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.