Sunday, September 28, 2014

New STL Jazz Center Opens With Wynton Marsalis

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will help christen a new St. Louis jazz center that organizers hope will serve as a venue worthy of the genre’s top acts while inspiring the next generation of jazz greats from an area that has produced Miles Davis, Clark Terry and David Sanborn, among others.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will join Marsalis for the grand opening Thursday of the Harold & Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz. Other big-name performers will follow, said Gene Dobbs Bradford, executive director of Jazz St. Louis.

Before undergoing a $10 million renovation over the past few months, the space was known as Jazz at the Bistro and was a popular jazz hangout for decades. Now, the space is one of the nation’s only major performance and education centers devoted specifically to jazz, along with Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and SFJAZZ in San Francisco, Bradford said. Although St. Louis is much smaller than those coastal cities and attracts far fewer jazz-loving European tourists, Bradford said he has high hopes for what the new venue will bring.

“This is going to offer an example of how, in markets like St. Louis, you can have a thriving place for jazz,” Bradford said. “It’s easier to have a jazz center in New York City or San Francisco where you have a large population to draw on and they have a lot of tourists who will take advantage of the opportunity to hear American music. Our market is smaller here, but we’ve figured out a way to make it work.”

The space is named after longtime jazz lovers Harold and Dorothy Steward, whose son Dave Steward was the lead donor for the new center.

“I want St. Louis to have the Lincoln Center of the Midwest. Where artists will feel that they have enough support in enough opportunities to use St. Louis as a home base,” said Steward, who is CEO of World Wide Technology.

“We have a world-class symphony, museums, zoo and world-class sports team,” Steward said. “Now we will have a world-class center for jazz.”

The jazz center is part of the city’s Grand Center area, a thriving area of arts, music and entertainment. In addition to performances, it will feature two large rehearsal rooms for students, along with five practice rooms. Bradford said top jazz instructors will conduct weekly instruction sessions; visiting performers will also take time to teach the craft to young musicians.

“We have to make sure it’s not just a question of preserving our jazz heritage,” Bradford said. “We have to educate and train the next generation of great St. Louis jazz musicians.”

It’s not an easy task. The popularity of jazz, which peaked in the early- to mid-20th century, has waned as other forms of music pop, rock, country, rap have taken over.

So Bradford said the new center has created a space for people who want to drop in and listen to jazz without paying for anything. Large-screen televisions have jazz piped in, allowing the curious a taste of the improvisational-based music to whet their appetites.

Those who develop a taste will get a chance to see top-level performers. After Marsalis, suburban St. Louis native saxophonist David Sanborn will perform Oct. 8-11. Vocalist and guitarist John Pizzarelli is at the center Oct. 22-25. The eclectic list of performers includes the fusion group Jeff Coffin & the Mu’tet in November and jazz violinist Regina Carter in May.

“We’re very intentional about programming a wide variety of jazz and trying new things,” Bradford said. “The music is going to evolve.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jazz greats set for Athenaeum concerts

All-star band The Cookers, top trumpeter Dave Douglas and sax stars Greg Osby & Joe Lovano are set for La Jolla concert series, which begins Thursday.
Since the inception of the La Jolla Athenaeum’s live jazz programming 25 years ago, high quality and stylistic diversity have been its hallmarks. But its pending fall Jazz at The Scripps Research Institute concert series seems uniquely designed to present artists who celebrate jazz’s rich past, present and possible future directions.

The Cookers, who kick things off Thursday night, feature seven musicians who are each acclaimed band leaders. The lineup includes saxophonists Billy Harper and Donald Harrison, trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart.

The series continues Oct. 15 with the Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints Quintet, which features saxophonist Lovano, trumpeter Douglas, pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda Oh and drum ace Joey Baron.

An Oct. 25 concert by the Greg Osby Four will conclude the series. Osby, one of the most significant and influential saxophonists of the past three decades, last appeared here at the same venue with guitarist Jim Hall in 2011.

Together, The Cookers, the Grego Osby Four and Lovano and Douglas’ Sound Prints Quintet offer a rich palette of jazz styles that are steeped in tradition, yet very much of the moment. Each group’s approach varies, but all share a penchant for rhythmic intensity, melodic invention and improvisational adventure.

“There are three generations represented among the artists we have this fall, and they are among the best of their generation,” said Daniel Atkinson, who launched the Athenaeum’s jazz series in 1989.

“With The Cookers, you have a group whose members are mostly in their early 70s. Their members have played with some of the most significant artists of the 1960s and ’70s, including Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon and more. Joe Lovano is about 60 and has made an immense impact. Dave Douglas and Greg Osby are both around 50."

For Atkinson, Thursday's series opening concert takes on an added significance.

"The Cookers represent the kind of jazz that got me interested in jazz in the first place in the late 1970s and early 80s," he said. "I heard them perform in January at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and they really brought the house down. It's a sterling ensemble."

Tickets for each concert are $30 for Athenaeum members; $35 for nonmembers. Series tickets for all three performances are $84 for members; $99 for nonmembers. More information: (858) 454-5872 or

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bennett, Gaga have chemistry on new CD

Tony Bennett has never forgotten the boost he got when Frank Sinatra declared him “the best singer in the whole business.” Now it’s Bennett’s turn to grant his imprimatur to another Italian-American singer from New York: Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. 

Bennett and Gaga first teamed up on his Grammy-winning 2011 “Duets II” CD to perform the standard “The Lady Is a Tramp,” with Gaga displaying impressive vocal chops. It turns out that this seemingly odd couple — separated in age by 60 years — both share a passion for the Great American Songbook and jazz singing, which Gaga says she first took up as a teenager.

That led them to record “Cheek to Cheek” — only the second full album that Bennett has done with another singer in his nearly 70-year recording career. The first was the sublime 2002 album, “A Wonderful World,” with k.d. lang, on which the two voices blended smoothly on a subdued collection of ballads associated with Louis Armstrong.

There’s a completely different chemistry on “Cheek to Cheek,” starting with the opening track, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” with the duo trading lines in a bright, brassy big-band swing arrangement. A sassy Gaga enthusiastically belts out her lines, while Bennett is as always elegant and precise in his phrasing.

Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” are both briskly paced with Gaga’s high register vocals spinning around Bennett’s middle-range lines with the two engaging in some crisp harmonizing and occasional scatting. On the Nat King Cole hit “Nature Boy,” Gaga shows a different side, breathily caressing the lyrics and softly blending her lines with Bennett’s, backed by a lush orchestral arrangement and the late Paul Horn’s airy flute solo.

This is a liberating album for Gaga who shows that she doesn’t need the outlandish meat dresses, voice-altering electric effects and elaborate stage shows to make an impact because her voice stands out on its own. Had she been born in an earlier era, Gaga would have been right at home in an MGM musical. On her solo features, Gaga sings softly and with restraint on Porter’s ballad “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” and shows her vulnerability in an emotional rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” clearly identifying with the song’s theme of loss and heartache.

The only surprise with Bennett is how vibrant he sounds at 88 with a voice that though raspier than in his early years has matured gracefully like fine wine, taking on more emotional depth, as reflected in his solo numbers, “Don’t Wait Too Long” and Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” 

Bennett brings out another side of Gaga’s artistry by recording this album in his customary manner with the main performers interacting in the studio. The arrangements feature his touring jazz combo with pianist Mike Renzi plus such top-notch guest soloists as tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Brian Newman.

At times, Gaga’s jazz phrasing can sound forced, as on Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance,” and she sometimes belts out the lyrics like a pop star. Gaga, who says she intends to record more jazz albums, has great potential as a jazz singer and could learn much from Bennett who early in his career often sang in a stiff operatic voice before becoming more relaxed, nuanced and jazzier once he started recording albums of the timeless standards.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair introduces a music scholarship fund, takes over Smithville this Sunday

When you think of Smithville, Missouri, you're likely to picture its grand lake, the quaint downtown in the historic Heritage District, and exquisite restaurants such as Justus Drugstore. On Sunday, September 28, the inaugural Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair will also be part of that vision. The fair takes over Smithville's downtown square, and the lineup is the stuff of a jazz aficionado's greatest dreams.
Opening the festival is Sons of Brasil, the all-too-rarely heard full-size version of trumpeter Stan Kessler's Brazilian jazz and salsa ensemble that has entertained Kansas City for more than two decades. Also on deck: Singer Kelley Gant, one of the KC jazz scene's rising stars, and jazz icon and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson with his UMKC Jazz Combo (delivering a Charlie Parker tribute). Drummer Todd Strait returns to town from Portland, Oregon, for a set with pianist Roger Wilder and bassist Bob Bowman. Concluding the festival is the reunited KC favorite Interstring, with guitarists Rod Fleeman and Danny Embrey, bassist Bowman and drummer Strait. (You can expect Watson to sit in for part of the set.)

Each set is scheduled for an hour with satellite jazz ensembles - students and small groups - performing in front of the downtown galleries between sets. The square will also be filled with food and drinks for sale. (Smithville's new open-container law permits events where you can walk all kinds of beverages throughout the Heritage District.) Food vendors signed up so far include Jonathan Justus from Justus Drugstore, Michael Foust from the Farmhouse, Paradise Meats, the Wiener Wagon and Stick It food truck.

Profits from the day and donations will benefit the Sandra Bowman Music Scholarship Fund. Sandra Bowman was the wife of Bob Bowman and worked for Jonathan Justus. She died unexpectedly last November. 

"The proceeds for the food and beverage sales goes to this scholarship fund for music students in my wife's name," Bowman says. "She was on the scene all the time. All the musicians knew her, and she's worked in a lot of restaurants and clubs around town." 

Bowman explains that the details of the scholarship fund are still being finalized, but says that it won't be available exclusively to college students. 

"I just want to find someone in need who has desire and talent, and maybe they don't want to go to school - maybe the fund can be used to study with someone of their choice. That hasn't been nailed down," he says. "We'll see what we come up with, but we'd like it to be an ongoing thing. I was the recipient of one in Topeka in 1968 when I was 15, and it was a real eye-opener for me. They had this organization - the Topeka Jazz Workshop, which still exists today - and that had a scholarship, and I received it and went to a music camp in Redlands, California, for a week, and that opened up my eyes. It turned me on to some really classic jazz bases and guided me along my career."

After Sandra's death, Bowman discussed with Justus the idea of a festival to remember her and bring attention to the area's jazz community. 

"My wife, Sandra, worked there [at Justus Drugstore], and that was how I met him," Bowman says. "Jonathan and I are kind of like-minded in a way - we have high standards. And we just thought, 'We should do something.' He takes the food thing seriously, and I take the music thing seriously, and we just decided to do something in Smithville. I was just saying to him, 'I want to do something to raise the bar and get the best possible people together in the food and jazz community,' so that's pretty much how it happened." 

Bowman is right. You won't find a better jazz lineup than this Sunday at the Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair. Sandra would be honored.

Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair, Sunday, September 28. Free admission. Gates open at 1 p.m. Festival ends at 9 p.m. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thousands of Jazz Fans Expected for 14th Annual Beantown Jazz Fest

If jazz and people aren’t your thing, you might want to stay away from the South End this Saturday. According to Berklee’s Nick Balkin, the 14th annual Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival is expected to draw up to 80,000 music fans to the Columbus Avenue festival site.
In comparison, the September edition of Boston Calling attracted 45,000 attendees.

The festival is being hosted by Berklee College of Music, and there will be no shortage of jazz, blues, and soul acts to keep the masses entertained. Headliners include Shiela E., California-based Kneebody, and renowned drummer Yoron Israel.

Also playing are Grammy winners Snarky Puppy and Dionne Farris, and Grammy-nominated artist Oleta Adams. There are plenty of Berklee student and faculty bands playing, too, including Bill Banfield’s the Jazz Urbane and Screaming Headless Torso.

The festival was started in 2001 by local entrepreneur Darryl Settles as a way to support local music, especially jazz, and South End businesses.

It was a surpise for Settles and the organizers when 10,000 fans showed up that weekend. Since then, the festvial has continued to grow and has attracted around 75,000 fans in the last couple of years. Organizers said that they are expecting a similar turnout this year, if the weather is sunny as predicted.

In 2007 the running of the festival was taken over by Berklee College, ensuring that the festival would become part of Boston’s rich cultural calendar, but Settles doesn’t think that festival is all that different now from its first few years.

“It was only 10,000 [people] for the first year, then it grew every year after that,” Settles said via a phone interview with on Tuesday. “But the theme and the strategy are the same as the first year. It’s such a diverse event for the city. And Berklee is the premier jazz school in the whole world, so they’re the people to run it.”

Alon with the increase in attendence, Settles’s idea that the festival should benefit the local community remains true.

Other than the three music stages, Columbus Avenue will be lined with vendors selling food, drinks and crafts, many of which in the past have been local. Young jazz fans, even younger then the Berklee students on stage, will be entertained by face painting, a family park and an instrument petting zoo, as well as KidsJam, an interactive program run by Berklee’s Music Education department.

“Every year the festival just brings the neighborhood alive,” said Settles.

Discover Roxbury, a cultural preservation organization, will also be offering short walking tours during the festival, aimed at showing off the jazz and civil rights history of Roxbury and the South End. It’s telling that just blocks away from the festival site is Wally’s Cafe, one of the oldest jazz clubs in New England.

On a more international front, the theme of this years festival is “Jazz: The Global Ambassador.”

“We have seen how important music and the arts are to fostering cultural exchange,” wrote Terri Lyne Carrington, the Grammy-winning drummer, Berklee professor, and also artistic director of the festival, “so I am happy that our theme this year is Jazz: the Global Ambassador.”

The festival’s main sponsor, Natixis Global Assests Management, has announced the Jazz Diplomacy Project, a series of events designed to celebrate jazz and to foster discussion about international issues.

At the festival, the company will award a $5,000 scholarship to a Berklee student for the third year running. The scholarship covers the cost for a high school student to attend Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program. Natixis has also provided support to the Newport Jazz Festivals.

If you’re trying to plan for the Beantown Festival, its founder has some recommendations.

“Well on friday I’m gonna see Oleta Adams. But I’m really excited about Sheila E.,” Settles said, “I know she’s not really jazz, but she’s a great performer.”

Adam Meckler Orchestra brings modern twist to local jazz

The Adam Meckler Orchestra's New Album, "When the Clouds Look Like This," is out this month - and it is anything but stuck in the past.
With its thoroughly modern tunes that are full of surprises, the recording reflects the tastes of an emerging generation of young improvisers. It fuses big band swing with a variety of other jazz influences, touches of chamber music, R&B and hip-hop -- in ways that are new, accessible and very cool.

Meckler, a trumpeter and composer, debuts the recording Friday at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. In doing so, he joins a movement of composers who aim to forge a contemporary sound, among them Minnesota's Maria Schneider, Canadian Darcy James Argue and John Hollenbeck of New York.

Meckler counts the three composers among his biggest influences, along with the late Fred Sturm, the jazz director at Lawrence University, and Dean Sorenson of the University of Minnesota. But the trumpeter also draws heavily from recorded jazz and popular music.

"It's all about all the different influences that have happened in my life that have," Meckler said. "I've listened to R&B and hip-hop music and pop music and soul music and obviously tons and tons of jazz music, different kinds of jazz music."

Anything, he said, is fair game.

That's immediately clear on the album's first track, Buster Jones, where from the top, drummer Adrian Suarez's seemingly electronic drum-and-bass approach on acoustic drums makes it clear that the band is a long way from Glenn Miller's approach in the 1940s.

Like others who write for big bands, Meckler is more interested in the tradition established by Duke Ellington, who wrote music with the strengths of individual performers in mind, from pianist Joe Strachan, who also adds nice touches on "Buster Jones" to saxophonist Nelson Devereaux, who delivers a soaring solo on "Skyline."

"As a composer, that's really your job," Meckler said, "put them in a place where they can really shine and show what they can do."

Meckler often composes at the piano, singing melodies as he goes. He wrote the title track with the singing abilities of his wife, Jana Nyberg, and trumpeter Cameron Kinghorn in mind. The result is a light, airy number that has an orchestral feel and gives the singers room to improvise.

In the Twin Cities, Meckler has honed his performing skills as a member of the Pete Whitman X-tet, which includes bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Phil Hey, two of the region's most respected players.

The trumpeter has clearly paid attention, building on their example to compose stimulating tunes that engage his band. Among them is "Beautiful Beatrice," a composition that employs a frenetic interplay between bass and drums at the start. After the band establishes a sense of chaos, they begin a melody that leads to invigorating free solos by drummer Pete Hennig and saxophonist Shilad Sen before ending with lush chords and harmony.

"You have to earn it," Meckler said of the tune, which will be demanding for some listeners. "You have to listen to a lot of craziness before you get there."

In an era of highly commercialized music, writing for a big band isn't easy. But Meckler is committed to traditional music and intends to advance it with modern touches. Artists, he said, need to trust that even though popular culture isn't behind them, great tunes will never go out of style.

"There are still people that want to hear this kind of music," he said. "I think the desire to hear acoustic music or to hear people playing real instruments has definitely come back."

If you go: Adam Meckler Orchestra
Where: MacPhail Center for Music, Antonella Hall, 501 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis
When: Friday, 7 p.m. Tickets, available at the door, are $10.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jazz music festival to salute Pete Douglas

The ubiquitous image of late Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society founder Pete Douglas, puffing his pipe while booking concerts from his desk overlooking the ocean, will pervade the Pete Douglas Memorial Music Festival on the first weekend in October.

From 1 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, combos made up of respected Bay Area jazz musicians who are no strangers to the Bach stage will step up once more to honor him.

Douglas died July 12 at age 85.

The performers, mostly jazz players and some classical, “are mostly Bay Area musicians who have been grateful for this place to play their music,” said Bach Society manager Linda Goetz.

She wryly noted that while Douglas may have cringed at being in the spotlight himself, he always preferred to shine it on to the players. He would say, “Don’t honor me, honor the room,” she said, in reference to the Bach’s unique concert room, an intimate setting for some of the genre’s greats.

The Oct. 4 performances will be emceed by Tim Jackson who runs the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz and is involved with the Monterey Jazz Festival, and Clifford Brown Jr., an on-air personality for jazz radio. The Oct. 5 emcees are saxophonist Muhammad Dawan who organizes jazz events in San Francisco and co-founded the organization Lifeforce, which assists young jazz musicians, and Jayne Sanchez who hosts the “Jazz Oasis” on KCSM radio.

The full schedule of performances and performers will be listed on the Bach’s website of Admission is free but donations are welcomed, and reservations are required at or 726-2020.

The Bach will honor concerts booked by Douglas prior to his death and scheduled through Dec. 7, Goetz said. After that, she added, the Bach will be on hiatus until the disposition of the Douglas Beach House is determined by Douglas’ three daughters.

For information on the festival, contact Goetz at 726-2020.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kenny Wheeler: five of the jazz composer's greatest moments

John Fordham pays tribute to the late jazz composer by remembering some of the best works by a man who often underplayed his visionary abilities.
Kenny Wheeler, the great Canadian jazz composer and trumpeter who died this week aged 84 in his adopted London, was a very long way from loquacious. But when he did talk, he would get quickly to the point. In an interview with the Guardian on the eve of his 80th birthday tour, Wheeler memorably announced: “What I like doing best is writing sad tunes, and then letting wonderful musicians destroy them. I don’t want the players to try to interpret what they think I’m feeling.”

He once dismissed the talent that had turned his themes into globally performed jazz standards, and brought him world-class interpreters including Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek and Bill Frisell, as belonging to someone who “just takes pretty songs and joins them up.” Wheeler felt that a mix of visionary insights and shaky efforts to negotiate life on the artistic and economic margins often characterised jazz musicians, and it was no coincidence that his first big composing venture – 1968’s Windmill Tilter, for John Dankworth’s orchestra – was about Don Quixote, the legendary loser.

Here are some of the musician’s greatest moments from his career.

Sweet Dulcinea Blue

Wheeler came to London from Toronto in 1952, studied with Richard Rodney Bennett, became fascinated with the harmonies of classical composer Paul Hindemith, and played supple, succinct bebop trumpet in the 1960s with London jazz stars including the late Joe Harriott and Tubby Hayes, and free-improv with the pioneering Spontaneous Music Ensemble. In 1968, John Dankworth invited Wheeler to compose a suite for his all-star orchestra, at that time including such soon-to-be-luminaries as guitarist John McLaughlin and bassist Dave Holland. Above is a typical piece of early-Wheeler pensiveness from that session, Sweet Dulcinea Blue.

Gnu Suite

Wheeler was famously shy, hated listening to his own work, and was far too doubtful of his talents to grasp the baton of bandleading that Windmill Tilter had offered him. Seven years were to pass before he accepted another challenge to leave his regular role as an inspired improviser and enhancer of other people’s work - when ECM Records boss Manfred Eicher’s faith in him opened the next door, with 1975’s Gnu High session for the Munich company, fronting an A-list American trio of Keith Jarrett (piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums).


Wheeler made a string of superb albums for ECM in the 1970s and 80s, including Deer Wan (with Jan Garbarek) and Double, Double You (with Michael Brecker), but Music for Large and Small Ensembles, in 1990, was his biggest triumph – a fusion of North American folk music, abstract jazz, and imaginative expansion of the tone-palette and harmonic resources of a jazz lineup. As he was to do through much of his career, Wheeler used the voice of his friend and alter-ego Norma Winstone as an illuminating extra instrument. Here’s Opening, from Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.

Kind Folk 

Kenny Wheeler’s assessment of his talents as primarily about “pretty songs” was both a massive understatement and recognition of his unique melodic ear, the skill that led musicians of all persuasions and ages all over the planet to perform his music. Here’s a very famous one – with a title both true of Wheeler, and people he was happiest hanging out with – Kind Folk, from 1995’s Angel Song, with Lee Konitz on alto sax, Bill Frisell on guitar and Dave Holland on bass.

Everybody’s Song But My Own

But of all Kenny Wheeler’s compositions, it’s Everybody’s Song But My Own – the classic his sidemen liked to introduce as “Kenny’s hit” that has been the most widely played, and widely loved. Typical of Wheeler in imparting the sense of being sung even when it isn’t, joining playfulness and phlegmatic resignation, and sounding shapely and complete while remaining wide open for improvisers, it will be played by a lot of jazz musicians in a lot of far-flung places over the coming days. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Jazz at Lincoln Center Opens Its Season at Rose Theater

Cuban music tends to involve a direct discussion: between voice and drums, between voice and chorus, between horn sections. Jazz tends to spread a discussion around, or build a hive of many discussions at once.

The explicit merger of the two traditions at Rose Theater on Thursday night both amplified and streamlined the discussion. The conversation made for an ambitious season-opening collaboration for Jazz at Lincoln Center between the pianist Chucho Valdés, the percussionist and singer Pedrito Martinez, the trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The best parts of the sprawling suite were about calling the deities of the Santeria religion with six drumming hands and one clarion voice, and also about sound and resonance.

The two traditions are so interconnected in a general sense, through social and aesthetic history, that no part of either needs to be off the table for a project like this. The idea of big-band swing arrangements mixed with Afro-Cuban rhythm is about 70 years old, and Mr. Marsalis has dealt with that in many Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. But there’s also a tradition of the religious chanting-and-drumming music of Santeria in a jazz-related context.

It might have started with Mr. Valdés’s father, Bebo, who in the early 1950s introduced the sacred double-headed batá drums into a jazz-influenced dance band at the Tropicana club in Havana, where he was musical director. Chucho did something similar, starting in 1972, including batá drums with jazz trio on his landmark record “Jazz Batá.”

More recently, the percussionist Román Díaz and the pianist David Virelles have been moving this tradition into avant-garde waters. Mr. Díaz, a teacher and elder among rumberos and Afro-Cuban drummers in New York, was there on Thursday, in the middle of a percussion trio with Clemente Medina on the left, and Mr. Martinez on the right. Wherever the music went, through the dynamics and virtuosity of Mr. Valdés or the jazz orchestra players, they were its cool-tempered power center.

The suite, called “Ochas,” after La Regla de Ocha, another name for Santeria, fell into eight parts dedicated to different orishas, or saints, in the Yoruba religion. Each part — for the trickster Elegua, the blacksmith Ogún, the elder Obatalá, and so on — started with an opening invocation and established its own distinct sound world, through Mr. Marsalis’s arrangements for standard jazz-band instrumentation; many of them rose to some sort of dramatic peak of drumming, chanting and improvising. As it stands, the suite is probably too long: 2 hours 45 minutes, with two intermissions. But it didn’t flag.

Universalizing jazz is Mr. Marsalis’s mission. And some of his writing in the first and second halves — an elegant, whirling language perhaps drawing on Ellington and Basie and Moacir Santos but pushed to original results — was a recognizable and nameable flag planting: Here stands jazz, and here stands Mr. Marsalis’s compositional style.

When that style retreated a bit, and the arrangements simplified, narrowing down into six-eight grooves and call-and-response riffs, modes and vamps built on perfect fourths — at times not far from middle-period Coltrane — the music grew into something greater.

Mr. Valdés boosted the energy for a few of those passages, making the piano talk with great, hard, ringing chords and single notes like rapid-fire arrow shots. The force and charisma in his technique never really get old. (Despite top billing on the program, he wasn’t onstage for very long; the orchestra’s regular pianist, Dan Nimmer, took over for most of the concert, playing with far more neutral affect.)

The program notes could have been a book. This is a world of contexts: those of the three principal musicians, as well as the meanings of various rhythms, Lucumí chants and movements in Santeria. But when Mr. Martinez opened his mouth to sing — in the invocations for each part of the suite, and in the musical discussions that followed with chorus singers and the orchestra — no context was needed to understand the power of his voice slicing through a mass of sound, his phrasing intricately weaving through the rhythmic accents.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fall arts preview 2014: Pop music and jazz listings

A look at notable concerts and albums in pop and jazz.

Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, AFI

Sept. 15

Three bands from the upper tiers of today's hard rock team up for a big triple bill. Linkin Park has a new album, "The Hunting Party," that strips off their electronics for a punk sound that owes more to Refused and Helmet than their rap-metal roots; Jared Leto has become a convincing frontman and multi-media mogul with the anthemic 30 Seconds to Mars; AFI has gone back to the darkness with its latest goth-punk platter, "Burials." Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; $39.50-$159.50.

Neutral Milk Hotel, the Breeders, Daniel Johnston.

Sept. 18

Three vastly different brands of 1990s-born indie rock, this Bowl bill is headlined by the Southern cult band Neutral Milk Hotel. Purveyors of powerful, imaginative guitar music with a psychedelic bent, the group has returned after dormant years in which its stature has greatly expanded. Ditto the Breeders, the beloved project of twins Kim and Kelley Deal, the former of the Pixies; and Daniel Johnston, the Texas songwriting legend whose magnificent creativity has over the years been at constant struggle with mental health issues. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; $20-$58.

Katy Perry

Sept. 19-20

Perry's smash-hit goth-rap single "Dark Horse" was indeed the sleeper pick off her otherwise jubilant and redemptive album "Prism," which cemented her as one of pop's biggest forces on radio. But the deep cuts, like the disco-bouncy "Birthday" and '90s house-infused "Walking on Air," make it an unexpectedly rewarding listen. Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.; $29.50-$150.50.

Sunset Strip Music Festival

Sept. 20-21

While the club circuit on the Strip has veered from new relevance (Goldenvoice taking over the Roxy) to tough times (Key Club shuttering), L.A.'s most famous mile of live music continues to host one of its biggest music festivals. This year it welcomes native sons Jane's Addiction, the delightfully kooky dance act Empire of the Sun, bluesy rockers Cold War Kids and many others. Sunset Boulevard between Clark Street and Doheny Drive, West Hollywood; $49.50-$249.

Wu-Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, Pharoah Monch, others

Sept. 21

Staten Island's finest rap team, Wu-Tang Clan, is responsible for some of the most searing and influential hip-hop of the 1990s and '00s. The nine-member group, featuring RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and others, has reunited to celebrate its legacy. Also on the bill are fellow New Yorkers Talib Kweli (a recent newsmaker due to an on-air argument from Ferguson, Mo., with CNN's Don Lemon) and Pharoah Monch, as well as L.A. rappers Ras Kass and Casey Veggies. The Forum, 3900 Manchester Blvd., Inglewood.

Album: Aphex Twin, "SYRO" (Warp)

Sept. 22

The influential electronic music composer Richard D. James returns for his first album in 13 years. With the artist's gymnastic way with beats, electronic swooshes and memorable melody, the new work features the sampled voices of his family and is said to be the first of many new Aphex-related works to come.

Drake, Lil Wayne

Sept. 22.

The Canadian rapper Drake teams with his New Orleans label-mate (and label boss) Lil Wayne for a celebration of all things Young Money. Expect guests, hits, rap-alongs and tracks from throughout the tag-team lyricists and expert MCs' impressive careers. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; $39.50-$175.


Sept. 25

The Venezuelan-born, Brooklyn-based producer put his noisy, deconstrucive imprint all over two of the most compelling albums of recent months: Kanye West's "Yeezus" and FKA Twigs' "LP1." His way of crafting songs from shards of percussion and only brief flurries of melody can take a song and make it sound otherwordly yet still burn up a nightclub. First Unitarian Church, 2936 W. 8th St., L.A.; $24-$30.

King Crimson

Sept. 30

The masters of progressive rock, co-founded by the remarkable ax-man Robert Fripp, returns for a rare series of concerts with fellow members, including the excellent session bassist Tony Levin. Best known to a new generation for its Kanye West-sampled jam "Twentieth Century Schizoid Man," Crimson and Fripp are calling this the band's farewell tour. The Orpheum, 842 S. Broadway, L.A.; $45-$150.

Lorde, Majical Cloudz

Oct. 6

New Zealand artist Lorde, a magnetic young singer and songwriter responsible for one of the best pop songs of the last few years, "Royals," returns for her biggest Los Angeles gig to date. Joining her will be the deep, curiously powerful singer Devon Welsh, who performs as Majical Cloudz. Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; $40-$65.

Sam Smith

Sept. 29-30

The young British soul singer pivoted off his great turn on Disclosure's "Latch" into a major pop career in his own right. Sure, his album "In the Lonely Hour" was more progressive in its sexual politics (Smith is gay and has been outspoken about it in interviews) than its production, but his rangy falsetto is earning a big fan base and lots of opportunities (it's rumored he's up to do the next James Bond theme). Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; $35-$45.

Album: Bob Dylan, "The Basement Tapes Raw: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11" (Columbia)

Nov. 30

While recovering from a motorcycle accident in 1967, Bob Dylan holed up with a band eventually dubbed the Band in Woodstock, N.Y. The result is some of Dylan's most breathtaking work and has become the stuff of legend. Part of a recurring series of Dylan rarities, this one gathers all the recordings, many of which have never officially been released.

The Weeknd, Schoolboy Q, Jhene Aiko

Oct. 9

Rarely does pure sexual nihilism sound as sweet as it down from the lips of Abel Tesfaye. His experimental R&B project the Weeknd has become a pop-crossover hit, and he brings two great peers along with him for this gig: L.A.'s chart-topping MC Schoolboy Q and the enticing vocalist Jhene Aiko. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; $29.50-$89.50.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Oct. 10-11

Petty proved classic rock can still top the charts when his latest album, "Hypnotic Eye," landed atop the Billboard charts. It was a solid, well-written platter of sturdy Petty material, but there's still nothing like a group chorus of "Free Falling" with thousands of fellow travellers. The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood; $51.50-$151.50.


Oct. 11

Cafe Tacvba, Calle 13, Bomba Estéreo and Ana Tijoux are among the many alt-Latino artists heading up this ambitious, scene-defining mini-festival. Come early for the rowdy rap of Los Rakas and the politically charged Latin soul of La Santa Cecilia. Shrine Expo Hall, 665 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A.; $46.

Festival Supreme

Oct. 25

Last year's debut of this music-and-comedy shindig (hosted by Jack Black's Tenacious D) at the Santa Monica Pier got pretty crowded. This edition should ease up on that with a new location and a comprehensive bill: $95.50. Fred Armisen, Eric Andre, Maria Bamford and the great parodist Dr. Demento are among the many musically versed comedians here. Shrine Expo Hall, 665 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A.; $95.50.


Sept. 16

Known for occasionally performing in a giant Fats Waller mask, one of the top keyboard talents in jazz offers a tribute that lives up to its name with contributions from Meshell Ndegeocello and others.

The Angel City Jazz Festival

Sept. 19-28

The most forward-looking improvised music gathering in town keeps churning ahead with a broad menu of live sets with established and up-and-coming greats that includes Allison Miller, Craig Taborn, Wadada Leo Smith, Matana Roberts, Aruán Ortiz, Azar Lawrence and 2013 NEA Jazz Master Anthony Braxton. for details on times, tickets and venues.

Album: Sun Ra, "Sun Ra + His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra" (Strut)

Sept. 23

A new compilation assembled by Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen in honor of what would have been the 100th birthday of the famed Spaceways Traveler features works from the '60s through the '80s.

Album: John Coltrane, "Offering: Live at Temple University" (Resonance)

Sept. 23

A long-buried treasure for fans of the saxophone giant, this often-bootlegged 1966 live recording taken just nine months before Coltrane's death features his wife, Alice, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and a cast of surprise walk-ons in a chronicle of raw, unfettered expression and exploration.

Mark Turner Quartet

Sept. 28

A patient, lyrical saxophonist who has performed with the Fly Trio, Billy Hart and the SFJazz Collective, Turner performs from his new album, "Lathe of Heaven," his first recording as a leader since 2001. The Eyde at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; $35. (310) 434-3200,

Joshua Redman Trio

Sept. 29

In the wake of the invigorating new live album, "Trios Live," the saxophonist launches a U.S. tour in Hollywood joined by Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; $25-$30. (323) 466-2210,

Omaha Diner

Nov. 5

A wry jazz-funk supergroup featuring Skerik, Bobby Previte, Charlie Hunter and Steven Bernstein, Omaha Diner promises rowdy covers of pop's No. 1 hits, including "Single Ladies," "War" and "Thrift Shop." Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; $20. (323) 466-2210,

Miguel Zenón

Nov. 15

The fiery saxophonist continues to carve a brilliant path along the intersection of Afro-Caribbean music and jazz with a new album forged by the Puerto Rican immigrant experience, "Identites Are Changeable." The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; $35. (310) 434-3200,

Marc Ribot

Nov. 21

The category-defying guitar virtuoso offers two sides of his talent in a set drawing from his evocative solo recording "Silent Movies" and his dazzling Cuban jazz group, Los Cubanos Postizos. Royce Hall, UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood; $22.85-$67. (310) 825-4401,

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gerald Wilson dies at 96 multifaceted jazz musician

Gerald Wilson, a bandleader, trumpeter, composer, arranger and educator whose multifaceted career reached from the swing era of the 1930s to the diverse jazz sounds of the 21st century, has died. He was 96.
Wilson, who had been in declining health, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles, two weeks after contracting pneumonia, said his son, jazz guitarist Anthony Wilson.

In a lifetime that spanned a substantial portion of the history of jazz, Wilson's combination of articulate composition skills with a far-reaching creative vision carried him successfully through each of the music's successive new evolutions.

He led his own Gerald Wilson Orchestras — initially for a few years in the mid-1940s, then intermittently in every succeeding decade — recording with stellar assemblages of players, continuing to perform live, well after big jazz bands had been largely eclipsed by small jazz groups and the ascendancy of rock music.

Seeing and hearing Wilson lead his ensembles — especially in his later years — was a memorable experience for jazz fans. Garbed in well tailored suits, his long white hair flowing, Wilson shaped the music with dynamic movements and the elegant grace of a modern dancer.

Asked about his unique style of conducting by Terry Gross on the NPR show "Fresh Air" in 2006, he replied: It's "different from any style you've ever seen before. I move. I choreograph the music as I conduct. You see, I point it out, everything you're to listen to."

That approach to conducting, combined with the dynamic quality of his music, had a significant impact on the players in his ensembles.

"There's no way you can sit in Gerald's band and sit on the back of your chair," bandleader/arranger John Clayton told the Detroit Free Press. "He handles the orchestra in a very wise and experienced craftsman sort of way. The combination of the heart and the craft is in perfect balance."

Wilson's mastery of the rich potential in big jazz band instrumentation was evident from the beginning. Although he was not pleased with his first arrangement — a version of the standard "Sometimes I'm Happy" written in 1939, when he was playing trumpet in the Jimmie Lunceford band — he was encouraged by Lunceford and his fellow players to write more. "Hi Spook," his first original composition for big band, followed and was quickly added to the Lunceford repertoire. Soon after, Wilson wrote a brightly swinging number titled "Yard Dog Mazurka" — a popular piece that eventually became the inspiration for the Stan Kenton hit "Intermission Riff." It was the beginning of an imaginative flow of music that would continue well into the 21st century.

Always an adventurous composer, Wilson's big band music often had a personal touch, aimed at displaying the talents of a specific player, or inspired by many of his family members. After marrying his Mexican American wife, Josefina Villasenor Wilson, he was drawn to music possessing Spanish/Mexican qualities. His "Viva Tirado," dedicated to bullfighter Jose Ramon Tirado, became a hit for the Latin rock group El Chicano and was one of several compositions celebrating the achievements of stars of the bullring.

"His pieces are all extended, with long solos and long backgrounds," musician/jazz historian Loren Schoenberg told the New York Times in 1988. "They're almost hypnotic. Most are seven to 10 minutes long. Only a master can keep the interest going that long, and he does."

In addition to his compositions, Wilson was an arranger with the ability to craft songs to the styles of individual performers, as well as the musical characteristics of other orchestras. It was a skill that kept him busy during the periods when he was not concentrating on leading his own groups.

"I may have done more numbers and orchestrations than any other black jazz artist in the world," he told the Los Angeles Sentinel. "I did 60-something for Ray Charles. I did his first and second country-western album. I wrote a lot of music for Count Basie, eight numbers for his first Carnegie Hall concert," he said.

He also provided arrangements and compositions for such major jazz artists as Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and others, as well as — from various genres — Bobby Darin, Harry Belafonte, B.B. King and Les McCann.

Wilson's longstanding desire to compose for symphony orchestra came to fruition with "Debut: 5/21/72," commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1972 by the Philharmonic's musical director, Zubin Mehta. His "Theme for Monterey," composed as a commission by the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1997, received two Grammy nominations. In 2009, on his 91st birthday, he conducted the premiere of his six-movement work, "Detroit Suite," a tribute to the city in which his music career began, commissioned by the Detroit International Jazz Festival.

Gerald Stanley Wilson was born Sept. 4, 1918, in Shelby, Miss. He began to take piano lessons with his mother, a schoolteacher, when he was 6. After purchasing an instrument from the Sears Roebuck catalog for $9.95, he took up the trumpet at age 11. The absence of a high school for African Americans in segregated Shelby made it necessary for him to begin his secondary school studies in Memphis. But a trip with his mother to the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 stimulated a desire to move north, and he was sent to live with friends in Detroit, where he attended and graduated from the highly regarded Cass Technical High School.

An adept trumpeter while still in his teens, Wilson played at Detroit's Plantation Club before joining the Chic Carter Band touring band. In 1939 he replaced trumpeter-arranger Sy Oliver in the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra, then one of the nation's most prominent swing bands.

Wilson served in the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center during World War II, then moved to Los Angeles, forming his own big band in 1944. Despite the band's almost immediate success, with nearly 50 recorded pieces and a string of national bookings in its first years of existence, Wilson was not satisfied with his own personal level of craftsmanship. He disbanded the ensemble to spend a few years filling in what he believed were gaps in his music education. He also went on the road with the Count Basie Band and Dizzy Gillespie's group.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Wilson was an established participant in L.A.'s busy music scene, arranging, composing for jazz and pop singers, big bands, films and television, while continuing to be active with his own orchestra. Eager to pass on his knowledge and experience, he taught jazz courses at what is now Cal State Northridge, Cal State L.A. and UCLA, and had a radio program on KBCA-FM (105.1) from 1969 to 1976.

As he moved into his 60s, Wilson viewed the commercial activity of his earlier years as the foundation that allowed him to concentrate on his creative efforts.

He had worked hard, he told the Boston Globe, so that in his later years he would no longer "have to go hustling any jobs. I have written for the symphony. I have written for the movies, and I have written for television. I arrange anything. I wanted to do all these things. I've done that. Now I'm doing exactly what I want, musically, and I do it when I please. I'm a musician, but first and foremost, a jazz musician."

Besides his wife and his son, Wilson is survived by daughters Jeri and Nancy Jo, and four grandchildren.