by Scott Yanow
During 1979-2019, the Playboy Jazz Festival was a major annual event, taking place at the Hollywood Bowl during a June weekend. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID and now is being reborn as the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival on June 28-29. While the rather eclectic lineup is typical of the last few Playboy festivals, the events take place two weeks later than formerly. And instead of starting at 2:30 or 3 p.m. each day, the festival is shorter, not beginning until 3:30.
There is actually only a small amount of jazz programmed for Saturday June 28. Not counting the LA County High School for the Arts Jazz Band (which opens the festival with a brief 10-15 minute set), just three of the eight day’s groups (37 1/2%) are actually jazz: singer Veronica Swift, pianist Gerald Clayton, and the Azar Lawrence Experience. Also appearing on Saturday are the Roots, Jose James Celebrating Bill Withers, Cory Wong, Fantastic Negrito, and Jungle Fire.
From the jazz standpoint, the Sunday June 29 marathon is stronger. After the LAUSD Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band opens the day, four of the eight groups are jazz (Gregory Porter, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Carmen Lundy, and trumpeter Christian Scott who is now going as Chief Adjuah) and two most likely contain some jazz (Terri Lyne Carrington’s Social Science and Lao Tizer). Also featured that day are Tower Of Power and Femi Kuti & The Positive Force.
Tickets are now available for the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival and, if the 41 editions of the Playboy Jazz Festival can serve as evidence, it should be quite a party.
MARIA SCHNEIDER ORCHESTRA AND REGINA CARTER
At Disney Hall, there was a double-bill of violinist Regina Carter and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Obviously it would be a memorable occasion.
Regina Carter has been jazz’s top violinist for the past 20 years. While she can play in a variety of different styles, the emphasis was mostly on swing during this evening. Joined by pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Alvester Garnett, the violinist began with a medium-tempo blues which became the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The melody popped up between each of the solos. Her unaccompanied violin played a classical-type cadenza that soon launched “My Favorite Things,” A bass solo and some free form playing eventually evolved into Richard Bona’s rhythmic “Mandingo Street” which featured some adventurous Davis piano. After an emotional version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” (which utilized a four-note pattern throughout), the colorful set concluded with hard-swinging versions of “Squatty Roo” and “Parisian Thoroughfare”
Arranger-composer Maria Schneider has long created music that falls into her own category. The arranged ensembles for her orchestra (which is comprised of 13 horns, piano, accordion, guitar, bass, and drums) are distinctive, original, sometimes crowded, and cinematic. At Disney Hall Schneider primarily performed music from her Data Lords album, a project in which she protested against the dominance of big tech (including streaming which rips off musicians), contrasting the digital and natural worlds.
After starting with a dramatic number featuring tenor-saxophonist Donny McCaslin that almost sounded a bit like bullfight music, she conducted her band through such pieces as “Don’t Do Evil,” “Sputnik,” “Data Lords,” “Stone Song,” and the relatively soothing “Sanzenin.” Nearly every one of her musicians had a solo spot including baritonist Scott Robinson, pianist Gary Versace, guitarist Ben Monder, and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, but it were the emotional arrangements with their passionate ensembles that took honors.
THE MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES
The British Saydisc label’s Matchbox Bluesmaster series has reached its conclusion. During 1982-88, Matchbox released 38 albums and two double-Lps of early blues that (with a couple of exceptions) date from 1926-34. Saydisc (www.saydisc.com) has reissued the entire catalog on seven six-CD sets.
The final two volumes came out recently. Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 6 brings back Papa Charlie Jackson (1924-29), Memphis Jug Band (1927-34), Barbecue Bob (1927-30), Leecan & Cooksey (1926-27), Roosevelt Sykes (1929-34), and Mississippi Sheiks Vol 2 (1930-34). These once-rare albums of blues, hokum and gospel include performances by both well-known (Sykes) and obscure (Leecan & Cooksey) artists. Papa Charlie Jackson was unusual in that he was a blues-singing banjo player (rather than guitarist) whose music often came close to jazz. The Memphis Jug Band was a spirited party group while singer-guitarist Barbecue Bob (Robert Hicks) ranged from religious numbers (including one of the earliest recordings of “When The Saints Go Marching In”) to lowdown numbers (“Red Hot Mama, Papa’s Going To Cool You Off”). Guitarist Bobby Leecan and harmonica player Robert Cooksey make for a lively duo and are also heard in other settings including with cornetist Tom Morris in the Dixie Jazzers Washboard Band. Pianist-singer Roosevelt Sykes is heard near the beginning of his long career while the Mississippi Sheiks show why they were a very popular attraction during their prime years.
Matchbox Bluemaster Series Set 7 is subtitled Songsters & Saints. Guitarist-singer Lonnie Johnson is featured on the first disc (mostly performing solo although there is a two-part number with Victoria Spivey) and the second CD features the Famous Hokum Boys, a good-time group that features singer-pianist Georgia Tom Dorsey and often Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and vocals. The final four discs reissue a pair of Various Artists two-Lp sets originally titled Vocal Traditions on Race Records: Songsters & Saints Vols. 1 & 2. Many different singers are heard from on one or two selections apiece, giving listeners an idea of what the black music world sounded like before the blues and jazz took over. From folk songs, party tunes, and long-forgotten religious hymns and even some preaching, these four discs provide a strong overview of pre-blues black music from a wide variety of performers.
It is quite rewarding that the entire Matchbox catalog is now available on CD. Paul Oliver’s original definitive liner notes are also included and are a major bonus to this highly recommended series.
COOL JAZZ FROM HOLLAND
In a blindfold test of any of the 52 selections included on the two-CD set Cool Jazz From Holland (available from www.freshsoundrecords.com), even the most dedicated collectors of 1950s jazz would never guess that the music was recorded in Holland by Dutch musicians. While many of the European groups that tried to record bebop during 1945-50 sounded a bit awkward as they sought to learn the new music, there is no such difficulty heard on these performances from 1955-57. Whether these were the very first Dutch recordings of what was at the time modern jazz (there were some earlier isolated sessions), certainly these musicians were ready in 1955 to be permanently documented.
There were three stages in the development of European jazz. First the musicians had to learn jazz, then they mastered the prevailing American styles, and finally they developed some of their own innovators. In the 1950s most Europeans modern jazz artists were very much in the second stage, becoming quite adept at playing West Coast cool jazz and bebop. The innovators (other than a select few such as Django Reinhardt) would not arrive until the mid-1960s and the rise of the avant-garde.
While singer Rita Reys became a star and would later record with some Americans (including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), such Dutch musicians as altoists Karel Reys and Tony Vos, pianists Rob Madna, Rob Pronk (who sounds a bit like Russ Freeman and also doubles on trumpet), Stido Alstrom, Frans Elsen, and Pim Jacobs, baritonist Herman Schoonderwalt (also playing clarinet and alto), and tenor-saxophonist Harry Verbeke show on these recordings that they were on the level of their American counterparts and deserve to be discovered by today’s jazz listeners.
This is a very generous two-CD set with nearly 160 minutes of music. All of the selections originally on two 12-inch Lps, three 10-inch Lps, and eight 7-inch Eps (other than one vocal number left out due to lack of space) are included and reissued in chronological order including the three albums in the Jazz Behind The Dikes series. In addition to a page of notes from the reissue’s producer Jordi Pujol, all of the original liner notes are included in the 28-page booklet.
Do not even hesitate to pick up this valuable, fascinating and very musical set. It gives one an opportunity to discover a lot of talent that has always been largely unknown to Americans.
EARLY JOHN LEWIS
John Lewis (1920-2001) will be best remembered for being the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet (1952-74 and 1981-97). However he was already 32 and well-known in the jazz world before forming the MJQ.
While he was developed as part of the new bebop music, Lewis had a “less is more style” that was influenced by Count Basie with whom he shared the ability to make every note count. His playing served as a contrast to the dazzling solos of Bud Powell and Art Tatum while being inspired by both (along with his love for the classical music of Bach).
The three-CD set Early Years Before The MJQ 1946-52 (Acrobat) has the great majority of Lewis’ most significant recordings as a sideman from his first period. While nearly all of this music is readily available elsewhere, it is quite intriguing to concentrate
on Lewis’ playing while listening to these all-star performances
John Lewis made his recording debut with the Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1946 but those selections (which mostly have the pianist head in the ensembles) are not here. This set, despite its title, actually begins in 1947 with Lewis’ first small group session, a quintet date led by Miles Davis that has Charlie Parker on tenor. Other recordings on this reissue include Lewis playing with the Gillespie big band (“Two Bass Hit”), a lesser known date led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson in 1948, two outings with the Charlie Parker Quintet and one from 1951, some of the music (including all of his arrangements) for the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool Nonet, and dates with Illinois Jacquet, J.J. Johnson, Lester Young, Zoot Sims, and Miles Davis (with Sonny Rollins). The package is rounded off by a dozen numbers from three sessions headed by Milt Jackson (one from Sept. 18, 1951 is mistakenly listed as being from 1949) that led directly to the formation of the Modern Jazz Quartet. This well-conceived reissue is available from www.mvdb2b.com and www.amazon.com.
The live jazz world is gradually waking up again even if one cannot avoid noticing the absence of Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery. When is that finally coming back?
Jazz flutist Lori Bell will be performing at Sam First (6171 W. Century Blvd, #180, Los Angeles, 424-800-2006) on Thursday May 5th, with the shows taking place at 7:30 and 9 p.m. She will be playing her C flute and alto flute in a quartet with pianist Josh Nelson, bassist David Robaire, and drummer Dan Schnelle.
Just Jazz will be presenting Nick Mancini (May 4), Jane Bunnett & Maqueque (May 18), and Sara Gazarek (June 8) at Mr. Musichead Gallery. The Vibrato Grill hosts the Tony Guerrero Sextet (May 7), Danny Janklow (May 12), and the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (May 26)
Catalina Bar & Grill presents Louis Cruz Beltran’s Latin Jazz Ensemble (May 5), Pete Escovedo (May 20-21), Kevin O’ Neal’s Mohican Love & Jazz Festival (May 22), Poncho Sanchez (May 27-29), the Dave Weckl/Tom Kennedy Project (June 2-4), and the duo of Mon David & Josh Nelson (June 8).
Lots to see!