60th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival

Last weekend Monterey hit a milestone: 60 years of hosting one of the most exciting musical events worldwide, known and hailed internationally as the Monterey Jazz Fest. And they didn’t hold back for this special anniversary: topping the lineup with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, all three days of the festival were jam-packed with acts such as the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Kenny Barron, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Common, Joshua Redman, Pedrito Martinez, all three of the Claytons (John, Jeff, and Gerald), Joe Lovano, Regina Carter, Branford Marsalis, and Jimmy Heath (you know, to name a few). Not only was this year’s fest particularly star-studded, but it also included a diverse spread of genres while keeping the focus centered around jazz; this acceptance of branching genres such as hip hop, rock, and blues is a recurrent theme in MJF’s history that I’ll dive into further on.

Monterey being within eyesight of my home turf in Santa Cruz, I had the honor of performing at this festival with the UCSC Jazz Combo. Taking the Thelonious Monk Education Stage at 12:30pm on Saturday, we opened the afternoon with a setlist from the European Real Book:

“Vista,” “Distant Biscuits, “Secret Champ,” “Home,” “Ups and Downs,” and “Sixteen Blues.” Mad props to Galen Savidge, Gabe Meacham, Keshav Batish, Evan O’Brien, and Ben Sitzer – your hard work and musicianship shined through, and it was a pleasure to play with you.

UCSCJazzCombMJF60

I could write pages for each act I attended, but I’m going to focus on three: Common, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Not only were these three performances the most enthralling to me, but taken together they formed a convincing statement on jazz’s future, present, and past (yes, like the Ghosts of Christmas).

Seeing Common’s name on the lineup probably caused a lot of double-takes, especially from seasoned jazz fans. Born out of the South Side, Chicago, the Grammy Award-winning rapper is one of the most respected hip hop artists living – but what was he doing at a jazz festival? Several answers come to mind: first and foremost, that hip hop’s musical language comes from the same place as swing and bebop. Both heavily make use of the backbeat, which originated in West Africa, and both feature improvisation – jazz with instrumental solos, and hip hop with rap freestyling and disc scratching. Common underscored this point by appearing with a full band of accomplished jazz musicians and frequently giving them the mic (flautist Elena Pinderhughes was one of the musicians on stage – a welcome surprise, as she wasn’t listed on the program but commanded a set at MJF last year).

Equally as important, though, is to acknowledge that hip hop is coming out of the same culture as jazz – namely, black urban communities in America. Both are historically tied to black oppression, and as a result both respond to similar problems, rearticulated for different eras. Common’s set, for example, was called “Black America Again,” and all his songs discussed some problem he saw with the way people of color are treated in the United States. His lyrics echoed the words of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and countless others, who critically discussed black experience and expressed it in their music. Though MJF kept the spotlight on  jazz, having such an authority embrace rap signaled an acceptance of hip hop into the jazz family tree, the way MJF has done with blues, bluegrass, rock, and funk in the past. And one can find that happening with more established jazz musicians, with artists such as Christian Scott, Roy Hargrove, and Takuya Kuroda intentionally seeking to incorporate elements of trap, house, and old-school into their work. This is especially important because hip hop speaks directly to younger generations, while jazz is often criticized for seeming restricted to older demographics. By incorporating the newer genre into its fold, jazz, now a worldwide phenomenon, can retain a link to the same communities it served in the past.

common

Common performing at the White House with Elena Pinderhughes, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, and Keyon Herrold

I thought it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Herbie Hancock himself was clapping and dancing to the music most of the time.

Roy Hargrove’s combo was a much more traditional set. Having just seen them perform in Paris at the New Morning, I already knew what to expect and was in a better position to offer critique. In Paris they played a diverse array of songs, ranging from soothing ballads to hard bop tunes with a heavy backbeat (my favorite). In Monterey they played the same set, and they danced on stage again, and Justin Robinson was an absolute beast on the saxophone, again, but something about this performance was much more lively. I’m not sure if it was higher energy in the quintet or a heightened engagement in the crowd, but their show in Dizzy’s Den on Saturday night was electric. They had the audience clapping and cheering for several songs, and you could hear the more experienced audience members whispering, “He just referenced Joe Henderson!” and “Did you catch how he modulated right there?” The show had something for everyone: masterful soloing navigating complex rhythms and harmonies for experts to chew on, exciting tunes and danceable grooves for newbies, and traditional combo-style playing for those who attended a jazz festival expecting a classic jazz performance.

I found Roy Hargrove backstage after the show and asked him to sign my t-shirt; I am now the proud owner of a shirt that has my combo’s name screen-printed along with the “Roy Hargrove Quintet” and topped with a signature from the man himself. The deepest, music-nerdiest part of myself is thrilled.

roy

Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock capped off the festival late Sunday night in the Arena. The show didn’t start until close to 10pm, and while we waited I had a conversation with a woman who had been coming to the festival for 40 years. I found out her grandkids had played in a band with Elena and Samora Pinderhughes in junior high; small world. I asked her how this year compared to previous years, and she said the 60th has definitely been one of the best. I’ve only been coming for two years – but I’d have to agree.

When the red curtain finally parted, we saw two full open-topped grand pianos locked together, like a musical yin and yang symbol. Chick and Herbie walked out on stage, the former dressed in white, the latter in black. They sat down and began to play. At first it sounded almost classical, like a modern piano-four hands piece, but soon they were evolving outward, opening into denser harmonies and rhythms and departing the classical sense of structure. And between the two of them they created a galaxy of sound; at times they cleanly came together for rehearsed motifs, and at others there was obvious call and response, but the majority of their playing melded concrete music and uninhibited improvisation so fluidly that it rarely seemed that they were separate at all. Each song evolved as naturally as a good conversation, spoken fluently and filled with epiphanies and fascinating ideas.

This is something I strive for as a musician: a sense of ease in communicating through sound, in any genre. After all, at its most basic level, music really is another language. This is an old idea, and Hancock and Corea are two of the most venerated musicians still alive from jazz’s youth, but somehow this set sounded very fresh, flexible, and even futuristic. They managed to connect with the crowd on standards – Hancock’s “Chameleon” and Corea’s “Aranjuez/Spain,” two absolute classics – while introducing sounds that for all the world approached the most dissonant, complex ideas found in modern classical piano playing.

For a taste of what that set was like, check out this video of the duo performing a similar set in 1978 – under different fashion norms. Or this one from 1979, at the North Sea Jazz Festival (we’ve got the full recording of that festival over on the Jazz Archive). 

hcc.jpg

I came away from MJF’s 60th festival fully convinced of jazz’s ability to be flexible, adaptable, yet still firmly rooted in an era when music seems to be increasingly hybridized and sometimes nebulous. And, of course, a strong motivation to get back to practicing.

 

Advertisements

Armstrong, Hargrove, The Beatles and Film: New Posts on JazzArchive.org.UK

Hey all!

I’ve been busy writing pieces on various jazz topics over on JazzArchive.org.UK. The basic idea I’ve had with the Altman-Koss collection is that with a database catalogued in its particular style, it’s really easy to ask broad thematic questions and quickly retrieve relevant videos to investigate. Its simplicity is its flexibility; with just an Excel-style sheet to represent the information on these videos, all you need to do are ask the right things and translate them into search queries using CTRl-F (CMD-F for Mac). The kinds of questions I’ve been asking have led to finding groups of videos that, taken together, tell a story about a particular artist, place, or song. For example, “What relationship did The Beatles have with jazz,” “What is the connection between the underground jazz scene and glamorous Hollywood films,” “What kind of person was Louis Armstrong and how did he change throughout his career,” and “What words of advice do successful jazz musicians today have for the musicians of tomorrow?” Each of those questions have propelled me on short excursions into the archive and ended up in posted shorts over on the Altman-Koss website.

Go check it out!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Tonight: Jam at The Brunswick

Brighton and Hove’s jazz scene has been wonderful, but tonight I’m playing my last jam here for the summer! Come drop by The Brunswick around 8:30 pm to catch me and other local musicians join Paul Richard and his quartet for the best jazz session in town!

20664482_10154786101747621_961018074822597548_n (1).jpg

And a quick thank you to Adam Stokes for inviting me out to his gig at Martha’s Gunn last Wednesday. It was a pleasure to play with his group and Charlotte Glasson, who played circles around me on tenor sax, soprano sax, and fiddle 😀

Ronnie Scott and Old Jazz Film: Video Features from the Jazz Archive

Hey all! Just wanted to post a pointer over to the Altman-Koss Jazz Archive website – I’ve been busy publishing blurbs on the videos as I come across ones I find particularly valuable or interesting, or on strings of videos that seem to tell an emergent story. For example, pulling out all the videos tagged with “Ronnie Scott” starts to give you a picture of the man as a working musician in a section, as a leader (and bit of a comedian) as he takes his own combo to music festivals, and as an impresario as other groups are hosted at his jazz club. Or you can search the archive looking for all entries tagged with “film;” a few of the tapes contain full-length films tangentially related to jazz that are generally of excellent quality and would otherwise require a subscription to Amazon, Netflix, or even access to a physical copy. So head over if you’re interested in reading various pieces on jazz! I promise it’s worth checking out!

John Coltrane’s 50th Anniversary, John Altman, and Jazz Jams at the Brunswick

June 18th, 2017 marks 50 years since the death of John Coltrane, who passed away at the age of 40. This is yet another milestone reached this year, which sees the centennial anniversary of the first jazz recording (Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band’s “Dixie Jass Band One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues”).  I was lucky enough to celebrate by meeting and jamming with someone who was worked with just about all the greats in jazz. John Altman, who donated the archive I’m currently doing research on, met up with my professor and I to discuss the collection: how it came about, who it was intended for, what interesting material it contains, and so on (full post of this will be available on the archive’s website, jazzarchive.org.uk). What I hadn’t realized is that several of the biggest names in jazz had actually sat down and watched videos of themselves from the archive, at the suggestion of John Altman. Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, have all had a look at the videos, a few of which they had been searching for elsewhere to no avail. Hearing this blew my mind – and absolutely made me more keen to finish the project so that musicians, students, and researchers can access these videos.

 

After speaking with John, he kindly let me know about a jazz jam down at the Brunswick in Hove. Of course I was there later that evening, and surprised to see a full house: unusual for a typical jazz jam, but apparently not so in Brighton/Hove. Led by guitarist Paul Richards and his trio, we had saxophonists, piano players, singers, even a harmonica up on the stage. I had the pleasure of playing “Ornithology,” “Sweet Lorraine,” and “All Blues” with the trio plus Altman, and while I had a blast soloing, these guys could play circles around me. They’re incredible, and so hooked into their local jazz scene. Definitely going back next Wednesday.

Keep checking jazzarchive.org.uk for more jazz info, video clips, and updates on the project!

Roy Hargrove @ The New Morning in Paris

rh

Was lucky enough to catch Roy Hargrove at the famous New Morning jazz club in Paris last Saturday. One of my heroes when it comes to trumpet playing and music in general: not only has he worked across genres from jazz masters like Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis to hip hop legend D’Angelo, but he talks, thinks, and teaches about music in a way that’s almost philosophical. And he’s fun; at the New Morning show he actually stopped part way through a song, put his trumpet down, and started dancing, motioning for the saxophone player (Justin Robinson – a beast) to do the same. For a couple of nearly fifty-year old musicians, they had some moves.

IMG_20170715_204313314

One of the coolest things about Roy is his stage presence. I mean, outside of the raw sophistication and thrill of his soloing, there is such a grippingly visual aspect to his performance. Since starting work on this jazz video archive, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to what can be gained from watching jazz as opposed to just listening to it, and Roy is a shining example of why jazz is so important to see. First off, his style – he tends to wear well-cut, light-colored suits, paired with big, athletic sneakers. He literally embodies the jazz-hip hop aesthetic in his outfit. And if he doesn’t have sunglasses on when he walks out on set (indoors, in a basement-like jazz club), he’ll probably pull them out at some point, maybe while he’s dancing. Then, he’s never just standing around, looking like he’s bored or even waiting. Roy always appears to be listening. If he’s finished soloing, he turns his body and fixes his gaze on the next player, intently watching them take a chorus. Or he might walk off stage and give the spotlight entirely to someone else. Or (and he did this several times), he’ll go sit by the drummer and tap on the drums with him. And whisper to audience members, less than two feet away. And just… be interesting. Everything he did had some kind of intention behind it. A relaxed intention, to be sure; he always looks laid back and content. But definitely like he had a handle on the performance the entire time. He engaged audience attention and controlled it very well, never looking like he was really trying that hard to do so.

And then the music was amazing. I’m biased towards his composition “Strasbourg/St. Denis,” because I’ve watched his 2007 New Morning performance of it on YouTube hundreds of times (not an exaggeration). And of course, he performed it now, 10 years later in 2017, because he wrote it across the street from the club (the nearest Paris metro station is literally called “Strasbourg – St. Denis”). And it was fresh, even though I’ve heard it so much, because, of course, this is jazz: every performance is going to be different. This time around, Roy played the head and then grabbed a cowbell, and had a contest with the drummer (Quincy Phillips). Roy would play a rhythm, and the drummer would spit it right back, not after him, but with him. It was amazing. Eventually, they both stopped, leaving the piano player to do a solo that was truly solo. Nobody else in the band played, but the audience was clapping on beat the whole way through (the nice thing about a jazz audience is that they stay on beat, too). Suddenly, the whole group was back in an explosion of sound, and Roy and Justin took the head to finish out the piece.

img_20170716_080156511.jpg

Going to see this trumpeter at this jazz club felt like a sort of pilgrimage to me as a musician, so I had to post about it. Some video clips of the performance are already up, check them out on YouTube.

Yazz Ahmed: UK Trumpet Feature

Even though I’m currently immersed in the English jazz scene, it was my home jazz authority, SFJazz, that pointed me in the direction of UK-based trumpeter Yazz Ahmed. She’s British-Bahraini  and recently released an LP critics have described as “Psychedelic Arabic Jazz.” As an Arab-American jazz trumpet player and composer myself, I couldn’t resist reading it, and it’s a truly enlightening perspective piece on the state of modern jazz and jazz musicians. Check it out here.

… And while you’re at it, be sure to give the album a listen toLa Saboteuse is joining my inspiration playlist right alongside Ibrahim Maalouf, Roy Hargrove, Hiromi, Christian Scott… etc.

La-Saboteuse-chapter-4.jpg