Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Bud Powell

Last week marked what would have been the 83rd birthday of John Coltrane. As an avid reader of jazz writings on the internet, I saw how much publicity this event drew. While certainly a big occasion, I was shocked this morning when I discovered, via a Wikipedia browse, that last week also marked Bud Powell's birthday. While no one would argue against the influence Coltrane has had on jazz, neither would anyone argue against Bud Powell's influence - which may be greater - however, somehow, Coltrane's odd numbered birthday greatly overshadowed Powell's barely publicized, certainly momentous 85th birthday.

I find it shocking that despite the high regards with which jazz fans and jazz critics hold Powell, there was no online mention of this historic milestone.

I wonder why this is so.

Matthew Shipp posted his response to this on Justin Desmangles' Blog, "New Day." (http://sisterezili.blogspot.com/2009/09/matthew-shipp-justin-desmangles.html)

He wrote, "To answer your question about how Bud gets lost in the discourse -in jazz piano now everybody views things through a post-miles prism which means piano is viewed through the -keith-chick and herbie prism with people seeing bill evens as the father of that.
other than that now it is hip to view monk as a weird genius-and the marketing of that idea is easy because the
name-and the persona all fit together in a way where that idea can be marketed. So bud just becomes a bebop pianist in a lot of people's minds and to make matters worst when people think of bebop they think of bird and diz who are the salesman of the idea of bebop and who most people think of the founders of it. That is a paradox considering bud was the heaviest of all of them.
matthew shipp"

As a student of jazz in New York, a pianist of whom Powell is a main influence, I notice how many of my friends and fellow students listen to and are influenced by Coltrane. I also notice how few young pianists and musicians truly listen to Powell, but for some reason, always mention him as one of the "greats." It's as if somehow, in their education, the name Bud Powell has been put on a pedestal, but in all honesty, his music has barely been surfaced. It seems that to many, he has been dismissed as a Charlie Parker clone on the piano, a disciple of the bebop founder. However, in truth, Bud was one of the founders, he has many times "out-birded Bird," and is, in Matthew Shipp's opinion and certainly others', "the heaviest of them all."

Has Bud Powell become less influential over time?

I would love to start a discussion about why the 83rd birthday of John Coltrane has overshadowed the 85th birthday of Bud Powell.

Please post your comments and let's start a discussion!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A LIMITED NUMBER OF FREE TICKET PAIRS are being offered for HEAVEN ON EARTH's CD RELEASE SHOW AT THE HIGHLINE BALLROOM FEATURING JAMES CARTER, JOHN MEDESKI, ADAM ROGERS, JAMES GENUS & MATT WILSON for one night only on Wednesday, Steptember 30. The contest will end on Tuesday, September 29, at 5:00pm ET. To win 2 free tickets to see The Heaven On Earth band at the Highline, follow the directions below. We will contact you via email if you are a winner:

1. Email your name and phone number to contests@bluenote.net
2. In the Subject Line, please title your email "BN BLOG CONTEST - HEAVEN ON EARTH AT HIGHLINE BALLROOM"

*If any of these instructions are not followed, you will not be included in the contest!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blast From The Past: Piano Duo

Searching through the vast video archives of YouTube, I stumbled upon this gem.

While piano duets are fairly common, it isn't often that piano duets feature pianists of different generations, especially pianists of these generations.

While Hank Jones has teamed up with everyone from Kenny Barron to Brad Mehldau in recent years, it isn't often that Earl Hines teamed up with someone of a more modern generation.

While Byard is certainly influenced greatly by Hines and certainly plays in a Hines-ish style here, a video and pairing of this sort is very uncommon.

All of that aside, this video is truly phenomenal. It shows the great interplay between two fantastic pianists and a drummer. It is amazing to watch the awe in Byard's face as he plays with one of his heroes.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


September 10, 2009
Music Review Overtone Quartet

An Experienced Leader Brings Out a Collectivist Spirit

Photo by Hiroyuki Ito, NY Times

There are few musicians in jazz with a more untroubled sense of leadership than the bassist Dave Holland. Since the first recordings made under his name, in the early 1970s, Mr. Holland has expressed his point of view with gracious clarity, drawing out the best from his partners while keeping a firm hand on the tiller. But he’s after a greater spirit of collectivism with the Overtone Quartet, which made its first public appearance at the Blue Note on Tuesday night before a handful of tour dates this fall.

The group, with the saxophonist Chris Potter, the pianist Jason Moran and the drummer Eric Harland — musicians born in the 1970s — shares most of its DNA with the Monterey Quartet, which was convened in 2007 for that year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. (A sharp live album was released a couple of weeks ago on the festival’s label, licensed to Concord.) The crucial difference is in the piano chair: the Monterey Quartet featured Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a player of drier touch and steelier temperament than Mr. Moran.

The change registers at almost every level. Throughout the first set on Tuesday, Mr. Moran was far more than a different piece of the puzzle: his rumbling cadences and insinuating voicings took their place at the core of the band, inspiring a more elastic interaction from the others, particularly Mr. Harland. The only person who seemed not to yield to any shift was Mr. Holland, holding down a series of syncopated vamps with his usual definitive aplomb.

Every member of the group had at least one composition in play, and their selections were characteristic. Mr. Moran’s was “Blue Blocks,” a tune with a cascading line and flickers of gospel consonance; it brought out Mr. Potter’s soulful, pithy side. “Treachery,” by Mr. Harland, opened the set on a radiant note, with rhythmic jolts and a fanfare-like melody. “The Outsiders,” by Mr. Potter, was a heady contraption, home to enough moving parts and somber harmony to suggest the influence of chamber music.

Because this is the sort of group that can feel overstocked with poise, there was an important place for ballads in the set. “Maiden,” by Mr. Harland, readily fit the bill, sounding at times like a lullaby. “Walking the Walk,” by Mr. Holland, was more of a border case, with a serpentine bass line in 10/8 meter. What brought it into ballad territory was the tone struck by Mr. Moran, on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Apart from some small discursive tangents, his solo revolved around two notes, and he made this feel like a product of deep focus.

After so much new music Mr. Holland placed a chestnut at set’s end: “Interception,” from his landmark 1973 album, “Conference of the Birds.” With its asymmetrical rhythmic pulse it sounded strikingly contemporary — and the musicians, straining brightly against tempo and tonality, managed to strengthen that impression, all together.

The Overtone Quartet performs through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, West Village; (212) 475-8592, bluenote.net. For more tour dates, daveholland.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


KENDRA ROSS will be performing for One Night Only at the Blue Note on September 21. The contest will end on Friday, September 18 at 5pm ET. To win 2 free tickets to see Kendra Ross, follow the directions below. We will email you back if you are a winner:


1. Email your name and phone number to contests@bluenote.net
2. In the Subject Line, please title your email "BN BLOG CONTEST - KENDRA ROSS"
3. Indicate which set you would like tickets for, 8pm or 10:30pm

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Legendary writer and jazz critic Nat Hentoff spent an hour interviewing Frank Sinatra Jr. just a few months ago at the Blue Note. The result is this very interesting article, published in today's Wall St. Journal.


(image by Ken Fallin)

For years, I have been careful to follow the advice Duke Ellington gave me when I was in my early twenties: "Do not categorize music or ­musicians—like 'Dixieland' or 'modern.' Listen, open yourself, to each musician." I failed to heed Duke's counsel with regard to Frank Sinatra Jr.

Figuring he'd be a shadow of his irreplaceable father, I never listened to him live and I ignored his very few recordings until this spring. I heard his most recent CD, "That Face!," released on Rhino in 2006. Backed by an ­invigoratingly swinging big band, his singing made me feel good with his personal, signature sound, infectious jazz time and conversational phrasing.

That surprise led to a long interview with Mr. Sinatra at New York's Blue Note jazz club, where he was appearing. "If I were still producing jazz ­records," I told him, "I'd ask you to come into the studio. How come you've made so few?"

"There's very little demand for my recordings," he said wryly. But he works steadily in this country and overseas, usually with a 38-piece band. On this gig at the Blue Note, he fronted an octet.

"There aren't many clubs booking big bands left," he said. "Most clubs don't have the room, let alone the money for a big band. So we play in casino theaters—not Las Vegas or Reno but in the casino showrooms in the outlying areas. And for years, during the summer months, we've played state fairs, where I'm asked over and over by high-school band directors, 'You know where an old clarinet player or trumpet player can get a job?' Schools are closing out their music departments and selling off all the instruments."

Mr. Sinatra was born in ­Jersey City, N.J. on Jan. 10, 1944. For years he seldom saw his ­father, who was on the road ­either performing or making movies. But, starting as a kid, Mr. Sinatra wanted to become a piano player and songwriter. By his early teens, he was playing and singing one-nighters on the road. At 19 he became a vocalist with Sam Donahue's band.

"Donahue was a musicians' musician," Mr. Sinatra told me, and a great teacher. "The bulk of what I knew about singing with a band started then, hanging out with him and his musicians. From then on—like mechanics hang around with other mechanics—I stayed around musicians. One of my mentors was Duke Ellington. He took me under his wing."

And although he never had a hit record or television series or movie, Mr. Sinatra has kept performing. His last name gave him some access, but the obbligato of his career, as he describes it: "A famous father means that in order to prove yourself you have to work three times harder than the guy who comes in off the street with a song to sing."

By 1968 he had performed in 47 states and 30 countries; had guested on television shows; had had one of his own briefly in 1969; had opened for stars in Las Vegas's main rooms and had had his own bands in the lounges.

"When I was a boy," Mr. ­Sinatra says of that vital phase of his education, "my father would bring me to Las Vegas. I saw all the stars perform; and late at night, there would always be a name band performing in a lounge. I remember listening to Harry James, Count Basie and many other famous bands. I ­always try to recapture the spirit of those late-night sessions in my own show."

To honor the big-band tradition, he persists in being one of the few big jazz-band leaders still touring. The elder Sinatra was known for his rigorous ­rehearsals of his sizable bands before an engagement. So, too, the younger Mr. Sinatra. In "Frank Jr., the Unsung Sinatra," Wil Haygood's July 9, 2006 article in the Washington Post, Mr. Sinatra's guitarist Jim Fox said:

"He has such high standards. He knows every third trombone part, every cello part." And during a rehearsal of "The People That You Never Get to Love"—a song on "That Face!" that I can't get enough of—Mr. Haygood ­reported:

"Halfway through, Frank ­motions for quiet from the 38-piece orchestra, then walks over and leans on the piano. 'Let's try that again. It has to be half that volume, everybody. This is a lullaby. That's what it is."

In 1988, at the request of his father, the son served as conductor and musical director for the elder Sinatra in the last years of his performances. Poet-composer-singer Rod McKuen, a friend of the elder Sinatra's for 35 years, explained on his Web site why Sinatra summoned his son to be with him and why the younger Sinatra felt that the gig was so important:

"As the senior Sinatra outlived one by one all of his conductors and nearly every ­arranger, and began to grow frail himself, his son knew he needed someone that he trusted near him. . . . He was also savvy enough to know that performing was everything to his dad and the longer he kept that connection with his audience, the longer he would stay vital and alive.

"Sinatra the younger not only put his own career on hold to become his dad's conductor but he became Sr.'s closest confidant, his truest friend."

Mr. Sinatra told me about an assignment his father gave him a year or so before his last performance: "I want to make an ­album of ballads that swing. I want the best soloists. They all have to be songs I've never sung before."

"Great," said Mr. Sinatra. "Anything else?"

"No. Get outta here."

One of the songs he brought his father was "The People That You Never Get to Love," Rupert Holmes's haunting ballad that, I suspect, becomes part of every listener's autobiography.
Tune In

"Where did you get this little puppy?" said the delighted ­father, eager to record it.

"Then age overtook him," Mr. Sinatra told me. "He never did make that album, or that song. So we do it, with the big orchestra, in the wonderful arrangement Nelson Riddle wrote."

"Sinatra Jr.," says Rod ­McKuen, "sings it every night, ­almost. It is one of the moments when the song brings to mind no one but himself. . . . [In time] the audience wises up to the fact that there is room for two Sinatras in this world after all. The beloved memory and the extraordinary new reality. . . . Each Sinatra will take his proper place."

After a 2003 performance by Mr. Sinatra, Richard Ginell wrote in the Jan. 16 Daily Variety: ­"Sinatra, Jr. might have had an easier time establishing himself had he gone into real estate. But his show made me awfully glad he decided music was his calling. There aren't too many singers around with Sinatra's depth of experience in big band music, or his knowledge of the classic American songbook. There are even fewer with such real feeling for the lyrics of a song, and such a knack for investing a song with style and personality."

There's yet another dimension to the singular son of Frank Sinatra. His composing includes a 15-minute song and monologue, "Over the Land" that is now housed in the National ­Archives. On the road as the ­nation's bicentennial was nearing, he thought of Francis Scott Key, who was on a ship in sight of Fort McHenry under British attack during the War of 1812.

"The next morning," Mr. ­Sinatra told me, "despite the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in air, the colors of the flag had held, it was still flying, and that's how 'The Star Spangled Banner' eventually came into being. My music is about how that flag grew in impact, where it went and the troubles it survived during its travels."

"Over the Land," which he wrote in 1976, has yet to be publicly available on a recording. But it was performed by the U.S. Air Force Symphony Orchestra at Constitutional Hall in 1984, a performance that I doubt has ever been experienced by any other jazz singer. Because after it, "a U.S. Marine in dress uniform comes up to me at my office in New York and says, 'I have a warrant to commandeer this music.' He gave me a certificate that said of 'Over the Land' that 'This is the property of the United States.'" The marine ­explained these formalities were required for 'Over the Land' to be in the national archives.

That beats a Grammy.

Spending more time with the easeful storytelling of this companionable son of Frank Sinatra, I understood why his sidemen enjoy working with him. Over the years, I've heard similar stories about the elder Sinatra's generosity of spirit from musicians who worked with him.

With my interview with Mr. Sinatra ending, I asked—as I do of just about everyone I interview —"Is there anything you haven't accomplished yet that you want to do, and expect to do?"

There was a pause. "Success would be nice," he said. "Even a little, you know."
—Mr. Hentoff writes on jazz for the Journal.

To listen to Mr. Sinatra Jr.'s work, go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204271104574292660988410636.html#articleTabs%3Darticle


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