By Dee Dee McNeil

May 1, 2022

FEATURING: Chris Standring, guitar/keyboards/programming/arranging/composer; Rodney Lee, keyboards; Andre Berry, bass; Chris Coleman, drums; Kevin Axt upright bass; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.

Back in the 1990s, Chris Standring was combining Hip Hop and smooth jazz with a group called “Solar System” that included the same keyboard genius he still collaborates with, Rodney Lee.

But before he moved from England to the West Coast of the United States, he was polishing his guitar chops and practicing his arranging skills at the BBC. I asked him about that time in his life.

“Back in the 80s, there was a show on Radio 2. You know, we have Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, etc., in England. It’s National radio programming across the country. On Radio 2, BBC had a late-night radio show called Night Owls. There were two late night programs. I can’t remember what the other one was called. Night Owls invited bands into the studio to record. So, you would crank out as many songs as you could during that time. They would mix them, master them, and then play them on the radio and you’d get paid royalties actually quite well from that exposure. I probably did fifteen or twenty of those in the period of a few years. That was in the late 80’s,” Chris informed me.

A native of Aylesbury (in the county of Buckinghamshire, England) Chris has been currently based in Southern California for the past three decades. He moved to Los Angeles in 1991. Standring has had thirteen Billboard Top 10 singles and six singles that reached number one on the Billboard Chart. In fact, a song from his recent album, “Change the World” followed suit. Chris often writes music for others to record and this song was meant to be gifted to another artist. At the last minute, Standring decided to keep the tune for himself. He released it as a single and the song powered up to #1 on the Billboard Chart.

After settling in Los Angeles, Chris was quickly embraced by the West Coast music scene. He found himself recording with gospel royalty like Bebe and Cece Winans, pop and R&B singer, Jody Watley and smooth jazz artists like Rick Braun, Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine and Al Stewart.

“One of the reason’s I moved over here was so I could do things on a bigger level. I was quite ambitious,” Chris explained.

His recent album, “Simple Things” continues his successful path of well-played, contemporary jazz interpreted by seasoned West Coast musical veterans. From the very first original composition (“Shadow of Doubt”) on Chris Standring’s new album, I hear shades of Wes Montgomery. There is something about the strong, powerful ‘groove’ Chris pumps into his guitar playing that reminds me of Wes. Colorfully accompanied by the tenacious drumming of Chris Coleman, who slaps the funk into place, Standring’s music just makes me happy! Indeed, according to his publicist’s notes, Standring confirmed:

“…the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope and because I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”

Years ago, this journalist was a part of the Motown staff in Detroit as a songwriter and almost all the amazing players on those early Motown studio sessions were competent jazz players. The groove and the funk I hear from Chris Standring, Andre Berry on bass, Chris Coleman on drums and Rodney Lee on keyboards remind me of those early Detroit days. These Chris Standring arrangements and compositions make me want to dance, just like the Motown music used to do. Standring soars on his Benedetto guitar and makes a joyful sound atop the excellence of his dynamic rhythm section, but you can clearly still hear his jazz roots.

“I saw a YouTube video of Bootsy (Collins) explaining his basic funk formula. The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write Something of my own. Of course, I had to thank him, which I did on my tune, “Thank You Bootsy,” Standring explained, celebrating an artist who has influenced his composing and arranging style.

Chris Standring began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old. He was drawn to jazz early-on, but he didn’t become a serious jazz musician until he attended the London College of Music. His mentors were great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Budd Powell and Chet Baker. Later he became a fan of Joe Pass. His father was a big Oscar Peterson fan and often played Peterson’s records at their home. His mother played both piano and harp, more as a hobby than as a studied musician. Chris’s older brother played flute and his sister was a classical guitarist. So, there was always music being played or listened to at their house. When he arrived in the United States, Chris became familiar with the work of Pat Martino and greatly admired that legendary guitarist. Sometime later, he got to meet him in person.

I had the opportunity to take one lesson with him a few years ago. I happened to be on tour in Philadelphia and I knew Pat lived there because a friend of mine had taken a lesson with him. I thought, why don’t I do that? So, I called him up and we scheduled the meeting. I was so excited, I didn’t sleep a wink that night, awaiting the next day, so I could take a lesson with Pat Martino. The lesson was really great. That evening, he came to my show with his wife,” Standring recalled the joy of that meeting and the treasured memory of that lesson. I could still hear the ‘happy’ in his voice.

Chris has realized that sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impression on our lives. When it comes to music, he has been a serious and dedicated musician for decades. As a recording artist, he is always exploring the music with fresh eyes. He loves jazz, but he’s also a lover of funk, gospel, Rhythm and Blues.

“I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins. I wrote the opening track, “Shadow of Doubt” after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and I wondered what I could do with something similar,” Chris Standring shared.

You can clearly hear the Prince influence on tunes from his latest release like, “Face to Face” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thing” featuring Rodney Lee on organ. There is also a trace of James Brown influence in these funky, danceable compositions that Chris has penned and arranged. Still, Standring’s ability to seamlessly combine jazz, funk and dance music is ever evolving. When his album “Don’t Talk, Dance!” was released back in 2014, it was a crowd pleaser. What I love about Standring’s creative perception is that although he loops his grooves, he also spontaneously improvises. He is free and creative, like any great jazz player would be. He doesn’t get stuck in that groove. His technique on guitar shows the world that his jazz chops are strong and intact.

On his album, “Soul Express” Standring rearranges the standard jazz tune “Giant Steps” in a very creative way.

Back to his current release, you hear the softer side of Chris playing the pretty ballad, “A Thousand Words (for Samantha)” that features Kevin Axt making a guest appearance on upright bass. The melody is compelling and the bridge is absolutely beautiful. Chris has composed all eleven songs on this new recording. It’s his 14th CD release as a bandleader. I found each one of his compositions to be a sparkling gem. As a prolific composer, Chris Standring has penned or co-written over one-hundred compositions to date. I asked him when he started composing music?

I actually think of myself as much of a composer as a guitar player these days. I’ve always written music, going back to when I was a teenager, playing in pop bands. The music of the time, back in England, was more progressive rock music. It wasn’t so much about jazz. Everybody was taking chances and doing these crazy things that really didn’t always make musical sense. It was just interesting to take that very free approach to things. That really inspired me as a composer. Today, when I’m composing, I don’t have the luxury to have another guy, by my side, to play everything. So, I’ve certainly gotten good enough on keyboard and programming tools to execute ideas I hear in my head. Yeah – that’s the great thing about being able to write and have a studio. I can just go in there and put things down,” Chris explained.

 

In 2021, Standring reached back to his early jazz roots and recorded a group of jazz standards for the first time on an album titled, “Wonderful World.” On this project, he incorporates a full orchestra and it’s an absolutely beautiful production.

In 2022, his “Simple Things” album is scheduled for a May release. One song he created, “Too Close for Comfort” was written after he experienced a health scare last year. Chest pains and a trip to the hospital reminded Chris how fragile life really is. Thus, the title of this album, “Simple Things” is a reminder for him to appreciate every moment of life and to spend time with loved ones and be present in every moment of each day. “Simple Things” (the album) is a musical message I will enjoy listening to and playing over and over again.

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By Dee Dee McNeil

This April 30th, a special Non-profit event to raise funds to assist musicians is being presented by The California Jazz Foundation at the Los Angeles Omni Hotel; 251 South Olive St; Los Angeles, CA 90012. This annual event will feature musical performances honoring DON WAS by Marcus Miller, Ronnie Foster, Paul Jackson Jr. and Clayton Cameron, along with musicians honoring the memory of JEFF CLAYTON to include Rickey Woodard, Adam Ledbetter, Don Littleton, Edwin Livingston and Charles Owens. It’s an all-star event that will be hosted by ALONZO BODDEN. The evening, starting at 5:30pm, will feature a red-carpet reception, live and silent auctions, gourmet dinner, video tributes, award presentations and a live concert. The “Give the Band a Hand” annual gala is an important source of financial support for CJF.

“The California Jazz Foundation fills a critical void by assisting California’s jazz musicians in need,” says Edythe L. Bronston, CJF founder and president. “The COVID pandemic closed jazz clubs and concert halls, leaving musicians of all ages without a source of income. In addition, many older musicians have neither Social Security nor any or inadequate health insurance, and some see no residuals from their important work. They rely on us and we rely on the community to keep the Foundation financially sound and swinging.”

For more information on the gala tickets, tables and auction, call 818-261-0057 or visit www.californiajazzfoundation.org.

The California Jazz Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization created to aid and assist California jazz musicians in crisis.

 

By Dee Dee McNeil
April 1, 2022

BILL EVANS – “MORNING GLORY” & “INNER SPIRIT” – Resonance Records


Bill Evans, piano/composer; Eddie Gomez, bass; Marty Morell, drums.
A few weeks ago, I spent a luxurious couple of hours listening to the Resonance Records release of two, brilliant Bill Evans concerts in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Resonance Records is the leading independent American outlet for Archival jazz Releases. This April 23, they will issue a pair of double-set-LP packages featuring the amazing music by the late, great Bill Evans.

One of the albums features trio members, Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. It was recorded June 24, 1973, an early Sunday morning in the South American Capital. The tape of these concerts was recorded by soundman, Carlos Melero and have been filed away all these years. There were no effects or EQ added. This is raw, unadulterated beauty! The second concert happened on September 27, 1979 at the Teatro General San
Martin facility with a different trio. This concert featured bassist, Marc Johnson, with L.A. based Joe LaBarbera on drums. Carlos Melero, the sound-engineer, recalled that concert in the liner notes.

“I remember when Alejandro Szterenfeld, who produced Bill Evan’s concerts in Argentina, told me that I was going to do the sound. … He said, Carlos, we have to do a Bill Evans concert at 10:00 in the morning at the Cine Teatro Gran Rex. … Why is it so early, I asked. It seems it was a question of the trio’s other tour commitments.”

Professor Oscar Daniel Chikowski also recalled the experience. He was one of the attendees and a huge fan of Bill Evans. Regardless of the early morning concert and the icy cold weather, the 2500-seat hall was packed. Several famous Argentinian musicians were on-hand and buzzed with much anticipation. Some snuck in portable tape recorders.

“This event was the most important concert I ever saw in my life,” the professor shared. “The conditions were difficult. His hands must have hurt from the cold. Still, personally, my memory of the concert is that it was heavenly. … I thought it was Evans at his best. … I was with my wife. I walked in and saw Hugo Diaz, my friend and the great harmonica player. … The first piece began after a silence so quiet it felt as if it were practically coming from the grave. It was a mystical, almost introverted version of “Re: Person I Knew.” The audience was under his spell from the moment he started. … It wasn’t at all gimmicky or bombastic. It was complex, remarkable and elaborate before an expectant audience,” the professor described his impression of the Bill Evans original composition, the title being an anagram of the name of producer, Orrin Keepnews.

“There are no audiences like the one in Buenos Aires that morning,” Professor Chikowski continued with his recollection.

“The level of emotion, sophistication and fanaticism among Argentinian audiences is legendary. We let him know how much we appreciated him. I understand that Bill Evans didn’t like to play encores, but he played them for us. … The last one, after thunderous applause, was ‘My Foolish Heart.’ I was drenched in tears,” he admitted with sincerity.

The accompanying booklets with these newly discovered CDs are full of rich, emotional stories from those who attended this Bill Evans trio concert. As I listen, the audience roars, applauds, stomps and claps furiously. You can hear them on the recording. They are completely captivated by the magnificent and imaginative beauty Bill Evans brings to the piano. He rewards them by playing “Waltz for Debby.” I too am intoxicated and hypnotized by the talent and delivery of Evans. Not to be minimized are his two comrades.

They bring glitter and glitz to the party, each a master in his own right. Eddie Gomez has many outstanding bass solos and it is mentioned in the liner notes that no one in Buenos Aires had really seen that level of expertise on the double bass by a jazz artist before viewing this concert. Mr. Morell is also dynamic and powerful on drums, both supportively and as a solo percussionist during exciting moments of spotlight.

Bill Evans was raised in North Plainfield, New Jersey and was the son of Harry and Mary Evans. His dad ran a golf course and was a heavy drinker and quite abusive. His mother descended from a family of coal miners. Unfortunately, their household was stormy. The Sr. Harry Evans often drank and gambled. His father displayed an angry personality, often causing his mother to grab her two young sons and seek refuge at a sister’s house in a neighboring town. Young Bill looked up to his older brother Harry Jr. When his brother began taking piano lessons, at age five to seven, baby Bill was fascinated. Although two years younger, he expressed interest in playing piano too. Bitten early by the music bug, Bill Evans studied not only piano, but played violin in school, the flute and the piccolo. He had a love for Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. They became his first composer influences. In high school, he discovered Stravinsky’s Petrushka. But even before high school, at age twelve, he enjoyed Tommy Dorsey and his imagination was captured by jazz. He was infatuated with the freedom and expression that jazz encourages. Bill Evans was so competent, that at age thirteen the young teen was asked to sit-in for a sick pianist in Buddy Valentino’s rehearsal band. I’m sure the older members of the band were quite startled to see this small boy play the piano like a seasoned veteran. This helped give him the credibility and confidence to take gigs locally. Back-in-the-day, he was making about a dollar an hour to play at weddings and local dances. At that point, Bill Evans was quite proficient at playing boogie woogie, blues and polkas. Later, he found himself enamored by the playing of Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Earl Fatha Hines, George Shearing, Stan Getz and Nat King Cole. Remember, that in the early days of his career, Nat King Cole was a pianist and not a singer. Bill Evans particularly admired the piano playing of Nat Cole. During his college days, at Southeastern Louisiana University, he met Mundell Lowe and appreciated his guitar work. They formed a trio after graduation that included bassist, Red Mitchell. Then, the three took off to New York City. The young musicians soon found out that getting a trio gig wasn’t as easy as they had supposed. They had to get their hustle on! Evans joined the Herbie Fields band and wound up with a tour backing the great Lady Day; Ms. Billie Holiday. Not too long after that, Bill Evans was drafted. His career was uprooted while he spent time in the United States Army. But of course, he joined the Army Band. From 1951 to 1955, he played not only piano but flute and piccolo. After the armed forces, he returned to New York City and enrolled in the Mannes School of Music. During this time, he met the incredible Thelonious Monk and the legendary George Russell. Evans soon began to work with Russell’s ensemble that included Art Farmer, bassist, Milt Hinton, and guitarist, Barry Galbraith.

Producer, Orrin Keepnews was the first to record Bill Evans as a bandleader and that album received critical acclaim. It was 1958, when Evans heard that Miles Davis wanted to meet with him. George Russell went to pick up Evans and drove him over to where the Davis Sextet was performing at the Colony Club in Brooklyn. Imagine what Bill Evans must have been thinking when the Davis group, composed of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, invited him to play with them. Red Garland had recently been fired from the sextet and Bill Evans was immediately hired to replace him.

“Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I had to change the way the band sounded again for Bill’s style by playing different tunes, softer ones at first,” said Miles Davis of that personnel change. 1

Cannonball Adderley commented, “When we started to use Bill, Miles changed his style from very hard to a softer approach.”

Bill Evans left the Davis group in November of 1958. He returned in 1959, at the request of Miles, to record “Kind of Blue.” That album is often praised as one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

Although his career stretched like a rainbow across the world, the talented Mr. Bill Evans had his own demons to deal with. Before joining the Miles Davis group, he was using heroin and his struggle with drugs continued throughout his career. Evans contracted hepatitis in the 1960s, a problem disease often associated with the use of dirty needles.

Drug use did not seem to interrupt the pianist’s career. Sometime around the middle of 1959, Bill met Scott LaFaro. The bassist told him he wanted to start his own trio. LaFaro suggested they put the group together and use drummer, Paul Motian. Evans agreed. At the end of the year, in December, the band recorded for Riverside Records, “Portrait in Jazz.”

Evans was pleased with his newly formed trio, but continued working on various other projects, like the recording he made with Frank Minion, “The Soft Land of Make Believe” with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. He also took many studio session jobs and recorded with George Russell. Additionally, his trio went back in the studio and soon released “Explorations” in February of 1961. Things were going smoothly for Bill Evans career-wise. Then, unexpectedly, his friend and trio member, Scott LaFaro died in a car crash at the young age of twenty-five. Evans took his friend’s death very personally and did not perform again for several months. He submerged himself in heroin-use and grief. It didn’t help that his long-time girlfriend, Ellaine, was also an addict. It took coaching from producer and friend, Orrin Keepnews, to pull the brilliant pianist out of his funk and back to gigging. In 1963, Bill Evans recorded “Conversations with Myself.” This album was created with several overdubs of his piano technique, layering up to three tracks of piano for each song. The Verve album won Bill Evans his first Grammy Award.

While his addiction was still prominent in his life, Bill Evans continued his soar to success. At one point, he plunged a needle into a nerve and still continued to play his gig, to the astonishment of his audience, using only one hand. It was 1966 when Bill Evans met young bass player, Eddie Gomez. That meeting sparked evolvement in the Evans trio concept. You hear their comfort and compatibility on the “Morning Glory” double-set album from 1973. Also in 1966, he released “Bill Evans at Town Hall” that introduced his beautiful “Turn Out the Stars” composition with the great Jim Hall on guitar. The “Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival” in 1968 won him his second Grammy Award. This is one of two albums Bill Evans recorded using drummer, Jack DeJohnette. Also, in 1968, Evans and Gomez hooked up with Marty Morell on drums and he remained with the Evans trio until 1975. In 1971, the popular pianist recorded “The Bill Evans Album” that won two more Grammy Awards and featured all original compositions.

Although he endeavored to stop using drugs, in the 1970s, Evans was busted at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with heroin in his suitcase. This led to he and his partner, Ellaine, to begin a methadone program rather than being sentenced to jail time. Three years later, Bill Evans was in Southern California and fell in love with a young woman named Nenette Zazzara. When he told his steady partner of several years about the affair, tragedy struck his life again. His live-in partner, Ellaine, committed suicide by throwing herself under a subway train. Once again, Bill Evans fell off the wagon and returned to his heroin addiction. In 1973, Bill Evans married Nanette and they had one son, Evan.

In 1978, bassist Eddie Gomez left the trio and Bill Evans hired Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. This would be his last trio and they are the ones who returned to Argentina for the newly released Evans’ album titled, “Inner Spirit.” At that time, the Argentine country was plagued with political unrest when the trio returned to The Teatro General San Martin to perform their Buenos Aires concert. There were right-wing death squads murdering thousands of political dissidents in Buenos Aires and the city was full of fear. LaBarbera told a journalist:

“It was a bad time down there politically. There was tension with the military presence in Buenos Aires, but people on the streets and the musicians we met were still joyous and excited to hear Bill.”

This time, Bill Evans added a Latin touch to that concert performance on September 27th. He also played his original composition, dedicated to his son; “Letter to Evan.” The young bassist, Marc Johnson described his experience.

“The trio had arrived at a pretty good place. We were definitely on a rise, performance-wise. The plateau we hit was pretty high; pretty dependable and reliable. The music was getting to a really fun place. By then, in 1979, I was definitely playing with a little more authority and conviction. Joe sounds amazing on it, as usual, just phenomenal really. He helped keep that trio going and swinging …”
The same year that this project was recorded, 1979, Bill Evans met a 28-year-old Canadian waitress that he began an ongoing relationship with until his death in 1980. Around this same time, his beloved brother Harry committed suicide at age fifty-two. Bill’s desire to play and work diminished after his brother’s death. Evans became severely depressed. He was participating in the Methadone Program to stay away from heroin, but that didn’t stop him from becoming cocaine addicted. Evans stopped his treatments for chronic hepatitis and told his young girlfriend he would die soon. It was Joe LaBarbera who went to the hospital with Bill Evans on a September afternoon in 1980. He had been bedridden for several days, complaining of acute stomach pains. He died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York of a peptic ulcer, cirrhosis of the liver, bronchial pneumonia and untreated hepatitis. He was interred next to his brother Harry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Bill Evans’ left behind a plethora of recordings, both as a bandleader and sideman. The pianist’s two, historic, double set albums will be released this April 23, 2022 on the Resonance Record label. They are definitely collector items and a beautiful addition to any jazz collection.

* * * * * * * * *

 

By Dee Dee McNeil

This talented percussionist, Matt Gordy, moved to Los Angeles in 2006, leaving behind a successful career in Boston as one of their busiest drummers. Upon his West Coast arrival, Matt made the rounds of popular jazz spots, playing at Herb Alpert’s Club Vibrato, at the now defunct Blue Whale and Charlie O clubs, the popular Vitello’s and historic Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I asked him what was the difference between the Boston jazz scene and the L.A. jazz club scene in 2006.

“Good question. At that time, Boston was kind of limping along. Several clubs had closed. There definitely was a scene, but it wasn’t like gangbusters. When I came out here, you have to realize I was already fifty-five years old; which was not maybe the smartest thing I could have done,” he chuckles. “But my only regret, of very few, was that when I left Boston, I had been playing music for over twenty years. I went to school there and then I left for a symphony job in Venezuela (for nine years) and then I came back to Boston. Until then, I was playing a multiple of gigs, both jazz and classical. I was performing fourteen years with the Boston Lyric Opera and also the Boston Ballet, the Boston Pops; various and sundry classical gigs around town. But when I moved out to L.A. I was looked at as just a jazz guy. That has to do with the contractor. When I moved here, the whole classical side of my resume was out the window. In L.A., I was just a jazz drummer. Most don’t know I play piano. They don’t know I spent 11 years studying with Charlie Banacos, a music guru in the Boston area who taught me piano.1 I don’t like to toot my own horn too much. But now that I’ve come out with this project, I guess I have to a little bit.”

Gordy’s reputation spread like California wild fires. I can see why, as I listen to his latest release as a bandleader. Throughout this album, Matt Gordy is the exemplary force and motion behind his talented sextet.

Funny how lives sometimes go full circle. In the case of Alan Pasqua and Gordy, these two musicians have known each other for half a century. At first, they were both students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where they originally met.

“His playing kills me! He singlehandedly steers the direction through the music on every tune. He has the ears to do that on the fly,” Matt Gordy praised Alan Pasqua’s talents and piano contribution to his recent album.

On this latest recording, “Be With Me,” the Matt Gordy Jazz Tonite Sextet roars into view, propelled by that popular Eddie Durham tune, “Topsy.” Chris Colangelo leads the way on solo bass. Matt Gordy’s drum groove inspires the band, setting an up-tempo time pattern. Alan Pasqua steps front and center, innovative and creative on piano. I enjoyed the arrangement of just drums and piano during the tune’s introduction. Then, the ensemble swings hard, giving Ron Stout’s horn an opportunity to shine. Next, Ido Meshulam soaks up the spotlight on trombone, followed by featured guest artist, Jeff Ellwood on his sensuous tenor saxophone. Matt’s latest album features four of his original compositions and six standard tunes. Track #2 is a swing version of “You and the Night and the Music” that Gordy dedicates to the late pianist Mulgrew Miller. Gordy’s arrangement is based on Mulgrew’s solo heard on drummer Tony Williams’ trio album. This song is followed by a Gordy original titled, “Camouflage,” where the bassist, Chris Colangelo, dances brightly beneath the horn lines, hand-in-hand with Gordy’s warm drum beats. Those drum licks somehow remind me of an Ahmad Jamal record I used to love. The sextet has a fireside warmth on this tune, with the horns flaming bright like red-glowing coals. Matt Gordy is not only a drummer, but a composer and arranger. I asked him what other instruments he played?

“Piano was my first instrument at the age of seven. I didn’t switch to drums until age twelve. One day, my music teacher in ninth grade played us ‘Take Five.’ I heard that two-and-a-half-minute drum solo and I said to myself, I gotta check this out. I was in the Boston area at that time, where I was raised up. I was lucky enough to have a really good drum teacher. He’s still alive today and he’s gotta be 87 or 88. His name is James Latimer. He taught at the ‘All Newton Music School.’ He gave private lessons there and only taught for a short time before moving back to Madison, Wisconsin where he still leads the big band back there,” Matt Gordy told me.

 

Matt Gordy childhood photo

Gordy credits a few specific drummers for sparking his creativity and greatly impressing him during his teenage years and college days.

“The first jazz record I ever bought was Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage.’ Of course, Tony Williams; I just couldn’t believe him! Then Elvin Jones; I used to listen to a lot of Coltrane. I didn’t really grow up with that much ‘Rock’ but I did listen to Jimi Hendrix and that was with Mitch Mitchell; a jazz drummer playing rock; of course, Ringo with the Beatles. But I was kind of a weird hybrid and drawn to jazz early on. I would come home every day from high school and play Maiden Voyage and then put on that John Coltrane record, that had that “Out of This World” cut on it. That blue album. Remember that one?” Matt asked me.

Of course, I had that in my collection as well, I told him.

Right after college, Matt Gordy was offered a gig with the world-renowned Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela. He thrived and blossomed in that 100-piece orchestra, made up of mostly foreign nationals, including thirty Americans. He grew to love the people and culture of Venezuela. He married an Argentine woman who he met there. They lived nine years in Maracaibo, but in the 1980s, the government and the economy began collapsing. The couple moved back to the United States. I asked him what it was like to live in South America and not be able to speak Spanish.

“In hind sight, I think I took ten or eleven lessons in Spanish before going on that job. Back then, everyone in school was taking French; I don’t know why, but I took French too. When you move to another country, I don’t mean vacationing, I mean working and living there; you have to be able to communicate, to understand and be understood. The good news was, I was a government employee with the 100-piece orchestra. That’s like being a post office employee in the United States. Thirty orchestra members were Americans and 30 were Polish. The conductor, Eduardo Rahn, was actually trained at Julliard. He had a master plan. He brought brass players and woodwind players from the United States. He also sought out the string players, mostly Polish, some Romanian and a couple of Argentines. Believe it or not, at that time there were only two Venezuelans in the orchestra. This is what’s known as “El Sistema,” a government sponsored program. We would go to the local barrios and take instruments. You wanna play clarinet? Drums? Trumpet? They would provide the instruments and teach the young students for free. So, they wouldn’t have to spend money out of pocket, because many couldn’t afford it. That was part of our musician contract. I started as the principal percussionist and when the timpani player left, I became the timpanist. The band members also taught at the Conservatorio Luis Paz in Venezuela. I had five to ten students. That was the whole master plan of this Eduardo Rahn conductor.

“One of the proudest things of my life was teaching Jefferson Pavajeau. This young man was impressive. I had to teach music to these kids, how to read music, play snare drum, mallets, Marinda, timpani and I was still learning Spanish myself. I taught Jefferson for five years. He applied for a scholarship at the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston, where I had once attended. He studied with Vic Firth, the same timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra that I studied with. Jefferson won that scholarship and studied there two years. I think the money ran out and he returned home to become the principal timpanist of the Maracaibo Orchestra in Venezuela.”

While performing in Venezuela, Matt Gordy decided to form a trio and play jazz around town during the orchestra’s ‘down’ time.

“Around early 1980, I decided to start a band called El Primer Trio. It was made up of musicians from the orchestra. I had Tim Valdes on drums, Alain Rocheleau on bass and myself on keyboard. We mainly just played tunes from the Real Book. At the time, there was NO jazz at all in Maracaibo, Venezuela, which was the 2nd largest city with a population of around 2 million. All the music you heard on radio and live was salsa or Gaita, which was their folk music.”

(R to L: Tim Valdes, R.I.P., Alain Rocheleau & Matt Gordy formed a performing jazz group while in Venezuela)

After nine years of working in Venezuela, Matt Gordy returned to Boston, Massachusetts. In 1988, he got a call to play with the Boston Ballet who were performing Prokovief’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Consequently, Matt Gordy spent the next twenty-one-years playing a multitude of classical gigs, including with the Boston Pops and building a reputation as a musician who could play just about any style from Latin to jazz to pop and who was proficient in classical music too. He also wound up working with some pretty famous names you might recognize; Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

“Well, again it’s all about the contractor,” Matt told me. “This particular one, his name was Joe Giorganni. He was in the Boston area at that time and contracted a lot of star-studded concerts including Aretha Franklin, who I played with six times. But Joni Mitchell, I got to tell you, of all the people I played with, Joni Mitchell was one of the most unbelievable musical experiences I’ve had in that situation. She had a full orchestra, conducted by Vince Mendoza, who won a Grammy for “Both Sides Now” and rightfully so. We played the entire album, in the order of the songs recorded on that album. So, here I am with Peter Erskine, Bob Sheppard, Chuck Berghofer; I think Wallace Roney was on the tour too, from New York. We only did six or seven cities. It was a wonderful experience!”

A few years back, Matt Gordy’s Jazz Tonite Sextet tributed Jaco Pastorius. At that time, he was using Sam Hirsh on piano.

This drummer’s recently released ”Be With Me” project is a culmination of Matt Gordy’s extensive and successful world of percussion excellence. He has mastered many types and styles of playing, and because of his diverse and challenging career, his ability to play drums, piano and his background as a master percussionist, these talents infuse his composing and make his arrangements shine.

On the song, “Spring Ahead,” the musicians are back to a solid swing arrangement. Jeff Ellwood flies on his saxophone, like a joyful bird. Ron Stout joins him in-flight on trumpet. I enjoy the undertow of a melody that counters the solos and is played like a refrain that captures your imagination. I find myself whistling along with it, as though it’s an old familiar tune. For me, this is the sign of a well-written composition. I really enjoy Matt Gordy’s arrangement talents. “Chloe” is a pretty ballad written as a gift for his granddaughter’s tenth birthday. The melody is so powerful, you hear her name “Chloe” being sung over and over without any vocals. Gordy’s final original composition is the title tune, “Be With Me,” vocalized by the satin smooth voice of Sherry Williams with lyrics by Gregg Arthur. She also sings the commercial pop tune, “Sunny” arranged in a very sweet and jazzy way.

Other tunes I enjoyed were, ”Soul Eyes,” spiced and splashed with blues and inspired by McCoy Tyner’s version from the 1962 John Coltrane release. The familiar “My Shining Hour” is included and Gordy’s arrangement uses five pedal points (played by Colangelo on bass) to add both tension and interest to the tune. Matt Gordy shares that he learned this technique from Charlie Banacos, a Boston educator who mentored several jazz musicians in composing and arranging back in the day.

Gordy’s latest release mixes all the many facets and talents he has honed over the years into a memorable and enjoyable album. This month, his CD release parties begin in Temecula with Sherry Williams at the Merc, Feb 3rd. Then the Matt Gordy Jazz Tonite Sextet will be at the Sam First club by LAX on March 9th and finally, in Ventura at the Grape, April 9th.

Dee Dee McNeil CDs, “STORYTELLER” and “WHERE CAN OUR LEADERS BE?” are Online at CDBaby.com or Amazon.com.  As a journalist, Dee Dee is available to write liner notes, biographies and feature articles on jazz musicians and singers.  Contact her at ddmcneil@aol.com or leave your message and phone number at 248-262-6877.

 DEE DEE McNEIL

Dee Dee McNeil is An Educator/Singer/Songwriter/Poet/Journalist/Producer & Playwright. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, her poetry was published in the first edition of Dudley Randall’s poetry anthology, “The Broadside Annual.” Several other anthologies followed. As a contract songwriter for Motown Records, several iconic artists have recorded her music including Diana Ross & the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, David Ruffin, Edwin Star, The Four Tops, Nancy Wilson, Rita Marley, Kiki Dee, Jonah Jones, Side Effect, Rapper ‘Styles’, LL Cool J, Gip Noble, The Marvelettes, Robert McCarther, Peggy Duquesnel and the historic Rap group, The Watts Prophets, of which Ms. McNeil was a member. She moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and became an alumnus of Budd Schulberg’s Watts Writers Workshop. She was one of the first women to Rap in the late ‘60s and early 70’s, speaking up for women’s rights. She recorded as a member of the Watts Prophets in 1970, reciting her original poetry, playing piano, singing and adding original music to their premiere release entitled, “Rappin’ Black In A White World,” named from a song McNeil penned with co-writer, Marthea Hicks.

Her articles and Cd reviews have appeared in Cadence Magazine, All About Jazz Newspaper and she had a jazz blog at www.lajazz.com for five years. As a freelance journalist, her articles have appeared in Good Old Boat Magazine, Pathfinders Travel Magazine, Ambassador National Italian-American Foundation magazine and many more. she was a music journalist for the AOL.com owned Patch Online newspapers. Her Column was called “Music Matters.” She once had a Jazz column in the Michigan Chronicle Newspaper. Another of her syndicated entertainment columns appeared in several newspapers across the country and in Canada. In 2009 her book “Haiku In My Neighborhood” was published, featuring the photography of Roland Charles.

In 2010, she presented her “Haiku In My Neighborhood” literary enrichment program as part of the City of Inglewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services, teaching haiku to children aged five to eleven as part of an after-school program. In 2011, she successfully presented the same program for older children at the Horace Mann Junior High School in Los Angeles. In 2012, one of her short stories was chosen and featured by the Sally Shore “New Short Fiction Series” read and presented by actress Angela Gibbs at the Watts Towers under the banner of “From the Ashes Revisited” to tribute the Watts Writers Workshop alumni. In 2014, her short story entitled “Singing My Way Through Adversity” was published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries – 101 Stories of hope, Healing, and Hard Work.” In 2016, her essays were published in three separate “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books: “The Spirit of America”, “My Very Good, Very Bad Dog,” and “The Joy of Less.” Currently, she has a jazz blog where she previews CDs and writes feature articles about jazz artists at www.musicalmemoirs.wordpress.com and she contributes to LA Jazz Scene.buzz with a column called “Dee Dee’s Jazz Diary.”