Moving the pile….

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That’s the best way to describe how I’ve been feeling lately.  If it’s isn’t one thing, it’s something else.  Delays, redrafts, setbacks and the kitchen sink.  I’m in the midst of revamping my business, and this blog.  New projects are abound (and I’ll announce them officially soon) and I’m very excited about what I have in store, but I feel like it’s not moving; like my legs are stuck in quicksand.

But I know it will be worth it.  And I can’t wait for all of you to be a part of it.

Keep me in your thoughts.

Stay tuned.

Change is coming.

Slowly, the pile is moving.

Sincerely,

MM

P.S.  Let’s take a second to remember the late Donald Byrd and very recently deceased Chris Kelly.  Both artists made long-lasting contributions in the music industry.

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Categorically Undefined: Gary Bartz

“The word ‘jazz’ was created as a slang word as a gesture for sex in whore houses located in New Orleans.” – Saxophonist, Gary Bartz

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Last year, trumpeter and New Orleans native Nicholas Payton started a heated and confrontational debate about the word “jazz” and its place in the cultural and historical lexicon of music.  He argued vehemently that his music was not “jazz” but “Black American Music”.  This debate pitted artists on two proverbial sides of the coin; one side was in favor of Payton’s thoughts, which denounced the earliest origins of the word, while the other side celebrated the popularity of its base meaning, which by many accounts does little to diminish the value of the art form.  Saxophonist and composer, Gary Bartz has seen the evolution of jazz.  He is part of the very history that the accepted definition seems to devalue.  In a short interview, Gary Bartz said, “Most of the great musicians I’ve been around believe it also.  The term “jazz” is really a negative term to most musicians I know, but it happens to be a popular word in the public’s eye.”  Bartz is far more interested in playing music and celebrating its merits as a composition.  As this topic continues to swirl and resonate, Gary Bartz makes his message clear: No matter how the critics would like to slice it, musicians play music.

Early into his stewardship, Gary Bartz left his native Baltimore, to study jazz at the prestigious Julliard Conservatory School of music.  When Bartz arrived there, he found himself feeling musically isolated.  By his account, many of his instructors were invariably “trapped in the box” of classical music. Oftentimes, they could not relate to the syntax, variations or “feel” of jazz music.  Julliard’s European curriculum was a lesson in music theory, forcing him to hone his craft with an open mind.  He was simply a musician who played music.  He rejected the notion that he was confined to a single musical category.  As a visiting professor at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, Gary Bartz speaks openly about fighting the urge to singularly conform.  He once stated that, “If I’m locked into a category, that means I can’t grow.  I’m in a corral; I’m in a room with walls around me….But to me, music is the universe.  And so that’s what I want to do.  I want to play music.”

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At the age of 6, Gary Bartz was drawn to the saxophone.  He would visit his grandmother’s house where she would allow him to listen to his uncle’s record collection featuring Charlie Parker.  He describes the experience as one “that continues to fascinate him today.”  At the age of 16, Bartz began to perform professionally. At about age 23, he joined Max Roach and the Abbey Lincoln band.  He quickly developed a reputation for stylistic playing.   In 1965, he would join Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan, filling in for a saxophonist who left the group at his father’s night club.   He was hired after the gig and would make his recording debut on Blakey’s Soulfinger album.  He would also work closely with McCoy Tyner; a relationship that he credits for deepening his appreciation for John Coltrane.  His career would take him beyond jazz; eventually working with the likes of the late Donald Byrd, Phyllis Hyman and Chaka Khan.  He has won two Grammys and recorded over 40 solo albums. 

Since his earliest recordings, Gary Bartz has worked with some of the best musicians in the world.  He credits artists like Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington for showing him how great musicians addressed social problems through their music.    To him, the “world didn’t need just another musician. What the world needed was a music activist.” He has vowed to “create music the world could relate to and not segregate his way of delivering music.”  He is truly dedicated to creating music for everyone to hear.   Humble and motivated, Gary Bartz continues to inspire and be inspired by his craft.  

But he doesn’t play jazz.  Gary Bartz plays music.

Sing the Truth! – LIVE! at the CSO featuring Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright

Happy New Year!  Check out my first concert review of 2013!

“Stay ready so you don’t have to be ready.” – Dianne Reeves

sing_the_truth

 

What happens when you bring together three of the strongest, most powerful voices of song, combined with a scintillating band whose prowess is equally as impressive?  Sing the Truth! features the unbelievable vocal talents of Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright in a musical performance that celebrates the strength and spirit of women in unique traditions.     It was an aural combination of sound, spirituality and song.   It is rare that one gets to witness such an abundance of talent on one stage.

The night began with the three ladies bringing passion and energy to the stage with Ike Turner’s, “Bold Soul Sister”.  Heavy and soulful harmonies radiated from the stage.  It immediately ignited the crowd, sending them into a swoon, dripping with anticipation.  Despite having such contrasting styles and dispositions, this group melded effortlessly, making for a highly entertaining performance.  They sang together interchangeably, which made for dynamic and pleasing artistic expressions.  At times they were theatrical, while at others they were deeply spiritual.

Dianne Reeves was the vocal anchor of the group, displaying her incredible range, clarity and diversity.  Her voice moves with precision; shifting styles and deliveries.  While singing her impressive rendition of “Thirty-two Flavors”, her improvisation and scatting was engaging, giving the audience a healthy dose of jazz, funk and soul.  Dianne Reeves is a “must-see” talent who embodies the tradition of jazz vocalism.

Angelique Kidjo provided the spark and comedic relief of the group.  She says that her music is inspired by music legend Miriam Makeba.  Unabashedly energetic, the native West African (she is from Benin) brought an ethnic flavor to the mix.  Clearly, she remains deeply rooted in her culture and heritage as demonstrated by her tribal garb and spectacular chants.  While she spoke openly to the audience about cultural differences, equality and acceptance, it fell short leaving audience members feeling slightly awkward and uncomfortable.  Unafraid to wade into the audience, she walked about the seats, singing with audience members during her final solo.

Lizz Wright

 

With a truly uplifting and memorable performance, I think most people would agree that the night truly belonged to Lizz Wright.  Like an apparition moving fluidly on stage, Wright bathed the audience with her connective, soulful and soaring vocals.  Her voice has an unbelievable clarity in the tradition of an Ella Fitzgerald.  Her intonation is almost perfect; sweeping the room like a warm summer breeze.  With an gripping rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser’s “Heart and Soul”, she enraptured the audience, grabbing their full attention with its beauty.     Lizz Wright continues to bend genres and exceed greater expectations.  Her vocal abilities seemingly have no boundaries.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington performs on stage at the XVI Jazz Festival in Valencia

 

None of this would have been as effective without the venerable talents of music director and drummer. Terri Lyne Carrington.   She was the center of the rhythm section, staying “in the pocket” while accentuating the softer lines of the performance.  Carrington is a master percussionist whose talents allow her to lead without overpowering her contemporaries on stage.   This formidable group of talents included bassist James Genus, pianist Geri Allen, auxiliary percussionist Munyungo Jackson, and guitarist Romero Lubambo.   The spirit and message of womanhood will push onward thanks to these outstanding artists.   With such an alluring performance, it is safe to assume that good things do come in threes.

Pumping Up the Jam

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

“People start smiling and cosigning—shouting their approval of what is being played….Cat’s with horns come out of the woodwork.  If the rhythm section is right, you might stay there and play or just listen, soaked in swing, until the sun comes up.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Wynton Marsalis, Moving to Higher Ground

I was sitting at home on Sunday night with my wife watching the millionth episode of some show centered on rebuilding a home in a neighborhood I have no interest on living in.  Perhaps she was giving me, yet another subtle hint!  While sitting at my computer, I got a quick message via Facebook from my friend telling me that a jam session was about to go down at Andy’s Jazz club on Hubbard St.  Ever elated and truly grateful for the escape, I quickly changed clothes and headed over to what I knew would be an eventful evening.

I had the pleasure of visiting a jam session hosted by jazz vocalist Rose Colella.  It was held at the legendary Jazz Showcase.  After the final set was played, I took some time speak to her. Rose is a lovely lady, blessed with height and an incredible singing voice.  Her gentle, engaging presence is warm and friendly—the type of person you’ve never met, yet always known.  After waltzing through the chairs and tables closest to the stage we engaged in a very memorable exchange.   I simply asked her, “Why did you choose to do this?”  Rose explained that these sessions were “a great way to meet some other talented musicians in the city”.  In her mind, jam sessions are simply a continuum of the jazz movement that will evolve and nurture talent.  Unfortunately, Rose’s jam session series at the Jazz Showcase has ended, but we should not despair.  Jam sessions are alive and well in the city.

Recently, Chicago has seen a resurgence of them across the city.  Andy’s Jazz club has been hosting a Sunday night jam session for the past few months.  Lead by the accomplished and incredibly talented Pharez Whitted, it has quickly grown into a “who’s-who” of the Chicagojazz scene. Each Sunday, he and his house band play live.  The band is comprised of incredibly talented artists.  Bobby Broom and his sonic strumming are on guitar, with Dennis Carroll anchoring the rhythm section on bass. Greg Artry exhibited his mastery on drums.  Eddie Bayard ripped the stage on saxophone, and Ron Perrillo’s transcendent melodies on the piano made for gripping solos. And not be outdone by any measure, Pharez Whitted reminded you why he is regarded as one of the best trumpeters the Midwest has ever produced.   They are serious musicians who bring out the best in each other.  There was no holding back with the group. (They’ve announced that they will have a new album set to be released later this year.)

Chicago is a breeding ground for musical talent, making it an attractive setting to artists who happen to be in town.  The incredibly talented jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines sat in with the band during two sets.  His incredible tone, delivery and artistry added excitement to performance.  In addition, some ofChicago’s best and brightest graced the stage as well.  Marquis Hill (trumpet), Greg Spero (piano), Brent Griffin Jr. (alto saxophone), Samuel Jewell (drums), Christopher McBride (alto saxophone), and Milton Suggs (vocals) represented the future of jazz music with enthusiasm and energy.  Together they played a spirited rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night inTunisia”.  It was an uplifting night of great music and unparalleled camaraderie.  I certainly got what I was looking for.

Dating back to the late 1930’s, jam sessions have always played an integral part of the jazz experience. They are notarized by their nostalgic yet cliché connotations.  We’ve all seen the imagery of the speakeasy; complete with hot jazz music in bawdy surroundings in cities like Chicago,New York and New Orleans. The jam session was a place of enlightenment; a completely integrated environment. It was a chance for an artist to make a statement and to express themselves. An artist had to earn respect from their peers regardless of your race.  Imitation was frowned upon.  Forget about sounding like Dizzy or playing like Coltrane. You had to find a way to create your own sound.    By today’s standards, the jam session is less about the surroundings and more about the interpretations and improvisations.  Most jam sessions are held at jazz clubs across the country.  A common tune or jazz standard is selected and just like that… they’re off!  Any musician who has participated in one will tell you: It is best that you bring your “A” game. There is an element of competition and showmanship displayed by the artists.  Skills are honed and passed on.  It is where old meets new, pushing the art form forward, creating new movements.

Listed below are jam sessions that are hosted regularly around the city of Chicago.  If you love jazz, you should make every effort to check them out.  If you know of others, please send them to smoothjazzenterainmentinfo@gmail.com .  We would be happy to list them on our website as well.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Pharez Whitted Jam Session

11 E. Hubbard St.

Chicago,IL60611

Every Sunday night from 9 PM – 1 AM

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Green Mill Quartet and Jam Session

4802 N. Broadway Ave.

ChicagoIL,60640

Every Friday 1:30AM – 4 AM

www.pharezwhitted.com

www.bobbybroom.com

www.rosecolella.com

Experimentation for Meditation – Robert Glasper’s Experiment

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

On March 10th 2012 The Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Bilal rolled into Chicago, playing a live show at the Double Door. (Unfortunately, I did not get to attend, but I heard it was a memorable performance.) About 2 weeks prior to that, they were the featured musical guest on The David Letterman Show and days later on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Clearly, this album has generated a lot of buzz, especially since he was featured in the April edition of Downbeat Magazine.  Robert Glasper is considered to represent a younger, fresher interpretation of jazz.  He isn’t afraid to mix incongruous elements, while pushing his music in different directions.  His latest project The Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio   attempts to do that unapologetically without apprehension.  However, after ingesting this diverse musical concoction, I realized I wasn’t sure of what I had just heard.  An ominous question quickly bubbled to the surface:

Is this jazz?

Black Radio is definitely in line with other works that have attempted to bridge both hip-hop and jazz.  For example, legendary rapper Guru (of Gangstarr fame) has successfully blended the intricacies of both genres successfully.  Jazzmatazz volume II is undeniably a definitive hip-hop album.  At the time, it was considered to be “different” offering listener a broader scope into both jazz and hip-hop. Conversely, I would argue that Black Radiois similar, yet disparate in its own devices.  It ranges further into today’s definition of R&B, with smatterings of hip-hop interspersed throughout.  As with most jazz artists, Glasper has covered at least one standard.  In this case, he’s selected Mongo Santamaría’s Afro Blue featuring Erykah Badu.  It is a smooth track that captures the song’s poetic lyricism, without pushing limits.  Badu’s pitched nuances add a streak of color to very straight-laced track.  This rendition doesn’t challenge the listener, but you will find yourself enjoying its catchy beat and melodic piano chords.

Perhaps the most eclectic song on the album is his interpretation of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.  At first, you barely recognize it, especially since its famous guitar riff has been removed.  Its simple, rhythmic tempo and quiet subtlety is combined with “psychedelic” vocals that would make Teddy Riley proud.  Considering the grit and sheer weight of the original, this version will leave you feeling a little perplexed, yet appreciative of its trippy distinctiveness.   Lalah Hathaway’s pure vocals accentuate the softness of its conclusion, while adding another layer to the experience.  You will appreciate her richness and vocal clarity even more on Cherish The Day; a solid rendition of Sade’s hit song from the album Love Deluxe.  Several tracks include moderate interludes at their end, which act as transitional elements.

Robert Glasper has summoned a talented list of artists such as Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Musiq Soulchild, Ledisi, King, Stokley, Shafiq Husayn, Lalah Hathaway, Chrisette Michele, Yasiin Bey and Meshell Ndegeocello to round out 12 firm tracks.   Subsequently, Glasper is doing his part to challenge the status quo.  For example, during Gonna Be Alright featuring Ledisi, the last 1:30 seconds is a candid conversation about the state of the music industry today.  There is a very clear message that he is challenging us all to ponder.

The Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio, is definitely a sensible album, which makes for a good listening experience.  The tracks are well structured, but they don’t push limits.   They are not bland by any stretch, but at times I felt they would do more. I would hope that his next “experiment” will further magnify his creative sensibilities.  Perhaps he is trying to capture a wide audience of listeners by making universally appealing material that will satisfy the average listener across several genres.  The album continues to njoy robust sales.  The formula is working effectively.    Now getting back to my original question:

Is it jazz?

The short answer is no.  It strays too far from it.  Just as the title suggests, it is experimental.  However, without a doubt, it is very, very good music.

If It Ain’t Got That Swing….

By:  Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

For the past few months there has been a raging debate surrounding esteemed jazz artist Nicholas Payton and his declaration of the death of jazz. On his blog,   (http://nicholaspayton.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/on-why-jazz-isnt-cool-anymore/) he wrote what amounted to be a manifesto about how jazz was not longer relevant in the context it has been placed in.  He contended that since 1959, the word “jazz” was no longer representative of the cultural and spiritual breadth of this art form. According to Payton, he plays Black American Music (BAM), not the commonly accepted genre.  His words triggered a deep and somewhat divided conversation about the state of jazz and what it really represents.

When I first heard about Mr. Payton’s concepts I wasn’t sure what to make of his arguments.  At first glance it seemed argumentative and rather self-serving.  Here is this talented musician who has experienced the highest levels of success playing jazz, denouncing the very thing that he’d achieved so much in.  Why do that?  What was I missing? For the record, there have been several musicians that fought vehemently against the characterization of the term “jazz”.  Perhaps Miles Davis was the most well known detractor, whose sentiments most resemble those of Payton’s.  As I read more of his comments and opinions, I began to realize that his argument went much deeper.

There are important elements of his argument that have gone relatively unnoticed.  For one, Payton contends that the spiritual and communal elements of this art form are beginning to be ignored.  The historical significance of slavery, black culture and heritage has a direct connection to jazz music.  It is a legacy that must be preserved in order to maintain its cultural and artistic significance.  As a native of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz it is not hard to understand why this issue hits close to home.   Payton argues that there are music scholars, historians and even some musicians who are beginning to reject this connection; seemingly attempting to rewrite the history books, while making jazz less Afrocentric.

Second, Payton talks about how the music industry has marginalized jazz by creating sub-genres that force artists into “boxes”, thereby compartmentalizing the art form and stifling creativity.  Most artists, who play, don’t summarily refer to it as “jazz”. Conversely, I doubt that the likes of Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk sat around practicing “jazz” either.  In his most recent interview with Willard Jenkins, Nicholas Payton speaks about how as an artist, his music must evolve.  At times, his audience has had a difficult time accepting this.  They always expect him to “play the trumpet” while ignoring his other musical talents and expressions. (For the record, Nicholas Payton plays several instruments, aside from the trumpet.)

And finally, Nicholas Payton speaks passionately about how the essence of Black American Music cannot be captured fully in the confines of the classroom.  There is an innate spirituality that is largely connected to the musical interpretations of this art form.  He contends that ALL people can channel this understanding, but he feels that academia has reduced several artistic representations into tools that are merely musical overtures.  For example, jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie have been reduced to musical “segments” which are formatted and taught as one specific construct. (He discusses this in greater detail in his interview with Jenkins.)  The complexity and emotional connotations of their works are omitted by design. This is particularly damaging because students cannot learn true improvisation, without learning the value of challenging conventions. It cannot be taught with such rigidity and structure.  This is a hindrance to the creative process.  Payton and Jenkins feel that artists today are seemingly “playing for themselves” and have not learned the professional nuances that are passed down generationally.  They believe that most scholars who teach jazz have not developed these skills in their own right.  There are too many “academics” that are teaching jazz, that haven’t played music for a living.

Since this debate was first initiated, Nicholas Payton has been the target of hate mail and other racial epithets.   These notions are misguided and misplaced.  In my opinion, he is trying to address an issue that stems deeper than its base argument.  He has eloquently challenged ideas that most people have standardized.  Jazz is one of the great contributions in American culture.  Instead of lashing out at his ideas, perhaps we should challenge ourselves to pay more attention to their merits.  Whether you agree or disagree with him, Nicholas Payton has critically questioned commonly accepted conventions in jazz music, which has brought the argument to the forefront.  To say the least, his courage should be applauded.

A Tale of Two Roys

By Mark A. Moore, Senior Executive Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

Hello everyone!  My sincerest apologizes for taking this long to get a new entry in.  Our New Year’s Eve show has been all consuming this month, and I have been everywhere and nowhere at once!  (If you are in town, please check us out at Red Kiva nightclub!  Black Slang featuring Corey Wilkes is going to bring down the house! Please see www.smoothjazzentertainment.net for more details!)  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have anything to talk about.  Finding the time to write these thoughts has been the challenge.  I’ll do better.  I promise!

On December 9th, I had the privilege to listen to none other than the incomparable Roy Haynes with arguably one of the most important trumpeters of his time, Roy Hargrove.  This concert took place at the beautiful Chicago Symphony Orchestra.    Acoustically impressive, well lit, and visually stunning, the CSO is something to behold.  However, in my opinion, it is not the ideal place to experience live jazz.  I know I was really, really far from the stage (near the last row on the balcony).  But at no time was there a great sense of intimacy.  At times, I felt a little disconnected. Jazz is meant to grab you.  Yet, it felt a bit contrived in those surroundings.

The opening set began with a beautifully simple, yet insightfully percussive solo by none other than Roy Haynes.  This was a great example of how you can make a powerful impact without pounding the toms, denting the crash cymbals, or kicking a hole through the bass drum. Mr. Haynes was able to implement melodic rhythms that played to your senses and piqued your curiosity.  He effortlessly toyed with soft staccatos, forceful rim shots, rippling snares all played with remarkable control.    The perennial showman, Roy Haynes, charmed the audience with his tap dancing prowess on stage.  It was a memorable performance.

Roy Hargrove was equally up to task.  When you witness his genius, you have to marvel at his incredible pitch, tone and remarkable endurance when he plays.  It almost seems illogical that someone can string together so many notes and melodies in very long sequences. He can also play with such great speed and syncopation; dizzying, and roaring.  When I listen to an artist of his caliber, I often wonder where these melodies live within their subconscious.  They are like living, evolving entities, summoned from the creative recesses of the mind.  It is no wonder that Roy Hargrove is considered one of the most important trumpeters of the last two decades.

Jaleel Shaw proved to be an outstanding alto and soprano saxophonist, capable of bending notes with blazing speed and precision. At times, I marveled at the shrill and piercing pitch he brought forth from the instrument.  I look forward to hearing him again.  His performance was really impressive.  Pianist Martin Bejerano was no slouch as well.  His jagged precision managed to change direction and time, leaving you mystified during his solos. Dynamic and engaging, he truly held court with his keys.  And finally, bassist David Wong brought forth strong, but not inspiring musical tomes.  He played with great control but was not as raging or as sweeping as his band mates.