Archive | January, 2009

Jazz and Trendiness

27 Jan

If someone calls you “trendy”, you can assume that you have managed to stay current and up-to-date on things that might include fashion sense and style, pop culture, attitudes, lingo, and current events. To stay trendy, you have to adjust as the trends do. If you don’t, or haven’t, it’s possible that you may show a slight resemblance to these guys:

Flock of Seagulls

Flock of Seagulls

Jazz has survived for over one hundred years, and its likely that it will always survive in some fashion. We can find countless books and recordings on how it has changed over the decades, thanks in large part to not only those who were brave enough to experiment with their own unique thoughts and ideas, but also to great classic recordings that kind-of-bluehave withstood the test of time. Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, sold 5,000 copies a week in 2008, roughly a half century after its creation. When you ask someone who isn’t a huge jazz fan why that CD happens to be part of their music collection, a collection filled with rap and country and rock, they usually just say “because its cool”. “Jazzheads”, on the other hand, will give you a twenty minute response on its modality, tonality, and improvisation and how it changed the world. Both are right.

Today, “jazz” is rarely used in the same sentence as “trendy”. For younger generations, jazz concerts are not as much of a must-see event as they are a random, occasional novelty. It’s far less likely that a high school cafeteria would be buzzing with discussion about what Coltrane’s best album was during lunch hour, and more likely that it will be buzzing with the latest Brittney Spears gossip.

The question is though, does jazz need to be trendy to survive? Will a younger generation find jazz and buy records and go to concerts without jazz being the main headline in pop-culture publications? Some jazz purists feel that it’s not necessary for jazz to be the headline. But doesn’t a younger generation need to be exposed to jazz somehow in order for record companies to not only invest in new jazz artists but to also afford to invest in printing copies of older albums for sale? Isn’t anything that needs to remain trendy, or even viable, or to even have a pulse, in need of new audience members year after year?

Will younger generations find satisfaction in old recordings, or will they need newer, more modern sounding recordings to enjoy. Will artists be willing to take that step and record them, and will jazz radio stations play the new stuff that might appeal to “the kids”?

There is always hope and promise. Artists like Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Michael Buble over the last few years have definitely given jazz record sales a boost. But at the same time Norah Jones and Michael Buble have received criticism for not being “true” jazz musicians, while Herbie recently has teamed up with pop superstars, drawing his own critiques from jazz purists.

Whether you think that the days of jazz appealing to a younger audience are still possible or not, or which way you think the jazz industry should go about marketing to a younger audience, or if jazz needs to be or can be trendy at all, it is safe to say that jazz has to find its way into the hands of every new generation.

Below, see some “trendy” videos of musicians of today.

Norah Jones singing Cold, Cold Heart:

Herbie Hancock with Corinne Bailey Rae performing River:

Michael Buble in a Starbucks commercial:

Diana Krall Live in Paris

19 Jan

diana-krall-live-in-parisDiana Krall has drawn a lot of attention since she arrived on the scene years ago – and “a lot” might be an understatement in modern jazz terms. All of her albums have a tendency to sell particularly well, again, as far as jazz albums sell these days, and her concert ticket sales follow suit.

Personally, I don’t go crazy when I hear Diana Krall sing. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy her, because I do. But I don’t really get hyped up when she gets played on the radio, and I only own one of her CD’s in my extensive jazz collection.

The album I do own is her 2002 release Live in Paris. Certainly a case can be made quite often that artists bring more energy and life to the table in a live performance than they do when they offer a studio recording. In this case, I would die for Diana Krall to bring the life and energy she brought to The Paris Olympia for those four nights in late 2001 to her studio sessions.

She demonstrates all of her talents in this live recording that she does in her studio recordings, but you just get the feeling that the crowd brought an additional spirit to her. Her up tempo tunes are exciting and lively, and it sound like she is having fun, which is an impression you may not always get on her other albums.

We see and hear this kind of fun, life, and energy in the opening track, I Love Being Here with You (see video):

Between the opening number and the encore, Krall shows off a variety of talents and techniques, but it is the encore number in my mind that steals the show. Her version of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You is maybe the most haunting and emotional song that I have ever heard her sing (see video):

Also notable from this recording of Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, with great work from Christian McBride and Michael Brecker.

The entire album showcases the kind of emotion and feeling that Diana Krall is truly capable of, and is a must have for your collection. Not just a must have because I believe its her best, but a must have because it truly showcases so much of what Diana Krall is ultimately capable of. Again, while her studio albums are wonderful, I would love to see her bring this kind of energy and life into the recording studios.

Concert Review: Kenny Garrett Quartet 1/13/08

15 Jan

kenny-garrettI needed to get out. It had been way too long since I had made time for a concert, and truthfully my decision to head to Seattle’s Jazz Alley on Tuesday to see Kenny Garrett was a last-minute decision. Quite often hosting a radio program that airs from midnight until 4 AM can throw a wrench in what can loosely be described as a social life (although I wouldn’t give it up for anything).  That being said, sneaking out to a show on a Tuesday night can typically be out of the question.

But I needed to get out, and I’m glad I did.

I want to say that its been eight or so years since I’ve seen Kenny Garrett live, and eight years ago I still found little appreciation for anyone that wasn’t either a trumpet player or Michael Brecker. As I’ve “matured”, at least musically, one of the things that has become important to me when hearling a modern day jazz musician perform live is that they offer a nice blend of creativity, talent, and something I will refer to as a hypnotic build of intensity.  That doesn’t mean that the music has to be “in-your-face”, or even intense in the general meaning of the word. I just mean that if you are going to tell me a story, have that story build to a point that it is so interesting that I lose track of what else is going on around me.

That is exactly what alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett brought Tuesday night to the Alley. While many jazz musicians feel that they can get away with playing six songs at fifteen minutes each in a ninety minute set, featuring themselves for 85 of those minutes, it often leads to a certain repetitiveness. It’s as if they end up telling the same story over and over, and leaves listeners squirming in their seat forty minutes into the show.

The story was quite contrary on Tuesday. Garrett did indeed fill his set with long songs, but he kept each song so interesting that the set didn’t even warrant the listeners a bathroom break. Each song, no matter how it started, would build…and build…and build…where you felt that if you were to get up at any time, you would certainly be missing the most interesting part of the story.

What made it more interesting was that Garrett’s solos would begin rather intense, making you wonder where he might go from there. But not only did he manage to build off of where he started, but it was as if he wasn’t even trying, which made it more impressive. Its no wonder why Garrett has to rank in the top three living alto players. His band (consisting of Kona Khasu (bass) Corey Henry (organ) and Justin Brown (drums)) not only had no issues keeping up with Garrett, but truly completed the concert. They were totally in sync, with Brown on drums especially impressive.

I needed to get out, and I’m glad I did. I need to do it more often, and I need to buy a new Kenny Garrett CD.

Watch a video below of Kenny Garrett live in Paris with Miles Davis:

Henry "Red" Allen

7 Jan

henry-red-allenToday marks what would be the 100th anniversary of the birth of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.

One of the more difficult things, no doubt, of being a trumpet player at the same time as Louis Armstrong is that no matter how good you might be, you might seemingly always be in a shadow. This could be why Red isn’t necessarily a household name, despite being a wonderful performer.

Red was always in good company, performing seemingly nonstop from the time he was eight until he passed away at age 59. Not only sharing the company of the likes of Fletcher Henderson, King Oliver, and Coleman Hawkins, he always managed to bring a wonderful, modern sound to whatever group he was playing with no matter what the era.

His big band solos often became transcribed and written into supplemental charts. He also had a distinct, earthy singing voice which he featured from time to time.

A wonderful musician, watch a fantastic performance of Henry “Red” Allen doing St. James Infirmary below.

Henry “Red” Allen

7 Jan

henry-red-allenToday marks what would be the 100th anniversary of the birth of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.

One of the more difficult things, no doubt, of being a trumpet player at the same time as Louis Armstrong is that no matter how good you might be, you might seemingly always be in a shadow. This could be why Red isn’t necessarily a household name, despite being a wonderful performer.

Red was always in good company, performing seemingly nonstop from the time he was eight until he passed away at age 59. Not only sharing the company of the likes of Fletcher Henderson, King Oliver, and Coleman Hawkins, he always managed to bring a wonderful, modern sound to whatever group he was playing with no matter what the era.

His big band solos often became transcribed and written into supplemental charts. He also had a distinct, earthy singing voice which he featured from time to time.

A wonderful musician, watch a fantastic performance of Henry “Red” Allen doing St. James Infirmary below.

In Remembrance of Freddie Hubbard

4 Jan

It had barely been a few hours after I finished my Eartha Kitt remembrance when I received the news…

freddie-hubbard

I showed up to college thinking that “audition music” was simply a formality, and that when I did finish my trumpet audition for one of the most prestigious jazz programs in the country, that I would then and there be offered a music scholarship that I simply hadn’t applied for.

I went to the music building and grabbed the packet of audition music. Of the three tunes inside, one was Freddie Hubbard’s Birdlike, to be performed before members of the jazz faculty and the department head at recording tempo.

I’ll spare you the embarrassing details of my audition, and just let you know that I was given the fifth chair in the second of two big bands, which I was convinced was given to me simply because they felt sorry for me. A sample of my improvisational skills to get into one of the small groups was not requested. I was offered a music scholarship however…of sorts. The school payed for me to take more lessons.

But it was the tune Birdlike that changed my trumpet playing world. Because I’m such a tragic sight-reader, I had to buy the recording, which, in my ignorance, I had never heard before. Freddie flew through the head of the song with such ease, why my fingers tripped over themselves and the valves. Freddie soloed and soloed…and soloed…without repeating a lick. I seemed to play the same few licks containing the same few notes limited by a botched homemade embouchure change that destroyed my range…over and over.

Over the next few years, I could not get my hands on enough Freddie Hubbard recordings. And I could not tell you how many hundreds of hours I spent practicing my trumpet, wanting to play just like Freddie (much to my roommates chagrin). I would fumble through the changes on Red Clay or Straight Life while listening to Hubbard play extended solos on live recordings of those tunes. I tried desperately to play Here’s That Rainy Day as sweetly as Hub did, only to realize that not only would I never possess his tone, but by copying him I was only being unoriginal – the exact opposite of what Freddie Hubbard was.

Make your own list of the top five jazz trumpeters of all time and you will likely find Freddie Hubbard among the group. In his prime he was so superior on so many levels. For anyone who might put as much time dedicating themselves to the same craft as him, playing the trumpet, his recordings and abilities would only make you that much more appreciative of what he contributed to music. I had heard a variety of stories as to what happened to Freddie Hubbard’s chops, and frankly, none of them really make a difference. He is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest influence on me as a musician.

It had barely been a few hours after I finished my Eartha Kitt remembrance when I received the news. I didn’t even know that Freddie had suffered a heart attack around Thanksgiving. He had died Monday, December 29th, 2008 from complications of that heart attack.

I tried to explain to people around me, typically people who weren’t big jazz fans, why Freddie Hubbard was so important to me, the same way I did in January of 2007 when my other musical hero Michael Brecker died. I tried to explain, while choking up, by using analogies and metaphors in terms that they might be able to apply to their own life. “It’s kinda like if you wanted to be a professional basketball player and you spent hundreds of hours watching and studying and practicing to be Michael Jordan”, I would say.

I felt like it wasn’t the point I was really trying to make, and whatever point I personally was trying to make wasn’t likely made. I told the same people that I would be playing some Freddie Hubbard songs on my radio program that night to remember him. I’m not sure why, since the people I told weren’t jazz fans, nor listeners, nor did I expect them to listen, nor did they know who Hubbard was until I told them.

The next day, three of them (none of them jazz fans) all came up to me and said the same thing. They had listened to my program, and all said that Here’s That Rainy Day might have been the most beautiful recording they had ever heard.

Once again, Freddie Hubbard had been able to do what I only what I could only try to do. He made people fall in love with his music.

Watch Freddie Hubbard play I Remember Clifford:

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Birdlike:

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Straight Life:

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