Archive for December, 2013

Wade In The Water: 5 Jazz Takes On Spirituals

Friday, December 13th, 2013

By David Brent Johnson

The African-American religious folk songs known as spirituals grew out of the slavery experience and the introduction of Christianity into slaves’ lives. Though rooted in African musical tradition, they reflected life in a strange and terribly oppressive new world. Often improvisations upon older hymns, they became entirely new songs — songs like “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” and “Steal Away.” In some ways, they foreshadow the birth of American jazz.

Though spirituals were a product of enslavement, they also became a coded means of communicating escape. The lyrics of some are said to have referred to the Underground Railroad, and the singing of spirituals could signal an imminent slave revolt. They were also sometimes used to summon clandestine night-worship services — the so-called “invisible churches” that existed on plantations where masters feared that religious meetings could lead to insurrection and liberation.

In the years following the abolition of slavery, the Fisk Jubilee Singers introduced the sound of spirituals to many different audiences through concert tours. In the early 20th century, singers such as Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson performed spirituals, and they figured strongly in the repertoire of many New Orleans and revivalist jazz bands.

Spirituals were played less often in later years, but their themes of suffering and liberation retained a latter-day appeal for some modern jazz musicians, many of whom grew up knowing and singing spirituals in the African-American church community. Notable recordings were made by performers such as Louis Armstrong, Albert Ayler, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Haden and Hank Jones. Here are five jazz interpretations of spirituals by other artists.

Originally published at

William Parker’s Abstract Grooves Collected In Box Set

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

By Kevin Whitehead

Steve Lacy used to say that the right partner can help you make music you couldn’t get to by yourself. Take the quartet William Parker founded in 2000, for example. Parker’s bass tone was always sturdy as a tree trunk, but power drummer Hamid Drake gives him lift. The upshot is that free jazz can swing, too. The quartet’s front line is another firm partnership: quicksilver alto saxophonist Rob Brown and flinty trumpeter Lewis Barnes. Their scrappy unisons on the melodies are raggedly right, and they finish each other’s phrases when they improvise. Parker writes them all catchy tunes to use as springboards.

A new Parker box set deserves to be on a bunch of Christmas lists. Wood Flute Songs includes six concerts on eight CDs, recorded between 2006 and 2012. The first half is for the quartet alone. On the rest, that foursome plus guests make up units of five to 12 pieces, with mixed results. In a sextet, singer Leena Conquest and pianist Eri Yamamoto only intensify the groove, as in Parker’s war-victim’s protest song “Boom Boom Bang Bang.” A seven-piece edition includes Bobby Bradford on cornet, Billy Bang on violin (he’s sometimes a spiky presence in the rhythm section) and altoist James Spaulding, who played on dozens of vintage Blue Note dates without getting one of his own.

For Hamid Drake, this band and William Parker’s composing let the drummer get to all sorts of stuff he’s into, including reggae (“Daughter’s Joy”), funk, North African and Native American rhythms (“Ojibway Song,” “Hopi Spirits”).

Wood Flute Songs comes in a handsome and unfussy little cardboard box, with a fat program book containing fine art reproductions and William Parker’s notes. Its six recorded concerts are also available separately as downloads. The cautiously curious might try the quartet’s roaring good night at Yoshi’s in Oakland in 2006 — even if it starts with a 10-minute bass solo. The most recent music comes from June 2012, and a quintet where pianist Cooper-Moore throws some firecrackers.

I like the quartet with guests. But I like it alone at least as much.

Originally published at

27 Years Ago, Keith Jarrett Was A One-Man Band

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

By Banning Eyre

Keith Jarrett is a jazz legend. His catalog of recordings includes solo piano improvisations, trio and quartet works, classical performances, early sessions with Charles Lloyd and late ones with Miles Davis. But there’s nothing quite like Jarrett’s new double-CD set No End: It was recorded in his home studio in 1986, and he plays all the instruments — notably drums, bass and electric guitar.

Leave it to Jarrett to keep a surprise like this up his sleeve for 27 years. His prodigious work is marked by virtuosity and rigor, and he’s famously fussy onstage. But as a longtime fan, I’ve always been drawn to a certain warmth, looseness and funkiness in Jarrett’s work. These qualities shine on No End.

Jarrett says he loves playing drums and guitar because they’re instruments you touch directly — unlike piano, where mechanisms intervene. Listening to No End is like eavesdropping on the maestro’s private world, where he’s truly at play. These aren’t compositions, just spontaneous creations with what he calls “hit or miss” beginnings and endings. We even hear the hiss of the cassette tape he used for the session. For all that, Jarrett’s singular melodic gift and rich sensitivity to musical textures are unmistakable.

With all his achievement, it’s brave of Jarrett to reveal himself in this youthful, experimental, even innocent light. Looking back, he shares a surprising fondness for the ecstasy of the ’60s, Haight-Ashbury and the nascent days of hippiedom. Jarrett’s home studio creations can sound like classic Grateful Dead jams.

These 20 tracks are really a single work by a one-man band. The harmonies are simple: often one-chord vamps set to steady grooves. The playing is competent, but never virtuoso. Yet No End remains a seductive time capsule. A different artist might have kept this to himself, but Jarrett seems to cherish rediscovering a side of his younger self, and wonders how he could have left it in the drawer all these years.

Originally published at

Ben Allison: Leading A Stellar Band Far Beyond The World

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

By NPR Staff

Most music fans will recognize the title of Ben Allison’s new album, The Stars Look Very Different Today, as a reference to the song “Space Oddity,” itself a reference to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The era that birthed David Bowie and Stanley Kubrick’s respective masterpieces had a lasting effect on the bassist and composer — and, Allison says, on the crack team of musicians he currently has backing him up.

“The band has, I guess you could say, a decidedly rock feel, but there’s all these other sounds coming out of these guys these days: lots of kind of sci-fi sounds, which is what was happening on the scene at that time,” Allison tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “Electronics really hit the music scene, and it was a big influence on me, coming up as a young musician.”

The Stars Look Very Different Today features drummer Allison Miller, guitarist Steve Cardenas, and guitarist and banjo player Brandon Seabrook, all of whom lead bands of their own. Learn more about the making of the album, including what commonplace object Allison used to play its opening notes, by clicking on the audio link.

Originally published at

Bringing Jazz On Walkabout: Jon Batiste And Stay Human

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

By NPR Staff

Pianist Jonathan Batiste was born and raised in New Orleans as part of the Batiste jazz family dynasty there. He was playing with the family band by age 8. Eventually he took his talents to Julliard, and that’s where he met the rest of Stay Human: Joe Saylor on the drums, Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba and Eddie Barbash on alto sax.

The band is all about avoiding formality — so with them, Batiste goes by Jon — and making jazz as accessible as possible. If that means fusing it with funk or rock or pop, no problem. Ditching the grand piano for a portable piano-harmonica hybrid? Sure. Playing parades on the streets and in the subways of New York? Of course.

Jon Batiste and Stay Human have a new album called Social Music, and they recently met up Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin to perform in NPR’s Washington, D.C. studios. Hear the music, and their conversation, at the audio link.

Originally published at

Chico Hamilton, Drummer, Bandleader and Exponent of Cool Jazz, Dies at 92

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Chico Hamilton, a drummer and bandleader who helped put California on the modern-jazz map in the 1950s and remained active into the 21st century, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 92.

His death was announced by April Thibeault, his publicist.

Never among the flashiest or most muscular of jazz drummers, Mr. Hamilton had a subtle and melodic approach that made him ideally suited for the understated style that came to be known as cool jazz, of which his hometown, Los Angeles, was the epicenter.

He was a charter member of the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, which helped lay the groundwork for the cool movement. His own quintet, which he formed shortly after leaving the Mulligan group, came to be regarded as the quintessence of cool. With its quiet intensity, its intricate arrangements and its uniquely pastel instrumentation of flute, guitar, cello, bass and drums — the flutist, Buddy Collette, also played alto saxophone — the Chico Hamilton Quintet became one of the most popular groups in jazz. (The cellist in that group, Fred Katz, died in September.)

The group was a mainstay of the nightclub and jazz festival circuit and even appeared in movies. It was prominently featured in the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success,” with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. (One character in that movie, a guitarist played by Martin Milner, was a member of the Hamilton group on screen, miming to the playing of the quintet’s real guitarist, John Pisano.) And it was seen in “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” Bert Stern’s acclaimed documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

Cool jazz had fallen out of favor by the mid-1960s, but by then Mr. Hamilton had already altered the sound and style of his quintet, replacing the cellist with a trombonist and adopting a bluesier, more aggressive approach.

In 1966, after more personnel changes and more shifts in audience tastes, Mr. Hamilton, no longer on top of the jazz world but increasingly interested in composing — he wrote the music for Roman Polanski’s 1965 film, “Repulsion” — disbanded the quintet and formed a company that provided music for television shows and commercials.

But he continued to perform and record occasionally, and by the mid-1970s he was back on the road as a bandleader full time. He was never again as big a star as he had been in the 1950s, but he remained active, and his music became increasingly difficult to categorize, incorporating elements of free jazz, jazz-rock fusion and other styles.

He was born Foreststorn Hamilton in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1921. His father, Jesse, worked at the University Club of Southern California, and his mother, Pearl Lee Gonzales Cooley Hamilton, was a school dietitian.

Asked by Marc Myers of the website JazzWax how he got the name Chico, he said he wasn’t sure but thought he acquired it as a teenager because “I was always a small dude.”

While still in high school he immersed himself in the local jazz scene, and by 1940 he was touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band. After serving in the Army during World War II, he worked briefly with the bands of Jimmy Mundy, Charlie Barnet and Count Basie before becoming the house drummer at the Los Angeles nightclub Billy Berg’s in 1946.

From 1948 to 1955 he toured Europe in the summers as a member of Lena Horne’s backup band, while playing the rest of the year in Los Angeles. His softly propulsive playing was an essential element in the popularity of Mulligan’s 1952 quartet, which also included Chet Baker on trumpet but, unusually, did not have a pianist. The group helped set the template for what came to be known as West Coast jazz, smoother and more cerebral than its East Coast counterpart.

The high profile he achieved with Mulligan emboldened him to try his luck as a bandleader, something fairly unusual for a drummer in the 1950s. His success was almost instantaneous.

He went on to record prolifically for a variety of labels, including Pacific Jazz, Impulse, Columbia and Soul Note. Among the honors he received were a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2004 and a Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend Award in 2007.

Although slowed by age, Mr. Hamilton continued to perform and record beyond his 90th birthday. He released an album, “Revelation,” in 2011 on the Joyous Shout label, and had recently completed another one, “Inquiring Minds,” scheduled for release in 2014. Until late last year he was appearing at the Manhattan nightclub Drom with Euphoria, the group he had led since 1989.

Mr. Hamilton is survived by a brother, Don; a daughter, Denise Hamilton; a granddaughter; and two great-granddaughters. His brother the actor Bernie Hamilton, and his wife, Helen Hamilton, both died in 2008.

Mr. Hamilton was highly regarded not just for his drumming, but also as a talent scout. Musicians who passed through his group before achieving stardom on their own include the bassist Ron Carter, the saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Charles Lloyd and the guitarists Jim Hall, Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell. In a 1992 interview with National Public Radio, the saxophonist Eric Person, a longtime sideman, praised Mr. Hamilton for teaching “how to work on the bandstand, how you dress onstage, how you carry yourself in public.”

Mr. Hamilton taught those lessons as a bandleader and, for more than two decades, as a faculty member at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. Teaching young musicians, he told The Providence Journal in Rhode Island in 2006, was “not difficult if they realize how fortunate they are.”

“But,” he added, “if they’re on an ego trip, that’s their problem.”

By Peter Keepnews

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Originally published by

Sir Roland Hanna

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Sir Roland Hanna was one of the major artists in jazz and one of the most flexible pianists of any generation. Born in Detroit Michigan, Roland began private piano studies with Ms. Josephine Love at an early age. After graduation from Cass Technical High School and a two-year stint in the US Army, he continued his musical studies at the Eastman and Juilliard Schools of Music. He then followed with a mega-mile career journey, performing in concert halls and clubs in the major cities of the world. He was knighted, in 1970, by then President William V.S. Tubman of Liberia for humanitarian services to that country.

Sir Roland was a pianist who performed solo; contributed meaningfully to orchestras, bands, and small groups; and provided sensitive, sympathetic accompaniment to such artists as the late Sarah Vaughn (for whom he was musical director),Carmen McRae, and Al Hibbler. As a soloist, his finely tuned sense of time and Rock-of-Gibraltar left hand enabled him to create, without assistance, performances of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic excitement. As an ensemble player, his individuality displayed musical talent that had been honed and refined with years of experience. His experience included almost every aspect of music and occurred in such disparate contexts as The Benny Goodman Big Band, Charles Mingus experimental groups, The Eastman Symphony Orchestra, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, The New York Jazz Quartet, The American Composers Orchestra, The Lincoln Center and Smithsonian Jazz Orchestras, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and The National Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to an active itinerary that carried him to major clubs and auditoriums throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, the 1990’s provided the opportunity to return to his native Detroit as guest soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in performance of his composition, “Oasis,” a work for piano and orchestra. Previous performances of this work included its premiere by the Eastman Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Symphony Orchestra of Norrkoping. He also performed Duke Ellington’s “New World a comin’” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as featured soloist with The National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. The pianist and composer was the honouree of the 23rd annual Paradise Valley Jazz party in Phoenix, Arizona on April 15 and 16, 2000.

In addition to his performance and recording endeavors, Sir Roland was also a prolific writer. His writings display the same talent, creativity, and versatility demonstrated in his performances. A catalogue of over 400 compositions include not only works for standard jazz ensembles recorded by him and other recognised jazz artists, it also includes trios for cello, flute, and french horn, as well as larger works for piano and orchestra. Sir Roland’s writing incorporates a mixture of jazz and classical elements: a style often referred to as Classical Jazz. His works also include a jazz ballet for jazz orchestra and strings, commissioned by the BalletMet of Columbus, Ohio and choreographed by Graciela Daniele. The ballet, “My name Is Jasmine But They Call Me Jaz,” had its premiere at the Ohio Theatre in that city in April 1992 and continued as part of the company’s repertoire. A four-movement “Sonata For Chamber Trio and Jazz Piano,” was recorded on Angel Records in 1994; and, in l996 His “Sonata For Piano and Violin,” commissioned by The Library Of Congress, premiered in Washington, DC, choreographed by Danny Buraczeski and the Jazzdance dance troupe. Expanded in 2000 to include cello, the work was performed by the New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble and the Sanford Allen Chamber Ensemble.

While Sir Roland had some 50-plus albums to his credit, in 1997 as his way of “giving back,” with his wife, Ramona Hanna, he developed the Rmi label to focus on a series of recordings presenting brilliant new artists under the signature logo, “Sir Roland Hanna presents” The first of these: “Yoshio Aomori with Chris Roselli: I Love Bebop:” the second, “Michael Hanna: Family and Friends:” and the third, “Hideaki Aomori: Young Man With A Horn. Still to be released, “Jeb Patton plays Sir Roland Hanna.”

Along with his performance and recording schedule throughout the world, Sir Roland was a tenured professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, The City University of New York.

At the memorial concert at Queens College in honour and memory of Professor Hanna, friend, colleague and Professor Emeritus Jimmy Heath stated that no matter what Sir Roland Hanna did, or how he did it, he was always “raising the bar.” This is to be the mission of the Sir Roland Hanna Foundation to be set up in his name and legacy.

Originally published at

Photo credits:

  1. Photo on homepage –
  2. Photo #1 above –
  3. Photo #2 above –