How many times have I seen Dee Dee Bridgewater sing at the Blue Note in New York? Many. I can think of the Memphis band, Billie Holiday music … I need to try harder to remember them all. And although the stage lighting seemed different last week (more blue?), I loved my latest opportunity to sit close to Dee Dee and her new trio featuring pianist Carmen Staaf’s swinging touch and ideas, Tabari Lake’s bowed bass, Kush Abadey’s brushes. The songs from their second set on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, are listed below.
Cotton Tail during which I noticed those brushes …
Dee Dee says “Let’s see if you know this one” –> I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China …
“The best-known song that Billie Holiday wrote” –> God Bless the Child …
Que reste-t-il de nos amours? in French and English (I wish you love) …
Stairway to the stars …
“To change the feel completely” –> St. James Infirmary with arco bass solo …
All of me …
Encore: she set it up with a monologue about her ideal man ending with DD on the floor leaning against a piano leg (and she could get up) –> Harry Connick Jr’s One fine thing
Dr. John’s autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon came out in 1994(co-author Jack Rummel). Today it’s on Amazon for $45. And as my first read of the year 2020, I must return my New York Public Library copy TONIGHT because somebody else is waiting for it.
Malcolm John (Mac) Rebennack was born in 1941 and died last summer, a link in a chain of 20th century New Orleans pianists, shading his tunes with dance beats and lacy decoration. He led a life of magic and treachery, spiritualists, gris-gris, managers who cheat.
Toward the end of the book he shines a light on the pianists around him. James Booker seems almost a savant who “could play it all – stride piano, butterfly, boogie, all the other New Orleans styles, the Chicago styles, the Memphis styles, the Texas styles, the California styles, bebop, avant-garde jazz, classical, even pop!” I love this list.
Booker’s bandmates edited their own solos because if they played too long, “Booker would come out with a solo that would just blow them off the stage and disgrace them.” One night in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom, Booker didn’t even come to the bandstand. Instead “this big mountain of sound began to swell beneath us . . . . It was just roaring; the whole stage was moving.” Booker had discovered the pipe organ in the orchestra pit. The instrument was massive but Booker “sat down and cranked it up like it was nothing.”
The self-taught and providential Professor Longhair (“Before him was the void; after him, we’re just whistling in the dark”) became Dr. John’s second father. Fess gets his own chapter with vignettes about him at home in his easy chair, wired to control scents, lights and music (pre Alexa and Siri) and even deliver a keyboard to his lap. There’s Fess in the recording studio dictating his individual part to each player, and Fess mentally orchestrating his music for banjos, tubas and trombone (never recorded but should have been). And Fess in the parlors and clubs, negotiating New Orleans’s rigid hidden castes, his playing both graceful and seriously rocking, in shirtsleeves or a tux, a cap or a turban. I can almost see and hear it.
For others who long for more time with the late Dr. John, read Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of the Night Tripper from St. Martin’s Press.
James Williams (1951-2004) came from Memphis. He went to Central High School and was a student, rehearsing with his jazz band, when he and his friends heard of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in their city. Williams played organ in the Eastern Star Baptist Church and graduated from Memphis State University, then moved to Boston and taught at Berklee, served as a Jazz Messenger from 1977-81 (these dates from the Wikipedia page in his name), and in 1984 moved to Brooklyn. I met him at his apartment at 393 Tenth Street (“F [train] to Fourth, near Fifth” say my notes). Wearing a lovely light blue chenille robe, he welcomed me and from that moment I have been gratefully attached to James Williams.
The Piano Stylist notes say the arrangement comes from a concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, “to be aired in fullon The American Jazz Radio Festival on National Public Radio in early May. Check your local NPR station for the broadcast date and time.”
David Karp typeset the music (no Sibelius). Suki Koczeniak designed the page (no Pagemaker).Ed Shanaphy had the idea for and published The Piano Stylist, consultant Stuart Isacoff. Editing it was a wonderful assignment that required me to find and meet dozens of pianists, among them James, still greatly missed but available via this majestic (see tempo marking) presentation which I hope some of you can also play!
Artemis is named for the Greek goddess of the hunt, and the septet named for Artemis includes Cécile McLorin Salvant, Vocals … Renee Rosnes, Music Director and Piano … Anat Cohen, Clarinet and Soprano Saxophone … Melissa Aldana, Tenor Saxophone … Ingrid Jensen, Trumpet … Noriko Ueda, Bass … Allison Miller, Drums.
The concert felt historic, with an arc from — encore to opener — Billie Holiday to original music of this moment. The selections came in pairs, and I wish I could see and hear every one, again and again.
Goddess of the Hunt (Miller) … Fool on the Hill (Lennon and McCartney, arr Jensen)
McLorin Salvant onstage to sing Easy to Love (Cole Porter) … If It’s Magic (Stevie Wonder) with the beautiful last line “ … there’s enough for everyone” + a stellar coda
Big Top (Rosnes) … Nocturno (Cohen)
McLorin Salvant onstage to sing Pirate Jenny from Threepenny Opera (Kurt Weill) after which she noted that “Nina Simone sang [Pirate Jenny] here” … Cry, Buttercup, Cry (Maxine Sullivan recorded this song by Rocco Accetta)
Step Forward (Ueda, inspired by Piano Etudes for Children by her teacher in Japan) … Frida Kahlo (Aldana)
Horace Silver piece played in slow funk … Cécile’s last song … ENCORE: Fine and Mellow (Billie Holiday) … Dear Reader, Please help with these titles and any other comments.
A note about photographer Enid Farber: last month at the Freespace Jazz Festival in West Kowloon, Hong Kong, she spoke about Women in Jazz and presented many of her photos of women jazz musicians, as well as a slide show on a 19 foot LED screen featuring her work from 1978 to today. In Hong Kong! Then she came home and documented Artemis at Carnegie Hall. For information or to present her historic photos, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday nights at The Jazz Standard on East 27th Street in New York City are for the Grammy Award-winning Mingus Big Band! In 2010 they won the award for Best Large Ensemble Album. It’s time for their next Grammy, and the set I saw on Monday, October 14, could have been a contender, had it only been recorded.
Early on, leader Alex Foster introduced young bassist Marcos Varela, new to the band. He was ready and showed no fear. Theo Hill on piano (new to me) was percussive and exciting. And veteran Earl McIntyre on bass trombone rocked the room. The trombones are the solar plexus chakra of the MBB. This may be an ill-advised metaphor. The heart of the set was “Fables of Faubus” (Orval Faubus was Arkansas Governor in 1957 and obstructed the integration of Little Rock Central High School) leading to “Haitian Fight Song.” Several young people from the audience stepped up and talked about the current life-and-death crisis in Haiti. Afterwards they were raising money at the door.
On Friday at NYU, composer George Lewis’ Soundlines concert opened with percussionist Steven Schick narrating and accompanying his story of his 700+ mile walk from San Diego to San Francisco. Twenty miles a day, six days a week, seven weeks, more than a million steps. While he walked he tried not to overthink, but sometimes he couldn’t stop himself. “My calves are screaming!” was one outburst. A small ensemble played on a platform above him, and electronic sounds like gulls and traffic washed in from the sides. Big orange signal lights pulsed on and off.
Soundlines is a work in two parts. More small string/winds/voice ensembles materialized for the second composition, P. Multitudinis. The Latin text comes from philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-77). “The right of the commonwealth is determined by the power of the people . . . . for the good of all men.” In the program notes, Lewis writes that “the performance is achieved through negotiation and consensus, and its success will be less a question of individual freedom than of the assumption of personal responsibility for the sonic environment.”
A conductor zigzagged from group to group, cueing the ensembles to follow invisible (to the audience) written instructions like “Create a short solo,” “Play as fast as possible,” “Wait for another ensemble to stop, then imitate their action.” The order was random so every performance will be different. Experiencing it is like watching eggs hatch in nests around and above the stage. When the house lights came up, we knew it was over.
These two musical evenings bracketed my “work week” in mid-October, here in New York.
The bus driver loaded our suitcases into the baggage compartment and shut the doors. We lined up on the steps for a photo. That’s when I realized There are a lot of kids here! Twenty-four choristers from the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York City.
The choristers, community chorale members (including me) and professional singers spent seven days in London singing as one at St. Paul’s Cathedral (late 1600s) and two additional days at the Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop, was murdered half a century earlier. The choristers brought youth. The cathedrals brought history.
We sang at the Evensong services. (The regular choir was taking its August break.) Evensong begins with the cantor singing O Lord, open thou our lips. We respond And our mouth shall show forth they praise …
… followed by the Anglican chant of a Psalm in four part harmony. To me the Psalms feel like the heart of the musical experience, where poetry meets harmony. They are mysterious. I often don’t know what they mean. We rehearsed them line by line.
Director Kent Tritle coached us on every vowel (most are diphthongs) and reminded us time and again to articulate our consonants just before the beat, so they would be heard throughout the lofty, lengthy cathedrals. Bryan Zaros also rehearsed and conducted us and never broke a sweat as leader of the tour. Ray Nagem, our organist in New York, played for most services in England. Dean Clifton Daniel shared the entire trip with us. I loved meeting every person in and out of the choir. The music was magnificent. On Sunday, after our third day at St. Paul’s, I wrote this email home:
“Today we sang the Eucharist service, then the Evensong. The services move fast here! I like that. There were lots of people attending. . . . The choristers all sing soprano. In rehearsal [on the request of the director for the benefit of us singers], a chorister produced a beautiful, in-tune high A and held it. Then she released, and the note continued to sound. After the air finally stopped reverberating, she shyly smiled.”
In our off hours we visited the House of Commons. The chamber is extremely small. It’s impossible to imagine 650 people crammed into it. We spent a day in Oxford. Soprano Glenda Strothers, alto Abigail Huffman and I visited to the National Gallery. I found the Charles Dickens House. We went to the Handel and Hendrix Museum, and heard a good jazz band – The Brass Monkeys – at Pizza Express. I want to mention trumpeter Chris Dowding whose playing and composition for Esbjörn Svensson moved me.
London was the lion’s share of our trip, but we made it to Canterbury for two more Evensongs, a Cathedral tour, reception in the Archdeaconness’s home (she is from New Zealand), and a last-night dinner at an Indian Restaurant
Home on Saturday afternoon, August 24. I have been happy ever since!
Two weeks before the choir tour, I was in Burlington VT at Jazz Camp thanks to organizer Roni Ben-Hur. Music ranged from Thad and Sam Jones to Brazil and beyond. Thank you, Helio Alves, for the lessons. I barely took a single picture.
I love the stretch from jazz and improv to singing and reading. But are they really so far apart? I’m thinking about this. Comments are welcome.
I’ve posted out of order! Preceding impressions from my August 2019 trip with the St. John the Divine Community Chorale from NY to London, here’s the story of a single residence we found — home to two musical figures, centuries apart. Finding the Handel House / Hendrix Flat is like solving a puzzle. We knew we were close when we saw this message on the tiled wall of a downward-sloping alley: From the summer of 1723 until his death on 14 April 1759 Handel lived and composed many of his greatest works at No 25 Brooks. It stands among other multi-story houses from that era, now occupied by art studios and boutiques.
And here’s the twist. Two hundred years after George Frederick Handel and his harpsichords lived there, another musician moved into the upstairs flat. Now Jimi Hendrix’s room is restored, with a very good exhibit about his brief residency in 1969. Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham decorated the room in fabrics, spreads and rugs. Based on her memory and many photo sessions that took place in this flat, the bedroom is restored and features a replica left-handed guitar. “Etchingham remembers that this guitar was always on the bed or propped up against the bed so that Hendrix could write songs, noodle away or jam with his guests.”
There are sample covers from his record collection, and a list of his records from Acker Bilk and Albert King through The Beatles, Bill Cosby and Handel himself to Richie Havens, Roland Kirk and Wes Montgomery.
Hendrix also entertained musicians and went out to hear music. The timeline says that in March 1969 “Hendrix goes to [the club] Ronnie Scotts to see Roland Kirk play” … there’s a photo … “and continues to return to the Speakeasy [a neighborhood club] to jam with the likes of The Gods and Billy Preston.”
This was a peak time in Jimi Hendrix’s career. Also a short time — a few months. Hendrix died in London in 1970 at age 27.
Tonight my friend Marian and I went to a pair of documentaries, footage from 1968. They are “Monk” and “Monk in Europe.”
The first shows the pianist Thelonious Monk in New York. He and his trio are playing at The Village Vanguard and recording for Columbia Records. The second film is from a northern European tour that included London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin and Rotterdam — travel, rehearsal and performance footage. Fifty years after they were shot, “Monk” and “Monk in Europe” come from an analog age. The light can be silvery and warm, the sound can get a little edgy but it’s remarkably good. Everything is real and draws you in.
In Europe Monk seems in turn travel-lagged and completely present, musically in charge during the concerts. Up close you see his face, his hand over hand technique, his pulsing feet. Toward the end of “Monk in Europe,” he plays several choruses of “Ask Me Now” with each phrase setting up the next one as though he’s advancing a story or building a case. Sometimes he pulls back from the narrative to embellish it or just run down the keyboard. For me it’s more logic than narrative. Music is his medium and he communicates. To see him create in real time is the gift of these films.
The crew — two brothers, one shooting and the other doing sound — gets up close. Monk is almost always in the frame and when he’s not, you feel he should be. While the octet sound checks in the hall, back at the hotel, Nellie Monk helps her husband get dressed for the concert. There’s a sense that he might be running late.
And yet having him in the picture does not guarantee that you know how he feels about things. That happens only when he’s playing, and maybe that’s an illusion too.
Charles Rouse, Larry Gales, Ben Riley play saxophone, bass and drums in both films. For the octet, Phil Woods (so young that I did not recognize his face) and Johnny Griffin complete the sax section, Ray Copeland on trumpet and James Cleveland on trombone. Clark Terry drops in as a guest soloist. He and Monk leave the stage with arms around each other.
Monk is last seen sitting between his niece and his wife, buckling his seatbelt to fly home, beaming a smile straight into the camera.
I have something new to love: Dorrance Dance. The tap troupe is at City Center here in New York through March 30. Last night was opening night.
Bill Irwin in top hat and tails choreographed, wrote and narrated Harlequin and Pantalon for one dancer – Warren Craft – in both roles. First he’s tall and wearing a diamond-patterned leotard (Harlequin), then a crooked old man in a black frock coat (Pantalon). Though they never share the stage (your first hint), the dancer slips behind a narrow satin curtain or disappears into an open trunk just long enough to hide the gleeful, almost successful costume changes. And Irwin (seated to the side) is guileful, slipping an obsequious reference to “the Endowment” (as in the National Endowment for the Arts) into an old tale as Harlequin and Pantalon fight over who owns the dancer and the dance.
In Jump Monk the ten Dorrance dancers tap, mostly in unison, to Brenda Bufalino’s choreography and Charles Mingus’s “Moanin’”. (“Jump Monk” and “Moanin’” share the same chord progression.) The sound design for this concert is foot-first, alive with the color and nuance of the countless ways a tap can hit the floor. I could close my eyes and listen but the dance is too good, even for a moment. Toward the end, as the live musicians dropped out, the dancing feet carried on and on, to the joy of all.
SOUNDspace – the second half of the concert – has no accompaniment. The choreography is by Dorrance and spotlights individual improvisations. At first you see just the dancers’ knees-to-feet in a row across the lip of the stage. They tap in the rhythm of a mighty railroad train coming down the tracks. Then Michelle Dorrance emerges in a long solo as the owner of two bare legs that seem interchangeably left and right. Tapping and re-mapping the stage, smiling and effortless, she is both boundless and precise. Also camoe-ed, Warren Craft (again) moves as a puppet on many strings. Nicholas Van Young brings a Paul Bunyan woodchopper look (life-sized, not a giant) as he slaps his thighs and taps his chest while his feet tap.
Throughout, I sat next to an empty chair and missed my friend Sue Moore. Until a few weeks ago, Sue was going to concerts and plays and reviewing them on her Facebook page. All the time she was fighting cancer. Earlier this month, she had to let go and on Monday, March 25, she died. Sue, I miss you. You are a mighty inspiration. A friend. Thank you.