Now Batting, Marcus Shelby…

Marcus Shelby at San Francisco Giants Spring training. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Twenty years ago, when bassist Marcus Shelby formed a 15-piece jazz orchestra, he began to think big and thematically.

“I have been on a mission for the past 20 years to compose and create music about African-American history,” he says. These pieces have included an oratorio on Harriet Tubman and a suite about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

Shelby, in a different sort of uniform, playing bass. Photo courtesy of the artist.

On “Transitions,” released on his own MSO Records, Shelby’s lush arrangements of classic tunes by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter frame the album’s centerpiece: “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues,” his smart, slick and soulful four-part suite inspired by the history of Negro League Baseball.  Here, Shelby merges his mission with his two driving passions—jazz and baseball.

While working on my next column for Jazziz magazine, I spoke with Shelby about these passions. Continue reading “Now Batting, Marcus Shelby…”

George Lewis and Terri Lyne Carrington Named Among 2019 Doris Duke Artists

The 2019 class of Doris Duke Artists includes drummer-composer Terri Lyne Carrington (left) and trombonist-composer George Lewis.

In announcing the names of the 2019 Doris Duke Artists, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has singled out two musicians who have helped changed the current landscape for jazz, as well as jazz’s place within a larger cultural context: trombonist-composer George Lewis and drummer-composer-producer Terri Lyne Carrington.

Through his own music and that of the many composers he has mentored, Lewis has helped foster a sense of composition that defies customary borders between jazz, classical and folk music, and between composition and improvisation. Carrington, the first female musician to win a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, has, through a career that began when she was 10 years old, consistently broken barriers. Both musicians are also forceful educators—Lewis as Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, and Carrington as founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Continue reading “George Lewis and Terri Lyne Carrington Named Among 2019 Doris Duke Artists”

John Zorn’s Stone Rolls Into Brooklyn’s Crown Heights

photo by Liane Fredel

The darker blocks within the wood floor of happylucky no. 1, an art gallery and community arts space in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, spell out the name of the place in morse code, according to Liane Fredel.

Fredel, the former graphic designer who bought the space five years ago, renovated it to express, “an inviting concept, open but with an air of mystery,” she said, and she intends it to foster “more than just art, but rather a larger sense of culture.”

There is no sign outside announcing the place. There is, however a website, that offers this by way of description:

…a gray, fishscaly building…. The façade is marked by a door and a yellow neon dandelion. We are not exactly sure what happens, or what will happen, within the elongated rectangular box that is the interior of happylucky no. 1.  Vaguely speaking, there will be events, exhibitions and experiments, the subjects/results of which might occasionally be edible, or medicinal.

There will be things on the walls and floors and floating through the air; sights, sounds and ideas requesting your assistance in their propagation.  There will be triumphs and, as this is a human endeavor, the occasional disaster.

All of the above—the subtly encoded messages, the overarching mission and the blend of seriousness and humor—make happylucky no. 1 a fitting home for the latest iteration of The Stone— which began as a tiny but influential East Village performance space in an unmarked windowless former Chinese restaurant, founded by John Zorn in 2005 to present experimental  music, and that has grown into a somewhat sprawling initiative.

Zorn, whose influence as a producer and presenter now equals his stature as a musician and composer, has curated “The Stone Series” at happylucky no. 1, beginning March 1—Friday and Saturday night performance that will run at least through 2020. Continue reading “John Zorn’s Stone Rolls Into Brooklyn’s Crown Heights”

In New Orleans, Lois Andrews Nelson Rules Over krewedelusion (and the Universe)

photo by Eric Waters/courtesy of krewedelusion

On Saturday, Feb. 16, in New Orleans, when Lois Andrews Nelson rides as Queen in the tenth annual Carnival season parade of krewedelusion, she’ll wear a purple, green and gold satin baby doll dress, representing one time-honored local tradition she helped revive. On hand will be brass-band musicians and, as her honor guard, the Treme Sidewalk Steppers Social Aid & Pleasure Club, drawn from a second-line parade community in which she is one of the few female grand marshals. She’ll be surrounded by the denizens of an indigenous culture she was both born into and begat.

Nelson, who is 66, is the daughter of singer/songwriter Jessie Hill, best known for his 1960 hit “Ooh Poo Pa Do”; granddaughter of guitarist Walter Nelson, who played with an early hero of New Orleans clarinet, Alphonse Picou; and niece of guitarists Walter “Papoose” Nelson Jr., who played with Fats Domino, and Lawrence “Prince La La” Nelson, best-known for the song, “You Put the Hurt on Me.” Among her children are musicians named Andrews who notably extend and expand local legacies—James, Buster and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.

A collection of new and old marching groups, krewedelusion gathers each year with a heady mission—“to save the Universe, beginning at its center: New Orleans”—according to its website. Nelson was born and raised, and raised her own children, in the Sixth Ward, which, culturally speaking, was long the center of the universe for New Orleans. Continue reading “In New Orleans, Lois Andrews Nelson Rules Over krewedelusion (and the Universe)”

With The Book Beriah, John Zorn Closes the Book on Masada with Force and Feeling

In the third-floor East Village walkup apartment John Zorn has called home since 1977—“my device to enable creativity,” the alto saxophonist and composer calls the place—he reflected recently on his Masada project, now 25 years running.

“It began as my personal answer to what new Jewish music is,” he said. “And it was a musical challenge. After writing so much conceptual music, I wanted to just write a book of tunes—the way Irving Berlin had a book of tunes, the way Thelonious Monk had a book of tunes.”

That was 1993. He set about to mine the scales associated with Jewish music— a minor scale with a sharp 4th and a major scale with a flatted 2nd—and to serve the needs of modern improvisers like himself. He named the project Masada, for the ancient Judean fortress subjected to a deadly siege by troops of the Roman Empire.

That book kept growing, as did its implications for Zorn and an ever-widening community of musicians. By 1996, Zorn had written 205 Masada pieces, which gave rise to several important bands, not least his celebrated quartet with trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron. In the space of three months in 2004, he composed another 316 songs, to form a second Masada collection, “The Book of Angels,” this time distributing them to a wide range of musicians, and leading to more than two dozen recordings by 20 musicians and bands for his Tzadik label.

The Book Beriah, Zorn’s third installment of 92 compositions, brings Zorn’s total number of Masada compositions to 613 (the number of mitzvot, or commandments, contained in the Jewish Torah). He’s celebrated The Book Beriah with sprawling concerts at Manhattan’s Symphony Space in 2014 and earlier this year, displaying the range of expression it invites.

This time, rather than release the music in a an extended series of recordings, he’s making all the music available in one gorgeous, limited-edition 11-CD box set. Zorn is offering The Book Beriah in a variety of formats—CDs, autographed sets, bundles with T-shirts, LPs featuring highlights only—for pre-order through PledgeMusic, a crowd-funded, community-building web retailer.

You’ll find sample tracks at the site! Continue reading “With The Book Beriah, John Zorn Closes the Book on Masada with Force and Feeling”

Monk Kicks Off His Own Centenary: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Photo courtesy of Arnaud Boubet Private Collection.
Photo courtesy of Arnaud Boubet Private Collection.

Any day that brings a music recorded by Thelonious Monk that I haven’t yet heard is a glorious day, indeed.

That’s how I felt when I received “Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960” (Sam Records/Saga), Monk’s soundtrack recordings for Roger Vadim’s film, released for the first time.

And what better way to kick off what I hope is a wide-ranging celebration of the late, great pianist and composer.

Here’s how I began my Wall Street Journal review: Continue reading “Monk Kicks Off His Own Centenary: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960”

Happy International Jazz Day!

20130430_Jazz_1-1
The scene at Congo Square, in New Orleans, during International Jazz Day festivities in 2012.

Happy International Jazz Day!

I had suspicions and reservations about that greeting six years ago, when UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and pianist Herbie Hancock (who is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador) announced the global initiative.
After the years of Ken Burns-inspired jazz nationalism and so many wrong-headed jazz boosterism programs, well, I’ve grown defensive…
But I’ve come to like and admire the International Jazz Day program, which picks one city for an all-star concert and educational programs, streamed online, and links jazz’s figurative arms around the globe through hundreds of events.
This year’s main concert, from Havana, Cuba—at 9pm tonight EST, live-streamed (and archived) here—will feature stars from the U.S. including Hancock, bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, violinist Regina Carter, bassist Marcus Miller, and from Cuba, including pianist Chucho Valdés, along with musicians from several other nations, all gathered at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso.
I’m in New Orleans now at the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, which this year hosts its own contingent of Cuban musicians, including Valdés.
Here, five years ago, International Jazz Day had its main event at Congo Square (see the picture I took, above): I suspect that this year, in Havana, hand drums will again be prominent. This is less a sign of jazz’s globalism that a return to its deepest roots.
Five years ago, I wrote in the Village Voice, Continue reading “Happy International Jazz Day!”

Celebrate NEA Jazz Masters Tonight (And Advocate for the Endowment Tomorrow & The Next Day…)

Dee Dee Bridgewater. Photo by Mark Higashino
Dee Dee Bridgewater is among the NEA Jazz Masters class of 2017. Photo by Mark Higashino

I suppose we’re past the point of irony these days. And yet I’ll note: Before the Trump International Hotel was installed at Washington D.C.’s Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue (which involved a thoughtless renovation, involving crystal chandeliers, polished brass railings and marble tiles that contradict the structure’s architectural integrity), the historic building was home to the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Trump administration’s initial budget plan, released last month, proposed eliminating the NEA, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (Who needs culture and history when you’ve got gleaming brass and chandeliers?)
Much has been said—and need be said—about the practical wisdom of sacrificing support of arts and culture to save a mere .003 per cent of the federal budget (roughly forty-six cents per capita) not to mention the symbolism of axing this sort of governmental priority while increasingly military spending.
statement from NEA Chairman Jane Chu noted “as a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.” There’s another useful NEA website document on this subject here.
As Chu said, the NEA is continuing its valuable practice, which makes a significant mark across arts and culture, and is deeply felt in jazz circles. For instance, the most recent round of NEA Art Works grants for presenters more than 40 grants to support jazz projects or projects that have a component related to jazz. (The NEA was one of the earliest and remains among the largest funders of jazz in this country; since 2005, the NEA has awarded more than $33.5 million in jazz-related grants and additional support to the field.)
As Ann Meier Baker, the NEA’s director of music and opera told me during a recent interview, “We’re supporting the entire ecosystem of jazz, from the top down and from the bottom up and often blurring the lines between disciplines because that’s what jazz musicians do.”
The most visible and celebrated aspect of the NEA’s support for jazz is the Jazz Masters Program, which this year will be celebrated with a tribute concert at the Kennedy Center on April 3, 2017. Below are the facts and links.

WHAT: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) honors the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters at a tribute concert held in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, hosted by Jason Moran. The concert will also be webcast live.

The 2017 NEA Jazz Masters are:

The tribute concert will include remarks by the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters (representing Ira Gitler will be his son, Fitz Gitler); as well as Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center; Jason Moran, pianist and Kennedy Center artistic director for Jazz; NEA Jazz Masters Dan Morgenstern and Kenny Barron; jazz and film critic Gary Giddins; and National Medal of Arts recipient and Kennedy Center Honoree Jessye Norman. The concert will include performances by NEA Jazz Masters Paquito D’Rivera and Lee Konitz, as well as Bill CharlapTheo CrokerAaron DiehlRobin EubanksJames GenusDonald HarrisonBooker T. JonesSherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz OrchestraPeter MartinMike MorenoChina MosesSteve NelsonKassa OverallChris PotterDianne ReevesNate SmithDan Tepfer, and Matthew Whitaker.

WHEN: Monday, April 3, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall (2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566); video-streamed live at arts.govKennedy-Center.org, and NPR.org/Music; and audio-streamed at SiriusXM Channel 67, Real Jazz.

ADDITIONAL NEA JAZZ MASTERS EVENTS

In addition to the concert, there are two other events celebrating the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters:

  • NPR Listening Party with the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters on Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
  • Howard University Master Class with 2017 NEA Jazz Masters on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.

Full details are available here.

Continue reading “Celebrate NEA Jazz Masters Tonight (And Advocate for the Endowment Tomorrow & The Next Day…)”

Of Travel Bans And Global Bands: Required Reading

Kinan Azmeh
Kinan Azmeh

Steve Dollar, a colleague of mine in the Wall Street Journal’s pages and one of the strongest writers I had the pleasure of directing during my editing days, has written an important piece for NewMusicBox.
World Music in the Era of Travel Bans” considers the Trump administration’s pending travel bans, and its subtext of nationalism and xenophobia as applied to U.S. policy, in the context of both that outdated (was it ever useful?) term “world music” and the global reality of artistic endeavor and presentation.
It’s a must-read piece. Continue reading “Of Travel Bans And Global Bands: Required Reading”