Friday, July 29, 2011

One More Time... Frank Foster

A tweet from Nicholas Payton alerted me to this hilarious scene from a 1961 comedy. "Blues In Hoss' Flat" was composed by Frank Foster. The original version is available on Count Basie's Chairman of the Board album from 1959. Far less amusing is the story of Foster's publishing woes revealed in the trailer of a documentary about the jazz great. Foster died July 26.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Basie band veteran Frank Foster died yesterday. The composer of "Shiny Stockings" was 82. Here's NPR's report. Nate Chinen provided the obituary for The New York Times. Doug Ramsey offers additional insights.

*Rumor has it that a prominent Kansas City jazz club is cutting musicians' pay by 35%.

*KCJazzLark serves as the invaluable institutional memory of Kansas City's jazz scene in a well-researched post about Boone Theater.

*KCUR updates an excellent profile of Leon Brady and KC Youth Jazz.

*Fanfare magazine published an extended interview with Michael Pagan.

*Joe Klopus and Tim Finn write eloquently about the relationship between jazz and popular music here and here.

*Phonologotronic toasts his colleagues at The Black House Improvisors' Collective.

*An underground noise show headlined by This Is My Condition is reviewed by The Pitch.

*Tweet o' the Week: djjazziedeb: If one jazz club cuts pay 35%, who's to say that they won't all follow suit. I think no one should work for this! No one!

*The rigorous debate in the comment section of last Friday's post continues.

*A few thoughtful readers have pointed out that Plastic Sax's RSS feed is broken. (I'm not sure how to fix it.)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: The Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra- What Did You Dream?

Audio stream of "Point No Point" at YouTube

As a teenager in the process of discovering jazz, I bought Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain without having heard a note. How I hated it! I felt lost amid Gil Evans' unfamiliar landscapes. The album's graceful nuances were way beyond my comprehension. While my appreciation of the big band sound has expanded well beyond my early infatuation with Basie's swing and the freakouts of Sun Ra's Arkestra, I'll probably spend the remainder of my life blissfully studying Sketches of Spain.

Ambitious projects like What Did You Dream?, a 2010 album by Dan Gailey, serve as invaluable reminders of the endless possibilities inherent in the big band format. While the album occasionally seems relatively conventional, many moments reveal brand new vistas. Gailey's decision to post enthusiastic testimonials about the quality of What Did You Dream? by Gary Foster and Maria Schneider at his site reflect his sensibilities.

It would be a mistake to assume that because Gailey is Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Music at The University of Kansas that his music is overly formal. What Did You Dream? is meticulous rather than fussy. Each adventurous note is reproduced in an amazingly deep sound field. I've become so accustomed to sonically inferior jazz albums- the otherwise excellent new release by the Captain Black Big Band is typical- that the clarity of Gailey's project is akin to moving from black-and-white to color. (I intend to use What Did You Dream? as a demonstration disc the next time I select a sound system.)

Fifty-one years after Davis and Evans created Sketches of Spain, the societal impact of most new jazz albums is virtually nonexistent. Its invisibility amid today's popular culture, however, is not a reflection of the occasional brilliance captured on Gailey's What Did You Dream?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Matt Otto: Now's the Time

Since I conducted this interview with Matt Otto in 2009, I've learned that not every observer of the Kansas City jazz scene shares my enthusiasm for the saxophonist and composer. Some say Otto's approach is "too dry and cerebral." I admire those qualities, which why I hope to attend Otto's performance Sunday, July 24 at The Record Bar.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Ticketmaster shows a listing for the Rhythm & Ribs festival on October 8. There's also a Facebook page for the event.

*Hearne Christopher reports on an interesting arrangement between Beena Brandsgard and Ida McBeth. (Or is it Beena Raja?).

*Hunter Long and Chris Robinson engage in a marathon conversation about jazz and jazz criticism at the site of The Black House Improvisors' Collective.

*Joe Klopus profiles Tim Doherty's 9 Plus 1 ensemble.

*The conventional "business model" of jazz clubs is examined by KCJazzLark.

*The Pitch Music Showcase features performances by Miles Bonny, The Grand Marquis, Hearts of Darkness and Mark Lowrey. Details are here.

*Tweet o' the Week: hilderbrand: Farewell, Borders, my favorite bookstore for many years. #byebyeborders.

*Skerik of The Dead Kenny G's has a lot to say in an interesting Los Angeles Times interview.

*From The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: We are proud to present to you Black Wall Street, the second single from The Race Riot Suite… Click here to listen. The Race Riot Suite will be released on August 30. JFJO performs September 16 at Crosstown Station. Hearts of Darkness will open the show.

(Original image of a Miles Bonny album on display at a San Diego hip hop store by Plastic Sax.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Ahmad Alaadeen- Dysfunctional

Alaadeen lives!

Dysfunctional: Life Journeys of a Second Generation Jazz Musician, makes the spirit of Ahmad Alaadeen accessible to anyone seeking communion with the late saxophonist. The new oral autobiography serves as the ultimate insider jazz hang. It's essential reading for every serious student of Kansas City jazz history.

Alaadeen may be known to only a few jazz cognoscenti outside of Kansas City, but in spite of his relatively low profile, he knew and worked with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Jay McShann, Billie Holiday and Sam Cooke. Dysfunctional includes intriguing and often off-color stories about each of them. The 147-page book also provides insights into local figures like Eddie Baker, David Basse, Sonny Kenner, Harold O'Neal, Joe Thomas and Dennis Winslett. While I had heard several of these stories, most are new to me. And it's nice to have them all in one place.

Alaadeen also provides new perspectives on local history and landmarks. He proposes that The Boone Theater, the abandoned Kansas City venue that returned to the news just this month, be restored as a cultural community center.

One of Dysfunctional's pitfalls is its lack of footnotes. Readers unfamiliar with Kansas City and its jazz scene aren't provided with much context. Similarly, I was unable to read between the lines in his otherwise fascinating discussion of Nation of Islam politics.

Along with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Parker was one of Alaadeen's three primary musical heroes. Much as Parker fans around the world acknowledge his ongoing influence by invoking the phrase "Bird lives," readers of Dysfunctional will know that Alaadeen is still very much with us.

(Full disclosure: The author of Plastic Sax is one many names mentioned in Dysfunctional's acknowledgements. Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Is Why I Do It

Sometimes I wonder why I do what I do. The constant promotion of jazz, even from a forthright perspective, often seems like a fool's errand. When I'm tempted to leave this neglected corner of the musical universe, I find new inspiration by turning to vintage Basie. Listening to these sides reminds me of my mandate to advocate for the forgotten music of the past and the overlooked music of the present.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The NEA has awarded $200,000 for the restoration of Boone Theater in the Jazz District. A press release is available as a PDF here. Key line: The restoration and redevelopment of the historic Boone Theater – a $2.5 million project – is being undertaken with the goal of creating a new home for Folk Alliance International, a non- profit cultural organization presently based in Memphis, Tennessee... (Before jazz fans get too giddy, they should know that F.A.I. is, as its name suggests, an organization dedicated to folk music.) Here's the story in The Star. KCUR also covers the development.

*Hearne Christopher reports that Marilyn Maye will return to Jardine's August 25- September 2. A medical condition forced her to cancel her dates at the club in June.

*Hunter Long conducts a heady interview with Matt Leifer. Long also ponders tribute albums here.

*Credentials Hip Hop posted an interview with Hermon Mehari.

*KCJazzLark is disappointed by two area jazz establishments.

*Beau Bledsoe uploaded video of Bach Aria Soloists' Night of Tango concert. The February event is one of my favorite musical experiences of 2011.

*Plastic Sax readers aside, most Kansas Citians don't appreciate Bobby Watson's status as an international star. They might be surprised to learn that the saxophonist is a headliner at the forthcoming Guinness Jazz Festival in Cork, Ireland.

*Bobby Watson is featured in a new video documenting a performance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center led by Matt Savage.

*Here's a set of photos from the recent A Vibe Called Def performance at The Blue Room.

*Kansas City-related artists were shut out of the 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll.

*The saga of John Coltrane's former home in Philadelphia will sound all too familiar to Kansas City jazz historians. (Tip via AZ.)

*Tweet o' the Week: KCJazzLark: 5 minutes until Ernie Andrews & Bobby Watson is scheduled to start & I'm one of 30 patrons in The Blue Room. Sad.

*Via Facebook, regarding the late Ahmad Alaadeen: To celebrate Alaadeen's birthday, there will be a book signing/release for "Dysfunctional" at the American Jazz Museum, 1616 East 18th Street in Kansas City, Missouri on July 23rd from 11:00 - 1:00. And then, the tribute for Alaadeen will be the next day at The View Community Center, 13500 Byars Road in Grandview. Najee will come in to play a couple of Alaadeen's originals. See you there. Fanny

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Horace Washington: An Appreciation

Few things are as tedious as nostalgic reveries about the good old days, so I'll get this out of the way quickly. In the '80s, it was not uncommon to find throngs of people- many of them in their twenties- listening to jazz acts including Kevin Mahogany, The City Light Orchestra, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Priscilla Bowman, Sonny Kenner, B.C.R., Ronnell Bright and The Scamps at any one of over a dozen jazz-oriented nightclubs in Kansas City. Another of the most popular acts at the time was Horace Washington.

Washington specialized in audience-pleasing melodic jazz in the vein of Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. Even though his sound was danceable, it had plenty of substance. I'm not sure why he didn't retain his spot at the top of the local scene, but a lack of an online presence certainly hasn't done him any favors. One of Plastic Sax's 27 readers emailed me last night after he happened across a poorly-attended Washington performance at a new Kansas City establishment. A Google search inspired by Washington's fine playing turned up this new video profile of the musician.

"I think Kansas City jazz has been grossly underrepresented," Washington says in the video. "The true form of Kansas City jazz is dying."

Maybe. Maybe not. But for better or for worse, things ain't what they used to be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hahn In Hiding

Did you know that Kansas City-based guitarist Jerry Hahn is featured on a new DVD? I didn't either until I accidentally stumbled across this video. Anchored by bassist Bob Bowman, this trio makes very fine music. CDs and DVDs are available here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The ballot for The Pitch's annual music awards has been published. The nominees for "Jazz Ensemble" are the Barclay Martin Ensemble, Diverse, Hearts of Darkness and The People's Liberation Big Band. The nominees for "Jazz Solo Artist" are Bobby Watson, Hermon Mehari, Mark Lowrey and Mark Southerland.

*Hearne Christopher provides an update on Marilyn Maye's health.

*The role of race in today's jazz scene is pondered by KCJazzLark.

*Bobby Watson's The Gates BBQ Suite opens the UMKC Conservatory's series at the Kauffman Center on September 28.

*Chris Burnett muses on "the live jazz economy."

*Airtran Magazine features the Mutual Musicians Foundation in an article about Kansas City's live music scene.

*Dave Stephens' most prominent fan continues to share his enthusiasm for the showman.

*"The case has been made before about the younger generation getting its jones for jazz from the jam band world," Tim Finn writes in his review of an Umphrey's McGee concert. "Saturday night, that notion was confirmed."

*Neon Jazz is the title of a new radio program originating in Liberty.

*A couple of my buddies are amused by this cruel spoof. I'm not laughing.

*Tweet o' the Week: GrunauerKC: A reminder to all jazz enthusiasts: there is no shame in deodorant. (Via a Steve Paul retweet.)

*The jazz enthusiasts at Take Five Coffee Bar asked that I remind fans and musicians of the Leawood establishment's live music calendar.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grading the 2011-12 Folly Theater Season

Aside from a handful of weirdos like me, who would want to see both The Yellowjackets and Peter Nero? That was my first reaction when I read Joe Klopus' preview of the Folly Theater's 2011-12 season. As I analyzed the seven selections, however, I realized they weren't entirely dissimilar. Excepting the Vanguard Orchestra, each act has a florid musicality in common.

Expect to hear a lot a notes this season.

What concertgoers won't hear is innovative modern jazz. Disappointing turnout for serious music has understandably resulted in a less artistically adventurous new season. Trading Joe Lovano for the Yellowjackets and The Bad Plus for Peter Nero is a bitter pill to swallow.

The Yellowjackets- October 1
Anyone expecting snark from me about the "relaxing" music of The Yellowjackets is going to have to hold their breathe. The jazz fusion ensemble is very good at what it does.
Grade: B

Peter Nero- November 5
With all due respect, I hadn't realized that Peter Nero was still alive. Not only is he alive, Nero, 77, leads a Pops orchestra in Philadelphia. Given my weakness for pianists like Erroll Garner and Vince Guaraldi, it's no surprise that I'm actually looking forward to hearing Nero perform his hit "Summer of '42".
Grade: B+

Mark O'Connor's American String Celebration- December 17
Genre-hopping violinist Mark O'Connor's concert was the best-attended event of the 2009-10 season, so it's no surprise to see his name listed here again.
Grade: B

Nnenna Freelon- January 14
I didn't "get" Dee Dee Bridgewater until I saw her perform in the Jammin' at the Gem series in 2007. While I was familiar with her recordings, it took seeing Bridgewater in person to connect to the vocalist's unique sensibility. I'm hoping to experience the same type of musical epiphany with Nnenna Freelon in January.
Grade: B

Grace Kelly Quintet with Phil Woods- February 4
Grace Kelly's 2009 performance at the Blue Room was a mixed bag. While I was impressed with with the teen's technical mastery, she didn't exactly have me sitting on the edge of my seat. (Here's my review.) The presence of Phil Woods- one of Charlie Parker's greatest disciples- and the hope that Kelly has become a less rigid stylist, make this an interesting booking.
Grade: B

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra- March 3
Big bands don't travel much in 2011. That's the primary reason the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is the Folly season's most compelling booking. The current edition of the ensemble includes Dick Oatts, Terell Stafford, Scott Wendholt, Gary Smulyan and Jim McNeely.
Grade: A-

John Pizzarelli- April 14
A popular interpreter of the Great American Songbook, John Pizzarelli has found a nice niche as more tasteful alternative to Michael Buble and Michael Feinstein. This is a safe booking that will please conservative listeners.
Grade: B-

I conducted similar exercises for the 2010-11, 2009-10 and 2008-09 seasons.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Now's the Time: The American Jazz Museum

The American Jazz Museum has created a star-studded promotional video that effectively communicates its mandate. Nicely done!