Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Mark Sherman is a jazz vibraphone player with a highly develop bebop acumen. For many years, Sherman has dreamed of making a bebop album,” I grew up listening to Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, and, Bud Powell…,” Sherman recalled.

Last year, despite touring and teaching at The Julliard School, and New Jersey City University, Sherman found time to make that dream album “L. A. Sessions,” which has nine bebop oldies that Sherman redecorated. The album is stellar from head to toe. I Dig Jazz questioned Sherman about his fascination with bebop music, and the making of "L.A. Sessions".

The instrumentation of “L.A. Sessions” is vibes, organ, guitar and drums. Why did you go with a non-traditional rhythm section?

The truth is I was not planning on doing a CD in California at all. The option with Apogee (a company that manufactures electronic products for musicians, producers and engineers) fell in my lap, and they have an amazing studio where they test all their products, but it is mainly used as a rock studio for presentations, and things like that.

They had no grand piano, but they had a beautiful Hammond B3. The live gig I did in LA was with Bill Cunliffe, Charles Ruggiero, and Dave Robaire. Cunliffe played piano on the gig. He said he was cool to play B3 on the date, so that became the format. As I pondered the situation I realized that doing an organ trio CD of bebop and standards could be a great sound with the vibes in front. 

 What do you find fascinating about bebop?

What fascinates me most about music in general is innovation, and those musicians who perpetually forge ahead. Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie did just that, and changed the way jazz musicians of their time used harmony when soloing, and writing. They employed the various scales we call bebop scales into the music which in that period was more in the swing era harmonically.

When you perform live, are the songs on “L. A. Sessions” part of the repertoire?

Yes. These days when I perform live I cannot even imagine doing a concert without playing at least one tune by one of the above mentioned jazz masters. I might not play every tune from the CD. Last weekend I played Friday, and Saturday night at The Kitano (New York's only Japanese owned hotel) with my quartet. We played “Quasimodo,” in the first set, and "Hot House" to open the second set. Also tunes like these lend themselves to loosening up the players. 

How so?

They are great vehicles for soloing so they have a great effect on the way the player’s execute everything in the set after those tunes. I have done shows where we started with an original, and it felt a little tight. Not as relaxed as I would like. Then I call a tune like “Quasimodo, and the whole band just loosens up. It is fascinating how that happens.

Why did you decide on the nine bebop classics over others such as “Confirmation,” “Cherokee, Donna Lee,” and “Salt Peanuts,” for example?

The truth is I could do a multi-volume series of CD's like " L.A. Sessions". There are so many great bebop tunes like the ones you have listed, not to mention all the great standards. I wanted to include Bird, Dizzy, Miles, Bud Powell, Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Milt Jackson this time.

Also with some of the tunes I chose, I had been assigning them to my students at The Juilliard School, and New Jersey City University where I teach. So, of course, I must know them well to teach them to the students. It can be quite embarrassing when you can't play a tune you assign to a student.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Marion Hayden and late Roy Brooks 
I want to share with you a near perfect jazz concert I attended. Mr. Brooks. I'd be grateful if you would share my comments with Donald Walden and Kenn Cox. Some of their music was part of the concert.  Jazz bass player Marion Hayden has a group called the Detroit Jazz Legacy Ensemble, and Friday evening  they performed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. There was some overkill. I’ll touch on that later.

 First, I’ll give you a recap. The DJLE, Dwight Adams, Vincent Bowens, Cassius Richmond, Vincent Chandler, Dajallo Djakate Keita, and Mike Jellick jumped head first into Walden’s song “This Good Bye Could Last a Long, Long Time”.

Next, the DJLE played “Caravan”. Mr. Brooks, Hayden took a long solo. She has never been a spotlight hog. Normally, she’s busy keeping time, and her band-mates in line. Halfway through her solo people cheered. 

 Then Hayden told the audience Cox’s, and Walden’s death motivated her to form the ensemble. She wanted to keep their music alive. Mr. Brooks, she also talked about how important your Aboriginal Percussion Choir was. 

After she spoke, the DJLE performed your original “Five for Max”. Dajallo Djakate Keita opened “Five for Max” with an aggressive solo, which caught me off guard. I never knew he has and aggressive streak. He’s a low-key jazz drummer. 

 Special guest poet Rhonda Welsh  rapped on your song “Cosmic Spirits," which poet Crystal Clear wrote lyrics for. Welsh sight read the lyrics, and I was puzzled she didn’t have them memorized. 

 The second set the DJLE raced through “One Mint Julep,” your “Forever Mingus,” Walden’s “Middle Passage,” Cox’s “Mandela’s Muse,” and a Langston Hughes poem. Mr. Brooks, Hayden crammed a lot of music into two sets. 

The concert would’ve been perfect had Hayden left some things out. For example, she could’ve left out the tunes that weren’t written by the Detroit jazz legend’s “Caravan,” “One Mint Julep,” and the Langston Hughes poem. 

 The cameos by singer’s Shahida Nurullah and Robert Carlton were overkill. Singers tend to be chemistry killers. Mr. Brooks Detroit jazz musicians seem prone to overkill.

 Last year, at the Museum of African-American History, I caught the reunion of the 70’s jazz group Tribe. So much was happening on the stage it made me dizzy. 

 One more thing, Mr. Brooks, Hayden billed the concert as a tribute to Detroit jazz legend’s, but it felt like a tribute to you, particularly the first set. 

Friday, February 24, 2012


When jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton puts out an album with his trio or with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, expectations are high. His street credibility was established long ago, playing with jazz kingpins Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, and Ray Brown. Not bad company when learning how to stretch out and swing. 

 “Red Sparkle” is Hamilton’s marvelous new trio album on Capri Records Ltd., and here he exceeds expectations. (So far this year, “Red Sparkle” is the finest jazz album I’ve come across.) 

 “Red Sparkle” opens with a burner “Ain’t That A Peach”. Clearly Hamilton isn’t the kind of boss who rules with an iron fist. He gives piano player Tamir Hendelman, and bass player Christoph Luty carte blanche.

Hendleman takes the up-tempo songs “Hat’s Dance,” “Too Marvelous For Words,” and “In An Ellingtone” on an improvisational joyride. Hendelman is a confident piano player who races across the piano like Bud Powell used to. Hendleman has the strongest presence on “Red Sparkle”. On ballads, he plays softly like feathers landing on snow. 

 Hamilton also plays some good solos. For example, On “Bye Ya,” he plays as if Shelly Manne’s and Gene Krupa’s—his boyhood idols—spirits are inside his drum kit. 

 “Red Sparkle” is heavy with up-tempo songs, but the guys come up for air on the baby making slow jams “On and On” and “I Know You So Well”.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Mr. Henry's favorite trumpeter Fats Navarro
Fats, Mr. William Henry, one of your biggest fans, died last week. His funeral was Monday at Stinson Funeral Home in Southwest Detroit. Mr. Henry’s kids didn’t request an autopsy. They knew the cause of his death was loneliness. Five months ago, his wife, Ruth, died of breast cancer. They were married for 58 years. 

 Mr. Henry was 90-year-old, was about 5’-4’’, and was outspoken. Pastor Roderick Richardson, Ruth’s brother, gave the eulogy, and he said this about Mr. Henry: “If you talked to William, you had to come with your lunch and your dinner because William could talk for hours. I mean he could really talk”.

Of course, Mr. Henry was a talker. Hell, the man lived nine decades, fought in World War II, and traveled around the world twice. He had a ton of stories and wisdom to share.

As a young man, he explored an Eastern spiritual science called Sant Mat, Over time, he became a devoted  follower, and was convinced reincarnation was real.

The Henry family photo album has many shots of him sporting a turban. He could be an oddball regarding spiritual matters, but he never belittled his friends religious beliefs. 

Mr. Henry worked at Chrysler 40 some odd years as a skill tradesman. He and Ruth had five kids William, Wendell, Rose, Wayne, and Lisa. All of them are successful, and practice Sant Mat. 

Come rain or shine, every Sunday the family gathered for dinner. That tradition stopped when Ruth passed  on because Mr. Henry insisted on cooking. He made a mean pecan pie, but he couldn't cook worth a damn.

Aside from Ruth, jazz was Mr. Henry's primary passion. Fats, you, Louis Armstrong, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, and Miles Davis were his favorite musicians. He turned on Davis when he became a rock star. That old fool is what Mr. Henry labeled Davis. 

 Before Pastor Richardson began his eulogy, Wayne, Mr. Henry’s youngest son, played Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father”. Wayne is a mean sax player and a middle school music teacher. As he played, I kid you not, tears dripped off the keys of his alto sax.

As Wayne played the chord changes "To Song for My Father," I pictured Ruth and Mr. Henry at the old Paradise Theater dancing  to it,  Ruth in a floral printed dress, and Mr. Henry in his turban and best suit.

 When Wayne finished, Pastor Richardson joked: “Anybody who knew my brother-in-law knows if he was here, he would be howling right now because he loved jazz”.

One of Wayne’s boyhood friends asked Mr. Henry once if he was into James Carter, Joshua Redman, and Kenny Garrett. Mr. Henry said squarely he didn’t care for any jazz musician born after 1950.

On Mr Henry's 87th birthday, Wayne took him to hear Sonny Rollins at the Music Hall. Afterwards, He took a photo with Rollins.The next year, Mr. Henry met James Moody at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe.' 

 At VFW Hall in Lincoln Park, there was a repast. Mr. Henry’s family and friends ate fried chicken, green beans, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, pound cake, and pecan pie while “Underground Thelonious Monk” played in the background. “In Walked Bud” was Mr. Henry’s favorite track on that album. Fats, I wish I could’ve spent time picking Mr. Henry’s brain about jazz. At Ruth’s repast, I chatted with Mr. Henry about Nat King Cole.

To Mr. Henry, Cole was the greatest jazz singer of all times. I couldn’t challenge his opinion. The only thing I knew about Cole was he made Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song” famous. Nevertheless, Mr. Henry motivated me to checkout Cole’s music. 

 Soon Mr. Henry will be happy again. He’ll reunite with Ruth. I heard once you’re accepted into heaven, it takes roughly a week for all the paperwork to be processed. Fats, when Mr. Henry gets there, I bet Ruth will be at heaven’s gate dolled up, waiting for him. 

 Fats, do me a favor. If you ever bump into Mr. Henry, show him around heaven’s jazz scene. Introduce him to Louis, Dizzy, Miles, and Thelonious. That would be a fitting homecoming gift for a good man who lived a righteous life, and who loved jazz.

Monday, February 20, 2012


One of Mark Sherman’s musical dreams has come to pass. For the longest time, Sherman has yearned to make an album of bebop songs. But Sherman was sidetracked by touring and putting on jazz workshops nationally and internationally. 

 Fortunately, Sherman—whose vibe playing is akin to Milton Jackson—finally found a window of time to make that dream bebop album. Sherman titled it “L.A. Sessions" and it will be available stateside Tuesday.

Sherman slapped a fresh coat of paint on bop tunes such as “Woody N’ You,” “Quasimodo,” “Moment’s Notice, and “Celia”. Bird, Dizzy, and Powell, would be high-fiving each other if they were around to hear "L.A. Sessions". 

 Talk about having big ambition. That’s what jazz singer Kathy Kosins had plenty of when she set out to make “to the Ladies of Cool,” dedicated to four of her heroes Anita O’Day, June Christy, Chris Connor, and Julie London. Don’t mistake "to the Ladies of Cool, which Resonance Records releases March 13th, for a tribute album.

 Kosins' voice is prefect like a swimsuit model. On “to the Ladies of Cool,” Kosins performed material O’Day, Christy, Connor, and London help make famous such as “Nightbird,” “Don’t Wait Up for Me,” “Free and Easy,” and “November Twilight”. In fact, "to the Ladies of Cool" sounds as if those singer’s spirits were in the studio cheering Kosins on.

 “Seeds From The Underground” is alto sax player Kenny Garrett’s best album since “Pursuance: Music of John Coltrane”. Mack Avenue Records makes Garrett’s new album available nationwide in early April. It’s Garrett’s second album for the company, and the first in his discography that has the same energy as his live performances. 

For “Seeds From the Underground” Garrett wrote 10 spanking new songs. On “Boogety Boogety,” Wiggins” and “Detroit,” Garrett’s blowing is so dangerous you’ll have to wear a hardhat and safety goggles while listening to him.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen, when I drove home from Orchestra Hall in Detroit last night, I thought about why your hour long set didn’t go over well with the audience. I figured it wouldn’t because most of the people who attend the Paradise Jazz Series are old-timers, and they favor traditional jazz. 

 I figured the organizer's of the Paradise Jazz Series booked you because they’re trying to mix things up some. They want to attract a younger demographic. That’s okay. I’m all for experiments.

There’re other jazz clubs around Detroit where your neo-smooth jazz style would be a hit. The Jazz Café, Cliff Bell's, and the Jazz Loft come to mind. 

 I adored “lost and found,” the album you put out last year. I begged my friends, who’re into alternative forms of jazz, to buy it. I was hooked on your carefree voice after I listened to “Holding Back the Years” and “Circling”. I couldn't wait to you hit Detroit. 

 Gretchen, your set was lackluster. You didn’t have much stagecraft. Honestly, I didn’t expect you to show out like Dianne Reeves and Dee Dee Bridgewater did when they performed at Orchestra Hall a few years back. 

 You just stood in front of the microphone and moved side to side as if you’re trying to rock the audience to sleep. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if you’re the kind of jazz singer who feeds off the audience.

You hummed and mumbled more than you sang. After you sang “Within Me” and “Butterfly,” I wondered if your heavy touring schedule has drained you, or if you just had an off night?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Carl Cafagna, Nicci- Der Stepanian, Meri Slaven, and Jeremy St. Martin
I heard the Metro Jazz Voices for the first time in 2009 at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. Singers Meri Slaven, Jeremy St. Martin, Carl Cafagna, and Nicci Der-Stepanian had only been together for five months. Man, they're rough around the edges. Still, two things were apparent.

 First, the MJV's  long-term goal was to be like noted vocal jazz groups Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross,  and the New York  Voices. Secondly, the MJV's biggest challenge was finding time to rehearse. 

 Three years have passed and the MJV has grown by leaps and bounds. They’ve put out a self-titled album, and have been working like crazy around Detroit. Wednesday night, I caught the MJV at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. They’re booked there four nights. 

The MJV sparkled like pricey silverware. They performed many golden oldies such as “My Funny Valentine,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “I've Got You Under My Skin”. 

 Of the foursome, Slaven still has the strongest voice. Cafagna is a wonderful sax player. For proof, I point to his work with the Hot Club of Detroit, and North Star Jazz. Cafagna sang decently, but his scatting was flat. He tried  too hard to scat like his idol Jon Hendricks. 

 The star was Trish Shandor. Last September, Shandor replaced Der-Stepanian, and Shandor has worked like a house slave to learn the pool of oldies MJV perform regularly. I was awed by  how effortlessly and sweetly she sang while sight reading. 

 The MJV has the golden oldies thing down pat. The next level will be performing original songs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


"The true reward was making the CD, and getting people out to hear the project,” said jazz bass player Christian McBride when I asked about his second album for Mack Avenue Records “The Good Feeling” getting a Grammy nomination for best jazz album.  

Our telephone chat took place a few weeks after "The Good Feeling" was nominated. McBride was fresh off a tour of Europe with saxophone player Maceo Parker. I picked McBride’s brain about making “The Good Feeling”.  

How did the project come about?

The stars were truly aligned. We played at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York, and we all went into the studio after that. We used the Dizzy’s hit as a rehearsal for most of the material we played on the “The Good Feeling”.

In this economy, how hard is it pulling off a big band project?

Fortunately, I have guys in the band who understand the economics of a big band, so they never try to stick me up for money. If you offer them whatever you can they are really cool about it. It helps to have musicians on your side in that way.
You hired some heavy hitters Steve Wilson, Ron Blake, and Xavier Davis for example. Were there any ego issues?

Fortunately, that was never an issue. The guys on the album were highly professional. They were never any ego flare ups at all. I’m always sensitive to that kind of thing because some of these guys have been around for a lot of years, and have done lots of projects on their own, and they like to be treated as such. I’ve been fortunate with my big band nobody has ever given me trouble along those lines.

There’s no one guy hogging all the solo space.

Any projects I’ve done I leave room for cats to do their thing. That’s what it’s all about. Nobody wants to hear bass solos all night long. Who wants to hear any one instruments hog up all the solo time? That’s why I think Miles Davis was so great. He had an on ego, but his thing was letting guys stretch out. So, if Miles could do it other bandleaders like myself have no excuses.

Was Mack Avenue Records supportive of the project?

They initiated it. I so appreciate my time on Mack Avenue. They have people I worked with when I was on another labels guys like Randall Kennedy. I worked with him when I was on Warner Brothers. And of course, Al Pryor used to be at Sony in the 90’s.

How do you rank yourself among jazz bass player?

That’s for jazz critics to decide. I wouldn’t really want to get into that, ranking myself. You know, you can only try to be the best of your time. Ray Brown was the best of his time. Ron Carter was the best of his time. I think that’s all you can strive to be is among the best of your time.

“The Good Feeling” won the Grammy for best jazz album.