Thomas W. Jacobsen (aka Thomas, Tom, or T. W.) was born, raised and educated in Minnesota. He eventually received a Ph. D. in classical archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Until retirement, Jacobsen spent his career in higher education, including 26 years on the faculty of Indiana University (Bloomington). He devoted his scholarly efforts to the study of prehistoric archaeology in Greece and the Aegean Basin. To that end, he worked in Greece for some 35 years, including 25 years as director of the excavations at the important site of Franchthi Cave. He also served as general editor of the multi-volume series Excavations at Franchthi Cave, Greece, published by the Indiana University Press. During his time in Greece, he wrote the first article in English on jazz in Greece (1987).
Jacobsen has been devoted to jazz music since he was a clarinet- and saxophone-playing teenager. It was at that time that he was introduced to New Orleans jazz by listening to the broadcasts of the New Orleans Jazz Club over the powerful Crescent City radio station WWL.
Upon retirement, Jacobsen moved to New Orleans where he lived for a quarter century--during which time he became deeply involved in the local music scene. He has published extensively on New Orleans jazz, having served as a columnist and New Orleans correspondent for the well-known traditional jazz and ragtime monthly The Mississippi Rag. He also served for more than a decade on the editorial staff and was a columnist and feature writer for The Clarinet magazine as well as contributing to a variety of other jazz periodicals. He is the author of Traditional New Orleans Jazz, Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music, LSU Press, 2011.
Jacobsen and his wife Sharyn moved to St. Louis in September, 2014--to be near their their two youngest grandchildren.
A Personal Retrospective
THOMAS W. JACOBSEN
Lovers of New Orleans music tend to cleave into two groups: those who love the golden era of Satchmo, Jelly Roll, and Bechet (and their revivalists), and those who love the post-World War II world of R&B, funk, and modern jazz. Tom Jacobsen is one of the enlightened fans who loves it all, and he covers the pan-stylistic contemporary New Orleans scene splendidly in this book.--TOM McDERMOTT, New Orleans pianist and composer
Thomas Jacobsen knows and loves all of jazz and writes about it with wit and enthusiasm. But he has also written an exhaustive history of the players and venues in his adopted home, New Orleans. This is a thoroughly researched, generously illustrated reference book and, at the same time, it is delight to read.--KRIN GABBARD, author of Hotter Than That: The Trumpet, Jazz, and American Culture
In 1966, journalist Charles Suhor wrote that New Orleans jazz was "ready for its new Golden Age." Thomas W. Jacobsen’s The New Orleans Jazz Scene, 1970–2000 chronicles the resurgence of jazz music in the Crescent City in the years following Suhor’s prophetic claim. Jacobsen, a New Orleans resident and longtime jazz aficionado, offers a wide-ranging history of the New Orleans jazz renaissance in the last three decades of the twentieth century, weaving local musical developments into the larger context of the national jazz scene.
Jacobsen vividly evokes the changing face of the New Orleans jazz world at the close of the twentieth century. Drawing from an array of personal experiences and his own exhaustive research, he discusses leading musicians and bands, both traditionalists and modernists, as well as major performance venues and festivals. The city’s musical infrastructure does not go overlooked, as Jacobsen delves into New Orleans’s music business, its jazz media, and the evolution of jazz education at public schools and universities. With a trove of more than seventy photographs of key players and performances, The New Orleans Jazz Scene, 1970–2000 offers a vibrant and fascinating portrait of the musical genre that defines New Orleans.
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, 75 halftones
Paper $25.00, ebook available
LSU Press Paperback Original
Music Studies / Louisiana Studies
--Paige van Vorst, Jazzology, winter, 2014, p. 12: "....The book is basically organized by decades--there is a prologue covering the 60s, and major chapters devoted to the 70s, 80s and 90s. Each chapter is similarly organized... Jacobsen takes a very even-handed approach, praising those who work behind the scenes to keep things moving, only occasionally expressing frustration over the way things work in New Orleans. His one chief criticism is of the independent fiefdoms that seldom cooperate. The general impression, though, is positive improvement overall... I've been interested in New Orleans and its music my whole life but haven't been there in a long time--this is a tremendous report on what went on during the period covered... A very interesting read and one that should be followed up with a sequel covering the early 21st Century."
--Charles Suhor, Dixieland Jazz Mailing List (online), December 11: "If you haven't yet bought Thomas Jacobsen's new book, 'The New Orleans Jazz Scene, 1970-2000: A Personal Retrospective' (LSU Press), I highly recommend it...You'll recognize dozens of the OKOM and modern players and landmark clubs and events in the book. A lot of the material was new to me because I left the city in 1977, keeping sporadic contact with the music scene through my brother Don, periodicals, and internet sources. I hope someone is waiting in the wings with notes for a 2000-and-beyond book." [NB. That's precisely what I am working on now!]
--Bob Porter, International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal, December, 2014: "As someone who was a frequent visitor to New Orleans during the period, I recognize the scene and Jacobsen does a fine job of getting it all out there. Lots of photos."
--W. Royal Stokes, Jazz Journalists Association NEWS (roundup of jazz and blues books from 2014), December 29, 2014: " Thomas Jacobsen's [book] not only renders the musical scene of the period covered in its varietal forms, it renders it as part of a broad canvas that includes essential information on its players, both musicians and support network; the venues that have come and gone, some still active today; the political scene; the journalism and radio outlets that have reviewed and supported the jazz idiom over the years; jazz education, both public school and university; and a number of other facets and circumstances. All of these categories are fleshed out with interesting material on the individuals involved. Jacobsen...has made use of his time there by constant presence on the jazz scene and involvement in its community, collecting his impressions and recording his data whenever he came into contact with that community...His outlook and taste are definitely catholic and his coverage comprehensive. All styles played in the city are given their due in this essential book. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index."
--David Kunian, OffBeat, February, 2015: "Thomas Jacobsen is well qualified to assess New Orleans jazz in the last third of the last century. His latest book is a short survey of jazz in the Crescent City divided up by decade. Each chapter is divided up to sections on live music clubs, festivals, education, brass bands and musical luminaries...an informative...means of providing information. Where he excels is the recalling of some histories that have been glossed over such as the early, controversial history of Jazz Fest, the lack of development of Rampart Street, or the saga of Clarence "Buckwater" Washington. He also gives recognition to some of the unsung pieces and people of the New Orleans music puzzle... This is a great reference book..."
--Charles Suhor, American Book Review (Jan.-Feb. 2015) [excerpted]:
"I've long been an admirer of Thomas Jacobsen's writing, the catholicity of his musical tastes, and his warm personal regard for New Orleans musicians. The last was evident in his 2011 work for LSU Press, Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music, and his articles for Mississippi Rag and Clarinet. His new volume is a follow-up to my 2001 book, Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years to 1970.... When Jacobsen spoke to me casually about his plans for the book, I frankly wondered how he could get a handle on the task...Jacobsen ably ferrets out and explains the dominant patterns and underlying currents, making it look easy through organizational skill and a readable style... Jacobsen's framework of major events, issues, and evolving trends rescues the book from being a mere catalogue of names and places. Readers who aren't already familiar with the city's innumerable artists and clubs--after all, only Preservation Hall, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Harry Connick, Jr., and the Marsalis family are household names--will find many new names embedded in interpretive contexts... A recurring theme also lends continuity to Jacobsen's narrative--generational factors in the development of New Orleans jazz. The segments touch on many jazz styles and are fraught with irony.
It would be easy to quibble over minor points.... Jacobsen had the thronier task of deciding which musicians night clubs, recording sessions, and events to include from the thirty-year time span. Clearly, he provides an extensive and intensive view of the 1970-2000 jazz scene. The subtitle is "A Personal Retrospective," but Jacobsen's scholarship and fairminded coverage of all jazz style make the book an important report on a slimly researched period in the city's jazz history." [THIS REVIEW ALSO APPEARED IN ITS ENTIRETY IN allaboutjazz.com, May 12.]
I will add more as they become available.
The opening welcome that had been in this location for some time must have become extremely tedious to see for those of you who are repeat offenders at the site. I will simply say that I am pleased with the visitations to the site, now well into the thousands and from all over the U.S. and about 35 foreign countries on all continents populated by humans. Thanks for your support, and do continue to check us out. I will continue to update all the pages on a regular basis, but it is possible that the latest news may not always appear at the top of the page.
And forgive me. I will continue to make note of my book Traditional New Orleans Jazz... since it is officially just three years old (as of March, 2014). I am also very happy to report that all of the reviews so far have been positive. (In addition to the U. S., they come from media in Canada and a variety of European countries. See the Works page for a list of review citations.) The book can be purchased from many sources, as well as directly from the LSU Press (see link to the right). It is also available from this website for $17.50 plus postage (check or money order). Just hit the contact button to order.
You will see that I editorialize/personalize here more than on other pages. See also the News (updated regularly) and Comings and Goings (updated as needed) pages, and, of course, the Works page keeps you abreast of some of my publications.
Wishing you a great Turkey Day, and be thankful...
A quick note fyi: I have just learned about plans for a new Bix Beiderbecke Museum in, of course, Davenport, Iowa. It sounds like it will be a great place to visit for those (like me) who loved Bix's playing--and it may be possible on a new Mississippi River cruise line! It is scheduled for opening in 2017.
Hot off the press for your holiday listening is a fine new CD by the current Count Basie Band, directed by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart. I'm normally not too enthusiastic about such, but A Very Swingin' Basie Christmas! makes its way into my (small) group of Christmas favorites.
What makes the CD worthwhile, apart from the generally tasteful choice of tunes, is the space given to the band's excellent soloists. That group includes, first off, our own Ellis Marsalis* on piano in the opening and closing tracks ("Let It Snow" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas"). On the latter, he is joined by New Orleans native Plas Johnson on saxophone. Other soloists include trumpeters Bruce Harris, Kris Johnson, Endre Rice and Barnhart; and saxophonists Marshall McDonald, Doug Lawrence, and Jay Brandford, among others. And there are three vocal tracks featuring Johnny Mathis (yes!), Carmen Bradford, and the talented young Ledisi.
All in all, it should add pleasure to your holidays.
*Also on my Christmas music list is the Marsalis (and family) CD of a few years ago, A New Orleans Christmas Carol. To complete that list, as I've noted many times in the past is Butch Thompson's Yulestride CD. And an old LP that I used to love to listen to that this time of year was Nate Cole's Christmas album, great tunes sung beautifully.
It was announced today that Allen Toussaint's funeral will be held on Friday, November 20. Beginning at 8:00 a.m. there will be a visitation at the recently renovated Orpheum Theater in the CBD, followed at 11:00 a.m. by a musical tribute orchestrated by Quint Davis. A private burial will take place thereafter.
I had the distinct pleasure this afternoon of attending a clinic/master class by one of the country's top contemporary tenor saxophonists, Chicago-based Frank Catalano. The two-hour session was held at Saxquest, a wonderful music store in St. Louis that specializes in woodwind instruments (saxophones in particular) and equipment. Catalano plays a Yamaha tenor and is a Yamaha clinician. Today he was joined by a fine local rhythm section (piano, bass and drums).
As in many such clinics, the saxophonist spent perhaps half of the time interacting with the audience: asking questions and responding to questions from a group that clearly included many saxophonists. He discussed a wide variety of topics, most interestingly hints about improvisation and preparing to become a professional jazz saxophonist. He is a graduate in music from DePaul University in Chicago, where he majored in composition.
And, of course, there was time for a half dozen tunes by him and the group. The numbers included one original and a several tunes associated with some of the players who influenced him: Stanley Turrentine, John Coltrane, Eddie Harris, Stan Getz and Von Freeman. He blows what I would call a very full tenor style, using the full range of the instrument, and admits to a predilection for fast tunes. Yet I found his treatment of "Night and Day" (which he noted was influenced by the Getz version) to be especially appealing.
In a sense, I stumbled upon this gig (it was not well advertised locally)--and I am very happy that I did. See also the photos page.
A note from Eddie Bayard today reports that veteran New Orleans pianist Ronnie Dupont was found dead in his apartment in Dallas, TX last night. For further details, as they become available, see the Comings and Goings page.
Yet another New Orleans musician in St. Louis! Well, to be precise, it was the return of another native--in this case, like Tom McDermott, trombonist Charlie Halloran relocated to the Crescent City from his up-river hometown. Charlie arrived in New Orleans in 2008 and became an immediate success on Frenchmen Street.
[Sometime I'm going to put together a list of all native St. Louisans who have made it big in New Orleans. There are real close ties--not surprisingly--between the two old river towns.]
Halloran appeared this evening, like McDermott a few weeks ago, before a packed house at Joe's Cafe with his older brother's upbeat quintet, "Gorilla Swing." Tommy Halloran is a popular singing guitarist in St. Louis. The band played a variety of trad, swing and original numbers. Charlie, as always was impressive with his effortless command of his horn. Also making a good impression was alto saxophonist Kristian Baarsvik, a talented Massachusetts native from a nearby Air Force base (and lead alto for the Air Force's big band). All in all, it was a swinging evening much appreciated by the throng in attendance. Incidentally, Joe's is the one jazz venue in St. Louis that I would consider worthy of the New Orleans music scene.
Charlie Halloran, 31, deserves our attention. A graduate of the fine music program at Webster University in St. Louis and the prestigious Eastman School in Rochester, NY, he was one of several very talented young musicians who relocated to New Orleans after Katrina. These folks are the core upon which the future of the New Orleans jazz scene will be based.
Halloran has a new CD out--"Charlie Halloran & the Quality 6"--which includes Crescent City standouts Charlie Fardella, Tim Laughlin, Steve Pistorius, Tom Saunders and Walter Harris. Check it out.
See photos page.
I've always held a special place in my heart for Latin jazz pianists--Danilo Perez, Hilton Ruiz, Carli Munoz, Michel Camilo, just off the top--and I've just discovered another. His name is Oscar Perez, an American of Cuban heritage whose latest CD just came across my desk.
The album is entitled Prepare A Place for Me and was just released two weeks ago on the Myna label. It is the young pianist's third album.
Perez is a protege of the great Danilo Perez (no relation) and considers himself "a composer as much as a player." Indeed, seven of the nine tracks on the CD are his original compositions. They range from the gospel-inspired title track to the lovely opener, "Just Everything." He's clearly a gifted composer. Beyond that, the other two tracks are wonderfully original renditions of jazz standards, "'Round Midnight" and "The Nearness of You." Perez has chops as well as good taste!
He is joined on this recording by a rhythm section of Thomson Kneeland, bass, and Alvester Garnett, drums. In addition, alto saxophonist Bruce Williams joins the group on five tracks. The ensemble is talented and works well together.
Oscar Perez is a well-schooled musician, having studied with classical teachers at the LaGuardia School for Performing Arts in NYC, the University of North Florida, the New England Conservatory (where worked with Danilo Perez) and finally earning a master's degree at the Aaron Copland Scho0ol of Music at Queens College, where studied with Sir Roland Hanna. He's a formidable young presence on the jazz scene, and I am happy to recommend him to you.
More New Orleanians in St. Louis! Banu Gibson headlined a performance at the prestigious Sheldon Concert Hall this afternoon. Joined by native St. Louisan Tom McDermott on piano, singer Debbie Davis and her husband Matt Perrine on sousaphone, the group performed the sometimes quirky, sometimes thoughtful and pretty music of Randy Newman.
This is the first time that I had heard this somewhat unusual ensemble performing together. I must say that Banu and Debbie were a wonderful pairing. Both revealed talent that smacked of the Broadway stage. And, of course, Tom and Matt provided some tasty improv in addition to solid rhythm. My wife and I spent the evening with McDermott Saturday, but we were unable to get backstage to say hi to Banu, who celebrated her 68th birthday (you'd never believe it!) also on Saturday.
This was the ninth time that Gibson has performed at the storied Sheldon (also the home of the famed St. Louis Symphony). The crowd loved her--not surprisingly since she is a longtime favorite of music lovers in this city. Good show!
See photos page for a pic.
I had a chance to hear a fine New Orleans style swing clarinetist yesterday afternoon at a St. Louis Jazz Club-sponsored concert. The man is young Dave Bennett, 31, who lives in Michigan. He had been something of a child prodigy since being invited to play with Doc Cheatham at Sweet Basil in NYC at the age of 12! He now tours widely with his group(s) and is a highly skilled and polished performer.
Bennett is a premier swing player first of all, and maybe the only one to rival the great Ken Peplowski in that respect these days, in may opinion. His influences are clearly Goodman, Shaw and Pete Fountain, and he played tunes associated with all of them in his concert. I was struck by his ability to replicate the sound (the distinctive light vibrato) and licks of Fountain while displaying prodigious technique on the instrument. He played only a handful of New Orleans melodies, but he employed the Fountain vibrato in all. In other swing standards that was less obvious to me. I also heard echoes of Acker Bilk (again with vibrato) in one number, a slow version of the 1955 hit "Earth Angel." While I was also reminded by his soft, light attack on some ballads of Tony Scott, he told me that he listened to Scott but considered him somewhat out of his ken.
I have reviewed at least one of his CDs in the past and was very impressed then. I guess I am even more impressed now! Do check him out on line, when you get a chance. See photos page for a couple of pics.
The following from Gregg Stafford regarding Joe Torregano's funeral:
"Joe's services will be held this coming Tuesday at Watson Memorial on St. Charles and Napoleon. Viewing of the remains will start at 8:00 in the morning. Funeral services will begin promptly afterwards at 10:00 am. All musicians participating as members of the several Brass Bands that are scheduled to play are asked to wear black suits and black band caps. Joe was a very dedicated musician and soldier to the culture and heritage of his music. Let us send him home in the manner in which I know he would have preferred. He will be sadly missed but always remembered."
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH DEPARTMENT: I read an extremely interesting article just yesterday in the August issue of the Journal of the Society for American Music, pp. 259-292 (which shows how far behind I am on my personal reading list), entitled "Who Plays the Tune in 'Body and Soul'? A Performance History Using Recorded Sources." It was written by the distinguished musician, jazz scholar and educator (President of Goucher College), Jose' Antonio Bowen.
The piece analyzes the more than 200 recorded versions of the great song and reveals that that standard was recorded in a wide variety of tempos and keys until it became "canonized" with the famously authoritative version by Coleman Hawkins in 1939--key of Db and 90 beats per minute--which, of course was the model for countless later recordings of the tune. (The Hawkins recording, incidentally, was one of my earliest acquisitions as a budding teenage tenor player, and it has been indelibly etched into my memory bank since that time.) The author observes, "Given the jazz aesthetic of spontaneity, we would hardly expect a canonic performance practice, and yet most players can identify the 'usual' keys, tempos, introductions, and the like, for most 'standards.' These traditions are less formalized in jazz education, but as in opera programs, this sort of 'insider' information is passed along to students before auditions and first gigs." (Just think, in trad terms, of Alphonse Picou's legendary solo on "High Society.")
Bowen goes on: Yet in what he calls the "hybrid music of jazz" (European + African), "we care more about the performer than the tune...notation and lead sheets in jazz are convenient but hardly authoritative. Jazz tunes are less fixed than Western musical works." And he concludes, "If we want our students to 'know' 'Body and Soul,' then we must present the tune in its wide variety of innovative and influential performances. Using sound recordings as the primary sources in jazz can help us understand why we play what we play, but it can also help us recover its deeper history."
A very worthy read for beginning to understand the essence of jazz. You can check it out on line at
Take note of the Comings and Goings page for two recent important passings in the New Orleans music community. It is with sadness that I have to report this, but I begin with drummer Smokey Johnson. It has been a tragic week of losses, so please forgive my chronological glitches in the initial report. A brain cramp...
I am pleased to report on a wonderful new CD due for release on October 20. It brings together one of my favorite tenor sax players, the great Scott Hamilton, and the equally illustrious drummer Jeff Hamilton (who attended Indiana University while I was on the faculty there). The recording is entitled "Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio, Live in Bern " (on the Capri label).
It was recorded in Bern, Switzerland, a week after the group performed at an international jazz festival there.
I'll never forget the splash that Scott made on the jazz world in the later '70s, when the twenty-something debuted on the New York jazz scene. It was a very intense time in my own life, and I needed a player like him to provide some moments of quiet enjoyment for myself. I bought every LP he made in those years and even managed to catch him on a business trip to the Big Apple. Both he and Jeff are now in their early 60s, but they are still at the top of their games and highly respected in the music biz.
That's perfectly evident in this excellent album, where they are joined by Tamir Hendelman at the piano and Christof Luty, bass. A fine quartet, indeed.
Unlike so much in jazz today, the group plays a program of jazz standards. (Okay, there's one original number--Jeff's unremarkable riff, "Sybille's Day.") The tunes range from the Tin Pan Alley composers to the likes of Mal Waldron, Benny Carter, Dizzy, Billy Strayhorn, and Sweets Edison. There are wonderful ballads, where Scott is at his best, along with real swingers, where Jeff shines. All together this is a five-star effort. I recommend it highly.
By the way, Scott and Jeff are not related by blood. But they play as if they're been together for years.
My wife and I, along with our daughter and 6-year-old grandson, took in a great event at the Jazz Bistro in St. Louis last night. It was a program especially designed to introduce elementary school children to jazz. The jazz style du jour was bop, most notably the music of Bird and Diz. It was played by an excellent group from New York City (actually, Brooklyn) called The Metta Quintet, which consisted of tenor sax, alto sax, piano, bass and drums. I got the names of some of the guys--Hans Schuman, drums; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Mark Gross, alto; Wayne------, tenor; and Alexander------, bass. Unfortunately, it seems that the group rotates is personnel often. (I checked out the band on line, and I could only recognize the drummer, who may be the leader--he did a fair bit of talking during the performance--, and the two saxophonists.) In any case, all band members were outstanding musicians, and they played a good sample of music from the early bop era.
It was a great program, and a wonderful way to introduce kids to the music. I was particularly proud of our young man, who really loved it. I see him as a future member of some jazz band's rhythm section...
The program was narrated by emcee Daniel Walton (seated in front in accompanying photo), who also gave useful info about the relationship between jazz and art by using the works of the late graffiti-style painter John-Michel B. See photos page.
Some minor health issues and working on my current book (tentatively, "The New Orleans Jazz Scene in the 21st Century") have delayed my entries on this site--for which I apologize. But I must return to acknowledge the receipt of an absolutely wonderful recording by one of my favorite jazz pianists, Fred Hersch.
The album is called Solo and was released on the Palmetto label just this month. It features live performance by Hersch at Windham Civic Center Concert Hall, Windham, NY in August, 2014. It celebrates the pianist's 60th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his enrolling at the New England Conservatory of Music (as well as his 35th year on the NEC faculty).
Fred Hersch is widely admired as a solo pianist. This is, in fact, his 10th solo album. The program here reflects some of favorite solo music: Jobim, Ellingtonia, Monk, Kern and, of course, his own originals. Among the latter, his gorgeous "Pastorale,"an homage to Robert Schumann, evokes for me a "legit" concert pianist. And his treatment of Jerome Kern's "The Song is You" is an elegantly sensitive rendition of that classic standard. Indeed, all seven tracks on this CD reveal the creativity and sensitivity that I have long associated with Hersch's playing.
In 2008, the pianist was struck by AIDS. It was a serious battle, but he obviously has survived. "When I consider where I was in terms of the precarious state of my health in 2008 this [recording] feels like such a strong and focused statement," he says. "Everything has come together going into my 60th year." Since that time he has been a champion for the HIV/AIDS movement nationally and bringing the jazz community together in fighting against the disease. At the present time he is working on a memoir for Random House(tentatively "Good Things Happen Slowly") due out in Spring 2017.
I highly recommend this album.
Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois, on the Mississippi about a half-hour's drive north of St. Louis. On this day, the community recognized its native son with a celebration focused on the unveiling of a bronze statue in the musician's honor. The impressive work of art was created by distinguished Chicago Art Institute professor and sculptor Preston Jackson (not the well-known Ellington trombonist). It is the only publicly displayed sculpture of him in this country.
The Davis statue is situated prominently on W. 3rd Street in downtown Alton, the very street where Davis's father practiced dentistry. A huge crowd gathered for the ceremony (making it difficult to get a good photo of the statue), which included about an hour's worth of speeches by various community leaders, politicians, the sculptor Mr. Jackson, and trumpeter Bobby Shew, representing the jazz world. That was followed by performances by Shew and a half dozen top groups from the St. Louis region. All good players.
If you are ever in this part of the world, Alton and the Davis statue would be worth a visit. See also photos page.
I had the pleasure of attending my first Gateway Jazz Festival in St. Louis over the Labor Day weekend. It is the third annual event presented by the St. Louis Jazz Club.
The festival features traditional jazz bands from the St. Louis area as well as guest performers. Seven groups were featured in all. There were several fine instrumentalists whom I was introduced to. Among them, I would name clarinetist Scott Alberici (who is clearly more than just a traditionalist), cornetist Steve Lilley, pianist Dave Majchrzak (pronounced "Mayzak"), and pianist Pat Joyce. There clearly are a number of first-rated musicians in this area.
But I was most impressed by the featured act, the piano duo of Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi. Yes, they play the same piano simultaneously, as well as individually. Both are classically trained musicians: Trick, mid 20s and a St. Louis native (University of Chicago degree), and Alderighi, mid-30s and a native of Milan, Italy (Verdi Conservatory, Milan). And both are very versatile: Trick specializing in ragtime, stride and boogie; Alderighi also does those as well as swing (think Teddy Wilson) and even modern jazz. Between the two of them, chops galore! They have two recent CDs out, which I can warmly recommend: "Double Trio Live 2015" (recorded in Walnut Creek, California in May with Marty Eggers, bass, and Danny Coots, drums) and "Sentimental Journey" (2014).
Trick and Alderighi met in Switzerland in 2008 at a stride piano summit and were married in 2013. They now live in Milan and travel widely in Europe and the States. Please note once again that they will also be performing at the upcoming STEAMBOAT STOMP in New Orleans, September, 17-20 on the Steamboat Natchez.
See also photos page.
See Works page for my review of the recent Steve Masakowski biography in the current issue of OffBeat magazine.
August 29, 2005 is a day that my family and I--and all New Orleanians--will never forget! The city has experienced an impressive recovery since then, but much remains to be done to see that a large percentage of the today's population achieves a parity that does not presently exist.
Tomorrow New Orleans will officially "celebrate" Hurricane Katrina or, better, the recovery from the disasters of Katrina and her slightly younger sibling Rita. (Personally, as I have written elsewhere, I believe Rita deserves more "credit" for the destruction wrought by the hurricanes than she is given.)
The observance of August 29, 2005 has been going on in the city for weeks, maybe even months. And recent days have been taken up with a variety of speeches, memorials, parades and the like. One that seemed interesting to me (though, of course, I was not there in person) was the open meeting of a group calling itself the "Crescent City Cultural Continuity Conservancy " (or "C5"). The meeting, which took place at Basin Street Station before a packed house on August 24, attempted to address the state of music and culture in New Orleans at this time ("10 years later"). As reported in the Weekly Beat, there was much dissatisfaction among the African Americans in attendance who stressed that much remains to be done in the recovery.
One of the group's panelists was outspoken clarinetist Evan Christopher, who was reported to have described musicians "as coming back [after the hurricanes] hat in hand to a city where jazz is an empty slogan hung from street signs." He also noted the inflated cost of living that has made working musicians (especially from the inner city) "an endangered species." Right on, Evan!
Indeed, much remains to be done in New Orleans...as, I am afraid, is the case in the country as a whole.
Regular readers of this site will know how much I like the music of the big bands, contemporary as well as more traditional. Well, last night (Aug 21) my wife and I had an opportunity once again to hear the fine 17-piece Jazz St. Louis Big Band in a concert at the Jazz Bistro in St. Louis. The band was celebrating the birthday of the great Count Basie, who was born on August 21, 1904, with a concert entitled "Basie's Birthday Bash."
Count Basie's bands, both his so-called "Old Testament" (pre-World War II) and "New Testament" (post-WWII) bands, were among my all-time favorites. The JSLBG played two sets of well-chosen Basie favorites from "One "O'Clock Jump" to "April in Paris" as well many less well known numbers. And they played them with perfection. It is a tight, well-rehearsed band with very able soloists in all sections. I was particularly taken by the driving percussion of drummer Kevin Gianino and, of course, the steady Basie signature rhythm of guitarist Travis Madison. They were able to capture the distinctive Basie sound extremely well. These guys should record.
See photos page.
Congrats to Harris Rea, head of Louisiana Red Hot Records, for being honored at the upcoming Cutting Edge Conference in NOLA. Rea has helped launch the recording careers of numerous New Orleans musicians, like Trombone Shorty, the Rebirth Brass Band, and Glen David Andrews, not to mention issuing such listenable disks as that of the Al Belletto Big Band. Keep up the good work, Harris.
An excellent new big-band CD has recently come across my desk. It is called "Like It Is" on the MAMA label. The band is led by ace trombonist/arranger/composer, one time Woody Herman sideman/arranger and noted jazz educator, John Fedchock, and is known as his New York Big Band.
This is an impressive 16-piece ensemble that has been together for more than two decades (this is their fifth album). It consists of (in addition to Fedchock himself) some of the Big Apple's top sidemen/soloists, including saxophonists Mark Vinci, Rich Perry, Charles Pillow, Gary Smulyan, Walt Weiskopf and Scott Robinson; trumpeters Barry Ries and Scott Wendholt; pianist Allen Farnham and drummer Dave Ratajczak. All are featured on the recording.
The program consists of several jazz evergreens along with a half dozen or so Fedchcock originals. They range from lovely ballads such as trombonist Fedchock's beautiful rendering of Evans/Livington's "Never Let Me Go" to swinging numbers like the band's updated take on the opening track, "You and the Night and the Music." There's some Latin excitement, too, generated by the work of percussionist Bobby Sanabria. I especially liked Fedchock's playing on his own composition, "Havana."
Herman called John Fedchock "my right hand man" and "a major talent." He is certainly one of the top jazz trombonists around. And his band has been called the standard for "modern, post-swing large ensembles." It deserves your attention.
It's interesting to see the attendance figures from this year's Satchmo SummerFest, given the fact that a $5 admission fee (for adults) was instituted for the first time. The final number was 36,602, down from last year's estimated attendance of about 57,000 (when there was no admission fee). The fee may well have been a factor in the drop, but FQF officials say that the unusually hot weather (this has been one of hottest seasons on record) may have contributed as well. "The convention and business people told us our tourism numbers were really strong over the weekend," said Marci Schramm, FQF exec director. "Our dip was probably among locals."
It will be equally interesting to see how the new admission fee will affect French Quarter Festival next fall.
Ace pianist Tom McDermott has been in town for the last few days and made several local appearances. As you may know, he originally hails from St. Louis and moved to New Orleans in 1983 for the World's Fair...and never left--except for his many tours throughout the world and "hundreds" of trips back to his home town. His mother passed away last February, and he is now engaged in dealing with the family home in suburban Kirkwood and his mother's effects.
We caught Tom in two live performances at local venues that were new to us. On the evening of the 6th he played at Joe's Cafe, a funky (but cool) club that is only open on a limited basis. He played two sets before a full house. On the 7th he appeared at the Tavern of the Fine Arts, a gallery/restaurant/performance space.(Considerably less appealing than Joe's...) Again, two sets before a full house. His program was similar both evenings: diverse offerings that included some pieces by Chopin (a favorite of his since childhood), Joplin rags (needless to say), Jelly Roll Morton numbers (needless to say), and French musettes and Brazilian choros (both of which including his own original compositions). As most of you know, he is a wonderfully talented pianist, and he complemented each performance with informative commentary and amusing banter. I've heard him many times performing duos with the likes of Meschiya Lake and Aurora Nealand, but I'm not sure that I have ever seen him precisely in this kind of solo context. He does it well, and we look forward to his next visit to the Gateway City. See also the photos page.
It's probably not too soon to alert you to the advent of the third annual Steamboat Stomp on the steamboat Natchez in New Orleans from September 18 to 20. The program focuses on traditional New Orleans jazz and features Duke Heitger and his Steamboat Stompers, John Gill and his Yerba Buena Stompers, Banu Gibson and her Hot Jazz, the Tim Laughlin Trio, Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, and the Four Hands Jazz Piano Duo of Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick, among others. Definitely worth checking out. For more info, see their website, www.steamboatstompneworleans.com.
Now that August is upon us and SatchFest due to conclude today, it is probably not too soon to note the 23rd annual Cutting Edge Music Business Conference, which will begin August 27 and run through August 29. It has become the city's top gathering for educating musicians and "music professionals"(other than musicians) about the latest trends in the music industry. Its schedule is always packed full of lectures, workshops and seminars devoted to various aspects of the industry. Its Roots Music panel this year will highlight the post-Katrina fundraising efforts of Wynton Marsalis for producing the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert (and CD) held on September 17, 2005. Following Katrina, the Higher Ground Fund assisted over 200 musicians displaced by the Hurricanes as well as numerous music service organizations. There is much else on the program, including more than 110 bands that will be performing at a variety of clubs throughout the city. Unfortunately, it is not a free event. For more, check out www.cuttingedgenola.com.
Just a reminder. The 15th annual Satchmo SummerFest opens on Friday, July 31, and will go through Sunday, August 2. A highlight of this year's event will be the Armstrong exhibit in the Old Mint (LA State Museum). Called "Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans," the exhibit features two of the great man's horns: his cornet from his days in the Colored Waifs' Home, a part of the local museum's permanent collection, and a golden trumpet, the last instrument he owned before his death in 1971 (now part of the collection of the Louis Armstrong House in NYC). The two horns will be displayed in opposite rooms in the Mint and will serve as something of bookends to the exhibit.
The exhibit will be open from 10 am to 4:30 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays, until January 15. It is free except during SatchFest, when people must buy a $5 fest ticket. (The latter is new this year.)
PS As many of you know, Armstrong had a baseball team called Armstrong's Secret Nine. A 1931 poster which is part of the exhibit announces a game with the N. O. Black Pelicans in the old ballpark at the corner of S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues. You will remember that "Pelicans" was the old name of the city's professional baseball teams (both white and black) long before it became the handle of the current NBA franchise in the city.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending a free lecture-concert this evening at the Jazz Bistro in St. Louis. The lecturer was Dr. John Edward Hasse, jazz curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and his topic was "Swingin' for the Fences: Big Bands and Baseball." I have been an ardent fan of baseball and jazz for about the same length of time. (Actually, I first became fascinated with the sport during the 1944 World Series between the [then] two teams from St. Louis. But soon thereafter I became a diehard phan of the Philadelphia Phillies and have continued to be so ever since.) But during my many decades of passionately following the two entertainment media, I found that they had much in common--especially among the practitioners of both. I was always struck by the number of top jazz musicians who loved baseball...and vice versa. Well, Mr. Hasse, an old friend from my days at Indiana University (not to mention in New Orleans), captured beautifully (in text and pictures) the symbiosis between the two. An excellent presentation.
I told him afterwards that he had the makings of a wonderful book, but he modestly insisted that he didn't know enough about baseball to do it. Nevertheless, he did say that he would send me an article he wrote on the subject. I look forward to reading that and will duly cite it here in due course.
Baseball, regrettably, is no longer the national pastime as it had been for so long. In talking with John, we agreed that the NFL and the NBA have now replaced MLB as the sports of choice for jazz musicians (as for most Americans--but not me). I noted the love of so many musicians whom I know in New Orleans who ardently follow the Saints, and he he added that, when once interviewing Wynton Marsalis, Wynton brought out a basketball and asked him if he wanted to shoot some hoops with him. And so it is...
Baseball may be dying--slowly--as a popular sport, and one wonders if the same may be said for jazz these days... I hope not, in either case.
The evening concluded with a concert by the fine 16-piece "Jazz St. Louis Big Band," led by pianist and jazz educator Phil Dunlap. It's an excellent, well-rehearsed ensemble of able musicians and wonderful soloists. This was my first hearing of them, but I look forward to many more.
See photos page.
Much more on the Mayfield NOPL scandal can be found on the editorial pages of the current (July) issue of OffBeat magazine. Particularly noteworthy is a long missive by New Orleans musician Chris Edmunds, who chastizes Mayfield as well a others from the local music establishment for not speaking out on the issue.
Another new CD, just released last month, recently appeared in my mailbox. It's called Brotherly Love, Celebrating Lee Morgan and features trumpeter Terell Stafford (on the Capri label). The title implies a connection with Philadelphia, and there is...
Stafford, director of jazz studies at Temple University in Philly, has become one of the top jazz trumpeters working today. He has been closely associated with Wynton and JALC (among others); I had the pleasure of hearing him recently with a JALC group at the Jazz Bistro in St. Louis. Here he is performing with his quintet, an outstanding group consisting of pianist Bruce Barth, saxophonist Tim Warfield, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Dana Hall.
As you will probably remember, trumpeter Lee Morgan was a Philadelphian who made a name for himself at a young age with the bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. Unfortunately, he was lost to the jazz world from a tragic shooting in 1972 at the age of 33. Stafford calls Morgan "a total genius," and this album is an homage to him. The disk's nine tracks include seven of Morgan's original compositions, plus a bluesy original by Stafford himself ("Favor") and the lovely old standard "Candy" by Alex Kremer. Stafford calls the recreation of Morgan's music "intimidating," but he succeeds admirably with the challenge.
While this is a celebration of the trumpet, don't overlook the fine work of Barth and Warfield as well. The album is in the best tradition of small-group jazz.
Those of you who go back a few years will surely remember the name Mezz Mezzrow, the well-known (but not great) clarinetist who flourished in the '30s and '40s and moved to Paris in the '50s before passing in 1972. Born a Jew, he was best known as a white man who identified himself as a black and was married to a black woman, thus preceding Rachel Dolezal by many decades. I mention him now since a recent article in the New York Times reported about a new jazz club in the Village called "Mezzrow." It preserves the memory of the clarinetist by displaying numerous memorabilia of his life, including his colorful autobiography Really the Blues ( I have an original copy bought when I was in high school) mounted on a candlelit Buddhist altar in the club (the club owner, Spike Wilner, is a Buddhist). The article also interviews Mezz's only son, Milton Mesirow (the clarinetist's real name), 79, who says, "I'd have to look into the the legality of the [club's] name, because remember, Mezzrow was technically his pen name." I'd love to visit the club one day.
The latest in the Irvin Mayfield-NO Public Library dust-up is this missive from Jan Ramsey, publisher of OffBeat magazine:
July 3 at 2:19pm ·
Shocking: Because OffBeat published letters and a commentary
on the Irvin Mayfield/Ronald Markham library scandal, we were told by Markham and Mayfield that the Royal Sonesta executive team is furious and would never advertise Irvin's Playhouse at the Sonesta in the magazine. A pity for the musicians who play there. A pity for NOJO.
Did we do the wrong thing?"
The New York Times has reported that nearly 30 years of recordings made at Jazz at Lincoln Center will be made available to the public through an agreement with Sony Music. The collection will have its own label, Blue Engine Records, and the performances will be released on CDs, vinyl, digital downloads and streaming over a period of 15 years (about 6 releases annually). The first release will be on August 21--"Live in Cuba"--featuring Wynton Marsalis and the JALC Orchestra from a 3-night engagement in 2010. Exciting news, I think.
Advance notice: Satchmo SummerFest will take place July 31-August 2.The full lineup and schedule was announced on June 30. For details, see fqfi.org/satchmo.
The Dukes of Dixieland have a new CD just out. It's called LIVE at 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and is available at JazzFestLive.com.
The current band--Kevin Clark, trumpet, leader; David Phy, trombone; Ryan Burrage, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Alan Broome, bass; John Mahoney, drums; and Joe Kennedy, piano--includes a couple of members that are new to me: trombonist Phy and drummer Mahoney. Phy has a DMA and has been a jazz educator, while I am assuming that Mahoney is the son of Loyola University professor emeritus John Mahoney (and former head of the jazz program there). There is plenty of singing, too, as Clark, Phy, Broome and Kennedy all contribute vocals.
The music is varied, ranging from Ellington standards to Al Hirt's "Java" and a "New Orleans R&B Medley." That's pretty much how the Dukes have been doing it for years. Their instrumentation is trad/Dixieland, but their music is usually more eclectic.
If you're a Dukes fan, you will want to check this one out.
It was recently announced that the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York City and the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans have partnered on an exhibit: Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans to tell the story of Louis Armstrong’s complex relationship with his hometown. The exhibit will coincide with the 100th anniversary of his first professional gig at Henry Ponce’s in New Orleans in 1915.
According to Armstrong’s autobiography, the young cornetist was offered the job by his friend “Cocaine” Buddy Martin, who asked, “You play the cornet don’t you?” Armstrong responded, “Yes, I play the cornet, Buddy. But I don’t know if I am good enough to play in a regular band.” Martin assured him, “All you have to do is put on long pants at night, play the blues for the whores that hustle all night until ‘fo’ day in the morning.” That was good enough for Armstrong, who fronted a trio of cornet, piano and drums and ended up playing the blues nightly for the next six months in 1915 (while hauling loads of coal from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. during the daytime). Armstrong’s career as a professional musician was underway.
The 100th anniversary of this historic engagement will be celebrated in this new exhibit, opening in New Orleans at the Old U.S. Mint on July 29, 2015 as part of the annual Satchmo Summerfest presented by Chevron and will remain on exhibit through January 2017. Check it out, if you get a chance.
I have recently received a wonderful new CD that was just released earlier this month. It is called The Thompson Fields by distinguished composer-arranger Maria Schneider and her exciting 18-piece jazz orchestra.
I have deep respect and admiration for Schneider's music since I first encountered it some 20 years ago. In fact, I feel something of kinship for her since we were born (many years apart, I hasten to add) about 60 miles distant in two towns on the prairies of southern Minnesota. She and her great band have been annual jazz poll winners for years, and the Grammy she received for last year's Winter Morning Walks makes her one of the few musicians to win Grammys in both the jazz and classical categories.
Maria Schneider is known as a composer of autobiographical music. The present album clearly fits that pattern since she has been inspired by the natural environment near her home in Windom, MN. Since the music is original, the titles of the compositions may mean nothing to you. But they do give an indication of the focus of the album: "The Thompson Fields" refers to a farm near her home where she played as a child; "Home" says it all; "Walking by Flashlight" describes an early morning walk in the countryside; "The Monarch and the Milkweed" describes the close symbiosis of those two examples of her childhood environment; and so on. Schneider has a deep appreciation and understanding of the natural world in which she grew up.
The mighty ensemble that she directs consists of an impressive group of musicians, with a host of outstanding soloists that include reedmen Scott Robinson, Donnie McCaslin and Steve Wilson; trombonists Marshall Gilkes and Ryan Keberle, pianist Frank Kimbrough and Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund. The music they produce is powerful. The overall effect of this musical organization reminds me a lot of the Stan Kenton orchestras of the '60s and '70s and that of Toshiko Akiyoshi in the '70s and '80s, both among my alltime favorites. If you like the real big bands, you'll probably love this!
Terence Blanchard is in town (i.e., St. Louis) these days for a three-night series of two shows per night at the classy Jazz Bistro June 10-12. My wife and I were there for opening night last night. Blanchard brought with him his brand-new quintet known as E-Collective, a group of talented young "electrical engineers:" Cuban Fabian Almazan (keyboard, piano), Charles Altura (guitar), the dynamic Chicagoan Oscar Seaton (drums), and fellow New Orleanian Don Ramsey (bass). Ramsey, a high school buddy of Blanchard (at NOCCA?), has worked with Dr. John and Irma Thomas, among others, in the Crescent City.
I can't easily describe the music, which was all originals by Blanchard or Almazan.
It certainly was funky at times, almost New Age at other times, maybe some R&B, and Blanchard blew some (but not enough, in my opinion) jazz choruses. Seaton is a talented drummer clearly, but his powerful back-beat dominated the performance for the most part. (Too loudly from where we were sitting.) I guess one could call it jazz-rock fusion.
Electricity was in the air...literally. All instruments were plugged in. Since I am an acoustic kind of guy and find little virtue in those electronic gadgets, it was not an entirely satisfying evening for me. Yet it was definitely interesting. Indeed, I predict this band will achieve considerable success in today's "jazz " world. It's so 21st century... Incidentally, the group has a CD out on the Blue Note label called "Breathless." See photos page as well.
For fans of the original Dukes of Dixieland, Deano Assunto, son of Dukes trumpeter Frank Assunto, has just announced that he has a website devoted to the band: www.thedukesofdixieland.com. A lot of good pics of that historic band.
Another new CD to have reached my desk recently is pianist-composer Ran Blake's Ghost Tones, an album devoted to the memory of the great advant-garde composer George Russell. It is due to be released next week by A-Side Records.
Blake, himself a legendary figure who just turned 80 in April, is still on the faculty of the prestigious New England Conservatory, where he has been teaching since 1967. He has been called the mentor of a "who's who in today's most venturesome jazz artists." Blake is joined on several tracks by a diverse ensemble of NEC alumni and former students of George Russell.
The music here is an amalgam of compositions by Russell, Blake's own compositions, and a handful of standards. The latter includes the always lovely "Autumn in New York," which serves as both the opening and final track of the recording--and, of all things, Louisiana's own "You Are My Sunshine" (which may seem a bit alien to our country music friends).
For me, this was a charming and most appealing recording in a non-traditional vein. I recommend it.
Young trumpeter Mark Rapp is returning "home" after 15 years for performances at Snug Harbor later this week. Mark was a student in the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans in the late '90s and played in a number of local groups (e.g., Quintology with Brian Seeger) while in town. He received his master's degree in jazz studies from UNO in 2000 and immediately headed for New York where he worked with a variety of groups and did a good bit of touring as well. He recorded four CDs and was named one of the top 25 rising trumpeters by DownBeat magazine.
Rapp will be joined by another New Orleanian, alto saxophonist Wess "Warm Daddy" Anderson, playing the music of the great Lou Donaldson. There will be two shows each night, at 8:00 and 11:00 as usual. I hope that at least some of you will be there to welcome Rapp back.
I asked Mark if his return to New Orleans means that he may be moving back to town, and he responded, "I’m back in town just for these two gigs, but who knows what the future will hold." So, let's see what happens.
The city will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, as many of you will painfully remember. A number of anniversary events are already announced and some even underway. One of the first is Brothers from the Bottom, a play that opened at the Lupin Theater at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts last night. The play debuted in Brooklyn and was produced by Wendell Pierce, a NOCCA alum and star of the hit HBO series Treme. In the play, a real estate project threatens the fabric of a New Orleans neighborhood and unravels the bond between brothers. Pierce stars in the play, which runs through June 28 at NOCCA.
Starting today, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (Warehouse District) presents an exhibition celebrating the renewal and rebirth of New Orleans 10 years after the levee failures following Katrina. The exhibit features the photography of several local artists and will run through September 20.
And there is much more to come.
A reader has contacted me saying that he is aware of the bibliography in my current book, but he wants more. So, he asks if I would put "a NOLA music bibliography" on the site with my "priorities/annotations." Now that's a very tall order! Especially when one considers all the music styles that are at home in New Orleans (beyond just jazz). I would appreciate feedback from others on this. It would take some time, which is rather precious to me since I'm working on another book at the moment. Nevertheless I would be willing to work up a bibliography (leaning heavily on jazz) if there were enough interest.
A CD that I recently received features the music of a talented new (to me, at least) jazz composer, Ms. Ayn Inserto. A native of Singapore, she grew up on the West Coast, was trained at the New England Conservatory and is now on the faculty at Berklee College of Music. The recording in question is called Home Away from Home, and it presents five of her compositions and an arrangement of a Joe Henderson tune as well as one other number by one of her colleagues.
The CD was recorded in Italy, and the music was performed by a giant (18-piece) Italian big band, the Colours Jazz Orchestra led by trombonist Massimo Morganti (a onetime Berklee student). An excellent aggregation, a very good example of a 21st century big band. The music ranged from a lovely ballad to the Latin tinge and a groovy backbeat number.
Ms. Inserto is clearly a "comer"--the next Toshiko Akiyoshi (another Asian-born pianist-composer and bandleader), perhaps. In any case, someone to be aware of and look out for. Incidentally, the CD is due out early next month.
The prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston has announced that our own Terence Blanchard has been appointed visiting scholar in the Jazz Composition department beginning in the fall of 2015. Blanchard will also work in the Film Scoring and Brass departments, and for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute.
The Irvin Mayfield NOPL Scandal has become even more scandalous. Mayfield still has not spoken publicly about the accusations against him, but he has cancelled all of his upcoming engagements for the week. Beyond that, The New Orleans Agenda reported today that he "has not responded to multiple email and in-person requests for interviews from WWL-TV [who originally broke the story]. But the station did interview Mayfield's predecessor as Library Foundation president, Craig Mitchell, who said that on several occasions, he had to block Mayfield from using his position on the Library Foundation to collect extra money for himself." Rafael Goyeneche, head of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Mayfield's activities show a pattern. "These documents seem to indicate that for Mr. Mayfield, public service comes at a price. A pretty steep price," Goyeneche said.
Beyond that, the Weekly Beat conducted a poll of its readers last week asking what, in their opinion, Mayfield needs to do to ameliorate that debacle. The responses range among: l) he should cut all ties with the NOPL or 2) pay back all the money given to the NOJO or 3) apologize publicly (among others) OR 4) all of the above (47.6%). Obviously, the public is displeased with him.
I have to say that I have had occasion to work closely with Irvin over the years, most notably in interviewing him in 1996 and preparing that interview for publication in my book in 2011. In the many interviews that I have done with musicians, he is the ONLY ONE who asked to see what I wrote before it was published. Moreover, he suggested alterations in my text to make him look better! My practice had always been (though I gather this is not universally followed by all interviewers) to offer my manuscript to the interviewee before publication. Some looked at it (but made no corrections), others did not bother to do so. The bottom line: While Irvin Mayfield is a bright and talented individual, he has a super ego. As has been pointed out by others, he rarely does anything unless it shows him in a good light. It makes me, for one, dubious about the people with whom he works. We must take all of this into consideration as we evaluate his career in the future. [This section has been modified slightly from the original publication.]
How many of you have seen the recent award-winning film Whiplash? I saw it a couple of months ago and, while finding it somewhat fascinating, found it quite disgusting. What it did do, however, was lead me to reflect on my own methods as a teacher of undergraduate and graduate students (not in music, of course, but that is irrelevant). My personal philosophy about teaching was developed in or shortly after completing my graduate education (I had no courses in pedagogy), when I was about to embark on a career in higher education. I believed--and still do--that those courses in which I learned most were taught by strict professors with high academic standards and who did not tolerate anything but the best effort from their students. Accordingly, that is the practice I followed in my own teaching. I did not abide lazy students and tried to eliminate them from classes as early as possible. Strict grading helped in that respect. My professors were not abusive or sadistic, as was the protagonist in the film, and I was not--in word or deed--either. 'Nuf said about me, at least for now.
I bring all of this up now because the current (April-May) issue of Jazz ed magazine devotes a good bit of space to the movie, an interview with its protagonist Oscar winner J. K. Simmons and a survey of the magazine's readership (mostly professional jazz educators). I do not have the time or inclination to re-cover that portion of the magazine entirely, but I will say that perhaps a more balanced view of the film emerged than I would have expected. While 70% of the many respondents thought that the movie had a negative impact on jazz education, nearly the same number (63.7%) conceded that the movie "increased awareness of jazz scholarhip, with most (grudgingly, perhaps) acknowledging that this is a good thing." And even some 40% said they "saw elements of the fictional character [in the film] within themselves and their own teaching styles." (That made me think of my old clarinet teacher, a real strict and narrow-minded disciplinarian.)
In short, some positives to take away from the movie--apart from the music and excellent acting--are: it brings attention to jazz music (something that we all know is seldom enough covered in the media these days) and, as one Brit observer noted, "The film might be over-the-top, but I do think there's something to be said for pushing people and not mollycoddling them." I agree, and it certainly holds for any discipline, not just music. As J.K. Simmons, a student of music himself, said, "...that element of Terence Fletcher's philosophy [aiming for technical perfection] I completely agree with. I just think you can accomplish that without human collateral damage."
What do you think?
I have been holding off commenting on the following until some semblance of resolution had been reached. For the most part, that has now happened. The situation about which I am now writing is the so-called "scandal" with regard to the misappropriation of funds of the New Orleans Public Library.
Very briefly, the problem arose when an investigative journalist discovered that nearly $900,000 had been transferred from the NOPL Foundation to the new New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City. As everyone knows, Irvin Mayfield and Ron Markham were behind the creation of the Jazz Market--and both also serve on the board of the NOPL Foundation (Markham was the president) and apparently approved of the transfer of funds. Fingers were immediately pointed at them.
The upshot came when Markham resigned and a new president was appointed. Mayor Landrieu then stepped in and ordered that all funds not used for library purposes be returned. While that will happen it seems, some problems remain--at least for me. For one, neither Markham nor Mayfield has issued an apology or an explanation of the transfer. In addition, it seems reasonable to expect a thorough housecleaning of the NOPL's board be made and some rules be established regarding its future behavior. Markham has obfuscated in his only public statement, and Mayfield has yet to say a word. That's bad form, in my view. For more, see NOLA.com, WWL.com and the OffBeat.
It's time for another new CD. This one is LINES OF COLOR: Gil Evans Project Live at Jazz Standard, a big-band recording made live at NYC's Jazz Standard just one year ago. It is part of a project by producer-bandleader Ryan Truesdell, who is one of the country's leading scholars on the music of the legendary Gil Evans.
The 11 tracks are divided up into the work of Evans from the 1940s (when he was the arranger for the great Claude Thornhill band), 1950s and the 1960s. Trad jazz lovers will be surprised to hear Evans' 1959 adaptation of Bix's "Davenport Blues" featuring the trumpet of Mat Jodrell. Quite remarkable when heard today. Other highlights are the lovely ballad "Can't We Talk it Over" from the Thornhill period in the late '40s and the very swinging last track, "How High the Moon."
Many outstanding sidemen are to be heard here, including saxophonists Steve Wilson, Donny McCaslin, and Scott Robinson; guitarist James Chirillo; pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Lewis Nash. There are two--I have to say, rather mediocre--vocals by Wendy Gilles.
This is a well-rehearsed and outstanding big band performance. The CD is on the Blue Note/Artists Share label.
I'm happy to bring to your attention another fine new CD that has recently come across my desk. It's called Introducing Katie Thiroux, a swinging debut by a young lady bassist who also sings!
A recent graduate of the prestigious Berklee School of Music (she also teaches for them), Ms. Thiroux was discovered by the bass giant John Clayton, who has this to say about her, "...her playing is something else--it's at another level. I'm talking about the level of playing that allows the groove to feel right, the arrangements well thought out and rehearsed and the performances to be tight."
Katie's singing is also right in the groove. Here she presents eight jazz standards plus three of her own originals. I was particularly taken with the opening track, the old Rogers and Hart "There's a Small Hotel," on which she reveals herself as definitely my kind of "girl" singer, reminding me a bit of Diana Krall.
Thiroux is joined by a talented trio of Roger Neumann, tenor sax; Graham Dechter, guitar; and Matt Vitek, drums. She's not Esperanza Spalding, but she is of comparable talent. This group is a winner.
Mayor Landrieu has declared Monday, May 11 to be Travis "Trumpet Black" Day in New Orleans. Hill, 28, passed away on May 4. (See Obits page.) To celebrate the life and legacy of Hill, the Hill and Andrews families will host "Trumpet Black Fest" at the Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar in Treme. More than 20 bands and bandleaders have volunteered their services for the occasion. They include Trombone Shorty, James and Glen David Andrews, Kid Merv Campbell, Corey Henry, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, the Rebirth Brass Band, the Hot 8 Brass Band, the New Breed Brass Band, and many others. There will be second-line parades as well.
Despite the rainy first weekend, Jazz Fest attendance this year surpassed that of last year and achieved the highest total (460,000) since Katrina. The overall record of ca. 650,000 (2001) remains in tact.
Next year the festival will be as early as it's ever been: April 22-May 1.
I have just received a copy of another review--extremely detailed--by the noted jazz historian Charles Suhor in the prestigious American Book Review (January-February issue). Given its length, I have chosen to include only excerpts from it. See above.
I have listened to Ravel's Bolero hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing it live for the first time. It was performed by the St. Louis Symphony (one of the top orchestras in the country) along with works by other 19th century composers (Bizet, Debussy). A wonderful program, but it was Bolero (for me, probably the most emotional piece of music ever composed) that was the absolute highlight. The StLS played it beautifully, maybe the best I've ever heard. It was reading about Bix's reaction to hearing it that first turned me on the piece in high school, and I have to say that it still turns me on every time I hear it.
Clarinetist Evan Christopher will be opening a series of three nightly performances tonight at Luthjen's Dance Hall in Marigny. He will be joined by pianist Joe Ashlar this evening. Tomorrow he will be working with pianist David Torkanowsky and Wednesday he will be playing with a trio that includes guitarist Brian Seeger and bassist Roland Guerin. It should be exciting---not to mention the fact that all three performances will be recorded live! Clearly something that many of us will be looking forward to hearing.
OffBeat's Jazz Fest Bible is out, and today marks the beginning of Jazz Fest 2015! I gather that the weather for the first weekend is not so promising. So, let's hope that this year's fest is more successful than French Quarter Festival. (See the News page.)
It is an historic day in New Orleans today. That is because last night at 12:01 am the new smoking ban in bars went into effect. Hence, from now on, all bars in the city--with or without music--will be smoke free! I never thought I'd see it happen.
A new (to me) recording by New Orleans musicians has just now come across my desk. It was recorded in the spring of last year and only now released. The CD--IN for the OUT is by group that has been around for some time called Plunge. Maybe you've heard (or heard of) them. I hadn't.
In any case, you will know the names of many of the musicians: trombonist and leader Mark McGrain, organist Robert Walter, percussionist Simon Lott, saxophonist Tom Fitzpatrick, saxophonist Tim Green, bassist James Singleton, and sousaphonist Kirk Joseph. McGrain's brother Tim and Green died last year (they were in their 50s and left us far too soon), as you may know. The album is dedicated to them, and its release and the 20th anniversary of Plunge will be celebrated this coming Wednesday (April 22) at Chicky Wah Wah on Canal Street in Mid-City. That's probably why I received the recording just now.
These are some of the most forward-leaning musicians in New Orleans. I would characterize their music as a fusion of free jazz and funk, which is not all that uncommon in the city these days. It is all original and the work of McGrain (who is also an audio engineer) and is presented in a polyphonic/collective improvisational style. Joseph's sousaphone provides a sturdy backbone for most of the music and clearly gives it the funky, neo-brass band sound that is so popular in the Crescent City today. There are some very pleasing moments--particularly some melodic passages by the trombonist--but, for the most part, I found the style rather too outside for my taste. You may find it more appealing, however. Check it out.
On another front, pianist/bandleader Matt Lemmler has been named a "Steinway Artist" and celebrated the honor with performances at Esplanade Studios this afternoon at 3 and 5 pm. Special guests included saxophonist Rick Margitza, guitarist Steve Masakowski and his illustrious kids vocalist Sasha and bassist Martin. The performances were recorded for two CDs to become available in the future. For more about "Matt Lemmler Live at the Esplanade Studios," contact Emily McWilliams at email@example.com.
Congratulations to clarinetist and educator Michael White for being honored by the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists' Association as "2015 Jazz Hero." The award will be presented to Dr. White by the JJA at Cafe Istanbul at 6 pm on April 22. Held in collaboration with grassroots efforts in 21 U.S. cities and Toronto, Canada, the Jazz Hero Awa