Archive | February, 2009

Where is Norah Jones?

22 Feb

norah-jonesThe simple answer: Everywhere…still.

I started to wonder if Norah had finally slipped off the map a little bit since I hadn’t seen any new music cross my desk, and I hadn’t heard of any new tour dates. As it turns out, I just hadn’t been paying very close attention…at all.

It might be as fair (or unfair) to call Norah Jones a jazz musician as it would be to call Ray Charles one. While both certainly recorded jazz, and did it well, there is a immense amount of versatility they both possess/possessed that keep them far from being labeled simply as jazz musicians. Ray could rock, play country, and team up with just about anyone for any project in any genre. Norah is, and has been doing exactly that.

And it was likely her versatility that kept me from realizing she was doing so much. When you write a blog about jazz, you focus on just that – jazz – and can lose sight of what talented musicians who play jazz might be doing otherwise.

While Norah and her website does not offer a tour schedule with any scheduled dates, that does not mean she is not performing live. On Valentine’s Day, Norah performed as part of the trio Puss n’ Boots as an opening act for former Band drummer Levon Helms and his band. The night before, she performed at the intimate Black Swan in Tivoli with three other women. The Tuesday before that, Jones was on stage at in New York with Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson performing a version of You Are My Sunshine…with a Latin feel.

Norah’s versatility doesn’t stop at live performances. In fact there are few projects that Norah Jones gets involved with in any way that doesn’t top the charts or bring home Grammy awards. Aside from winning five Grammy awards for her first big album Come Away With Me, she has contributed to award winning projects like the Ray Charles album Genius Loves Company, Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, and even a brief participation on the Grammy winning album Speakerboxx/The Love Below, by rap duo Outkast.

Other recent projects include a new DVD and vinyl release, containing 18 songs she performed as part of her involvement with the television series Austin City Limits, vocal work on the first solo release in nine years from hip-hop artist Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest), and involvement with a new release called Incredibad from Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Oh, and she had a lead role, as an actress, in a recent film called My Blueberry Nights. She also recorded for the soundtrack.

While many jazz purists might not appreciate all of the work Norah Jones does outside of jazz, it is hard to not appreciate her versatility. Ray Charles wouldn’t have been Ray Charles if he had spent all of his time trying to sound like Nat King Cole and Charles Brown, and Norah wouldn’t be Norah if she limited herself to jazz music. And at the very least, jazz fans can be thankful for her. While large record companies have had to cut back on signing jazz musicians, Blue Note Records has not, and continues to turn a profit as they celebrate their 70th year, due in large part to the 35 million copies that Norah Jones has sold over the past five years.

Watch Norah Jones perform the Ray Charles hit Drown in My Own Tears:

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Portland Jazz Festival Escape – 2009 Review

19 Feb

Our 5th Annual trip to the Portland Jazz Festival – the KPLU Portland Jazz Festival Escape – was a big success. KPLU’s Promotions Director Brenda Goldstein and myself made the trip on the Amtrak Cascades with more than 70 KPLU listeners and had a wonderful time. Before I go into the details – if you haven’t taken the Escape with us before, do it!

The train to Portland featured a kindly Russian immigrant who kept us laughing with his intercom reminders about everything from Amtrak etiquette (don’t jump off the train when it’s moving) to important legal requirements (you can drink wine, you can bring wine, but you can’t drink the wine you bring – much funnier with a Russian accent).

We had a terrific time talking with listeners at our pre-dinner reception atop the Hilton in Portland – what a view! I’m always happy to see familiar faces, about half of our travelers seemed to be return visitors, and thrilled to see such a wide variety of KPLU’s listenership in attendance. It’s not just about Seattle or Tacoma or the Major Donors when we “Take the Abe Train.” Many of the listeners were from Canada or Bellingham or Olympia and even one fan from Colorado – and ranging in age from 20’s to 70’s. Most aren’t what we might term “jazz geeks”, they’re just along for a good time, some great jazz, great company and tax-free shopping in beautiful Portland.

The first show was, I think, the highlight of the first weekend. Dianne Reeves sang with her trio and the Oregon Symphony. What I feared would be schmaltzy was swinging and super cool. Dianne is one of the top 2 or 3 singers in jazz today and she’s on top of her game (catch her at the upcoming Bellevue Jazz Festival in May!). She even SANG some band introductions and scatted her way elegantly off stage, without microphone, after her encore. Her love of Sarah Vaughan was in full effect and kept all of us in a romantic Valentine’s Day mood.

A couple listeners chose to get tickets to see guitarist John Scofield’s show later that night and their reviews were expectedly positive. He’s a groovy guy and easily likeable, playing in a trio with Matt Penman on bass and Bill Stewart drumming. They were joined on a few songs by saxophonist Joe Lovano, who played several times over the weekend. A handful of listeners chose the free show at the Art Bar featuring legendary pianist Dave Frishberg in a trio that didn’t feature his iconic vocals, to more positive reviews.

Sunday had us gathered back at the lovely Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium for a pair of shows. We saw the amazingly talented clarinet and sax player Don Byron with his Ivey Divey Trio – piano & drums – and while some songs were a bit on the avant garde side of jazz, his humor and pure chops had us all impressed.

After a short intermission, headlining pianist McCoy Tyner brought a quartet to the stage, including the sax great Joe Lovano plus bass & drums. There were some technical difficulties – the piano seemed too quiet and Lovano’s sax mic didn’t even seem to be working for the first 3 or 4 songs – but because of our great seats we could at least hear what was happening on stage. Unfortunately, Tyner’s drummer couldn’t hold a candle to the other drummers we’d seen. He seemed to think volume made up for lack of talent – too loud, man! I’d have hated to be his parents while he was learning drums as a kid. Eventually, the sound improved and we were treated to some outstanding playing, including Tyner’s piano quoting from a pair of Coltrane classics in the encore song.

Listeners had a wide range of options if they wanted to catch more jazz Sunday night. Many from our crown caught Portland drummer Ron Steen’s jam at Clyde’s Steak House, where a number of local and touring musicians stopped in to play – review: great jazz by some “new” faces in a great atmosphere. Others went to see guitarist Lionel Loueke’s show in the Hilton Ballroom. The overwhelming response from our gang was that the opening singer, Joe Lovano’s wife Judy Silvano, was hard to listen to – some of the audience walked out! – but that Loueke’s set was beautiful, if not strictly jazz. Finally, a few from our crew joined the youth crowd at the Greyboy All-Stars show that night at the amazing Crystal Ballroom. The dance floor is built on tires, making for a perfect spot to hear this modern soul-jazz group.

The weather was great for Portland in February, just a touch of rain Sunday morning with partly sunny skies and around 50 degrees the rest of our stay. The Hilton in Portland was a great hotel, the train was terrific, and the listeners priceless. I had so many conversations with people so obviously enamoured with what we do at KPLU, it gives me renewed energy to keep bringing great radio to all of our listeners around the Northwest and the world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect face to face with so many KPLU listeners and hear about their compliments and concerns, building a closer relationship with people who consider our station a vital part of their lives.

For the final weekend of the festival (www.pdxjazz.com) singer Cassandra Wilson’s show was canceled, but stellar musicians like pianist/singer Patricia Barber, pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Lou Donaldson, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, guitarist Pat Martino and singer Kurt Elling – doing a Coltrane/Hartman tribute with Ernie Watts! – close out this year’s festivities in fine style.

The Portland Jazz Festival almost didn’t happen this year, Alaska Airlines stepped in with critical sponsorship support at the last minute, so I’m hopeful they keep it going so we can be there again next year!

Your purser & baggage handler,

Abe Beeson (KPLU Evening Jazz/Jazz 24 host)

http://www.pdxjazz.com

diannereeves1

Dianne Reeves' latest album When You Know

Listeners from B.C. Jane Whiteley & Hugh Jones on the Jazz Train

Listeners from B.C. Jane Whiteley & Hugh Jones on the Jazz Train

(L to R) Jeff & Gretchen Coulter, Kevin Nielsen & Cathy McDonald talking jazz in Portland

(L to R) Jeff and Gretchen Coulter, Kevin Nielsen and Cathy McDonald - talking jazz in Portland

Audio Blog: Jazz Perspectives with KPLU's Weekday Jazz Hosts

16 Feb

KPLU’s four weekday jazz hosts, Dick Stein, Robin Lloyd, Abe Beeson, and myself, individually sat down and recorded thoughts on a variety of topics related to jazz.

With all of us coming from different backgrounds and upbringings, you will hear very different and interesting perspectives on topics ranging from what the first jazz we remember ever hearing, what music was playing when we were growing up, what how we got hooked on jazz, what live jazz performance blew our mind, what jazz musicians we think are doing great things today, and, if we could pick anyone to see play one song in concert, alive or dead, who would it be.

Enjoy the first Groove Notes Audio Blog by clicking here.

Watch Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton play Moonglow, as picked by Dick Stein:

Watch Thelonious Monk play ‘Round Midnight, as picked by Abe Beeson:

Watch Michael Brecker, as picked by Kevin Kniestedt:

Watch Dizzy Gillespie play Manteca, as picked by Robin Lloyd:

Audio Blog: Jazz Perspectives with KPLU’s Weekday Jazz Hosts

16 Feb

KPLU’s four weekday jazz hosts, Dick Stein, Robin Lloyd, Abe Beeson, and myself, individually sat down and recorded thoughts on a variety of topics related to jazz.

With all of us coming from different backgrounds and upbringings, you will hear very different and interesting perspectives on topics ranging from what the first jazz we remember ever hearing, what music was playing when we were growing up, what how we got hooked on jazz, what live jazz performance blew our mind, what jazz musicians we think are doing great things today, and, if we could pick anyone to see play one song in concert, alive or dead, who would it be.

Enjoy the first Groove Notes Audio Blog by clicking here.

Watch Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton play Moonglow, as picked by Dick Stein:

Watch Thelonious Monk play ‘Round Midnight, as picked by Abe Beeson:

Watch Michael Brecker, as picked by Kevin Kniestedt:

Watch Dizzy Gillespie play Manteca, as picked by Robin Lloyd:

Jazz Grammy Winners Are In!!!

8 Feb

The Grammy award winners were announced today during the 51st annual Grammy Awards. Below is a list of who won which jazz Grammy awards.

We conducted a poll in a blog a while back asking you who you thought would win these awards. Below each winner is the percentage of Groove Notes readers who voted in favor of that particular winner in our poll. Congratulations to all of the winners!!!

Best Instrumental Jazz Album Winner:

The New Crystal Silence
Chick Corea & Gary Burton

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 8%

Best Jazz Vocal Album Winner:

Loverly
Cassandra Wilson

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 53%

Best Contemporary Jazz Album Winner:

Randy In Brasil
Randy Brecker

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 33%

Best Jazz Instrumental Solo Winner:

Be-Bop
Terence Blanchard, soloist
Track from: Live At The 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars)

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 33%

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album Winner:

Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 56%

Best Latin Jazz Album Winner:

Song For Chico
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 45%

Best Instrumental Composition Winner*:

The Adventures Of Mutt (From Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull)
John Williams, composer (John Williams)
Track from: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull — Soundtrack

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 0%

Best Instrumental Arrangement Winner*:

Define Dancing (From Wall-E)
Peter Gabriel & Thomas Newman, arrangers (Thomas Newman)
Track from: Wall-E — Soundtrack

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 13%

Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) Winner*:

Here’s That Rainy Day
Nan Schwartz, arranger (Natalie Cole)
Track from: Still Unforgettable

Percentage of readers picking this winner: 14%

* = Not a jazz category, but contained jazz artists/songs/albums within its list of nominees.

And the results of the Groove Notes poll for ” Which artist deserved a nomination but didn’t receive it this year?”:

Roy Hargrove: 64%

Eva Cassidy: 18%

Melody Gardot: 9%

Nicholas Payton: 9%

Other: 0%

Once again, congratulations to all of the winners!!!

Thelonious Monk's Advice to Musicians

6 Feb

A friend recently sent me this document claiming it to be written by Thelonious Monk, but it’s actually written by saxophonist Steve Lacy. These are notes he took from his time playing with Monk in 1960, and Steve uses these notes extensively in his introduction to the book Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music. I find it an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom. This was posted around the beginning of the year at http://www.1heckofaguy.com. I’ve also added a cool youtube video of Monk playing “‘Round Midnight”. Enjoy!monks-advice2

Thelonious Monk’s Advice to Musicians

6 Feb

A friend recently sent me this document claiming it to be written by Thelonious Monk, but it’s actually written by saxophonist Steve Lacy. These are notes he took from his time playing with Monk in 1960, and Steve uses these notes extensively in his introduction to the book Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music. I find it an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom. This was posted around the beginning of the year at http://www.1heckofaguy.com. I’ve also added a cool youtube video of Monk playing “‘Round Midnight”. Enjoy!monks-advice2

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