Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy Alive Ralph Peterson (Onyx Music 3)

On this homage to the Jazz Messengers, the jazz dynasty that Art Blakey built, drummer Ralph Peterson reunites members of the Jazz Messengers trumpeter Brian Lynch, saxophonists Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce, pianist Geoff Keezer, and bassist Essiet Essiet for this live double-disc. It’s incredible the level of swing the band stirs up and maintains throughout. Peterson is the leader of this wonderful piece of art, but the session’s MVP is Keezer.

Eric Alexander Leap of Faith Eric Alexander (Giant Step Arts)

For my money, Alexander is the premier jazz saxophonist of his generation. Usually, Alexander runs the streets with a quartet or a quintet, and he’s made memorable recordings with alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. This time out, Alexander records with a trio bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Johnathan Blake. The album represents Alexander at his rawest, loyal to his bop pedigree but straddling the boundaries of free-jazz.

James Carter Organ Trio: Live from Newport Jazz James Carter (Blue Note)

Carter’s organ trio has been together for 23 years with only one personnel modification the inclusion of the tasteful drummer Alex White. Over the years, Carter has made many albums. The organ trio dates rank as his best. Live From Newport Jazz is his debut for Blue Note. The trio performs music from Django Reinhardt’s catalog. Playing Reinhardt’s classics has been a pet-project of Carter’s for years now. Organist Gerard Gibbs makes Live From Newport Jazz a delightful listening odyssey. Since the trio’s infancy, Gibbs has been its centerpiece.

Confessions Veronica Swift (Mack Avenue Records)

Music journalist Veronica Johnson turned me on to Confessions Swift’s big-label debut. Johnson went on an on about how dope Swift's singing is and how her voice could fit any music genre. So, I gave Confessions a shot. Johnson's impressions were spot-on. Swift's voice held my ears hostage, and I had a mini-religious experience each time I play the album. Swift is a highly favored jazz vocalist. The spirits of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sheila Jordan resides in Swift’s voice. 

This I Dig of You Jimmy Cobb (Smoke Session Records)

This is the kind of red-blooded American jazz I could hear every day for the rest of my natural life. Cobb has been making pure jazz his entire career, which may be easy for him—at least on this session—given his partners are pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber, and guitarist Peter Bernstein. Although each musician is equally yoked in terms of swing-ability, Bernstein is the obvious crowd favorite throughout the session. 

Detroit Tenors Steve Woods and Carl Cafagna (Detroit Music Factory)

Steve Woods and Carl Cafagna is the Detroit Tenors. The saxophonists are household sensations on Detroit’s jazz scene. Their inaugural self-titled album is the first time their shared genius has been documented for the world to consume. Their teaming generate the same degree of excitement Eddie "Lock Jaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin's collaborations embodied. On The One Before This, ODRP BluesFive Four Thing, Woods and Cafagna are in sync like a seasoned married couple. My favorite performance is their reworking of Blues Up and Down.

THE SECRET BETWEEN THE SHADOW AND THE SOUL Branford Marsalis Quartet (Marsalis Music OKeh)

The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul is the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s most avant-garde album yet. There’s some exquisitely rendered abstract playing throughout. Marsalis Quartet has been going strong over two decades and the quartet is incapable of putting out music that dulls the senses. It's a powerful jazz quartet that revels in blowing up boundaries.

connections Diego Rivera (posi-tone)

Diego Rivera is a jazz educator as well as a helluva saxophonist. connections is his third album as a leader. Half the musicians in the band are former students of his. The others are veteran swingers he has collaborated with before. This album is spit-polished and is a continuation of the no-nonsense swing Rivera's reputation is built on. All the musicians contribute mightily here. However, the compositions that stick to my ribs are Rivera’s Mother Nature, Ties That Bind, and Nueva York.

Centennial Cole The Music Of Nat “King” Cole Orice Jenkins (Truth Revolution Record Collective)

2019 is Nat “King” Cole’s centennial, and jazz vocalist Orice Jenkins honored Cole by making this exquisite album, packed with songs Cole long ago immortalized. Centennial Cole The Music Of Nat “King” Cole, is my first-time hearing Jenkins. I became a fan immediately after hearing him sing Let There Be Love and Mona Lisa. He has a respectful and gentle way of handling the songs Cole made classics.

Relaxin’With Nick Nicholas Payton (Smoke Session Records)

If you enter this album expecting the Nicholas Payton of old, you’re going to be disappointed. Relaxin’ With Nick is a representation of where Payton’s heart is nowadays. Add to his track record singing, playing the Fender Rhodes and the acoustic piano. The title track shows Payton is a decent piano player. Endorsing Relaxin’ With Nick is a weird thing for me because I heard Payton perform the music months before its release at the Blue Llama in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I didn't care for Payton's switching from the piano, to trumpet to the electric keyboard sometimes within the same tune. A lot is happening sonically on Relaxin’ with Nick, but it works for me this time around.

Monday, December 16, 2019


Christian Sands
Saturday evening, the Christian Sands Trio performed for the first time at the Blue Llama, the popular jazz club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The pianist, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, is signed to Mack Avenue Records. The late pianist Billy Taylor was his mentor. In 2014, he was a finalist for the American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship, and he was a key member of bassist Christian McBride's Grammy-winning trio. Sands told the audience he loves the intimacy of the Blue Llama and hopes to be invited back soon. Sands, drummer Jonathan Pinson and, bassist Yasushi Nakamura set the village on fire with music from Sands’ albums Reach and Facing Dragons.  Sands’ current style is a blend of early Herbie Hancock and the great Gene Harris. Harris was probably an indirect influence, but like Harris, Sands can play softly and rambunctiously within the same tune. The audience witnessed that when he stretched the piano to its limits on Rebel Music and Song of the Rainbow People. Mind you, he isn’t all piss and vinegar. Like Billy Taylor and Hank Jones, Sands can swing thoughtfully and elegantly. Their impact surfaced during Sands’ solo on Reaching for the Sun. As a leader, he likes to share the wealth. Midway through the set, he featured Nakamura. Most attendees probably didn’t expect or want to hear a lengthy bass solo, but Nakamura’s feature was jazz improvisation at its best. The trio followed with a reworking of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, played with such raw feeling Monk would’ve gotten choked up hearing it. The set closed with iOyeme! This time around, Sands featured Pinson, who possesses a God-like command of the drums. Saturday was his first time performing with Sands. Sands met Pinson in Paris, and before he turned Pinson loose on the Blue Llama audience, Sands said jokingly he hired Pinson because of his ability to swing and hold his liquor. On iOyeme! Pinson was ferocious. Sands’ trio put on an incredible 90 Minute set and the Blue Llama would be smart to bring the trio back soon.

Monday, December 9, 2019


Duke Ellington
Mr. Ellington, when you formed the Duke Ellington Orchestra way back in 1923, did you think it would still be thriving 96 years later? I’d bet a month's salary you believed the orchestra would be popular, but not globally revered nine decades after its founding. Mr. Ellington, I heard the latest incarnation of your orchestra Friday night at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The orchestra headlined the second concert of the 2019-2020 Paradise Jazz Series and performed a whopping two-hours. Opening the first set with Take the A Train followed by The Cotton Club Stomp, Satin Doll, The New Orleans Suite, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, Cotton Tail, and Black and Tan Fantasy. Mr. Ellington that was plenty of music for an audience to consume in one set. I loved certain aspects of the concert overall but was anxious to leave midway through the second set. I appreciate the orchestra stuck to the original intent of your music. No soloist showboated when featured. Trumpeter Frank Greene blew with such conviction I believed the late Cootie Williams’s spirit coached Green during his solos. And when saxophonists Shelley Carrol and Morgan Price were called before the congregation, they damn near blew the upholstery off the main floor seats. Mr. Ellington, the audience could’ve left after the first set, satisfied they’d witnessed the best the orchestra had to offer. The history lesson the conductor Charlie Young prefaced each number with was a welcomed bonus. Young talked about your character as an innovator and as a leader. For the second set, the orchestra gave the audience an early Christmas gift, performing your version of the Nutcracker Suite. Honestly, Mr. Ellington, four movements into the suite, I was ready to call it a night. Not because the movements weren’t happening, or the musicians were tired after the energy-draining first set. The second set felt like a separate concert. Before the orchestra started the suite, Young got carried away joking about his obsession with Thanksgiving turkey, a joke surely, he’s told a thousand times over the years. Why, Mr. Ellington, do some jazz bandleaders long to be comics? The first set I enjoyed. The second one was overkill. Many of the attendees will disagree with my outlook. The audience was engrossed throughout, and I bet the orchestra could’ve played two additional hours and the audience would’ve been okay with that.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


Trumpeter Wallace Roney
Blue Dawn-Blue Nights is your 21st album as a leader. What's the key to consistently making great recordings?

As long as I'm living, as long as I hear music in my head, I've got to get it out, and that's the key. Just be true to hearing the music or the sound that's in your head. The other part of it is always trying to take the music further. One step beyond.

In your bands, you always have veracious young musicians like Art Blakey had in the Messengers long ago. Why do you staff your group with such raw talent?

Art Blakey, Buhaina, we'd call him. He used to do that, but people forget, Miles Davis did it too with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Gary Bartz. Those guys were young back then. So, Buhaina and Miles understood the power of young minds, but it's not just young minds. You must have a certain young mind, a mind that's willing not to cheat the music, but take the music forward. That's the kind of young guys I like.

When did you meet Miles, and how did he help shape your playing?

I started loving this music when I was three years old. That was the kind of music I fell in love with, and when the rest of my little friends were listening to R& B, I was listening to progressive jazz. And I'm talking about three years old, and I'm listening to Seven Steps to Heaven. And The Freedom Rider, because that was the music in my house and that's the music I loved. My father was listening to it, but he was listening to other stuff, too. But I chose to hear that music, and in that music, Miles was my hero. Miles and Trane and Ornette and Cannonball, Horace Silver, and Mingus.

Then I heard Dizzy and Bird, and that blew my mind. So, by the time I met Miles, well, I was listening to him and following every record he made. And then, when I became an artist on the scene, I met him when I was 23 years old. I was playing on a retrospective concert for him, when he was getting his honorary degree. And I played on it along with a lot of his other alumni and some R& B guys, like Peabo Bryson. And George Benson.

And I was part of a seven-trumpet thing that was doing a fanfare for him, and we took a couple of choruses of Blue Beach with the rhythm section of Herbie, Tony, and Ron, and then Mile’s band came on and played afterward, his latest band with Darryl Jones and Bill Evans. Darryl had just joined the band, by the way. And Al Foster was in the band, too.

Anyway, afterward, he asked me to come up, and I met him. He said he heard me, he liked what I was doing, and gave me his number to come over to his house. And that's how I met him.

When you and Miles first connected, and when you first went over to his house, what was the conversation like? Did you guys talk about music?

Oh, it was about music, but the first thing he said when I walked into his doorway is, "I never liked Brownie." Clifford Brown. He said, "It's not that I was jealous or anything, he was a nice enough guy, I didn't think he played as well as everybody thought. That was the first thing he said to me.

At the time, you probably were a Clifford Brown fan.

I was a Clifford Brown fan. Miles was still my idol. Still, my hero. But I was a Clifford Brown fan, you're right. But I wasn't going to argue with him because I wanted to understand where he was coming from and learn the lesson he was teaching me, and I'm glad I did.

When you became a well-known bandleader and had a bunch of acclaimed recordings under your belt, did you ever get tired of the comparison to Miles, or people saying Wallace thinks he’s Miles Davis.

No. I never get tired of the comparisons to Miles. I get tired of the critics trying to make it into a negative. Because to me, it's no comparison. Miles Davis is the greatest ever. What I'm trying to do is continue and push forward from the lessons I learned from him and try to play this music. I'm not trying to do anything else but play music, you know?

What was the greatest lesson that he taught you that you still, carry with you today and that you share with the young musicians in your bands?

To learn everything you can and learn everything about the music and then be yourself. And that's one thing I think Miles might've liked about me that the critics or people don't understand. I tried to learn everything he knew. I didn't try to get just a little piece of it. I tried to get all of it.

And that's the thing when you learn, and you want to learn all of John Coltrane. You want to learn all of Ornette Coleman. You want to learn all of Art Blakey. You want to learn all of Max Roach. I mean, every little piece, you want to learn every part of Herbie, every part of Elvin. You want to learn every part of rock music, every part of Mozart. Every part of the chief orchestrator or chief rhythm guru in Africa. You want to learn everything about it. Why it works and use it, and then come out and use it your way.

I've seen you in concert many times. You come out, start a tune, then you go backstage and let the band do their thing. Why do you leave?

I'm listening to shape what the musicians are doing. That's what I'm doing. I'm still on stage. I get out of their way, but I'm listening to see where to take the music next. Where I'm going to end the song and where I'm going to blend it with the next song. From the beginning of the set to the end of the set is a continuum.

I asked that question because Miles was criticized when he would turn his back to the audience and play, and the audience felt he was being a jerk. Miles said the same thing that you just said, that he could hear the band better and he was trying to figure out some stuff. It wasn't about that, about being disrespectful to the audience or anything like that.

Right. But with that said, I don't turn my back to the audience, do I?

No, I just noticed that you walk off stage.

I walk off the stage. So, people can focus on what's going on instead of looking at me while I'm playing. But what I'm doing is listening to them and trying to coalesce what they're doing and what the next evolution of the music is going to be. That's what I'm doing.

Horace Silver was another significant influence on you musically. When did Horace come into your musical life?

Well, Horace was an influence on me. There's a lot of people that were big influences on me. I had auditioned for his band when I was 18. I didn't get the gig, but Horace said to me, "Man. I could hire you right now, but I think I would be hurting you." And he taught me to pay attention to the chord changes in the chords. He said, "I hear what you're trying to do, but I want you to do it instead of just hitting and missing. In other words, getting every one of those chords, and if you're going to play off the chord, understand how to play off the chord, which you try to do."

So Horace really influenced me because I was so hurt I didn't get the gig, I sat home and I learned every part of the harmonic structures that I was playing in, and that's why Miles became even more important, because he really showed me how to take those chords and how to take the notes, and bend the chords a certain way. He taught me even more than what I was trying to get to, you know? So, it became a quest to advance what you can do melodically and harmonically.

After you got your chops together, did Horace eventually hire you?

No. Only on those auditions. But Horace was so beautiful. I'll tell you a great Horace Silver story. I did an audition, and he kept me up there for the week, and he paid for the hotel, and we talked, and that's when he was telling me things. I'd go in his room and play for him, and he would instruct me on how to play chords. He’d say, "Right there. You missed a chord right there."

That was 1978 or 79. And then six years later I was playing with Tony Williams. And we were playing in a club called the Montmartre in Denmark. He was there. By that time, man, I had been stretching the harmonies and trying to go beyond what I had already learned, and I was going for it.

And Tony was encouraging me too, and I had been hanging with Miles, and when we got through that set, Horace Silver jumped on the stage and grabbed me and hugged me. He said, "Wallace, wow. You played your booty off, man. " And then I thanked him, I didn't know what else to say.

And then he went to Tony Williams and started bragging to Tony about me, so Tony comes to me and says, "Man, Horace was just raving about you." I didn't tell Tony the story, the beginning- And then one of my friends who was playing with Horace had told me, "Man, Horace was talking about you. He was talking about when he first met you and how great he thought you were then, but what you evolved into now."

What're your thoughts on where jazz is now?

Well, I don't have any thoughts where jazz is now. That's like saying where life is now. I can say what life is today, but then a million years from now, it'll be different. So, you must accept where things are. You can't tell whether it's good or bad, you must live it, you know?

If a young musician says to you, "Mr. Roney, I've studied your career, and I loved the direction that it's in or it's gone in. What advice can you give me, so I can have a career that’s like yours, or better?"

You can't have better. There are two reasons why you can't have better. Whatever your career is, it is for you. So, it can't be better than mine because it was for me. So that's number one. You can't have better.

Number two, how are you going to have better than playing with Miles, being with Miles Davis, playing with Tony Williams, being with VSOP, playing with Sonny Rollins, playing with Jay McShann, Elvin Jones. Even people that were my peers never got a chance to do that. And hang with Ornette Coleman. So how are you going to get better than that? It's not possible. But even though it's not possible, that's my life. So, their life, they're going to have to find what's better for them or what's best for them.

If you studied my career, I appreciate that. I hope there's something in it that can inspire you. That's what I would say. And I would say if you ask for any advice play this music because you must. Don't play this music to become a star. Don't play this music because you think you're going to make a lot of money. Play it because you must, because you love it.

If you don't become a star, then what? Are you going to quit the music? Because not everybody's going to be a star, even though they might deserve it. What if you don't make a lot of money? Are you going to stop? Well, if you didn't, then you might as well stop it because some people don't make a lot of money. And so maybe you don't win all the awards. Maybe you don't win anything. Is that your reason for playing? You got to go deep down and find that deep reason for playing. If nothing happens, will you still play?

In your experience, how many jazz musicians have that mentality?

All the great musicians did it for that. Even the ones that became stars didn't count on being a star. Miles wanted to play with Charlie Parker. And he kept learning and getting better because he wanted to play with Bird. He wanted to catch up with Dizzy, he wanted to learn all that stuff Bird was playing, and Thelonious Monk was playing. It had nothing to do about being a star, you know.

I don't think Charlie Parker even thought about being a star. He needed money. But man, Charlie Parker, on his days off, went across the street to the tavern and played because he had to. John Coltrane never stopped practicing because he heard something. Other musicians might try to do it because they wanted to be a star, or they thought of it as a profession, but some musicians saw more of it. And if you're going to play jazz, it's got to be more than a job.

Going back to “Blue Dawn-Blue Nights” is there anything you’d want to add about its creation?”

I had taken these guys, these young musicians, and they come to my house, and they want to learn, and they want to ask me questions about these great artists that I played with like Herbie and Tony and Ornette Coleman and Wayne, and of course Miles and Art Blakey and Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins and all these people, and I would gladly show them stuff and tell them stories.

We started writing songs, and they'd write these songs, and I'd start showing them some techniques. And I'm talking about the correlation between music and all the music in the world, and the next thing you know, those guys, they became a band just in a very natural way. And they were at the house all the time rehearsing. And we just went right in the studio, said, "Let's take it in the studio. Let's try these things."

And it worked out. It flowed very well. And when we would play, suddenly, there was a beautiful synergy that came from this band. Unfortunately, my nephew didn't stay in the band because his father felt like he was better served to play with him than my band.

Emilio Modeste, the saxophone player on the new album, is 19, and he has an aggressive approach and tone for his age. I heard him in Stanley Clarke’s band at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

He's one of the original ones that came over and hung around the house for years.

Are you going to record more with this band?

Let me put it like this. As long as I'm playing music, I will record with my band, and as long as my band is a band, that will be what's on the record. And in the same way that Bird did, the same thing that Art Blakey did with Horace and Kenny Dorham, and then Horace and then Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons. 

The same that Miles did with him and Trane. Everybody, they have a band. You record with your band, and you keep recording because you're documenting the evolution of the music being made. So, if this band sticks together, there will be another record. If someone leaves for some reason, like my nephew left, then he must be replaced with the next guy. The music keeps going forward.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Jazz Vocalist Michelle Lordi owns a voice tailor-made for delivering love songs, which was evident in mid-October at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café’. She treated the audience to music from her fantastic discography, including original gems from her new recording “Break Up With The Sound.” All evening long, her voice was authentically angelic and inviting enough to make the devil blush. After her final set, half the attendees lined up to purchase CD’s she was selling. She's from Philadelphia. On the jazz scene there, she’s a household commodity. Before she started singing professionally, she worked as a photographer, a product designer, and a medical device sales rep. To date, she’s released three albums “eidolon,” “Dream A Little Dream,” and “Break Up With the Sound.” The latter hit nationwide November 1st on Cabinet of Wonder Productions, and the album shows her in her natural habitat, performing love songs and backed by a neatly stitched band drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Matthew Parrish, guitarist Tim Motzer, and saxophonist Donny McCaslin. She put a new finish on songs by Cole Porter, Hank Williams, and Mick Jagger. Her four originals are the best overall. A few weeks after her Dirty Dog performance, she talked to I Dig Jazz about the making of "Break Up With The Sound," getting a late start as a professional singer, and encouragement she’d offer up and coming musicians.

The title is interesting, “Break Up With The Sound.” What does that mean?

That’s a good question. That's a line in the song “Poor Bird.” And I think I chose that as a title because some people ask, is that a negative thing? Sometimes they're really good things that you need to break up with like people who aren't right in your life. So, what the title is referring to in that song is the idea of being in love with your sadness or being stuck in a spot that is not fruitful. So that's where that came from.

Listening to the album and hearing you at The Dirty Dog, I believe you have an affinity for love songs. That’s what stood out to me. Do you consider performing love songs your forte?

I feel like everything's a love song. You know, there are love songs that are about love between two people, and there are love songs to places and love songs to memories, and ghosts. So, yeah, I love to sing, and I love making music with the people I make music with. My whole musical journey is like a love story; just being able to have a life in music is a love story to me.

I've never thought of it in that kind of context.

Well, I only will sing about things that I that have a good feel for, so you can read that however you want.

Is it true you’ve only been singing professionally for five years?

I've made an album, like a little demo thing when my oldest son was born, and he's 16 now, but I didn't pursue music full time until about five years ago now.

What did you do before then?

Oh, a lot of things.  I've been a photographer. I’ve been a product designer. I've sold medical devices. I've sold pills legally. I have three kids. So, I had a bit of a road to get to the music.

What was the turning point? What happened to make you decide to drop those occupations and focus on singing professionally?

That's a good question. Nerves, I guess. None of it was practical. None of it was easy. For me, I needed to do something full-on, and this is what I wanted to do. It'll be two years ago in December my house burned down. And this whole new album comes out of that experience of losing everything, but nobody was hurt, which was great. But what I lost was a lot of music I hadn't put out. I lost a lot of writing that I had never made into songs. I lost pieces of songs I'd never produced. And this whole album comes out of that experience.

When the dust cleared literally and figuratively, and everybody was okay, I realized what I had lost is all those opportunities to get something out in the world. Maybe it wasn't perfect, but to get it out there and that if you're an artist, it's your job to make things. I was holding up and not putting things out. This is the first album with some of my original music.

I've been a student of the American Songbook, which is great. You could spend a whole lifetime interpreting those songs. But what I was always driven to do is to write. But I had barely ever done a thing until the fire.

Honestly, that's the more significant turning point in this album, which was recorded about a year after the fire. It's probably the most meaningful piece of art I've ever made. I'm incredibly grateful for what the musicians on the album brought to the project. And my musical director is also the producer. That's Matthew Parrish, the bassist. Everybody gave their heart and soul to interpret my songs and to the way that we did the standards. That's been like the most significant change or direction for me artistically.

It sounds like it was a painful album to do, given you had to revisit that period.

No. I think kind of the opposite. As far as losing, you know, we got back on our feet, and we had insurance. So, it was an incredible inconvenience and a year disappeared, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. But what was lost is all the artistic output that never got out.

 I was grieving that until one day I just realized, okay, so you can grieve it for the rest of your life, a lifetime of photographs, a lifetime of drawings, a lifetime of music that you didn't get out in the world, or you can make it again and make it better.

The process of making those songs was easy and happy because I realized that it wasn't like a one-time thing. Also, the artwork from the album that's all recent as well. I hadn't made art since probably my twenties, so it all came together.

How long have you been writing songs?

Oh, my whole life. But like I said, this is the first album of any originals.

 Who're some of your musical influences?

Well, first the musicians that you hear on the album. Their music is what I hear. I follow them. I follow their careers. So, they’re my influences because we work together so much. As far as stars from the past, I've always loved Chet Baker and Peggy Lee and of course, Ella Fitzgerald.

.I wasn't exposed to jazz very early, but once I got into it, I would find a song, and then I'd find every version of the song, and follow a song from Mel Torme to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. The musicians I'm around right now are extraordinary. Those are my influences because we're creating together. I love country music, and Patsy Cline, of course, is a beautiful storyteller.

 I wouldn't listen to jazz as a kid. I was listening to punk music and alternative music. But I've been drawn to artists who are artists like their whole life, like Patti Smith, for example, and Chet Baker. It wasn’t even his singing that got me. It was his horn playing.

Michelle Lordi
How has it been making a living performing full-time? Has it been what you thought it would be? Or has there been occasions when you wanted to quit?

You know how difficult it is. We're in the same industry, so you know. But here's the difference is when you know that you have something important that you want to do, it's easy to do, whatever it takes. We could talk for hours about how messed up the music industry is, but that's boring.

So, we all need to figure out as improvisers, how to make something happen, you know, whether it's a side gig or finding a way to connect with your audiences in a way that it's different and gets them to do more than stream your work. Yeah, but I'm right in it. I've got this new album coming out and everything. It feels like everything's changed since the last album.

You know, even how people buy CDs and, or don't. But I had to do a CD for this album because jazz radio still demands them. I mean, that's not bad for me because I grew up collecting records and then CDs. It's comforting to say, "Here's my album," and have it in my hand, but I know that that's probably just an illusion. CDs don't sell much.                                        

How do you like performing in Detroit?

The audiences in Detroit were very kind. I love the Dirty Dog. I have been there before to hear musicians, and I was so grateful to get to play there recently. I love your city. What's the name of the club highly rated for their barbecue?

Bert’s Market Place.

Where else in the world can you walk in and there's like five or six world-class singers just sitting-in. Detroit is such an amazing town. I find reasons to get to Detroit.  And I have fun every time. It's always an adventure. And everybody's very respectful that I'm from Philly because we have got a deep musical history here.

 I was able to go to some small places in Philly like Baker's in Detroit, where you could catch Shirley Scott and Mickey Roker. And I thought that was just what everybody's jazz sounded like. I felt that all jazz is that good. That's what it felt like walking into Bert’s

It's like that all the time here. When you go to The Dirty Dog, you'll be surprised who’ll show up. You were lucky the owner, Gretchen, was sitting at the bar enjoying your set.

I've run into her a couple of times. Talk about somebody who's a fan of the music. It was good to be able to sing for her, and she was very positive.  I've played at Cliff Bell’s a couple of times before. I love your city. It feels like a perfect home for artists. I hope it treats everybody well. It’s wonderful to play in a place with such a history.

 If an aspiring artist familiar with your musical journey wants to quit their job to pursue their art full-time, what advice would you offer?

I might blow up your interview here, but I would say follow your passion. You find musicians who are a hell of a lot better than you, and you play up to them. You don't ever play down, you know. I have a lot of advice musically on not being afraid and about creating your own opportunities.

I've run a jazz session for five years, every week so that I could play with the best musicians in Philly. Sometimes I don't make a dime. Sometimes I pay to do it so that I could play with certain people on the regular. And it's become a way for people of different generations to connect. It's a way for me to know who's 17 and amazing and who’s 87 and amazing.

So, I would say you can't sit back and whine and wait. You can't sit back and wait for something to come. You must make it happen. And if it doesn't work, you must keep going. I don't know if I could give advice and say quit your job and run off to the circus.

 But you could start by developing. You learn your craft, make a sound, and then find a way to get out and play on the regular. And it probably means screwing up. I have done that. I've screwed up a lot.

 But then you screw up in new and more interesting ways next time. I would tell somebody to go and get good at what they do and find ways to create music in unique spaces that they can get behind.

Monday, November 18, 2019


Rodney Whitaker
If you attend a  Rodney Whitaker concert, bank on getting a history lesson on whatever jazz music the bassist's group performs, and as a bonus some comic relief. For 25 years, he’s taught jazz at Michigan State University. No surprise, he uses the bandstand to educate audiences, and his kidding them before introducing tunes is a piece of his musical personality. He’s quick to jokingly warn an audience of his plans to pursue standup comedy when he retires. Saturday evening at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, the comedic moments of his 90-minute set didn't go over well, which he took in stride. However, the Duke Ellington compositions his septet worked Whitaker's “All Too Soon The Music of Duke Ellington” was a combination of fire and raw sophistication. Whitaker's septet is made up of some of his former and current students such as pianist Corey Kendric, drummer Michael Reed, and baritone saxophonist Len’I Glenn McKinney. The centerpiece was vocalist Rockelle Fortin, Whitaker’s daughter. She’s performed with his various groups since her teen years and has become a world-class vocalist. Her gracefulness, her stage know-how, and her ability to wrap her voice around you like warm scarves beg comparison to the Detroit jazz vocalist Shahida Nurullah. Fortin sang so beautifully on “Mood Indigo” and on “Perdido,” you would've sworn the spirit of Duke Ellington gave her permission to treat his songs as she saw fit. The multi-layered manner Whitaker structured the concert was brilliant, featuring the septet, for example, on three selections. Then showcasing just vocals and saxophone on “Mood Indigo,” and just the rhythm section on “Just Squeeze Me.” Whitaker only soloed a few times. He’s at the elder statesmen leg of his career, comfortable putting most of the workload on the young musicians he’s nurtured musically, and they handled Ellington’s gems like seasoned swingers. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Chick Corea, Christian McBride & Brian Blade

The jazz pianist Chick Corea has a knack for getting an audience all hyped before playing a single note of music, sharing, for example, funny anecdotes from his vast and storied career, and in between numbers teasing his bandmates. At Hill Auditorium Saturday night in Ann Arbor, MI, Corea opened his concert by name-dropping Detroit jazz musicians he considers formidable. At Corea’s side was the animated drummer Brian Blade and bassist Christian McBride. In 2016, Corea’s trio played at the Paradise Jazz Series in Detroit. There Eddie Gomez was on bass. The concert was memorable, but Corea’s trio sounds more organic with McBride shouldering the bass responsibilities. The trio performed cuts from the Grammy-winning album “Trilogy,” and the recent recording “Trilogy 2 Live.” The trio could’ve swung a wrecking ball through Thelonious Monks’ “Crepuscule with Nellie,” “Work,” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.,” but they showed a level of control and taste expected from such globally accomplished jazz musicians. McBride was the centerpiece. All concert long, he proved he has skills unlike any jazz bassist of his generation. He logged in the most solos — each hand-crafted on the spot for the appreciative audience. Blade, a master jazz drummer tenfold, broke loose on Corea’s “Fingerprint,” As for Corea, the entire concert his playing was sharper than the devil’s tongue, and it was awe-inspiring witnessing him sand the rust off “In a Sentimental Mood” during his solo. The trio was so on point every selection they performed qualified as a showstopper.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Branford Marsalis Quartet
Over the years, the Branford Marsalis Quartet has put on some terrific concerts at the Paradise Jazz Series. One example, is the 2017 concert with jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, featuring music from the album “Upward Spiral.” The performance hit musically on every conceivable level, and you left that concert feeling a  spiritual awakening. Some of the music at the quartet's Friday night opening performance for the 2019-2020 Paradise Jazz Series was too way out. The quartet performed a few well-known standards and cuts from their recent album “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul,” starting the concert with the “Dance of the Evil Toys, ” one of several esoteric compositions from bassist Eric Revis. Marsalis joked while introducing one of Revis' tunes that it's the kind of music you play when you don't want to get paid. Many times the quartet switched from  slower tempo numbers to the way out, making it seem as if  you were experiencing two different concerts. On those way out numbers, pianist Joey Calderazzo, and drummer Justin Faulkner whaled on their instruments like mad-men, which seemed to unnerve some of the audience. The concert had two noteworthy moments. The quartet’s bluesy treatment of the oldie “Sunny Side of the Street,” and the mini-reunion of Marsalis’s former bandmates Jeff “Tain Watts,” Robert Hurst, and Terence Blanchard on a hip take of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning.”  

Monday, August 19, 2019


Mike Malis
Detroit’s jazz community is known the world over for producing many great jazz pianists such as Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan. To this very day, Detroit continues to make sensational jazz pianists. One such sensation is Mike Malis, a graduate of the University of Michigan and a former pupil of the late pianist Geri Allen. Of the current pool of young jazz pianists on Detroit’s scene, Malis has proven to be one of the most daring, willing to go musically where his peers are reluctant to or don’t have the chops yet to go. Malis’s daring was on full display Friday evening at the Motor City Wine Bar where his quartet performed challenging compositions by Don Cherry, Andrew Hill, Geri Allen, and Wayne Shorter, mixed with some of Malis’s originals fresh from the oven. Malis’s band was comprised of some skilled swingers in trumpeter Kris Johnson, bassist Josef Deas, and drummer Jonathan Taylor. The quartet opened with an updated and extended take on Don Cherry’s “Guinea,” followed by Geri Allen’s “Dolphy’s Dance,” a complicated piece of music Malis admitted he’s been trying to master for years. The audience’s enthusiastic response after the quartet completed the number was a sign Malis with the help of his band has finally nailed Allen’s composition. Malis is a thoughtful young musician who hasn’t been around long, but who has already built quite a name for himself with two terrific recordings on the market “lifted from the no of all nothing,” and “Balance.”  Then there’s his growing body of work as a sideman. Aside from his willingness to tackle complicated material by jazz greats, Malis is equally adept at every branch of jazz bop, swing, the blues, and the avant-garde, which his chops seem to be most suited. Plus, he has a knack for de-complicating compositions so the layman can relate to and enjoy. That trait was immediately recognizable also in the band as a whole. Musically, they were more than capable of going in whatever direction Malis pointed them. The quartet doesn’t hit together often, which is surprising given how totally in sync they were. You wouldn’t have been wrong to estimate the band has been playing together for years. Then again, each member is accomplished. Johnson has been on the road for years now with the Count Basie Orchestra. Deas was a vital force in one of Detroit’s all-time great jazz ensembles Urban Transport, and for years has been a Godsend in every band that’s employed him. He isn’t a constant presence on the scene currently like he was when Urban Transport was hot, but given how wonderful he sounded Friday evening on solo after solo he’s been somewhere invested in some woodshedding. His bass walking has grown exponentially. Taylor is new to my ears, but I loved what I heard, a mature and tasteful drummer not interested one bit in wrangling the spotlight. It was refreshing hearing a jazz band run by a young musician confident enough to treat an audience to a night of rarely performed compositions from jazz greats and his own catchy originals.

Friday, August 9, 2019


Kasan Belgrave

Of the current pool of young and talented jazz musicians making waves on the Detroit jazz scene, the alto saxophonist Kasan Belgrave is possibly the most scrutinized because his father is the late legendary trumpeter and jazz educator Marcus Belgrave. Being the heir of such an internationally revered force could be daunting. However, if the young Belgrave is feeling the heat of his father’s legend or obligated to surpass his father’s accomplishments, it didn’t show Thursday evening at Cobb’s Corner Bar & Restaurant where Belgrave has a weekly residency. Belgrave, a respectful, smart and good looking young man, is comfortable captaining his band, a skin tight-knit trio with bassist Mike Palazzollo and guitarist Jacob Schwandt. Belgrave is graduating soon from the University of Michigan where he studied with saxophonist Andrew Bishop. A few songs into the opening set it was obvious Belgrave is a serious and adept student of jazz who’s tapped into the history of the alto saxophone. Listening to him perform some standards such as “I Remember April,” and “Nobody But You,” proved he’s spent many man-hours picking apart the mechanics of alto players Sonny Red, Lee Konitz, Larry Smith and Sonny Criss. Belgrave doesn’t showboat or play unnecessarily long solos. For a young player still maturing he possesses a polished sound. When his trio performed the standards, he made certain they didn’t stray from the original structure and overall intent of the compositions. It’s worth pointing out he performed in a challenging situation not having a pianist or a drummer in the mix. So, he was exposed for all to bear witness. But his playing was devoid of kinks or imperfections. I chatted with Belgrave after the opening set about his father’s influence. He said his dad encouraged him to explore whatever music the young Belgrave fancied. He doesn’t harp on exceeding his father’s accomplishments. Listening to him talk and perform leaves the impression he’s confidently fixed on making his own name note by note. I doubt if the Cob Corner residency pays much. Nonetheless, it’s a good training ground for Belgrave. Unfortunately, only a handful of people attended his show. The next challenge for him is making a bigger effort to promote the residency. He deserves to be heard.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Jazz Bassist Miles Brown

For eight years, the jazz bassist Miles Brown ran the jazz studies program at Oakland University. During that stretch he also became a key figure on Detroit’s jazz scene, performing with heavies such as Sean Dobbin, Scott Gwinnell, and Mike Jellick. Brown moved to Baltimore, but before the move, he gifted the scene with a wonderful jazz album out last month on the Detroit Music Factory label titled “Evidence of Soul and Body,” which since its debut has been on rotation on jazz stations nationwide. Over the weekend, Brown officially celebrated the release of the album with a four-night residency at Detroit’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café. People hip to the album was able to experience the music – a mix of familiar standards and originals from Miles’s pen and his dad’s guitarist Steve Brown – live. The set Saturday evening and the recording have very similar feels. I left the concert believing I’d made a smart choice investing a piece of my life listening to an hour- plus of prime choice jazz. I felt the same after hearing to the album for the first time. Brown is a pristine bassist. When he plays the bass, he doesn’t just lean it against his shoulder and pluck away at the strings. He literally dances with the bass as if it’s a prom date. For the project, he assembled equally gifted jazz musicians such as pianist Scott Gwinnell, drummer Sean Dobbins, saxophonist Andrew Bishop, and guitarist Steve Brown. The concert opened with the senior Brown’s “Two Birds One Stone,” a modernized twist on the standard “Bye Bye Black Bird”. Brown simply infused the standard with a hipper melody. It was a strong start to a concert that never lost any momentum. Brown didn’t perform every cut on the album just the ones that gave the album its charisma “Three and One,” ”Blues for Joaquin,” ‘Like Dave,” and the closer “Sonny’s Hustle”. Every performance was a highpoint or a mini-concert in itself. Brown’s dad Steve served up a handful of memorable solos and his old-school elegance was the linchpin. Dobbins was colorful as always with semi-automatic like rim shots, and Bishop displayed throughout the concert world-class tenor play, the kind of cheek and bone blowing that required years to perfect and that’s hard to come by these days. The four-night celebration was a fitting way to formally introduce a bonafide jazz album to the public.