Festival Faves, pt. 1

Brrrrr…Baby, it’s cold outside…and windy! Philly’s cold temps and brisk winds have me longing for outdoor festival season, so I thought I would take a moment to share three of my favorite LiveJazz Journey festivals to date: Vision Festival, Caramoor Jazz Festival, and the inaugural Exit 0 International Jazz Festival. The fiercely iconoclastic Vision Festival celebrated its 17th year of presenting creative improvised music in June. The festival was held at Roulette in Brooklyn and honored multi-instrumentalist/conceptualist Joe McPhee. VisionFest2012 063The powerful Opening Invocation featured vocalists Patricia Nicholson, Fay Victor and Kyoko Kitamura with William Parker (bass), Hamid Drake (drums) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). We stayed for sets by Kneebody and Dunmall Shipp Morris Cleaver, slipping out just as guitarist Elliott Sharp and poet/vocalist Tracie Morris took to the stage. Kneebody’s electric, funkified avant jazz was propelled by the frenetic Nate Wood – he definitely makes my list of favorite drummers. His band mates included Adam Benjamin (keyboard), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Ben Wendel (sax), and Kaveh Rastegar (bass).They were a sharp contrast to the more cerebral, but no less passionate than Dunmall Shipp Morris Cleaver (Paul Dunmall, reeds; Matthew Shipp, piano; Joe Morris, bass; and Gerald Cleaver, drums).

Caramoor_nlee 379The 2012 Caramoor Jazz Festival provided a gorgeous Italianate setting for a stellar line-up that included The Cookers, Gretchen Parlato, Kenny Barron, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band. Well worth the drive from Philly to Katonah, NY – even in the pouring rain! It’s not a stretch to say that The Cookers has one of the most impressive rosters currently performing in jazz: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), David Weiss (trumpet), Craig Handy (alto saxophone), Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Orrin Evans (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). With her sultry voice and distinctive phrasing, Gretchen Parlato has a mesmerizing way with a song. She was nimbly backed by Taylor Eigsti (piano), Burniss Travis III (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums). Kenny Barron has to be one of the most elegant pianists on the scene. His discography is phenomenal and he delivered a crowd-pleasing solo turn at Caramoor, setting the stage for the ebullient Dee Dee Bridgewater. With her high energy and theatrical sensibility, the three time Grammy winner is a photographer’s dream. It’s hard to call someone as hip as Roy Haynes “venerable”, which sounds so stodgy, but the 88 year old Living Legacy Award recipient has been a sought after drummer since 1945. His Fountain of Youth players included Jaleel Shaw (saxophones), Martin Beherano (piano), and David Wong (bass). Cookers saxophonist Craig Handy had to be one of the busiest players at the festival – he performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater and made a cameo appearance with Roy Haynes.

Rounding out my top three festivals list is the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival, held in Cape May, New Jersey just days after Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Atlantic Seaboard, Exit 0 featured more than 30 hours of music over three days at seven different venues. I went down on Saturday, November 10 and saw Cap’n Black Big Band, Mark Murphy, Claudia Acuna and Ramsey Lewis. Pretty decent line-up, right? Well, I almost missed the Festival altogether. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, Fellow Travelers, and of course, Friday night I’m diligently checking all of my gear, charging my battery, being sure to pack extra storage cards. Next morning, the weather is gorgeous. I get up, gas up, and hit the road headed to the shore. Two hours later, I arrive. The Festival is well organized. Folks are friendly. I get my credentials, say “Hi” to trumpeter Josh Lawrence and head into the Convention Center, the first venue on my list. Claudia Acuna is onstage, my fellow photogs are in place. I’m excited. Settling in. I fire off a test shot. Nothing happens. Nada. Nothing. I have no power in my camera, Fellow Travelers. I had left my battery still charging at home. Ai-yi-yii…!!!

What’s a girl to do two hours from home, press credentials in place and credibility on the line? Well, ask another girl where to shop, of course. One of the festival staff gave me directions to the nearest shopping area, and, well…I never thought I would ever say this, but…Walmart to the rescue. I raced off to a strip mall a couple of towns over, purchased a camera I could use with my lenses and got back to the festival whilst pianist Orrin Evans’s swinging Cap’n Black Big Band was mid-set. Whew!

Exit0jazzfest_nlee 359x2I was amply rewarded for staying calm and driving fast. The Cap’n Black set was fantastic, featuring Nicholas Payton, Marcus Strickland, the aforementioned Josh Lawrence, and a host of other strong players. Up next: the incomparable Mark Murphy of Stolen Moments fame. Though his craggy baritone has weathered with age and a few notes may have eluded him, Murphy remains fluidly improvisational and expressive. After the dinner break, I saw new-to-me Chilean singer/songwriter Claudia Acuna, who delivered a relaxed, appealing performance, mostly in Spanish, which I no comprende at all, but I enjoyed what I saw before dashing out to catch headliner Ramsey Lewis and his Electric Band roll through the three-time Grammy winner’s iconic hits (Wade in the Water, The In Crowd, and my fave: Sun Goddess) and new material. Lewis has been in the limelight almost as long as I’ve been on the planet; his elegance and style are timeless and his set was polished and engaging.

That was it for me, Fellow Travelers; I had to hit the road back to Philly, though the Festival continued past 1:00 a.m. and wrapped up the next day. By the time the Pedrito Martinez Group took to the stage at 2:30 pm Sunday, I had returned that camera to Walmart and was moving through the rest of my weekend. C’est la vie.

Don’t let the cold keep you from seeing some live jazz, Fellow Travelers…enjoy!

Pharoah Sanders!

Well, Fellow Travelers, when I started this LiveJazz Journey in April, I promised you a bonus visit or two to my hometown of Washington, DC, where my journey with this music we call jazz began. Little did I know that I’d be returning there so soon, but I absolutely could not pass up the chance to see the iconic tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. My introduction to Pharoah Sanders came via WPFW Radio almost 30 years ago. One of the music programmers there, Bro. Hodari Ali, played You’ve Got to Have Freedom as his theme song. Wow…Wow…Wow! It was unlike anything I had heard up ‘til then. Sanders’ contrasted nimble, full-toned playing with dissonant honking. The driving melody and spare lyrical content combined to create an anthem that still rings true to me (you’ve got to have freedom…you’ve got to have peace and love…).

In the early 1960’s, Little Rock, Arkansas-born Ferrell Sanders moved to New York City from Oakland, California, where he had begun his professional career. He performed for a time with the omniversal pianist/composer/bandleader Sun Ra, who is credited with providing him a home and his nickname. In 1965, Sanders teamed up with kindred spirit and fellow tenor player John Coltrane. Throughout the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s as his approach to music continued to evolve, Sanders worked with a number of phenomenal musicians who were taking the music into a decidedly soulful spiritual direction. Among them were Alice Coltrane, Leon Thomas, Lonnie Liston Smith and Cecil McBee.

Fast forward to last week, when the venerable Grammy-winner enjoyed a three-day, six show engagement at D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns. Lucky me, I caught the very last show on Saturday night (Sept. 15th). Sanders did not disappoint. Though a bit older and grayer, he still plays with energy and verve. His multi-generational quartet included strong sidemen: William Henderson on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass, and John Lamkin on drums. Baltimore-based flutist Delandria Mills joined the group on stage at one point and by the end of the show Sanders was getting down, partying; no doubt inspired by the standing-room-only audience’s rousing cries for an encore and a local blues singer’s spontaneous tribute. A memorable time was had by all. Enjoy the slideshow, Fellow Travelers, and go out and see some live jazz!

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P.S. So, yeah, it’s been a while since I touched base with you Fellow Travelers. I have to say, I had a pretty eventful summer. I look forward to sharing it all with you in the coming weeks. And, hey, hit me back; let me know what you’ve been up to. Peace & luv ‘til next time.

CORRECTION: Fellow Travelers, when I first wrote this post, I misidentified Pharoah Sanders’s drummer. He is John Lamkin, not John Hampton. Thanks, Sara.

Busy, busy weekend in Philly

Busy weekend for jazz in Philly, Fellow Travelers. Saturday afternoon, the LiveJazz Journey will take us to the inaugural Center City Jazz Festival. We’ll head out to the ‘burbs in the evening to experience Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, with special guest Muhal Richard Abrams at Montgomery County Community College. Trombonist Ernest Stuart deserves all sorts of kudos for putting the CCJF together. The DIY showcase for some of Philly’s homegrown and now-based-here talent extends the City’s rich jazz legacy. The festival unfolds at four venues within easy walking distance in the heart of downtown (we call it Center City, here, just so you know). Right now, I’m planning a mix that includes songstress Denise King at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, Ernest Stuart at Milkboy, and bassist Alex Claffy at Fergie’s Pub, but just like the music itself, I’m allowing myself space to improvise. Really wish I could stay for another set, but I cannot miss the chance to see legendary pianist/composer/orchestra leader Muhal Richard Abrams with the Warriors. They’ll be premiering a new piece that Abrams has written expressly for the adventurous big band. Abrams is one of the co-founders of the famed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), around which much phenomenally innovative Chicago talent coalesced, including Amina Claudine Myers, Henry Threadgill, and members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Many years ago, I saw Muhal leading his own orchestra at the Kennedy Center, so I will be front-and-center with my camera on Saturday night. Have a great weekend, y’all – go out and see some live jazz!

Week Two: Giants Walk Among Us

As I hit the road headed to Marlboro, NY to see the Billy Hart Quartet recently, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had never heard of Marlboro, a hamlet in the Hudson River Valley about an hour-and-a-half outside of NYC (and to my knowledge, I had never set foot inside a hamlet). I found the intriguingly eclectic Live @ The Falcon music series online, saw that the Billy Hart Quartet would be playing on April 10 and added the show to the LiveJazz Journey. The weather was gorgeous as I set my GPS to the scenic route and headed out from Philly.

Billy Hart is one of those legendary musicians I’ve heard about over the years from gigs with many of the giants of modern jazz, including Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Hamiet Bluiett, and Stan Getz, but truth be told, I had no idea what he was like as a leader. Boy was I in for an awakening! His stellar Quartet includes pianist Ethan Iverson, a member of The Bad Plus trio; saxophonist Mark Turner; and bassist Ben Street.

The Quartet is touring in support of its new release, All Our Reasons, a gorgeous recording that you can find in the usual places. As exciting as the album is, there’s nothing like seeing the interplay among these elegant, skillful musicians in a live performance. Hart’s drumming is masterful: fluid, inventive and propulsive, and his respect for his fellow players was evident in every interaction. He is naturally charming and gracious and in this interview, he tells us a bit about his background, how the Quartet formed and his seminal influences. Billy Hart is a giant walking among us, whose music carries the history of jazz and expresses it in a fresh and modern light.

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Hope these photos give you some idea of how fantastic the concert was! (To stop the slideshow, hover your cursor over one of the image and you’ll see the player’s controls. Hit the stop button and scroll through at your leisure.)