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.

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