Archive | February, 2011

In Studio with Benny Green

27 Feb

CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO

When pianist Benny Green agreed to come to KPLU’s Seattle studios for a solo piano performance he was on tour with his band doing a tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk so it seemed logical to have his studio session consist of Monk compositions.

That was the plan, anyway …

However, just before the session was to begin, in a conversation with KPLU Evening Jazz host Abe Beeson, Benny was surprised and saddened to learned that legendary jazz pianist, George Shearing, had passed away the day before.

Abe asked Benny if he’d like to play a Shearing song in tribute to the jazz master.  Benny said, “Yes,” though he’d never actually performed a Shearing composition.

So, in addition to two wonderful interpretations of Thelonious Monk pieces (Introspection & Monk’s Dream), we were treated to Benny’s first performance, ever, of George Shearing’s classic composition, Lullaby Of Birdland.  To attempt something like that in a live broadcast was a rather fearless gesture of compassion and respect, and Benny Green pulled it off beautifully.

Somewhere, Shearing and Monk were smiling.

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I now Tweet.

26 Feb

I finally gave in. You can now follow me on Twitter @KevinKniestedt. This is another easy and fast way to get Groove Notes updates, and other brief thoughts from me on jazz, other music, movies, nachos, and weird work schedules.

In Studio with Pianist Vijay Iyer

26 Feb

CLICK TO HEAR AUDIO

The Vijay Iyer Trio’s latest release, Historicity, won a number of “Album Of The Year” awards in 2010 and has been nominated for a 2011 Grammy as “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.”

Pianist, Vijay Iyer, seems pleased by this recognition but not really fazed by it. In fact, during his trio’s visit to the KPLU performance studios on February 8, they only played one piece of music from Historicity—”Smoke Stack” by one of Iyer’s mentors, Andrew Hill.

The trio also performed their arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (as seen in the video below) as well as an original composition,Optimism,” which is an as-yet unrecorded work-in-progress.

Between songs KPLU Music Director, Nick Francis, talked with Iyer about the power (and the logic) of the jazz trio configuration of piano, bass and drums, as well as his journey from the world of science, where he holds a masters degree in physics, to the world of jazz where, some would say, he holds the future.

 

Stormy Weather

22 Feb

This is one of Fats Waller’s last performances, from the 1943 musical Stormy Weather. This film was a rare Hollywood production featuring a predominantly African-American cast. The 75 minute film was short on plot, but filled with cool music and dance (20 numbers) from some of the major artists of the time, including Waller, Cab Calloway, Bill Bojangles Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, and the young and beautiful Lena Horne. And keep an eye out for jazz legend Benny Carter, playing trumpet in Waller’s band.

The Jazz 100 (Part 5 – Final Thoughts)

22 Feb

I want to wrap up this little series on the Jazz 100 with my own personal thoughts on the list and some of the comments and questions left by listeners/readers.

There were some thoughts that kept popping up in readers posts. One was “Why didn’t (insert song here) show up on the list?”. Another is “My list would look completely different from this one.” A third was “There is no way that Take Five should be number 1.”

Let me start by saying that my own personal list would also look a bit different from this one. I’ve seen emails and posts from casual listeners to the very jazz educated saying the exact same thing.

Everybody’s list is going to look different. The great thing about this list is that it took the input of about 2,800 different people, and I am not aware of any jazz list out there that has asked and received its construction from such a wide variety of people.

Yes, it was a popularity contest, just like anything else is when you open votes up to the public. That is why you see a song like Take Five at the top. It was extremely popular when it was released, is still in heavy rotation on most jazz radio stations, and is one of the few albums still found in the ever-shrinking “jazz section” at large book and music stores.

I will also say that while I was the one who compiled the votes, I also submitted my vote, and only one song I voted for made the list (Red Clay).

Does it make me angry? No, and for several reasons. The main reason is that no one asked me to make my own list. Therefore why should my own personal musical tastes be reflected throughout the list? Because I host a radio show and write a blog? Therefore I know better and have better taste than the casual listener?

This wasn’t a list offered up to only “jazz experts.” People from all ages and backgrounds voted, and that is why I think this list is unique.

Many people have also asked me what song(s) or artist(s) I think should have been on this list that didn’t make it.

I’ve also been pretty quiet about this one, because again, this isn’t MY personal list.

That being said, I can say that I assumed “A Child is Born” by Thad Jones would make it. I always assumed it was one of the most beautiful ballads in jazz and that my opinion on that was more widely shared. I also figured correctly that females would dominate the vocal recordings that made the list, but I assumed that there would be more of a variety of female vocalists that made the list than what we ended up seeing.

A lot of people also commented on the lack of recent jazz recordings that made the list. While I WISH there were more recent recordings on the Jazz 100, I also understand why there isn’t. Voters had 100 years of jazz to choose from, and in what is inevitably a popularity contest that only allows your favorite five to be submitted, I was not surprised to see the masses choose Miles Davis over Terence Blanchard in a all-time jazz popularity contest (for better or for worse).

Angry voters were in large part angry because their song didn’t make the list, therefore they felt they weren’t represented and their expertise is somehow put into question by the other 2,799 voters.

To those unhappy voters: don’t take it personally. In fact, have fun with it and discuss it. That is what opinion-based lists are for, typically. In fact, let it inspire you to create and post your own list, for comparison. It will allow you to listen to a ton of great music that you enjoy at the same time!

Finally, people have asked me what songs would be on MY list. While I am going to choose to not create a top 100 list (mainly because I feel like it could drastically change by next week), I will share some of my favorites that would always be on my list, that didn’t make our Jazz 100.

A Child is Born – Thad Jones/Mel Lewis

I Remember Clifford (A variety of versions)

A Mis Abuelos – Arturo Sandoval

Tumbleweed – Michael Brecker

Straight Life – Freddie Hubbard

Thanks again for all of your feedback, and keep it coming!

The Jazz 100 (Part 4 – Responding to listener questions and comments)

The Jazz 100 (Part 3 – Thoughts from Robin Lloyd and Abe Beeson

The Jazz 100 (Part 2 – An Audio Discussion with KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick)

The Jazz 100 (Part 1 – The List)

The Jazz 100 (Part 4 – Responding to listener questions and comments)

21 Feb

So now you’ve seen the list of the Jazz 100, heard some basic analysis, and have received the opinions of jazz hosts Robin Lloyd and Abe Beeson.

Today, I will respond to listener questions and comments regarding the Jazz 100. Since I will be offering my opinion and final thoughts tomorrow, I will do my best to keep my answers as straight ahead as possible today.

From “Aspicdandy”: “Nothing by Sun Ra??? Are you crazy? This is a lightweight puffpiece of The Usual Suspects that gets played over and over…About as daring as a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Kevin: Sun Ra had a couple of songs nominated, but I don’t recall any of the 2,800 voters voting for a particular Sun Ra song more than once or twice off the top of my head.

From “DB in Bremerton”: “Amen – and no Stan Kenton? No Maynard Ferguson? (For you kids, look them up…)”

Kevin: Stan Kenton actually came pretty close, and there were several nominations for Maynard. Unfortunately, just not enough support among voters for a particular Maynard track.

From: “David Stevenson”: “ahem ahem….this is a Seattle-based jazz station who did this? Where the heck is mention of anything by Django!?! Come’on folks, Seattle jazzers should know better!”

Kevin: The voting was in fact posted on KPLU.org, but it was also posted on a variety of other websites, including npr.org. My best guess is that Puget Sound voters account for maybe 30% of the vote.

From: “John Leffler”: No Pat Metheny, with 15 Grammy Awards for jazz?

Kevin: Pat Metheny, as well as other “modern day” jazz musicians (such as Wynton Marsalis and Michael Brecker) received a large amount of nominations for songs on this list. In most cases, however, it appeared that voters did not agree on what the “definitive” Metheny tune(s) might be. As a result, no one particular song received enough support to make it into the top 100.

From “T. Camajani”: Take Five over Stolen Moments? WTF?

Kevin: Take Five was an overwhelming choice from every website that received votes. It actually had twice as many votes as the number two song, “So What.”

From “Victor Hong”: This is a pretty good list. However, I think there was a problem with the methodology. We were asked to vote for the top 5 songs, from which they then compiled a list of the top 100. Unfortunately, I think that causes a lot of repeat voting for the songs most people would consider in the top 10. It would have been more accurate to ask us to list our top 20 choices.

Kevin: You make a very good point, Victor. I think it is very true that I would have seen a lot more variety of songs if people were allowed to pick more. I’ll use a sports analogy: If you are asked to pick the top five basketball players of all time, its likely that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are going to be repeated over and over, but if you are allowed to pick your top 20, you might see a greater variety of players getting more votes. We did see over 1,500 different songs nominated, but it is true that if people could pick more than 5, some songs on the fringe of the list might have received more support.

From “Riffster”: I do have to wonder how much the recent attention to Brubeck’s 90th birthday influenced the list. (I’m not saying he shouldn’t be on there, but he might not have been first.)

Kevin: Good thought. Take Five was the first jazz single to sell a million copies, and Time Out is typically one of two or three albums that starts most jazz collections, even today. So while his birthday did get a lot of attention, I still feel that either way Take Five would have had a strong showing.

From “Mike Harmanos”: Not even any Weather Report on this list.

Kevin: Birdland, by Weather Report actually came in at #8.

The Jazz 100 (Part 3 – Thoughts from Robin Lloyd and Abe Beeson

The Jazz 100 (Part 2 – An Audio Discussion with KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick)

The Jazz 100 (Part 1 – The List)

The Jazz 100 (Part 3 – Thoughts from Robin Lloyd and Abe Beeson)

19 Feb

So now you’ve seen the list, and you’ve got some introductory analysis on the Jazz 100.

I felt that it was appropriate for the next step to be getting some thoughts from a fresh pair of eyes…and who better than two of the best in the business, KPLU’s Midday Jazz host Robin Lloyd and Evening Jazz host Abe Beeson?

Thoughts on The Jazz 100

By Robin Lloyd

Taking the list for what it is, entertainment content, a super-subjective popular-vote collection:  it’s not bad!

Do I have strong objections to anything on the list?

Yes: “What a Wonderful World” and “At Last”—neither of these say JAZZ to me, though they’re great in their own way.

Would I re-order the list?  Absolutely.  “Take Five” is wonderful, and it served as an introduction to jazz for an entire generation, but my preference would have something by Dizzy Gillespie in the #1 spot.

Would I object to sitting down and listening to this list in its current state?  No, not at all.

I see it like the growth rings in a tree trunk—it shows a cross-section of styles and eras of mainstream jazz.  The branches of the tree (avant-garde, fusion, etc) just aren’t, well, quintessential enough.

The Top 100 Quintessential Jazz Songs – Wrong Again.

By Abe Beeson

Have you ever sat down to make a list of the “best” of something? It sure is fun, but don’t expect anyone else to agree with you. “Best of” lists are always wrong. Music is just too personal, it touches people in different ways, and music carries baggage and memories that belong only to the one brain between those two ears. But despite the inherent incorrectness of such lists, they do wonders to spark passions and invite heated discussion – and what’s wrong with feeling passionate about music?

What I’ve found most interesting about KPLU/Jazz 24’s Top 100 Quintessential Jazz Songs list is the passion it has provoked in listeners and the comments they’re leaving at this website. It’s a jazz fan’s opportunity to show their passion, to explain why they love a particular song, maybe complain a bit about missing songs or artists (No Sarah Vaughan??) and to thrill at the obvious passion of fellow fans. Here are a few of my favorite posts:

“No one can question the trumpet or vocal marvels of Louis Armstrong, but come on, does this Holy List really need ‘What a Wonderful World’?”

“If you’ve never heard the song ‘Inside Straight’ by Cannonball Adderley, do yourself a favor. It’s probably the sweetest groove I’ve ever heard.”

“Unfair that the whole Kind of Blue album is there, while only the first track of A Love Supreme – which is supposed to be a suite, complete in itself and undivisible – is featured.”

“100 is not enough space for the TOP one hundred – maybe we need a bigger crowd.”

“This is not a list of the greatest jazz songs, this is a list of what people think are the greatest jazz recordings.”

Exactly. And for my part, you can see my picks for the Top 100 here: http://
groovenotes.org/2011/01/04/abe-beesons-top-100-jazz-songs/

Thanks again for your comments, and if you haven’t – show us your passion! Most of all, enjoy the list – even if your favorite isn’t here, there’s a lot of fun to be had in listening. And if I may… maybe the next list will be Top Jazz Artists of the 21st Century?

Tomorrow, I’ll do my best to respond to some of your questions and comments about the Jazz 100.

The Jazz 100 (Part 2 – An Audio Discussion with KPLU’s Kirsten Kendrick)

The Jazz 100 (Part 1 – The List)

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