Bo Dollis, Big Chief Of The Wild Magnolias, Dies At 71

Anytime a Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief dies, there is cause to gather those immersed in this perhaps least-widely understood and yet most essential tradition—in order to slap tambourines, and sing ritual songs like “Shallow Water” and “Indian Red.”
In the case of Theodore Emile “Bo” Dollis, the longtime Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, who died at his New Orleans home yesterday, at 71, the mourning, honoring and celebrating should reach deep within the local community and well beyond : Dollis was a Big Chief on the streets of New Orleans; he was also, in 2011, awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
I’m hoping to get funeral and memorial information.
I’m sure there will be an outpouring in print and online, remembering Dollis, For now, there’s been a nice package of coverage about Dollis at the website of the Times-Picayune, Continue reading “Bo Dollis, Big Chief Of The Wild Magnolias, Dies At 71”

Danilo Pérez's Dream for Panama Keeps Growing

Danilo Pérez Jr. (left) in performance with Danilo, Sr. (right) at the opening of Danilo's Jazz Club in Panama City. image courtesy of American Trade Hotel by Doug Bruce, 2014.

I was pleased to see Melena Ryzik’s piece in today’s New York Times, reporting on the Panama Jazz Festival founded by pianist Danilo Pérez 12 years ago.

In it she writes:

…here he was, at 1:30 a.m. Friday, sitting behind the grand piano in the intimate Danilo’s Jazz Club, the city’s only performance space dedicated exclusively to jazz, now packed with friends and visitors. He was joined by John Patitucci, the Shorter quartet bassist, and a host of international musicians and students, eager to improvise alongside the masters. Nêgah Santos, 24, a Brazilian powerhouse in denim shorts, gave her congas a workout; Samuel Batista, 24, a Panamanian in his third year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, drew full-throated cheers with his saxophone. The jam lasted until closing time, and afterward Mr. Pérez gathered his young charges at a cocktail table to dispense encouragement and wisdom. “This kind of thing wakes you up, right?” he said, grinning.

Pérez’s festival is itself a wake-up call about several things: the pan-American identity of jazz; the role of Panama within that legacy; the role musicians, concerts and music education can play in civic uplift, economic development and cross-cultural relations; not to mention the aesthetic future of the music he makes.
As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, when I reported on the third edition of Pérez’s festival:

Mr. Pérez, who is 48, is not alone in seeking a deepened and more detailed understanding of the influences throughout the Western hemisphere that have shaped jazz. Yet he is among the most diligent and talented of his generation to take up that task. And he has highlighted “the almost hidden voice of Panama,” he said, “which was always present.”

Pérez’s current playing and his outlook about if is profoundly influenced by more than a decade as pianist in the wonderful quartet led by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. But the inspiration for his festival, and for the arc of his own music is rooted in earlier mentors. Continue reading “Danilo Pérez's Dream for Panama Keeps Growing”

Message At Charlie Haden Memorial: “Hey, Man—We’re Family”

Carla Bley (at piano) led The Liberation Music Orchestra to end a memorial concert for its founder, bassist Charlie Haden/photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

Minutes into Tuesday night’s memorial concert for Charlie Haden at Manhattan’s Town Hall, on a screen above the stage, came the first of several excerpts from a documentary, “Rambling Boy,” that punctuated three-plus hours of music and testimonials. Here was Haden as a boy, no more than two or three, singing and yodeling with confident joy.
Long before Haden helped ignite a jazz revolution while in his early twenties, as bassist in saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s quartet; before he spent a decade in another landmark band led by pianist Keith Jarrett; before he formed his Liberation Music Orchestra, blending avant-garde, big-band jazz and Latin American folk traditions with bold political statements; before his Quartet West, which played noir ballads inspired by Raymond Chandler novels and movie themes; before memorable duet recordings of spirituals and hymns, and decades of collaborations with musicians that spanned three generations of jazz’s finest players and nearly all its idioms, Haden was “Cowboy Charlie,” a precocious toddler singing his way into listeners hearts on his parents’ radio show.
The evening’s performances, mostly of Haden’s compositions, made a case for his body of work as one that will endure and deserves further interpretation. The spoken testimonials, along with the documentary clips, more or less traced the path and framed the influence of one remarkable musician. Yet what came across most powerfully was how Haden, through his music, presence, and personality, built bonds that seemed familial and coursed through actual families. And we received one after another example, through music and words, of how Haden led others to reveal themselves in moving and even brave ways. Get my full story here, along with a slideshow of images.
Siblings Petra, Rachel, Josh, and Tanya Haden, accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell, singing “Voice From on High” / Credit Jacob Blickenstaff

New Year's Resolution for New Orleans: Create Laws In Tune With Jazz Culture

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the New Year is some movement in the right direction when it comes to cultural policy in New Orleans.
Here’s how my piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal on the subject began:

Last year in New Orleans, the calls and responses of a storied musical tradition were often drowned out by back-and-forth arguments over ordinances. At stake are a number of things, not least a culture that the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau website correctly claims “bubbles up from the streets.”

and here’s how I concluded:

New Orleans loves to relive its past. Yet simply because its culture has long occupied embattled space doesn’t mean that must forever be the case. Despite sometimes-heated rhetoric, those advocating for enlightened policies have begun speaking less like combatants than like willing partners, or as activists completing a mission. Jordan Hirsch, who formerly headed the nonprofit Sweet Home New Orleans, now works with a nascent organization billed as a “cultural continuity conservancy.” “Where we were once focused on simply getting musicians home,” he said, “the job now is to create equitable policies that assure a sustainable cultural community.”
During a news conference at last year’s Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told me, “there is a way to organize culture without killing it.”
This year, the New Orleans City Council has the chance to craft policies that nurture culture and remove it from the cross hairs of controversy. If it can’t strike the right balance, that next brass band may not find its audience on a streetcorner. And that city like no other may start to sound and feel a bit more like every place else.

Of the comments and replies, the most interesting one thus far came from New Orleans-based music critic Alex Rawls (who I quoted in my piece), at his excellent blog. I especially liked this part:

…. Part of the promise of New Orleans is that you can turn a corner and walk into a second line, find Mardi Gras Indians, or step into a neighborhood bar and happen upon a brass band. The music is only part of the magic; its improbability is also important. One of the saddest features of this year’s Saints season in the Superdome—along with the defense and the interceptions and the lacklustre play—was the woeful attempt at an on-the-field second line during halftime, one without a band or the ability to join. All that was left was Saintsations walking in a line. New Orleans’ music culture invites people to participate, and the more rigorously it’s forced into a structure that’s like the structures music inhabits in other cities, the less room there is for the kind of spontaneity that offers visitors a unique experience.

Organized events are easier to market and sell, and there’s a reason why magic is called magic. It doesn’t always happen, and many people leave the city after only hearing music in the places they expected to find it. But the promise of magic has the same allure as the promise of winning the lottery but with better odds. For now, anyhow.

My friends at WWOZ-FM shared a thread of comments on my piece at Facebook, which you can find here.
Photo by Christian Bélanger via Flickr