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. 


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 (, 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.


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. 





APAP lunch, celebration of artistic creation

14 Jan

Today during the yearly APAP luncheon, Vijay Iyer spoke after Philip Glass. Iyer paid tribute to the late Amiri Baraka who just passed last week and was an inspiration to him. 

Kurt Elling at Birdland, Saturday Jan. 11th 2014

14 Jan

Kurt Elling performed two nights at Birdland last week. On Saturday night, his second and last night, he sang along with Regina Carter, who was a guest player for the occasion. Elling never stops reinventing himself, always using new themes, new melodies and now different languages for his shows – he sang in Portuguese and French for the set I attended, his last one for the week, paying tribute to bossa and Edith Piaf altogether. Elling’s show was listed among the APAP showcases of the weekend, but his concert was a full show, not just a showcase. Elling was accompanied by John McLean on electric guitar, Bryan Carter on drums, Gerarld Clayton on piano.

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet at the Jazz Standard

11 Jan
The Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet started a week of performances at the Jazz Standard on Wednesday night. The quartet features Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Aaron Parks on piano, Eric Revis on acoustic bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. The band will be playing until tomorrow night.
I attended Wednesday night’s second set and was absolutely stunned. Every musician of the quartet is a universe, so that the band is nothing but an aggregation of genial sparks (of course this is my opinion and you should check them out for yourself! but I hope you agree…) 



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