Friday, October 26, 2012


Saxophonist De'Sean Jones

I met the jazz saxophone player De’Sean Jones in 2004. Back then, Jones was 14, and a new member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic jazz program. I was assigned to interview the program's director bass player Rodney Whitaker for a story in the weekly newspaper the Metrotimes. Whitaker was running late for the interview. To kill time, I waited in a rehearsal room as his students prepared for their weekly session.

Jones struck up a conversation with me, talking excitedly about being a member of Civic Jazz, and listing all the jazz tenor sax players his dad had turned him on to. For a teen, Jones was scary smart. I liked him immediately. I laughed when Jones said if he has kids, he was going to make sure they're jazz musicians. I never seen a teen that idealistic and focused. After Whitaker finally arrived and the weekly session began, I was awed by how mature Jones sounded on the tenor.

Two years, after we met, I saw Jones at the Detroit Jazz Festival with his tenor in tow. Jones wasn’t scheduled to perform, but  that didn't deter him from playing. He walked through the crowd playing like he was a featured act at the festival. The following year, Jones was at the fest playing in the Gerald Wilson Big Band. Backstage minutes before Jones hit the stage, I pulled Jones aside. I assured him in the coming years he’d a big success. 

Jones is 25 now with a wife and a baby boy. He’s toured with Stevie Wonder, and he performed overseas with the jazz and techno group Underground Resistance. When Jones was on leave from that group, he toured and recorded with his septet.

It’s been a few years since I’ve heard Jones live. I attended the opening night of his four night engagement at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in suburban Detroit. I heard Jones was heavily into experimental forms of music. That didn’t surprise me. Many jazz musicians of Jones’ generation are experimenting.

The Dirty Dog caters to a conservative crowd. So, I wondered if Jones brand of jazz would appeal to  such  a crowd. It was the first time Jones led a band at the Dirty Dog. A few years ago, he played there in Marcus Belgrave’s band. 

Wednesday night, was the opening of Jones’ four night run, and the first televised game of World Series Tigers vs. the Giants, which could be a reason for the small turn out at the Dirty Dog. That didn't mess with Jones’ head. Jones treated the gig as though it was a blessing. Instead of his usual septet, Jones gave his regular’s guitar player Conrad Reeves, vibe player Chase Jackson, and piano player Shea Pierre some time off.

Mike Jellick, a first-call piano player and arranger in Detroit subbed for Pierre. Jones played his tunes and one standard “April in Paris”. His tunes “Invocation,” “Lost-N-You,” and “Solomon Da’Wise” was borderline free-jazz and danceable. 

Because of the small turn out, it’s unknown if the Dirty Dog regulars would've cottoned  to Jones' free-jazz friendly and boogie driven music. Nevertheless, his quintet was on point, especially trumpeter Aaron Janik  and drummer Zaire Darden. Janik's trumpeting was earthshaking, and Darden's drumming called to mind Detroiter Karriem Riggins. 

A lot of tenor players of Jones' generation influences are obvious. But it's nearly impossible to tell which tenor sax players Jones idolized, but if I had to make an educated guess I’d say James Carter and the late  Donald Walden were Jones' idols. 

Jones’ quintet was commanding, but sadly only a handful of people were there to experience it, but there's no need to fret. There's a silver lining. Jones’ quintet will perform again at the Dirty Dog Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


In the past, tenor sax players Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton have co-led two albums “Just You Just Me” and “Heavy Juice,” establishing Allen and Hamilton as a serious tenor sax duo like Eddie “Lock Jaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin. “’Round Midnight” is the current joint venture from Allen and Hamilton. Obviously, they never wanted “’Round Midnight to be a meaningless blowing session, or a shameless cutting contest. Neither sax player has anything to prove at this point of their careers. As “’Round Midnight shows,”  both are vet swingers with splendid tones like the cool Zoot Simms. “’Round Midnight” comes across as longtime buddies out to have a blast, playing mostly standards such as Monk’s ‘Round Midnight and Eddie “Lock Jaw” Davis “Hey Lock!”.

There was a time when jazz trio albums were plentiful. But over time, the supply and quality of those albums seemed to dwindle, but every so often, an unbelievably good trio jazz album such as the recently released “Accidental Tourists The L.A. Sessions” surfaces, warranting a conversation.“Accidental Tourist” is the creation of jazz piano player Markus Burger. The album will immediately remind you of the string of banner trio albums the late Bill Evans masterminded. Burger is not an Evans emulator, but his serious piano playing begs comparison to Evans. On “Accidental Tourist,” Burger tosses you the keys to the album and encourages you to take it out for a test drive. The album has some easy to spot standards, but Burger and his staff—drummer Joe Labarbera and bass player Bob Magnusson—sound their liveliest on Burger’s originals “Air Canada,” “Black Sea Pearl,” and “Rodeo Drive Hustler”.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Cecil Taylor

For a week or so, I’ve been thinking about my time as a jazz reporter and a blogger. Since 1997, I’ve covered jazz for the weekly newspaper the Metrotimes based in Detroit, MI. I interviewed many famous jazz musicians Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Regina Carter, Larry Smith, Joe Lovano, Horace Silver, Marcus Belgrave, and last month Yusef Lateef. I don’t like to brag, but interviewing those legends  is a  big deal. Not a bad track record for a guy with only a high school diploma, and no  former journalist training.

As a jazz reporter, what I’m proudest of is the stories I’ve written about Detroit jazz musicians. Of course, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter are renowned, but I’ve learned more about jazz and risk taking writing about Detroiters such as Gerard Gibbs, Penny Wells, Vincent Chandler, Scott Gwinnell, Steve Woods, and Sean Dobbins.

Gerard Gibbs is a great organ player. For years Gibbs has run his trio Organized Crime and he's toured and recorded with the famous jazz sax player and fellow Detroiter James Carter. When I interviewed Gibbs in 2004, I discovered his chief goal was to be a great jazz musician and to make a living as such. Gibbs earned a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan, and he had a gravy job as an architect for Detroit. Gibbs gave it up to make music full-time. Gibbs has worked none-stop since. It was a move that took a lot  of self-belief.

One of the rewards of being a jazz blogger is the new albums I receive from jazz musicians across the country I’ve never heard before. Most of the albums are really good. Last Thursday, for example, I received a hip new album from trumpeter Pharez Whitted “For The People”.  And the week before I received tenor sax player Russ Nolan’s new gem “Tell Me”. These days, Halie Loren is my favorite jazz singer. She put out two wonderful albums this year. She has hustle and a gorgeous voice.

This blog has never made money. Frankly, I don’t care if the blog ever will. I consider all the albums I receive yearly as payment. This year, Reggie Quinerly, Jessie Davis, Bobby Broom and Andrea Veneziani  thanked me for reviewing and pushing their albums. Getting encouraging comments from vet jazz musicians such as Broom and Davis is a sign I’m doing good work. 

Of course, I’ve gotten lambasted a time or two. One musician accused me of having a low jazz acumen. I wrote his organ trio album was subpar. A fan of Detroit jazz bass player Marion Hayden wrote I was incompetent because I wrote Hayden’s set last year at the Detroit Institute of Arts was overwrought.

Overall, I’m pleased with the work I’ve done for the Metrotimes and on this blog. Of course, there’re more national and regional jazz musicians I want to interview. Call it my personal jazz bucket list. I want to share some of the items on that list with readers and explain why those items are paramount.

1.       Meet legendary jazz journalist Val Wilmer. The last I checked Wilmer the author of “Jazz People”was still alive although up there in age. Considered an erudite jazz critic  I saw her as a jazz reporter who let the musicians she interviewed explain the mechanics of their music. Wilmer also had a knack for getting musicians to open up. I want to know if there’s a science to that, or if the jazz musicians just felt comfortable.

2.           Interview Ron Carter. Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock members of Miles Davis' second great quintet followed Davis into the jazz fusion. I want to know why Carter didn't, and if Carter was ever critical of Davis, Williams, Shorter and Hancock for doing so.

3.           Catch a show by free-jazz piano player Cecil Taylor. I have some of Taylor’s greatest albums “Conquistador,” Looking Ahead,” and the “World of Cecil Taylor”. I’ve watched footage of Taylor performing on YouTube. I always thought it would be cool to see how the free-jazz legend music feels live.

4.                Produce a blowing session concert starring jazz sax players James Carter and Ken Vandermark at a jazz club such as the Jazz Café. The session wouldn’t be about Carter and Vandermark trying to outfox each other. Rather it would be about to dynamic improvisers creating on the spot. If the session goes as I envision it would have the feel and energy of Ornette Coleman’s album “Collective Improvisation”.

5.             Convince Chris Collins, the artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, to book jazz singer Rene’ Marie and piano player Cyrus Chestnut. Only a handful of Detroit jazz heads are hip to Marie. Before Marie hit it big, jazz concert promoter Bill Foster brought Marie to Detroit twice to play his concert series at the former Serengeti Ballroom on Woodward Avenue. Marie has a voice that's heavenly, and she has a string of wonderful albums "Voice of My Beautiful Country," Serene Renegade," and "How Can I Keep From Singing" are just three of her hits. Cyrus Chestnut is my favorite jazz piano player, and the top jazz piano player of his generation, which is big because Eric Reed, Jason Moran, Jacky Terrasson, Marc Cary, and  D.D. Jackson are from Chestnut's generation. He’s never been book at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

6            Have the jazz articles I’ve written over the years compiled and published in book form. I’ll throw a book party at my home, and invite some of the regional jazz musicians I written about. It would be special if a few of them would speak about how my articles helped them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Jazz pianist Aaron Diehl
"You guys must not be Detroit Tiger fans,” quipped jazz piano player Aaron Diehl to the small crowd before opening his second set Wednesday night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. The timing for Diehl's first appearance at the suburban Detroit jazz club couldn’t have been worse. It coincided with the fourth playoff game of theTigers against the New York Yankees. Diehl, a rising star in jazz came to the Dirty Dog with a championship jazz band vibe player Warren Wolf, bass player David Wong, and drummer Peter Van Nostrand—who subbed for Diehl’s regular drummer Rodney Green. 

Diehl not yet a household necessity has an impressive start. In 2011, Diehl won the Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz for the American Pianists Association, and the same year Mack Avenue signed him. At Julliard, Diehl's was a big man on campus. It’s said Wynton Marsalis discovered Diehl, but famed producer Al Pryor who has produced many of Mack Avenue's chart toppers said the late jazz piano great Hank Jones discovered Diehl. At this point of his career it doesn’t matter because Diehl is his own man with two live albums to his credit “Live at The Players,” and “Live at Caramoor, and his big label debut is coming in February.

 As a bandleader, the Dirty Dog Show was Diehl’s third gig in Detroit. (After the show, Diehl told me when he was a teen his uncle, a Detroiter, would take him to the Detroit Jazz Festival. So it was a big deal that in recent years, Diehl has played the festival twice.) Diehl opened the set with back to back jazz classics John Lewis’ “Django” and Bud Powell’s “Celia”. The band approached them with a stick-to-the-script mentality, which gave the impression the set was going to be an evening of pure jazz. After the band performed “Django” and “Celia,” 

Diehl called three originals from his Mack Avenue debut “The Bespoke Man’s Narrative” due out the 19th of February. The band dove headfirst into “Blue Nude,” “Generation Y,” and “Stop and Go” and never came up for air. Wolf, who is built like a pro bodybuilder and who had his Mack Avenue debut last year with the self-titled thriller “Warren Wolf", put a series ass-kicking on Diehl’s originals. 

Diehl played with his eyes shut as though the musical notes were written on the inside of his eyelids. The scene stealer was “Stop and Go,” which Diehl closed the set with. He played a prelude which was pure stride piano. It appeared as if the spirit of Jelly Roll Morton was in Diehl’s left hand and Scott Joplin spirit in his right. It was perplexing how Diehl played flawlessly during the set given the piano was out of tune, and two of the strings were broken. 

That didn’t faze him. He played as if the piano rolled off the assembly line Wednesday morning and delivered hours before his show began. Diehl will perform again Thursday evening at the Dirty Dog. Chances are the crowd will be small again because the Tiger’s Wednesday night playoff game was rained out.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra, Friday night I caught your show at the Paradise Jazz Series at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Months ago, when I received a press release announcing you're opening the 2012-2013 series, I was concerned your laid back, grassroots  style wouldn’t fly with the jazz purists the series has historically catered to. Last Year, jazz singer Gretchen Parlato, who's also  a laid back jazz singer, played the series, and she bored the audience. Some of them even walked out. 

I’m a regular at the series. That was the first time I saw people book before a show ended. I suspected the jazz purists wouldn't like Parlato's style, but I never imagined they'd openly disrespect her. She deserved better, and I felt bad for her because she's a dynamic talent.

Months before that show Parlato put out a wonderful jazz album “The Lost and Found”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Anyway, Orchestra Hall wasn’t a good fit for her. Personally, I would've like to seen her at the Jazz Cafe or Kerrytown Concert House.  A jazz singer with an adventurous soul like Parlato has would feel more welcomed at those venues. 

 I was concerned you’d be disrespected too, but, I was wrong. Cassandra, you’re a pro who knows how to hypnotize a crowd. I never witnessed so many jazz purist with their eyes shut, grooving to every song you put forth. Your voice is best experienced with closed eyes anyway. Cassandra, I’m going to pause here for a moment to recap the concert's highlights for those who wanted to attend but couldn't for whatever reasons.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the Jazz Creative Chair for the Paradise Jazz Series, boasted about Wilson before he introduced her. Blanchard talked about working with her,  her uniqueness, and how she's stayed true to herself despite your critics. 

After Blanchard's pointed introduction, Wilson's band—Gregoire Maret, Brandon Ross, Mino Cinelo, and Lonnie Plaxico—warmed the stage. Then Wilson floated out with her blonde dreads pinned up, wearing a tight tomato red dress and black cowgirl boots.

After the second number, a blues, Wilson told the audience she would be performing two sets, which irked her. Wilson shows are normally one long set heavy of improvisation, breaking disrupts the improvisational flow, she explained. Then Wilson jokingly suggested the audience get used to sitting through a long set of music.

The first set was the bomb. Wilson sang five tunes. One from her current album “Red Guitar” and two from Gregoire Maret’s self-titled debut. Wilson was alluring and she never over did it. A small table and a chair were on the stage. Occasionally when one of her band-mates soloed, she’d sit down and sipped from a white tea cup or fanned herself.

When the music got real good to her, coursing through her body, Wilson unpinned her dreads and  moved gracefully in one spot like a Yoga instructor. Wilson has an erotic way of performing, but it's never unladylike like some of her peers who can be borderline pornographic. Surprisingly, during the second set Wilson struggled a bit.  

Two songs into the set it was clear why Wilson hates intermissions. The 25 minute intermission was enough time for the spell Wilson cast on most of the audience to subside. Clearly, Wilson didn’t have a game plan mapped out for the set. After the third number, she asked the audience for suggestions.

One man called “Strange Fruit”. Another man suggested “Seven Steps to Heaven”. Wilson performed the latter, but not before saying her band didn’t know those old songs. Wilson was kidding, of course, because the band took “Seven Steps to Heaven” on an improvisational joyride.

The set belonged to Maret, who's hot at the moment. In March, he released a self-titled album. A month ago, he kicked ass at the Detroit Jazz Festival. When Maret was feeling Wilson 100 percent, he inched closer to her. His exchange with percussionist Mino Cinelo on “St James Infirmary” was epic. The only disappointing thing about the concert was Wilson didn’t think enough of the audience to give them an encore.

So, Cassandra,  you earned the five minute ovation. The next time you play the Paradise Jazz Series I hope the committee will let you perform one long set.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Is Kurt Elling the best male jazz singer working? That’s a question I pondered after I finished Elling’s new album for Concord Records “1619 Broadway The Brill Building Project”.  Elling has stiff competition in Jose James, Milton Suggs, Sachal Vasandani and Gregory Porter. Each singer is unique. James, for example, has a booming voice. When James belts a song he gesticulates like a rapper. Imagine Joe William’s DNA mixed with Eminem’s.
But, Elling is a certified freak of nature. Nine of his 10 albums were nominated for a Grammy. That’s never happened to any other singer. “1619 Broadway” is Elling’s 11th studio album, and his first shot at a full-length pop project. Of course, Elling knows some jazz conservatives are going to dog the project because he decided against singing standards. Those conservatives should take “1619 Broadway” out for a test drive. They might like how Elling customized some familiar pop hits.
What's the back story on The Brill Building? It’s a landmark in mid-town Manhattan that had a small recording studio where many pop classics were born. Legendary pop songwriter such as Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Burt Bacherach worked there. After sorting through hundreds of songs made at the Brill studio, Elling selected 11 familiar hits. Then he poured his gorgeous voice over hits such as “On Broadway,” “I only Have Eyes for You,” “You Send Me” and “House Is Not A Home”.
“1619 Broadway opens with “On Broadway,” a song popularized by smooth jazz guitar player George Benson. Elling starts it with a clip of him on Broadway going from club to club begging for, but being rejected work. After the last rejection, Elling breaks into a blues tinged version of “On Broadway” that would make Benson envious. There’re upbeat and even comical moments throughout the album.
On “Shopping for Clothes,” Elling has a comical exchange with bass player Christian McBride. McBride plays a clothing salesman trying to get Elling to purchase a tailored suit, until he discovers Elling has bad credit. Then McBride threatens to call the police if Elling doesn’t leave immediately.
Elling never changes any of the lyrics to the pop classics. Instead, he takes liberties with the arrangements, using for example, Auto-Tune on “Pleasant Valley Sunday,”  On Carol King’s ballad “So Far Away”, Elling singing would make an attack dog weep.
“1619 Broadway” has a few stinkers. “Come Fly With Me” is one, but the stinkers are overshadowed by Elling's take on “You Send Me,” and on “A House Is Note A Home”. The latter Burt Bacherach and Hal Davis co-wrote. Luther Vandross made it famous. So, is asking if Elling is the best male singer working a legit question? “1619 Broadway” is sufficient proof  he is. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


In 1996, Diana Krall established herself as an unique jazz vocalist and pianist when she released “All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio”. It was a special jazz album, unlike anything her peers were up to, and it showed Krall was an adept female jazz crooner. Krall followed up that album with three good dates “Love Scenes,” “When I Look in Your Eyes,” and “The Look of Love”.  

Around 2002,  Krall became a crossover hit. She wed a rock legend. Her 2009 “Quiet Nights” shot up the Billboard chart and won a Grammy. Krall’s crossover success had many of her fans betting if she would ever return to her jazz roots. The smart money said Krall wouldn’t.  

Last Tuesday, Verve Records released Krall’s 12th studio album “Glad Rag Doll”. Famed producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett—who’s worked with Bob Dylan, Elton John, Tony Bennett, and Krall’s husband Elvis Costello—produced “the date. That was the first time Burnett and Krall collaboratedThe album doesn’t mark Krall’s return to her jazz roots, but it’s more memorable than her recent output. 

Burnett pushed Krall to take some risks that fortunately worked. For instance, trying slicker instrumental arrangements, and performing with musicians Krall doesn’t have a history with. Burnett made good use of Krall’s gift for interpreting songs of bygone eras. Some of the cuts on “Glad Rag Doll” are from the 20’s and 30’s, and oddly, the album comes across as a blues and a country album.

On her official website, Krall explains the goal was not to make a period album, but that’s exactly what “Glad Rag Doll” is, which is good because Krall knows how to take an old, moldy song and present it in mint condition.

The standouts are the title cut, “Let It Rain,” “Here Lies Love,” and “Lonely Avenue” all of which Krall sings at a lullaby tempo. Right down to the racy cover art, “Glad Rag Doll” is a welcomed departure from the boarderline pop albums Krall has put out in recent years.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Rhinoceruss Music is marketing tenor sax player Russ Nolan’s new album Tell Me as Latin jazz inspired, but labeling it that is a misnomer. Nolan is a swing savvy jazz sax player. You can use any of his solos on Tell Me as proof of that. Nolan’s playing taste like the great Joe Lovano’s. Because Tell Me is mislabeled doesn’t suggest it's a bad album. It’s worthwhile, and Nolan has a tough crew—piano player Art Hirahara, bass player Michael O’Brien,drummer Brian Fishler, and special guest violin player Zach Brock—neither is a household name, but they’re team conscious musicians. Tell Me should be reclassified as a smooth-bop album because it has bop and smooth jazz characteristics. The smooth jazz thing is obvious on Nolan’s arrangements of Creepin’ and Man in the Mirror.

Obviously, jazz guitar player Albert Dadon (in jazz circles he’s known as Albare) invested considerable time pouring over Wes Montgomery’s and George Benson’s discography. Those influences are clear on Albare’s forthcoming album Long Way, which Enja Records releases October 9. Albare has been rolling with his band iTD, which stands for International Travel Diary for a few years. Aside from Montgomery's and Benson's influence, Albare has a worldly style. Albare was born in Morocco, and he’s lived in Israel, London and Australia. There he was credited as a acid jazz pioneer. Currently, there no acid jazz residue in his chops. As Long Way shows, he's heavily into straight ahead acoustic bop. It’s worth pointing out Albare is also a selfless and daring leader. On the front line, he pared a tenor and a harmonica. Throughout Long Way, Albare allows his band-mates to have their say. The harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens is the albums gold medalist. On the slow jams Love Again and Moving on, Albare lyricism is haunting.  

Jazz guitar player Eric Divito has been building a reputation on New York’s music scene fronting three bands, The Eric Divito Group, Project 3tet, and Pepper Spray, a Red Hot Chili Pepper tribute band. Clearly, Divito likes keeping busy. In between juggling bands, Divito found time to make a decent debut album Breaking The Ice, which goes on sale Tuesday. The album exposes Divito’s strengths and flaws. Divito is not a gaudy  guitar player although he has the facility to cut loose, which surely he does performing with Pepper Spray. Buton the jazz front, Divito is conservative. His soloing on Time Remembered and From and Old Sketch is clean-cut. Even on a higher tempo cut such as Shoot The Messenger, Divito is even-keeled a la jazz guitar players Jim Hall and Joe Pass. Deep down, Divito is a closet swinger. Divito plays it safe, but maybe next time around hell let his inner swinger loose.