’re a hardcore jazz man. And, of course, the brains behind the Detroit Groove Society, the excellent home concert series. Also, thanks for emailing me jazz critic Gene Lee’s article about Rosolino’s suicide. I was upset after reading Rosolino killed his son then himself.

Lee nailed Rosolino personality. If playing jazz trombone hadn’t panned out, Rosolino could’ve made a living as a comic. Andy, if you listen closely you’d hear humor is his playing. Right now, I’m listening  The Complete Recordings. He just wrapped up My Delux. Now he's playing the head of the slow jam Flamingo. He could cook and tell stories on his trombone. I have to pause for a moment. Sonny Clark is taking a solo. Clark’s playing is crisp as a laundered dress shirt.

On It Had to be You, alto sax man Charles Mariano sounds as if he invested time studying Charlie Parker’s licks. Parker’s influence is evident. I appreciate how Rosolino took his sweet time on some up tempo tunes. Rosolino could race, too. On Sweet Georgia Brown Rosolino, Mariano and Clark chew up the changes like chicken wings.

Andy, what I appreciate most about having a hardcore jazz man as a friend is you’re always turning me on to hip jazz musicians and jazz albums.