Monday, February 23, 2009

Iridium's special Dexter Gordon tribute

The Iridium, Broadway at 51st St., is marking what would hav ebeen Dxter Gordon's 84th birthday Friday with a special show next week, "Dexter calling"
Dave Liebman and Randy Brecker will trade off on the lead spots, with Eric Alexander, George Cables, Lonnie Plaxico and Billy Drummond filling out the band. Liebman takes the spotlight on March 5 and 6; Mr. Brecker on March 7 and 8.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Too funny!

Hey band leaders -- does this look familiar?
"Dear Bandleader:
We look forward to your performance at our daughter's wedding. If you don't mind, we would like to request a few of our favorite songs. Please play these during the reception:
A Keith Jarret composition from his solo series. Please arrange it for full ensemble in the key of B but nothing in 4/4 please.
Mahavishnu Orchestra, "Dance of the Maya" and please have the guitarist play John McLaughlin's solo from the live performance Nov.16, 1972 at Chrysler Arena. My wife and I were at that show and we liked his use of polyrhythms.
One of John Coltrane's duets with Pharaoh Sanders. Our guests love high register tenor saxes. We thought a little Stravinsky right after the toast would be nice.
So, please play "The Rite of Spring." We like a tempo of about 1/4 note=93 and transpose it down 3 half steps - it will be so much more appropriate for this occasion in the slightly lower register.
Then for the candle lighting ceremony, please play Frank Zappa's "TheGrand Wazoo." The original key of B flat, would be fine but my cousin Jeannie would like to sing the baritone sax solo in the key of D - she has kind of a high voice.
When my new son-in-law takes off the garter, please just a little ofVarese's "Ionization." It's such a funny piece, we think it would goover real well. Much better than the "The Stripper."
And for the bride and groom's first dance, please slow things down a bit by doing Barber's "Adagio for strings." It's so much better than"We've only just begun" or the "Anniversary Waltz."
When my wife and I join in the first dance, could you segue to Thelonius Monk's "Ruby, MyDear" it's in honor of my wife's grandmother whose name was Ruby. It would mean so much to the family.
Thanks for all your help. Depending on the outcome, we'll certainlybe happy to recommend your band to our friends.
We'll have your check for the fee of $250 (minus our expenses in contacting you of $12.50) by the end of next month; we're a little short, as the young lady doing the balloon arch wanted her $1,850 in advance and the DJ had to be paid up front his $2,500 as normal. Our daughter assured us that your love of music was greater than your need for money, and that you would welcome the EXPOSURE you would get from playing this wedding.
Before you leave, please feel free to ask the caterer for a snack sandwich and a soda (the bottles are returnable or you can pay the deposit to the butler). Oh, and please use the back entrance to avoid disturbing the guests.
Sincerely yours,
Alice Rockefeller Gates"

Jazz biographies

I've enjoyed a lot of jazz bio books and movies -- Sue Mingus' "Tonight at Noon" is a favorite, not only because of the unusual and amazing life of Charles Mingus, but her literate and refreshing approach to writing a biography is a treat.
I just received a shipment of books ordered from a favorite book seller (Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller,, who has a number of fine bios deeply discounted: I grabbed Ashley Kahn's "The House that Trane Built," "Hard Bop Academy" by Alan Goldsher, and a collection of Dan Morgenstern's articles. Can't wait to get started ...
What's your favorite bio, movie or book?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jazz calendar for Central Jersey

Princeton's hopping, with concerts by Wycliffe Gordon next week (see blog below) and Maria Schneider at McCarter Theater Friday.
But there's more in store for area jazz fans:
Trenton's Marriott at 1 West Lafayette, will feature live jazz by singer and guitarist Jim Rowland from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday. It's a free event, part of the Downtown Trenton Association Friday Night Lights.
Guitarist Jim Gratton will be heard at Chambers Walk Cafe in Lawrenceville, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, and at Hightstown's Bistro Soleil Sunday Jazz Brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Somerset Jazz Consortium will host a Sunday jam session at PJ's Coffee, 315 Raritan Ave. in Highland Park.
Also on Sunday, the Rhythms of the Night at JP's Steakhouse, 729 S. Main St. in Manville, will have John Nobile's Summer Swing Orchetsra, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There's a $10 cover charge, swing dance lessons at 5 p.m. and hours of fun swing music.
Tuesday, Jim Jasion and His Jazz Featuring The SJC Horn Squad will perform at Home Town Buffet, 561 US Highway 1, Edison. He'll return for a jam session at the buffet Wednesday, too. For more information, check the Web site,
If you're heading to the city, here's the New York Times' Jazz listings for the weekend:

Wycliffe Gordon coming to Princeton

This week's Time Off magazine in Packet Publications newspapers has a cover story by Adam Grybowski about trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (, who's coming to Princeton next week for a series of workshops in schools and a concert. If you haven't enjoyed Mr. Gordon's playing yet, get your tickets now -- he's a wonderful musician. From his stint with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to Randy Sandke's avant-garde "The Subway Ballet" to his own quartet, he's always exhibited great technique and sense of swing.
I first heard him during one the initial concerts in the Jazz Friday series at Peddie School in the late 1990s ... what a great performance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jazz 101: Comping

Last week, I posted Herbie Hancock's comments on playing "inside" and "outside" of the usual scale notes when playing jazz. Putting three or more notes together at once makes a chord, and there are few better at putting together chords than Herbie Hancock.
When jazz players are playing chords, they're comping -- "accompanying" the soloist or singer, or for pianists, the melody.
Many people listening to jazz focus on the soloists and singers, but next time, try to focus your ears on the comping -- usually a piano or guitar -- behind the lead player. You'll find a great new world of enjoyment in the layers there.
Listen to Herbie with the V.S.O.P. Quintet, or anything by Bill Evans. If you prefer guitar jazz, check out Joe Pass and Herb Ellis comping behind Oscar Peterson, or Barney Kessel's playing behind Billie Holiday on her "Songs for Distingue Lovers."
Wes Montgomery was amazing at everything he did, and he was a virtuoso comping as well as soloing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Final chorus

The world is losing many great musicians every year -- today, the family of drummer Louie Bellson announced his death (; David "Fathead" Newman died in January (
The song says if there's a rock and roll heaven, then you know they've got a hell of a band, but I'd want to see the after-hours jams the jazz guys are puttin' on!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The inevitable note"

Wynton Marsalis, talking about Horace Silver, said his compositions had those "inevitable notes" -- you know, the notes that just sound perfect. What a great description! There are lots of great tunes, but the really great ones have those surprising notes that are unexpected but inevitable. "Duke Ellington's 'Prelude to a Kiss' is nothing but inevitable note," Marsalis said.
Got that right!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jeanie Bryson cancels War Memorial concert

The Valentine's Day concert was canceled after her husband, guitarist Coleman Mellet, and saxophonist Gerry Niewood were killed in the airplane crash near Buffalo, N.Y. last night. Our condolences to Ms. Bryson and the families of both men.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jazz calendar for Central Jersey

Saturday is the 47th anniversary of Sonny Rollins' recording of "The Bridge" -- celebrate a great recording and musician by taking in some live performances. There's lots to choose from in the coming weeks:
Guitarist Dick Gratton will be playing in Lawrenceville and Hightstown this weekend -- catch him at the Chambers Walk Cafe, 2667 Main St., Lawrenceville, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; or at Sunday's jazz brunch at Hightstown's Bistro Soleil from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Trombonist Clifford Adams will be at the Trenton Marriott, 1 W. Lafayette St., from 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday in a benefit for the Tony Mack Cares Foundation -- bring a coat to donate.
Princeton University's Distinguished Teachers of Jazz will perform "My Funny Valentine: Composing in-the-Moment," under the direction of Anthony Branker at 8 p.m. Saturday at Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. Admission is $23 (unless you're a student, then it's five bucks).
Jazz Night at Manville's Rhythms of the Night nightclub, at 729 S. Main St., Manville, 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra will be at the McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, at 8 p.m. Feb. 20. Tickets start at $40 -- steep, but this show will be worth it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jimmy Cobb recalls "Kind of Blue" sessions

In an article promoting this weekend's three-night Lincoln Center gig for drummer Jimmy Cobb, the lone surviving person present at the recordings sessions that became Miles Davis' inconic "Kind of Blue", Bloomberg News got him talking about the 1959 dates at Columbia's 57th Street studio:
"Some of the songs weren’t written out completely. Cobb said Davis kept tweaking their structure throughout the recording sessions.
"'I didn’t even have sheet music,” Cobb said. “Miles had the chord changes and song’s structure written on paper as notes.'"
Read the article here:

Speaking of Randy Brecker and Peter Erskine ...

Both played at Montgomery High School in April 2006 in a concert and day of workshops for young jazz musicians sponsored by a group called the Jazz Mentors Program. The program arranged several concerts that year, including a June date with the Woody Herman Band.
Both Brecker and Erskine were terrific -- Erskine performed with a new trio he was working with, The Lounge Art Ensemble, with Bob Sheppard on saxophones and bassist Dave Carpenter. I haven't heard their recordings, but they were a joy on stage.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Brecker, Burton and Blanchard -- oh, my!

Last night's Grammy Awards recognized new achievements by some familiar names: Randy Brecker (His "Randy in Brasil" was named best Contemporary Jazz Album), Terence Blanchard's solo with the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars on "BE-BOP" on the "Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival" was named best solo; and Gary Burton and Chick Corea's "The New Crystal Silence" was named best Jazz Instrumental Album. Add in Cassandra Wilson's "Loverly" (best Jazz Vocal Album), Arturo O'Farrill's "Song for Chico" (best Latin jazz album), and the best Large Jazz Ensemble Album award for "Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard" by The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
It's great to see so many terrific new recordings by the best of jazz musicians being recognized, but we hope the "also rans" will get some notice: people like Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band and the Brad Mehldau Trio are great listens. The nominations list also includes "can't-go-wrongs" like Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets and James Moody.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jazz? What jazz?

The lineup for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is growing ...
Event organizers just inked a deal with famed Jersey jazzer Jon Bon Jovi ... he's joining a lineup that includes Wilco, Joe Cocker and Los Lobos ...
I love Wilco and Los Lobos, but what is a jazz festival anymore? Five jazzers and 15 rockers? Just change the name already -- how about the New Orleans Music Festival? Or "The Other Annual Bash in New Orleans"?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jazz 101: Herbie Hancock on "inside, outside"

Elvis Costello is hosting a new interview program on the Sundance Channel called "Spectacle" - this week's guest is Herbie Hancock, who reminisces about his days with Miles, hearing Mongo Santamaria's version of Align Center"Watermelon Man" while walking down the street, and "Rockit."
"Rockit" is probably not on anyone's list of Hancock's best compositions, but on the show he describes his composition of it in a way that explains a lot of jazz: "inside, outside." 
Think of the first four notes of the tune: two close together, followed by two making a bigger jump. The first two notes are steps -- an A to a B; the second pair, however, is an augmented fifth -- an E to a C natural. When musicians are playing the notes normally found in the scale of the key a tune is in, they're playing "inside," but picking notes not found in the scale is playing "outside."
Those notes -- and it's often the fifth note of the scale raised (augmented) or lowered (flatted) that gives jazz it's sweet sound. 
Hancock said he liked the way the two groups of notes sounded together, so he combined them with a "resolution" - a series of notes that ties them together and brings the tune back to the beginning. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pee Wee Russell Stomp on March 1

The New Jersey Jazz Society maintains the memory of clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (here's a clip of him playing in 1958: with scholarships for student musicians at Rutgers, funded by the group's annual Pee Wee Russell Stomp.
This year's event will be held from noon to 5 p.m. March 1 at the Birchwood Manor, 111 North Jefferson Road, Whippany -- a bit of a hike, but one worth the trip: the day's entertainment includes Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Danny Tobias Quintet, Dan Levinson and His Swing Wing, and the Warren Vaché Trio.
You can get more informaton about the Stomp -- and about the New Jersey Jazz Society -- at (There's a great shot of Vince Giordano wailing on a bari sax on the page!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jazz night at Rhythms of the Night

Manville's Rhythms of the Night nightclub, on South Main Street in Manville, features the Somerset Jazz Consortium, led by keyboardist Jim Jasion, every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. There's no cover charge, discounts on dinner if you're hungry and good music.
The group lineup changes -- sometimes they open up for jams -- and they pick tunes from the "Real Book" series of fake books from Sher Publishing. Always entertaining and fun.

Winter storm watch

A lovely snow is falling outside ... covering tree limbs and lawns. I love watching snow fall while enjoying some of my favorite recordings -- Blue Note sides from the 50s and early 60s offer the best soundtrack for a day like today ... maybe some Horace Silver, or almost any recording of "Round Midnight."
Another wonderful track for any day is Quincy Jones' "Little Karen," on "Qunintessense." Recorded in 1961, the orchestra included Clark Terry, Thad Jones and Freddie Hubbard, and Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson on sax -- beautiful! Check out the sax solo -- I don't know if it was Woods or Nelson, but it's a terrific solo, opening with a great blues run.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Speaking of gypsy jazz ...

Last week, WBGO-FM morning host Gary Walker played the opening theme from a 2003 French animated movie, "The Triplets of Belleville." It's a delightful tune, looks like a delightful movie (an homage to the 1930s Parisian nightclub scene).
"Belleville Rendezvous," by Benoit Charest and Sylvain Chomet, received the Oscar for best original song, and is a fun update of Django, swing and ... well, check out the video at