What annoyed me most about the heart attack last year was that I missed the Montreal Jazz Festival. I'm not kidding. FIJM (Festival International de Jazz de Montreal) is one of the most enjoyable times of my life every year. Except for last year, I've gone every summer since 1992. I feel close especially to all the extraordinary folks who run the jazzfest, especially in the press room. Musically, the jazzfest offers an extraordinary variety, ticketed concerts in the evening, free outdoor concerts all day, and everything they do, they do with style, including the t-shirts. Everything happens in or around Place des Arts, in the middle of a metropolis but with the vibes of a carnival. And there's a Pizzadelic in walking distance in three directions.
I'll be there for it all this year, Thursday June 26th through Sunday July 13th, first as a judge for the GM and Galaxie band and composition competition, then broadcasting live from the heart of the festival on WBGO, 2-6:30 Wednesday the 2nd, Thursday the 3rd, and the 4th of July. I'm looking forward musically to the "Invitation" series of Hank Jones, especially the opening concert of duets with Oliver Jones. I've never heard my favorite pop group, Steely Dan, in concert, and they're playing two in Montreal, with Cat Russell as an opening act. I always expect compelling new singers every year, this year "nouvelles divas" Ima and Melody Gardot. And another festival favorite, Dave Brubeck, this year is playing a trio concert and recreating the octet.
One jazzfest ritual I will happily continue is falling by Club Soda at midnight for ... whatever is happening, usually music that's weird, often music that's wonderful. I realized at Club Soda two years ago how much jazz keeps on being re-defined -- and still swings. I wrote an essay for Down Beat to that effect, but too much of the piece, including the point (and punchline) of the piece, was lost editorially. So here's the piece, as meant to be read ...
(Summer, 2006, at the Montreal Jazz Festival)
“Jazz cannot be limited by definitions or by rules. Jazz is, above all, a total freedom to express oneself.”
Duke said so in a 1952 Down Beat – and on the back of the Down Beat t-shirt I was putting on the last day of the Montreal Jazz Festival. I’d never read the t-shirt before, but Duke’s quote was timely. I’d been thinking about the definition of jazz all through the festival.
“How come you can’t hear jazz at the jazz festival?” was the question asked almost verbatim twice when I was interviewed on the fest’s first day by the CBC and talk radio CJAD. During one of the interviews on the Place des Arts, an actual Dixieland band was walking by. “One way you can hear jazz,” I said snidely but truly, “is to pull your fingers out of your ears and listen.”
I’ve been scribbling about jazz in this magazine since 1969 and playing jazz on the radio since 1972, and in all that time I’ve heard no more pointless (or relentless) argument than the question of what is or is not jazz. It’s usually been most disputatious between generations. Many who loved Louis Armstrong hated Charlie Parker. Many who loved Charlie Parker hated Ornette Coleman. Many who loved Miles Davis hated … Miles Davis. What became most evident to me in Montreal was how much every generation re-defines jazz.
“We try to always have music that’s got some element of jazz,”said Laurent Saulnier, officially V.P. of programmation but I always think of him as V.P. of The Edge. He’s always pushing the festival’s musical parameters, especially electronically, and yet he deeply believes that the biggest word in the logo (Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal) should always be bolded. He’s teased me for years about being an old fart, always nudging me to listen especially to the DJs every midnight at Club Soda.
I’ve usually run screaming from anything hip-hop-ish, but (maybe because I’ll soon be 60, one of those zero ages when one looks back and forward much more keenly) I was game to hear a group Laurent was excited about called Plaster.
Three cats, all Quebecois, play keyboards, bass, and drums connected to computers. Though the grooves they generated were often thunderous, there was a playful bounciness to the bits and pieces of melodies they twisted electronically or criss-crossed with samples, including the voice of a wittily distorted politician. I became more and more fascinated by the interplay, especially between keyboardist Alex MacMahon and drummer Philippe Goncalves. These were not, as I’ve often felt about electronica, machines playing. These were musicians playing the machines. These were composers and actual improvisers, especially when counterpointing riffs.
And at the very thought of the word riffs, I almost leapt up shouting “It’s the Basie Band!” I could hear in Plaster parallels to the way Basie built calls and responses of the sections, always with the rhythm solid and propulsive. And how did Basie define jazz? Something about music that makes you pat your foot? Mine was patting like crazy.
I was just as delighted when British singer Jamie Lidell played a midnight gig. Solo on the stage, he worked several electronic whiz-bangs, turning fragments of sound into rhythmic melodies, shifting tempos and moods while keeping a straightahead pulse, all the while singing sounds or words. And when he was joined by the whimsical pianist Gonzales, he was even scatting blues. Too much of the scat singing I hear nowadays is only babble in 4/4. Jamie Lidell, with his voice and his machines, was creatively improvising phrases like a saxophonist or a drummer, like a jazz singer is supposed to.
Maybe I’m getting into an argument about what is and is not hip-hop, but what I’ve heard of hip-hop and electronica sounds too often like a stampede of jive elephants. Lidell’s hipper (and hopper?) pachyderms whirled like ballerinas. I’ve rarely felt any emotion from rap other than lust or anger, but Lidell was charming, laughing, and, as I shouted when I saw Laurent Saulnier dancing in the crowd, “This kid is swinging!”
Not all of these hip-hop-electro-whatevers were so compelling, “jazzy” or otherwise. I quickly became aware which of these new musicians were, like Plaster and Jamie Lidell, creatively to be reckoned with and which were playing only new clichés. Microtone Kitchen, even with six turntables, seemed unable to spin the recognizable shape of a composition, and the grooves were monotonous as the clatter of train tracks. Bauchklang, with six singers grunting electro-funky beats all vocally, sounded to me and (in their pseudo-street posturing) even looked like wannabe rappers on an old Soul Train. And one thing jazz certainly never is is dated.
Continuum is what I was hearing all across the musical spectrum in Montreal. Computers, I realized, offer jazz a new musical technology—no different than when Charlie Christian plugged in. And not all that was new that I heard was electrified.
Don Byron is an artist who’s always played everything (from klezmer to Puccini, from Duke’s Jungle Band to cartoon tunes) as if the music is new now. Byron’s Ivy-Divey Trio (with Jason Moran and Billy Hart) celebrated the Lester Young Trio (with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich) in the jazzfest’s Jesus Room, and affectionately more than reverently.
Likewise in the Salle de Gesu, The Bad Plus was not your father’s Bill Evans Trio. They played what pianist Ethan Iverson whimsically called “covers” (including back-to-back songs of Ornette Coleman and Burt Bacharach) among original pieces that often sounded to me like musical Rubik’s Cubes that they (and especially drummer Dave King) twisted into colorful configurations way beyond Rubik’s geometry.
Around the corner at the Spectrum, the trio EST also bent the usual triangle into other polygons. Though they sometimes involved electronics, even acoustically they played powerfully, often melodies that sounded less like tunes and more like pure momentum. Do they compose in AABA form? No. Could I always pat my foot? No. But even footless, EST was swinging other parts of me quite (I felt jazzfully) headlong.
I should mention that all the while I was waxing ecstatically about “new jazz” at the festival, there was oodles of “old jazz” – although, actually, what Dave Brubeck played in Montreal (and everywhere else he plays) was ageless. Everyone I heard pissing and moaning about not hearing jazz at the festival was not hearing McCoy Tyner! Wayne Shorter! Yusef Lateef! And plenty of straightahead Canadian jazzers we never get to hear below the 49th parallel. I especially enjoyed pianist Lorraine Desmarais fronting a big band with what I characterized in my notes only as punch!!
Streetnix is the most festive jazzband every year at the jazzfest. A quintet fronted by alto saxist Jennifer Bell with trumpet, trombone, tuba, and drums, they can march in the street or play the littlest stage of the Place des Arts, playing anything from Oliver Nelson’s “Hoedown” to AWB’s “Pick Up the Pieces” -- all the while kids are getting faces painted like cats and kids of all ages (like me) are laughing.
I’ve always loved singers, but too often I hear the same songs the same ways. Not so every year in Montreal. Fest faves like Dee Dee Bridgewater and John Pizzarelli were, as always, swinging and funny, him singing Sinatra, her singing chansons. Two other faves of mine were singers who criss-cross songs from all styles, each with unique chops and charms, each with I feel a true jazz sensibility. Susie Arioli sweetly sings songs of Fred Astaire or Roger Miller with a breeziness like the brushes on the snare drum she always plays when she sings. Terez Montcalm, with a Joplinesque rasp in her voice, can get frisky when she’s torchy, singing “For Heaven’s Sake” with an upbeat or spelling “L-O-V-E” with the joy of that word’s every definition.
And speaking of definitions, as I was at the outset, wondering what “jazz” means, whaddaya call Jamie Cullum? He sang pretty much anything and everything. ”Old Devil Moon” and a Dinah Washington song. Something folk-ish. Something rap-ish. He sang a heartfelt “Some Other Time” like I’ve never heard before. He played piano. He danced on the piano. He crawled through the audience singing “Nature Boy” and even conducted a sing-along. What I called him in my notes is Talent To Burn! And I also wrote “It’s all jazz!”
I mean, what was Jamie Cullum really (and wonderfully entertaingly) doing on that stage in Montreal? Same as Jamie Liddell. Whichever British Jamie was performing, he was, with total freedom, expressing himself. And that is what jazz is! Duke said so!
Read my t-shirt …
- Michael Bourne
Drummer and composer Brian Blade brings the Fellowship Band to the Village
Vanguard this week. We are presenting them live on WBGO and NPR Music,
tomorrow night at 9pm. Don't miss this.
It's never an easy interview when your guest is a quiet, introspective person.
But Brian and I share a passion for music made intently and intensely. I
suppose that's why I love listening to The Fellowship Band. Especially when
they play at the Village Vanguard.
Anyway, listen to Brian Blade talk about music. My favorite story? One night,
just before midnight, Brian biked through the French Quarter in New Orleans.
He absolutely had to buy a Blind Willie Johnson record before the store closed.
So Brian gets home, plays the music, and cannot go to bed. The bare sound
of Johnson and his guitar was haunting. One of many stories you'll find when
you listen to the interview here.
LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD
WBGO, VILLAGE VANGUARD AND NPR MUSIC JOIN FORCES FOR NEW MULTI-MEDIA LIVE BROADCAST SERIES
MONTHLY SERIES FEATURING TOP ARTISTS FROM PREMIER JAZZ VENUE
BEGINS JUNE 11; FIRST CONCERT WITH GUILLERMO KLEIN Y LOS GUACHOS
WBGO/Jazz88.3FM in Newark, NJ and NPR Music will webcast and broadcast a concert series from the legendary New York City jazz club, The Village Vanguard. The Live at The Village Vanguard series begins next week and will offer monthly concerts for live, free streaming at WBGO.org. Concerts in the series will also be broadcast live NPR Music at www.NPR.org/music.
The Village Vanguard is arguably the Mecca of jazz performance venues. Well into its seventh decade, the Vanguard is revered around the world for its rich history, its continued commitment to jazz, and its near-perfect acoustics. Next spring, WBGO/Jazz 88.3 FM celebrates its 30th anniversary as the premiere jazz broadcaster in the country. Last fall, National Public Radio (NPR) launched the highly anticipated NPR Music site - a free, comprehensive music discovery destination, featuring content from NPR and 12 NPR Member public radio stations, which include WBGO. Now, this trio of music producers and presenters have come together to create a jazz experience that melds new media, technology, and of course - jazz.
Live at the Village Vanguard is a newly launched monthly series from WBGO, The Village Vanguard and NPR that presents jazz programming in a completely fresh way, using multi-platform media to heighten the jazz experience. “WBGO is a public media institution. We are natural communicators, and our mission is jazz. Social media platforms give us the opportunity to build on our foundation, to find and create new fans, and to reach out to people with a real-time connection to music made in the moment,” says WBGO Special Projects Producer, Josh Jackson.
Music and social media is the core of this project along with the fundamental notion shared by all involved that jazz is not an exclusive genre on the margin of the vast and expanding media trends and experiences. Beyond your typical live broadcast radio experience, the concerts will be hosted by Jackson, who will be blogging and web-chatting during the performances, in real time from inside the club, on the WBGO Blog: Jazz & Beyond (WBGO.org/blog). The WBGO broadcast team will create exclusive content to connect personally with the public, such as an online photo gallery created live during the concerts that visitors can check out using Flickr, an online photo management and sharing application gallery.
Live at The Village Vanguard begins on June 11 with Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, the Argentine pianist and composer and his 11-piece band. On June 18, WBGO, NPR and the Vanguard present a live show with innovative jazz drummer Brian Blade, in performance with the Fellowship Band. Other scheduled concerts are the Uri Caine Trio on July 1; the Kenny Barron Quintet on August 27; Paul Motian, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano on September 3; the Bill Charlap Trio on October 8; the Ravi Coltrane Quartet on November 19; and the Cedar Walton Quartet on December 17.
Jazz content currently accounts for 15 percent of the music on the NPR music site, and NPR believes this is an exciting way to reintroduce the genre to its overall audience. Live at The Village Vanguard is the first jazz concert series to be live webcast by NPR Music and the latest addition to the site’s popular “Concerts” section, which features hundreds of regional and national web concerts and adds more than 15 new performances each month. The series continues NPR Music’s long tradition of presenting live performance jazz on air and online.
The Village Vanguard continues to blaze the trail when it comes to live performance. Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon did not hesitate when she was approached with the idea of a broadcast collaboration. "It’s an honor and a pleasure to work with WBGO. [W]BGO is a part of the structure of jazz today and the scene…very necessary."
Live at the Village Vanguard Schedule
Join us at the Village Vanguard, or from your living room for any of the following dates:
Wed. June 11th – Guillermo Klein Y Los Guachos
Wed. June 18th – Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band
Tues. July 1st – Uri Caine Trio
Wed. August 27th – Kenny Barron Quintet
Wed. September 3rd – Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano
Wed. October 8th – Bill Charlap Trio
Wed. November 19th – Ravi Coltrane Quartet
Wed. December 17th – Cedar Walton Quartet
• Live Meebo chat room: www.wbgo.org/villagevanguard
• Live blogging: www.wbgo.org/blog
On the way home from the Jazz Gallery, walking up Seventh Avenue,
used-to-be WBGO night man James Browne pulled me into his club Sweet
Rhythm to see Lezlie Harrison sing. A long time ago, Lezlie hosted the
jazz party on Saturday evenings on WBGO. She's never stopped using that
fine voice, and moved me with her singing and the solos by Luca Tozzi on
guitar and Greg Lewis on organ on "A Lover is Forever," once recorded by
Etta James. I'm going to download Etta right now. Lezlie's drummer is
Luca Santaniello. As I was leaving, Greg was rolling his Hammond out the
door. Musicians work hard and give much! Wish I had photos.
We're live from J&R in lower Manhattan, just across the way from City Hall and the Woolworth Building. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen is playing a set of all original compositions. We're celebrating the release of his recording, I AM I AM.
4:02 First song is called "The Cross and the Crescent Sickle"
4:07 Very strong association with the sound of John Coltrane, but JD Allen is his own man.
4:09 Marcus Belgrave and James Carter are influences from Allen's hometown, Detroit. JD in New York for 14 years now.
4:11 JD - "It's all a movie. I'm just trying to write the soundtrack."
4:12 An original song called "Pagan."
4:15 I'm not missing the absence of a piano. Reminds me of Sonny Rollins' great trio recordings from the Village Vanguard.
4:17 "The North Star"
4:20 Every great tenor saxophonist deserves an equally adept drummer. This band no exception. JD and drummer Rudy Royston are CONNECTED.
4:22 But what makes this a special group is that they are ALL listening to each other.
4:24 The inspiration for this record? Exodus 3:14 - I am that I am.
4:25 Based his approach on James Carter. Went to high school together. Turned him on to Albert Ayler, Branford Marsalis etc.
4:27 "Ezekiel." I'm assuming that JD got that one from the Bible, too.
4:38 That last song is new. Called "Son House," like the amazing blues musician. Earlier today, JD told me that the trio is already playing an entirely new set of trio music. Record to be called "Shine." Then a standards record.
4:40 Plays with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, Dave Douglas' Don Cherry Project, drummer Cindy Blackman, and bassist Henry Grimes. Nice mix.
4:49 That song was Freudian - "Id."
4:50 I just heard some sad news. Organist Jimmy McGriff has died...
4:52 This final song is "Hajile." That's "Elijah," if you have a mirror...
4:55 This band so good. An encore, maybe???
4:56 Encore - "Titus / I Am I Am"
Thanks for listening! I'll post the audio online later today. Check back in around 8pm ET, and listen again.
"I didn't know I loved her 'til they laid her down..."
When I heard saxophonist JD Allen say those words from the stage during soundcheck today, I knew exactly what he was talking about. That's a line from "Death Letter," by Son House. It is an iconic blues song, and a favorite of mine.
The JD Allen trio played a set of music from J&R Music World, one that drew heavily from their most recent release, I Am I Am. Except for "Son House," a song the band just recorded for a future release called Shine. Check it out:
And just because you can, watch Son House perform "Death Letter:"
"I didn't know I loved her 'til they laid her down..."
Whenever you hear young performers from Berklee College of Music, you are hearing the future of music. WBGO presented the Berklee Blue Note Ensemble on Midday Jazz today. For a decade, Berklee students with strong jazz creds make an annual trek to the Blue Note in Note in New York. Bill Pierce has been a Berklee faculty member for more than three decades. He directs the student ensemble. They are:
Melissa Aldana - saxophone (Santiago, Chile)
Jeonglim Yang - bass (South Korea)
Michael Palma - piano (Dallas, Texas)
Dan Pugach - drums (Raanana, Israel)
Jeremy Sinclair - trumpet (Dallas, Texas)
Nadia Washington - vocals (Dallas, Texas)
Listen to the session. Remember the names.
I was pleasantly surprised that this interview actually happened, but I know
all to well that persistence pays off in the long run. I say this because Al
Foster is famously dodgy about giving interviews to press. Probably because
everyone in the world wants to know about Al's relationship with Miles Davis.
Sure, he played with Miles for more than a decade, and was a dear friend, even
during Davis' self-imposed exile from the music scene in the late 1970s. Get
beyond that, and you realize that Al Foster has had an extraordinary musical
life. In this interview, Foster talks about growing up in Harlem, where he met
many of the legendary jazz musicians who shaped his career. And Miles too.
But did you know that Al Foster raised four daughters as a single father? One
more reason this guy deserves a medal. At the end of it all, you start to realize
why so many people regard Al Foster as one of the great messengers of our music.
The Al Foster Quartet plays the Village Vanguard this week. You can hear them
live on WBGO, tomorrow night at 9. I'll be your host. Stay tuned.
Ronnie Mathews, a pianist who has contributed so much to jazz, is terminally ill. He is battling pancreatic cancer at First Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn. WBGO's Sheila Anderson visited yesterday, as did Mathews' friend, the pianist Barry Harris. Harris brought a keyboard, and played some music for the ailing Mathews.
If you would like to leave a message for Ronnie Mathews, you may do so. His home number is 718.783.4073. Messages will be delivered to him in the hospital.
WBGO and the jazz community send Ronnie Mathews wishes for strength and peace during this difficult time.
It's the last day of Great Live Moments...for now. And the first day of our on-air fundraising campaign. If you've enjoyed any of these Great Live Moments, support WBGO. Because "when you start to love us, you're so fine and mellow."