by Scott Yanow
No, Chick Corea and Kurt Elling did not perform together (which would be a very good idea sometime), but they shared the stage at Disney Hall during one of the finest Southern California jazz concerts of the year.
First Kurt Elling, arguably the finest male jazz singer of the past decade, took the stage. His current band consists of Stu Mindeman on piano and organ, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Christian Euman with trumpeter Marquis Hill guesting on a few numbers. Elling celebrated the release of his new Okeh CD The Questions by performing some of the numbers from that disc including Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” (performed as a folk song similar in treatment to what one might hear from Bill Frisell), “I Have Dreamed” from The King And I, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Lonely Town.” Elling talked philosophically between songs and asked unanswerable questions, getting the audience to chuckle when he asked “How did we get here? How long do we have to stay here?” But actually the highpoint of his set was the closer which is not on the CD, a burning version of Abbey Lincoln’s “As Long As You’re Living” that had his masterful scatting trading choruses with Hill’s trumpet.
For the main act, Chick Corea performed a set of his compositions with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Although some were disappointed that Wynton Marsalis was absent, the all-star big band was in top form, clearly inspired by the presence of the great pianist-composer. In fact, it was fun to watch their smiles at Corea’s solos, particularly Sherman Irby’s. Starting with “Armando’s Rhumba” (which was arranged by bassist Carlos Henriquez ), and continuing through Ted Nash’s chart on “Windows,” “Litha,” ”Wigwam,” “Crystal Silence” and a very adventurous version of “Matrix,” this was a particularly memorable set. Henriquez was a revelation throughout, pushing Corea and contributing a great deal of drive to the music. Other key soloists (usually on one song apiece) included trumpeters Michael Rodriguez and Marcus Printup, Ted Nash on flute, tenor-saxophonist Victor Goines, baritonist Paul Nedzela, trombonist Andre Hayward, and altoist Irby. But Corea was the main star, stretching himself on every song in his improvisations and, at 75, sounding both very creative and ageless.
Chick Corea has recorded with relatively few big bands throughout his busy career. Hopefully there will be a CD with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra in the future.
Andrew Choate and Peter Kolovos have for the past five years booked avant-garde jazz and experimental artists in Los Angeles. Recently they hosted the two-day Unwrinkled Ear Festival Of Improvised Music which was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. I found out about their festival just two days before and missed the first afternoon which had unaccompanied solo sets by saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, and a duet encounter by pianist Sten Sandell and percussionist Kjell Nordeson.
Fortunately all of the musicians were back for the three sets that took place on Sunday afternoon. Roscoe Mitchell (on alto), Evan Parker (sticking to soprano) and cornetist Bobby Bradford started off the day by playing a continuous free improvisation for 32 minutes. The musical conversation by the three horns, which featured giants from Chicago, England and Los Angeles, held one’s interest throughout. The trio of veterans from the 1960s avant-garde jazz scene listened closely to each other, reacted quickly, and was engaged throughout in close interactions. Bradford, who sometimes used a mute, displayed his mellow tone which always makes his playing sound a bit accessible even when he is at his most dissonant. Parker, who could have been miked louder, played unpredictably and with plenty of passion. He had not performed in Los Angeles in quite a few years. But the main star was Mitchell who at 77 never seemed to run out of energy or creative ideas.
The second set had Swedish pianist Sten Sandell at first playing the church organ with a great deal of drama before switching to a piano which was “prepared” with a towel that distorted some of its tones. His improvising, which lasted 28 minutes, was always coherent even when it was at its freest.
The final set had three horns and Sandell returning with the addition of the Swedish percussionist Kjell Nordeson. Similar to the first set in that the 30 minutes of music was all ensemble, the difference this time was that Mitchell played soprano rather than alto and Nordeson’s rumbling drums (mostly using mallets) and vibes added to the performance’s volume and color.
All in all it was a fascinating afternoon of music played before a large and enthusiastic audience. Andrew Choate and Peter Kolovos are to be congratulated for this successful festival. Information about their upcoming events (which deserve to be supported) can be found at www.andrewchoate.us/the-unwrinkled-ear .
Oleg Frish, who first appeared at Catalina’s last year, made a successful return visit recently. A regular host on radio and television in the New York area, the Russian-born singer (who moved to the U.S. 20 years ago) has always loved the Great American Songbook, particularly music of the 1940-70 period. While he has worked as everything from a “singing psychic” to a music journalist, a lecturer on the history of show business to the executive producer of the weekly Russian language television news and entertainment program “Time Out,” his true love is singing. He has recorded four albums with the most recent one, Oleg Frish and His American Idols, including duets with a variety of famous veteran performers.
Frish, who can sing in 24 different languages, performed his “Swing Around The World” show at Catalina’s. He was joined by a septet that included trumpeter Bill Churchill, trombonist Bob McChesney, Glenn Berger (on tenor, flute and clarinet) and pianist Rich Eames. The personable and charming singer began with a swinging version of “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” and during the 100-minute set one heard such songs as “What A Difference A Day Made” (in both Spanish and English), “Rhode Island Is Famous For You,” “Day By Day,” “This Is A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” “Slow Boat To China,” “The Things We Did Last Summer,” “Bring Me Sunshine,”
“You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “Hello Dolly” and “I Wish You Love.” Oleg Frish also sang tunes in other languages, all of which swung. He told interesting and colorful stories between the songs, featured the band on an instrumental version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” made sure that the audience had a good time, and displayed the joy of swing. Everyone went home with a smile on their face.
JAZZ GOES MOD
The R&B label (www.rhythmandbluesrecords.co.uk ) has been releasing two-CD sets in their rather unusual reissue series. Jazz Goes Mod. So far they have come out with twofers titled Soho Scene ’61, ’62 and ’63 (’64 is thus far only out on Lp). Jazz Goes Mod is definitely a type of time machine. Imagine being in one’s early twenties, living in Great Britain in 1961, and being a fan of modern jazz. You are not into trad (which was very popular in England at the time) or free jazz but instead enjoy hearing danceable and melodic jazz that grooves and is often a bit funky. What might you be listening to?
Each of these two-CD sets consists of a disc of some of the top performances recorded by British jazz musicians in that particular year plus a CD of influential American recordings. The set of American performances does not contain the expected names (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) and instead mostly concentrates on catchy soul jazz performances from lesser-known (and sometimes very obscure artists), many of which might have been heard on 45s or on jukeboxes.
Even if one does not necessarily buy the premise that this is the music that you would be listening to, the series is an excellent way to suddenly acquire a great deal of fun music that you might not have heard before.
Soho Scene ’61 has 37 performances by the likes of Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, altoist Joe Harriott (the most adventurous of the British players), Ronnie Scott, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Grant Green, Ray Bryant and the long-forgotten Fred Ford. Here, as on the other sets, the British players hold their own with the Americans.
Soho Scene ’62, which has 41 performances, features Tony Coe (one of the great British saxophonists), Ronnie Ross, Shake Keane, Quartette Tres Bien, Larry Frazier (does anyone remember his 1962 Impulse album?), Don Wilkerson, Phil Guilbeau (“Creole Walk”), Les McCann (“The Shampoo”), Prince Lasha (who takes it a bit outside while still featuring an infectious rhythm) and many others.
Soho Scene ’63 expands to 49 selections, nearly all released as ‘45s. British modern jazz was at a cross roads at the time with very stiff competition from r&b, bossa nova and most of all American jazz artists. Few modern British players were being recorded unless they were aiming for hits and compromising their music a bit. Despite that, the British half of Soho Scene ’63 has plenty of enjoyable if poppish performances by the likes of Ronnie Ross, Tubby Hayes, Dudley Moore and Humphrey Lyttelton. The American half of the twofer ranges from Joe Pass and the Jazz Crusaders to three musicians who I have never heard of: Tyrone Parsons, Timmy Sims and Terell Prude.
With the emergence of the Beatles and the dominance of rock around the corner, both British and American jazz would be going through some major changes very soon. The Soho Scene (each set has a colorful booklet with interesting notes about the time period and lots of photos of album and 45 covers) lets one hear some of the rewarding and accessible jazz of 1961-63, when it was still possible for occasional jazz performances to make the pop charts.
Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography,
and every CD deserves informative liner notes.
I write both and more at reasonable rates.
Contact me at www.scottyanow.com 661-724-0622 or email@example.com
for further information.
by Scott Yanow
The double bill at Disney Hall was one of the finest concerts that I have attended in recent times. It all began with an exciting film clip of the great pianist Erroll Garner playing an uptempo version of “L-O-V-E.” It made one wonder if the three pianists who were going to pay tribute to him could possibly be close to his level. Fortunately, they were.
Originally organized by the late Geri Allen as a tribute to Garner’s classic Concert By The Sea album, the concept has since been expanded to become a tribute to both Garner and Allen. Pianists Christian Sands, Gerald Clayton and Helen Sung were joined by guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Victor Lewis for an original and “Sweet And Lovely.” It was fun to see the three pianos on stage being played by keyboardists of this stature, and to see their joy as they played off of each other’s ideas. Each of the pianists had their individual features with Sung doing well on a Garner Mambo, Sands playing a very adventurous introduction into what would be a hard-swinging version of “It’s All Right With Me,” Malone showcased on a tasteful yet inventive version of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and Clayton fully investigating “Autumn Leaves.” The memorable set concluded with the three pianists playing a catchy number that found them essentially forming the frontline on New Orleans jazz ensembles, and romping throughout “Erroll’s Theme” (a medium-tempo blues). During an era that may someday be remembered as the golden age of jazz piano, three modern-day masters were each heard in top form.
The second half of the night was a particularly unusual experiment by John Beasley’s MONK’estra. The 15-piece big band interacted with film clips of Thelonious Monk that were drawn from the film Straight No Chaser. With Beasley conducting the orchestra, there were many instances when Monk was featured taking a solo with MONK’estra or dancing along to the music, perfectly in time. It was like watching a live soundtrack to a movie. Both the film editing and the arrangements were superb and fascinating. Dee Dee Bridgewater guested and was her typically lively self, singing masterfully on ‘’Round Midnight,” “Rhythm-A-Ning,” “Ruby, My Dear,” and a closing “Blue Monk” (soloing between a filmed Clark Terry and Monk!). Many of the other musicians had opportunities to be featured including trumpeter Brian Swartz (who made an impressive statement), high-note trumpeter Bijon Watson, altoist Denny Janklow, baritonist Adam Schroeder and pianist Beasley. But needless to say, the main star was Thelonious Monk.
Veronica Swift, the daughter of singer Stephanie Nakasian and the late great pianist Hod O’Brien, came in second place a few years ago in the Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. At the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, she was outstanding.
Pianist Benny Green (with bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington) started the night. He was in typically inventive form on three instrumentals including Hank Jones’ “Idle Moments” and an unidentified piece that he swung at a very slow tempo to the audience’s delight. Green also was a superior accompanist to the singer and had many concise solos throughout the night including a powerful statement on “Date Dere.”
Ms. Swift consistently picked the perfect note for the perfect spot and showed impressive maturity during her well-paced set. Her voice is beautiful and she knew how to use it to maximum effect. Starting out with an exciting version of “I Could Write A Book,” she displayed plenty of quiet feeling on the ballad “As Long As He Needs Me” and uplifted such numbers as “A Little Taste,” “The Gypsy In My Soul,” “Dat Dere,” an uptempo “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a duet with bassist Wong on “No, Not Much,” a tender “Something I Dreamed Last Night,” “You’re Going To Hear From Me,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (which featured some rapid scatting) and “No Regrets.” Sometimes displaying the influence of Anita O’Day and (when she hit high notes) Roberta Gambarini, Veronica Swift already has her own confident musical personality. It will be fun to trace her development in the next decade as she gains recognition as one of the top jazz singers on the current scene. Stephanie Nakasian must be very proud.
86-year old singer-pianist Freddy Cole was in excellent form at the Moss Theater in a concert presented by the Jazz Bakery. Joined by guitarist Bruce Forman (who took many fine solos, consistently making Cole smile), bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Roy McCurdy, Cole made every note count during his performance. He was heartwarming on the ballads and swung well on medium-tempo tunes where his chord voicings were sometimes reminiscent of Red Garland. Cole performed such numbers as “I Wish You Love,” “I Remember You,” “If I Had You,” “You’re Sensational,” “Love Walked In” and a Brazilian flavored “How Little We Know.” It was a real pleasure hearing his sincere renditions of ballads and the gentle way that he interpreted faster tunes. Be sure to see him whenever the opportunity arises; Freddy Cole should not be taken for granted.
Guitarist Coco Schumann, who recently passed away at the age of 93, was one of Germany’s top jazz guitarists since the 1940s. He was also a survivor of two concentration camps where he was held captive during 1943-45. After many years of not speaking about the experience, in 1997 he wrote his memoirs The Ghetto Swinger with the help of author Michaela Haas. The book is fascinating and available from Doppel House Press (www.doppelhouse.com ).
A celebration of Coco Schumann’s life was hosted by the German Consul General. Michaela Haas was on hand to expertly summarize the guitarist’s life through her storytelling and photos. A fine quartet comprised of pianist Markus Burger, trumpeter James Linahon, bassist Louis Shapiro and drummer Luicio Vieira performed four swinging standards that were used as the titles of chapters in Schumann’s autobiography: “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” “Summertime,” ”Autumn Leaves” and “The Girl From Ipanema.”
The spirit of Coco Schumann, who never gave up nor lost his sense of humor despite his experiences, was honored in a manner that he would have enjoyed.
When Judy Carmichael made her recording debut (other than an earlier obscure ragtime album) in 1980 with Two-Handed Stride, she certainly stood out. Not only were there relatively few stride pianists on the scene, but she was the only one that was a young attractive female. She has since carved out a career not only as a top-notch pianist but as a bandleader, host of her own Jazz Inspired radio series, and (recently) a singer. Ms. Carmichael recently self-published Swinger, a book that is subtitled “A Jazz Girl’s Adventures from Hollywood to Harlem.”
The book begins with an unwelcome surprise with her finding out 15 years ago that she had cervical cancer. Very fortunately she survived and her talking about the experience is so filled with humorous and heartwarming moments that one almost forgets how tragic it could have been. Much of Swinger is full of memorable stories, particularly those in which she meets and interacts with the likes of Count Basie, Freddie Green, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, pianist Joe Turner, drummer Harold Jones, Sarah Vaughan and other jazz greats. Rod Stewart, Yoko Ono, Billy Joel and Paul Newman are among the many celebrities who also make appearances. Judy Carmichael seems to have an endless amount of colorful stories about the jazz life and one hungers to hear more.
While her summary of her childhood fits in well, the book bogs down for a bit in its middle section when she discusses at great length her relationship with her two intriguing but flawed parents. There is a bit too much repetition and analysis, taking one away from her musical life without resulting in any major revelations. Many questions about her life (did she ever come close to getting married?) are left unanswered. One wonders how, after playing ragtime at Disneyland for years, she became a stride pianist. How difficult was it for her to learn the style and repertoire and has she ever been tempted to play bebop? How has her playing evolved since the 1980s? What made her decide to start singing a few years ago? What is a typical year like for her? What is the story behind her other recordings (most of which are never mentioned)?
Swinger makes for an entertaining read. It is easily recommended and available from the pianist (www.judycarmichael.com ). Hopefully it will be just the first set of memoirs from Judy Carmichael because there is so much more to tell, and of course her career has a long way to go.
Bob Barry is a familiar figure in jazz clubs throughout Southern California. A very skilled photographer, he has a particular affection for the great guitarists. Back in 1997, he was invited by his new friend guitarist John Pisano to what was the very first Guitar Night, a performance that featured George Van Eps. In the 20 years since, Pisano has hosted the weekly series and featured the who’s who of jazz guitar every Tuesday night in such clubs as Papashon, Rocco, Spazio, Vitello’s, Lucy’s 51, Viva Cantina, and currently The Mixx in Pasadena.
Bob Barry’s recent book John Pisano’s Guitar Night is a very attractive 184-page work that has black and white photos of many of the participants, from the very first performance up until the present. In addition, Barry contributed excellent summaries that cover the life of each guitarist. Among those who he captured were George Van Eps (who was featured at the first Guitar Night), Howard Alden, Al Viola, Andy Summers, Anthony Wilson, Barry Zweig, Bob Bain, Bruce Forman, Danny Embrey, Doug MacDonald, Frank Vignola, Herb Ellis, Joe Diorio, Kenny Burrell, Larry Koonse, Mundell Lowe, Oscar Castro-Neves, Ron Eschete, Russell Malone and Ted Greene plus many others.
This valuable and enjoyable book is available by writing firstname.lastname@example.org . Jazz guitar fans will simply have to own it.