Archive for April, 2018


April 28, 2018

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
April 27, 2018


GabNat Music

Kevin Bales, piano; Keri Johnsrud, vocals; Billy Thornton, bass/vocals; Marlon Patton, drums.

A flurry of piano notes from the flying fingers of Kevin Bales open the first song in a tribute to the music of Fred Rogers. Who is Fred Rogers? You may more quickly recognize him if I call him, “Mr. Rogers,” the television celebrity who made so many children happy for nearly thirity-five years. This album shows us the jazzy genius of this man. His songs are smart, positive and melodic. Beginning with “It’s You I Like” that lyrically reminds us, “It’s not the things you wear, it’s not the way you wear your hair. It’s you I like.” You hear this song one time and already you can hum the melody. That’s the sign of an outstanding songwriter. Keri Johnsrud is the vocalist who interprets these catchy songs. Their trio swings hard and non-stop. Bales is an expert on the 88-keys and Marlon Patton rides the rhythm, fluent on his drum kit. Billy Thornton takes an impressive bass solo on this first song, after which, these four musicians have established their territory. What they bring to the table is laid out like a jazzy tablecloth on their very first tune. The group is Straight Ahead and no nonsense when it comes to their arrangements.

True, Mr. Roger’s music catered to children on several shows like ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ ‘The children’s Center’ and ‘The MisteRogers Show.’ In fact, Kevin Bales and Keri Johnsrud grew up listening to these catchy melodies and poignant lyrics. A couple of years ago, in casual conversation, they realized both of them had enjoyed and become attached to the Fred Rogers compositions as children. Upon research, they discovered that Rogers had actually composed every song heard on his programs. His simple messages of friendship, love and emotional connections not only apply to children, but easily apply to adults. This is quite evident on tunes like “Just for Once.” This composition explores friendship and is arranged with exotic sounding drums beats, bringing to mind Ahmad Jamal arrangements and memories of Jamal’s popular “Poinciana” hit record. Patton employs mallets and the lovely softness they bring to music on “Find A Star”.

This is an album worthy of listening to, not only because the trio is talented and resourceful, but also because these arrangements establish Fred Rogers as a competent and sensitive composer/lyricist. Keri Johnsrud has a very pretty, pop voice and does a fine job of sharing the Roger’s melodies with us. However, I would not call her a jazz singer. That diminishes this production in a subtle kind of way, because the trio is definitely jazz. “Beyond the Neighborhood” has certainly awakened this jazz journalist to the music of Fred Rogers. So, I would acknowledge, mission accomplished!
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DON BRADEN – “EARTH WIND AND WONDER” Creative Perspective Music

Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Brandon McCune & Art Hirahara, piano; Joris Teepe & Kenny Davis, bass; Cecil Brooks III & Jeremy Warren, drums.

This is a tribute album to the magnificent, musical contributions of Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. Jazz reedman, Don Braden, has celebrated the popular music of these two Grammy-winning artists with his tenor saxophone, flute and alto flute. He shows the world that these pop icons and popular musicians are also incredible composers. As we know, a great song can be interpreted any number of ways. Every cut on this recording is superbly produced and Braden’s exciting ensemble of memorable musicians do not disappoint. Starting with the familiar classic, Earth Wind & Fire’s hit record, “Fantasy,” (composed by Verdine & Maurice White and E, Dek Barrio) the Braden ensemble kicks into high gear and speeds Straight-ahead with no compunction. Braden’s flute on “Visions” is beautifully executed. The melody of this Wonder tune is already lovely and I’m happy that Don Braden chose his flute to interpret it. Starting as a ballad, it doesn’t take the band long to march into a slow-swing groove. Michael Jackson’s recording of the Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green song, “I Can’t Help It” is one of my favorite pop songs. Braden transforms it into a beautiful jazzy arrangement. Braden has also offered two original compositions, “The Elements” and “The Wonder of You”. Both are well written compositions that leave plenty of room for his band members to showcase their extraordinary skills.

Don Braden’s love of Wonder’s music and Earth Wind and Fire songs started in Louisville, Kentucky, when he was just a young man. It was not only the melodies and the danceability, but the messages within these songs that caught Braden’s ear. Braden says he soaked up the joy, strength and love that embodies the African-American spirit in this modern music. Now, he shares that experience with us, in his own unique way, never forsaking the premise and importance of jazz. This is not Smooth Jazz. This is the real deal. Braden has taken the contemporary, musical standards of his generation and converted them into arrangements of the only original artform heralded as the United States’ indigenous, classical music; Jazz. The way I see it, this is the new American Songbook and these are the new composers of the twenty-first century. I applaud Don Braden and his worthy musicians for gifting us with this wonderful work of artful music and for honoring some of our modern-day composers.
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JARED GOLD – “REEMERGENCE” Strikezone Records

Jared Gold, Hammond B3 organ; Dave Stryker, guitar; Billy Hart, drums; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Billy Hart, on drums, fuels the first and title tune, “Reemergence” composed by the featured artist, Jared Gold. Gold is a fresh, jazz -organ, recording artist making waves on the East Coast. This is his eighth recording, and he’s surrounded himself with a group of excellent musicians to support his musical concepts. Dave Stryker is not only a proficient guitarist, but a record producer with his own label, a composer and a very busy New York musician. Drummer, Billy Hart, is legendary and was once the drummer of choice with the great Jimmy Smith. Trumpeter, Jeremy Pelt, is a refreshing addition to the organ trio. The first thing that stands out about Jared Gold is his ability to take familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love’ or the Lennon/McCartney standard, “She’s Leaving Home” and turn them into harmonically fresh works of art. Gold’s creativity with harmonics is formidable. Gold started out as a piano player, but quickly found his expressive niche on the organ. He was born in Englewood, New Jersey February 27, 1980 and has worked extensively with Oliver Lake and John Abercrombie. This ninth album as a leader solidifies his unique approach to his instrument and his excursions into arrangements that are unique, like the title tune that roots itself in an unusual fourteen-bar blues pattern. On the tune, “Sweet Sweet Spirit” he takes us to church. Songs like “Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotations” show the listener that he can groove with the best of them and also gives Hart an opportunity to break free and exuberantly solo on the drums. Jared Gold comes into sight and prominence once more, just like the title of this CD proclaims.

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Vision Ahead Music

Jonathan Barber, drums, vocals; Taber Gable, piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Denise Renee, vocals; Sasha Foster, vocals.

Listening to this project In my car, I was immediately impressed by the drummer on this session. I was driving, so I hadn’t pre-read the publicity notes or looked at the CD cover credits. I just popped the disc into my player. This is an album of grooves and funk; fire and spice with bursts of creativity like whispering voices in the background or saxophone sweetness added at unexpected times.

There’s a lot of synthesized music, with Taber Gable strongly present on piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer. Matt Dwonszyk locks the rhythm section in place with his strong bass licks. Andrew Renfroe plays a mean guitar on cut #3. When I look to see who composed that song, it was none other than Renfroe.

Jonathan Barber has composed eight of the twelve songs on his debut recording. Some tunes remind me of modern jazz, others are more contemporary. You get a sense that these young musicians have listened to the likes of George Duke and Herbie Hancock. They like to groove. Jonathan Barber is the powerhouse behind this group, always at the forefront of their energy and persuasive with his drum licks and percussive powers. Vision Ahead is a tribute to his dead brother who he unexpectedly lost in November of 2016.

“My music not only helped me through my grieving process but sparked a fresh musical style in hopes of carrying on the spirit of this American art form; jazz.”

Barber is a terrific and gifted drummer. His songwriting skills are more grooves than substance. I didn’t find many melodies that leant themselves to being easily repeated. Some are extremely complicated, like the 7th cut, “Airport” where Barber adds vocals to his resumé. He penned the lyrics on this Eldar Djangirov composition. Eldar is a super-talented young pianist who has been Grammy nominated. The intervals of this song are challenging and Barber has added a huge amount of echo to this production. Is that to mask his vocal shortcomings or for the effect of the huge, hollow buildings that house airport facilities?

“Time Will Tell” adds the pretty background voices of Denise Renee and Sasha Foster, rich and warm, proffering a hip-hop groove wrapped around Barber’s drum expressions. He sings on this tune also. I prefer the singing he does on his drum kit. Once again, this composition is repetitious to a fault. For the most part, Barber’s compositions are strictly grooves that make for pleasant listening and background music. But there are no Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard standard jazz tunes on this album. There is, however, some serious and outstanding drumming taking place.
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Independent Label

Isabel Crespo, vocalist/producer/composer; Skyler Hill, guitar; Gregory Santa Croce, piano; Mike Luzecky, upright & electric basses; Connor Ken, drummer/percussion; Brendon Wilkins, flue/alto saxophone; Kevin Swaim, flugelhorn; Devin Eddleman, tenor saxophone; Kenny Davis, trombone; Background vocals: Zach Yaholkovsky, Gabrielle Byrd, Jordan Coffin, Lizzi Trumbore, Anna Jalkeus, Carleigh Reese, Madison Russell & Sara Finkle.

I always keep an ear peeled for recording projects that are fresh and unique. Today I was introduced to a group of musicians who call themselves, “For Now.” They are propelled by their vocalist, who has composed all the melodies and lyrics. The first cut “We’re Home” is very pop oriented with interesting lyrical prose. Vocalist, Isabel Crespo, has a lovely range and crystal-clear tone. Her intervals in this song are refreshing, challenging and jazzy. Her sense of harmony is evident as soon as the band arrangements kick in. She sings lines that are poetic and unique like, “Our thoughts caught like kites in a tree, we are watching them all as they try to break free.” When she harmonizes with Skyler Hill on guitar and Gregory Santa Croce on piano, she tosses the lyrics aside to scat like an instrument. I am drawn into her musical space. This group is uniquely interesting. The scatting continues on cut #2 called, “Into the Yellow Room,” where a sense of Avant Garde enters the picture. Her voice sings without words and leaves plenty of room for the musicians to stretch out and improvise. Connor Kent is a strong drummer who pushes them forward with hurricane-force gusto. Ms. Crespo used vocal over-lays and harmonies to propel this tune. The third composition, “Caught In the Double Bind” is Herbie Hancock-ish with the piano driving the song and the production touching on funk, contemporary jazz and the lyrics reflecting feminism.

Isabel Crespo sings, “When I’m right, there’s always something wrong. ‘Cause it’s a problem that I’m strong. … “ She seems to be speaking as a woman in a leadership position or simply a woman in control. She sings, “I can be nice, very inviting … but if I leave, you might just think I’m mean. … How dare I think, that we’re both equal … what a disgrace, you’d think I’d know my place. …”Maybe I’ll leave, all the decisions up to a man. He’d have a better plan.”

Her activism comes across in various ways and on various compositions. She addresses feminism and racism, while breaking the boundaries and walls that sometimes restrict creativity. “On Color” she asks questions that prod our sensitivity about the racial problem in America with lyrics that reflect her anathema.

Isabel Crespo’s voice is not the typical tone of what I think of as a jazz singer. It’s very popish. Then she sings something like composition #9 titled, “Tesseract” and I recognize this composition and her band are clearly jazzy, very modernistic and improvisational, lending themselves to blend jazz and world music in a sort of salacious musical meeting of both mind and instrument. This is an art project. Her compositions become a collective vehicle to expose everyone’s audacious talents.
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Dan Block,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Rob Block, guitar; Neal Caine,bass;Tadataka Unno,piano; Aaron Kimmel,drums.

Although this CD is titled “Block Party,” (I suppose a play off of Dan’s last name), it doesn’t sound like any block party I ever attended. That is to say, this is not loud, raucous, dance music. Instead, it sounds like a cool jazz club on a warm summer night. His liner notes explain that this music is meant to represent a time to join together with family, neighbors and friends in a timeless tradition of sharing music that spans several generations of jazz.

Dan joins his brother and guitarist, Rob Block, for the first time on this recording session. So that could well be another reason for this celebratory ‘Block’ party.

“We’re very different people, but he brings something intangible out in me and vice versa,” Dan Block explained. “You’re completely free to be yourself when you’re sharing the stage with your bother.”

Also from St. Louis, Neal Caine, was a longtime bassist for Harry Connick Jr.’s band and joins the Block brothers on their exploration of roots and music. Dan Block is well-regarded in mainstream jazz circles, but when I listen to his clarinet playing, I hear a lot of traditional jazz in his style, as well as tastes of Dixieland jazz. He’s diverse, moving easily from tenor saxophone to clarinet and has a long career of backing up such notable musicians as Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Frank Wess, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Natalie Cole, Anne Hampton Calloway, Bobby Short, Linda Ronstadt and Rosemary Clooney. Classically trained at Juilliard, he has played nearly every style and genre of music. On this easy-listening project, his horns are warm and welcoming. His brother, Rob, is no slouch on guitar, boldly playing a memorable solo on “Dinner for One Please, James.” The tune “No, No, No” sounds incredibly close to the melody of “I Should Care.” They play it as a Latin flavored Salsa tune where Kimmel, on drums, can kick it happily into dance-mode. I enjoyed the ensemble’s interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue” classic, where Tadataka Unno takes a successful opportunity to express himself on the grand piano. All in all, this is a lovely album of familiar tunes, well-played by seasoned veteran musicians in jazzy celebration of St Louis culture and brotherhood.
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Sunnieside Communications, Inc.

Edward Simon, pianist/composer; guitarist, Adam Rogers; David Binney, alto saxophonist; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blad, drums;Rogerio Boccato & Luis Quintero, percussion. SPECIAL GUEST: Gretchen Parlato, vocals; Chamber Quintet, Imani Winds.

This album is the result of support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works, funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Incessant Desires” and “Venezuela Unida” were created with support from SFJAZZ. At a time when jazz music is not always supported or played on our airwaves, and while sadly, our government is busy cutting back all support to the arts, it’s good to see that financial assistance was available to support Edward Simon’s latest project. It’s well worth the funding.

Edward Simon has composed and arranged every song. He produced this recording by himself with the exception of “Triumphs” that he co-produced with his alto saxophonist, David Binney. There are two suites of music. One is titled, “Sorrows and Triumphs” and the other is called, “House of Numbers”. Simon calls his quartet, “Afinidad” and they beautifully express his musical concepts. The blending of percussion, a tight rhythm section and the sexy sax work of David Binney is enough, but the addition of a chamber quintet known as Imani Winds brings these arrangements to a soaring climax. There is melodic excitement, all twisted together like a tightly rolled ball of yarn. Then a kitten comes along and dismantles the ball, chasing it and splashing the colorful notes, like pieces of fabric, all over my room. Edward Simon’s music is full of pulse and pictures. He conjures up stories within his creative arrangements. “Rebirth” celebrates his piano work and invokes the kitten and the ball of yarn. The Imani Winds make the music move with orchestral breezes. The grooves change and keeps the listener interested and attentive. Edward Simon’s music is inspirational.

Simon, a native of Venezuela, has made quite a name for himself as a jazz pianist, a unique composer/arranger and he is a Guggenheim Fellow and member of the SFJAZZ Collective. He came to America at age twelve and attended the Performing Arts School in Philadelphia. His family is musical. His father played guitar and sang. Chucho Valdes was Simon’s first influence on piano and later, after watching a tape of Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz, he was bitten by the jazz bug. Edward Simon won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album referencing his “Latin American Songbook” and four and a half stars in DownBeat Magazine in 2016 for that same recording. This new work appears to be following in the same successful direction. Listening to it brought me great peace of mind and enjoyment.
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April 11, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 11, 2018

I took a brief trip to Detroit, Michigan last month. During my visit, I prowled the city in search of ‘live’ jazz. I was not disappointed. My hometown has consistently birthed and/or inspired a long and stunning succession of jazz icons including Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Della Reese, Harold McKinney, Aretha Franklin (who sang and recorded jazz on Columbia before her hit, R&B records ), Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Barry Harris, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, Frank Foster, Roland Hanna, Donald Byrd, Kenny Cox, Sonny Stitt, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Roy Brooks, Pepper Adams, Charles McPherson, Betty Carter, Geri Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Phil Ranelin, James Carter, Regina Carter and Thad Jones. Let me add, this is just a short list. Our own California-based vocalist, Barbara Morrison, who manages the Leimert Park Performing Arts Theater in Los Angeles, has deep roots in Detroit. I want to introduce you to another amazing woman and working musician in Detroit who is a multi-generational bassist, educator, recording artist, wife and mother. In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, meet Marion Hayden.

Marion Hayden is a double-bass player who has excelled in a mainly male dominated music industry, especially when it comes to females who play the upright bass. She is a phenomenal player; a fast and competent reader of musical charts and she exhibits exquisite tone. Not to mention, her timing is unreproachable. We recently met in her Detroit, Michigan home, where she fixed me a cup of Good Earth, Orange Spice Tea. Sitting in her comfortable kitchen, I found her smile as warm as the tea cup she handed me. Marion Hayden has a way of making people feel comfortable, both on and off stage.

MARION: “My whole thing is multi-generational. I was probably about fourteen or fifteen when I had my first gig with (reedman) Wendell Harrison and I just know that having that relationship with him, and with Marcus (Belgrave), (trumpeter/composer/original member of the Ray Charles band), Buddy Budson and Ursula (Walker), (pianist/producer/arranger and his vocalist wife) iconic drummer, Roy Brooks, those experiences I had were deeply formative for me as a musician. Deeply, deeply important! They made such a difference in my whole understanding of the music and how you put the music together. You know, how to work in an ensemble. My understanding of the whole musical concept was greatly enhanced by my relationships with those people over the years.

“I switched from cello (her first instrument) to bass when I was twelve. I was always a lover of jazz. My father was a huge jazz lover and had a big record collection. He actually played Piano. His listening choices were, … Oscar Petersen and that was probably his big favorite. I remember very distinctly, he had a record player with a long cord that stretched so he could put it outside while he was mowing the lawn. Right in the driveway, he would play some Oscar Petersen or Miles Davis while he was mowing the grass.”

NOTE: A young Marion Hayden would have been listening to the bass work of the great Ray Brown, who was part of the early Petersen trio, along with guitarist Herb Ellis, and Miles Davis would have featured Paul Chambers on the double bass.

MARION: “Then, my cousin, Kamau Kenyatta, you know him. He’s a wonderful pianist and saxophonist. At that time, he and a number of other young people spent many hours in our little young people incubator, playing music with each other. I learned a lot from Kamau. You know, how sometimes you can have a peer mentor? He’s like a brother to me and a peer mentor”

NOTE: Kamau Kenyatta produced groundbreaking, GRAMMY-winning, jazz albums on Gregory Porter and is currently based in California.

MARION: “I listened to a lot of Paul Chambers, a lot of Ray Brown and then one of the records that was really important to me was a record that Quincy Jones did in 1970 and it’s called, “Walking In Space.” It was a big band production, but it had a little contemporary feel at the time. That was one of the records that really helped me to understand the playing of the music and how big bands work. I also really loved Thad Jones’ music. My dad was a big fan of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis. In fact, he took me to see Thad Jones and Mel Lewis once.”

“My other favorite album in the whole world was the Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley album. That was the first record I ever tried to transcribe. The first tune I ever tried to transcribe was “Never Never Will I Marry” from that record.”

NOTE: She was only ten-years-old when the famed Cannonball Adderley collaborative album was released, featuring up-and-coming vocalist, Nancy Wilson. This had to be another album Marion heard her dad, Herbert Hayden, play on his portable record player.

“You know, I had a chance to work with Nancy. Sometimes life will send you that quirky opportunity. It was maybe fifteen years ago, 2003 or 2004, and I was on a date with “Straight Ahead” (the all-girls group she has performed with for decades). I got a call from a friend who was working at the DSO (Detroit Symphony Orchestra) at that time, doing a lot of their programming. He said Nancy’s bass player, John B., couldn’t make the gig. What happened, after 911, they started making it very hard to get basses onto the airplanes. It just got crazy. I can’t even tell you how crazy it got and expensive. So apparently, something happened with John at the airport and he just couldn’t get into Detroit. I could have loaned him a bass. Anyway, my friend John at the DSO said, can you work with Nancy? I was like, YEAH! Needless to say, I could not have been more scared. I didn’t even have a chance to look at any of the charts and back in those days, the internet wasn’t rollin’ like that anyway. They weren’t sending pdf charts and all that stuff. It was paper charts. She had sent her charts ahead of time to the orchestra of course. But not for her bass player, because she had her established trio. I showed up there and tried to keep my little wits about me. That was one of the most thrilling things that happened in my life, because Nancy Wilson is such a hero to me. And she was so beautiful to me. She really treated me nicely. Let’s just be honest. She’s coming in. She doesn’t have her regular bass player and on top of that, a girl shows up on bass. I don’t know how many times even women don’t work with other women. I have to tell the truth about this bass. But I could imagine she was looking at me, a younger woman, and wondering, can she handle this? Is she going to F-up my show? She had to go on complete faith, because when I showed up, at that point, there was nobody else. Those other cats in the orchestra, they might be able to read some notes, but …. of course, I know the idiom. Basically, I had one rehearsal to look at her music. She did some things that I knew. The trio was me, Roy McCurdy and Llew Matthews. Her musicians were very gracious to me. A lot of times, people don’t know this, but the thing not to do, is to not be gracious. They accepted me and made me feel comfortable. I’m going to give myself a B plus. Later, her pianist, Llew Matthews, wrote a very nice compliment to me after that concert.“

I had to stop Marion right there. I know Nancy Wilson’s longtime musical conductor, Llew Matthews, very well. I am positive he would not have given her a compliment, and certainly not written her a letter of commendation if she hadn’t performed an A-plus, number-one job. She told me she had kept that E-mail letter from Llew for all these years. Marion Hayden went into another room and humbly retrieved the printed page to show it to me. It was then and only then that I remembered Llew Matthews sending me that very e-mail to compliment Marion Hayden on her bass excellence accompanying the great Nancy Wilson and working superbly with him and Roy McCurdy. He knew I was from Detroit and that I knew Marion. He hadn’t known how to contact her. So, I had actually forwarded his letter to her and then, totally forgotten about it. We had a laugh about that.

MARION: “Then, I had the chance to work with Llew again. Probably about three or four years ago down at Notre Dame with Jeff Clayton, fabulous alto saxophone player, sounding like Cannonball Adderley and he had Llew Matthews with him. I reminded Llew about the first time we had met and how meaningful that was to me.”

It hasn’t always been a smooth musical path for Marion Hayden. After attending Cass Technical high school and graduating from Henry Ford high school, she took classes at Michigan State University and later attended the University of Michigan, gaining a liberal arts degree with a minor in Entomology. That minor in the study of insects led the developing bassist to a day-job with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. In the 1970’s, Marion found herself frustrated and unsure of her musical career direction. She took a two-year hiatus before the encouraging of mentors, Kenny Cox and Roy Brooks cajoled her back to her instrument.

MARION: “I was in my early twenties and I just got frustrated. You know, it’s like when you say something to your children and it’s something that they probably need to hear and they get a little hurt. You know, when a person has been willing to give you some critical feed- back, especially when you needed it, even if you didn’t like it. But when that person turns around and says something good to you, then that means a lot! So, I love the ones who loved me. I just completely loved Ken Cox. I love Ken’s music. Ken just became someone I completely cherished. I’m very active in keeping his legacy alive. It meant so much to me when somebody turned around and said something like, I feel like I have Paul Chambers behind me … or said, you remind me of Doug Watkins. … Then you feel like you’re on the right path and steeped in the bass legacy. Probably one of the things that has been the most difficult for me is the loss of some of my mentors in the last several years. They just poured so much music into me and I thought, that can’t be the end of it. You’ve got to keep that legacy alive and continue to share it. So, I try to really pour that into the young folks I mentor. It’s just got to go down like that.”

While still working days, at night Marion woodshedded and joined the jazz nightclub circuit, playing with masters like trumpet icon, Marcus Belgrave, pianists, Charles Boles, Teddy Harris Jr, Buddy Budson and Kenny Cox. She added her sturdy bass lines to groups headed by reed master, Donald Walden and saxophonist, George Benson. She found herself very busy in the 1980s. She was part of the Ray Brooks historic group, “The Artistic Truth.” She worked on symphonic and cinematic music, pulling from her classical training. In the late 1970s, she worked with the all-female group, “Venus.” In 1989, She was one of the founders of another all-girls quintet that became quite popular in and around Motown. They called themselves, “Straight Ahead” and featured, Miche Braden on vocals, violinist, Regina Carter, pianist Eilene Orr, drummer Gayelynn McKinney and Marion Hayden on bass. When Braden moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, they replaced her with Cynthia Dewberry. In 1990, “Straight Ahead” opened for the amazing activist/pianist/vocalist Nina Simon at the Montreux-Switzerland Jazz Festival. Soon after, they were signed to Atlantic Records and cut three albums. Another member soon left to pursue a solo career. That was their violinist, Regina Carter, who has found great success on her own. However, the “Straight Ahead” group remains active to date, with the core members, Hayden, McKinney and Orr remaining in tact and close musical friends.

I told Marion that I remember interviewing Betty Carter and how she told me it was difficult to be female in the business of jazz. One reason was because she heard things in her head so far outside the box. Betty instituted a whole new realization of jazz and musicality, thinking more like an instrument than a vocalist. She said her male counterparts gave her a hard time, often not willing or unable to play the arrangements she heard in her head. Consequently, that led Betty Carter to learn to write her own arrangements. Once it was documented on the page, they had to play it. I asked Marion Hayden if she had encountered challenges because she was a female bassist?

MARION: “Well – you know what? It’s hard to say. But I’ll say this. I’m sure there were opportunities that I should have had. But I’ve not always been a person to dwell on such. My way, has always been to blossom where you are planted. Whatever circumstances that were given to me, I tried to enhance those circumstances fully. I tried to be tactful and make my presence known on my instrument. I tried to be a musical force for whoever I was working for. So, that made my presence there meaningful. I’m certain that there were some opportunities that I was probably over-looked for, but I prefer not to really dwell on that. I feel the ones that have come to me have been the ones that were meant for me. Detroit is not New York. True. It’s much smaller. But I have an entire college and jazz incubator in Detroit that I don’t know if I could have gotten in New York. I had my New Orleans education and introduction to traditional music through Charlie Gabrielle. Actually, he was the one that brought it to Marcus Belgrave. Charlie Gabrielle is the head performer with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I don’t know where you would get any better than that! My Ragtime tradition and education came through my girlfriend, Tasilemah Bey, who is probably one of the few black women in the world to spend her entire life studying the music of Scott Joplin. She’s fantastic.

“I got my education in Avant Garde and Free Jazz with Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison and with Spencer Barefield, who brought in people like (legendary saxophonist/composer) Roscoe Mitchell and I worked with Lester Bowie. It’s been a complete education and I’m not sure that I can find that education anywhere else the same way. So, I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had. I believe more will come to me.

“One of my little stories is, and I tell this with love, because I truly love Donald Byrd. He gave me a really beautiful interview before he passed. I worked with him as a teenager and later, as an adult on the gig. Drummer, Roy Brooks put me on the gig. Roy Brooks was a huge supporter of my musicianship. So, we had a quartet with Donald Byrd at Baker’s.”

NOTE: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is one of the oldest running jazz clubs in the United States.

“He kept a little baby metronome on a little string around his neck. He came up to me and said, we’re going to play “Lover Come Back To Me” about here, 300 beats per minute. Super-Duper fast! I think he was trying to intimidate me. (LAUGHTER)

MARION: “He didn’t know, I cannot be intimidated. He played it wherever he did it at that time and I was up for it. I was about twenty-six-years old. But he didn’t know that I was already in the habit of doing fast tempos, because I was raised by such great players. And I have to say one thing. I really loved these players. They were primarily men that raised me in the rhythm section sense. Because I was female, they didn’t expect any less of me. The bass is a work chair and the rhythm section is the engine of the band. No part of the engine can be weak. Somebody might like you, but they won’t hire you in their rhythm section if you can’t take care of business. That much I already knew. I always felt pretty confident that whatever situation I was in, I could handle it. … The bass is a pretty serious part of the engine. They might take away the piano, but they won’t get rid of the bass. Most people are not going to do without a bass.”

When Marion Hayden was growing up, she enjoyed and participated in confident-building programs like, ‘Metro Arts’ in Detroit. She has made it a point of creating and participating in community and private programs that encourage art and music appreciation in youth. The multi-generational aspect continues to motivate Marion, because she recognizes that what she learned from listening to and performing with music masters, those born in another generation, primed and inspired her. Now it’s her turn to share knowledge with young musicians from another generation. She explained her passion for these programs to me.

MARION: “Well, primarily I teach and I’m involved in some institutional programs; programs that are supported by the Detroit Jazz Festival. I’m the Resident Artist at an elementary and middle school via the Detroit Jazz Festival. I also teach through Michigan State University, a night class for teenagers. I directed a mentoring program that is an outreach program on behalf of the University of Michigan. We went into Detroit Public Schools and brought students from U of M down to work with public school students. I directed a Summer Camp for several years. Those have been very important contributions in a formalized way. I also believe, even more importantly, in the ‘informal’ programs. It’s a unity of one-on-one, in an African centered way. In other words, you come to my house. We play music. I also find performance opportunities for young people.

“Another little thing that I’ve been working on, kind of a little spiritual resurrection of some of Detroit’s places that ‘used to be’. Because one of the things that occurred to me, when you stay in the same place for a long time, … one of the things I noticed about black folks is that our precious cultural things that we develop, using music and art, a lot of times they don’t go on to institutions that are really lofty, high-funded institutions. They go on in little churches; you know? Our music gets developed in bars; in somebody’s basement; in somebody’s house. The cultural things we create in these circumstances are really important. But the environment in which they’re developed are often ephemeral. Playing music in the club, for example. The next thing you know, somebody else leases the club or they come through and bulldoze it. Because they like to bulldoze our black community, so they can put up whatever. Consequently, it occurs to me, that part of our legacy should be preserved. You and I. You have me, I go to your house and we work on music. So, as well as being involved in these beautiful, formalized programs, I try to have a more accessible, informal relationship with these young people. That’s important, because when you study music a certain way, then you start to hear things in thirty-two bar phrases. You know what I mean? And all that stuff is OK. But, you can also totally do it YOUR way.

“I remember, I’d go around the corner, park the car and go into Teddy Harris’s house. I’d go right down to his basement. Say ‘Hi’ to Martha (his wife) on my way down. See all those pictures on the wall of music people. I can’t remember who, but I had a conversation with someone who said, so-and-so is a mentor to you, right? Did they sit down and teach you things? But that’s not how I exactly learned. For me, it was more of an observation.”

Note: Teddy Harris Jr. always had a house full of musicians. He formed and rehearsed a big band regularly made up of seasoned players and young people learning to play. He wrote charts for people and for a while, acted as musical conductor for Motown acts like the Supremes. As well as being steeped in jazz, playing piano and a competent reedman, he was also an arranger and music educator, informally available to the community in his basement studio.

MARION: “I grew up under my mother. My mother was super beautiful and she would show me the details of how to set a table and those things were definitely specific. She was a super fabulous cook. Some things, like cooking, she’d go to the cook book and if it said ‘fold’ she’d show me how to fold the eggs in. Other kinds of things, I just learned by watching.

“The same is true in music. If I spent time on the bandstand with you, I learned by watching. You become one of my mentors. I took a lot of notes. First of all, if someone has you in their sphere on a regular basis, then there’s a reason why they had you there. I didn’t always need someone to sit down and tell me blah – blah – blah. But over time, they may be showing me what they did or how to put a show together; or how the business gets done, or how they write a grant. That’s mentoring as well. The lesson is in the living.

“Recently, I was on a recording session and it was really lengthy. But there were some things that the piano player was doing that were really extraordinary. His comping was really engaging me. Ken Cox and I were both huge fans of Horace Silver. So was Marcus. We loved Horace. One of the strongest parts of Horace Silver as a composer was that his piano comping was not random. His comping was deeply rooted in whatever composition he was performing. People forget about how important piano comping is to setting the rhythm section up to really be an important platform for the soloist or vocalist. Sometimes we get caught up in our egos and we feel the most important contribution we can make is during our solos. But my feeling is, as rhythm section players, you’re contributing on a moment-to-moment basis to the entire musical experience. So, your solo is, frankly, probably ten percent of the whole thing. The solo is fabulous, don’t get me wrong. But if you brought the entire ensemble to a really high level of musicality and expression, what higher importance could you have leant to the whole experience? I’ve had some great time on the stand with some wonderful comping pianists, that were not super fabulous soloists. But just to be in that space with them, and be a part of that engine, is just really what it’s all about.”

Jazz is a music always evolving. I asked Marion Hayden what she saw happening with young musicians today, compared to those coming up in yesteryears.

“I do see a lot of enthusiasm about the music. I really love that. I think that as much as they know, they still need those of us in the earlier generations to fill in the gaps. Just like I needed the musicians of my generation to fill in gaps for me and introduce me to somebody I didn’t know about or give me a different point of reference. … The pursuit of music is difficult and it’s very personal. A lot of times, young musicians may feel like, is anybody hearing me? They may feel a little different. I tell them, yeah – here’s some more people who were different. Don’t worry about that. Some of the people that I really like a lot were very, very different.

“I have a really good student out of Cleveland. You know I taught at the Tri C in Cleveland, Ohio, (Cleveland Community College) for seven years. I have a wonderful student down there. His name is Dean Hewlett. He’s fantastic. He’s one of my students that is just a tremendous young bass player. We have a couple of wonderful young students here in Detroit. One is Jonathon Cotten and another is Brian Juarez, both wonderful, young bass players. Brian’s from California. Then I have a really lovely, super young student who is in the sixth grade. His name is Troy Perkins.”

When Marion Hayden isn’t teaching at the University of Michigan, or giving private lessons, you’ll find her on the bandstand as part of several local ensembles. She is also a member of the Modern Jazz Messengers, led by drummer Sean Dobbins. Before his unexpected death, she was part of the Allan Barnes jazz ensemble. She still tours and does occasional concerts with the “Straight Ahead” girl’s group. She has created the Detroit Legacy Ensemble to carry on the jazz music of her mentors and to celebrate the music of some of our iconic ancestors. You may find her on the stage of The Dirty Dog Club or Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the oldest jazz club in the United States, or performing in concert at various stadiums, theaters and/or festivals. She is part of the faculty in Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisational Studies and often directs the Carr Center’s summer jazz program. In 2016, she won the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. She was recently featured on Blue Note TV with an ensemble of outstanding Detroit jazz musicians and performs regularly at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, sometimes supplying music for her husband, abstract painter Safell Gardner’s art shows. Somehow, in between raising two very creative sons as a dedicated mother and loving wife, she has managed to host panels for “Meet the Composer,” participated in the Detroit Council for the Arts, and served as part of the committee for the Detroit Historical Museum. I asked her, as one performing mom to another, how she balanced her career demands with her personal life.

MARION: “I just have to say, my husband is a lovely man and he is just super-supportive. Between him and my mother, who really helped us raise these two boys, she never turned me down. I’m talking about road gigs and that kind of stuff. A lot of times, nobody wants to be bothered with your kids; their daddy or their grand mama’s. So, they had a grandmother who was right there. Also, I took my husband, children and mother on a lot of trips with me. That was one of the things that I made a decision about. I did not want to be a musician that went on the road and said ‘Bye bye, I’ll see you later’. So, whenever it was possible, I took my husband and my children on tour with me. They went to Mackinaw twice with us. Once, I took my husband, children, mother and her girlfriend to Jamaica with me. They had a great time. We’ve been on short appearances with me, like to Chicago and we flew down to Atlanta for tour dates. Whenever I could take my family with me, that was one of the ways I coped. It was a financial sacrifice for us sometimes, but it was a gift to have them with me. I could include them as a part of my life on the road. It was good for them and nice for my mother; a little vacation for her.”

Watching their mother perform, sometimes getting the opportunity to tour with her and also observing their talented dad paint and create beauty on canvas, both of her sons have followed a path of creativity.

MARION: “I encourage my youngest son, whose name is Michael Tariq Gardner, but he goes by Tariq. He plays drums in a really beautiful jam session that’s run by John Douglas, who is a wonderful trumpet player. He used to be in Teddy Harris’ band and was one of the younger cats. I totally appreciate him for giving my son an opportunity. Because that’s how you really learn how to play. Tariq’s in school and has some really, really beautiful teachers, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the major part of your growth as a musician will be on the bandstand. That’s really how all the wonderful things that you learn in school, that’s where all that comes together. It takes a good amount of time on the bandstand to really understand the music. He’s got a beautiful sound, a little different sound. Kamau says he reminds him of Joe Chambers plus Tariq is a composer. There’s not a lot of composing drummers. My oldest son, Asukile, just turned twenty-eight and he’s a visual artist like my husband.”

Like Marion Hayden told me, at the beginning of our conversation, it’s all just multi-generational. You encourage and keep passing the legacy on. This talented woman is a perfect example of walking the walk and setting a strong example of not only what to do, but how you do it. I’m honored to document a piece of her legacy as a creative and tenacious life lesson for us all.


April 5, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

April 5, 2018

This month of April, celebrates National Jazz Appreciation Month. For some reason, I have been inundated with an arm full of albums that celebrate the first instrument; voice. In this month’s column, you will read all about GRAMMY Award-winning vocalist, GREGORY PORTER, who performs with the London Studio orchestra in celebration of Nat King Cole. Speaking of jazz legends, ALLAN HARRIS tributes the genius of Eddie Jefferson. Pianist, JOHN PROULX, has expanded his talents to embrace jazz vocals. Contemporary jazz stylist, ERIN McDOUGALD, blends nostalgic, old standards with contemporary arrangements and SHIRLEY CRABBE, whose tone and instrument recalls the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, offers us “Bridges” to cross with a voice that connects us. Also, a Straight-ahead jazz ensemble crossed my desk that was quite exciting by talented drummer, McCLENTY HUNTER JR. Finally, MEG OKURA & THE PAN ASIAN CHAMBER JAZZ ENSEMBLE blends her Japanese heritage and Jewish faith using jazz as a catalyst with the orchestrated production of Okura’s compositions.

Resilience Music Alliance

Allan Harris, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; George DeLancey, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Ralph Moore, tenor saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST, Richie Cole, alto saxophone.

Eddie Jefferson’s awesome sound and vocal summersaults have long been a favorite of mine. Jefferson’s lyrics are superbly written and sung at paces that challenge the average vocalist. I was eager to hear Mr. Allan Harris’s interpretation of the genius of Eddie Jefferson and I was not disappointed. He has chosen some of Jefferson’s challenging melodies and creative prose to express himself. You will hear the familiar “So What,” “Sister Sadie,” and “Filthy McNasty.” Harris has a smooth, balladeer tone, but tackles the Straight-ahead and Swing successfully. He trades fours lyrically with the musicians on “Dexter Digs In” and doesn’t miss a beat. Prior to this production, Allan Harris recorded the songs of Billy Strayhorn and paid homage to Nat King Cole. This may be his most challenging tribute to date. “Billy’s bounce” is a mouth-full of words sung at an up-tempo pace. Harris makes it sound easy, but believe me, it isn’t. The band is a tight fit that supports each song with precision and agility. These musicians really swing! If you love the legacy of Eddie Jefferson, you will enjoy this smooth interpretation of his genius works by the very talented Allan Harris.

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Blue Note

Gregory Porter, vocals; Christian Sands, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Ulysses Owens, drums; SPECIAL GUEST, Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Flutes: Karen Jones, Helen Keen, Anna Noakes; Oboe: John Anderson & Jane Marshall; Clarinets: Jon Carnac, Anthony Pike, David Fuest; Bassoon: Dan Jemison, Gavin McNaughton, Richard Skinner; French Horns; Martin Owen, Richard Watkins, Laurence Davies, Richard Berry, & Pip Eastop; Trumpets: Andrew Crowley, Phil Cobb, Dan Newell, Christian Barraclough; Trombones: Mark Nightingale, Ed Tarrant, Andy Wood; Tuba, Owen Slade; Percussion: Frank Ricotti & Chris Baron; Timpani: Sam Walton & Bill Lockhart; Celeste, John Lenchan; Harp, Hugh Webb; Booth Reader, Tommy Laurence; Librarian, Dave Hage; Celli: Caroline Dale, Tim Gill, Vicky Matthews, Jan Burdge, Chris Worsey, Frank Schaefer, Tony Woollard; Double Bass: Chris Laurence, Stacey Watton, Steve Mair; Violins: Everson Nelson (lead violin), Ian Humphries, Steve Morristt, Roger Garland, Alison Dodstt, Dai Emannuel, Mark Berrowtt, Emil Chakalov, Debbie Widduptt, Philippa Ibbotson, Emlyn Singleton, Maciej Rakowski, Nicky Sweeney, Paul Willey, Natalia Bonner, John Bradbury, John Mills, Kathy Gowers, Cathy Thompson, Magnus Johnston, Patrick Kiernan, Simon Baggs, Rick Koster, Matt Ward, Morven Bryce, Kate Robinson, Daniel Bhattacharya, Dave Williams; Violas: Peter Lale, Bruce White, Andy Parker, Julia Knight, Cathy Bradshaw, Rachel Roberts, Kate Musker, Gillianne Haddow, Martin Humbey, Max Baillie, Ian Rathbone. NOTE: LOS ANGELES STUDIO MUSICIANS played on “Pick Yourself Up” and “Ballerina.” Woodwinds: Sal Lozano, Jeff Driskill, Dan Higgins, Phil O’Conner, Gene Cipriano, Rose Corrigan, John Mitchell; French horns: Steve Becknell, Brad Waarmar, Allen Fogle; Trumpets: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Gary Grant; Trombones: Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Ben Devitt; Tuba: Bill Reichenbach; Vibraphone: Emil Richards.

Gregory Porter, one of today’s premiere, male, jazz vocalists, has honored one of the world’s jazz icons on his latest project; the extraordinarily talented, Nat King Cole. Porter’s smooth as satin vocals caress twelve of Nat Cole’s very familiar hit songs, including “Mona Lisa,” “Smile,” “Nature Boy,” “L-o-v-e,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” and “The Christmas Song,” which features special guest, Terrance Blanchard. Porter is ably assisted by the lush, London Studio Orchestra, under the direction of Vince Mendoza. Although it’s nice to hear Porter’s vocals enriched by an orchestra, it does take away from the fluidity and improvisational qualities that Porter is capable of performing. Orchestration is often restrictive, although beautiful. That being said, on the composition, “L-O-V-E,” the production picks up the tempo and features special guest artist, Terence Blanchard. Until this song, everything on the album was a ballad. It is also a plus to hear Gregory Porter sing “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” in Spanish. The dramatic introduction to “Miss Otis Regrets” soon became another sleepy-time ballad with orchestra strings that flutter like dove wings against a yawning sky. This orchestra arrangement is quite creative and dynamic with the pianist, Christian Sands (from Porter’s trio), unapologetically interjecting the blues on his grand piano. This particular arrangement of Cole Porter’s controversial composition really moved me. Porter is especially powerful vocally on “When Love Was King.” Another heart-felt performance was when Porter sang, “I Wonder Who My Daddy Is.” The listener breathes in the essence of this lyrical story from Porter’s convincing presentation.

All in all, this orchestrated Gregory Porter can be added to his list of amazing accomplishments. However, for this jazz journalist, I am anxiously awaiting Porter’s next album of original music and the freedom and spontaneity that comes with more open spaces and less charted instrumentation.

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Miles High Records

Erin McDougald, vocals; Rob Block, piano/guitars; Cliff Schmitt, bassist; Rodney Green, drums & cymbals; Chembo Corniel, percussion; Mark Sherman, vibraphone/percussion; Dan Block, also saxophone, flute & clarinet; David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Harrell, trumpet.

This is the 4th studio recording for Erin McDougald. She had a birthday celebration on March 16th and gifted us with this release. The opening composition, “Don’t Be On the Outside” offers a cute lyric and Erin McDougald’s bright, second-soprano vocals adequately sells the song. She opens her album swinging, and I notice that even when she slows the tempo, she has a swinging lilt to her style and tone. It’s all about timing and McDougald has a handle on that.

On the old standard, “Begin the Beguine” the piano backing uses a very classical approach, note-by-note rather than solid chords, (like a slow arpeggio) that add an eerie, unusual arrangement where McDougald successfully balances her voice on top. She’s confident and talented enough to hold on to that melody, no matter what they throw at her. In Chicago and beyond, Erin McDougald is celebrated as an improvisational jazz singer and a progressive thinker. Although she’s consumed with nostalgia in her artistry, she attaches her vocals and music productions to a yoke of creative resistance and contemporary jazz. Like the above old standard song, she combines the vintage with a more contemporary mood. McDougald is not afraid to infuse jazz into various genres, using rhythm and arrangements to perpetuate her sometimes daring interpretations. Erin McDougald’s voice slides to the notes provocatively at times. At other moments, she uses her talented musicians to color outside the lines on songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.” They change a popular tune from the American Depression days to a Latin inspired arrangement. On the fade, they vamp into a tasty, Afro-Cuban ending. Trumpet master, Tom Harrell, plays beautifully on “The Man With the Horn.” McDougald becomes a horn herself, allowing her crystal, clear voice to effortlessly hold notes with precision and control. She often harmonizes with Harrell’s horn, blending flawlessly with his instrument. The time changes on “Midnight Sun” are surprising and pleasurable. Erin McDougald makes each song on this musical adventure her own! From her 5/4 arrangement of the 1950 Ballad titled, “Don’t Wait Up for Me” to “The Parting Glass,” a reimagined Irish funeral hymn that becomes a swing tune. On “Linger A While” where she scats her way into the very nostalgic “Avalon,” McDougald creates a unique medley of melancholy songs that, surprisingly, are played double time and with high energy. The musicians fly on this one! I wonder how Rob Block can make his fingers move so swiftly and precisely on his guitar? Any way you unwrap this belated birthday gift from McDougald to we, the listeners, it’s an appreciated and well-played surprise.

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John Proulx, vocals/piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Billy Hulting, auxiliary percussion; Alan Broadbent, string quartet arrangements; Gina Kronstadt, 1st violin/leader/contractor; Susan Chatman 2nd violin; Rodney Wurtz, viola; Stefanie Fife, cello; GUEST VOCALS: Melissa Manchester.

Pianist and vocalist, John Proulx, has always brought the very best of himself to every stage and opportunity. I have long admired his artistry. He’s developed into quite an excellent scat singer and I have watched that evolution. He has a feathery, light tone to his vocals, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Franks on tunes like “Scatsville.” When I look at the liner notes, I realize that song was composed by Michael Franks, another one of my favorite male, jazz, singer/ songwriters. The other artist John Proulx brings to mind is Chet Baker. He has that kind of timing and texture to his tone. On Michael Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s composition, “The Summer Knows” John Proulx is complimented by a striking string section and Stefanie Fife’s cello blends beautifully with Proulx’s sensitive vocalization. Proulx has surrounded himself with some of our stellar West Coast musicians, like Larry Koonse on guitar, who offers a memorable solo on the title tune, “Say It.” On the Mose Allison blues tune, “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” the band gets a chance to stretch out, featuring Bob Sheppard on a smokin’ saxophone solo and Koonse once more injecting his guitar mastery into the tune. Proulx’s scat vocals sound like a horn and Joe LaBarbera is given an opportunity to be spotlighted on his drum kit. I wish Proulx would have taken a piano solo and pulled out his piano chops on this blues tune. It would have been the perfect vehicle for him to show the funky, rock-gut side of his piano personality. Because Proulx is a very fine pianist, I was expecting more instrumental songs on this album. I guess John has become a singer who plays piano instead of a pianist who sings, much the way Nat King Cole meta morphed into his singing career. In the liner notes, they mention that Proulx grew up listening to his guitarist grandfather’s record collection, with emphasis on Nat King Cole. So perhaps Cole was an influence early on in Proulx’s musical life. Proulx’s arrangements are sweet and surround his vocals with room and open spaces that allow his voice to shine. His duet with Melissa Manchester on their self-penned tune, “Stained Glass” is the only original included on this project. Their voices blend like bread and butter, tasty, natural and familiar. Proulx’s inclusion of the Strayhorn/Ellington tune, “Something To Live For” introduces us to Proulx’s perfect pitch on a tune that surprises us melodically with unexpected intervals and chordal twists and turns. It also gives us an opportunity to enjoy Proulx at the 88- keys and allows Chuck Berghofer to step forward on his double bass with a melodic solo. This entire album is both pleasurable and artistic, including songs from Joni Mitchell to Duke Ellington; from Alan Broadbent to Frank Loesser. Jazz Vocalist and producer, Judy Wexler, is to be congratulated on her production input. Each interpretation is well executed and rolls off my CD player like scented oil on glass; sweet, smooth, iridescent and difficult to wipe from your memory, in a very pleasant way.

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MaiSong Music & Entertainment

Shirley Crabbe, vocals; David “The Budman” Budway & Donald Vega, piano; Clovis Nicolas, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr. & Alvester Garnett, drums; Brandon Lee, trumpet; Chris Cardona, violin; Sean Carney, violin; Stephanie Cummins, cello.

I was taken aback from the very first phrase that this amazing woman sang. OMG. She sounds so much like Ella Fitzgerald that I was stunned. Her name is Shirley Crabbe. She has surrounded herself with a group of musicians who add jazzy authenticity to her stellar vocals. Opening with, “Isn’t This A Lovely Day,” accompanied by David “The Budman” Budway, who is a shining star on his piano solo. Ms. Crabbe makes me happy to listen to these old standards, because she brings such freshness and talent to each one. Surprisingly, Shirley Crabbe’s first dream was that of pursuing a career in opera. I say surprising, because I’ve heard many opera singers try to transition into jazz, with minimal success. Crabbe is the exception to that rule. However, fate played a part in bringing her beautiful voice to our jazz audience. A serious medical problem with her vocal cords changed Shirley Crabbe’s operatic plans. For quite a while, she never knew if she would sing again. Thankfully, doctors and surgery restored her voice. Lucky for us, during a long hiatus from performing, Shirley Crabbe began to fall in love with jazz. As I listen to her interpret challenging arrangements like “The Bridge” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” I realize this woman was destined to become a jazz vocalist. She swings so easy and her clarity, pitch and tone draw me into her music like a whirlpool. The arrangement on this familiar Rodgers and Hart tune is exciting and unique, with Donald Vega setting up the Latin groove beneath her silky, smooth vocals. Ulysses Owens Jr., is strong and rhythmic on drums, as the band moves from Latin to Swing in the wink of an eye. Brandon Lee adds his refreshing solo on trumpet. “The Windmills of your Mind” is arranged with an Afro-Cuban rhythm and Ms. Crabbe lets her voice float above the drums like a chant or a prayer. The timing on this song is challenging, based on Donald Vega’s rhythmic chops on the keyboard and Owens Jr. on drums, Shirley Crabbe is the conduit that brings it all together.

On this, her second released album, the concept of “Bridges” represents our connections with each other. There are bridges we cross, we burn, we build, both visible and invisible bridges that connect humanity in a most unique way. Shirley Crabbe is a musical bridge that each listener will find sturdy, beautiful, cement strong and comfortable to walk across. Her voice is a charming way to bring us all together.

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Strikezone Label

McClenty Hunter, Jr., drums; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone; Stacy Dillard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Eric Reed, piano; Christian Sands, piano/fender Rhodes; Dave Stryker, guitar; Corcoran Holt & Eric Wheeler, bass.

Sometimes I can just read the credits on a CD and know that I am in for a real treat. This was the case when I read who was on the newly released McClenty Hunter Junior production. When it comes to great jazz, these players deliver. It’s always interesting to hear the compositions of a drummer, because they are generally thinking rhythmically first. Hunter has composed four songs on this CD; “Autumn,” “My Love,” “I Remember When” and “Give Thanks.” On “Autumn,” the band establishes a lovely melody right up front, before allowing Eric Reed on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass to stretch out and improvise their way across the rhythm section. Stacy Dillard pumps the tune up with his tenor saxophone solo. Next, the ensemble tackles the Stevie Wonder tune, “That Girl” and they swing hard! Dave Stryker puts the funk and brilliance into the arrangement with his mad guitar solo. McClenty Hunter, Jr. is always underneath the ensemble, creating the energy and building the crescendos in the music with his masterful drum licks. Stryker has co-produced this recording with Hunter and they make a powerful team. Stacy Dillard is a lightning rod on Hunter’s tune “My Love”. I think I expected it to be a ballad. Wrong! It crashes on the scene with exponential power from Hunter. He slaps the musicians into comfortable submission on his original composition. Their laid-back arrangement on “Sack Full of Dreams” is lovely, giving Christian Sands, on piano, a chance to exploit his chops along with Dave Stryker back on guitar.

McClenty Hunter, Jr., has been a busy part of the New York music scene for the last decade. While studying at Howard University, he came under the tutelage of great drummer, Grady Tate. Hunter earned his master degree at Juilliard and studied there with Carl Allen. He’s added his solid drum mastery to a host of great players including three years playing with Kenny Garrett’s quintet.

He’s also performed with Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller, Javon Jackson and eight years with Dave Stryker’s trio. Hunter’s roots are in gospel music. He began his career in Maryland, playing with the gospel group, Darin Atwater of Soulful Symphony. Fondly referred to as “Mac, the Groove Hunter,” this premier compact disc clearly establishes that McClenty Hunter, Jr., can play it all, from funky shuffles to Straight-ahead madness. On his original composition, “Give Thanks,” he closes out this album employing mallets with an arrangement that brings a sense of prayer and introspection to the piece. It’s a nice way to end a very powerful new beginning for this talented drum master.

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Independent label

Meg Okura, violin/composer; Tom Harrell, trumpet/flugelhorn; Anne Drummond, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Sam Sadigursky, bass clarinet/clarinet; Rez Abbas, guitar; Brian Marsella, piano/electric piano; Riza Printup, harp; Jared Schonig, drums.

I learned from the liner notes that four years ago, Meg Okura converted to Judaism. This is important in describing the title of this album, because the word “Ima” in Japanese means ‘now’ and in Hebrew, it means ‘mom’. Composer/violinist, Okura, celebrates her grandmother and four generations of women with this musical expression. These seven original compositions celebrate her Japanese grandmother, her mother, Meg herself, and her seven-year-old Jewish daughter. Meg Okura sees this album as an exploration of her culture melding with her newly embraced Jewish faith and blending the music of East and West. It is highly classically influenced and orchestrated until “A Night Insomnia” invites ‘funk’ to the spotlight and Brain Marsella adds a bluesy piano to the mix. Up pops Smooth Jazz, with a lushly orchestrated arrangement in support of Meg Okura’s violin excellence.

Okura is no newcomer to music. She toured with the Michael Brecker Quindectet and with Emilio Solta y la Inestable de Brooklyn. Her recording with the latter was nominated for a Grammy. She received the New Music USA Project Grant and American Composer’s Forum’s J-Fund. For some time, she has wanted to assemble a multi-cultural, large chamber jazz ensemble that combines the exotic rhythms and haunting melodies of Asia and the Middle East with the excitement of the African-American jazz of North America. On this project, one of Okura’s dreams is becoming apparent. Utilizing a multi-cultural group of musicians, Okura’s music is all mixed together in a stew of European classical tradition. Meg Okura’s compositions are lush with culture, class, and creativity. Her mastery of the violin is evident and acts as the ribbon that gift-wraps this entire project.

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April 1, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 31, 2018

GMR Records

Charlie Ballantine,guitar;Jesse Wittman,upright bass; Chris Parker,drums;Amanda Gardier,alto saxophone;Rob Dixon,tenor saxophone; Shawn McGowan,organ; Brandon Whyde, acoustic guitar/vocals; Mia Keohane,vocals/Wurlitzer.

This is a tribute album to the music and legacy of Bob Dylan by guitarist, Charlie Ballantine. The difficulty here is that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are as important as his melodies. Being a Folk Singer/ songwriter, Dylan’s messages are fifty percent of the importance of every one of his songs and his melodies are not as intricate or unique as his prose. Folk song melodies generally lend themselves towards simplicity and dance atop rhythmical chords. So, this project is challenged right off the bat, because it is all instrumental; no vocals. “Times They Are-a-Changin’” opens Ballantine’s CD and this melody is more involved than, for instance, “The Death of Emmett Till” that follows as cut #2. Once Dylan sets his melody up, it repeats for every verse of prose. There is rarely a bridge. Now Ballantine is left with an eight or sixteen bar verse of music that repeats over and over again. The way he handles this is to use a lot of echo and overlap techniques on his guitar to compensate. His style is simplistic and the CD mix does not allow for the creativity of drummer, Chris Parker, to be clearly heard, nor Jesse Whitman on double bass to lend rhythm solidity and contrast. On the Emmett Till selection, you get an opportunity to enjoy Whitman’s mastery of the bass during his solo. I enjoyed the Brandon Whyde gravelly vocals on the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” selection. I enjoyed Whyde’s style and vocal timbre.

In terms of jazz, without improvisation, you cannot truly call yourself a jazz artist. This is a fitting instrumental tribute to the melodies of Bob Dylan, and represent adult listening, easy listening and pop music. However, there is nothing that determines this artists’ individuality or style that represents jazz. He and his group are simply playing iconic music without putting a stamp of their own creatively on the music they play. They never stretch out.

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Rochlockmusic Label

Roch Lockyer, guitar/vocals; Ben Powell, violin; Rob Hardt, clarinet; Ed Bennett, bass.

The technique and precision that Roch Lockyer employs to play his guitar is extraordinary. Especially since he was involved in a terrible accident and after two reconstructive surgeries on his arm, for a couple of years he was uncertain about his musical career. His musicianship proves that he has healed and it immediately captures my attention. His singing, I found secondary to his instrument mastery and although he appears to be a young musician on his press photos, his voice sounds much older and wiser than his years. His vocal style reminds me of the strolling cowboys in the movies of yester-year or the voices of popular singers in the 1920s. There’s something historically warm and honest about this artist’s vocals that recalls images of an old grandpa sitting on his front porch and playing guitar, singing alone to himself. On the other hand, Lockyer’s inspired guitar playing definitely conjures up the spirit of Django. This album is a departure from Lockyer’s former recordings that are geared more towards modern jazz and bebop roots. This project is geared to celebrate the music of Frank Sinatra and the style and genius of Django Reinhardt. There is no doubt that Lockyer absolutely represents the style and grandeur guitar technique referred to as “Le Pompe” during this production. Ben Powell’s violin is exquisitely played on “Embraceable You.” Lockyer’s band is supportive and tasty. However, the delicious cake is Roch Lockyer’s sweet guitar mastery that he serves up with no apologies.

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Independent Label

Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass.

Vinny Raniolo opens with a swinging rendition of “Come Fly With Me.” This guitarist is very rhythmical in his approach, using tight technique to set the tempo and the groove. He and Elias Bailey are off and flying high. This “Air Guitar” album celebrates flying and the open space. Every tune Raniolo & Bailey have chosen has a reference to flight; the sky, the sun, moon and the freedom that comes with flying.

“Blue Skies” settles down to a back-porch blues with a slow walking bass by Elias Bailey at first, but without a warning, Vinny Raniolo swings this tune into an up-tempo production. These two musicians oscillate with their string instruments and need no drums. They merge into a succinct blend, displaying impeccable timing and each astute and passionate on their instrument. John Denver’s composition, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” is tackled like the other songs, always establishing the melody first and then exploring the chord changes with improvisational creativity, sometimes simple, but always with stalwart musicianship. Bailey is given several bars of solo time on this familiar Denver tune and plucks his way across the big bass strings, bridging the guitar chords like a tightrope walker. Their interpretation of Charmichael’s “Stardust” tune is absolutely lovely as it strolls, moderate tempo, across my listening space. As a touring musician, performer and educator, guitarist Vinny Raniolo takes flight with this premier CD release that celebrates his love of music and flying.

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Independent Label

Noshir Mody, guitar/composer/arranger; Mike Mullan, alto/tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; John Lenis, bass; Yutaka Uchida, drums.

Noshir Mody’s music has a feeling of New Age wrapped like a blanket around his productions. The first tune on this CD is titled “Secrets In the Wood and Stone.” It opens mysteriously, with bassist John Lenis leading the way. Delicately, the guitar begins to play arpeggio chords across the bass lines. This tune strokes my attention and Mike Mullan adds a very complimentary jazz solo on saxophone. As a fifteen- minute-long composition, it still manages to capture my imagination, without becoming boring or redundant. It allows each musician in Mody’s ensemble to introduce themselves via lengthy solos. The second tune, with rhythm guitar strumming brightly, sets the tempo that quickly branches off into an electronic guitar solo. At first, the guitar seems more improvisational than as an establishing factor that marries itself to a composed melody. However, the melody does arrive, after an extended introduction, and Benjamin Hanide adds beauty to the tune on his trumpet. Noshir Mody has composed and arranged all the tunes on this album. It’s odd, but at times, his style of guitar playing reminds me of a harpist. “Precipice of Courage” explores a more Avant Garde approach to the arrangement, especially from pianist, Campbell Charshee. Perhaps Mody explains his compositions and inspiration for this production best in liner notes that read:

“Regardless of how generations have carved out boundaries, delineating our physical, social and spiritual belief systems, the human experience continues to be a universal one. The development of the human spirit is not in the comforts, conquests, luxuries and acquisitions of our external surroundings, but rather in the conflict of our aspirational selves with our base instincts. These deeply individual and personal conquests then in turn facilitate the collective consciousness moving towards a higher purpose.”

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Blue Forest Records

Chris Brubeck, electric bass/bass trombone; Dan Brubeck, drums/hand drums/percussion; Mike DeMicco, guitar; Chuck Lamb, piano.

Percussive creativity opens the familiar “Blue Rondo A La Turk” tune of Dave Brubeck, father of Chris and Dan Brubeck. These bothers are carrying forward the legacy of their iconic forefather with the assistance of Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano. This is a spirited and more contemporary arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s tune and it’s full of spunk and spirit. Dan Brubeck is the force behind the drums, playing the doumbek, a Middle East type of drum popular in North Africa and East Asia. Chris Brubeck is competent on electric bass and bass trombone. DeMicco’s solo on this first tune establishes his musicality and technical abilities on guitar. Brothers, Chris and Dan worked in Dave’s band for many years, polishing their chops and expanding their musical horizons. Dan’s drumming, while power-punched, is still very melodic. I hear him sing along with melodic lines and it’s extremely impressive. Chris is a fine musician on both bass and trombone, and also leans more towards production and composition. He is exploratory when it comes to writing music, with his interest jumping from symphonic scores to jazz, or from blues, funk and soul to rock and roll. Thus, their unique and often innovative arrangements of their dad’s compositions obviously have repainted the treasured songs with fiery, fresh faces. For example, “Far More Blue” is steeped in funk and drives at a rapid tempo, sparking Dan to excel on his drum solo. He drives the band full-force, like a freight train. “Easy As You Go” features Chris Brubeck on bass trombone. It’s a beautiful ballad and the voice of Chris’s trombone sounds almost human. The Brubeck sibling plays with a great deal of passion and sincerity. I also enjoyed chuck Lamb’s sensitive piano solo on this tune.

This “1958 Timeline” CD celebrates the 60th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s Historic State Department Tour. In 1958 the United States was deep in the trenches of a cold war with the Soviet Union. The State Department chose jazz music as a secret weapon, sending goodwill and positivity in the form of Brubeck’s 80-concert tour across fourteen countries. The tour was meant to promote and popularize democracy, using Brubeck’s band as an artistic vehicle to build bridges between our country and Russia, among others. Chris Brubeck remembers that tour this way.

“As Dave and Iola Brubeck headed to the airport for a marathon 3-month tour through fourteen countries, Dan, our sister Cathy and I were small children (ages 2,4 and 5). Too young to make the trip. We said our sad goodbyes to our parents. Joining them were our honorary ‘Uncles’, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, and the newest member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Eugene Wright,”said Chris Brubeck.

(NOTE: Eugene Wright is a man this writer fondly knows as ‘The Senator.’)

In this time of stress and political incorrectness between the United States and Russia, the Brubeck brother’s musical celebration seems particularly relevant and inspirational. This is no pastiche. Every tune on this project is exquisitely recorded and musically wonderful with a freshness and energy that compliments their father’s legacy yet expands it. I enjoyed the arrangements and excitement that these four musicians brought to the recording studio. On “Since Love Had its Way,” guitarist Mike DeMicco offers a sparkling solo tribute and Chris Brubeck is fluid, playing his 1969 Rickenbacker fretless bass, while humming along during his inspired solo. Lovely! Chuck Lamb has contributed a few original compositions, as has Chris Brubeck and guitar master, Mike DeMicco. I enjoyed his “North Coast” composition with its Straight-ahead feel and catchy melody.

On this celebratory CD you will discover challenging time signatures, tastes of the blues and touches of world music, refreshing arrangements of familiar Brubeck tunes and the spontaneity that comes when the band is well-rehearsed and unafraid to jump off the roof without a parachute. Bravo to the Brubeck brothers, their amazing team of musicians, and the admirable resurgence of their father’s legacy.

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Fata Morgana Music

Lello Molinari, electric bass/double bass; Sal Difusco, elec. & acoustic Guitars; Marcello Pelliteri,drums; Dino Govoni,flute, tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI/clarinet; Meena Murthy,violin/cello.

Celebrated bassist, Lello Molinari, has once again returned to his Italian roots on his new CD titled “Lello’s Italian Job – Volume 2”. Molinari left his native Naples, Italy in 1986 to study jazz at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. This resulted in him becoming an educator at that same institution of learning. He’s also spent three decades touring as a bandleader with his quintet, in both the United States and Europe. Molinari is a master of both electric and upright, acoustic bass. In the year 2000, he recorded an album titled “Multiple Personalities” that blended three Italian tunes into an album that also included Thelonious Monk Classic compositions and other jazz tunes. He featured renowned Italian vocalist Chiara Civello on this production and saxophone icon, George Garzone. In 2016, he released “Lello’s Italian Job, Vol 1 and included traditional Italian folk songs, classical arias, and pop songs, all arranged in a very jazzy way. This year, his 2018 release continues that trend, offering a second collection of Italian music, transposed into jazz by an ensemble of master musicians who share his Italian heritage. The songs vary from a Respighi tone poem to popular Neapolitan songs, sung for generations. He also has included some original music for this C D.

Guitarist, Sal DiFusco, has composed “Sulla Strada Per Damasco,” a song rich with melody, that moves from what sounds like a Flamingo guitar introduction into a very Straight-ahead groove, allowing Dino Govoni to improvise and soar on his tenor saxophone. Quite unexpectedly, Lello Molinari pumps a double-time feel beneath what, at first, appears to be a ballad. Molinari and Pelliteri, on drums, lock and race the tempo to elevate this composition with a flurry of energy. A familiar song that has been performed in various languages all over the planet, from Perry Como to Andrea Boccelli, is “Anema e Core.” Molinari has chosen to arrange this Italian standard as a duet for bass and guitar. It’s quite moving and gives Molinari a platform to unleash his technique and artistry on his bass instrument.

“I had a desire to reconnect with my roots,” Molinari says. “I also wanted to incorporate these new things that I’ve learned over the years here in the States; take old material and give it a fresh face. … I play with a number of orchestras, so, I’ve reconnected with classical music and opera. Others are Italian Folk songs I grew up hearing, that I’ve known since I was a kid.”

Lello Molinari studied contrabass at the Scuola Civica in Sesto San Giovanni. In Italy. The talented bassist joined the Italian Vocal Ensemble, performing on radio and television and appearing with the group on jazz festivals before relocating to America.

“I guess, as I get more mature, I don’t need to play ‘punk jazz’ any more. … I can enjoy a simple structure, a simple melody. On Lello’s Italian Job Vol. 2, I am reinterpreting old material from a new, contemporary jazz point of view.”

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