Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brotherly Jazz

            Jazz groups consisting of brothers are a common trend in jazz.  Whether or not the biological bond leads to a more creative environment, I wouldn’t dare to say.  What I will say is that these brotherly groups have contributed to some of the most renowned recordings, compositions, and live performances in jazz history.

            Perhaps one of the most well known families in jazz today is the Marsalis family.  Branford, Wynton, Jason, Delfeayo, and Ellis Marsalis III are the sons of Ellis Marsalis Jr.  Ellis Jr., an accomplished jazz pianist and music professor himself, passed on the candle to his four sons.  All four sons have successful careers all their own, independent of each other.  However, the four brothers have played together on occasion and continue to carry on their father’s legacy.  Wynton, a trumpeter, has become a leading figure in jazz academia and performance.  He is currently the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and a very accomplished performer.  Branford is most noted for his work as a jazz saxophonist and for starting the record label aptly named Marsalis Music.  Delfeayo has a successful career as a jazz trombonist while Jason, the youngest of the four, is an accomplished drummer.  The four brothers do not usually tour together but have at times collaborated on selected projects.  Most recently they recorded Music Redeems, a live engagement at the Kennedy Center to benefit the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.  In 2003, the family recorded the album Marsalis Family: a Jazz Celebration.  However, the earliest version of the group appeared in 1982 with the album entitled Fathers and Sons, though Jason and Delfeayo were too young to be included.
            Another famous brother based group is the Brecker Brothers.  Saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy teamed up in the 1970s and recorded throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s.  They both embarked on separate careers as well.  Randy was an original member of the group Blood, Sweat, and Tears, while Brecker can be heard on numerous mainstream jazz and mainstream rock recordings.  Michael also was a member of the Saturday Night Live Band in the early 1980s.  The brothers also recorded together as the Brecker Brothers as well as sidemen for each other’s solo groups.  Unfortunately, the jazz community lost Michael Brecker to a form of leukemia on January 13, 2007.  Randy Brecker is still performing and carrying on the legacy he started with his brother.

           Stepping back a few more years, the Adderley brothers appear on the scene.  Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nathaniel became figures in the jazz scene as early as 1955.  As the previously discussed brother groups have also done, Cannonball and Nat led separate careers as well as careers together.  Cannonball started his first quintet in the early 1950s with his brother.  However, it was not until after Cannonball’s stint with Miles Davis that Cannonball gained the acclaim that allowed his second attempt at a quintet with his brother to flourish.  Cannonball Adderley died at the young age of 47 of a stroke.  After his brother’s death in 1975, Nat continued his career performing and recording with many notable figures in jazz.  Like his brother, Nat also suffered from a long battle with diabetes.  On January 2, 2000, he passed due to complications from the disease.

The name Jones is a highly celebrated name in jazz.  Elvin, Hank, and Thad Jones are most often celebrated as musicians for their solo careers.  Elvin, a drummer, is remembered for his work with figures like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, and Wayne Shorter.  Hank’s piano work with Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Lester Young, and Wes Montgomery earned him the reputation as one of the most celebrated musicians in jazz.  Thad Jones was probably most known for his work as a composer, arranger, and band leader. His first major step in his career was as a trumpeter and composer/arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra.  He went on to form his own group, the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra.  Hank and Elvin played together on albums with other noted artists, but the three brothers did not record all together until 1958.  Nevertheless, they recorded quite often in other bands as sidemen on the same albums.  Elvin Jones died on May 18, 2004 of heart failure in New Jersey.  Thad passed on August 21, 1986 at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Hank Jones died most recently on May 16, 2010 in a hospice facility in Manhattan.
One of the most influential brother groups in jazz was comprised of the Heath brothers.  Jimmy (tenor saxophone,) Albert “Tootie” (drums,) and Percy (bass) formed the Heath Brothers band in 1975.  It lasted for roughly three years until Tootie left in 1978.  Percy and Jimmy continued the group with Akira Tana as Tootie’s replacement.  In 1982, Tootie returned to the group.  Jimmy and Tootie continue the group today, hiring sidemen on an as needed basis.  Percy Heath, an early member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, passed away of bone cancer on April 28, 2005, two days short of his 82nd birthday.  One of the last times the three brothers were recorded together was on a DVD Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers in 2004.  While Jimmy and Tootie continue playing together, they also perform separately.  Both brothers also lead their own careers as educators.  Tootie Heath is currently the producer and leader of The Whole Drum Truth, a jazz drum ensemble.  Jimmy has his own big band that he continues to tour with, performing his compositions and tunes that span the history of jazz.
            Jimmy Heath can be seen during a six day engagement at the Blue Note Jazz Club from October 23rd through the 28th.   Mr. Heath will be celebrating his 86th birthday on October 25th during his stint at the “Jazz Capital of the World.”  His stay will feature Heath’s performance of his own compositions framed and supported by the masterful playing of the Jimmy Heath Big Band.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marcus Strickland Interview

Marcus Strickland and his quartet kick off a heavy week of music at the Blue Note tonight. We caught up with Marcus to discuss his musical upbringing, how he approaches leading his band, and why he enjoys playing with his brother.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into music and when you decided you wanted to make it your living.

Music was always playing in my household, thanks to my father. And there was only one classification of music in our home, GOOD music. My brother and I wore holes into the backseat of our parents Toyota because we were always bobbing our heads to Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Parliament, etc... So it wasn't a surprise that we, at the age of 11, chose band as our extracurricular class. From the moment my band teacher introduced the saxophone I was in love with how it looked and sounded. The joy that filled my heart after two weeks of blowing hard to finally produce a sound was so profound that I think right then and there I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Football, car designing, and track all fell to the side because they had no chance against how much music compelled me.

Talk to us about the musicians who will be joining you on Monday evening. How did this group form? What makes these musicians special to play with?

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting band. Our sensibilities are quite compatible, and that's what I felt when I first met each of them on the New York City scene (Exception: I met my brother in the womb, LOL). We are all musicians who developed a sound that is outside the vacuum of limitations. At times I feel we all form a quite dynamic sampler of world music. My twin brother, E.J. Strickland, is an extremely versatile drummer. He is immediately able to shape and propel each piece from the first time he plays it, and it doesn't hurt that he is an amazing songwriter too. David Bryant's piano playing is provocative and sets the mood of any given tune we are playing. His ears and rhythmic flexibility make his sound the perfect environment for my sound. The bass is an instrument that requires a groove master at its helm, and that is what Ben Williams is. He always makes the bass lines I write into his own manifestation with incredible creativity. We are all rhythmic boxers on stage, jabbing n' ducking at spontaneous occurrences - playing with these guys is guaranteed fun for all.

Discuss your approach as a bandleader. On your bio it states that you try to adhere to Art Blakey’s saying, “Leave the band alone!” How does this influence the way you compose and arrange for the group?

When writing a song or rehearsing my band, I always try to leave room for each person's personality and ability to shine. I don't like to instruct and if I do it's very minimal. I just make sure I get incredible musicians, and I trust that whatever they don't understand immediately (which is rare) they will eventually hook up on the bandstand or in the studio. I want all of us to shine, my concept is not self-serving. This is what I feel Art Blakey meant when he said "Leave the band alone". Art also felt that if the band doesn't make any mistakes the music is being played too carefully, so I adopted that approach to band leading as well.

How is it playing with your brother? You are both band leaders and play in each other’s groups. Do you each contribute compositions and arrangements to both groups or does it depend on who is leading?

Ever since E.J. and I first started playing music we were experiencing the same thing with each other. We often played duo, sax and drums, while growing up - so it is not a surprise that both of us are very rhythmic and interactive with each other and all others. Every now and then I play a tune of E.J.'s in his band that I feel would fit with my band too. So I sometimes ask politely if I could add choice songs of his to my band's repertoire, very rarely though. Despite our blood connection we have different yet compatible approaches to songwriting and band leading.

What are your plans for the upcoming future? Any new records or collaborations we should know about?

There's a whole lot in store for my audience and those who will join the fun. I have plans in the near future to revive my Twi-Life project with a very fresh approach and some special guests. Every project I do is of course the most up to date version of me, so I am always exciting to get it on wax, plastic and bytes. My latest recording with my quartet Triumph of the Heavy, Vol 1 & 2 has a whole pile of music on it - 2 discs, 17 tracks. So, my output has always been extremely generous. I also have plans to showcase my skills as a producer now that more opportunities are arising. Many great things on the horizon, you'll see!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

JJ Sansaverino Interview

Fresh off five weeks of worldwide touring, JJ Sansaverino brings his Nu Jazz band to perform at the Blue Note stage tonight. We caught up with JJ to talk to him about his musical beginnings, what we can anticipate for his show at the Blue Note, and what his hopes are for the future.

BLUE NOTE: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in music and when you decided you wanted to pursue it professionally.

JJ: I grew up in a musical family. My Grandfather was a very well known singer in the Lower East side. My Grandmother sang opera and studied at Juilliard. My uncles sang in a Doo Wop band called Memories and performed for years around NY. So I became interested as a young boy. By the time I was 16, I knew I wanted to play professionally.

BLUE NOTE: It says on your bio that while attending the Berklee School of Music, you came to NYC every weekend to perform. I assume this must have been fairly stressful. Can you talk about your experience at Berklee and why you decided to attend even though you were returning to NYC so frequently?

JJ: I was performing regularly in NY before college, so it was important for me to continue playing around the Village while I was studying. To keep my name in the circuit. I chose an Arranging major at school so I was writing scores for small to big bands constantly. I needed an outlet to play my guitar. The traveling wasn't stressful to me because the bus ride was therapeutic, to be alone, think, and listen to music.

Berklee was a great experience. To have endless musicians and outlets available was awesome. The facilities and resources were amazing. I left because I missed playing live and traveling constantly. I returned because I still had much more to learn. It really gave me the opportunity to learn composing and arranging for strings, horns, and bigger ensembles.

BLUE NOTE: How did your band Nu Jazz form? Talk a little bit about the other musicians in your group and what we can expect from your performance at the Blue Note. Do you usually come in with a set list or do you tend to draw on the audience to dictate song selection?

JJ: Nu Jazz was created when I had the opportunity to work with one set of musicians regularly. Ze Luis Oliveira is my dear friend and a wonderfully blessed musician. He plays woodwinds and percussion. He co-produced my CD Sunshine After Midnight with myself and Alex Valenti. Etienne Lytle is an extremely talented keyboardist. We have been playing together for years. Thomas Gooding is my bassist. We have been traveling the world for years. Courtney Williams will be playing drums. We have worked together for years and he is playing for Eric Brown, who has a previous commitment. Courtney is an extremely energetic drummer who makes great solso. All of these guys are wonderful people and very talented musicians. It's an honor to be on stage with them.

As far as a set list, lately I have been making one in advance because I am trying to present more of a show instead of going song by song.

You can expect a very high energy show, with a blend of many genres. Lots of emotion and heart and soul. For our second show at 10:30 I will have a lot of special guests sitting in with us.

BLUE NOTE: You fuse a lot of different genres into your music. Can you talk about your influences and how they influence your unique sound? How would you describe your music?

JJ: I have been touring the world for 22 years, the last 12 with reggae legend Maxi Priest so reggae music is part of me. Jazz is the umbrella of many genres that I fuse including Latin, R&B, and good old rock guitar. The music carries so much emotion, that at different times different sounds, textures, and styles need to be used. I think my love of these genres helps give me a unique sound.

I have been influenced by many greats such as Bob Marley, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, George Benson, and Jimmy Hendrix as well as many R&B singers.

BLUE NOTE: You have garnered much critical acclaim and have achieved a great deal in your career thus far. What would you still like to accomplish? What can we expect from you in the upcoming future?

JJ:  I feel so blessed to be here in this world to do good. God has given me so much talent, but most of all the ability to be able to reach audiences and people. I have traveled the world extensively and have seen how much joy myself and fellow musicians have given people. I have currently been on the road this tour for 5 weeks, traveling to London, St Maarten, Sri Lanka, Anguilla, Vancouver, Seattle, Arizona, New York, Qatar, Dubai, California, Florida, and more. Last year we were in Africa, Guam, Spain, Japan and other great places. My ultimate goal is to continue to record my music and tour to support it. It is very important for me to be God's messenger and deliver musical blessings to the world while caring for my family.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

SoNuvo Interview

This Saturday, August 4th SoNuvo will play the Late Night Groove Series. We had an opportunity to catch up with them.
http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4091/5099849414_4f74093ba7_z.jpgBlue Note: What should we expect this Saturday?

SoNuvo: This Saturday will be a celebration of the trio getting back together and playing again.  We've all been busy with other projects and traveling so we all had put SoNuvo on the back burner.  We're pulling out all the stops for this performance with special guests, new original songs, and new arrangements of some classics.

BN: Where does this name, SoNuvo, come from?

S: The name SoNuvo is a combination of "son" which is a prefix for sound, and "nouveau" which means new.  We thought of a ton of names and struggled to find one that both our American friends and French friends could pronounce.  It was a harder task than you might imagine.

BN: How was your tour de France? Did it influence the dynamic of the group?

S: While we were in France we grew exponentially as a group.  We had been spending a lot of time together in NY, performing weekly at Bubble Lounge, Chez Oskar and BXL, but in France we had time to workshop new material and hone our live show.  We found that aside from our musical roles in the band, we each had our role in our little family.  The personal rapport we built comes across in the musical performance and I think that people can see and hear it.

BN: Seth and Jerome have had a long history of playing together. How did Marie join the group? 

S: Jerome and I started playing together when we were about 15 years old in Cleveland, and continued playing in  different bands together here in NY, starting with Lee Hogans's band Pursuance.  Marie was a special guest at one of the Pursuance hits at Club Groove and I was blown away.  She had such an amazing harmonic and rhythmic sense, the likes of which I had never heard in a vocalist before or since, and such a great vibe and presence.  We started working on duets and thought that with the addition of Jerome we could have something really special.  The result was an environment for all of us to be featured and truly collaborate.  That's how I remember it, at least.

BN: Speak of past performing experiences and accolades and how that has affected the group. (2012 Montreux Jazz Voice Competition finalist, drumming with Sonny Rollins) 

S: All of our musical performances are a learning experience and affect the following performance.

BN: What should we be looking forward to with SoNuvo?

S: Well, we have a couple special guests that we'd like to keep as a surprise.  It's going to be a lot of fun and a very interesting and memorable experience for everyone who attends. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Honey Larochelle Interview

This Saturday, July 14 Honey Larochelle will play the Late Night Groove Series. We had an opportunity to catch up with Honey.

Blue Note: What can the Blue Note audience expect from your show Saturday?

Honey Larochelle: A high energy night full of warm edgy soul, reminiscent of the greats we all love... and a beautiful reunion of all-star musicians.

BN: What upcoming projects are you working on?

HL: My first full length album is finally underway and due out late September. I also have a couple side projects that will be pleasant surprises for folks, but I'll save those for later ;)

BN: What do you like about playing Blue Note and NY audiences?

HL: I love Blue Note and NY audiences because there's always a mixture of tourists and local fans, so there's a really diverse and exotic blend of listeners and cultures all together under one roof speaking the same universal language.

BN: What have you been listening to lately - where are you looking for inspiration?

HL: I just got back from a week tour of Brazil, so that has certainly inspired me a lot. I've been listening to a lot of samba and bossa nova.

BN: How does your diverse background play into your music?

HL:  Well my music is also quite diverse, so I think it plays a big part. But whether I'm writing hip-hop, dub step, jazz, or funk or sing-songwriter it all fits under the soul umbrella.

Get tickets here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Another Vision of Ástor Piazzolla

Jazz educator Ed Tomassi defines new music styles as cohesive blends of past genres. Ástor Piazzolla's compositions capture this ideal. Using traditional tango as a backbone, Piazzolla infused elements of jazz and baroque music to create what has been coined nuevo tango. Carlos Kuri, author of Piazzolla: la música límite, notes that "Piazzolla's fusion of tango with this wide range of other recognizable Western musical elements was so successful that it produced a new individual style transcending these influences."
Piazzolla's compositional beauty has been noticed by listeners and performers. This success has influenced a variety of musicians to interpret Piazzolla's music. Notable albums include Al Di Meola's Di Meola Plays Piazzolla (1996), the Assad brothers' Sergio & Odair Assad Play Piazzolla (2001), Gary Burton's Astor Piazzolla Reunion (1998) and Libertango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla (2000). Musicians like Chick Corea and Gustavo Casenave have played Piazzolla's music at the Blue Note.

Nine-time GRAMMY award-winning clarinetist and composer, Paquito D'Rivera brings his tribute to Ástor Piazzolla next weekend at the Blue Note. D'Rivera will be performing from July 10 - 15.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sonnys in Jazz

There is a peculiar phenomenon among jazz musicians, especially saxophonists. Players like William Greer, Conrad Clark, Edward Stitt, and Cornelius Fortune share a commonality. They are a fraction of the community of jazz musicians nicknamed 'Sonny.' Saxophone giants include Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss, Sonny Simmons, Sonny Red, Herman "Sonny" Blount (Sun Ra), and the Coltrane-inspired Sonny Fortune. Fortune joined McCoy Tyner's group for over two years. With Fortune's contributions on Tyner's albums Sahara (1972), Song For My Lady (1973), and Song of the New World (1973), Fortune cemented his reputation as an instrumental innovator on alto and soprano saxophones. Come see Sonny Fortune, a living legend among nicknamed greats, at Blue Note on Monday, July 9 at 8 & 10:30pm.