Sunday, February 19, 2017


Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant
The jazz pianist Aaron Diehl posed a scenario Sunday afternoon during his two-hour set at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. What would’ve occurred had Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin crossed paths. The musicians never met, and although each was accomplished and prolific, their musical styles were different as night and day. Diehl believes if the legends had met there would’ve been a mutual respect of each other’s virtuosity. That is the impression Diehl left during his flawless presentation titled “Jelly and George,” which featured the Grammy-winning chanteuse Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Adam Birnbaum assuming the role of George Gershwin. The concert was a mixing of Morton’s and Gershwin’s compositions. The interesting thing was Diehl opted to play obscure materials from Morton and Gershwin. Diehl was gracious enough to warn the audience that if they expected to hear Morton’s and Gershwin’s popular material the audience was going to be disappointed. The concert opened with Diel and Birnbaum trading on Gershwin’s “Prelude One” and “Jelly Roll’s Blues.” Diehl’s quartet clarinetist Evan Christopher, trombonist Corey Wilcox, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers joined in on “Mississippi Mildred.” Listening to Diel and Birnbaum reinterpreting Morton’s and Gershwin’s obscure material was worth the price of admission, but what took the two-hour set over the top was Cecile McLorin Salvant. In a short time, Salvant has built a solid reputation as a foremost interpreter of the great American Songbook. Salvant isn’t big on stagecraft, but who gives a rat’s ass because her voice is so unbelievably beautiful it gives your soul goose bumps. Guaranteed people will awake tomorrow still thinking about Salvant’s rendering of “Wining Boy” and “Ask me Again.”  Diehl’s lone moment in the sun came during his brilliant soloing on “Finger Breakers.” Diehl’s band was tight as banjo strings on “The Sidewalk Blues.” “Jelly and George” was prefect from top to bottom. Diehl and company present a lot of music, so an encore seemed overkill. The audience was so thoroughly worked up doubtfully they would’ve allowed the musicians to leave Ann Arbor had they refused an encore. As a gesture of appreciation for all the love the audience showed Diehl, he performed three additional tunes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Joe Lovano
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano launched the third concert of the Paradise Jazz Series, and drummer Brian Blade’s The Fellowship Band closed it. The two leaders shared a double bill Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in mid-town Detroit where the PJS is held. Both leaders are from divergent points of the jazz spectrum. Lovano is a post-bop heavy, and Blade is, somewhat of an experimentalist. Of the two, Lovano has logged the most frequent flier miles, having a colored career spanning four-plus decades, and also being one of the major faces of the famed Blue Note Records for 30 plus years. Lovano has made over 20 albums. As he’s proven throughout his career, and which was on full display Friday evening, he’s a saxophonist who plays every single note with a sense of purpose and beauty. There’s nothing pretentious about his playing. During his too-short set with his current working band, the Classic Jazz Quartet – pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Peter Slavov, and drummer Lamy Istrefi—Lovano treated the near-capacity audience to some of his original material, opening the set with “Fort Worth”. The quartet burned rubber on that number from the start to the conclusion. Then moved into a slower tempo gem titled “Our Daily Bread”.  There was some fist pumping soloing from Fields and Slavov. It was Lovano who captivated playing sweetly cadenzas at the end  of several tumes. The quart had the stage sufficiently preheated for Blade.

Blade, one of the greatest living jazz drummers, and a key member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet is no stranger to the PJS. He’s performed the series many times with Shorter, and Blade performed the opening 2016-2017 series as a member of the Chick Corea Trio. However, Friday evening was Blade’s first time at the series as a bandleader. It was a gamble booking Blade’s The Fellowship Band, which has a decidedly different approach to swinging. The core PJS demographic favors bop and post-bop. That’s what that core audience have been fed since the PJS launched. Blade is a magician, however, and the entire set he had the audience drooling. Blade performed with only one commercial break to introduce his bandmates saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, pianist Jon Cowherd, and bassist Chris Thomas. The band played a kind of modernist swing no jazz critic has categorized yet. Blade called tunes from The Fellowship’s discography. The tunes had a recognizable formula, starting at a slow molasses thick tempo, and then midway through the band started hauling ass. Blade chops power The Fellowship much like his chops power Shorter’s quartet. Blade is inarguably one of a kind. And the success of his all too short set Friday evening was a gamble proved worth taking. Pairing Lovano with Blade was a fitting contrast that worked.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris
When word spread January 26th via social mediaS that jazz titan, concert promoter Wesley “Skip” Norris was in a fatal car accident a collective sadness hit Detroit’s jazz community, and surely in other cities where jazz is a big part of the city’s cultural fabric. Although Skip epitomized what writer Ralph Ellison dubbed many decades ago a Renaissance man, a man of intellectual hunger, depth, and character Skip’s most recognizable and celebrated trait was his advocacy of jazz. In all the years as a jazz journalist and jazz blogger, I never met an individual more passionate and knowledgeable about jazz than Skip was. Over the years, I would see or hear Skip at many of the jazz concerts around Detroit and Ann Arbor. On many occasions, I wondered about that dapper man in the audience egging on the musicians, shouting out their names at the conclusion of an inspired solo. I became formal jazz friends with Skip after interviewing him about a new concert series he was putting on at the Northwest Activity Center called Jazz at the Center, which in its brief run had world-class jazz acts such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer/bandleader Ralph Peterson, and the all-star jazz ensemble the Cookers. From that time forward, I made sure I caught every concert Skip had a hand in producing, including the JD Allen, Joe Locke, and Joey Calderazzo hits at the Detroit Groove Society concert series. And whenever, I ran into Skip at a show in town I was always a recipient of one of his bear hugs. I was sincerely awed by Skip’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, and more so that he was personal friends with just about every jazz musician of note throughout the country. And he seemed to have a warehouse of stories. At Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Monday Skip’s family, friends, and many from Detroit’s jazz community participated in a home going service befitting a man who lived a truly exemplary and blessed life. Those who got a chance to share their experiences and recollections of Skip characterized him foremost as a man of unyielding faith. Everybody who wanted to speak about Skip wasn't afforded the opportunity. Had they we’d still be in the church listening. It was easy to take from the speakers that Skip was genuinely beloved. Ronald Robinson Lockett, one of Skip's dearest friends, jokingly said that God took Skip from us because God needed someone with Skip’s know how to promote jazz concerts in heaven. There was jazz music during the service at the appropriate moments from bassist Robert Hurst, saxophonist Victor Goines, and drummer/trumpeter Ralph Peterson. During the remarks section of the service, another of Skip’s closest friends Jacques Mullins noted during the service the greatest testament to a man is to see how many people come out for his home going. Hartford Memorial was filled with people who as another speaker pointed out loved them some Skip Norris.