Jim Hall, a guitarist who came to define modern jazz guitar and yet projected a singular warmth, sensitivity, and erudite approach to his instrument, died yesterday morning at his Greenwich Village home of heart failure, at 83.
BLU NOTES: Larry Blumenfeld on jazz and other sounds
If you write about jazz, that means a Year-End Top 10 list of recordings. I’d much rather consider who was naughty and nice, and what to give them: I’m ambivalent at best about Top 10s when it comes to music. (Though I love them on ESPN.) And yet I do them when asked, usually by publishers—here’s last year’s for this blog.
This year I gave one to Nate Chinen, who writes about jazz for The New York Times, and who invited me as a panelist for “The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable,” on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7pm.
Just a last week, while working on an essay to accompany the DVD release of a documentary about saxophonist Charles Lloyd, I came upon an early-1960s clip of Lloyd, on alto saxophone, playing in drummer Chico Hamilton’s group. The footage was fleeting, but long enough to convey the originality and intensity of that group, which also included guitarist Gabor Szabo. Lloyd had been suggested by Buddy Collette, who played flute, clarinet and saxophone in Hamilton’s first great ensemble, which he formed after his memorable tenure in baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s band, and which also featured guitarist Jim Hall and Fred Katz, a classically trained cellist.
Hamilton, who died at his New York City home yesterday morning, and who was born and raised in Los Angeles, was a subtle master, an understated innovator, a straight shooter and an active presence on jazz’s landscape through his final years, performing through late 2012 with his Euphoria group at Manhattan’s Drom. (There is a recent recording, “Inquiring Minds,” still yet to be released.) Continue Reading
While working on an essay recently I found myself writing this sentence: Friendships have formed the spine of jazz history.
The one between saxophonist John Zorn and trumpeter Dave Douglas counts among the more fruitful during the past couple decades. Zorn recently celebrated his 60th birthday with a flurry of concerts in New York, including an all-day marathon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Douglas marked his 50th with a new boxed set and a tour that aimed to hit all 50 states.
Aside from aesthetics, the two share a common impulse to essentially create their own worlds—Zorn with his Tzadik label and Manhattan club, The Stone, and Douglas through his Greenleaf Music. Douglas’s Greenleaf is more than a platform for his and other fine players’ music: It’s the sort of all-purpose portal an enlightened musician can create in these digital days, but that few get right. (Pianist Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math blog is another good iteration.) One of my favorite features of Greenleaf site is “A Noise from the Deep,” Douglas’s series of podcast interviews with other musicians. He kicked things off with a great conversation with saxophonist Henry Threadgill.
Wherein I’m hearing Keith Jarrett, messing around in his home studio in 1986, Ran Blake, alone at the piano, as recorded in 1965, and more:
Keith Jarrett No End (ECM, Nov. 26): ECM has been revealing many facets of Jarrett’s musicality during the past year: 2013 brought us “Hymns/Spheres,” a reissue of Jarrett’s organ work; “Somewhere,” a delightful and recent concert recording from Jarrett’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette; and “J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano,” with Michelle Makarski. Soon to come, I’m told is a 3-CD edition of Jarrett’s 1981 improvised concerts in Austria and Germany. All that music arrives with context. But “No End,” which will be released next week, is a pure curiosity. Here’s how the press release describes it: “illuminating hitherto undocumented aspects of Keith Jarrett’s music, recorded at his home in 1986. Piano plays but a cameo role, and instead he is heard on electric guitars, electric bass, drums and percussion, overdubbing tribal dances of his own devising.” Really. And 2 CDs of it. On first listen, it’s hard not to be struck by just how much Jarrett’s approach to electric guitar seems to reflect Jerry Garcia’s. And yet there’s an interesting rhythmic dynamic, at once meditative and insistent, that is pure Keith. I’ll keep listening. Continue Reading
Last night, I hosted a session of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s “Parallax Conversation” series. My guest: Ben Jaffe, son of Preservation Hall co-founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe, and who plays sousaphone and bass with the group and serves as Creative Director for Preservation Hall and its band. We discussed the Hall’s illustrious past, its changing contexts through the decades (especially afer the 2005 flood), and what it represents today.
“My father was always conscious of the tender tension between the past and present in New Orleans and in this music,” Jaffe said. “The name ‘Preservation Hall’ never meant that things should not evolve.” He talked about an epiphany he had during his senior recital at Oberlin College, where he played mostly modern jazz, but ended with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“These guys just didn’t know how to play it correctly, what rhythm to use,” he recalled. “And I thought: ‘What am I doing here? I belong in New Orleans.’” About Preservation Hall, Ben said, “It always comes back to what the musicians want and what the music needs.” In that moment, he sounded a lot like his dad, in a clip I showed from a 1961 episode of the “Brinkley News Hour” (below). Continue Reading