BLU NOTES
Larry Blumenfeld on jazz and other sounds

BLU NOTES: Larry Blumenfeld on jazz and other sounds

Danilo Pérez’s Dream for Panama Keeps Growing

Danilo Pérez Jr. (left) in performance with Danilo, Sr. (right) at the opening of Danilo's Jazz Club in Panama City. image courtesy of American Trade Hotel by Doug Bruce, 2014.

I was pleased to see Melena Ryzik’s piece in today’s New York Times, reporting on the Panama Jazz Festival founded by pianist Danilo Pérez 12 years ago.

In it she writes:

…here he was, at 1:30 a.m. Friday, sitting behind the grand piano in the intimate Danilo’s Jazz Club, the city’s only performance space dedicated exclusively to jazz, now packed with friends and visitors. He was joined by John Patitucci, the Shorter quartet bassist, and a host of international musicians and students, eager to improvise alongside the masters. Nêgah Santos, 24, a Brazilian powerhouse in denim shorts, gave her congas a workout; Samuel Batista, 24, a Panamanian in his third year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, drew full-throated cheers with his saxophone. The jam lasted until closing time, and afterward Mr. Pérez gathered his young charges at a cocktail table to dispense encouragement and wisdom. “This kind of thing wakes you up, right?” he said, grinning.

Pérez’s festival is itself a wake-up call about several things: the pan-American identity of jazz; the role of Panama within that legacy; the role musicians, concerts and music education can play in civic uplift, economic development and cross-cultural relations; not to mention the aesthetic future of the music he makes.

As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, when I reported on the third edition of Pérez’s festival:

Mr. Pérez, who is 48, is not alone in seeking a deepened and more detailed understanding of the influences throughout the Western hemisphere that have shaped jazz. Yet he is among the most diligent and talented of his generation to take up that task. And he has highlighted “the almost hidden voice of Panama,” he said, “which was always present.”

Pérez’s current playing and his outlook about if is profoundly influenced by more than a decade as pianist in the wonderful quartet led by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. But the inspiration for his festival, and for the arc of his own music is rooted in earlier mentors. Continue Reading

Message At Charlie Haden Memorial: “Hey, Man—We’re Family”

Carla Bley (at piano) led The Liberation Music Orchestra to end a memorial concert for its founder, bassist Charlie Haden/photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

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New Year’s Resolution for New Orleans: Create Laws In Tune With Jazz Culture

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the New Year is some movement in the right direction when it comes to cultural policy in New Orleans.

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Stars Will Come Out And Friends Will Gather to Remember Charlie Haden on Jan. 13

Bassist Charlie Haden in 2010/photo by Steven Perilloux

Below this post is a list of musicians and others who made a mark in jazz or blues, and who died in 2014, as forwarded by radio host George Klein.

I’ve posted at length on some of these deaths (Roy Campbell, Amiri BarakaFred Ho).

The one that hit me hardest was Charlie Haden. As I wrote here:

In conversation as on the bandstand, where he played his bass with graceful authority and achieved great renown, Charlie Haden was both soft-spoken and outspoken. In his life and his music, he was exceedingly gentle, drawn to simple beauty yet also at home within wild complexity and unafraid of controversial ideas and hard truths.

Haden was a towering figure of American music. His influence and appeal reached into all quarters of jazz, and well beyond that genre. His ability to innovate helped sparked at least one musical revolution, as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet. His unerring sense of time and love of melody anchored and focused many distinguished bands, some of which he led. His radiant humanity and stalwart voice for social justice was both rare and powerful in any field.

Those who doubt that jazz still has a community, one that shares a singular bond and a common purpose, don’t grasp the essence of Haden’s career and probably never attended a memorial for a fallen jazz hero.

I’ll be there—and you should be too—when musicians, other colleagues and fans gather in Haden’s honor in Manhattan for a memorial organized by his widow, singer Ruth Cameron Haden.

CELEBRATING CHARLIE HADEN 1937-2014

a memorial and celebration of his life

Tuesday, Jan.13, 2015 at 7:00 PM

The Town Hall

123 West 43rd Street NYC 10036

for more information, go here

http://thetownhall.org/event/624-celebrating-charlie-haden-19372014

THIS EVENT IS FREE! General Admission. Doors open at 6 pm.

Tax deductible donations to benefit the Charlie Haden CalArts Scholarship Fund to assist jazz students in need can be made at the venue or sent to: P.O. Box 520, Agoura Hills, CA 91376.

Among the many scheduled performers: Geri Allen, Kenny Barron, Carla Bley, Jack DeJohnette, Denardo Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Frisell, Ethan Iverson, Josh Haden and the Haden Triplets, Ruth Cameron-Haden, Dr, Maurice Jackson, Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny, Josh Redman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Brandee Younger, as well as Quartet West with Alan Broadbent, Ernie Watts, Rodney Green, with Scott Colley on bass, and Liberation Music Orchestra with Carla Bley, Tony Malaby, Chris Cheek, Loren Stillman, Michael Rodriguez, Seneca Black, Curtis Fowlkes, Vincent Chancey, Joe Daley, Steve Cardenas, Matt Wilson, with Steve Swallow on bass.

What follows is Klein’s roll call (annotations are his). I welcome your additions for overlooked names. And I hope to see you at Town Hall. Continue Reading

Best Jazz Of 2014

First, my contrarian and uncool confession: I used to think that I hated lists. I just don’t think music is a competition. Nor is writing about it, for me, a ratings game. (I prefer telling stories and reviewing each recording in its own context.) Still, I see the point, know the drill and have my choices, which honor worthy recordings and form a guide to satisfying listening. And this time of year is about giving: What readers want is lists, so I should give accordingly.

Truth is, I’ve found that the making of these lists—the consciousness, conversations, even arguments they generate in the context of the many other lists made by critics, bloggers and even musicians—does in fact add up to meaningful context. That point was best driven home or me by actual public conversation at a “Year in Jazz” panel hosted by my colleague Nate Chinen and presented by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Nate’s list can be found among the 140 ballots in the 9th annual NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, with thanks to my colleague Francis Davis, who does the friendly arm-twisting and diligent legwork required for such a thing. (The full results can be found here)

This year, I felt especially compromised by my current focus on New Orleans research, which meant that I wasn’t listening to a lot of the worthy CDs that came in, and I didn’t seek out new stuff as much as usual. But in truth, these days, considering the ease with which musicians and indie labels can put out unexpected and excellent stuff—considering the sheer volume and breadth of what comes out—no critic can claim to have truly surveyed the field. (And those who do must likely have given only the most cursory listen to a lot of music that demands closer attention.)

Two themes that run through my list (and that I find in a good many others, too):

—Afro Latin influence in jazz continues to flower anew. We’re hearing more complex and more finely wrought jazz built upon Afro Cuban traditions. We’re hearing the full range of Central and South American and Caribbean influences as distinct elements of this picture. What once might be called “Latin jazz” (and still is, on NPR’s poll) is no longer a cousin or an “other” but rather an elemental strand.

—Out is in, and in is out, or something like that: It’s not as easy as it once was to define a mainstream among jazz’s best recordings, and this atomization of style is liberating.

If nothing else, these lists steer us away from reflecting on the fact that some stupid stuff happened in print in 2014.

Ok, here goes: Continue Reading

Cuba: The New Normal

Even things that seem necessary, logical and overdue can arrive unexpectedly.

As with President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century.

In his speech, Obama said:

…We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests. And instead, we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

Only Congress can lift the official embargo of Cuba, which the incoming Republican majority in both houses is unlikely to support. Yet, according to the president, the United States will: re-establish an embassy in Havana and high ranking officials will visit Cuba; review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism; take steps to increase travel commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba; enable, among other things, the use American credit and debit cards on the island; and significantly increase the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and remove limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector.

All this arrived via considerable drama, involved secret meetings and he involvement of the Pope—as reported in The New York Times:

After winning re-election, Mr. Obama resolved to make Cuba a priority for his second term and authorized secret negotiations led by two aides, Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga, who conducted nine meetings with Cuban counterparts starting in June 2013, most of them in Canada, which has ties with Havana.

Pope Francis encouraged the talks with letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro and had the Vatican host a meeting in October to finalize the terms of the deal. Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to seal the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct substantive contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years.

In his speech, the president said, “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.” And this: “It’s time for a new approach.” He lent context to his decision with these words:

Change is hard in our own lives and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past.

Already, church bells in Havana are ringing in celebration. My in-box is stuffed with excited messages from my colleagues, including a good many musicians, about something “we’ve waited a long time to hear.” Furious statements have been fired off by the anti-Castro contingent, including Republican presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (who posted this piece at Huffington Post).

Beyond the effects this sea change will have to relieve needless suffering on the part of innocent Cuban people and lend further maturity, ethical standing and productive thinking to U.S. foreign relations, there will no doubt be a dramatic shift in the context of the culture that has always flowed from the island of Cuba and its essential connections to that of the U.S. As the tone and direction of U.S. policy transforms, the sound of the music that has always bounced between two countries will reverberate more freely and, quite likely, change.

As I recently wrote: “Want to hear the hippest jazz in New York? Follow a Cuban musician. The most exciting storyline right now in New York City jazz and the most invigorating music most often comes from players with Afro Latin roots. That fact, and the specifics of these musical projects, says much about a broadened landscape for what used to be called (but thankfully no longer can) Latin jazz, its elemental value to whatever we call jazz, and to the cultural melting pot that is New York.

In decades of reporting on that cultural beat in New York City, and via four trips to Cuba during the last decade or so, I’ve seen just how deeply and unnaturally the U.S. policy toward Cuba has distorted and at times curtailed this elemental connection. Continue Reading

In Spain, As In New Orleans, Culture Finds Trouble With The Law

Maybe brass band players in New Orleans should sit down and have a talk with the flamenco musicians of Seville, Spain. There’d be some shared rhythmic legacies to discuss, sure. But more to the point, some common and pressing problems with local governments and police.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been writing consistently about tensions between the celebrated jazz culture of New Orleans and the powers that be in that city—about efforts to inhibit or even shut down cultural expression in ways that reflect not just the forces of gentrification and commercialization but also long-simmering political and social divides.

I’ve also been looking into similar dynamics in other cities—say, when the Giuliani administration in New York City began shutting down rumbas in public parks as part of its “Zero Tolerance” policing program.

A friend just forwarded an article at Truthout by Yossi Bartal that begins like this:

Recently recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and increasingly used by communities in southern Spain to attract tourism, flamenco music and dance seem to enjoy an unprecedented revival all around the world. But the public spaces and social centers that play a major role in the formation of flamenco culture are increasingly threatened by gentrification, newly legislated municipal ordinances and heavy policing.

I’d literally just written these lines:

Now—as a yet undefined “new” New Orleans rubs up against whatever is left of the old one—a revival of rarely enforced ordinances has met a fresh groundswell of activism. Brass bands have been shut down on their customary street corners, where they play for passersby. Music clubs have increasingly been hit with lawsuits and visited by the police responding to phoned-in complaints. All this has happened in the context of swift gentrification of neighborhoods such as Tremé, long a hothouse for indigenous culture. Continue Reading

At Revived Minton’s in Harlem, Pianist Bertha Hope Reflects On Her Late Husband

There’s a bona fide scene going on these days under the revived Minton’s banner in Harlem, and it includes both notable music and good food. Next weekend—December 12 and 13—I’ll be sure to be there for Andy Bey, who gets my vote, hands down, as the best living male jazz singer, and who is also his own best accompanist on piano.

Sunday, December 7, pianist Bertha Hope will lead a quintet dedicated the music and memory of her late husband, Elmo Hope, an important jazz pianist and composer whose was a close associate of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell during a time when bebop innovations were being formulated and refined. Although Betha recorded three piano duets with Elmo (who died in 1967) few knew that she was a talented pianist until her 1992 Minor Music release Between Two Kings.

Like Elmo did, Bertha has a gift for subtle innovation. I hope I make it up to Minton’s to hear her. If you’re in New York, you should too. And here’s a little piece I wrote about here a dozen years ago (hence the dated references) for Jazziz magazine, that I’ve dug up in celebration.

By the time Bertha Rosemond was in junior high school in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, she was immersed in music. She’d walk home from school with a boy from her neighborhood who just happened to be destined for jazz immortality, Billy Higgins, and he’d play his sticks on anything he could: a fence, a garbage can lid. They’d trade recordings of the latest music. One day, a friend of Billy’s lent her something exotic, from New York: The Amazing Bud Powell.

“I was hooked,” she recalls, now decades removed at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. “I heard this interval I hadn’t encountered: the flatted fifth. I kept trying ‘til I could play that beginning.  I was picking it up by ear.” The young Bertha had started on piano at 3, having played in churches for her father, a singer, at 10 or 12, and having been blessed with the ability to hear such things. Continue Reading

Cassandra Wilson on Billie Holiday

I recently got word that Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, has signed singer Cassandra Wilson. Wilson’s first album for the label will be “Coming Forth By Day,” which a press release described as “a musical homage to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday” and a “showcase for contemporary yet timeless standards associated with Lady Day.”

Wilson is hardly the first singer to pay such tribute. (My own favorite album along such lines is Dee Dee Bridgewater’s 2010 CD, “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee” (DDB Records/Emarcy).

Yet Wilson, whose CD is slated for Spring 2015, in time for the centennial of Holiday’s birth, will, I’m certain, have her own distinctive take. (As readers of this blog know, she’s among my favorite musicians. I haven’t heard the music yet. But the news prompted me to dig out a somewhat long soliloquy Wilson gave me about Holiday, when I was writing a piece about Holiday years ago, that began with my asking, “When do you remember first hearing Billie Holiday?” It hints at where she’ll be coming from when she sings these songs: Continue Reading

Top Ten (So Far)

I don’t love making those year-end top 10 lists (for more on why, look here).

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