Jazz and Blues

News about jazz, blues, Studio Sessions, and music samplings from jazz artists in the northwest and around the world.

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It's a gorgeous sun-filled day here in Seattle, and I can feel summer coming! The weather put me in mind of one of the greatest jazz documentaries of all time, "Jazz On A Summer's Day." Bert Stern documented the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in a film that has incredible cinematography, amazing music, and no dialog of any kind!

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In the liner notes to the album "Blues' Moods," where you'll find today's song, trumpeter Blue Mitchell is referred to as the "middleweight champion of the trumpet." This was actually stolen from a line someone used about the tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, but I think it suits both men well. The gist of the comment is that while neither of these players were necessarily innovative or boundary-pushing, they could each play the heck out of their respective instruments!

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Ingrid Jensen, one of my favorite trumpet players, has one of the most distinctive sounds on the instrument today. I've described her approach to the horn as "vocal," and she's said she's just trying to sing her ideas through the instrument. This is not a new concept, but when I listen to her playing, I hear it in action.

Her technical command of trumpet is matched by her creative and emotional depth in ways that are thrilling to hear. Her compositions and improvisations take this listener on a journey, and any record with Ingrid on it is going to have moments of brilliance for sure.

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Sarah Vaughan, or "Sassy" as she was known, is one of the great singers of the last century. She got an early start as both a piano player and singer, and was discovered in a talent show at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1942 at 18 years old. This led to stints in the big bands of Earl Hines and Billy Ecksten where she met and played with so many of the greats of the music, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Lucky Thompson, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, among others.

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Today we don't just have a song of the day, but a whole album! I was going to feature drummer Brian Blade and his Fellowship Band anyway, then noticed that NPR has his forthcoming album on its "First Listen" series today. So buckle in and prepare to be transported to another world. 

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Lionel Hampton is a towering figure in the world of jazz. He was one of the first people to play the vibraphone and make that instrument popular, he played in one of the first racially integrated bands in the world, and the list of people he played and recorded with reads like a who's who of jazz: Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Art Tatum, Stan Getz and on and on. It's also his birthday today, so I thought we'd fire up some of his best.

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Pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most celebrated and talked-about musicians of his generation. His list of accomplishments and accolades is impressive, including Grammy Nominations, Jazz Musician of the Year awards, and even a MacArthur Genius Award. His body of work is as broad as it is creative, and he's a powerful piano player and a skillful composer. He was recently added to the music faculty at Harvard, so he must be a pretty good teacher, too!

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“I want to be connecting with the subconscious, if I can call it that, because there are not to many words to describe the real deep inner part of a human being…I want to be at that place where everything is blotted out and where creativity happens, and to get there I practice, you know I’m a prolific practicer, I still practice every day…You have to have the skills, then you want to not think when you’re playing, that’s when you let whatever deep level of creativity, spirituality, I mean, you know these words are so inadequate these days but you want to get to this place where they exi

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A "jazz standard" is defined as "a musical composition which is an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners" (forgive me for quoting Wikipedia, but I think that's a pretty good description).

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Joe Henderson is one of those musicians that didn't gain huge recognition from the casual jazz lover, but every jazz musician and fanatic will sing his praises for days. He had awesome command of the tenor saxophone, a unique sound and harmonic conception, and composed some classics of the jazz idiom, including "Recorda Me" (which he wrote at 14 years old!), "Inner Urge" and "The Kicker." He was equally at home playing hard bop and more avant garde music, and had a real way with a ballad.

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"There are no natural barriers. It's all music. It's either hip or it ain't." - Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan is one of the most recorded and celebrated trumpeters in jazz, and one of my personal favorites. His playing is brash, assured, big-toned and has a swagger not matched by many other trumpeters of his day or since.

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“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being. When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hangups...I want to speak to their souls.” ― John Coltrane

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"A genius is the one most like himself." - Thelonious Monk

Pianist and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk is another true original. He did what very few other people have done, which is to develop a distinctive, unique sound on the piano. It's much harder to sound different on the piano because so many of the variables are out of your control, but through his heavy touch, his concept of the music and his unique harmonic sensibilities Monk really stands out.

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“Just don't give up on trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.” - Ella Fitzgerald

Yesterday I mentioned that we'd talk about Thelonious Monk today, but I realized that it's Ella Fitzgerald's birthday, so I'd be remiss if I didn't feature her.

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"Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple." - Charles Mingus

Bassist and composer Charles Mingus was a true original. Everything he did was from his heart and was remarkably fresh while still respecting the tradition of jazz. He led his own bands of various sizes from the '50s until his death in the late '70s. His best known bands were medium-sized ensembles of eight to 12 musicians, which is fairly uncommon but allowed him to sound both like a big band and a smaller ensemble as he saw fit.

His compositions are remarkable in that they are both highly-structured and very free at the same time. He was a big fan of collective improvisation, which dates back to the early jazz from New Orleans that we talked about when discussing Louis Armstrong.

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“Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny” – Frank Zappa

Since the 1980s, there has been much talk about the “death” of jazz. Some people claim that since that time jazz music has become a kind of museum piece, with current musicians just trying to recreate what has happened in the past.

This view came about because in the early '80s there was a big crop of young musicians who were reacting to the fusion and electrified jazz of the' 70s, and in so doing they were trying to bring jazz back to where it was in the '60s before fusion hit. For better or for worse, these musicians got a lot of press and attention and their brand of retro-jazz became the predominant model. While all this is undisputed, those who say jazz is dead just aren’t paying attention!

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Today we turn our attention to drummer and band leader Art Blakey. Blakey was one of the most powerful and gregarious drummers in jazz, and not many can match his sheer exuberance and communication. However, he is most known for his band, The Jazz Messengers, which he led from the early '50s until his death in 1990.

In that nearly 40-year span, almost every great young jazz musician went through the band. Blakey would hire the best young cats he could find, make them all compose for the band, teach them all he could, and then kick them out to become their own leaders, only to start the process over again. "Jazz University" was what they called the band.

Freddie Hubbard was one of the most powerful and expressive trumpet players in the history of jazz. He started playing professionally in his teens, moved to New York at 20, and immediately began playing with the top jazz musicians of the day, including Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Eric Dolphy and others.

He is primarily associated with what's called "hard-bop,” a sub-genre that came after bebop and focused more on soul and blues and less on complicated chord changes. But he was at home in almost any setting, from the free jazz of Dolphy to the the big band of Jones and more.

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"No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music. If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all." - Billie Holiday

Today would have been the 98th birthday of Billie Holiday, so I can't think of a better person to feature.

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"What we play is life. You blows what you is" - Louis Armstrong

While Louis Armstrong wasn't the first jazz musician, he is considered the father of us all musically. Like Charlie Parker, his importance to the music — to all music — cannot be overstated. He is one of the few people who changed the music forever, and he was the first true soloist in jazz.

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"Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art. I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else? I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn’t play it." - Charlie Parker

Bebop. This subgenre of jazz has become the defining style for the last 70 years. Over the years, other subgenres have come and gone, but bebop is still the yardstick by which jazz musicians are measured.

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"The language of jazz is built on small phrases — riffs that pass like coveted currency from one musician and one generation to the next. But every now and then, there comes a moment when that tried-and-true vocabulary no longer serves, and by rejecting it, an artist arrives at a statement that nudges or catapults the music in new directions." - Tom Moon, NPR

In order to talk about bebop, we need some historical perspective. So we'll start a few years before the beginnings of the bebop era, in 1939. 

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Today I have a little bonus for you, as I'm presenting for your listening pleasure TWO versions of the classic tune "Take the 'A' Train,” written by Billy Strayhorn for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. 

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Welcome to Day 2 of Jazz Appreciation Month! Today we turn our ears to Dave Brubeck, another one of the towering figures in jazz.

Brubeck had a 60-year career and played into his 80s before he passed away last year. Loved by many, he is one of the few jazz artists to cross over to a non-jazz audience. He released an album called “Time Out” in 1959 with his quartet that was the first jazz album to be certified platinum (1,000,000 copies sold).

Steve Korn

The Jazz Journalists Association announced on April 1 (no joke) its list of 24 Jazz Heroes for 2014. 

Jim Wilke, host and producer of KPLU's "Jazz Northwest" and PRI's "Jazz After Hours" is Seattle's Jazz Hero. 

Involved in the local music and radio scene since the early 1960s, Jim was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993, and won the prestigious Willis Conover–Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting last year.

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In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, I’ll be posting a jazz song of the day each day in April. Some of these songs you’ll be very familiar with; some may be new to you. This is a completely subjective list of some of my favorites, and I’m sure your list would have some overlap and some differences. That’s one great thing about jazz: there’s something for everyone!

Puget Sound Regional Archives

Seattle had more than two dozen jazz clubs at the height of the jazz era. Only one of them is still catering to live music: the 100-year-old Washington Hall.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

I belong to a Facebook group called “Jam Of The Week.” Each week, the group’s founder, a wonderful Portland trumpet player named Farnell Newton, picks a jazz tune, and any musician from anywhere in the world can post a video of himself or herself playing a one chorus solo over the tune.

In about a month the group had more than 10,000 members, and hundreds and hundreds of videos posted. (Check it out if you get a chance, even if you’re not a musician.)

The other day, one of the members posted the idea of using a pop song one week. The comments that ensued were varied, but many of the jazz snobs on the site reacted negatively to this idea, with many of them slamming pop music as a whole as vacuous and worthless to jazz musicians.

Like many jazz musicians, I spend a considerable amount of time teaching young people about the music. In the jazz community there is a strong “pay-it-forward” ethic, and most of my peers feel an obligation to pass on what we’ve learned to the next generation. This is just one of the many things I love about jazz musicians.

Even so, sometimes I wonder if the lessons of the jazz giants who came before me will be lost as we move 40, 50, even 60 years past the days when these giants moved among us. Every year we get further removed from Duke, Miles, Trane, Sonny, Diz, Monk, Blakey, Ella and Evans, and those that played with them or knew them personally. There will soon come a day when all the stories of and lessons from these jazz greats will be at least third-hand.

Muddy Waters was born in rural Mississippi, and learned his blues at the feet of Son House and Robert Johnson.

By the 1940’s he took that delta blues to Chicago and led the gradual transition to electrified urban blues. He then recorded “Honey Bee” in 1951 with just bass and guitar accompaniment. The sound was closer to the delta, but you can hear the beginnings of the more aggressive modern sound starting to happen.

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