Archive | May, 2009

Rumors of Jazz Movies

31 May

It seems like it has been a couple years since I heard whispers of two jazz related films that were in pre-production. I hadn’t heard anything about either of these projects in a while, and decided to do some digging.

The first film I originally heard about from Abe Beeson on Evening Jazz a couple years ago. He had mentioned that Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor, Lucky Number Slevin) would play Chet Baker in a film called The Prince of Cool.

The concept of this film surfaced during the same time that the life of musicians Ray Charles and Johnny Cash were being put on the silver screen, becoming huge cinematic hits.

The problem, as it turns appears, is that the reasons that producers wanted to create a Chet Baker biopic and the reasons Josh Hartnett wanted to create a Chet Baker biopic were completely different. While producers wanted to rush a project in order to capitalize on the Ray and Walk the Line bandwagon, Josh Hartnett claims that he wanted to dedicate a significant amount of time and thought to the project, making it unique and original. Because Hartnett (apparently a huge jazz fan), and the producers could not come to agreement on their differences, Hartnett withdrew from the project and that is that.

The second film of note accumulated press in 2006 upon the announcement of it, but there has been little word of it since. The film is called The Jazz Ambassadors, and is set to star Morgan Freeman as Duke Ellington.

This is not so much of a biography of Duke, as it is a look at what role members of Duke’s entourage might have had in the 1963 coup let by the CIA in Iraq.

That’s right. It is suggested that the CIA planted spies within Duke’s band as they toured the Middle East. While your first reaction might be “yeah right”, U.S. State Department official Tom Simons, who toured with Duke’s band in the Middle East, is working on the project.

Maybe “working on the project” is a loose term to use, as I struggled to find much work being done on the project announced three years ago at all. Freeman (who I think would make an excellent Ellington) is involved on a variety of other projects currently, as is the designated director of the film, and the only suggested release date I came up with is 2011, posted on IMDB.com.


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The 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Benny Goodman

30 May

goodmanToday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of jazz legend Benny Goodman.

Goodman put jazz on the pop charts, commissioned classical composers like Bartok and Stravinsky to write music for him, brought the first jazz band to Carnegie Hall, and helped break the jazz color barrier.

Rather than offer my own thoughts and reviews, I want to direct you to a wonderful appreciation I heard this morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, done by Tom Vitale.

The audio looks back over what brought Goodman from poverty to a superstar, and Tom discusses Goodman with clarinetist Anat Cohen, who is transcribing Goodman’s solos for his centennial celebration next month at the Village Vanguard.

Click here to hear and read Tom Vitale’s appreciation. Enjoy!

1959 – 50 Years Ago and Still the Best Year in Jazz

25 May

50 years ago certainly told some sad stories in jazz, including the death of Billie Holiday and Lester Young. But 1959 still appears to be the year that produced some of the most influential albums in jazz history. Here is a list of the best from 1959 (and thanks to Robin Lloyd for the list, and pointing out their similar anniversary).

1. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

kind of blueThe most legendary album in jazz history easily takes the top spot on this list. The original album still sells 5,000 copies a week. A two-CD “Legacy Edition” version of this album was released celebrating the 50th anniversary, including alternate takes, false starts, and a 17-minute live version of So What.


2. Time Out – Dave Brubeck

time outThe album that left the 4/4 time signature behind, was the first jazz album to have a single (Take Five) that sold one million copies. Sony will release its own 50th Anniversary edition of Time Out this Tuesday, featuring three discs. Disc one will feature a newly remastered edition of the original. Disc two is a 30-minute DVD interview with Dave Brubeck talking about the making of Time Out, with never before seen footage, and Disc three is a compilation of recently discovered tapes at the Newport Jazz Festival from 1961, 1963, and 1964.

3. Giant Steps – John Coltrane

giant stepsAnother great album where every song became a jazz standard. The album features two different trios, with bassist Paul Chambers being the only member to participate in both. Constant chord changes and wonderful improvisation made this a classic.

4. Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus

mingusAs mentioned earlier, the great Lester Young died in 1959, and Mingus Ah Um is highlighted with a wonderful tribute to Young called Good Bye Pork Pie Hat. Columbia has also released a two disc “Legacy Edition” of this album this year, featuring unedited versions of tunes that were shortened for the original version, as well as some great outtakes.

5. The Shape of Jazz to Come – Ornette Coleman

shape of jazzReleased exactly 50 years ago last Friday, The Shape of Jazz to Come basically said “forget about the rules, just let me play”. That might sound sloppy (the description, not the music), but Coleman might have just looked at things differently than those before him. He always heard a melody, and managed to create great jazz with freedom that didn’t sound chaotic.

Where is the Fine Line in Jazz?

23 May

I was recently scolded by a listener.

It is not unusual for a radio jock to get an unhappy email from a listener. In my experience, it almost always has to do with a song that is played, overplayed, or not played enough, and even though it is the music that the listener has an issue with, it is the radio host who gets the blame.

It was this most recent complaint that came across as far more angry than your average letter. In fact, the note made it quite clear that after hearing a particular song, the individual was “through” listening to my program.

steely danThe song in question was the title track to the Steely Dan album Aja. The complaint, in short, was that Steely Dan didn’t play jazz, and that Aja wasn’t jazz and didn’t sound like jazz, even if Steely Dan was a jazz band by nature.

My initial reaction to letters like this is to respond with a common defense, which is to suggest that jazz is a free art form that knows no borders, and that just because it doesn’t sound like Coltrane or Charlie Parker doesn’t disqualify it as jazz. But in this case, and for the purpose of this blog, I decided to take a deeper look.

Allmusic.com suggests that Steely Dan plays in the styles of Soft Rock, Pop/Rock, Jazz-Rock, and Album Rock, and the album Aja is listed under the same headings. In fact, if I was to try and find Aja on ITunes, I would have to look under the rock genre, not the jazz genre. Ok, so maybe not a lot in my corner so far.

But then you look a little deeper. The song Aja features some great jazz musicians, including Wayne Shorter, one of the most legendary musicians in jazz history, and sax man Pete Christlieb. The problem with that, after doing my research, is that to consider Steely Dan/Aja as jazz, based on the fact that Shorter and Christlieb play on it would also qualify the following musicians/bands as jazz: Santana, Don Henley, The Rolling Stones, Lee Ann Womack, John Denver, Vanessa Williams, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Christina Aguilera, and yes, Tony Danza. These musicians all recorded with either Shorter or Christlieb, none of which would qualify as jazz musicians or jazz bands (although Tony Danza’s album was packed full of standards).

I also can’t argue the improvisational factor. Certainly there are improvised solos on this track, even good ones, but I’ve heard good improvised solos from Slash of Guns N’ Roses too, and that doesn’t make Paradise City a jazz tune.

Pete Christlieb, ironically enough, will actually be in town at a jazz club soon performing with a group called Nearly Dan, paying tribute to the music of Steely Dan. I might have that in my corner, if they weren’t doing a pre-concert interview on our local classic rock station. That, and the fact that you could probably do a jazz tribute to Megadeath if you got the right band and arrangements together doesn’t put a lot on my side either.

So did I lose this one? Did I cross the line with Aja? Should I have just responded with “Jazz is free, it has no boundaries”? Should I have said “I’m the DJ, I’ll play what I want”?

Maybe I did the best thing I could do, and just not write back.

A Preview of the Bellevue Jazz Festival May 22-24

10 May

bjf_logoOne of the things that you can often run into at jazz festivals is being drawn in by the one or two big name headliners that the festival boasts, only to be let down by the rest of the lineup. So much focus and money gets put towards the main stage shows, that it doesn’t leave much else to look forward to or listen to.

Fortunately, living in the Pacific Northwest allows for wonderful performances that don’t make the main stage, as we are blessed with a bounty of fantastic local musicians and groups.

The 2009 Bellevue Jazz Festival has pieced together a great three-day lineup that can and will peak the interest of a listener no matter what his or her taste.

The featured artist lineup alone suggest a program that is diverse and artistic. Dianne Reeves continues her Strings Attached tour, and will be singing Friday night at 9 PM, joined by guitar masters Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo. The festival is not limited to one first-tier vocalist. Other vocal headliners include Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, and Mose Allison with his trio.

Fans of instrumentalists are not to be disappointed by the list of headliners. One of the biggest names in jazz piano, Panimanian born Danilo Perez brings his wonderful blend of Pan-American jazz to the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center Saturday afternoon. Two big bands are highlights as well. The high energy Mingus Big Band (featuring the likes of Randy Brecker, Lew Soloff, Ronnie Cuber, and James Carter) is a highlight on Saturday night, while the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra performs Sunday evening, boasting some of the best soloists in the region.

Looking deeper into the schedule, the festival showcases some of the best high school combos in the country. Friday combos from Sammamish, Newport, and Edmonds-Woodway high schools perform, while Saturday combos from Bellevue, Shorewood, and Ingraham high schools take the stage.

Local favorites loaded with talent are also slated for the festival, free of charge. The Trish Hatley Trio performs at El Gaucho on Friday night, while Saturday features The Greta Matassa Quartet, The Bill Anschell Trio, and The Thomas Marriott Trio. The festival closes out Sunday night at 10 PM with the Hadley Caliman at the Twisted Cork Wine Bar.

With most concerts free (and certainly worthy of a cover charge), this lineup should make for an increadibly enjoyable three days worth of jazz.

For complete details, visit www.bellevuejazz.com.

Emerging Artist: Grace Kelly

9 May

No, not that Grace Kelly.

grace kelly albumI’m torn to define saxophonist, singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger Grace Kelly as “emerging”, considering what she has already accomplished. But as Grace celebrates her 17th birthday next Friday (that’s right, she is just 16), one must assume that there is plenty of opportunity in years to come for this young lady to become a household name in jazz.

On his radio program Jazz After Hours this morning, host Jim Wilke suggested that “young” and “talented” can often go hand in hand, and that no one would argue that both can easily be applied to Grace Kelly. After hearing her wonderful recording of Comes Love, it was easy to agree. And, as her website boasts, I am far from the only person to agree.

Kelly, at age 16, has already performed or recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Diane Reeves, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, Cedar Walton, Peter Bernstein, and Marian McPartland. That is the very short list. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Scullers (another short list), as well as a variety of jazz festivals. She has won numerous young musician and student musician awards, and was named Best Jazz Act in Boston in 2008 by the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll. Oh, and she began her first term at Berklee College of Music last fall, on a full ride, again at age 16.

When you hear Grace Kelly play, or listen to one of her arrangements or compositions, you realize that this isn’t one of those situations where a musician will get cut slack simply based on the fact that they are young. Kelly needs no slack to be cut for her, and the attention that she has received and will continue to receive is more than worthy. Her performances and compositions are frighteningly mature and well designed. In fact, the only way you are even aware that the player is a 16 year old is if you are told that.

What is more surprising is that Grace isn’t someone who had a sax shoved in her hands at age two. She, like many of us, took piano lessons as a young kid. She also followed the typical chronological time line that most kids do in school, not really playing the sax until she was ten. Two years later, she was impressing the likes of Ann Hampton Callaway and Victor Lewis.

I am not someone who throws around the word “prodigy”, but there is not much way to avoid associating that word with Grace Kelly. To imagine what she has accomplished in six years is hard enough to believe. To actually hear it is even more unbelievable.

Grace Kelly’s fifth album is now available, titled Mood Changes. Watch Grace play Setting The Bar with Russell Malone below.

The Most Famous Murder in Jazz

6 May

lee-morganJazz, like almost any other art form, is not without its off-stage drama. As a (below average) trumpet player, I am sensitive to the fact that there have been too many trumpeters before me who passed away far too early for a variety of far too unfortunate reasons. The list includes Clifford Brown, Bunny Berigan (see my remembrance of Berigan here) and of course, Lee Morgan.

I certainly don’t take murder or the loss of life lightly. And the murder of trumpeter Lee Morgan at the young age of 33 was a huge tragedy, as the jazz world had only been given a taste of what would no doubt be a legendary career. But there is always a story behind a story, and that is what we take a look at today.

There have been a number of different stories and accounts as to how Lee Morgan’s death took place, and for what reasons. I came across a very interesting interview with drummer Billy Hart, that I have linked for you to listen to here. Be advised – the interview contains explicit language that could be found offensive.

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