Too bad we didn’t video record this listening session. To see Dee Dee Bridgewater’s animated facial expressions and watch her respond, both physically and emotionally, would add an extra layer or two of meaning to the text. I caught up with the peripatetic vocalist (and her little Maltese, Iyo) at her hotel during a tour with the Monterey Festival All-Stars, a few hours before their performance at the Kennedy Center. The actress and three-time Grammy winner continues to host NPR’s Jazz Set while pursuing her intercontinental musical adventures. Her latest recording is the compilation, Midnight Sun, on her own DDB Records.
1. Betty Carter
“Thou Swell” (from Social Call, Columbia). Carter, vocal; Ray Bryant, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Recorded in 1955.
Betty, man. She was so friggin’ underrated. She was a genius. I mean, just the way she heard music and how she could take a simple song like “Thou Swell” and turn it into a masterpiece of the moment. The trio was so tight and she just floats on top of it like a horn. People say they’re inspired by Ella, Sarah and Billie, but she’s my main inspiration. Continue reading →
Since winning the Thelonious Monk International Bass Competition, Ben Williams has recorded his 2011 debut as leader, the critically acclaimed State of Art (Concord), formed his own group Sound Effect, and continued recording and working with top stars, like Pat Metheny’s Unity Band. The 29 year-old acoustic and electric bassist placed 2nd in the JazzTimes critic’s poll for best new artist, and he appears most recently on the newly released NEXT Collective CD. Though he’s been in New York since his Juilliard days, I managed to catch up with Williams the day after Christmas in his hometown of Washington D.C.
1. Wayne Shorter
“Orbits” (from Without a Net, Blue Note). Shorter, soprano saxophone; Danilo Perez, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums. Recorded in 2011. Continue reading →
Pianist-composer Kenny Werner’s impact can be measured on a number of levels. As a theorist, his book Effortless Master-Liberating the Master Musician Within has had a lasting influence on a generation of musicians since it was first published in 1996. As a player with great skill and imagination, Werner has led his various trios since 1981, and recorded dozens of sessions as leader or sideman. In recent years, he’s stepped up as a composer of larger works, receiving commissions from jazz and symphony orchestras in the U.S. and Europe. Werner’s ambitious 2010 recording No Beginning, No End, led to a recent Guggenheim Fellowship, and his latest release, Institute of Higher Learning (Half Note), documents his collaborationwith the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. Werner made time for this late-night listening session following his Kennedy Center performance with Toots Thielemans.
1. Erroll Garner
“Penthouse Serenade” (from Long Ago and Far Away, Columbia). Garner, piano; John Simmons, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums. Recorded in 1951.
With the release of his third recording, Hi-Fly (Mack Avenue), Sachal Vasandani continues his inevitable transition from rising star to established headliner. Like many singers of his generation, he’s studied and assimilated the past while keeping up with current developments inside and outside of jazz. For this session he gnawed on fresh fruits throughout and chose to listen to each track in its entirety before offering reactions or sharing insights. Still, he couldn’t stifle his occasional yeas and grunts of appreciation.
“God Bless The Child” (from Be Good, Motema). Porter, vocal. Recorded in 2011.
A memorable Lee Konitz moment occurred just before we met. Stepping off the elevator on his hotel floor, I heard the faint sound of an alto saxophone gradually growing louder as I walked toward his room. I stood outside his door listening to him practice, transfixed by his sound and melodic variations. Eventually, he took a break, which broke the spell and I knocked. For this B&A, the 82 year-old Konitz was characteristically outspoken and unguarded. He also talked about his latest duet recording Duos With Lee with pianist Dan Tepfer (Sunnyside).
You can learn a lot about jazz hanging with Jimmy Heath. The saxophonist, arranger and bandleader has worked with nearly every important jazz musician of the post-war period, and his many compositions, including the jazz standards “Gingerbread Boy” and “C.T.A.,” are performed and recorded around the world. The Philly-born, NEA Jazz Master spent many years teaching, and he’s shared a lifetime of behind-the-scenes stories in his recent autobiography, I Walked With Giants. He is still actively playing and recording, and his latest release with his younger brother Tootie is The Heath Brothers:Endurance (JLP). This B&A was conducted in front of a live audience at the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival.
1. James Moody
“I’m In The Mood For Love ” (from The Very Best of Prestige). Moody, alto sax; Leppe Sundwal, trumpet; Thore Swanerud, piano; Yngve Akerberg, bass; Jack Noren, drums. Recorded 1949. Continue reading →
1. Professor Longhair
“Tipitina” (from New Orleans Piano, Atlantic). Longhair [Roy Byrd], piano, vocals; Lee Allen, tenor sax; Red Tyler, baritone sax; Edgar Blanchard, bass; Earl Palmer, drums. Recorded in 1953.
Of course I know who that is. Professor Longhair was the beginning of a new era of piano playing, especially for rhythm & blues. It’s an amazing thing, even how he starts this tune. Continue reading →
At age 81, Sonny Rollins shows no signs of slowing down. He still records and tours internationally, keeping his musical tools sharp and his ears open. Though adulation makes him uncomfortable (of late, he humbly refers to himself as “a musical primitive”), Rollins has received nearly every important accolade in the world of music and the arts, including two Grammys, the Edward MacDowell Medal, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize and the NEA Jazz Masters Award. On March 2 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama at the White House. (Kennedy Center Honors, what are you waiting for?) Rollins latest release is his second volume of Road Shows recordings on his Doxy label.
In July of 2010, I caught up with the celebrated saxophonist in Norway at the 50th anniversary of the Molde International Jazz Festival, where he performed an outdoor concert for thousands of dancing, rain-soaked fans. At his hotel, we took a few minutes to enjoy the panoramic view of the fjord, and then sat down to listen.
1. Coleman Hawkins
“Picasso” (from The Jazz Scene, Verve). Hawkins, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 1948.
Drummer, composer, broadcaster and bandleader Jae Sinnett has never been one to wait for the phone to ring. He’s made eight recordings as a leader since 1986, tapping musical friends Chris Potter, Wallace Roney, Steve Wilson, Billy Pierce, Frank Foster and others to join him in his various projects. He’s scored the music for five documentaries, taught at Christopher Newport University and produced a performance/instructional video “Musical Drumming Concepts.” Sinnett is also the radio host of two successful programs, “Sinnett’s In Session” and “The R&B Chronicles” on NPR affiliate WHRV-FM in Norfolk, Virginia.
1. Jo Jones
“Liza” (from Jo Jones: The Everest Years, Empire Musikwerks). Jones, drums; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Jimmy Forest, tenor saxophone; Bennie Green, trombone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Tommy Potter, bass. Originally released 1960.