Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dave Holland 5tet - Metamorphos [1999]

The musicianship on display in this video by Dave Holland on bass, Billy Kilson on drums, Steve Nelson on vibes, Robin Eubanks on trombone and Chris Potter, making a rare appearance on alto saxophone, his original instrument, is awesome to behold. Program music based around tonal points, chromaticism, motifs and riffs and rhythms. It's the way a lot of young guys hear the music these days. Stick around for Chris' solo beginning at 9:14 minutes. Charles Mingus must be smiling. The tune is Prime Detective.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bobby, Roger and The Animals

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Ahmet Ertegun, one of the co-founders of Atlantic Records, was a big supporter of Rhythm and Blues music as well as a devotee of Rock ‘n Roll in its fledgling years.

His brother, Nesuhi, produced Jazz recordings for the Atlantic label including the Modern Jazz Quartet’s No Sun in Venice and Pyramid, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Coltrane Plays the Blues, and a host of other Jazz albums by Milt Jackson, Mose Allison, Jimmy Giuffre and Shorty Rogers, among others.

Ahmet always maintained that his involvement with the commercially lucrative Rock and R & B music enabled him to subsidize his brother Nesuhi’s less-than-profitable ventures into Jazz.

One of his most successful forays into Rock was Ahmet’s decision to record Bobby Darin’s Splish, Splash. It was a record that would sell a million copies for the then, virtually unknown Darin.

Ironically, almost 10-years later, Darin, now and internationally recognized celebrity, would leave Atlantic and establish his own label [Direction Records] over a dispute with Ahmet and Arif Mardin [who had become Bobby’s producer at the label in 1963] involving Bobby’s fervent wish to record the music from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Doctor Dolittle.

As recounted by Fred Dellar in his notes to Bobby Darin Sings Doctor Dolittle:

“Bobby Darin constantly re-invented himself. Initially, he'd been a teen idol, littering the charts with the likes of Splish, Splash and Queen Of The Hop. Then he opted to become the new Sinatra, fashioning songs such as Beyond The Sea and Lazy River for a whole new set of swingin' lovers. Once, Bobby even moved into R&B to cut an album of Ray Charles songs, using Ray's own back-up singers, while in 1966 he moved on yet again, linking with the contemporary folk field, and emulating the likes of Tim Hardin. After two critically hailed albums (If I Were A Carpenter and Inside Out) filled with material mainly penned by Hardin and John Sebastian, Darin decided that it was time for a change yet again. No-one was going to classify him, place him in some 'file under' category. It was time for a return to show-biz, a time to dust down the tux, head in a Hollywood direction. But, being Darin, it would not be a mere return to former glories. Nothing as easy as that. Instead, Bobby decided to create a whole album based around his interpretations of a film score. His choice for the project was Doctor Dolittle, a musical penned by Leslie Bricusse, who'd previously collaborated with Anthony Newley on The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd and Stop The World -I Want To Get Off, the latter a Broadway hit that ran for 555 performances.

Doctor Dolittle, a movie that co-starred Rex Harrison, Anthony Newley, Samantha Eggar and Richard Attenborough, featured a score that had taken Leslie Bricusse 18 months to write. During that period he'd discarded 10 songs and constantly reshaped others. Darin, who'd earlier recorded Bricusse and Newley's Once In A Lifetime, heard the score and loved it. His decision to record it as a complete album pleased Arthur C. Jacobs, the film's producer who claimed: "When Bobby came to us and said he wanted to do his musical impression of Doctor Dolittle, we were flattered but felt that the musical content of our production was out of Bobby's usual style. I mean, in one scene Rex sings a tender ballad When I Look In Your Eyes to a seal! How would that sit with a chap who whirred and whirled with Mack The Knife? Bobby's reply: 'Lead me to it'."

Others were even more incredulous that Darin should want to record the score, his album producer, Arif Mardin, advising him not to go ahead with the project. But, after working on a fine set of arrangements with Roger Kellaway, Bobby made that trip to Western Recorders and shaped an album that has stood the test of time. …”

Pianist-composer-arranger Roger Kellaway summed it up best when he observed: “Bobby was a sensation to work with. He had the knack of knowing exactly what was right for him.”

See what you think as Bobby sings Roger’s arrangement of Talk to the Animals in the following video made with the assistance of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facility at StudioCerra.

Our latest montage is set in HD images, a format we’ve returned after a long absence.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Striking Up The Band" with the Kenny Clarke - Lucky Thompson Quintet

The Blue Note in Paris, 1960. Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Gourley on guitar, Alice McLeod Coltrane on piano, Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Having "Cheese Cake" with Dexter, Sonny, Butch and Billy

Bring a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy a slice of Cheese Cake with Dexter Gordon and Company.  If you are a Jazz fan, it truly doesn't get any better than Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Dexter's Cheese Cake is based on the changes to tenor sax legend Lester Young's tune, Tickle Toe.

Brian and Barbara

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I have no idea if trumpeter Brian Lynch and vocalist Barbara Casini know each other or have worked together.

I doubt it because Brian is based in New York and Barbara in Italy, but given the international and cosmopolitan flavor of Jazz in the 21st century, it’s certainly is possible.

Where there is a relationship between the two, and what prompted this posting is that both have recorded terrific versions of the tune – You’ve Changed - Brian on his Bolero Nights, Venus Jazz CD [VHCD 1029] and Barbara along with the Jazz Orchestra of Sardinia, Paolo Silvestri conducting on Agora Ta, ViaVenetoJazz [CD VVJ 076].

Okay, I’ll admit it; I’ve got a thing for Bill Carey and Carl Fischer’s tune having featured two versions on a previous blog piece with interpretations by alto saxophonist Andy Fusco and the sublime, “Sassy Sarah Vaughan.

And early this month [July 7th], I spotlighted [bloglighted?] the version that Hammond B-3 organist Eddy Louiss recorded along with Belgian Guitarist Rene Thomas and drummer Kenny Clarke for Dreyfus Jazz [Dreyfus Disques FDM-36501-2].

The song’s poignant lyrics assume autobiographical, heart-breaking proportions when one reflects on their long association with vocalist Billie Holiday. The themes of lost love, seeking love and unrequited love were a constant in Billie’s brief and turbulent life [she died in 1959 at the age of forty-four].

What intrigued us about Brian Lynch’s rendition of You’ve Changed is that it is done in the bolero style of Latin Jazz and has a corker of a solo by alto saxophonist Phil Woods. Brian also takes a fine solo as does pianist Zaccai Curtis.

And did you know that the island of Sardinia off the western coast of Italy has a fine Jazz orchestra? As you will hear on the following video, it does, indeed, and for Barbara Casini’s vocal version of You’ve Changed, the orchestra is under the direction of Paolo Silvestri who also wrote the arrangement.  Be sure and checkout the fine trumpet solo by Giovanni Sanna Passino beginning at 2:42 minutes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joris Roelofs: “The Kids Are Fine”

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“All around they see not rivals but mentors. Gravitating to living masters and young gurus, they talk not of themselves but of the greatness of others. As a result, their sound is pure, their language is concise. Although perpetually young-looking, they are the opposite of naïve. Their groove is light and precise and the smile in their eyes maintains a near-constant  sparkle.”
- pianist Aaron Goldberg commenting on Joris Roelofs

It’s hard to imagine that someone who is only twenty-eight years old could already be so proficient in today’s Jazz world.

Such is truly the case with Joris Roelofs who was born 1984 in Aix-en-Provence (France), raised in Amsterdam (Netherlands), and plays saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute. He began to play classical clarinet at the age of six, and the alto saxophone at the age of twelve.

For one so young, Joris has a considerable list of accomplishments and associations.

He was a member of the Vienna Art Orchestra from 2005-2010. Joris also plays lead alto in the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw in the Netherlands. He graduated in 2007 as a Master of Music at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. In 2001 Joris won the Pim Jacobs Price. In 2003 he received, as a first non-American, the Stan Getz/Clifford Brown Fellowship Award in the US, organized by the International Association Of Jazz Education (IAJE). The IAJE also honored him with a “First Level” price. In 2004 Joris received the first prize of the prestigious Deloitte Jazz Award in the Netherlands, a Dutch Award for young musicians who are just about to start their international carrier. In 2008 he was selected for the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition.

Among others, Joris played with Brad Mehldau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christina Branco, Lionel Loueke, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Chris Cheek, Eric Harland, Lewis Nash, Aaron Goldberg, Greg Tardy, Ralph Peterson, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Pete King, Sonny Fortune, Greg Hutchinson, WDR Big Band, Ari Hoenig, Matt Penman, Alegre Correa.

He was recently asked by Brad Mehldau to perform with him at the Carnegie Hall in New York and Sanders Theatre in Boston. At age 16 Joris performed the famous clarinet introduction of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for a TV show with the Orkest van het Oosten, and in that same show was also featured as a soloist with the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. He also recorded as a special clarinet soloist with the Metropole Orchestra with Laura Fygi (2004). As a leader he performed several times at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, among other places.

In October 2008 he did a European release tour with Ari Hoenig, Aaron Goldberg and Johannes Weidenmueller to promote his debut album Introducing Joris Roelofs. In 2009 and 2010 he did his second and third tour with Aaron Goldberg, Greg Hutchinson, Reginald Veal, Joe Sanders. Joris also plays in a trio with Jesse van Ruller and Clemens van der Feen, they released their album Chamber Tones and toured in Japan. Joris’ new CD Live At The Bimhuis will come out the end of August/2011. As a sideman Joris has been playing at a large number of international jazz festivals and jazz clubs, all over the world. He moved to New York City in March 2008.

Pianist Aaron Goldberg wrote these thoughts about Joris and Jazz in New York City for Introducing Joris Roelofs:

New York remains an artist-magnet. The intrepid flow in from everywhere, their paint brushes or their saxophones on their back, often still searching for a place to sleep. Some show up with a point to prove, and they are usually the first to attract notice. On occasion others arrive with a different kind of special mission. Instead of a moral to teach or an agenda to push, these brave selves search for a lesson to learn. Tey are driven by the love of their art.

All around they see not rivals but mentors. Gravitating to living masters and young gurus, they talk not of themselves but of the greatness of others. As a result, their sound is pure, their language is concise. Although perpetually long-looking, they are the opposite of naïve. Their groove is light and precise and the smile in their eyes maintains a near-constant  sparkle.

Perhaps they have some metaphysical guardian, a Vajravarahi [Tibetan Buddhist diety that helps free one from suffering and gain enlightenment through meditations] to help uproot the ego?

Or maybe their meditations just focus on the truly important: line and melody, mouthpiece and embouchure, narrative and harmony, and the rest follows inevitably. These are the true faithful. From the inside they may see only detours, but their paths are straight and their bearing upright. From the outside they glow like the enlightened. More importantly, they are a joy to listen to. Joris Roelofs is one of the rare arrivals.”

With all of this by way of background, “The Kids” such as Joris, Aaron, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Ari Hoenig “are doing just fine” as you can hear for yourself on the sound track to the following video montage.

The tune is pianist Aaron Goldberg’s The Rules which is an excellent example of the kind of tension-and-release, repetitive phrases and sustained tones can create in Jazz. Aaron takes the first solo, followed by Ari on drums with Joris’s solo closing it out before the piece’s “surprise” ending.

[BTW, if the music of Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Lennie Tristano comes to mind while listening to Joris' quartet, your memory is a credit to modern Jazz history].

Joris Roelofs recordings are available as audio CD’s and Mp3 downloads from a number of online retailers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jessica Williams – A Pianist with Taste, Touch and Temerity

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles was prompted to put this piece together by the arrival of the correspondence that closes it.

I first “met” Jessica around 1980. This was back in the days when one could kill a few minutes waiting for a business appointment or a luncheon while perusing the local record store.

Usually privately-owned and operated, every community in southern California seem to have one and some of these Mom-and-Pop stores even had a Jazz section.

It was during one such diversions that I noticed an LP in the cut-out bin by Jessica Jennifer Williams entitled Orgonomic Music [Clean Cuts CC703]. On the back of the album sleeve was the following quotation by Wilhelm Reich:

"Love, work and knowledge are the well-springs of our life. They should also govern it.”

I didn’t know who Reich was, nor did I know anything about “Jessica Jennifer Williams” and the only musician in the sextet featured on the album that I was [barely] familiar with was trumpet player Eddie Henderson.

But what the heck, Philip Elwood of The San Francisco Examiner said of Jessica that she was a devotee of Reich’s whose sentiments I agreed with, the LP was only a buck, so I gave it a shot.

Boy, am I glad I did. I’ve been listening to everything I can get my hands on by Jessica ever since.

However, it wasn’t until 1992, thanks to a fortuitous business trip to San Francisco, that I had the opportunity to hear Jessica in person as a part of pianist Dick Whittington’s on-going Maybeck Recital Hall series.

I “stayed close” to Jessica’s music in the 1990’s thanks to my association with Philip Barker, the owner of Jazz Focus Records for whom Jessica made a number of recordings including her Arrival CD which has the distinction of being the very first disc issued by Philip’s label [JFCD001].

Thanks to a tip from Gene Lees in one of his JazzLetters, I was also able to score one of the limited edition [1,000] Joyful Sorrow compact discs that Blackhawk Records issued as her solo piano tribute to the late, Bill Evans.

It was recorded at The Jazz Station, Carmel, CA on September 15, 1996 on the 16th anniversary of Bill’s death.

Sadly, too, The Jazz Station in Carmel is no more, but Joyful Sorrow endures as just about my all-time favorite Jessica recording.

Thankfully, Jessica has subsequently released quite a number of solo piano and trio Jazz recordings, many of which are available as audio CD’s and Mp3 downloads.

Jessica is a powerful and pulsating pianist.  He music literally “pops” out at the listener it’s so full of energy and enthusiasm.

She records many solo piano albums, a format which can sometimes be a recipe for self-indulgence and excessive displays of technique.  But Jessica’s music is always tasteful and informed. You can hear the influences from the Jazz tradition in her playing, but you also hear innovative probing and forays into her unique conception of what she is trying to say about herself and how she hears the music.

Her touch on the instrument is such that she makes the piano SOUND! It rings clear and resonates as it only can in the hands of a masterful pianist.

As Grover Sales, the distinguish author and lecturer on Jazz has commented:

“Jessica Williams belongs to that exclusive group Count Basie dubbed "the poets of the piano" that includes Roger Kellaway, Sir Roland Hanna, Ellis Larkins, Jaki Byard, Bill Mays, Alan Broadbent, Cedar Walton, the late Jimmy Rowles and of course, Bill Evans. All share in common a thorough working knowledge of classic piano literature from pre-Bach to contemporary avant garde as well as the classic jazz tradition from Scott Joplin to the present.

All developed an astonishing and seemingly effortless technique that enabled them to venture anywhere their fertile imaginations wished to take them. All take to heart the dictum of Jelly Roll Morton in his epic 1938 interview for the Library of Congress: ‘No pianist can play jazz unless they try to give the imitation of a band.’

 And for all of their varied influences from Earl Hines to Bill Evans and beyond, all are instantly identifiable—unique in the literal sense of this often misused word.”

Writing in the insert booklet to Jessica’s Maybeck Hall CD [Concord CCD-4525], Jeff Kaliss notes:

“It's all there in the first track. Within a few choruses, Jessica Williams shows her hand, or hands: the harmonies in seconds (hit way off to the side of the piano), the punchy attack, the dust-devils in the upper octaves, the nutty quotes. It's familiar Jessica, but she's got plenty up her sleeve for the rest of this remarkable entry in the Maybeck menagerie. …

She came to my awareness as a word-of-mouth legend, a Baltimore-bred genius whose history and personality were said to be as mysterious and unpredictable as her keyboard inventions. As soon as I got to hear her, I was into the reality of her spontaneous magic and not much concerned with the legend. …

[She] has remained a best-kept secret … commanding awe and quiet in the clubs she visited … [her playing] filled with energy and imagination.”

One gets more about her sense of “energy and imagination” when one reads the following notes that Jessica wrote about herself and her music for her Intuition CD [Jazz Focus JFCD 010]:

“I'm occasionally asked where I studied to learn to do what I do; who taught me, what "tricks" are involved, what secrets enable me, how does the process occur... how does one "distill magic out of the air?" The truth is that there are no practice techniques, no miracle drugs, no mantras, no short-cuts to creativity. I tell them that I've played piano since I was four, that I've played jazz since I was twelve, that I've never taken another job doing anything except what I've always known I should be doing in this life: playing music. And maybe that's a part of the answer, if indeed there is one. It's about Castenada's PATH, Campbell's BLISS; you follow it no matter where it leads, and over many years you learn to control it, channel it, allow it to happen.

You become the bow; the arrow is the gift. You never fully own it, just as you can never explore all of its depths, because it springs from the infinite possibilities within you. In this realm, your only ally, your only guide, is intuition. It is seeing instead of looking, knowing instead of believing, being instead of doing. It is Coltrane on the saxophone, Magic Johnson on the court, Alice Walker on the printed page; it is the primary intuition of "right-brained" activity, the birthing of idea into existence.

Perhaps it cannot be taught, but it certainly can be shared...and it is in the sharing that we all experience the best parts of ourselves. We instinctively intuit our organic truth; when we learn to live it, our planet could be paradise.

Your dreams are your sacred truth. …”

You can listen to Jessica’s quite stunning pianism on the audio track of the following video tribute to her on which she performs Alone Together from the Joyful Sorrow Bill Evans tribute CD.

As to Jessica’s temerity, let alone downright courage, it’s all here in the following notice which she sent out recently to her fans.

I hope you’ll heed and help Jessica in her time of need.

Dear friends, critics, fans, friends of fans, anyone who loves my music or at least has enjoyed it:
You can opt to send personal checks or money orders to
·  Jessica Williams
·  PO Box 2391
·  Olympia, WA 98507
·  Please make checks payable to Jessica Williams
Every dollar counts and is deeply appreciated.
I CAN NO LONGER PLAY THE PIANO. NOR CAN I WALK, SLEEP, EAT WELL, STAND OR SIT. MY PAIN IS INTRACTABLE, AND 30mg daily of Vicodin (NORCO) does very little to cut it. 35 YEARS AGO I had a disc surgery (a Laminectomy, L5-S1) but many years of flying and playing music have taken their toll. I am in DIRE NEED OF RADICAL SPINAL SURGERY. MY SURGEON IS DR RICHARD ROONEY AT THE NEW MADISON ST POLYCLINIC.
This is NOT a solicitation for help to pay for the surgery as I HAVE INSURANCE: This request for donations is for the time AFTER surgery, the 6 months to perhaps a year that I won't be able to play or perform. Instead, I'll be doing physical therapy, pain management, and recuperation.
Without a spinal operation I face trunk and leg paralysis, the possible loss of renal function, and constant intractable pain. If it progresses up the spine and reaches the thoracic and cervical spine, I will lose all movement or sensation in my arms and hands. I have moderate scoliosis which increases the possibility of this happening.
Fortunately I have medical coverage. This request for donations is for the time AFTER surgery. It may be a year or more before I can play again, or it could be months - I won't know until it's done.
My surgeon - http://www.polyclinic.com/richard-rooney-md-facs - has decided to do a lateral-entry cage-fusion of L5, L4 and S1. I have had other opinions but I've chosen the premier neurosurgeon in this state (WA), and my age - 64 - rules out fancy but still unperfected alternatives like Pro-Disc©. My surgery will be scheduled soon, probably for some time in LATE JULY or EARLY AUGUST of 2012. (I presently have an viral upper-bronchial infection, so we need to wait until that clears.)
I'll be in the hospital for about 10 days, and then recuperating for 6 months to a year. I feel very lucky and very secure to have chosen the great surgeon who will do the procedure, making it possible for me to get back to my life's work.
I am so happy I can give back through my music. The music that awaits is why I am here.
And THAT, friends, is why I'm asking for help. I know that the people who love my music are the kindest, gentlest people in the world.
But a lot of us tend not to be billionaires. I, for one.
I need your help.
I'm sure that the results will be positive. My surgeon is the best there is, an artist of neurosurgery. He loves my music. I have a lot of NEW MUSIC TO MAKE.
Please make a donation of any size that you can afford. Each of you who makes a donation will get a signed copy of my newest CD for OriginArts - my personal favorite - Songs of Earth. And you'll get your name included in the drop-down "Life Savers Menu" on this donations page.
And if you ORDER MY CDs, that'll help too, and you can do that HERE. Every order and every extra dollar helps, as I can no longer play or pay the bills for a while.
Thank you from my heart, with peace, sanity, love, and freedom, Jessica
DONATE PLEASE!!!  You can use paypal or any credit cards: go to
A message from good friend and fellow pianist and composer Richard Rodseth:
Dear friends,
Some of you have attended or played at house concerts I have hosted in my home. Some of my happiest
and proudest moments.
I was introduced to the concept by pianist Jessica Williams, and since 2005 she has enthralled listeners in my living room once or twice a year, most recently on March 17, her birthday.
I'm sorry to report that Jessica needs our help, and is not well enough to play for us at this time. It would mean a great deal to me if you would read her heartfelt request at the following link and support her if you can:
Whether you purchase one or more of her wonderful CDs (which make excellent gifts), or are able to make a donation, you will have supported a wonderful artist who has touched many with her beautiful music.
Thanks so much, Richard - P.S. I apologize if you receive this message more than once. Feel free to share it with others.
See MRI/DICOM scans of my L5/L4 compression/degradation and my scoliosis and disc deterioration here:
For removal from this list, click here:
I wish you happiness, wisdom, peace, and above all, HEALTH. Stay well and love each other, Jessica

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra - "Bird Feathers"

I always wondered what  a big band arrangement of Charles Mingus' Bird Feathers might sound like. Thanks to this performance by the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, I don't have to anymore. To my ears, there nothing more exciting in Jazz than a roaring, driving big band.  This version of Bird Feathers was recorded in May, 2007 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and features Simon Rigter on tenor saxophone, Marco Kegel on alto and Hans Vromans on piano.

Friday, July 13, 2012

“The Rules” - Joris Roelofs Quartet and The Art of Clifton Karhu

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

There is so much to say about both the music and the artwork on the following video montage, but as it is a lengthy performance, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would keep its comments to a minimum.

This piece is another in an ongoing effort to combine looking at art while listening to Jazz.  As you view the slides of contemporary Japanese woodblock prints by the artist Clifton Karhu [1927-2007], we hope that you will not only recognize Karhu’s virtuosity, but also that of the young musicians who comprise the Joris Roelofs quartet.

I will have more to say about saxophonist-clarinetist Joris Roelofs in a future JazzProfiles feature devoted to his music.

The audio track is Aaron Goldberg’s The Rules which was recorded in performance at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on October 17, 2008. Joining with Joris on alto saxophone and Aaron on piano are bassist Johannes Weidemuller and drummer Ari Hoenig.

This is a long piece, but if you can sustain your interest in and involvement with it, I think it will move your ears in a new direction, one, perhaps, that the late composer-pianist Lennie Tristano might relish.

The interpretations of pianist Goldberg and saxophonist Roelofs harkens back to the ultra cool and intellectual style of Jazz favored by Tristano along with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh.

What is markedly different in the Roelofs quartet’s approach is the drumming of Ari Hoenig, who plays stuff on drums that I’ve never heard before, and whose interactive approach is a far cry from the keep-the-time-and-stay-out-of-the-way drumming of Jeff Morton with Tristano’s quartet.

Clifton Karhu, was born in Minnesota, but lived most of his adult life in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where he mastered all aspects of making traditional Japanese woodblock prints or Ukiyo-e.

Karhu self-designed, self-carved and self-printed his own wood block prints and his use of mood, color, and geometric design has reserved for him a prominent place in 20th century Sosaku Hanga [neo-ukiyo-e or creative prints done “in the shadow of” ukiyo-e].

There is some irony in using music entitled The Rules in a video tribute to Clifton Karhu as some considered him to be an iconoclast for the manner in which he used traditional Japanese woodblock techniques to represent his art.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra and “The Sound of Surprise”

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Whitney Balliett, one of Jazz’s most eloquent chroniclers, once characterized Jazz as being “The Sound of Surprise.”

And so it was for me – a joyful surprise - with my first listening of The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s Single Petal of a Rose which was released on June 5, 2012 on Renma Recordings [6403 CD].

By way of background, The Duke Ellington Legacy is a nine-piece group founded by Edward Kennedy Ellington II, Duke’s grandson, and the band’s guitarist.

Edward chose saxophonist Virginia Mayhew to lead and serve as musical director of the band and Virginia staffed it, beginning with pianist Norman Simmons who has a long and distinguished career performing with many Jazz luminaries, most particularly serving as the accompanist for vocalists Carmen McRae, Joe Williams and Betty Carter.

Virginia and Norman share the arranging duties for The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra and their scoring talents help present Duke’s music in new, musical settings.

Duke once said that music is beyond category and falls into two groups: good music and bad music.

The music on Single Petal of a Rose is good music as are the musicians who perform it.

Equally important is that they have the ability to fashion their own musical personalities into a coherent and cohesive group, a quality which Duke Ellington prized. 

While he loved the individual voices of some of his legendary band members such as trumpeters Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart and Clark Terry, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, the Duke needed them to blend-as-one because the orchestra en toto was his instrument.

Credit for melding the sound of The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra into a consistent whole begins with trumpeter [and flugelhornist] Jami Dauber, whose attack, phrasing and dynamics forms the basis for the manner in which the band articulates the arrangements.

There was no greater admirer of Duke’s music than bassist Charles Mingus who often anchored his own group’s compositions with the playing of trombonist Jimmy Knepper.

Charles would have loved The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s trombonist Noah Bless who brings not only Knepper’s spirit to mind while taking care of brass bass clef business for the group, but also those of Ellington stalwart bone players such as “Tricky Sam” Lofton, Lawrence Brown and Britt Woodman.

Speaking of Mingus, the Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s other bass clef role is in the capable hands of bassist Tom DiCarlo, whose playing is suggestive of the big sound and expressiveness of two of today’s Young Lions on the instrument: John Patitucci and Christian McBride.

If you ever wondered with the Duke’s music might sound like complimented by the polyrhythms of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, all you need do is listen to Paul Wells whose drumming with the Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s provides these elements plus the sounds of a very contemporary drum kit.

Saxophonist Virginia Mayhew has a big, throaty tone on tenor and when she combines it in unison phrasing with trumpeter Dauber and trombonist Bless, it echoes the sound of Wayner Shorter-Freddie Hubbard-Curtis Fuller version of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to Duke’s music [checkout the shout chorus that close-out the Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s version of Upper Manhattan Medical Group].

It’s quite fitting that Kenny Burrell loaned Edward Kennedy Ellington II his guitar for the date because the latter’s note selection and placement are lean and propulsive in a style similar to the one that Kenny has literally hand-crafted over six decades of playing Jazz.

And then there is Norman Simmons on piano: lyrical, beautiful and always tastefully swinging. He reminds me so much of the late Tommy Flanagan and the late Hank Jones.

Many years ago when I was working at a club on the tri-corner of Columbus, Broadway and Grant in San Francisco, I and the pianist in the group would run down the street during our breaks to catch vocalist Carmen McRae at Sugar Hill.

Norman was backing Carmen and on the way back to our gig my pianist friend would reflect: “How does Norman do it? He doesn’t play the piano, he graces it. And he swings so beautifully … all the time!”

Thankfully, some things only get better with the passing of the years and Norman’s piano playing is one of them. In addition to being so superb on piano, Norman has also written the majority of the charts on the album.

Other “surprises” on Single Petal of a Rose include the sensitive percussion work of Shelia Earley, Nancy Reed’s marvelous vocals on In A Mellow Tone, Squeeze Me, and Love You Madly, and tenor saxophonist Houston Person’s special guest appearance on Norman’s composition, a blues entitled Home Grown and Duke’s In My Solitude.”

Shelia Elaine Anderson writes of Houston in her insert notes to the CD: “Houston’s big sound, improvisations and playfulness make listeners feel happy and reminds them of what Jazz is.”

More details including websites and order information about The Duke Ellington Legacy Orchestra’s Single Petal of a Rose are contained in the following News Release which was developed by Ann Braithwaite, Nancy Hudgins and the fine team at Braithwaite & Katz, Communications.

If you are in the mood for surprises, you’ll be delighted by the music on this disc.

"This band breathes new life into Duke Ellington's treasured, voluminous canon."
— Joseph Blake, Times Colonist
"...sounds as classic as the day Duke Ellington gave his music birth, while still sounding like a contemporary jazz band..."
- Susan Frances, Jazzreview.com

Almost four decades after Duke Ellington's passing, he looms larger than ever as a singular giant of American music. With Single Petal of a Rose, slated for release on June 5 on Renma Recordings, the talent-laden Duke Ellington Legacy offers an insightful, often-breathtaking tour through a program of masterpieces by Ellington and his inimitable creative partner, Billy Strayhorn.

A nine-piece multi-generational ensemble founded by guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, Duke's grandson, the Duke Ellington Legacy doesn't attempt to replicate the Ellington Orchestra's sound (because really, who could?). Rather, the band explores sublime ballads, hard-charging flag wavers, lustrous tone poems, and sultry vocals, channeling an essentially Ellingtonian spirit from a contemporary perspective. With savvy music direction by saxophonist Virginia Mayhew and brilliant arrangements by the great Norman Simmons, who also handles piano duties with elegant authority, the band fully adheres to Duke's prime directive, swinging as if their lives depended on it.

"Before a concert I tell the band, let's make them want to dance," Simmons says. "People these days are afraid to move their bodies, but they can't help it when we get going."

Programmed with an ebb and flow similar to an Ellington Orchestra concert, the album opens and closes with ravishing solo piano renditions of "Single Petal" and "Lotus Blossom," delivered by Simmons with all the requisite love and tenderness. The session kicks into high gear with "Happy-Go-Lucky Local" a piece that premiered at Ellington's 1946 Carnegie Hall concert as the final movement of his "Deep South Suite." Houston Person's locomotive tenor solo is perfectly gauged to the swaggering mood of Ellington's most irrepressibly swinging train song.

"Houston has got his own sound and it's beautiful," Ellington says. "Our last album featured the great baritone saxophonist, Joe Temperley. Bringing in guests like that anchors the ensemble. They come in with such deep knowledge of the music."

"In My Solitude" offers Houston another ideal setting in which to shine as he provides empathic support for vocalist Nancy Reed. The big-toned tenor saxophonist has spent much of his career in intimate dialogue with jazz's greatest singers, most significantly during his three-decade creative partnership with the inimitable Etta Jones. Like the much-missed Jones, Reed is an underappreciated treasure who has collaborated with jazz masters such as pianist David Leonhardt, David "Fathead" Newman, Phil Woods, Dave Liebman, and Bob Dorough. Her lovely, clear tone and understated delivery make her an ideal vocalist for the Duke Ellington Legacy, whether she's bringing the mellow to "In A Mellow Tone," flirting playfully with Houston on "Squeeze Me," or convincingly delivering Duke's trademark catch phrase "Love You Madly" on a fine arrangement by Mayhew.

With four numbers to his direct credit, Strayhorn is well represented on Single Petal. Mayhew's inspired arrangement of "Johnny Come Lately", an expansive chart that features some particularly inspired tenor work by her, puts a Latin spin on the piece. Trombonist Noah Bless follows with a beautifully crafted solo, which builds to a percussion finale. Bless displays his expressive, singing tone on the aching ballad "Blood Count," while bassist Tom di Carlo propels the briskly swinging, typically ingenious "Upper Manhattan Medical Group" (often rendered as "UMMG"), which features another incisive Mayhew tenor solo.

"Ellington always featured his men, and that's something I work on," says Simmons.
"Duke was always very advanced with his harmonic structures, which provides the framework, and then for orchestration you're drawing on the colors in the band's palette, painting a picture."

The Duke Ellington Legacy was born out of the friendship between Mayhew and Edward Kennedy Ellington II, who met at the West Village jazz club Sweet Basil in the late 1980s. When Ellington approached her about launching a band with the support of the Duke Ellington Legacy, Virginia, having had studied and worked with Norman Simmons, knew Simmons would be an ideal musician for the group. In fact, Simmons has become the Legacy's heart and soul.

It's hard to overstate the depth of experience Norman Simmons brings to the Duke Ellington Legacy. A Chicago native, he was weaned on the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which he heard as a child from a neighbor's radio. As a teenager in the mid-1940s he caught the band at the Regal Theater when Sonny Greer still presided from his giant drum kit. After graduating from the Chicago School of Music, Simmons cut his teeth in the mid-1950s as the house pianist at the Beehive, where he worked with jazz icons such as Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Wardell Gray. Convinced by Ernestine Anderson to move to New York City in 1959, he quickly gained recognition as an exceptional accompanist. Over the years he put in significant stints with Dakota Staton, Carmen McRae, and Joe Williams. Working as an arranger for Riverside Records, Simmons was responsible for classic sessions with Johnny Griffin (including "The Big Soul-Band") and toured widely with the Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin Quintet. At 81, he continues to accompany and arrange for various artists and leads his own band.

Mayhew's affinity for veteran jazz masters has been apparent since she established herself on the New York scene in the Iate1980s. A savvy bandleader, commanding saxophonist and respected arranger, she has performed with legends such as Earl "Fatha" Mines, Al Grey, Junior Mance, Doc Cheatham, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, and Chico O'Farrill, and Toshiko Akiyoshi. With six acclaimed CDs under her own name, Mayhew recently completed a recording focusing on the music of Mary Lou Williams. She is also part of another revelatory Ellington project, Dreamin' the Duke, featuring jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon and classical soprano Harolyn Blackwell.

Edward Ellington II got a very close look at the life of touring musician as a child. Over the years he occasionally joined his grandfather on the road with the orchestra, and after Duke's passing he joined his father, Mercer Ellington, as guitarist and roadie in the new Ellington orchestra. After five years, he gave up performing and didn't return to the stage for two decades, when he and Mayhew launched the Duke Ellington Legacy in 2002. Since then the group has performed widely and recorded the critically praised 2008 album Thank You Uncle Edward (Renma Recordings).
While Duke Ellington's canon needs no defenders, Single Petal of a Rose makes an incontrovertible case for the Duke Ellington Legacy as inspired torchbearers.

"The key thing is we're not just playing Ellington arrangements," Ellington says.
"These are fresh arrangements reflecting new influences, and that's the point."


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Max and Dado – “Two for Duke”

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Jazz duo is an affirmative exercise in self-denial, a musical fast in which one gives up some expected ingredient in the cause of the greater good; intimacy, freedom, self-exploration, name your poison. Without the ballast of a beat, the emptiness leaves the duo in the back alley of the experimental where expectations are discouraged.”
- John McDonough, Down Beat

“Ellington and Strayhorn have invented something that did not exist before, laying the foundations of a harmonic and melodic language that anticipated the times of several decades.”
- Franco Fayenz, insert notes to Two for Duke

If you stick around Jazz in Italy long enough, you’ll soon discover that all roads lead to Dado … Moroni, that is.

Sooner or later, just about everyone on today’s Italian Jazz scene works with him.

Maybe it is because the guy is so personable, engaging and really knows what he’s doing.

Or maybe it’s because, whatever the setting, he swings like mad.

John McDonough is correct when he underscores that in a duo setting, “without the ballast of the beat … expectations are discouraged.”

But when you are performing music in a duo setting with Dado Moroni on piano, there’s never an absence of a beat.  It is just not possible to play the music with him without driving it forward in some way.  No meandering here; no rhythmic vacuums; no limpid introspections. When you play Jazz with Dado, it swings.

Dado is from the old school who believes that Jazz should always have what Marshall Stearns in The Story of Jazz defines as a certain “metronomic sense” that is derived from the march rhythm which is basic to Jazz.

Stearns explains that the early New Orleans brass bands added something new to march rhythm – they made it swing.

“Theorists tell us that there is no limit to the complex­ities that can be superimposed upon march rhythm—and that is what jazz is doing. The basis of jazz is a march rhythm but the jazzman puts more complicated rhythms on top of it. He blows a variety of accents between and around, above and below, the march beat. It's a much more complicated process than syncopation, which is usu­ally defined as stressing the normally weak beat, for syn­copation sounds unutterably old-fashioned to a jazzman. A regular six-piece band playing in the New Orleans style can create rhythmic complexities which no machine yet invented can fully diagram.” [pp.4-5]…

“Understanding and enjoying this kind of rhythmic com­plexity is entirely a matter of training. Contrary to the popular notion, nobody is born with a fine sense of rhythm —people simply learn it, sometimes quite unconsciously. … If your metronome sense is highly developed, you can feel a foundation rhythm when all you hear is a shower of accents being superimposed upon it.” [p. 6]

What’s the connection between Stearns’ “metronomic sense” and Dado?

It’s an easy one to make as some of Dado’s earliest exposure to Jazz was through listening to recordings that his father brought home featuring pianists Earl “Fatha” Hines, Thomas “Fats” Waller and Teddy Wilson.

All three of these early paragons of Jazz piano developed rhythmic styles that were infused with a heavy metronomic sense. Erroll Garner also became an influence on Dado with his use of “a steady left hand [that] creates and fulfils the expectancy of a continuous rhythm. Garner’s lag-along right hand … sets up a contrasting tension which is released when, by means of more unexpected accents, he catches up.” [Ibid.].

Because he is resident in Genoa, Italy for most of the year, is it any wonder that younger Jazz players in Italy seek him out?

He’s their connection to the Jazz tradition because Dado brings many characteristics   of the whole history of Jazz to his playing - metronomic swing, blue tonality, call-and-response techniques, not to mention a sophisticated understanding of modern Jazz harmonies.

One minute Dado is coloring his solos with ragtime notations, the next he’s playing flatted fifths like Bud Powel or using the quartal and quintal harmonies that pianist McCoy Tyner employed with John Coltrane ‘s quartet in the 1960s.

Another reason why so many contemporary Italian Jazzmen associate with Dado is because of his fervent love for, and immense understanding of, the music of Duke Ellington.

As he remarked recently: “I never get tired of playing Duke's music...in many ways probably the best repertoire in jazz.” 

Jazz has always been about setting new directions, but perhaps before seeking these, it might not be bad idea to take a “compass” of Duke Ellington’s music along to guide the way.

It would seem that saxophonist Max Ionata had the presence of mind to check his bearings early in his career by collaborating with Dado on a recording of Duke’s music.

Max is a monster player who combines the harmonic qualities of John Coltrane on the tenor and soprano saxophones with the melodicism and sonority of modern cool school tenor saxophonists such as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Richie Kamuca.

He’s a forceful player, but he gets a warm, rich sound, particularly on the tenor. 

He doesn’t get caught up in saxophone calisthenics while seemingly trying to wrestle the instrument to the ground; Max’s is more interested in making beautiful music that swings.

Max’s ideas flow easily and on Two for Duke [ViaVenetoJazzVVJ o77] both he and Dado have found a variety of ways to make Duke’s music their own whether it’s the gospel-like intensity of their version of Come Sunday, a soulful rendering of Day Dream or the ¾ waltz interpretation of All Too Soon which forms the audio track to the following video tribute to Max and Dado.

On Two for Duke, they add new and masterful interpretations to one of the great cultural gifts of the 20th century – The Music of Duke Ellington.

[Two for Duke is available as both an audio CD and an Mp3 download from Amazon, CD Baby and other on-line sellers. We would also like to recognize the creative and supportive contributions of Giandomenico Ciaramella of Jando Music for making this recording possible].