Cutting Ornette Loose

Pharoah Sanders playing at Ornette Coleman's funeral at Riverside Church, June 27, 2015. Photo by Enid Farber ©2015
Pharoah Sanders playing at Ornette Coleman’s funeral, Riverside Church, June 27.(Photo ©2015

It’s hard to describe how it feels to stand at the podium of Riverside Church, to look down at a coffin that holds Ornette Coleman’s body, and to look out at a large crowd including Yoko Ono, Sonny Rollins, Henry Threadgill, John Zorn and Jason Moran, along with so many musicians and artists and friends from all corners of New York’s cultural world and from a much wider world, too.
An hour earlier, I’d attended the viewing. Lying in state, Coleman looked resplendent in one of his customary silk suits; he looked happy, bathed in his own glowing light, much as he’d always seemed when I saw him.
Early on in the 3 1/2–hour celebration on Saturday, June 27—which began with a procession led by two musicians from the Master Musicians of Jajouka, the Moroccan brotherhood that collaborated with Coleman several times in his career—I had the honor and the challenge of finding words with which to help do justice to Coleman’s life and legacy, and that might help raise everyone up. Continue reading “Cutting Ornette Loose”

Drummer Shannon Powell's Brilliance Shines in Louis Armstrong's Light

Shannon Powell's Traditional All-Star Band (with trumpeter Leon Brown, clarineist Evan Christopher and bassist Peter Harris) at Corona Park, Queens/photo by April Renae
Shannon Powell’s Traditional All-Star Band (with trumpeter Leon Brown, clarinetist Evan Christopher and bassist Peter Harris) at Corona Park, Queens/photo by April Renae

At any given moment, there are sounds of New Orleans in New York City’s air—lately, a little more than usual.
Last week, pianist Jon Batiste, who will lead the band for Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” come September, had melodica in hand as he led something like a second-line parade out of Union Square Park (see my account and an interview here.) He’ll hold court during what he calls a “social music residency” at Manhattan’s NoMad Hotel June 23-26.
On Saturday, June 20, the Rebirth Brass Band, who pretty much authored present-day brass-band style, brought their parade-honed sound to the mainstage of a festival called “Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World” in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Around that same time Saturday, the New Breed Brass Band, full of bright young upstarts, performed on Governor’s Island, within the Nalofunk Crawfish and Music Festival. On Friday, June 26, the Soul Rebels, who’ve slid brass-band tradition comfortably into Afro Latin and hip-hop territory during the past two decades, make their debut at the Blue Note jazz club with a late set featuring rappers Rakim and Slick Rick.
For those who didn’t let Saturday’s persistent spray of light rain dampen their enthusiasm, the “Wonderful World” festival brought Armstrong’s spirit and legacy to life in several ways not far from the legendary trumpeter’s former home, which is now a terrific landmark, the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Ricky Riccardi, that museum’s archivist and the author of an essential book on Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years,” was over at the nearby Queens Museum, sharing insights and pleasures from his research.
The day’s highlight, the essential heartbeat of the event, was a set from drummer Shannon Powell’s Traditional All-Star Jazz Band. Powell, who headlines too infrequently in New York City, is rightly revered in his hometown, where he’s known as “The King of Tremé” for his prominence in a neighborhood that has nurtured traditional jazz culture and which he still calls home. Continue reading “Drummer Shannon Powell's Brilliance Shines in Louis Armstrong's Light”

The Puzzle Ornette Coleman Left Us

Ornette Coleman plays at a JVC Jazz Festival concert at Carnegie Hall, June 20, 2004. His son, Denardo Coleman (rear) plays drums. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

On Saturday, June 27, at 11am, I’ll be at Manhattan’s Riverside Church for a funeral to celebrate the life, mourn the loss and revel in the spirit of Ornette Coleman.
Coleman, who died at 85 on June 11, delivered on the promise of the title to his 1959 album, “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” The flow of jazz ever since in fact has been redirected, its course widened and altered.
Yet Coleman gave us no template or mold. Rather, he offered liberation from these things while suggesting—no proving—that such freedom did not mean forfeiture of aesthetic purpose or historical grounding. No one has or likely will make music quite like his, but few serious and searching jazz musicians have ignored the possibilities suggested by the doors he blew open. Continue reading “The Puzzle Ornette Coleman Left Us”

Colbert Taps Pianist Jon Batiste For New "Late Show"

batiste-e4b7982f43061cf6b53a2e7c47a043fe132887f6-s6-c30As Dave Itzkoff reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Stephen Colbert has named pianist Jon Batiste to be his bandleader when he begins hosting “The Late Show” for CBS on Sept. 8. 
Colbert stuffs a lot of sugary beignets into his face and packs a lot of funny into the 43-second video introducing Batiste .
Meanwhile, Batiste flashes his pianism and his affection for his other favorite instrument, the melodica. He mugs like a good sidekick but also a subversive one: he utters the word “jazz,” and features tambourine, two things well understood in New Orleans, where Batiste first came of age as a musician, but generally alien on network TV.
Batiste isn’t the first jazz musician raised in Kenner, Louisiana and trained at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to be a late-night TV star. That would be saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who was Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” bandleader from 1992 to 1995. Marsalis and Leno never achieved the type of on-air banter late-night TV needs (Jay just wasn’t cool enough nor was Branford willing to pander) and ultimately, Marsalis’ estimable musicianship seeemed watered down, his musical inclinations hemmed in.
That’s unlikely to happen to Batiste: Colbert’s show will probably skew more hip and open-minded. Continue reading “Colbert Taps Pianist Jon Batiste For New "Late Show"”

Come Celebrate the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Where It Gets Done Right

NJMH%20FlagEarly in my career, the idea of institutions and museums dedicated to jazz, then a new thing, was met with consternation and fear. Jazz is organic, not dead, some said. It doesn’t belong in a museum.
Depends on the museum. Like most things, it’s all in how you do it. And where.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem has been doing it right and in an appropriate place since 1997, when it was founded by Leonard Garment, counsel to two U.S. Presidents and accomplished jazz saxophonist, with the help of a $1 million Congressional Appropriation. It waves jazz’s banner smartly and warmly, with wisdom and coolness.
The museum’s 2015 benefit concert on June 10 at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan—highlighted by performances by saxophonist Joe Lovano and singer Dianne Reeves, and featuring award presentations to bassist Reggie Workman and the late  filmmaker Albert Maysles—should be a glittering event. Go here for more information or scroll down this post.) It will help support year-round programs, most of which are far more modest in scale but bold in the ways they truly live up to this statement, from the museum’s website: Continue reading “Come Celebrate the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Where It Gets Done Right”