Sunday, April 29, 2012


When I got home from work Thursday, the album you cut some 40 years ago “Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff’s Top of The Gate” was waiting for me. Friday, I listened to it for three straight hours. I’m not kidding you. I bet you forgot you cut it in 1968. That was a long time ago. Bassist Eddie Gomez—who worked for you 11 years—played on the date and so did drummer Marty Morell. 

The electronic press release Resonance Records circulated didn't explain why "Top of The Gate" was shelved. At this late date, the reason is unimportant I guess. Your fans will be glad a posthumous Bill Evans session will be available soon. “Top of The Gate" is a splendid two discs set, which captured you in your prime.

The grandfather of jazz reportage, Nat Hentoff, wrote the liner notes. Hentoff explained why you were a special talent, and he affirmed "Top of The Gate” is a masterpiece. I concur. There are many Bill Evans' anecdotes, and Hentoff revealed a few doozies.

Hentoff talked about your stint with Miles Davis. Davis hired you shortly after he fired Red Garland. That move upset some black jazz musicians, and. Hentoff asked Davis about the musician's reactions to Evans hiring. Davis responded: "I don’t care if Bill is purple with green polka dots as long as he can play".

There's another anecdotes Davis talked about in his autobiography. The anecdote is of a sexual nature, so I can't get into it here. This is a family orientated jazz blog. Bill, you entered Davis’ band brimming with talent. You left a well-oiled virtuoso.

The companion booklet that comes with  the two disc set has photos of the session, and remarks from Gomez and Morell. “Top of The Gate” will be available the 12th of June. As a rule, I review an album a few days before it is officially released, but I was so enamored with the album I decided to break that rule. Readers of this blog I buy this album. Resonance is only releasing 3,000 copies.

On "Top of The Gate," you played familiar oldies such as “Emily,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “California Here I Come”.  I’ve heard each many times, but never played so elegantly. Those oldies melted over my eardrums. 

Gomez participation was key. You had an eye for strong bassists. Your work with Scott LaFaro is proof.  LaFaro’s and Gomez’s style was alike. On “Top of The Gate” you treated Gomez like an heirloom. You didn’t relegate Gomez to time keeping while you hogged the spotlight. On “Yesterday,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” you and Gomez understood each others inner workings. 

Morell was low key on both disc but effective, comfortable in the pocket breast feeding the beat. Two weeks before you cut “Top of The Gate,” you hired Morell. That's not much time to master a repertoire. Besides, Morell wasn't the state of the art jazz drummer he is now. Back then, Morell was green as a traffic signal.  

Under pressure, though, Morrell was composed. Sharing the bandstand with you had to be scary. You played with some great drummers such as Philly Jo Jones and Paul Motian. Bill, playing “Emily,” ”Yesterday,” and “’Round Midnight” on both sets was crafty. During the first set, you played "'Round Midnight" as Thelonious Monk designed it. The second time around, you played it at an  adults only tempo.

The sound quality also stood out. It was clearer than an infant’s tears. To achieve that, sound engineer George Klabin put microphones on the piano, the bass, and the drums. Nowadays, that's common. In 1966, that was cutting-edge.

Listening to “Top of The Gate,” I felt I was on the bandstand next to Gomez and Morell. During both sets, the audience was so quiet I could hear a fruit fly sneeze. That wasn’t the case on the live albums you made at the Village Vanguard. The audience was inattentive and  rude. On "Top of The Gate, the audience was spellbound, and. I was, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I listened to your new album “Black Radio.” I couldn’t get into it. Some music writers have raved about it. Will Hermes of Rolling Stone gave it four stars, and Veronica Grandison of the popular music blog Roots, Rhythm, and Rhymes praised it, and your recent show at the Museum of African-American History.

The neo-soul treatment of Kenny Dorham’s classic “Afro-Blue” was the only cut on "Black Radio" I enjoyed. I’ve heard many versions of it, but none hipper than Erykah Badu’s. "Black Radio” comes across as an homage to your neo-soul pals Musiq Soulchild, Ledisi, and Bilal.

I understand jazz musicians of your generation--Gretchen Parlato, Esperanza Spalding, Ben Williams and Karriem Riggins--want to break new ground. All of you were influenced by R&B, neo-soul, gospel, hip-hop, and classical music.  

I dislike jazz mix with other genres. Maybe that makes me a jazz purist. Grandison wrote a jazz purist would have a problem with "Black Radio". She was right. Appealing to a hipper demographic is okay. You have the right to do so, but I wonder if you’ve lost the fans who supported your straight ahead jazz albums “Canvass” and “In My Element”. Hell, do you even care?

I wonder if those fans consider you a sell-out now. Disgruntled fans are quick to use that epithet. Honestly, I know you can still play straight ahead jazz. Your performance on Bob Hurst’s album “Unrehursted Volume Two" proved that. I like the old Robert Glasper. The neo-soul Glasper will take some getting used to.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Saxophonist Charles Lloyd

have a confession. Saturday night at the Michigan Theater was my first Charles Lloyd experience. As a jazz reporter and a blogger I should know your work. Jazz has a vast history, and I have a lot of catching up to do. I'm not completely in the dark about you, Mr. Lloyd.

In 2004, I interviewed your former band-mate piano player Tad Weed. Do you remember him? He toured with you for a number of years. Weed said you’re a tough bandleader at times, and sometimes you'd chastise him in the middle of his solos. “You ain’t playing shit, man,” were your exact words. 

Mr. Lloyd I wanted to know more about you, so I pulled up a few articles written about you on the Internet.  I read you grew up in Memphis, and started playing the sax at age nine. You’re crazy about Bird, Dizzy,  and Monk, and you slept with a portable radio under your pillow. 

Back then, hotels in Memphis wouldn’t rent to blacks. When Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Dinah Washington and other famous Black entertainers hit town, they stay at your mom’s place. That gave you a chance to meet those entertainers, and to discuss music with them. 

As an established musician, you played with an array of bands, the Beach Boys, the Doors, and Chico Hamilton. The list goes on and on.  In 1960, you formed the Charles Lloyd Quartet. Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette were members. The quartet made a string of now classic recording. Musically, your biggest regret was turning down a chance to play with Thelonious Monk.  

 I bought “Dream Weaver," "Forest Flower," and “Love In”. En route to the Michigan Theater, I listened to those albums. Your new band—Jason Moran, Ruben Rogers, and Eric Harland—sound a lot like your first quartet. All night long, Harland was on the drums like an attack dog, and Rogers kept an eye on the time and the band like a shop foreman.

Mr. Lloyd, your show had many highlights. When you, Rogers, and Harland left the stage so Moran could solo was truly memorable. Moran rolled the blues, ragtime, swing, and free jazz into a three minute burst of creativity. I've never witnessed anything like it. 

Another memorable moments occurred when the band played  “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. You broke the melody into bite size  pieces and fed them to Moran, Rogers, Harland.

The showstopper was the ballad you played. It was the prettiest ballad I’ve heard a free-jazz sax player blow. If my wife had come to the show with me, we would’ve been making out on that number. 

Mr. Lloyd, you’re are a jazz royalty. You treated Moran, Rogers, and Harland as though it was an honor to play with them.  At 74-years-old, your blowing is still robust. I was surprised that you played a ballad for the encore. The audience was worked up the entire show. I guess your plan was to calm down the them before they headed home.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Bria, what’s nice about running a jazz blog is the new albums I get from jazz musicians across the country I never heard of. Honestly, I haven’t received any groundbreaking albums, but most  are worthwhile, and I encourage my readers to buy them. This year, I’ve received a bunch of  excellent albums by white female jazz singers. I don’t know why.

Maybe, the female singers have a movement underway I’m unaware of. If that's the case, they can count on my support. “So is The Day,” which Random Act Records released Tuesday is the best one I’ve listened to. Bria, you covered a lot ground. Before I comment on that, I want to formerly introduce you to my readers. I won’t take long.

Bria Skonberg is a jazz trumpeter and singer influenced by trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Bria is a better singer than Armstrong was. I was convinced of that after I listened to the title cut, a blues number enhanced by a wonderful solo by sax player Victor Goines, a veteran of  Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. 

Bria grew up in Western Canada, and everybody in her immediate family plays an instrument. After she graduated from Capilano University, she led three short-lived jazz bands The Big Band Jazz Band, Bria’s Hot Five, and the Mighty Aphrodite Jazz Band., which may explain why she's comfortable playing various styles of jazz.

Jazz critic Nat Hentoff praised her in the Wall Street Journal. Hentoff is a jazz God, and he was on a first-name basis with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Carmen McRae, and Dinah Washington.  I’m not suggesting Bria is in their league.

If Bria keeps putting out bulletproof jazz albums like "So is The Day," someday she'll be a brand like Fitzgerald, Holiday, McRae and Washington were.. For now, Bria is leaving her footprint all over New York’s jazz scene. 

Earlier I said you covered a lot of ground on “So is The Day”. It’s full like a fat man’s dinner plate. Making the album was a big undertaking the could've gone awry, writing most of the songs and keeping the special guests--Wycliffe Gordon, Victor Goines, and John Pizzarelli-happy was no small feat.  

In spots,  "So is The Day" felt like a neighborhood block party.Your band had a ball recording “Chilliwack Cheer”. It sounded like a parade was in the studio. That song is my pick for the album’s MVP. “My Friend” was a close second. 

It was the kind of tearjerker gospel song you’d write if a close friend died unexpectedly. Bria, I wondered why you decided to close with that song, given most of the album was upbeat. Anyway, “So is The Day” is a debut jazz album that made the hairs on my neck, knuckles and toes dance..

Sunday, April 8, 2012


"Me, Myself, & I” is a solo album jazz piano player Kenny Werner cut live last year at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal. Werner has cut other solo albums “Live at Maybeck Concert Hall, Volume 34” and “Live at Visiones” for example. Neither has the abstract feel his new album has, which Justin Time Records will release Tuesday. 

The title is misleading. It suggests the album is about self-indulgence, but that is false. "'Round Midnight," "All the Things You Are," and "Giant Steps" are some of the oldies but goodies Werner sicked  his imagination on. Frankly, I'm not a fan of solo jazz piano projects. Most come off as self-indulgent woodshedding sessions, but "Me, Myself & I" surprised me.  

Werner is comfortable playing unaccompanied. The album is more than a garden variety piano recital. It’ll run circles around any solo jazz piano album out there. Jordy Freed of DL Media, the company that handles publicity for Justin Time Records, had Werner answer  some questions I had about the album.

How does "Me, Myself & I" stack up to your other solo albums?
It's more abstract than any of them and as I said in the liner notes, I've never been captured on a recording feeling in such good shape

Some noted jazz pianists have recently put out solo albums. Did you feel any peer pressure to make this album?
I don't feel peer pressure in general.

Is playing solo piano in front of a live audience nerve-wracking? 
Bassist Andrea Veneziani featured you on his debut "Oltreoceano". You totally dominated the album. When you play with younger jazz musicians, do you have to modify your playing any, or do you let it all hang out no matter what?
I don't think about it. I respond to the music in the moment and if I have to measure how much passion to bring to the music I can't play.

You are a great composer. Why did you decide to perform golden oldies and only one original?
Because when you know the songs so well you can go the farthest away from them and still be playing them. How many years has Lee Konitz been playing "All The Things You Are."

You are jazz bigwig. Do you have to fight your record label to make the kind of albums you want?
No. I haven't experienced a company get in the way of the music since I was just starting out. Companies don't invest much in you so they have to respect what kind of CD you want to make. I've always said I'm willing to sell out, but the price is going to be prohibitive.

Is there an upcoming tour to promote the album?
I'll be playing a series of solo concerts in Belgium and Holland in May. Other than that Patricia Barber {jazz vocalist} and I will play duo piano for the Montreal Jazz Festival. I'll be at The Blue Note in NYC playing my music from my previous album{Balloons}with The Brussels Jazz Orchestra. The entire band is coming over to play the week. Sort of the opposite of a solo concert.

There's been talk lately about jazz being dead, which I think is bull. What are your thoughts about the topic?
There's always talk of that. It was supposed to be dead in 1970 when I was first starting out. If  jazz is dead then why is every jazz musician who's worth hearing so damn busy?

Do you have another solo album in you?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Chances are you don’t remember me. I’m the jazz reporter you talked to for two hours straight in 2004.  The former owner of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, John Colbert, gave me your telephone number. At the time, I was writing a story about Baker’s 70th anniversary shindig that Colbert organized. It was a four night event, and you were the opening act. You had a history with Baker’s, and I wanted to quote you.

Instead of a quote, you gave me your life story. I figured I caught you on a day when you were thinking about your life.  Mrs. Jordan, it was the best interview of my career, and a dream come true. You are my favorite jazz singer. I fell in love with your singing after I heard your first album “Portrait of Sheila,” which I picked up used at Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.  

I was out of work nearly two years. I had to sell my jazz collection, about 1500 discs. It was painful letting go of my Booker Ervin, Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman, and Yusef Lateef discs. I refused to part with my “Portrait of Sheila” album. I thought about it long and hard. I couldn’t do it. The album means that much to me. I want to be buried with it.

 Every time, I played it I think about how open you were with me, a reporter that you had never met face to face.  We were supposed to me after your performance at Baker's. After the set, well-wishers and autograph hounds surrounded you. I couldn't get to you. I talked to you a few days later, and I told you what happened. You were pissed that I didn't wait around. Imagine that the great Sheila Jordan pissed at me. 

You told me about your rough upbringing. Your folks were dirt poor. At age 13, you moved from Pennsylvania to Detroit. You wanted to be a  jazz singer after hearing a Charlie Parker record on a jukebox at your favorite after school hangout. You told me about all the flak you got because you hung out with black jazz musicians. You married bebop piano player Duke Jordan, and you explained how his drug addiction ruined the marriage. You’re with Charlie Parker the night he was banned from Birdland. 

I didn’t get a usable quote for my article, but you provided me with enough information to write a 3,000 word story about your life, which published. I bet right now you’re wondering why I’m reminiscing about a telephone conversation that took place eight years ago. 

Two weeks ago, High Note Records, mailed me your album “Yesterday,” a live recording with bass player Harvie Swartz. “Yesterday” made me think about our conversation, and why you are my favorite jazz singer. 

On “Yesterday,” you sang standards such as “I Concentrate On You,” “Lazy Afternoon,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. You scrubbed the mildew off them, and you made them sound brand new. It was clever how you worked in a story about jazz critic Leonard Feather while you sang “The Very Thought of You”. 

That’s one of your trademarks infusing standards with humor and personal recollections. On the “Fats Waller Medley” you sang as fast as Charlie Parker played changes. The duo format is your forte’.  I wonder if you invented it. I will check with my friend, jazz historian Jim Gallert.  He will know.

Lately, Mrs. Jordan, I’ve been hard on jazz singers. Most are obsessed with standards. But you’re different because you have fun with them.  Wherever I get the desire to replay “Yesterday,” I will marvel about having a candid two hour conversation with one of the world’s greatest jazz singers.