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.

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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.)