Monday, August 29, 2011


Unnatural habitat
Jazz Singer Chris Connor made a name in Stan Kenton’s big band, garnering comparisons to Anita O’Day and June Christy. Connor wasn't as well-known as they were, but Connor was a better singer.  She had a long career with only a few mishaps. In the 60's, pop music dominated the charts. Record producer Kenny Greengrass convinced Connor to make a pop album. The outcome was Chris Connor Sings Gentle Bossa Nova, which Just A Memory is reissuing September 13th. She owned a voice that was pure as spring water, but Sings Gentle Bossa Nova wasn’t her best output. Her voice was made for jazz. With this pop oriented offering, Connor strayed too far away from her natural habitat.

A few years ago, Mack Avenue Records snapped up jazz bass player Christian McBride. His debut album was Kind of Brown, and McBride unveiled his new band Inside Straight. It was my least favorite Christian McBride album. But, McBride’s second album for Mack Avenue The Good Feeling, due out on September 27th, is McBride’s first masterpiece. On The Good Feeling, McBride shows off his big band, and he has some bigwigs on the payroll Ron Blake, Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson and Xavier Davis. Davis is my pick for the album's MVP. McBride did a fine job making sure The Good Feeling swings from head to toe.

Soft touch
Resonance Record will release jazz trumpet player Claudio Roditi’s new album Bons Amigo on September 13th. Roditi is a senior citizen., and he’s still making some of the best Brazilian jazz music around. I can come up with a million reasons why Bons Amigo is a bulletproof investment, but I will only supply one. Roditi is a divine lyrical trumpeter with a tone soft as snowflakes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The past few years, guitar player Bobby Broom has been in shout out mode. In 2009, he put out Bobby Broom Plays for Monk. The album was a shout out to Thelonious Monk, and it was a pretty good take on some of Monk’s timeless songs. Broom is a laid-back guitar player by nature. That can easily be mistaken as boring, which honestly Broom can be at times.

To his credit, Broom has done his best playing with Sonny Rollins. Most of the time, Rollins prefers guitar players over piano players. And because Rollins has stuck with Broom since the mid-80's is a testament to his worth. 

Last week, Origin Records put out Wonderful!, a shout out to Motown legend Stevie Wonder by the Deep Blue Organ Trio. Broom co-captains the DBOT with organ player Chris Foreman, and drummer Greg Rockingham

For Wonderful!, the DBOT cherry picked nine songs from the Stevie Wonder songbook, for example Tell Me Something Good, If You Really Love Me, and You’ve Got it Bad Girl. Broom wrote all the arrangements. And clearly the DBOT tried hard to put a jazz spin on Wonder’s hits, but the DBOT failed.

Wonderful! lacked excitement and soul. Broom and Foreman are the blame. (Rockingham gets a pass, but his drumming was nothing to write home about.) Broom's arrangements are stiff.

Foreman is an easygoing organ player. He opened up the throttle some on You Haven’t Done Nothin’. But on the other songs it seemed as if he syphoned all the soul out of his organ. The DBOT clearly had the best intentions when they made Wonderful!, but they did not go deep enough.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Tennessee soul
Tennessee is not a jazz hub although some remarkable jazz sax players were born there Frank Storizer, Sonny Criss and Hank Crawford for example. Monday, I received Everyday Magic by saxophone player and Tennessee native Rahsaan Barber. (Rahsaan and his brother Roland were named after the great multi-reed player Rahsaan Roland Kirk.) Everyday Magic is Barber’s second album as the boss, and the first on his label Jazz Music City. Barber has that fat, soulful, and bluesy sound unique to Tennessee bred sax players. If you think it’s impossible for Barber chops to be up there with Storizer, Criss, and Crawford at this stage of his career pick up a copy of Everyday Magic when it's available to the public August 30th. Then play Floodsong, and Why So Blue. You will understand why I compare Barber’s chops to those great Tennesseans. 

Swingin' with the oldies
A few months back, my friend stated Kenny Garrett is the reigning king of the alto saxophone. Garrett is an awesome musician. No sane jazz fan would dispute that. But Miguel Zenon is my pick for the top alto sax player working today.  To my friend—and to anybody else who agrees Garrett is the shit—I offer to them Zenon’s new album Alma Andentro the Puerto Rican Songbook. Marsalis Music makes the album available nationwide August 30th. Zenon plays the songs of Bobby Capo, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernandez and Sylvia Rexach. They were to Puerto Rican music culture what Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and Jerome Kerns were to American culture. Zenon is a clever improviser with a flair for updating oldies. In Zenon’s hands, national treasures such as Incomprendido and Silencio have that fresh out the oven aroma.

Progressive smooth jazz 
Songs from the Chateau is bass player Kyle Eastwood’s second album for Mack Avenue Records. Eastwood is the famous actor and director Clint Eastwood's son. (The elder Eastwood supports jazz.) For a smooth jazz player, Eastwood has a heighten sense of swing, and he has an eye for like-minded jazz musician. On Song from the Chateau Eastwood used piano player Andrew McCormack, trumpeter Graeme Flowers, saxophone player Graeme Blevins and drummer Martin Kaine. They made an album that will be mistaken for straight ahead caustic jazz. Actually, Song from the Chateau is a progressive smooth jazz album.  Eastwood has moved smooth jazz to a new level. This album is set for release on August 30.

VIP list
For his new album, Friends, guitar player Stanley Jordan took a page for the hip-hop and R&B playbooks. Jordan loaded Friends with guest spots, and the album—his sophomore date for Mack Avenue Records—has the spirit of a family gathering. Jordan got all dolled up. There’s a photo next to the liner notes of him with his toenails painted pink. I don’t know what Jordan was getting at, but he has taken that metro-sexual shit too far. At any rate, Charlie Hunter, Ronnie Laws, Russell Malone, Bucky Pizzarelli, Regina Carter and Kenny Garrett are on the VIP list. Jordan doesn’t really have anything in common with them. Yet Friends is still a worthwhile album. It hits the streets September 27th.

Something old, something new
Dizzy Gillespie once said jazz is about keeping one foot in the tradition and one foot in the future. Piano player Armen Donelian lives by Dizzy’s statement. Donelian is known for his work with Sonny RollinsBilly Harper and Mongo Santamaria. Years ago, Donelian proved time and time again he was no ordinary piano player. On his new album Leapfrog, which goes on sale September 13th, Donelian combined old world jazz and contemporary jazz. That’s clear as day on tunes such as Rage, Behind the Veil and Bygone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today is jazz vibraphone player Warren Wolf’s big day. Mack Avenue Records—the home of   Kenny Garrett, Gerald Wilson, Gary Burton, Sean Jones, and Christian McBride—makes available nationwide Wolf’s self-titled album Warren Wolf.

Wolf has two other albums available Incredible Jazz Vibe and Black Wolf on a Japanese label. Wolf is a household name there, and his reputation as a grade A jazz vibe player a la Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutchinson, Cal Tjader has been soaring in the states lately.

Wolf grew up in Baltimore. For eight years, he studied classical composition at the Peabody Preparatory school. At Berklee College of Music, Wolf studied jazz, and graduated in 2001. Wolf became a hotshot on the Boston jazz scene.

In recent years, Wolf has worked as sideman with Tia Fuller's quintet, with Christian McBride’s band Inside Straight, and with Karriem Riggins outfit Virtuoso Experience.

The Warren Wolf album is his best yet, Wolf said last week during a telephone interview with I Dig Jazz.

“With this record, I wanted to go out there and put my stamp on the world. Most of the album is bluesy. I wanted to make an album people could sit back and really listen to,” Wolf said. He achieved that, and he showed off every inch of his amazing chops.

How did you hook up with Mack Avenue Records?
They first noticed me when I played on a few tracks of my label-mate Tia Fuller's most recent album Decisive Steps. Christian McBride was on that album too. Christian started talking about this new band he wanted to start and premier at the Village Vanguard. From there we went in the studio and recorded Christian's band's Inside Straight. From those two albums, Mack Avenue had their eye on me.

You have two albums that were big in Japan. Is Warren Wolf your best album?
I think so. The Japanese records, in my opinion, were designed to get me out there in Japan, to make me a star in Japan. Those records were mainly standards. They are big on standards over there. With my new album, I did two standards but the other songs are all originals by myself and a couple of the guys in the band, and a few obscure tunes like Chick Corea's Senor Mouse. That’s a tune nobody would normally call.

What song on Warren Wolf really shows off your chops?
One for Lenny. I played that song at a super fast tempo. Normally, you will never hear a vibraphone player trying to play that fast. Nowadays, you don't even hear jazz musicians in general trying to play that fast.

Why did your dad insist you study classical music?
Music was always a big hobby of his. He got me into music around age 3. He always wanted me to be the best. So he knew studying classical music would help me out with technique and learning how to read.

Who is your favorite vibraphone player?
Milt Jackson. I like the way he played ballads. The ballads he played were very pretty. Coming up my dad played all the great vibraphone players for me Cal Tjader, Bobby Hutchinson, Lionel Hampton, and Gary Burton. My dad introduced me to all their music.

Is it true that horn players had more of an influence on you?
My dad also introduced me to a lot of horn players. I don't know if my dad picked that up that I liked horn players. I naturally gravitated to them. If you look at the music on my Ipod, you won't see a lot of vibraphone players. But, you will see a ton of horn players on it. My whole attack when I play music is like a horn player. I like how fast they play.

How do you measure up to your peers Steve Nelson and Stefon Harris?
I wouldn't say that I measure myself to anybody out there. We all are still students of the music game. I would say the one thing that Steve and Stefon have over me is they have more experience, especially Steve. Steve has been out there for a long time. Stefon came out in about 1995. So they have more experience touring, but we are all on the same level because we are still learning, and still trying to become better each and everyday.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Rafael Statin
My friend Marc wrote in his weekly jazz e-newsletter 21-year-old saxophone player  Rafael Statin is a  James Carter-like wunderkind. Nine times out of ten, Marc is right, and after hearing Statin wail on the tenor and the alto sax at Cliff Bell’s Thursday night, I agree wholeheartedly with Marc. But, I have concerns with Statin's overall presentation.

Statin started the 9:00pm set with a modern take on Miles Davis’ So What. Statin played the alto sax, and he barreled through his solo like a fullback. I did not hear the James Carter influence until the next song, but clearly Kenny Garrett also influenced Statin. He has Garrett’s stamina, and he rocks back and forth like Garrett when soloing. 

Next, Statin called Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. Stanton switched to the tenor sax. Right away, I heard James Carter’s influence. Statin updated Red Clay like Carter updated Take the "A" Train and Out of Nowhere on his second album Jurassic Classics.

At one stretch, Statin was blowing so forcefully and recklessly, I thought the tenor would explode in his hands. (I saw James Carter at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge once blowing so forcefully two keys popped off his tenor. I am not kidding.) Statin’s staff piano player Mike Jellick and drummer Alex White were equally rambunctious, playing long self-indulgent solos. 

Statin closed the set with Caravan. White played a bombastic opening passage. He overplayed Stanton and Jellick the entire set, making them work harder than necessary. He has to learn, at some point, how to play tactfully. 

The set felt like a jam session. The younger generation of Detroit jazz musicians have a tendency to treat every gig like a jam session. Showing up for gigs without a game plan. Then bull-shitting their way through three sets. 

Statin did not have a set list. After each song, Statin, Jellick, and White huddled up to discuss what song to play next. Keeping the audience in limbo was unprofessional. What tunes to play should've been worked out before the gig.

Statin has promise. He is going to have a successful career. The same goes for Jellick and for White. A few weeks ago, Statin played with Jeff “Tain” Watts and Bob Hurst in New York. And  Statin has received some pointers from Kenny Garrett. Statin needs to work on a few things.

First, Statin needs to tighten up his professionalism. Kicking off a gig on time would be a good start. Secondly, stop treating gigs like jam sessions, and the bandstand like a playground. Jazz fans are hip and discerning.They know when bands skipped rehearsing. Finally, cutback on the hey-mom-check-me-out circus tricks. The tricks are cool in moderation. It took James Carter some years to learn the art of self-editing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Jazz great Curtis Fuller
Trombone player Curtis Fuller new album is The Story of Cathy & Me. Cathy was Fuller’s wife, and they were married 30 years. In 2010, Cathy died from lung cancer. During recently telephone interview with me, Fuller said for a while Cathy concealed her illness from him. That’s the kind of wife Cathy was, protecting her man from anything that would interfere with him making music. The Story of Cathy & Me is Fuller's homage--or better yet--final love letter to Cathy.

Fuller is a jazz legend, No sane jazz fan familiar with his recording output and his accomplishments would refute that. Fuller's masterworks include the albums New Trombone, Bone & Bari, Soul Trombone, and Cabin in the Sky. Don’t even get me started on his work as a sideman with, the Jazztet, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

 The Story of Cathy & Me is not  a mournful album. Many of the songs Fuller plays symbolizes the kind of marriage they built such as I Asked and She Said Yes, Look What I Got, and Love Was Everything When Love Was You and Me. The album’s highlights are the three cuts where Fuller recounts his life with Cathy. While doing so tenor sax player Akeem Marable improvises in the background.

 Like Golson the album touched me. And I wanted to interview Fuller about The Story of Cathy & Me.  Ann Braithwaite, the publicist for Challenge Records put me in touch with Fuller. On August 2, I interviewed Fuller, but surprisingly, Fuller didn’t know the album was available nationwide. Fuller also said he never heard the finished album.

I asked Braithwaite why Fuller was in the dark about the release of The Story of Cathy & Me. She didn't know, but she gave me Jacey Falk, the album's executive producer telephone number.

Fuller received copies of the album last year, Falk said. But Falks believes Fuller flat out forgot about the album. Six months after Cathy passed away Fuller recorded the album. During the session, Fuller was also worried his playing wasn't up to snuff. At 76, Fuller's blowing remains robust. When The Story of Cathy & Me was completed, Falk let Fuller’s lifelong friend sax man Benny Golson hear it. The album made Golson weep.

I talked to Fuller for an hour about a variety of topics. Fuller discussed losing his beloved Cathy, making the rounds on Detroit's jazz scene in the 50’s, and playing with Yusef Lateef and Lester Young.

Fuller on losing Cathy. 

Once your spouse dies, you are put in a very precarious situation. When you're used to being with someone all the time, it’s the same as having children around, watching them grow up and leave. It’s the same as losing your spouse. It happens to everybody. Sonny Rollins lost his wife, and James Moody's wife lost him.

Cathy was my friend. She was my buddy and my comrade. We disagreed on a lot of stuff. We were from two different worlds. She knew my shortcomings. With Cathy, I got to know real passion. She was Irish Catholic. You know, you can't always chose your partner.

Fuller looks back on his early years in Detroit

I grew up in an orphanage in Detroit. As I got older, I was put in a boy’s home in Inkster. I lived on American Ave. It was called the West End back then. Louis Hayes lived in the next block.

I started playing trombone at Dwyer Elementary School. Back then, I was trying to play the violin, and a teacher told me stop it. She said you guys [blacks] don't play that. The irony is we still don't. You know the brothers got to have a beat. In those days, some music teachers were still hostile towards jazz. If they caught you trying to play some Charlie Parker licks they would kick you out of class.

The camaraderie on the Detroit jazz scene was unique. I will put it that way. Even back then, it was an integrated scene. I remember brothers playing with white cats like Frank Rosolino and Pepper Adams. I met Pepper when I got out the service. We had a band called Bone & Bari. I was in the service with Cannonball Adderly. He was the band director.

Cannonball got me into the band in the Army band, which was the last all black Army band. We're based in Louisville, Kentucky. I met Dannie Richmond down there. He started out playing tenor saxophone, but he ended up playing the drums in Charles Mingus's band. Mingus offered me a job, but I turned him down because Mingus was knocking out cats on the bandstand. I didn’t want any of that.

Fuller on hanging out with Yusef Lateef.

Yusef was such a nice human being. He touched everybody. Brother Yusef and I used to go out to Belle Isle at night and practice. He had his flute and his oboe. What a sound playing over the Detroit River at night. After we played at a club, we would drive out there. Some people at the club would followed us. It was a different time. You could go out there and nobody would split your head open. Now I hear Belle Isle is like Baghdad. 

Fuller on his influences.

Of course, I loved JJ Johnson. But it was this guy around Detroit Bernard McKinney he was already a master along with his brothers Raymond and Harold. On my instrument, my biggest influence was Claude Black. In addition to playing the piano, Claude also played the trombone, and I believed he played the French horn, too. At gigs around Detroit, Claude would give me his trombone, and invite me on the bandstand.

I remember going on the bandstand when Wardell Gray and Frank Foster were going at it. I played a blues with them. I had enough nerve to get into their cutting contest, and they beat me up. That was a big learning process for me.

You know, God put me in the right places at the right times. As soon as one thing would end, another opportunity would open up. I went to New York to play with Miles, and he got sick. I remember walking the streets thinking what now.

Somebody told me Lester Young wanted me to play with him at Birdland. I was in his band when Lester died. There's a live recording of me playing with Lester at Birdland that Symphony Sid recorded. After Lester died, I ended up working with James Moody. He came to the clubs to hear Lester, and James hired me. I've been blessed.

I look back on my career, and I thank God for giving me a chance to be an entertainer. God has afforded me a chance to see the world almost in its entirety. I went to South American with Coleman Hawkins, and traveled with Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy. Ain't no complaints here.

God took my parents, but He gave me a wonderful musical life and He breathed life into my soul. The other day, I was sitting at home looking out at the lake thinking about how blessed I am.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Last October, I caught your performance at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Michel, do you remember that set. You played with your all-star big band. Antonio Hart and Conrad Herwig were in your band. You only played fast tempo Latin jazz songs, which was fine with me. But, midway through the set,  I wondered if you could play love songs with the same facility. Anyhow, I thought about that concert for a long time.

At the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, weeks later, I talked about that concert with my friend, Chris. Chris said you played the piano like you’re juiced up. That October evening was my first time hearing you live, and you put on a good show. On the drive home, I wondered how you would sound with a trio.

Two weeks ago, Decca Records mailed me your new trio album Mano a Mano. Michel,  honest to God, I’ve played it everyday since. I liked how you mixed your originals with some familiar jazz classics such as John Coltrane's Niama and Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder.

You may find this hard to believe. I play your Latin jazz makeover of Sidewinder at least ten times daily. The first time I heard it my ears jumped of the a side of my face and started break dancing

Of course, there’re other memorable songs on the album Then and Now and Rice and Bean are good examples. And You and Me and About You are perfect slow jams.

If Lee Morgan were alive, I bet he’d appreciate how you changed Sidewinder. Michel, I’d send people out to buy Mano a Mano just to hear your spin of Sidewinder. I guarantee they’d like the album. But, if they don’t, for some strange reason, I’d refund their money.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Duke, there’s a new Duke Ellington tribute album out. Do you know how many jazz albums have been made in your honor? There's too many to keep track of. How many of them do you like? The latest is Dancing with Duke an Homage to Duke Ellington. Jazz bass player John Brown made it with piano player Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Adonis Rose. Duke, since I’ve been in the jazz journalism field, I’ve heard many Duke Ellington shout-out albums. Many were noteworthy, and some were forgettable. Brown’s tribute ain’t half-bad.

Are you familiar with Brown? He’s an awesome bass player. In the 90’s, Brown played in Elvin Jones’s band. Jones never had any scrubs in his band. None that I know of. So, Brown must be the real deal. I think Brown is, given how meticulously he handled your material. 

For years, Brown has wanted to record with Chestnut and Rose. Until recently, their schedules wouldn’t allow it. With Dancing with Duke, they finally hooked up. Brown selected 10 of your well-known songs such as In a Mellow Tone, Perdido, Pie Eye’s Blues and I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good). I’m listening to the album as I write his post.

Brown, Chestnut and Rose are doing a killer version of Pie Eye’s Blues. Chestnut took the first solo. Brown followed. Rose had the final say. I must point out, Duke, Brown is the captain, but Chestnut has the strongest presence. Duke, Chestnut plays beautiful flourishes on I Got it Bad (and That Ain't Good) gave my soul goosebumps.

Chestnut is a commanding piano player He’s my all time favorite after Gene Harris and Monk. I don’t believe Chestnut set out to steal the show, but that’s what he did anyway. Chestnut is at his best in a trio. Duke, if you need proof download his album Revelation. But, lately, as a leader, Chestnut has been in a rut.

The albums Chestnut has put out since parting ways with Atlantic Records are okay. I can’t think of one I’d implore anyone to buy. But, on Dancing with Duke, I couldn’t tear my ears always from Chestnut’s soloing, particularly on Ishfahan, Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear from Me, and Solitude.

Brown, Chestnut and Rose put their twist on your songs. On the first half of Dancing with Duke, they had us all worked up. Then they dimmed the lights, and played four of your slow jams that Brown neatly rolled into a suite titled Sweet Ballad Suite. Duke I recommend Dancing with Duke. You should download it right away. If you like it, which I’m certain you will, let Strayhorn check it out.