Rochester Jazz Festival

20 Jun

This week the Rochester International Jazz Festival is starting a 10-day festival (June 20-28), featuring luminaries such as Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Akiko Tsuruga, Snarky Puppy or Earth, Wind and Fire. The festival has 11 venues, all located in downtown Rochester near the famous Eastman school of music. 

Social media is not the musicians’ favorite tune

16 May

Numerous jazz musicians are reluctant to use social media, and yet, those tools are crucial to their careers.

“A lot of the artists I work with are very reticent with this technology. They feel it’s child’s play,” publicist Michael Crowell said.

A lot of musicians think Twitter and Facebook are hard to understand. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who tours with Jeff Beck and Sting, said social media is toxic.

Crowell is based in San Diego and mostly represents jazz musicians such as violinist Regina Carter and saxophonist Dave Liebman. He said social media is essential to musicians’ success because it allows them to build loyal audiences. And social media is very inexpensive. “To not have that is a wasted opportunity,” he said. He said it is “not too dissimilar from talking to your fans getting out the bandstand.”

Crowell also said these networks allow musicians to reach several thousands people a week – people who may otherwise not have an opportunity to know about the artists. “If you’re really trying to push the music forward, the music press isn’t going to cover you,” Crowell said. “So how do you reach your audience with what’s available to you? That’s social media and touring. The goal is to be able to perform and to live as a musician, or as a creative artist.”

This year, singer and songwriter Neil Young raised more than $6 million with a crowdsourcing project. New York- based DJ Sid Vaga said he has different Facebook pages which help him get the word around.

“Social media is a new medium that has developed and is not going to go away anytime soon,” Crowell said.

Hugh Masekela celebrates his 75th birthday

2 May

Hugh Masekela sang his heart out in front of a moved and delighted audience on April 6 at the Victoria Theatre of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The South African singer and political activist was ending a North American tour started on March 22 in honor of his 75th birthday, which he also celebrated at the Lincoln Center on April 4 and 5.

Hearing Masekela is like traveling all the way to South Africa, and to the roots of African music. Masekela does not tire of singing hits like the sad protest song “Stimela” (“Coal Train” in English), for which he literally screamed, on April 6, to imitate the whistle of the train. That train in the song takes African men to the mines of Johannesburg, where they are going to be exploited.

Masekela lived in exile from the early 1960s through the early ’90s, but “his music talked to the will of South Africa’s struggle for independence,” D.C. based jazz writer Giovanni Russonello explained. “Even in what often passed for blithe funk-jazz (“Grazing in the Grass” is the obvious example), there is a bite and an alert, declarative sensibility.”

South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo, who has performed with the singer several times, recognized Masekela’s influence. “He was almost like Nelson Mandela, but for our music,” Kumalo said.

Hugh Masekela began his career as a teenager in the 1950s, “idolizing American jazz musicians at a time when South Africa’s native majority hungered for what they represented: their convictions, their hoodwinking, truth-to-power intellectualism, their dapper self-regard,” Russonello said. “Along with fellow future-immortals Dollar Brand and Kippie Moeketsi, in 1959 he formed South Africa’s first widely recognized jazz band, the Jazz Epistles.”

Kumalo said that Masekela was a friend of the famous jazz trumpeters Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. “And they loved him because he was bringing South African music to American music,” he said.

Versatile Colaiuta, Master of the blank slate

17 Apr

His name may not ring as many bells as Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck or Chaka Khan, but he has performed or recorded with all three. Vinnie Colaiuta, 58, is one of the most in-demand sidemen today. A versatile drummer who has traveled the entire world, Colaiuta just finished a North American tour with singers Sting and Paul Simon, during which he played at Madison Square Garden. Towards the end of March, he performed at the Abu-Dhabi festival with pianist Herbie Hancock, bass player James Genus and guitar player Lionel Loueke.

Colaiuta, a little over 6 feet tall, received his first drum set when he was a teenager. He said he spent days playing in his parents’ attic until his mother suggested he start taking classes. He went on to study at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston; and shortly after he finished, he moved to Los Angeles because he was not playing enough on the East coast. There he started his career with Frank Zappa – which catapulted him into the big time.

Colaiuta, whose sense of humor is unparalleled, said he likes to immerse himself completely into whatever music he is playing: “Whenever I go to a gig, I try to be completely open and forget everything I know,” he said. 

This blank slate approach allows Colaiuta to adjust to pianist Chick Corea’s softer style, which, he said, is like pointillism, but also to Herbie Hancock’s, which relies more on chords.

Colaiuta spent many years earning a living as a studio musician in Los Angeles, recording tunes with musicians he would only work with for that occasion – George Benson or Madonna, for instance. Those experiences have also helped him understand all the nuances of his instrument and when he performs, every single touch means something unique and demonstrates his controlled precision and sophistication.

 

Marc Copland, Joey Baron and Gary Peacock at Birland, March 2014

17 Apr

This happened a few weeks ago, when three outstanding musicians filled Birdland, the 44th street club whose name was inspired by saxophonist Charlie Parker, with soothing and original melodies and sounds. On Friday March 21, the Birdland audience was shushing and faint sounds of silverware could be heard in between songs. But for the most part, listeners were very respectful of the musicians and their work.

Bass player Gary Peacock, pianist Mark Copland and drummer Joey Baron played standards such as “For Heaven’s Sake,” “Gloria’s Steps” and “Time Remembered,” as well as original compositions. Every tune was captivating as the musicians connected rhythmically, melodically and sonically.

The trio started the evening with “Estate,” which was made famous by Brazilian singer and guitar player Joao Gilberto. It was the right song to open the set with: smooth, sophisticated and yet as comfortable as a familiar piece of clothing.

Next came “Moor,” an original composition by Peacock, who has played with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette for 31 years.  “Moor” was an experimentation with the drums: instead of using his sticks, Baron used his hands to start beating on his drums as if they were percussions.

One of the most memorable aspects of the performance may have been Peacock’s sound, which is uniquely warm and generous. This may reflect the musician’s practice of Zen bouddhism, which invites its practitioners to sit and do nothing.

 

 

Nicholas Payton at Birdland: a groovy and sophisticated way to spend a winter night

4 Feb

It was around 11pm and Birdland, as always, was feeling lovely and cosy, with listeners whispering. The club is a place to unwind and absorb sounds and melodies coming from the bandstand, where so many breathtaking musicians perform, and also to enjoy the delicious and original food – yes, the club even serves Southern food, which was particularly fitting for a New Orleans-based musician like Payton. 

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Picture by Girish Sharma

On Jan. 24, Nicholas Payton performed with Aaron Parks on piano, Bill Stewart on drums and Vicente Archer on bass. Aaron Parks, who had played with guitar player Kurt Rosenwinkel at the club the Jazz Standard not too long before (http://emiliepons.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/kurt-rosenwinkel-new-quartet-at-the-jazz-standard/), proved one more time how lyrical he could be, especially towards the end of the set, when the band performed “When I fall in love.”

Payton enjoys mixing his own compositions with standards. The first few songs of the set were titles with numbers: “Nine,” “Six,” and “Ten.” “Ten” was a sort of ballad and sounded almost like smooth jazz, and it was very soothing, with a lovely melody – the kinds Payton knows how to compose so well. Payton also played with his mute and sang. His singing is jazz and rnb, which, he said, is integral to his work.

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Picture by Girish Sharma

The quartet also played “How deep is the ocean” and “I want to stay right here in New Orleans” – Payton never forgets his Southern roots.  

APAP showcase, Sat. Jan. 11 2014

14 Jan

Today is the end of the 2014 APAP conference, which featured countless brilliant artists. Below are trumpet player Freddy Hendrix with saxophonist Sharel Cassity and Cassity with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, who performed on Saturday afternoon at the Harlem Suite on the 4th floor of the midtown Hilton. 

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