Today is the 87th birthday of a jazz legend - Dr. Billy Taylor. Last night, on the eve of this very special day, Dr. T was one of several featured pianists at the 92nd Street Y in the Jazz in July series. He likes the name of that series because he came up with it himself when he helped to found a summer program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Just this month, Taylor quietly stepped down from his Jazz in July, and U Mass expressed gratitude for many summers on its website. Click to read the story.
Also this summer, Taylor is involved in a development right here in our town. Now we have a Brick City branch of Jazzmobile, the teaching organization he helped found in Harlem. Newark Jazzmobile is named for the late bassist Earl May, who first proposed it but did not live to see it happen. Click here for the Jazzmobile schedule. Houston Person plays tonight at Mildred Helms Park in the South Ward! Click and hear Billy Taylor play "A Night in Tunisia" on WBGO's (then) new Steinway, live on the air in the 1980s. Another Great Live Moment from WBGO.
Day Four Sunday June 29th
Amy's favorite for brunch, Cafe Cherrier, with Amy, Becca, and Michele. I don't have to walk a dozen blocks to my own favorite for brunch, Eggspectation, now that they've opened another creperie on the corner of Place des Arts.
Almost to the minute at 6, thunder rumbled, and rain fell just as the quintet of guitarist Reno de Stefano started playing. I hate umbrellas but I needed to be under to write notes for the judging, but I didn't have much to write. Most of the groups in the competition are younger players, but all the cats in DeStefano's quintet are jazz vets, or, as I noted, "grown-ups." They've been around. They know how to play tunes on the changes hiply. They swing. They can't win the prize.
Avi Granite 6 is a definite contender. Even as they walked out, I could see the "thing" was about to happen. Granite plays guitar with a front line of alto, tenor, and trombone. They played out but tunefully right from the jump, and the groove from the bass and drums was always propulsive. Each of the players was a solid soloist. Granite himself played guitar as if playing beyond the strings, as if playing the very electricity of the amp. They often looked quite serious yet were often whimsical, especially the trombonist. Avi Granite 6 is the group to beat.
Woody Allen played to the multi-thousands of the big hall, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. I wondered if so many came because they expected him to be funny. Except for saying hello and saying they'd be playing music from New Orleans, he was there to play clarinet. When he first played, he was squeaky, he articulated notes somewhat awkwardly, and some in the audience tittered, thinking maybe he was being funny. He was not. Woody Allen is a tremendously adequate clarinetist, but he plays with considerable spirit, as do they all in what was called Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band. They played and sometimes sang (everyone but Woody) blues and songs from the 20's. When they whipped up the second line, Woody's clarinet sounded best and truly soared above the romping and stomping. Woody thanked everyone, said this was his first time ever in Montreal. "Playing this music for you was a treat for us," he said. And at the finale, the multi-thousands stood and roared for more. "I don't think they expected a reaction like this," said Michele. Woody and the guys came back out, nodding thanks, and Eddy Davis, banjoist and the actual leader of the band, nodded his head toward the bandstand. So they played not only more, but a lot more, including an ecstatic "Saint Louis Blues."
We were in a room overlooking the big GM stage on the Place and, even in the rain, the crowd was dancing to a reggae/funk show called Jamaica to Toronto. Michele lives in Portland, so she's used to the rain. We walked through the "spitting" to the Club Soda, but as we passed one of the tents for SIMM, the festival's free Salon des Instruments de Musique de Montreal, 50 or 60 folks were thundering on hand drums. Steve's Music Store in Montreal was conducting a drum-along. Everyone who came in, including us, was handed an African hand drum and welcomed to join in the rhythmic rumble. Invigorated from the drumming, we came to Club Soda for one of the midnight shows. This was where, two years ago, as I wrote in the piece I posted on the WBGO blog last week, I realized how much jazz is re-defined at the Montreal jazzfest. You can hear the full-tilt New Orleans trad of Woody Allen and then hear the electro-klezmer-hip-hip of the group Socalled. I'm not kidding: klezmer rap. I was the oldest in the house, but, as always in Montreal, I was game ...
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.
When you get to your folding chair at the Jazz Gallery on Hudson St.,
there's a personal cardboard fan on your seat, and you think what a nice
souvenir. But by the end of the Roy Hargrove Big Band set, you are using
that fan! You ARE a fan! With 18 guys and a woman -- hallelujah Tanya
Darby on trumpet -- crammed into one end of the oblong loft, and the
audience filling the rest, from the back wall to sax players' feet, you
FEEL this band and it feels GOOD! I love that there's only one mic, for
Roy to speak and, briefly, sing. I love that he has about a square yard
in which to conduct, then turn 180 and play. I love it all. He's
expanding his small group music, and his writing is fresh and old school
at the same time, all accents and syncopation, and the band is playing
almost flawlessly. Gerald Clayton's on piano! The set's not too long.
The Roy Hargrove Big Band plays the Jazz Gallery once more this summer
on June 10. Then after that, your next opp to see them is June 15 at the
Hollywood Bowl, so opt for the great vibes at the Gallery where the
band, the sound and the audience are one and the same. And thanks to Zan
Stewart for his motivating review in the Star Ledger.
Dennis Irwin died at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Four hours later, in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Lovano's band led off what was to have been a benefit concert. Like Dennis, Lovano's bassist Cameron Brown is white-haired and medium height -- a detail you notice with bassists. I wanted to believe he was Dennis. Wynton Marsalis spoke of Dennis's "most magnificent attitude." The rest of the night spoke to his most magnificent music. Among the moments, Bill Frisell's phrases and spaces evoking "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and Harry Allen and Joe Cohn's simple sax / guitar duo of "Body and Soul." David Berger told the story of Dennis coming to BAM to sub in the Harlem Nutcracker, a complicated, fast-paced score which Dennis virtually sightread. At the end of the first act, the band spontaneously gave the bassist a standing ovation. Dennis stayed in David's band for the next 11 years. Adorable in a tiny dress and high high heels, Aria Hendricks -- Dennis's love -- sang with her father Jon on "Doodlin'". Jon sang air bass on his solo.