Remembering Clark Terry

Tomorrow morning—Sat. Feb. 28—at 10am, Manhattan’s Abyssinian Baptist Church will likely be packed, as Reverend Calvin Butts leads a funeral service for Clark Terry. There’ll be top-notch jazz musicians, and those from the many walks of life who were touched by: the sweetness and clarity of Terry’s playing on both trumpet and flugelhorn; his decades of bold work as sideman and bandleader; his pioneering and compassionate work as a musician and educator, and by the casual, natural charm he exuded through careful conversation or just singing nonsense syllables, as he did on the 1964 tune, “Mumbles,” that grew into a signature hit.
Terry, who died at 94 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on Feb. 21, was one of jazz’s formidable talents as well as a memorably uplifting soul.
“He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends,” his wife Gwen wrote on his Facebook page Saturday. Her earlier post, after Terry had entered hospice care on Feb. 13, suffering from the effects of advanced diabetes, led to an outpouring of appreciations worth reading here.
During his career, Terry led or co-led more than 80 recording dates and played on more than 900 sessions by the time of his last session in 2004.He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1991 and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy in 2010.
Yet these numbers and honors only scratch the surface of his impact and presence. There has hardly been a figure in jazz that spanned more of the jazz’s musical contexts while performing, nor one more beloved offstage. His accomplishments and demeanor personified his frequently offered mantras to “keep going by keeping going,” and “getting on the plateau of positivity.” Continue reading “Remembering Clark Terry”

Constructing an Identity, And Delving Deeper: Rajna Swaminathan On Making Music With Vijay Iyer

Rajna Swaminathan/ photo by Jaimie Milner

I’m looking forward to pianist Vijay Iyer’s performance on March 7th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; there, before the dramatic Temple of Dendur, Iyer will display the deep rapport and driving sense of exploration that makes his new trio CD, “Break Stuff” (ECM), his most accessible recording to date as well as his most daring.
If the most popular distillation of Iyer’s aesthetic is his trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, his music flows in multiple streams. And it absorbs various streams of influence. As I wrote in a Wall Street Journal piece last year:

Mr. Iyer places himself more within lineages than genres. “I’m here because of a series of generous African-American people who let me be here,” he said, particularly those connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who shared musical concepts and a larger sense of artistic ambition.
There’s another lineage into which he, the son of immigrants from India, was born. That influence, overt in some other projects, is finely ingrained even in sections of the new album. He seeks a perhaps radical yet logical unity of these heritages—his note to one trio album cites “the Brown and Black Atlantic.”

Listeners could immerse themselves in several of Iyer’s modes of musical expression, swim in more than one of his streams, during his recent six-night stand at The Stone in Manhattan’s East Village. I caught only the opening set, which included Rajna Swaminathan on mrudangam (a percussion instrument in Carnatic music); Anjna Swaminathan (Rajna’s sister) on violin, and Graham Haynes, playing cornet, and sometimes triggering electronic sounds and loops from a laptop.
After the set, I asked Iyer about the combination of piano and mrudangam, whose rhythmic and tonal qualities seemed especially complementary. Iyer told me he’d been thinking about that blend for a very long time. I ended up having an email exchange with Rajna Swaminathan, simply out of curiosity. Her replies were so focused and revealing about the nature, pleasures and challenges of such collaborations, that I’ve included it here in full, with her permission.
Her replies speak about much more than cross-cultural collaboration. Yet, were I an editor, I’d be deciding between two as to which is the perfect pull-quote:

I would say that working with Vijay has rather resonated with me on the level of our mutual experience as Indian Americans, and that sense of community pervades the music we make. I think that’s a deeper connection and purpose—it’s not just about nostalgia or emotion for Carnatic music, but about constructing an identity and experience around us.
With any two traditions, it’s not hard to find the outer layer of “affinity”- but when you delve deeper, you find the nuances that reflect the great contrast in perspectives.
Continue reading “Constructing an Identity, And Delving Deeper: Rajna Swaminathan On Making Music With Vijay Iyer”

Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Orchestra Wins Grammy With Gorgeous Collage

Rolling Stone’s website gives the only complete list of Grammy Award winners I can find. Once there, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to get to the listing for Best Latin Jazz Album, won this year by Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra‘s The Offense of the Drum (Motéma).
A few years back, you could have scrolled all you wanted without finding that listing at all. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) had eliminated the category from the annual awards. I wrote a piece in the Village Voice on that controversy, in which NARAS president Neil Portnow complained that, with so many awards categories, the Grammys had “become a collage.” (NARAS reinstated that award, after forceful outcry from several musicians, including O’Farrill and drummer Bobby Sanabria.)
As I wrote in about O’Farrill’s album in a  recent Wall Street Journal piece:

As part of his nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance since 2007, the orchestra has developed an expansive aesthetic that plays out through commissioned pieces for concert seasons. “The world of Latin jazz has exploded,” he said recently at his Brooklyn home. “My father did what he did in his era because that was the world he knew. In my world, there’s Peru and Colombia and Ecuador and Venezuela and more—plus, of course, Cuba. For the past seven or eight years, I’ve explored these connections for all their beauty, power and range.”
Mr. O’Farrill’s CD opens with “Cuarto de Colores,” a celebration of Colombian harp composed by Edmar Castañeda, who plays that instrument with remarkable command. Among its most stirring pieces are Pablo Mayor’s “Mercado en Domingo,” based in the Colombian marching-band tradition; “Gnossienne 3 (Tientos),” for which Spanish arranger Miguel Blanco invested French composer Erik Satie’s music with the pained vocals and curled melismas of flamenco; and “The Offense of the Drum,” an ambitious O’Farrill composition incorporating Japanese taiko drums. That such range forms a coherent musical whole lends credence to his mission.

Maybe collages aren’t such a bad thing.
Photo courtesy of Afro Latin Jazz Alliance

Jazz Hung At The Museum—"Jazz & Colors: The Masterworks Edition" At The Met

Chelsea Baratz, playing tenor saxophone with The Brandee Younger Jazz Harp Quartet in the Met's Asian Art Gallery/ photo by Marc Millman

The first two editions of “Jazz & Colors,” in the fall of 2012 and 2013, took place in Central Park. Impresario Peter Shapiro’s operating principle was to place jazz bands in secluded places within the park’s grand expanse, and give each the same set list for each of two sets — mostly standards and near-standards. As presented outdoors, the event complemented nature’s mighty display of changing seasons — an improvised dance of reds, yellow, and browns — with variations on the chord changes and mood shifts of these standards.

At The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday, billed as “Jazz & Colors: The Masterworks Edition,” each of the 15 bands placed around the museum’s first and second floors played two hour-long sets.

See my story and a slide show of images here.