by Scott Yanow
I don’t usually write obituaries because it is better to concentrate on the present then focus too much on the inevitable passing of jazz greats. However there have been so many deaths during the past few months that it is difficult to refrain from commenting on the huge losses. One can easily put together a mythical all-star band comprised of great artists who have passed away since January. Not all of these musicians departed due to the coronavirus although that certainly did not help; all are well worth remembering. My apologies to those who I’ve missed.
Lee Konitz, alto, 92 – A major and distinctive soloist since 1947, Konitz (whose longevity was only equaled among active players by drummer Roy Haynes) was never shy to push himself even in his nineties, playing with creative musicians from all eras while always sounding like himself.
Richie Cole, alto, 72 – Cole helped bring back bebop in the 1970s with his Alto Madness (showing that any song could be turned into bop) and his enthusiastic mastery of the bebop vocabulary. In recent years he was undergoing a renaissance while being happily based in Pittsburgh.
Jimmy Heath – tenor, alto, soprano, flute, arranger, composer, 93 – Whether soloing in his own distinctive voice, writing inventive music, or teaching others, Heath always seemed to have a smile on his face.
Bootsie Barnes, tenor, 82 – A fine hard bop soloist, Barnes spent virtually his entire career playing and inspiring others in Philadelphia.
Wallace Roney, trumpet, 59 – One of the Young Lions of the 1980s, Roney’s Miles Davis-inspired trumpet playing uplifted scores of recordings.
Claudio Roditi, trumpet, 73 – Born and raised in Brazil, Roditi played straight ahead jazz and Brazilian music with equal skill, passion and sensitivity.
Peter Ecklund, cornet, 74 – He worked early on with Paul Butterfield, Gregg Allman and Maria Muldaur but is best known for his playing with hot traditional jazz groups including most notably Marty Grosz with whom he appeared many times at the LA Sweet & Hot Festival.
Lucien Barbarin, trombone, 63 – Related to both Danny Barker and Paul Barbarin, he was well featured with the Harry Connick Big Band, led several albums of his own, and can be seen in the Bolden film.
Ryo Kawasaki, guitar, 73 – A fiery yet thoughtful fusion guitarist, Kawasaki worked with Gil Evans, Elvin Jones, Joanne Brackeen, and his own groups.
Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, 94 – One of the great swing guitarists, Pizzarelli was always in-demand, working with Benny Goodman, Joe Venuti, Bud Freeman, Zoot Sims, his son John Pizzarelli and countless others.
Eddy Davis, banjo, 79 – Woody Allen’s regular banjoist, Davis was a fixture in the New York trad jazz scene for decades, contributing cheerful vocals and his strong rhythmic banjo to many ensembles.
McCoy Tyner, piano, 81 – One of the most powerful and influential pianists of all time, Tyner became famous as a member of John Coltrane’s quartet and had a very successful solo career for 55 years.
Ellis Marsalis, piano, 85 – A skilled modern jazz pianist (which was unusual in the New Orleans jazz scene of the 1960s), and the father of the four musical Marsalis sons, he was also a very important educator.
Mike Longo, piano, 81 – Inspired by his close friend Dizzy Gillespie (with whom he worked) and Oscar Peterson, Longo was an excellent pianist who recorded many fine trio albums.
Lyle Mays, piano, keyboards, 66 – His long association with Pat Metheny gave the Pat Metheny Group its own musical personality.
Richard Wyands, piano, 91 – While never overly famous, Wyands was a valuable pianist to have around and his countless number of musical associations including Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Benny Carter, Gene Ammons, and Freddie Hubbard.
Chris Anderson, piano, 81 – An underground legend, Anderson was an important early inspiration for Herbie Hancock and recorded just enough albums so one can appreciate his talents.
Henry Grimes, bass, 84 – A very versatile bassist (from Benny Goodman to Albert Ayler), Grimes disappeared for 35 years before making a major comeback starting in 2002 and continuing in the avant-garde jazz world until shortly before his passing.
Andy Gonzalez, bass, 69 – An important force in the Latin music world, Gonzalez co-founded Conjunto Libre with percussionist Manny Oquendo and the Fort Apache band with his brother trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez.
Jymie Merritt, bass, 93 – While he stayed active for many years in Philadelphia, Merritt will always be best-known for being the bassist with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during 1957-62.
Ray Mantilla, drums-percussion, 85 – Mantilla, who led some impressive albums of his own, was a valuable sideman who worked with Herbie Mann, Gato Barbieri, Richie Cole, Cedar Walton, Charles Mingus, Max Roach’s M’Boom and many others.
Be sure to see every jazz artist in concert at least once while they are here. I was lucky enough to see 12 of these 21 artists perform live. How many did you see? Great as many of the recordings and film clips are, there is nothing like seeing live jazz.
While there are no live concerts taking place and the clubs are all closed for now, it is possible to experience jazz not only on recordings but on your computer screen. Many jazz artists are doing their best to fill in some of the gap by performing Livestreams. These intimate performances, often featuring a solo pianist, guitarist or a small group that occasionally has a singer, are born of necessity. Horn players are at a disadvantage unless their spouse or significant other (or a close relative) happens to play bass, guitar or piano, or they are skilled enough to put together a solo horn concert that will hold one’s interest.
Many of the performances (including almost daily recitals by Chick Corea and Fred Hersch) are free while others ask for donations. Quite a few are archived so viewers can see the sets at their convenience.
Recently I saw singer Amanda King and pianist-singer Patrick Hogan performing solos and duets. A popular jazz singer based in Las Vegas, Amanda King loves the standards of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s and sounds quite enthusiastic interpreting the classic material. She has a strong voice, a wide range, and the ability to dig deep into the lyrics while always swinging. The young pianist-singer Patrick Hogan’s playing with her was sympathetic, versatile, intuitive, and filled with quick reactions.
Their set of duets began with “Shaking The Blues Away” and continued with “Our Love Is Here To Stay” (featuring the rarely-heard verse and the feel of stride piano) which found Ms. King improvising around the words while “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” had some humorous ad-libs. Hogan was featured as a solo singer-pianist on “I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her” which focused on his quietly emotional ballad singing, and his clever original “Cat And Mouse” which was a bit reminiscent of something that one could imagine Dave Frishberg writing and performing. Amanda King returned for a rapid version of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” a sensitive ballad dedicated to Nat King Cole, and a speedy run through of “Tico Tico” which really showed off her range. Hogan was showcased on his “Tell Me Again” in the tradition of Frishberg and Bobby Troup before Amanda King concluded the memorable show with Jerry Herman’s rarely performed but superior “Dear World.”
Since their duets are entertaining and swinging, be sure to look for their future Live Streams
One of my favorite Live Streams is a medley performed by guitarist Bill Frisell. He has several that are archived; this one is from April 2, 2020. A natural to play solo guitar, Frisell can be seen creating a spontaneous and thoughtful performance that goes from one tune to another without a moment of hesitancy. He begins with the verse of “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and along the way includes a surprising version of “New York, New York,” Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” “Lush Life,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” a blues that included some otherworldly sounds, a Beatles song, and some originals, Frisell’s playing holds one’s attention throughout and there are no slow or wandering moments.
Bill Frisell’s Live Stream and those of many other artists can be found at https://www.jazzonthetube.com/musicians-who-are-streaming/
A few words about Jazz On The Tube. It is an online service that has some of the very best jazz clips that can be found on You Tube (many with my summaries) along with reviews of many of the recent Live Streams. It is free and an excellent way of filling your screen with historic and current jazz performances. More information can be found at www.jazzonthetube.com.
The 115-minute Miles Davis documentary Birth Of The Cool is now available as a DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment (www.eagle-rock.com). Although its title is a bit misleading for it is not about Davis’ Birth of the Cool Nonet of 1948-50 (except for a minute or two), it is a definitive biography of the unique trumpeter. While Miles Davis’ life could fill up many hours of film, somehow director-producer Stanley Nelson was able to cover nearly all of the highlights in this one production.
The complex and episodic life of Miles Davis is related in very coherent fashion by using a voiceover actor who sounds like Davis to read some of his words, many rare photos, excerpts from performances, and interviews with many of the trumpeter’s fellow musicians, friends (from different periods of his life) and relatives plus a few historians. There are quite a few fresh anecdotes and some revelations from such subjects as Ashley Kahn, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Cobb, Dan Morgenstern, Greg Tate, Gerald Easley, Quincy Jones, musicologist Tammy L. Kernodle, Juliette Greco, George Wein, Carlos Santana, Marcus Miller, Jack Chambers, pianist Rene Urtreger, Joshua Redman, Mtume, Lenny White, Vince Wilburn, Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Clive Davis, his manager Mark Rothbaum, his son Erin Davis, Mike Stern, Wallace Roney and painter Jo Gelbard.
Miles Davis’ personal life (warts and all) is discussed at length (his wife Frances Davis tells many interesting stories) and his controversial fusion years are covered during the final 30 minutes in a very even-handed way. Nothing major is missing, except ironically more of a discussion about his Birth of the Cool band and how he was a pioneer in hard bop. There is a strong forward momentum to the continually intriguing documentary which one suspects Davis would have appreciated since he rarely rested on his laurels and was always moving ahead.
In addition to the documentary, this set includes a second DVD that has 70 minutes of music from Davis’ appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973, 1984 and 1985. All Miles Davis fans owe it to themselves to see Stanley Nelson’s masterful work.
Jake Feinberg has conducted over 1,000 interviews for his radio show The Jake Feinberg Show since 2011. Focusing on creative musicians from many genres, Feinberg asks excellent questions, makes his guests feel comfortable, and inspires them to tell fresh and interesting stories. The Cats Volume 1 (available from www.amazon.com and www.davidlasocki.com) has excerpts from interviews with 24 artists.
While the chapters do not attempt to tell the complete story of any of these musicians (which in many cases could last dozens of pages), each artist gets to tell unique tales about their careers and lives that add to one’s understanding of their craft and creativity. The emphasis is on studio musicians although such jazz artists as Steve Gadd, Joe Sample, Randy Brecker, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Emil Richards, Larry Coryell, Lenny White, Dave Liebman, Kenny Burrell, Steve Swallow, Billy Cobham, and Pat Martino also have their say. Many of the experiences that are related are universal, colorful or humorous which make even the interviews of the nonjazz studio players of interest to jazz readers.
This is an enjoyable and informative book, an easy and fun read that makes one look forward to future volumes.
Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, every CD deserves informative liner notes, and important events benefit from press releases.
I write all of these and more at reasonable rates. Contact me (www.scottyanow.com) at 661-724-0622 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about my services.
Be well and safe everyone. The live jazz scene will return.