Violets in Bloom – LIVE from the United Center – Prince’s “Welcome 2 Chicago” Tour

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving! Gosh, Christmas is just around the corner, which means the year is coming to an end.  I have a few more posts remaining for the year that I will share with you.  Right now, check out my review of Prince’s latest gallivant into Chicago a few weeks back. Enjoy!!!

 

 

“I may be little, but I take up a lot of space.” – Prince, Welcome 2 Chicago Tour 2012

 

After such a long and illustrious career, it is only fitting that Prince would remind his audience of his “bigness”.  Though many patrons wouldn’t think otherwise, it was clear that he still understands what it means to play live, to move the crowd, and to give the people what they want. “I’ve got so many hits, we can stay here all night!” he shouted as the crowed roared with approval. Last night marked the third and final show of Prince’s “Welcome 2 Chicago” tour at the United Center.

In a time when the music industry has lost the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, Prince reminds us of the good times.  Last night was a journey back to a moment when music really mattered.  You didn’t just listen to music, you lived it.  Last night’s performance was unique because it featured several rare tunes like, “Joy in Repetition”, “Dance Electric” and “Extra Lovable”. And of course, there were the hits, and there have been many.  Prince had the crowd bouncing with tracks like, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Controversy”, “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”.  He’s still a mover and a shaker as evidenced by his dancing on stage in his trademark heels.  After two nights of shows and late night jam sessions, his voice seemed a little stretched.  With the clever use of crowd participation, he was able to save his voice for other more difficult songs.  On this night, his main “weapon of choice” was his guitar, which he wielded with clarity and his usual brilliance.

The irreverent and energetic Janelle Monáe opened the show with her funk-soul-rock style.  She dazzled the crowd with her fancy footwork, and her big voice.  If you weren’t a fan of hers before, this outstanding opening performance was sure to make you a believer afterwards.  She would later partner with Prince on a spirited rendition of “Take Me With U”, where she sang lead for most of the song. The show also included a cameo appearance by legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker. Without a doubt, he still had “the funk”, which he made famous working with the late James Brown.   Newcomer Andy Allo (who is a doppelganger for Esperanza Spalding) played as a member of the New Power Generation.  She has released a new funk/soul album on Prince’s NPG Records.  And R&B sensation Ledisi consumed the crowd with her soaring vocalism.  She showed us why she is one of the best young singers in the industry today.

The show wasn’t without its problems.  At times the sound system seemed to underwhelm.  The bass guitar was drowned out by the keyboards and other instruments, leaving the songs feeling imbalanced.  In an unusual set-up, Prince had the New Power Generation (which is an 11 piece horn section) positioned several feet off the stage.  Admittedly, this diminished the continuity of the performance.  It would have been nicer to have them on stage, or at least several feet closer to the rest of the band.

Always unpredictable, Prince seemed to close the night with “Purple Rain”, leaving the crowd swooning.  The less-knowing headed for the exits thinking the night was over, only to have him return on stage for a few piano solos—most notably “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore”.  By far, this was the most intimate moment of the night.  It was vintage Prince—sexual, racy and primal.  This is what many had waited for.  And for the most part, nobody seemed disappointed.

 

Advertisements

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

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.

The 51st Most Influential African-American in Evanston

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

William Kirk is the talented keyboardist and band leader of the William Kirk Enterprise. He is precocious and provocative; playing a brand of music I like to call a “perfect mutation of pop culture funk”. The perennial showman, Kirk dazzled the audience with his dramatic antics and Broadway singing style.  With Myron Cherry on drums and Tim Seisser on base, The William Kirk Enterprise is a funky and eclectic progression of pop culture music and performance arts.  They were a welcome opening act that provided an interesting contrast to the main event.

This brings us to the memorable introduction provided by Mr. Kirk himself.  William decided to inform the audience that Chris Greene was a man of influence—in fact he was the 51st most influential African American in Evanston; a most dubious honor, one that had Chris, the band and the audience lamenting in laughter.  This was a brilliant and witty opening for an artist who is worthy of such a description.

The Chris Greene Quartet is comprised of Damian Espinoza on piano, Mark Piane on bass, Steve Corley on drums and Chris Greene on tenor and soprano saxophone.  I would describe them as a polished and very accomplished jazz group that is not afraid to push boundaries or explore new ideas.   Chris plays smoothly with a clean and clear sound worthy of the seemingly endless comparisons to Sonny Rollins. Steve Corley was particularly meticulous, moving in and out of time with precision and the utmost control.  Subtlety was a reoccurring theme throughout the performance.  You had to listen carefully to fully appreciate the nuances of each composition. This group likes to manipulate the meter and time of their pieces; swinging listeners on a pendulum back and forth.  Some songs had elements of Latin rhythms and melodies, while at other times, the compositions sat firmly in traditional concert jazz forms.  Beautifully original, soft yet sweeping, The Chris Greene Quartet had the audience firmly in their possession. It was an outstanding performance.

All members of the audience will receive a free 3 song CD courtesy of the band.  The legendary Joe Tortorici recorded the entire performance.  Stay tuned for the DVD in the near future!  For more information on The Chris Greene Quartet check out chrisgreenejazz.com.

I’m Not a Musician. So Why Smooth Jazz Entertainment?

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

Why start a company dedicated to music? I mean, do I have a deep seeded need to be a musician? Truth be told, I haven’t played an instrument in years. I wasn’t a virtuoso or a child prodigy. I can hold a note, but I wouldn’t say I’m a singer. Now my singing duties are limited to the bathroom shower, or perhaps when I muster the courage, I may attempt to serenade my wife on a midnight swoon.

When I was about 5 years old, I remember seeing a TV commercial about Chuck Berry. He had a guitar in his hands strutting across the stage while strumming the strings. I thought it was so cool. The next Christmas I asked my father for a guitar. I begged and I pleaded with him. But alas, I never got the guitar. I always wondered what it would be like to play. Later, I wanted to take piano lessons, but my mother couldn’t afford the lessons or the piano. It wouldn’t be until I got to junior high before I started playing my first instrument. I chose the baritone since my classmate told me it was “as small as a trumpet”. My teacher was delighted  that I chose such an unusual instrument. When she pointed to the 40 pound leather case, I immediately thought about strangling my classmate! Aye, those were long afternoons dragging it home to practice in the basement. Although I resented the baritone’s cumbersome and weighty exterior, I loved its sound.

My father had a tremendous collection of records at our house. And under no circumstances was I allowed to touch them! (Did your father do that too? Why is that?) Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes and Standing in the Shadows of Love by Barry White were just some of the albums that graced my father’s collection. These were his prized possessions; so valuable that when he went out of town he often forbade everyone, including my mother from playing them. And it didn’t matter what he was doing around the house, those records were on steady rotation. Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, to Byron Lee and the Dragonaries, Yellowman and the Police. My father had broad and eclectic tastes. Music was always around me. I didn’t know it then, but I most certainly appreciate it now.

In high school, I was playing the tuba in the junior concert band. (My teacher asked me to try it since I was one of the few kids in the class big enough to hold it.) One day after practice, I saw a pair of drumsticks laid out by the drum set. I’d never played before, but I was pretty coordinated. So I got on the set, and started to jam. After a while, my music teacher came out from his office, adjacent to the room. Right then and there, he told me to come to come play with the junior jazz band. I was surprised, and unsure what it would be like. But I agreed and that marked the beginning of my jazz education. I would go on to learn how to play
the congas, timbales, and drums. I played solos and competed in competitions with the group. It was there I learned about Louis, Ella, Thelonious and Wynton. Now music had even greater meaning. Its influences were far ranging and intertwined.

Smooth Jazz Entertainment is the culmination of my passions, lessons, failures and triumphs surrounding my musical experiences. Music has taught me so many things. It has given me so much. This is my way of giving something back. I love music. I hope to use this blog to speak about music; to examine its inequities and to celebrate its achievements. I hope to be an advocate for the artists. I will let my thoughts guide my pen. And of course, I would love to hear from you too. If you are looking for a great show, or someplace to hear great music, please check out my website http://www.smoothjazzentertainment.net. Check out our “Upcoming Shows” and “Around Town” tabs for more details.

Thanks for reading my first entry.