Miles Okazaki and WORK at the Jazz Gallery

The guitarist has released an album of all Monk’s tunes. He calls it WORK and, introducing Miles Okazaki on Friday night at the Jazz Gallery, the MC said it’s the first album with all the pianist’s compositions in one place. Onstage, drummer Damion Reid was Okazaki’s partner, but his 70-track album WORK is solo.

Here are the Monk compositions that I think I heard in the first set: Locomotive, Worry Later (San Francisco Holiday), Misterioso, Introspection, Gallops Gallop (introduced by the guitarist), and — after a piece that I couldn’t identify — Crepuscule with Nellie. Work, the piece, was somewhere in the two sets that I heard but I can’t tell you where. No apparent set lists, just flow.

I love the concept and though it’s not unique to Okazaki, he is a fine practitioner. He gets inside a song, hears the parts and then proceeds to repeat, reduce, reflect, refract, rephrase, reorder, invert, inflate, combine …

The album with complete audio is on

As with Steelonious (see the next post), there’s no piano — Monk’s instrument — in WORK. Now I’m on my way to the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble for Monk Dreams Hallucinations and Nightmares at Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Steelonious: Taking the Piano out of Monk Tunes

In my phone I have a fake book in pdf format, with hand-printed lead sheets for almost 70 Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) compositions, from Ask Me Now to Worry Later. I’m trying to learn them.

So two Sundays ago my friend Marian Eines (of the brass band Zlatne Uste) and I met up at Barbès (small music room that often features brass bands) in Brooklyn for Mike Neer on lap steel guitar with music from his album Steelonious. Thelonious played piano.

Monk compositions are jazz essentials — the canon inside the canon — and Steelonious sings them with new voices and dances to different beats.

Epistrophy anticipates trumpeter Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder (a generation later). Ask Me Now has a sweet coda. In Off Minor, drummer Diego Voglino seems to conjure Gene Krupa. Nutty is a reggae. I Mean You is “Texas style,” in Neer’s words, and Round Midnight is “soft and pretty” with a wisp of Hawaii.

Just when I decide that Neer’s steel soars above and guitarist Nate Radley stays more rhythmic, they switch. Matt Lavoca on bass responds to everyone, always adjusting. Steelonious blows new air through Monk’s tunes.

Straight No Chaser has a march beat, Misterioso a bossa. The steel and the guitar divide the melody between them. To close, they play In Walked Bud but not at the original jaunty tempo. Slower.

Soon I’ll go to the Jazz Gallery for guitarist Miles Okazaki, whose solo album Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk, has iron — not steel — on the cover. It’s a picture of train tracks crossing in Rocky Mount, NC, where Monk grew up.



Log cabins and stone buildings on the U.P.

The angle of the sun changes around Labor Day, and that’s when — with a half dozen independent-minded friends — I migrated north to Upper Michigan and ferried to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

We stayed two nights in the not-fancy lodge there. The rooms feature wide windows onto Lake Superior.

We hiked along Tobin Harbor to Scoville Point. Whether the path was stony or packed earth, hilly or flat along the water, it was quiet! And fun to briefly meet hikers coming back from several nights on the trail.

After the island, we relocated to Keweenaw National Historical Park outside Copper Harbor. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed Keweenaw in the 1930s with a grand lodge and a couple dozen cabins.

I sigh as I wish today’s federal government would conserve land today.

Changes are ahead. In July, Keweenaw was auctioned and sold to pay a $1.5 million debt to the US Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The new owner comes from Texas. He says he loves the Upper Peninsula. I hope he can keep Keweenaw natural and affordable.

We drove to Calumet where the extraordinary, century-old  buildings were glowing in afternoon light. This beauty, built in 1900 at 330 Fifth Street and most recently a bank, appears to be for sale or recently sold. Touch the stones; they’re warm.

As I walked the two long main streets, marveling at the masonry, the opening words to a Woody Guthrie song crept in my mind: “Take a trip with me in 1913 to Calumet Michigan in the copper country …”

It’s the story of a Christmas Eve fire in the Italian Hall. Trying to escape, striking copper miners’ children were killed. I still feel the sadness. Calumet was lightly populated for my visit.



Randy Weston on JazzSet

This photo of Abdullah El Gourd (with the guembri) and Randy Weston by Junenoire Mitchell comes from the French Institute/Alliance Française, New York. I put it on the JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater web page when we featured  Randy Weston and his African Rhythms band onstage at NJPAC in Newark.

Here’s a link to a musical highlight with a long written narrative by me. There was so much to say!

At the time Weston’s great friend and fellow pianist Ray Bryant had just died, so I led with Randy’s memories of Ray, especially how they had performed jazz in 40 elementary schools in New York City in the 1960s.

Pause to imagine their charisma …

Weston’s trombonist Benny Powell had also just died. When you scroll through the JazzSet story, you see photographer Lena Adasheva‘s beautiful photo of him. Is she still shooting jazz?

Finally, Abdullah El Gourd from Morocco and Weston were honored at the World Nomads program at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, 2011. Hence the photo. I covered this event for this JazzSet and remember El Gourd telling me that — besides playing Gnaouan music — he had long been employed as a technician for Moroccon state radio.

JazzSet aired weekly from 1992-2014. Besides the NJPAC show, we   recorded/presented Weston at the Kennedy Center in Washington, on a Bosendorfer piano with a few extra keys on the low end. Randy played those keys! Always his knees came up to key level. He was that tall. I believe that in the 1980s WBGO/NPR recorded a Weston concert for the American Jazz Radio Festival series. This concert might now live at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers in Newark.

Long live Randy Weston! In his words We are all musicians. Our voices are our instruments; our hearts are our drums. Thanks to him for his beautiful life in jazz.




Chick Corea Spain sing along

Here, a Chick Corea quintet is at Montreux, playing his “Spain.”

At approx 10:30 from the top of this YouTube file, before the out chorus/finale, Chick feeds the audience an improvisation, one measure at a time, and the audience sings each measure back to him.

Because the phrases are short, it’s easy to transcribe them, and to transcribe the call-and-response is to learn it.

Whether you’re a singer, pianist, or playing something else, I hope you will agree! Let me know. BTW, if you click on the image of the transcription, it gets bigger, more readable.


Tri-C in CLE: Dee Dee / Memphis, Joshua / Still Dreaming, Jose James / Bill Withers

(c) 2018 Jeff Forman, Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland

The Tri-C Jazz Festival is outdoors and in, the weekend before the Fourth of July, on Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Tri-C is Cuyahoga Community College, a two-year school with a Jazz program. I would love to enroll. The Festival bookings by my friend Terri Pontremoli create continuities and comparisons that keep my mind happily busy, days later. Here’s some of what I saw …

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Dee Dee Bridgewater slept with a transistor radio under her pillow, the better to receive soul music after dark from WDIA-AM / Memphis. Now she is singing the repertoire — Al Green’s “Can’t Get Next to You,” Barbara Mason’s “Yes I’m Ready,” Mavis Staples’s “Why (Am I Treated So Bad),” Carla Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y Baby,” Elvis’s “Hound Dog,” Otis’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” All from her CD Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready.

That’s guest Kirk Whalum on the left, Bryant Lockhart on the right, and Dee Dee in stiletto heels after more than a year in flats. She says the shoes affect her performance. I’ve seen her Memphis show four times now and I love it more — sweet soul, Dee Dee’s miraculous vocal range, a euphonious band led by Dell Smith on the organ with back-up singers, the easy tempos, the comedy, the message to Vote in November.

In the 1970s-80s Old and New Dreams with Dewey Redman on tenor tipped its collective hat to Ornette Coleman’s quartets. Three players were from west of the Mississippi, and Ed Blackwell brought his jazzy street beat from New Orleans. Now Joshua Redman (Berkeley) tips his hat to Old and New Dreams with Still Dreaming — piano-free, melody-leading, harmonic possibilities rather than changes, and a drummer on parade. This group sounds fresh. Close listening is rewarded.

(c) 2018 Jeff Forman, Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland

Joshua has footwork. He shifts his weight, lifts his knees and high-steps into the music, leading the quartet forward. The band members — Ron Miles (Denver), cornet; Scott Colley (LA and Texas in his past), bass; Brian Blade (Louisiana), drums. With exceptions noted, they composed the music — “New Year,” “Walls Bridges” by Dewey Redman, “Haze and Aspirations,” “It’s Not the Same,” “Unanimity,” and “Blues Connotation” by Ornette Coleman.

After Dreaming, another quartet appeared in full funky force in the lobby. Sax-o-matic from Quebec City ripped through Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, more. Terri discovered them online. They popped up indoors and out, always gathering a crowd.

Vinicius Cantuaria comes from Brazil. He sings in Portuguese and plays guitar.

(c) 2018 Jeff Forman, Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland

I sat close to the percussionist, watching him choose among shakers and bells, his two standing drums. This is advanced samba. The musicians raise the intensity by adding beats inside the beat.


And most ’70s of all,

(c) 2018 Jeff Forman, Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland

José James sang the Bill Withers songbook. He has the ideal voice for it — a little grainy. Sometimes he stops / restarts a phrase, as a DJ with a light finger on the turntable. With Brad Allen Williams, guitar; Takeshi Okioshi, keyboards; Ben Williams, bass; Nate Smith, drums, James closed with “Just the Two of Us” and “Lovely Day.”

Bill Withers was born on the Fourth of July, 1938. I missed a tribute to him at Carnegie Hall earlier this season, and seeing José James set helped to ameliorate that pain.

Foreign Bodies, Music on Fire .. Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in “Foreign Bodies” at David Geffen Hall, 6/9/ 18. Photo by Chris Lee

The three pieces on the June 8 concert were New York premieres in whole or part, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen composed two of them. Foreign Bodies opened on a full stage  and above it a giant screen, the canvas for live-feed images of colorful filaments, pick-up sticks, morphing boxes and flaming orange peaks. The orange above seemed to speak to the bold orange proscenium extension, so far unused. Later in the concert, it would be the setting for an awesome dance.

A Foreign Bodies mixtape from the NYPhil offers the entire composition as three separate files on Spotify.

The screen had vanished along with about 1/3 of the orchestra when young soloist Pekka Kuusisto entered. Kuusisto gently combined his instrument with his whistling to begin the Violin Concerto by Daníel Bjarnason. The music shifted like weather, stirring the space, becoming gauzy then gathering weight. This piece was my favorite. Until what came next.

“Watch for the orange stage,” says the Foreign Bodies brochure handed out at the door, “a possible representation of a volcanic eruption.” Two Boston Ballet dancers on the bright colored strip at the stage lip and opened “Obsidian Tear,” choreography by Wayne McGregor to music by Salonen. A single violinist in a First Tier box  played the first movement, Lachen verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt), energetically. When the music segued into Nyx for orchestra, half of dozen more male dancers appeared and the music grew massive with a wide trombone section that I loved. Very physical, this music! and the dance is powerful and athletic. It ranges from violent to tender with turns and leaps that in a romantic context would seem like pure grace.

David Geffen Hall can seem blank and boxy, but the colors and lighting transformed it for me. I sat in a great seat, nicely priced.

Two Francs in New York with Bechet Music

Last night saxophonist Olivier Franc and pianist Jean Baptiste Franc came from Paris to Triad with a Sidney Bechet (1897-1959) show. Born in New Orleans and died in Paris, Bechet was a musical original who played clarinet and soprano sax.

Triad  on W 72nd Street feels like Paris or maybe Berlin between the wars, ideal for Olivier’s magnificent tone and Bechet’s melodies — Passport to Paradise, Casbah, I’ll Be Proud of You/Sweet Louisiana, Petite Fleur and more. JB emerges as more than an accompanist. He dedicated his first solo of the evening, Anitra’s Dance, to Donald Lambert (1904-62), the barely-recorded, first-class stride pianist from Newark, NJ.

It turns out that over Memorial Day weekend, JB won first place in the Old Time Piano Competition in Oxford MS. A five-hour video of the finals is here. At 26:30 into the file, JB begins Anitra’s Dance at a sedate tempo. Do not be fooled. At 4:02:00 (yes, 3 1/2 hours later), he is back to play the Weather Bird Rag as a piano solo. Famously recorded by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, JB says that Armstrong composed it on a riverboat the Mississippi. Finally I highly recommend JB’s out chorus of a Chopin waltz just after 4:10:00. The audience can’t wait til the end to applaud.

At Triad the Francs invited New York pianist Allan Tate to the stage for a couple of tunes and a three-man encore. Mysteriously, every week Facebook sends me a tally of the visitors to Allan Tate’s home page so we have a connection, though he wasn’t aware of it, and I felt very happy to introduce myself.

After the show the Francs’ albums were for sale individually on CDs and all together on a thumb drive. Pull it apart and plug one side into a USB port and listen again and again. That’s what I’ve been doing. C’est ce que je fais et je l’aime!




BB King’s closes .. Jon Paris plays it out

On April 23, Jon Paris (bio here) and companions played their last Monday night of LIVE BLUES at Lucille’s at BB King’s in Times Square, the end of an 18 year run.

Paris came east from Milwaukee. As he said on the bandstand, “I’ve been in New York about ten times longer than I was in Wisconsin.” I love his evocations of post WWII Chicago blues, steeped in Vietnam. Here’s his first set of his last night at Lucille’s.

“Overhauled Cadillac” by Paris from his Blue Planet (2004) … refrain: “I just got a tuneup and an overhaul, my Cadillac’s ridin’ just like new …”

“The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll” by Muddy Waters … also on Blue Planet  and Waters’s Hard Again (1977), produced by Johnny Winter in whose band JP worked in the 80s and 90s

Two from Jimi  … “Castles Made of Sand” and “Up from the Skies” … I love this lyric “I just wanna know about the rooms behind your minds, Do I see a vacuum there or am I going blind?” … both from Axis Bold as Love (1967) … “Skies” melded into “On Broadway,” the location of the late Lucille’s … by Cynthia Weil and Mike Leiber

“Tryin Times” by Doug Yankus from JP’s Rock the Universe (1996)

Song by Stuffy Shmitt … could be “Til I Lost You” from Blue Planet … I’m not sure

Jon says, “It’s not a sad night. One door closes, another door opens” leading to a medley for/from Chuck Berry, Johnnie Johnson, “my mom” … “I Almost Lost My Mind” (Ivory Joe Hunter) –> a boogie “Blue Monk” (Thelonious) –>”Blues This Bad” (Johnny Winter)

“My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble” …  “my favorite Muddy Waters tune from Blue Planet” (JP) … with the lyric “I want women on my left, women on my right, women all day, women all night …”

“Talk to Me, Baby [on the telephone]” (Elmore James) with JP slide guitar and harmonica solos

“Johnny B Goode” (Chuck Berry) … “Maybe someday your name will be in lights, sayin ‘Johnny B Goode tonight’ …”

But not on Mondays at Lucille’s. The run with Amy Madden, bass, and Sam Bryant, drums, is over. On June 30 Jon Paris opens for Buddy Guy at Summerfest in … Milwaukee.


Corea Plays Monk

Chick Corea and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, April 7, 2018

Time is of essence in Thelonious Monk’s concise melodies, syncopated and swinging. Notes rub against each other. The music dances. Conceived for quartet, the pleasure multiplied as Chick Corea and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra delivered a concert of ten Monk compositions arranged by band members and Corea, who adapted “Work” (from 1951) specifically for this band and this concert.

Pianist Corea graduated from high school in Boston and came to New York to see Thelonious Monk perform. On one date, because the club owner had said “Play short sets,” Monk set an alarm clock – an old mechanical clock with two bells like mouse ears atop the face – to ring after half an hour. Corea pitches his close-handed tremolos so that they too ring like bells and almost clash. Improvising lines, he always keeps the band in mind as he supports and responds and prods and interrogates. I’m a better listener when I listen to him.

Trombonist Vincent Gardner arranged “Light Blue” – introduced by leader Wynton Marsalis as “unusual” in form and content – and Corea trilled near the top of the piece. A bit later, two trumpets trilled together, recalling the pianist’s moment, but in fact Chick had set them up. Gardner’s re-invention of “Trinkle Tinkle” featured a Marsalis solo. After an extended section with lo-o-ng tones (also trilled), the trumpeter came right back and punched out his phrases to rock the house. We the audience loved it.

The program was Four in One Think of One Light Blue Hackensack Bye-Ya Trinkle Tinkle Epistrophy Work (Chick’s arrangement) Ask Me Now (described by Marsalis as romantic but I’d say only in the closing fully orchestrated chorus) and Rhythm-a-ning.

As we focused on Corea and the LCJO in Rose Hall, pianist Helen Sung was playing small-group Monk a few steps away at Dizzy’s, and Herlin Riley was funkifying Monk in the Appel Room. So for every piece I heard, I was missing two.