Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Enjoy a big band?

If you enjoy big band music, there are precious few opportunities to hear one outside of New York City.

One regular exception is the Jazz Celebration Big Band, which performs (almost) monthly at the Temperance House in Newtown, Pa. -- and will at 8 p.m. April 29.

The band will also have an added attraction: former Woody Herman saxophonist Larry McKenna. As Cadence magazine noted in a review of one of McKenna's releases, he shows "the skills and stylistic mannerisms that earned him a spot in the 1959 Woody Herman band and the high esteem of his home city's Jazz community."

Reserve tickets now for this event, which often sells out -- even without headliners like McKenna -- thanks to the band's quality and vocalist Claudia Perry.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jazz writers pick award nominees

The Jazz Journalists Association announced the finalists for the 2010 Jazz Awards, with a nice mix of young and old musicians in the list of the nominated.

Some of the newer names worth checking out are bandleader Darcy James Argue (who garnered nominations in five categories (Up & Coming Artist of the Year, Composer, Arranger, Big Band for his Secret Society and Record of the Year) and Vijay Iyer (nominated for Musician of the Year, Composer, Record, Small Ensemble and Pianist).

Lifetime Achievement in Jazz nominees include Muhal Richard Abrams, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Wayne Shorter and Randy Weston -- and how James Moody and especially Wayne Shorter haven't already been awarded this honor must be a bit of an embarassment for the JJA. From Art Blakey to Weather Report, Shorter was a great contributor to the sound of jazz in the '60s to the '80s. Any self-respecting musician should know at least a handful of Shorter's compositions.

Nominees for Record of the Year include Argue's "Infernal Machines" and the Vijay Iyer Trio's "Historicity," and "Travail, Transformation and Flow" by the Steve Lehman Octet, "Folk Art" by Joe Lovano, Henry Threadgill's "This Brings Us To" and "Esta Plena" by Miguel Zenón.

New Jersey is well represented on the list -- with Bucky Pizzarelli up for Guitarist of the Year honors, and two WBGO hosts nominated for the Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting: Josh Jackson, for his "The Checkout -- Live at the Village Vanguard" program and (naturally) Gary Walker's "Morning Jazz."

Before the winners are announced, check out the nominees you haven't heard -- I guarantee you'll find some excellent jazz.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shows to see this week

I haven't been able to stay current with all of the great performances these days, but here are a few Central Jersey Jazz highlights to check out:

The John Bianculli Trio with Earl Sauls on bass and Taro Okamoto on drums will be at Steakhouse 85 on Church Street in New Brunswick from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.

Philadelphia-based Ellipsis will be at Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Avenue in Princeton, 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Stryker-Slagle (that's Dave Stryker and Steve Slagle) are featured at Trumpets Jazz in Montclair, Saturday.

Bucky Pizzarelli should be declared some kind of national treasure -- see why when he plays at Shanghai Jazz Wednesday night.

And guitarist Dick Gratton is featured in Lawrenceville twice this week: Friday at Chambers Walk Cafe and Saturday at Amalfi's.

Get out and enjoy live jazz this week.