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  • What We Loved At Winter Jazzfest 2016

    January 20, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Charenee Wade led a band featuring saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin in a program featuring the music of Gil Scott-Heron (and his collaborator, Brian Jackson). (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR)

    Like any music, jazz has its revolutions; its sudden incidents in infrastructure; its disruptive presences of unprecedented sound. Mostly it's slower than that, though, with years and generations of accretions before it seems to call for new vocabulary. That's one way to look at Winter Jazzfest, whose latest incarnation occupied a dozen or so venues in downtown New York City last weekend. In a decade and a half of steady growth, a one-night showcase oriented toward industry insiders has become nearly a weeklong landmark of the city's cultural calendar.

    Winter Jazzfest's expansion has changed its aftertaste somewhat — this year's significantly greater geographic distribution spread out the festival's crowds across a wider swath of territory — but its model remains the same: more music than you can possibly see, by more musicians than you've possibly heard of, in one general vicinity. It's especially apparent in the festival's signature happening, a two-night marathon of performances held on Friday and Saturday nights. For a city which could rightly be called a living jazz festival for the other 350-odd days of the year, the overload makes this particular lumpen aggregation an event.

    Obscure and established, taproot and offshoot branch, the Winter Jazzfest shines a broad spotlight. To represent that big tent, we asked several regular festivalgoers to pick one performance from the marathon that stuck with them. They're accompanied by photos of still more performances, shot by roaming photographer John Rogers. Here's what we took in at this year's festival.

    Charenee Wade

    An instructor at Queens College's Aaron Copland School of Music, Charenee Wade put on her own fanfare for the common man with a blistering 45-minute set on Friday night. Showcasing her propulsive voice, her sextet paid tribute to the legacy of Gil Scott-Heron (as recorded on a 2015 album titled Offering). Her group featured standout solos from vibraphonist Nikara Warren (granddaughter of pianist Kenny Barron) and saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, the perfect foils to Wade's bright and crisp voice — the ultimate blend of Betty Carter and Roberta Flack. And the audience, one of the few this weekend that skewed toward older African Americans, often shouted and whooped in delight. It all confirmed that jazz singing is safe for the millennial generation as long as Charenee Wade has a microphone in her hand. —Derrick Lucas

    Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet

    We're drawn to the arts because they create new worlds inside us: They trigger sensations, experiences and perspectives we did not know existed before. The Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet did exactly that last Friday at Subculture. The band's rhythm section — Shai Maestro on piano, Chris Morrissey on bass and Guiliana on drums — was clearly one of the strongest in my experience at the festival. With simple but powerful melodic lines, saxophonist Jason Rigby also turned out to be a crowd-pleaser. Overall, the quartet alternated wild swing-style beats with slower, more haunting tunes. Guiliana, who played on David Bowie's last album Blackstar, led his band in a way which exuded a contemplative, ethereal quality reminiscent of the rock legend's lyricism. As a tribute to Bowie, the drummer performed his composition "2014," from the quartet's album Family First. —Emilie Pons

    Terrace Martin

    Terrace Martin's quintet helped pack The Bitter End to the rafters early Friday evening, and it was easy to understand why: Who doesn't want to bask in the presence of a producer who helped Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly blossom? Those are big "pop" credentials, and with Kamasi Washington's late withdrawal due to injury, this was the only Winter Jazzfest opportunity to check in on the jazz side of L.A.'s current musical renaissance. The performance, Martin's New York debut as a bandleader, juxtaposed the different sounds of his hometown's current musical landscape. A single, earthbound alto chorus of "Wade In The Water" gave way to a short, noisy astral freakout (high marks to guitarist Andrew Renfroe and drummer Jonathan Barber) before settling into a set of electronic soul-jazz, with Martin leading from a Yamaha synth and vocoder more than his saxophone. It was relatively smooth sailing till the end, when he brought on "my secret weapon," vocalist Latonya "Tone" Geneva Givens, for a spellbinding reading of James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World." What was already an excellent cabaret'n'B take on the tune suddenly hit overdrive, as Givens' vocal improvisations took her out into a more operatic atmosphere, and the music's possibilities became boundless once more. —Piotr Orlov

    Tim Berne's Sideshow

    Alto saxophonist Tim Berne arrived at the beautiful, cavernous ECM Records stage on Saturday with Sideshow, a new band that looked something like a conventional bebop quintet at first blush. But Berne, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hébert and drummer Dan Weiss tore that surface impression to bits in an instant. They hit peak intensity from note one, grabbing steady footing as they dealt with Berne's erratic rhythms and sawtooth melodic lines. As in much of Berne's work, there were constant shifts between cohesion and fragmentation, the written and unwritten. Instruments broke into varied combinations for ethereal free improvisation and demanding unison passages, often unfolding in a spontaneous counterpoint. Mitchell, the sole holdover from Berne's previous group Snakeoil, sounded glorious in the 800-seat room. And Weiss, Mitchell's frequent bandmate, went at the music with wild zigzagging funk and palpable hunger. —David R. Adler

    Gregorio Uribe Big Band

    Once a month, the Colombian singer and button accordionist Gregorio Uribe fronts a big band in a cozy basement space called the Zinc Bar. Like many New York jazz clubs, it's a bit cramped with 16 musicians and their dapper-dressed frontman, but it's even more so during the deoxygenated human crush of Winter Jazzfest. (Your correspondent backed himself into a literal corner, flanked by intoxicated jazzbros.) But sometime around midnight, Uribe ignited the packed house with the things that drive packed houses wild: danceable cumbia, horn blasts, charismatic singing and so forth. You'd need more than the allotted 40-ish minutes to fully unpack the precise combination of clarinet and accordion and cross-currents of percussion that set this apart from other Afro-Latin bands treading this territory; you might start with the 2015 album Cumbia Universal. But he certainly got the energy channeling correct. One tune, Uribe announced, was called "Gracias Nueva York," and that felt apropos. Where else does one regularly merge specificities like Colombian dance rhythms and jazz big band in a way that feels, well, universal? —Patrick Jarenwattananon

    The Bad Plus

    A popup midnight show by The Bad Plus set the tone for me at this year's Winter Jazzfest. The trio, originally from the Upper Midwest, began to combine jazz with rock energy at underground New York clubs in the early 2000s. Now it presides over a festival whose sprawling, shape-shifting creativity is firmly above ground, and continues to grow. "Our timeshare in Omaha fell through," bassist Reid Anderson joked, to explain why the globetrotting group hasn't been to the festival in recent years. (He lives in Barcelona.) Other festival sets showcased band members' side projects: drummer Dave King's Trucking Company, Happy Apple and Vector Families; Anderson's electronica; and pianist Ethan Iverson duetting with saxophonist Mark Turner. The band's unannounced set Friday night — listed only as "super secret special guests" — was short and sassy, with originals by all three members. Like Winter Jazzfest itself, it was surprising, irreverent, erudite, hip, wonky and, above all else, fun. —Tim Wilkins

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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  • 5 Must-See Acts At The 2016 Winter Jazzfest

    January 13, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    Guitarist and singer Camila Meza will release a new album, Traces, in February. (Image Credit: Chris Drukker/Courtesy of the artist)

    New York City's Winter Jazzfest kicks off its 12th edition tonight, launching five days of nearly nonstop music. This year's installment is the biggest yet, featuring more than 120 groups and 600-plus musicians in and around Greenwich Village. What started as a one-night festival to give greater exposure to the city's highly talented yet underrated artists has turned into one of the finest jazz happenings in North America.

    How big has it grown? This year, the progressive jazz label ECM Records will showcase 13 different bands on a dedicated stage, and ECM founder Manfred Eicher is making a special trip from Germany for the concerts. This record-company showcase represents a fraction of the festival's signature event: a two-night music marathon across 12 stages happening this Friday and Saturday.

    The festival's creator, Brice Rosenbloom, makes a point to showcase new projects to coincide with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference, where the world's premier talent scouts congregate each year. For the rest of us, Winter Jazzfest offers a chance to escape cabin fever and experience an astonishing mix of jazz from far and wide, in its most flexible definition.

    Here are five bands to seek out.

    Copyright 2016 Newark Public Radio. To see more, visit Newark Public Radio.

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  • How A Korean Jazz Festival Found A Huge Young Audience

    January 12, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Danish Afrobeat-inspired band The KutiMangoes pose for photos with the crowd at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: Roh Seung-hwan/Courtesy of Jarasum International Jazz Festival)

    It was like discovering a parallel reality.

    After completing a sponsored trip to South Korea for music professionals in October, I stayed in the country, striking out on my own. I grabbed a train to the Jarasum International Jazz Festival, a couple hours from Seoul, and arrived in the middle of a set by the international power pairing of Paolo Fresu, Omar Sosa and Trilok Gurtu.

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    I did a double take — and then a triple take. A huge audience of mostly twentysomethings was smiling and dancing, showing big love for the music. I looked around for a plausible explanation. Was a K-pop video being projected on a screen near the jazz trio? No, a festival volunteer explained — the crowd's enthusiasm was all for the improvising trumpeter, pianist and percussionist onstage. Younger people, he said: They like jazz.

    "Stepping onstage at the Jarasum Jazz Festival is like stumbling into an alternate universe where jazz is suddenly young, hip, sexy and cool," says Joshua Redman, the celebrated American saxophonist.

    After Redman performed at Jarasum a few years ago, festival director In Jae-jin remembers the saxophonist saying he wanted to take half of the audience home to the U.S. In has gotten used to hearing that sort of thing.

    "Actually, so many international guests are so surprised to see the young audience in Korea, especially for this festival," In says. "Wherever you attend jazz festivals, normally the audience is over 50 or even 60, but at my festival they are in their 20s and 30s."

    Now in its 12th year, the Jarasum Jazz Festival regularly draws between 200,000 and 250,000 people over three days. Jarasum estimates that 88 percent of its 2015 audience was under age 40. To put this demographic in perspective, the numbers are basically flipped at the Newport Jazz Festival, where a 2012 survey found that 82 percent of its audience is over age 45.

    The art of jazz is flourishing, we know, with young musicians developing the music all over the world. But the business of jazz sees much hand-wringing over the music's aging audience, its sea of gray hair. And nowhere in the world have I seen a jazz audience as young as at Jarasum: The crowd felt anachronistic, like a 21st-century resurrection of jazz's swing-era popularity.

    A young jazz audience is such a rarity, in fact, that it's become a kind of holy grail for presenters. So how does Jarasum do it?

    Zen And The Art of Festival Presentation

    Koreans are quick to point out that music festivals in general are trendy among young people. Music festivals are certainly popular among young people in the U.S., too — though jazz festivals, not so much.

    The conventional wisdom of growing a jazz-festival audience is to expand programming, which often means adding pop-friendly headliners. True, Jarasum is not exactly fraught with concern over jazz authenticity. On multiple stages, the festival presents a blend of jazz and world music, local and international acts, crowd-pleasing and crowd-challenging sounds. Jazz cognoscenti don't seem worried that Spyro Gyra is as likely to headline the festival as the Heath Brothers. Korean jazz talent seems fairly represented in the program, and there's also a popular annual competition for emerging Korean musicians. Jarasum's most striking programming feature is its globalism: Appearing this year were the Brazilian guitarist Badi Assad, Cameroon-born bassist Richard Bona and Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, along with many top musicians from Germany, 2015's "focus country."

    The big-tent approach isn't nearly the whole story, though. In fact, the festival literally depends on many small tents. When In Jae-jin first presented Jarasum in 2004, the festival's setting — a river island that was submerged during heavy rain — seemed like a quixotic choice at best. But a camping fad started around the same time and helped make the area a premier eco-destination.

    Following the festival's early years, when In says his major funding from the local government came with too many heavy-handed requests (festival soccer fields, for one), he started building toward what he calls a "golden balance": one-third government funding, one-third corporate funding and one-third ticket revenues. After some rough patches, Jarasum's budget has now more or less settled on that three-part balance, and the festival is thriving. Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism named Jarasum the country's best festival of 2014. In himself has earned some fame, too, lecturing on "performance media" at a university and publishing a 2014 memoir titled Youth Is A Sizzling Jazz Festival.

    Along with broad-minded programming, an attractive setting for camping and solid funding, there's a counterintuitive factor in Jarasum's success. "From the beginning," In explains, "the main themes of my festival were nature, friends and family, and rest and refreshment, with less emphasis on music."

    Yes, that's correct. In attributes the success of his music festival to a philosophy of putting music last. Check out the branding in Jarasum's 2015 trailer:

    In a commercial that Wes Anderson might have made, Jarasum sells a retro camping adventure, promoting the festival's river-island setting as a hipster nature wonderland. The names of performing musicians appear on a boat, map, book — props for a weekend in the country — sending a message that music is incidental to the overall Jarasum experience.

    "I'm trying to give some dreams to the audience," In explained, when I asked him about the promo film. "They just want to spend one or two days having a very peaceful holiday with family and friends, and then maybe there's some music, too."

    Just as significant is what the trailer does not have. There are no low angle shots of performing musicians, forcing the viewer to look up with obligatory reverence; there's no billing of "legendary artists," requiring insider knowledge of what makes them so legendary. Nowhere does Jarasum's trailer insinuate that only jazz heads will properly enjoy the festival.

    At Jarasum, I often thought of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival near my home in Colorado, where a mountain setting and campground jam scene draw festivalgoers as much as the official music program. But Jarasum's eco-trendiness defines its appeal so overwhelmingly that its program can be irrelevant. On the festival's final afternoon, I found Kim Chan-hee, 26, and her boyfriend Hyeon, 32, snapping selfies next to a large Jarasum Jazz Festival sign. It was their second year at Jarasum, they said, though when I asked about their favorite act at this year's festival, they couldn't name even one.

    "We just come here for the mood, for enjoying the atmosphere," Kim said, seeming a little puzzled that she needed to spell this out. "We brought a tent. We don't know a lot about jazz, but it's good to hear." About three-quarters of the festivalgoers I met had a similar story.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I found Lee Cheong-ah, 28, listening attentively to the Jeon Yong Jun Group, a Korean quintet, while she enjoyed some wine and a picnic. (Festivalgoers may bring any food and drinks onto Jarasum's grounds, and often look like well-dressed nomads as they wheel their elaborate provisions around in stacked bags and coolers.) Lee said she's been listening to jazz since high school. Jazz is her favorite genre of music, and Michel Petrucciani is her favorite musician. Besides making an annual pilgrimage to Jarasum, Lee buys jazz recordings and regularly hits Seoul jazz bars like Once In A Blue Moon.

    About a fourth of the festivalgoers I met were jazz fans of Lee's earnestness. The gulf between Kim Chan-hee and Lee Cheong-ah, between Jarasum's jazz agnostics and jazz aficionados, seems wide. Many festivalgoers couldn't care less about who's on the program, but the ones who do come across as true jazz devotees.

    Some of Jarasum's most excited festivalgoers were local military men on holiday. At the festival entrance, a group of these camo-bedecked guys, all around 20 years old, told me they were about to hear live jazz for the first time. I wondered how they'd like the music.

    "Of course we'll like it," one said. "Why wouldn't we?"

    It's Only Jazz, But I Like It

    "I was really taken by the youthful and extremely enthusiastic audience, as well as the huge turnout," says American guitarist John Scofield, who performed at Jarasum in 2012. "The younger Korean audiences in general are very supportive jazz enthusiasts who behave like they are at a 'rock concert' instead of jazz."

    Even the many people at Jarasum who don't know jazz demonstrate this rock-style enthusiasm for it. That predilection might have something to do with South Korea's recent cultural history. For decades, an authoritarian Korean government put a damper on the country's musical development. So jazz is relatively new to Koreans.

    "Though Korea also had a history of jazz during the swing-music era, the actual time of jazz's introduction in Korea was the late '80s," says Kim Gwang-hyun, editor-in-chief of Korea's monthly jazz magazine Jazzpeople. "During the late '80s, the democratization era in Korea, different types of culture were introduced. Also, jazz was used in many movies and television shows during this time, which helped the popularization."

    In Korea, jazz was not a major musical culture against which rock rebelled, so Koreans aren't predisposed to see jazz as the obsolete predecessor of fresh, youthful rock and pop. In other words, a specific musical history gives jazz greater odds of likability among young Koreans.

    But is Jarasum building a lasting jazz audience? After attending the festival, do all those young urbanites pour into Seoul jazz clubs? Do they get on their smartphones and buy everything in Scofield's back catalog? The general perception is that some do, maybe, but not most. For "young Koreans who live busy lives in big cities,"Jazzpeople's Kim says, "jazz festivals are a once-a-year experience of spending picnic time with music. It's not easy to expect serious listening from them."

    The big opportunity at the Jarasum festival — the audience doesn't care if it's jazz — can be a big problem outside the festival: The audience doesn't care enough about jazz to develop a deeper appreciation. While Jarasum exposes people to jazz in a live setting, Kim says education is needed to nurture an enduring audience. And that raises a paradox: A more edifying approach to jazz might alienate many of those who now enjoy the music so casually at the festival.

    "This was a new experience for the young Koreans, and in many ways it is successful," Kim says. "But I have to say that one festival can't change everything. It is important for individuals to listen more and be eager to learn more."

    So it's hard to say how many of Jarasum's 200,000-plus attendees will become serious jazz fans. Still, the festival manages to have millennials crowding its jazz stages, and that alone feels like a victory to this American. If, for only one October weekend each year, every Korean hipster wants to be at a jazz festival, it has to be good for the music, right?

    "Most of the audience doesn't have much opportunity to listen to jazz," promoter In Jae-jin says. "But at my festival, they can have that chance, and maybe the audience can find that jazz is quite nice and not bad."

    Americans can't replicate the relative novelty of jazz in Korea, and we wouldn't want to; our deep jazz history is a national treasure. But American festivals might learn something from Jarasum's gentle jazz presentation, which offers up the music as one part of a refreshing weekend; which doesn't expect pledges to a jazz fraternity; which is content with a reception of "quite nice and not bad."

    As someone who's too often been the only twenty- or thirtysomething in a crowd, the young, animated audience at Jarasum gave me instinctive hope. During my weekend at Jarasum, I didn't worry about jazz's future at all.

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  • James P. Johnson: The Father Of Stride

    January 8, 2016

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    James P. Johnson (front) in the mid- to late 1940s. (Image Credit: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)

    Many decades after James P. Johnson's death, his influence remains embedded in the playing of most jazz pianists. The early-20th-century musician's seminal work represents the cornerstone of jazz piano conception.

    Here, Jazz Night In America visits Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear pianists like Aaron Diehl, Ethan Iverson, Marc Cary and ELEW pay tribute to one of the founding fathers of the art, and then digs into the James P. Johnson collection at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Paul Bley, Influential Jazz Pianist, Has Died

    January 5, 2016. Posted by David Tallacksen.

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    Paul Bley. (Image Credit: Hans Kumpf/Courtesy of ECM Records)

    Paul Bley, a jazz pianist whose thoughtful but intuitive commitment to advanced improvisation became widely influential, died of natural causes Sunday. He was 83.

    Bley was surrounded by family at his winter residence in Stuart, Fla., according to his daughter Vanessa Bley.

    A career spent with musicians like Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock — that's just the first 20 or so years — began in Paul Bley's hometown of Montreal. When the virtuoso performer Oscar Peterson was summoned away on tour, a teenage Bley was asked to replace him in Peterson's trio.

    Bley soon enrolled at the Juilliard School, which placed him in New York City amid the bebop wave which had landed upon the city's jazz community. In 1953, he made his debut recording, a trio date for the small record label started by Charles Mingus, with the big-name backing of Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

    It would take a while longer for Bley to develop a musical identity he was proud to call his own, but he said he was already thinking about it when he moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. While working a regular engagement at the Hillcrest Club, in a black neighborhood of L.A., Bley welcomed two young performers with an original concept into his group. The new band was highly polarizing, especially when it eventually moved to the jazz hub of New York City. By that point, the stir was about the alto saxophonist and trumpeter: Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

    Bley did not travel with the group to New York, but his head was turned by its possibilities. He would eventually feel compelled to return to New York, where he found himself in different improvising contexts: in an innovative trio with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, recording with jazz theoretician George Russell, performing again with Mingus, touring with saxophone giant Sonny Rollins, playing with free improvisers Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler, joining a musicians' collective called the Jazz Composers Guild with his wife at the time, composer Carla Bley. His own recordings at the time, often using bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, began to reflect his evolving ideas, as they bridged song structure with improvisatory freedom.

    The open-ended promise of free jazz exerted a great influence on Bley for the rest of his career. "It's free only in the sense that you're not bringing written music to the table," he said in an episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. "In place of the written music, you're bringing the acoustics of the room that you're playing in, the nationality of the audience, the weather of the evening and you-name-it."

    Bley also was an early adopter of electronic synthesizers, recording often with composer/vocalist Annette Peacock — his second wife. Bley also married music with video recording and video art, founding a record label called Improvising Artists with videographer Carol Goss — his third wife. Notably, the label featured the recording debuts of Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. In 2005, Metheny praised Bley on NPR's Talk Of The Nation, particularly his solo on a 1963 recording of "All The Things You Are" (from the album Sonny Meets Hawk!).

    "His solo really did kind of open up a whole new universe of harmonic possibilities and is really, in my opinion, one of the greatest solos in jazz," Metheny said.

    Bley continued to tour, record and eventually teach throughout the remainder of his life. "[H]e blueprinted a concept of the avant-garde that looked to romantic rumination over visceral, atonal tinkering," Evan Haga wrote in an NPR Music feature. In 2000, Bley spoke with fellow pianist Marian McPartland for Piano Jazz.

    "There's a responsibility to being Paul Bley and having 120 records out," he said. "The responsibility is not to repeat yourself. There's 120 things I can no longer play, having already recorded them. ... What you're not going to play becomes the real decision, and what's left is what you do play."

    McPartland asked him whether he perceived a clear direction he wanted to explore presently.

    "I think the music contains all the information already," Bley said. "Just by tuning into the playing, it informs all those questions."

    Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.