The present DeRobertis Pasticceria and Caffe was established by Paolo DeRobertis, our grandfather on April 20, 1904. The original name Caffe Pugliese was in honor of the birthplace of Paolo DeRobertis, Puglia (the Apulia region of Italy) in the Province or Bari. Paolo DeRobertis instilled many passions that have been passed on through four generations. One of those passions was to create and maintain a tradition of family (La Famiglia). The meaning of La Famiglia is to reach across generations with Quality, Tradition and Prestige.
As I sat with Threadgill, he reflected on a relationship with Morris that spanned nearly four decades, and that seemed familial. Threadgill’s comments, which always range far and yet carry a tight logic, focused mostly on those same themes as the DeRobertis clan—Quality, Tradition and Prestige.
As I’ve written in the weeks since about the creative and practical challenges facing musicians here in New York, as well as about tensions over the place of traditional culture in a fast-changing New Orleans, I keep hearing echoes of what Threadgill had to say.
So I’m simply going to spill out some of those comments out, with just the barest (but I hope enough) context: Continue Reading
Photo by William P. Gottlieb/ Courtesy Library of Congress
When I interviewed Randy Weston for this recent Wall Street Journal profile, the 87-year-old pianist reflected on his youth in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.
“Back then, Brooklyn was a jazz city,” he said. “Musicians were local heroes. Once bebop hit, you could hear shoeshine guys whistling Charlie Parker melodies while they worked.”
Weston talked to me about spending time at the home of Max Roach, who was one year his senior, and whose family moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant when Roach was four years old. Any conversation with Weston involves digging deeply into the primacy of rhythm and the social and political context for African American music without ever landing on the word “jazz.”
It’s hard to overstate Roach’s importance to our understanding of rhythmic orientation and possibility in modern music, to African American identity in general, and concerning the pejorative connotations and linguistic failures of the word “jazz.”
I can’t wait to get a chance to dig into the collection of Roach’s personal archives, acquired by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and announced on Monday.
The above video gives a compelling taste of the music on and story behind a terrific CD coming from pianist Fabian Almazan—“Rhizome,” due March 18, through Blue Note/ArtistShare.
As I wrote about Almazan in a 2012 Wall Street Journal profile, “Much like the best of his contemporaries, Almazan revels in the space between musical styles, and between form and improvisation.” I called his previous CD, “Personalities,” “a bracing blend of lyrical Modernism, modern-jazz improvisation and postmodern sonic disruption.”
This new one sound like it furthers and refines that quest. Here, Almazan augments his fine working trio (bassist Linda Oh and drummer Henry Cole) with a string quartet (violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Omura, violist Karen Waltuch, and cellist Noah Hoffeld). He’d used that blend before, but never in such fully integrated and fleshed-out fashion. And this CD features vocals from Chilean singer/guitarist Camila Meza, whose presence and musicality is stirring.
The music sound like it has a story—a point of view—and it does. Continue Reading
Glen David Andrews plays "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" at the New Orleans City Council chambers. (Alex Woodward/Gambit)
I’m tempted to call today “Ray Nagin Faces Federal Charges Day.”
Just a week after celebrating the inspiring life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and reliving the messages within his memorable sentences, comes the beginning of a high-stakes public corruption trial against former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.
Nagin, who was the mayor that faced the fallout following the 2005 levee failures and flood in New Orleans, now faces a different sort of fallout. And we’re considering the message that might be contained in a different sort of memorable sentence. (Here’s a neat timeline of how Nagin got to this moment.)
Nagin was also the mayor who presided over a ravaged New Orleans that didn’t exactly welcome its indigenous jazz culture back in the wake of the flood. If you’ve been reading me, you know that I’ve stayed pinned to that story. (Here’s one chapter, from 2007.)
So today, I’ll not follow Nagin’s drama and instead stay glued to my screen, watching live online coverage of a different kind of public hearing in New Orleans—a meeting of the city council’s Housing and Human Needs Committee, to discuss a hot-button issue of vital importance: a revision to the city’s sound ordinance. Continue Reading
Melissa Aldana and Jimmy Heath performing at the NEA Jazz Masters celebration/ Photo by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy of NEA
It was long. It was rambling. And, especially when a photographer jockeying for position blocked Wynton Marsalis’s view of the teleprompter, making him stop midsentence, it had awkward moments.
The National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room earlier this month, hosted by Marsalis and CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, nevertheless reinforced some qualities that seem essential to jazz mastery, especially a searching spirit and a need for self-expression. Here’s my story. Continue Reading
If you’re walking around the campus of Harvard University in the coming months, you might bump into Herbie Hancock, a pianist whose harmonic and stylistic innovations are essential to any full understanding of modern jazz. Or you might pass by Vijay Iyer, who is among the bright and bold generations of pianists to absorb Hancock’s legacy along with those of other pianists—in Iyer’s case, prominently including Randy Weston, Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill—before crafting individualized pianistic languages rooted in yet not defined by jazz.
You might well find Hancock and Iyer together.
Their paths will intersect at the university as each exerts a powerful influence on how music is made, heard and considered there, as well as how culture in general is construed, beginning this Spring semester.
Hancock has been named the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor Of Poetry at Harvard. Iyer will serve as the university’s inaugural Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts. Continue Reading
Henry Threadgill (left) and Butch Morris at Manhattan's Time Cafe in 1995. Photo by Richard Sandler.
The Winter Jazzfest, now in its tenth year, has grown into a signature event of New York’s jazz scene. Like the environment it reflects, relationships hold its keys to discovery and understanding. Saturday night at Judson Church in Greenwich Village, within a sprawling nine-venue marathon featuring scores of bands, composer Henry Threadgill had assembled a seven-piece group, Ensemble Double-Up, to premiere a piece, “Old Locks and Irregular Verbs,” in remembrance of his friend, composer and conductor Butch Morris, who died in January 2013. My account is here. Continue Reading
Yesterday I was shaken by the deaths of two men: Roy Campbell, 61, a musician who expressed himself best on trumpet, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet but also played flute, was an insightful writer, and acted in independent films and plays; and Amiri Baraka, 79, who is best known as an influential poet, playwright and critic but whose use of words as rhythm and color and whose many performances with jazz ensembles counts him as a musician of high order in my book.
That they passed on the same day merely highlights many points of connection—cultural, spiritual and intellectual—regarding their respective arcs of art and life, not to mention one regular spot of physical convergence, Manhattan’s annual Vision Festival. That’s where I saw and heard Baraka, wearing reading glasses and a cardigan sweater, holding a book of his own prose onstage, making the phrase “We were slaves” sound alternately tender and fierce, sad and angry, as set against the thrum of William Parker’s bass. And it’s where I began a friendship I’ll always treasure with Campbell, who played in multiple Vision Fest set most years, sometimes alongside Parker, his dear friend and longtime associate, and often leading his own powerful bands.
It will take me a while to process these passings, and I’m sure to write about each of these men separately to celebrate their distinctive achievements and spirits: They were towering artists and very different men whose warmth, wit and wisdom took often contrasting forms. I suspect I’ll be attending gatherings in each of their honors.
Amiri Baraka/ photo by Peter Gannushkin
But just now, I want to mark the moment and acknowledge how much both of them taught me about what black music sounds like, why it sounds that way, and what that might mean. I want to share these black-and-white photos by Peter Gannushkin. I want to relay what musicians have told me about Campbell and what Baraka and Campbell have said to me. Continue Reading
Rebirth Brass Band (courtesy Blue Note Entertainment Group)
The first annual New York Brass and Heritage Festival kicked up last night, with New Orleans-based Rebirth Brass Band taking the stage of Manhattan’s Blue Note jazz club for a four-night residency. That gig culminates in a midnight after-party (with, I presume, special guests) on Jan. 10. The Rebirth band earned a Grammy Award in 2012. But they’ve long been heroes in the clubs and streets of their hometown.
If Rebirth revolutionized New Orleans brass-band tradition, incorporating funk and pop elements and attitude, they were turning the next page, following the innovations of their fellow New Orleans trailblazers Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who are also featured in the Brass and Heritage Festival (at the Highline Ballroom, Jan. 10, with Red Baraat, a Brooklyn-based group who blend second-line beats and sounds with North Indian bhangra rhythms, go-go music, hip-hop and beyond).
This five-night affair is subtitled “New Orleans in New York.” It extends, stylistically, well beyond brass-band music and, geographically, outside New Orleans borders. Continue Reading