Tag Archives: herbie hancock

My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don’t Own

8 Apr

I recently found myself doing some cleaning of my album collection. More than cleaning, it is a chance for me to revisit some albums that have, through no fault of their own, been sitting on the shelf too long.

I came to realize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a jazz radio disc jockey, as well as someone who can spend hours in jazz record stores. With the decline in jazz record sales, and the bulk of jazz album sales going to big name vocalists or timeless classic recordings like Kind of Blue, it hit me that just because I have exposure to some wonderful gems of the last thirty years, doesn’t mean that everybody has.

That being said, I decided that I wanted to share my favorite albums from the last thirty or so years that, for one reason or another, might not be sitting on your shelf. And, as always, I encourage you offer your hidden gems.

1. Pilgrimage – Michael Brecker (2007)

pilgrimageEven without the sentimental value of this album (Brecker recorded it while battling MDS and Leukemia, and never did live to release it), it is the best jazz album over the last twenty years. The writing and improvisation from Brecker is stellar, and each member of the band play to their full potential. Winner of two Grammy awards.

Recommended tracks: Tumbleweed, Anagram

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 3

2. Trumpet Evolution – Arturo Sandoval (2003)

trumpet-evolutionMany critics called this the best trumpet album of the last twenty years. Sandoval’s ability to capture the sound and emotion of each trumpet player he honors (19 in all) is something I don’t believe any other musician has the ability or talent to do.

Recommended Tracks: I Can’t Get Started, Up Jumped Spring

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 6

3. Beyond The Missouri Sky – Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny (1996)

beyond-the-missouri-skyTo be honest, I am not a huge Pat Metheny fan. On this album however, you are hard pressed to find a track that isn’t increadibly beautiful. The two musicians are in perfect sync, and you could have this release playing in your CD player over and over for days and continually enjoy it. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: Two For the Road, The Moon Song, Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 1

4. The Birthday Concert – Jaco Pastorious (1981)

the-birthday-concertJaco Pastorious decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party in the form of a concert, and what a party it was. Jaco shows why he is the best electric bass player ever, and his supporting cast (Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and the Peter Graves Orchestra.

Recommended Tracks: Soul Intro/The Chicken, Invitation

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

5. Flow – Terence Blanchard (2005)

flowAfter going through an embochure change (which just sounds painful to brass players), Blanchard came back strong with this release. Working with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Aaron Parks, this album features wonderful arrangements and performances with alot of intensity.

Recommended Tracks: Over There

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 10

6. An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea – Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea (1978)

an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-coreaHerbie and Chick had both gone pretty electric during the late 70’s, so to have them come together and do a live acoustic set was somewhat of a shock. They play extremely well together, and this concert is a wonderful result of that.

Recommended Tracks: Liza

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 8

7. Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis (2000)

contemporary-jazzBranford displays a wonderfully artistic side on the first album with this quartet, which as of today has spent ten years together. While many of the compositions are complex, no member of the band struggles with them. On the contrary, each band member shines as part of a quartet that would continue to make fantastic music together. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: In The Crease

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 12

8. Democracy – Kenny Werner (2006)

democracyI know Kenny Werner is talented. But until this live recording, he had yet to truly move me. David Sanchez and Brian Blade are especially good on this album, and all of Werner’s compositions are especially good.

Recommended Tracks: One For Joni

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: N/A


9. Lucky To Be Me – Taylor Eigsti (2006)

lucky-to-be-meJust 21 at the time of the recording, Eigsti proved that he is the future of jazz piano (in addition to virtuoso Eldar). The performances show maturity, energy, and complexity. Even more impressive is 17 year old guitarist Julian Lage.

Recommended Tracks: Giant Steps, Woke Up This Morning, Love For Sale

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 15

10. Earfood – Roy Hargrove (2008)

earfoodIt is wonderful when a musician can continue to put out music that demonstrates that they have yet to peak. Roy Hargrove continues to get better and better with every album, and this no doubt is his best. While Earfood was snubbed when it came to Grammy nominations, it is widely agreed upon that it was easily the best jazz album released in 2008.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

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My Top Ten Jazz Albums That You Probably Don't Own

8 Apr

I recently found myself doing some cleaning of my album collection. More than cleaning, it is a chance for me to revisit some albums that have, through no fault of their own, been sitting on the shelf too long.

I came to realize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be a jazz radio disc jockey, as well as someone who can spend hours in jazz record stores. With the decline in jazz record sales, and the bulk of jazz album sales going to big name vocalists or timeless classic recordings like Kind of Blue, it hit me that just because I have exposure to some wonderful gems of the last thirty years, doesn’t mean that everybody has.

That being said, I decided that I wanted to share my favorite albums from the last thirty or so years that, for one reason or another, might not be sitting on your shelf. And, as always, I encourage you offer your hidden gems.

1. Pilgrimage – Michael Brecker (2007)

pilgrimageEven without the sentimental value of this album (Brecker recorded it while battling MDS and Leukemia, and never did live to release it), it is the best jazz album over the last twenty years. The writing and improvisation from Brecker is stellar, and each member of the band play to their full potential. Winner of two Grammy awards.

Recommended tracks: Tumbleweed, Anagram

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 3

2. Trumpet Evolution – Arturo Sandoval (2003)

trumpet-evolutionMany critics called this the best trumpet album of the last twenty years. Sandoval’s ability to capture the sound and emotion of each trumpet player he honors (19 in all) is something I don’t believe any other musician has the ability or talent to do.

Recommended Tracks: I Can’t Get Started, Up Jumped Spring

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 6

3. Beyond The Missouri Sky – Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny (1996)

beyond-the-missouri-skyTo be honest, I am not a huge Pat Metheny fan. On this album however, you are hard pressed to find a track that isn’t increadibly beautiful. The two musicians are in perfect sync, and you could have this release playing in your CD player over and over for days and continually enjoy it. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: Two For the Road, The Moon Song, Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 1

4. The Birthday Concert – Jaco Pastorious (1981)

the-birthday-concertJaco Pastorious decided to throw himself a 30th birthday party in the form of a concert, and what a party it was. Jaco shows why he is the best electric bass player ever, and his supporting cast (Bob Mintzer, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and the Peter Graves Orchestra.

Recommended Tracks: Soul Intro/The Chicken, Invitation

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

5. Flow – Terence Blanchard (2005)

flowAfter going through an embochure change (which just sounds painful to brass players), Blanchard came back strong with this release. Working with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Aaron Parks, this album features wonderful arrangements and performances with alot of intensity.

Recommended Tracks: Over There

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 10

6. An Evening with Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea – Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea (1978)

an-evening-with-herbie-hancock-and-chick-coreaHerbie and Chick had both gone pretty electric during the late 70’s, so to have them come together and do a live acoustic set was somewhat of a shock. They play extremely well together, and this concert is a wonderful result of that.

Recommended Tracks: Liza

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 8

7. Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis (2000)

contemporary-jazzBranford displays a wonderfully artistic side on the first album with this quartet, which as of today has spent ten years together. While many of the compositions are complex, no member of the band struggles with them. On the contrary, each band member shines as part of a quartet that would continue to make fantastic music together. A Grammy award winner.

Recommended Tracks: In The Crease

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 12

8. Democracy – Kenny Werner (2006)

democracyI know Kenny Werner is talented. But until this live recording, he had yet to truly move me. David Sanchez and Brian Blade are especially good on this album, and all of Werner’s compositions are especially good.

Recommended Tracks: One For Joni

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: N/A


9. Lucky To Be Me – Taylor Eigsti (2006)

lucky-to-be-meJust 21 at the time of the recording, Eigsti proved that he is the future of jazz piano (in addition to virtuoso Eldar). The performances show maturity, energy, and complexity. Even more impressive is 17 year old guitarist Julian Lage.

Recommended Tracks: Giant Steps, Woke Up This Morning, Love For Sale

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 15

10. Earfood – Roy Hargrove (2008)

earfoodIt is wonderful when a musician can continue to put out music that demonstrates that they have yet to peak. Roy Hargrove continues to get better and better with every album, and this no doubt is his best. While Earfood was snubbed when it came to Grammy nominations, it is widely agreed upon that it was easily the best jazz album released in 2008.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me

Billboard Jazz Chart Peak Spot: 7

Blue Note Records Turns 70…and My Top 10 Blue Note Jazz Recordings

2 Mar

blue-note-resizedThis year blue Note Records turned 70 years old. While many other record labels have come and gone over 70 years, Blue Note has not only managed to stay in business, but to continue to turn a profit and avoid having to cut down on their artist roster. In recent years, this is due in large part to their online download sales and some successful crossover artists including Norah Jones and Al Green.

Below is my list of my top 10 favorite Blue Note jazz recordings. As with all of my lists, this list simply offers my own personal favorites, and I truly encourage you to mention yours as well! Enjoy.

10. Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis – 1949

birth-of-cool The oldest recording on the list, but a great chance to hear Miles in the early stages of what would lead to super stardom.

9. Moanin’ – Art Blakey – 1958

moanin One of the finest examples of why Blakey was not only a great musician, but a great band leader and mentor to those who he recorded with.

8. Consummation – Thad Jones – 1970

consummation This album is not only one of the greatest big band albums ever, but features what might be the sweetest, most beautiful ballads ever with A Child is Born.

7. Song For My Father – Horace Silver – 1964

song-for-my-father I played in a small group once where our director made our pianist listen to this album over and over until our pianist “finally got it”. Silver was one of the best at playing with his group, rather than just playing.

6. Maiden Voyage – Herbie Hancock – 1965

maiden-voyage When you listen to the title track, it might seem simple in structure. But only Herbie and his hand-picked group could make it sound so perfect.

5. The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan – 1963

sidewinder There is not likely a musician who I wish could have had more time to produce more recordings than Lee Morgan. Losing him at age 33 was a tragedy, but what he did produce withstands the test of time.

4. In Pursuit of the 27th Man – Horace Silver – 1970

in-pursuit-of-27th1 An album that brought energy into the 70’s, as well as the young Brecker Brothers. Enjoyable the whole way through.

3. Empyrean Isles – Herbie Hancock – 1964

empyrian-isles This album hosts what is probably one of the most recognizable jazz tunes, even if you aren’t a jazz fan. Once again, Hancock gets together the perfect cast for these memorable recordings.

2. Ready For Freddie – Freddie Hubbard – 1961

ready-for-freddie I could listen to Freddie solo on Birdlike for hours. Whether playing fast or slow, high or low, Hubbard could always keep his solos imaginative and interesting.

1. Blue Train – John Coltrane – 1957

blue-train The first Coltrane album I ever owned, and years later it still gets heavy rotation on my personal playlist. One of the finest recordings in the history of jazz.

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:

Building a “Trendy” Dream Big Band Part 2 of 2

5 Feb

Following up on the previous post, here is the rest of the band that I’ve created filled with who I believe are the “trend setters” in jazz today. Again, just my own personal thoughts, on some people I feel are hip, cool, and making it happen. Enjoy the trombones, rhythm section, and singers!

The Trombones:

Lead Trombone: Steve Turre

The long, black pointy beard and the jet black hair has been hard to miss when watching the house band of NBC’s Saturday Night Live play. That is not to take away from the fact that he is an amazing trombone player, and has put out some fantastic releases over the last ten years.

Watch Steve Turre play the shells:

Second Trombone: Conrad Herwig

Conrad may be one of the most natural big band guys in this completely fictional and unrealistic big band. Seven albums as a leader and a University of North Texas grad, he’s been recruited for big bands led by Clark Terry and Buddy Rich, just to name a few.

Conrad Herwig plays below:

Third Trombone: Delfeayo Marsalis

It pays to be a Marsalis. But just having the name didn’t make him an excellent trombone player and producer. Chalk that up to studying both at Berklee an touring with Ray Charles and Art Blakey.

Delfeayo Marsalis plays with his father Ellis in this video:

Fourth Trombone: Wycliffe Gordon

“Pine Cone” holds a special place in the hearts of NPR listeners (even if they don’t know it). His composition of the NPR theme song  is just one of many compositions, most of them fantastic.  He can more or less play anything, and is one guy who can make the sounds of the 30’s sound modern and trendy.

Wycliffe Gordon solos with three other trombone greats:

The Rhythm Section:

Piano: Herbie Hancock

Herbie’s last two albums have featured him alongside the most popular names in music from a variety of genres. And for the first time in 37 years, a jazz album, his jazz album, beat out rock stars, rappers, and country singers to win the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. I’d say he is keeping with the trend.

A look into Herbie’s Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters:

Bass: Christian McBride

Christian is likely the most sought after bassist by big name jazz musicians today. Alot of bassist can play technically perfect, but McBride gives everything he touches a enjoyable personality.

Christian plays with Herbie and Jack DeJohnette:

Drums: Jack DeJohnette

DeJohnette is similar to Christian McBride where he can play anything with anybody, and make it sound wonderful and effortless.

Watch Jack solo:

Guitar: John Scofield

Maybe the biggest guitarist in jazz (aside from Pat Metheny), it is Scofield’s rock influence that sets him apart for me. He adds a hip edge to whatever he is playing.

Scofield with Jon Mayer on the Tonight Show:

The Singers:

Male Vocalist: Jamie Cullum

Can anyone today really be called a “bad boy” of jazz? No one will call this young British vocalist a traditional jazz singer, but that is what I like about him. He’s doing his own thing by recreating songs with his own style. He will never sound like Frank Sinatra, but I don’t believe he really wants to.

Jamie Cullum’s version of Wind Cries Mary:

Female Vocalist: Diana Krall

Krall is the most popular jazz singer today, and she deserves that title. She has her own romantic, sensual style, warranting large crowds and tons of fans. Her biggest fan might be her husband, Elvis Costello, which definitely earns her major cool points.

Diana Krall’s Look of Love video:

Building a "Trendy" Dream Big Band Part 2 of 2

5 Feb

Following up on the previous post, here is the rest of the band that I’ve created filled with who I believe are the “trend setters” in jazz today. Again, just my own personal thoughts, on some people I feel are hip, cool, and making it happen. Enjoy the trombones, rhythm section, and singers!

The Trombones:

Lead Trombone: Steve Turre

The long, black pointy beard and the jet black hair has been hard to miss when watching the house band of NBC’s Saturday Night Live play. That is not to take away from the fact that he is an amazing trombone player, and has put out some fantastic releases over the last ten years.

Watch Steve Turre play the shells:

Second Trombone: Conrad Herwig

Conrad may be one of the most natural big band guys in this completely fictional and unrealistic big band. Seven albums as a leader and a University of North Texas grad, he’s been recruited for big bands led by Clark Terry and Buddy Rich, just to name a few.

Conrad Herwig plays below:

Third Trombone: Delfeayo Marsalis

It pays to be a Marsalis. But just having the name didn’t make him an excellent trombone player and producer. Chalk that up to studying both at Berklee an touring with Ray Charles and Art Blakey.

Delfeayo Marsalis plays with his father Ellis in this video:

Fourth Trombone: Wycliffe Gordon

“Pine Cone” holds a special place in the hearts of NPR listeners (even if they don’t know it). His composition of the NPR theme song  is just one of many compositions, most of them fantastic.  He can more or less play anything, and is one guy who can make the sounds of the 30’s sound modern and trendy.

Wycliffe Gordon solos with three other trombone greats:

The Rhythm Section:

Piano: Herbie Hancock

Herbie’s last two albums have featured him alongside the most popular names in music from a variety of genres. And for the first time in 37 years, a jazz album, his jazz album, beat out rock stars, rappers, and country singers to win the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. I’d say he is keeping with the trend.

A look into Herbie’s Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters:

Bass: Christian McBride

Christian is likely the most sought after bassist by big name jazz musicians today. Alot of bassist can play technically perfect, but McBride gives everything he touches a enjoyable personality.

Christian plays with Herbie and Jack DeJohnette:

Drums: Jack DeJohnette

DeJohnette is similar to Christian McBride where he can play anything with anybody, and make it sound wonderful and effortless.

Watch Jack solo:

Guitar: John Scofield

Maybe the biggest guitarist in jazz (aside from Pat Metheny), it is Scofield’s rock influence that sets him apart for me. He adds a hip edge to whatever he is playing.

Scofield with Jon Mayer on the Tonight Show:

The Singers:

Male Vocalist: Jamie Cullum

Can anyone today really be called a “bad boy” of jazz? No one will call this young British vocalist a traditional jazz singer, but that is what I like about him. He’s doing his own thing by recreating songs with his own style. He will never sound like Frank Sinatra, but I don’t believe he really wants to.

Jamie Cullum’s version of Wind Cries Mary:

Female Vocalist: Diana Krall

Krall is the most popular jazz singer today, and she deserves that title. She has her own romantic, sensual style, warranting large crowds and tons of fans. Her biggest fan might be her husband, Elvis Costello, which definitely earns her major cool points.

Diana Krall’s Look of Love video:

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:

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