Archive for October, 2013

Reading “Mr. B: The Music & Life of Billy Eckstine” by Cary Ginell

Laying on my side I watched the clock ticking down, the end of yesterday. Initially I had managed to go to sleep but not in any meaningful way, ten-fifteen minute shifts at best. Not being able to fly through dreams, my continued waking presence made the air grow heavier. My pulse raced. The jangled ozone nerves reminding me; sitting on that porch in Athens during the storm, the sky was a series of violent paintings. Each using the same palette of silvered blues and behind closed eyelid stone fruit purples.

It was a temporary show without curator, the crowd roaring both its approval and displeasure in equal measure so that the whole house shook. At first the novelty of it interested me but soon the siege of the sky with its non-stop booming began to put me on edge. The storm had to be close by as everything went at a quick tempo which my pulse too became caught up in.

To try to regain an inner calm I told myself that all the noise and violence was no different than looking at the ocean or her lips as she moved in for a kiss. It did not work, as all I had managed to do was remind myself of other dangers out there; some always more present than others.

I grabbed one of the books from my “to read” pile to make constructive use of my non-sleep time until coffee at dawn. I will read several books on a subject that interests me as I find it gives a fuller picture. Then to cleanse the palate I will go to something completely different. So sorry Dombrovsky, you must wait a while longer.

The negative aspects of our modern digital age are that we make stars of people who do not actually do anything except broadcast their bad behavior via twenty four hour nonstop streams on social media. This and the fact that so much information is accepted off of websites whose only criteria is that they look professional are the bane of anyone with a modicum of intelligence or soul. Inaccuracies abound from people perpetuating what they read off of a site without further fact checking let alone checking the site’s accuracies. There is however a good side to all of this. With all this bad behavior ever present in the zeitgeist biographies/autobiographies on artists, politicians, historical and public figures can be written without excising aspects of the subject’s life or action without the risk of the readers feeling scandalized. This allows for a more fully realized portrait of the person and their time to emerge.

Duke Ellington’s (1899-1974) legacy is remembered in more than name only as many of his songs remain active standards. Count Basie (1904-1984), if not performed as much by later generations, is still historically remembered. A lot of their direct peers are forgotten or negated to names, dates and the better known recording sessions listed but no longer heard nor explored. The facts are parroted much in the way of someone learning a foreign language by memorizing phrases. Billy Eckstine’s (1914-1993) career now shares much the same fate. The hits he had are listed but more often than not he has been reduced down to a footnote for his role in being an early employer of the chief architects of Bop, his bandstand along with Minton’s Playhouse (NYC) serving as the burgeoning art form’s incubator.

Cary Ginell’s new biography is a good and breezy read. By his own admission in the introduction he makes it clear that this book is not a definitive study of Mr. B’s life. It does fill a surprising void and one can hope will help garner more interest once again in a great now neglected singer’s work.

The book was done with the blessing of the family, some of Mr. B’s children: Ed, Guy and his daughters C.C and Gina providing their reminiscence. The foreword was written by son Ed who himself has had a long career in the industry.

One of the book’s main strengths is that it presents an even handed account of the artist. There is no puffing up his achievements but neither is there any kind of taking down via overly emphasizing his acknowledged short comings. The book comes to us bereft of any agenda outside of telling us of his life. In tracing the family tree from before he was born Cary avoids the near biblical “begat who begat….” Which can sort of suck the life out of a biography as the need for some type of a flow chart materializes.

We are told of Mr. B’s early years, working with Earl “Fatha” Hines. The parade of names is kept short although scant information is given on the key players, making the names meaningless to those who are not already familiar with their pedigree. On the other hand to have provided the other player’s histories too very likely would have proved a distracting digression from the flow of the narrative.

Of course I had known that not every hot jazz musician successfully made the transition into the big band era and that aside from some of the more prominent big bands, once modern jazz rose to the fore, many of them disbanded or ended up on the nostalgia circuit in Europe which did not discern between the musical generations in the same inhibitive way as America. It was interesting to read though of the strata of singers within the genre and how one would supplant the other in a long line of succession until all were rendered irrelevant as a soundtrack to youth by the encroaching (early) rock and roll phenomena. A similar thing would happen a generation later to (modern) jazz players in the mid to late sixties.

Mr.B is shown in social context of his place in the country where racism was still prevalent and also as a singer of very genre specific music. There are times in the book where the writing feels style wise like raw reportage. However given the choice between that and the type of biography where the author feels the need to fill the pages with their own purple prose, over gilding the lily and inserting their own persona, I much prefer the reportage. The description of his voice over the years immediately allows one to envision what made him so appealing. However, little of his inner workings are ever delved into. The silence though, in lieu of suppositions towards his mental makeup is a safer way to go.

We are shown how he had a true understanding and affection for Bop and it was not just happenstance who sat in his bandstand during its brief bop incarnation. Hopefully this will help raise him out of his footnote position in regards to his place at the nascence of modern jazz.

Another strength of the book is when dealing with recording sessions or shows, calling bad material for what it is. Even the greats recorded some clunkers some more than others.The story itself is rather fascinating and in many ways bitter sweet. It is not a story of squandered talent but of stifled and missed opportunities. Frequently over the course of his career he would make seemingly safe or bad choices in regards to material; old familiar songs and novelty tunes or schmaltz. Ostensibly he cited the need to provide for his family. Of their importance in his life there is no doubt but there is a subtle subtext too that he was shocked, then sort of worn out from the racism habitually encountered throughout the country. He, especially in later years had some misfire albums where he tried to be au courant- commercial but the same can definitely be said of the singers that initially sprang from the same scene and whose records are still well known (i.e Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Ella Fitzgerald et al).

He was personal friends with Martin Luther King, attending some marches with him but it was his refusal to kowtow to allowing himself as an African American to play specific innocuous or buffoonish roles that made him dangerous to those who wanted to maintain a sort of status quo. His deportment and sense of dignity would inspire other artist in their quest to be viewed as equals off stage but directly or indirectly through how he handled his choice of projects, at the expense of his

This book is well worth seeking out being neither too technical nor mere fluff. The artistic accomplishments or Mr. B are lauded but discussed too are the misfires and faults. What more could any artist want in the portrayal of their life?

Finally dawn came. The morning was cold so I let my coffee brew longer as to make it extra hot. Or maybe the morning, as I sat at table in my bathrobe merely felt that way on account of the coffee’s heat. Either way, the dichotomy of the two allowed both to momentarily be underlined in my mind. I open my notebook. Once again the ink will flow and while it does I am where I should be, at table; holy  sunrise officiated by the song of a bird now preserved between the pages of a journal.

Maxwell Chandler (Midtown)

For more information go to :

http://halleonardbooks.com/product/viewproduct.do?itemid=333475&subsiteid=169

This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (maxwellachandler@aol.com)

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Alan Broadbent On Tour In Europe

2-time Grammy Award winning jazz pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent has long been a major force behind the scenes in jazz, whether it was accompanying Irene Kral on some of the most exquisite vocal albums ever recorded, contributing arrangements to Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Jane Monheit and Sir Paul McCartney or playing piano with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.

With 14 CD‘s released under his own name are proof that he is not only working in the background. 4 of his own recordings earned Grammy Nominations, “Best Improvised Jazz Solo” in 2010, 2006 and 2005 and “Best Composition” in the year 1997.

He is now on tour behind is newest album “Heart to Heart” which just received the rarely given highest 5* rating by DownBeat in their November issue.

Alan will be joined by Phil Steen on bass and Kai Bussenius on drums.

The schedule is as follows:

Sunday
20-Oct-2013
Pizza Express Jazz Club
London
UK
Friday
25-Oct-2013
Höörs Jazz
Höör
SE
Thursday
31-Oct-2013
Schimmel Auswahlcentrum
Braunschweig
DE
Friday
1-Nov-2013
Kulturforum Kiel
Kiel
DE
Thursday
7-Nov-2013
Watermill Jazz Club
Dorking
UK
Friday
8-Nov-2013
Lighthouse – Poole’s center for the arts w/Georgia Mancio
Poole
UK
Saturday
9-Nov-2013
Jazz Zirkel Weiden
Weiden
DE
Sunday
10-Nov-2013
Bayreuther Jazz-November
Bayreuth
DE
Thursday
14-Nov-2013
CC Maasmechelen
Maasmechelen
BE
Saturday
16-Nov-2013
Eden Riverside
Düsseldorf
DE
Wednesday
20-Nov-2013
Duc des Lombards
Paris
FR
Thursday
21-Nov-2013
Duc des Lombards
Paris
FR
Friday
22-Nov-2013
the bird’s eye jazz club
Basel
CH
Saturday
23-Nov-2013
the bird’s eye jazz club
Basel
CH
Sunday
24-Nov-2013
The Pheasantry w/Georgia Mancio
London Jazz Festival
UK
Wednesday
27-Nov-2013
Kulturverein Reigen
Vienna
AT
Thursday
28-Nov-2013
Steinway-Haus München
Munich
DE
Saturday
30-Nov-2013
Altes Pfandhaus
Cologne
DE

For more information visit Alan’s website at http://www.alanbroadbent.com/

 

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Theloniousphere Coming to SF Jazz Center October 10th!

It’s reportedly almost sold out, so please go to sfjazz.org or to the box office
The group is  Theloniousphere!  Featuring:
  • Si Perkoff, piano.
  • Sam Bevan, bass.
  • Tony Johnson, drums.
  • Noel Jewkes, saxophone.
  • Max Perkoff, trombone.
Two sets:  8pm & 9:30pm
SF Jazz Center. 201 Franklin St. San Francisco California 415-398-5655
Price: $20 non-members. $15 sfjazz members.
They will be playing the music of Thelonious Monk’s great album “Brilliant Corners.”

Not to be missed!

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Global Noize: Sly Reimagined

Driving down the night, thinking in broken rhymes, the city sings out in a soulful falsetto that does not match up to its darker ambitions. Not all appetites are the same nor is the way in which we seek to satiate them but there is a commonality in that we all want. There are bound to be similarities, many facets of what we all have or want that is the same. Two things which transcend cultural differences of language and social mores are food and music. It can serve as a sort of shorthand to convey one’s intentions or overall identity. Offering up a sweet to someone who does not speak your language; humming “Ode to Joy” or “Take the A Train” shows that when all the subtle differences are stripped away, humanity as a whole is all in the same boat. Connected to this phenomenon of commonality is dancing, if not outright then at least moving to the groove. Dancing can encompass a sort of communal celebration or when reduced down to an individual, a ritual of and for one. Either way it is a narrative told by bodies all in motion to a beat but proclaiming themselves individually by the nature of their movement, the Saturday night dichotomy of being together yet apart.

Global Noize is a collaboration of turnbulist/composer DJ Logic and Keyboard/Composer Jason Miles. Both artists have never limited themselves in regards to who they will collaborate with, the diversity transcends not just genre but style (jazz/electronic/pop/world). DJ Logic’s music impresses because no matter who he has performed with, he keeps his voice while simultaneously making it mesh with that of his collaborators regardless of their genre. YouTube is loaded with videos of DJ Logic jamming with artists that when listed on paper seem it would not work but always do so in a compelling way.

One of the powers of traditional jazz was that it was ever in flux, new genres shooting Juno like up out of the head of established ones. Traditional jazz has stagnated, there is still plenty of joy to be had from seeing some of the surviving masters do their thing or a young up and comer adeptly serve up an offering from jazz’s lexicon but the effect is not dissimilar to seeing one of the great paintings by the masters in a museum. This album is their third together and like the previous works utilizes a cast of musicians from wide ranging backgrounds. Both Jason and DJ Logic have helped the downtown sound further evolve in the way traditional jazz used to. The downtown sound for the longest while was a sort of off branching of free jazz sometimes encompassing aspects of modern Western classical component (Varese, Lighetti, Webern et al). Organically, through their efforts both together and separately, new elements have entered into the downtown sound. DJ Logic has cross pollinated with the jam band crowd, hip-hop and rockers while Jason has brought in later day fusion, the aural perfections of pop productions and electronica. Further added to this mix are elements of world music.

There is a whole new generation of musicians and composers of world music who grew up practicing the traditional works of their culture while also embracing what was au current elsewhere. This has allowed for the creation of work which rather than forsaking what came before it, builds off of it combined with outside elements to create something new. These musicians’ attitude of freedom from the restrictions of rigid tradition fits in perfectly with Global Noize’s artistic mission which is to serve as a sort of all-embracing cultural ambassadors, creating works and performances which draw upon whatever turns them on regardless of its source.

The music of Sly Stone offers the perfect template for this project. In attitude his was among one of the first multi-racial groups in rock for which he took much heat. Among the messages in his music was a strength through unity. Stylistically, Sly’s music was highly original and encompassed several genres, from the doo-wop he sang in his youth (Start of “Dance to the Music”) to the Fender Rhodes drenched funk and straight out guitar solo crescendo of rock and roll. Sly has remained a steady influence on current music, more so than a lot of his peers whose work is pleasurable and important to the canon of what came out of his era. With Sly, some of each generation of artists continues drawing directly from if not aspects of what he did then possibilities which he freed up.

This album is highly listenable and gives a surprisingly straight ahead read on the source material. The program is made up of all Sly penned songs except the last piece “Dreams’ written in homage by Jason. The sound is pristine as is to be expected given Jason’s pedigree. The album eschews the luminescent from sheens of sweat funk for the more laid back soul groove parts of Sly’s work.

“In Time” starts with some beat boxing and an infectious world music version of scat singing by Malika Zarra which is sexy and fun. Along with Jason Miles and DJ Logic there is a rotating cast of musicians that vary from track to track including original Sly drummer Greg Errico. The musicians all come from different backgrounds but their enmeshment is perfectly organic which is fittingly appropriate given Global Noize’s mission statement and the scope of Sly’s music too. Throughout the album different guest vocalists are brought in, Nona Hendryx taking lead on this song. With each song the spirit of the original is maintained without ever sounding like mere parroting. The different vocalists do not fracture the overall cohesiveness of the project but underscore how some aspects of works of art effect people the same regardless of whatever other totems we make of them.

There is such a full sound on this track where every instrument is clearly heard, deftly layered but never overly busy nor muddied. It also underscores how this part of Sly’s oeuvre was as compelling in its intricacies as some of his more dramatic harder edged funk which is probably better known to the more casual listener. While new sonic elements such as scratching/beat boxing are introduced into this track it does not forgo the traditional brass section as Sly would have used which sonically adds a warmth and further layers that would be missing had it all been midi(d).

The album has two different versions (mixes) of “It’s a Family Affair” and “The Same Thing” on it. “It’s a Family Affair-Falu Mumbai Mix”is named after the singer Falu whose chant-like vocalese entwines itself around the songs traditional vocals as done by Roberta Flack. The song has a bubbling bass whose mood is mirrored by the occasional wah-wah of guitar. The song is all subtle contrasts coming together, from the two different style vocals to the old soul declamations of saxophone and late night organ mixing with slow electro washes of synth. In some ways this piece is emblematic if not of the ensemble itself then this current project.

The album facilitates the urge to dance, whether just with friends, a potential romance or just by one’s self. We are all just the creature of Prometheus and must occasionally honor that gift by getting out on the dance floor to shake our asses.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Global-Noize/196336634200

This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (maxwellachandler@aol.com)

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