Thursday, June 17, 2010

'Til We Meet Again

We listened. We watched, danced, and learned. We applauded and cheered as Big Joe Burrell was memorialized forever with his own statue on Church Street.

This year's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival found a satisfying balance between the classics (Sonny Rollins, Jim Hall, Levon Helm); the funky (Allen Toussaint, Arturo Sandoval, Sharon Jones); the new (Jason Kao Hwang, Michael Zsoldos); and the delightfully unusual (Easy Star All-Stars, Stephan Wrembel).

JazzLab offered several days of intensive sessions with local artists, and the movies, Meet the Artist sessions, and listening panels infused the whole experience with meaningful layers of context.

One has to wonder what could be coming along next year that could possibly improve on the richness of this year's Festival. We'll look forward to finding out.

Glad you could join us here in our adventures on the VPR Jazz Fest Blog 2010, on behalf of our team (George, Asa, Jonathan and me) - thanks for sharing your thoughts! See you next year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Photo Phinish To A Great Phestival

Thanks to Sonny Rollins and all the musicians working their magic & craft and all the volunteers & pros who pulled it together. I heard what I needed to hear.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Roots And Riffs

(Easy Star All-Stars)

Easy Star All-Stars, the Itals, and the Wailing Souls at the waterfront world tent last night. The only disappointment was having to leave the reggae fest to venture up the hill to the outstanding Sonny Rollins concert, at 8.

The feeling lasted all of about 20 minutes, washed away by Rollins' furious first blizzard of notes.

The following extended set included calypso (a nod to his parents, both native to the Virgin Islands) - including Russell Malone with guitar voicings that sounded like steel drums; straight-ahead bebop; blues (with Rollins' jaunty, tongue-in-cheek vocals on "Dirty Shame"); and finally two stunning show-closers with former recording partner Jim Hall. In A Sentimental Mood and If Ever I Should Leave You were simply breathtaking. An audible "ooh" rippled through the Flynn as the last notes still hung in the air.

Special note here on the ensemble, too: guitarist Russell Malone's classy, elegant lines wove a shimmering gossamer thread through each number - what a fine player. When his seat was filled by Jim Hall later in the show, it seemed fitting. Longtime partner bassist Bob Cranshaw also offered many tasteful moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.

One bone (not trombone, just bone) to pick here that I have to mention: the eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. What was the experience like for folks in the back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.

After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, "He's got a lot of WIND!" That's a fact.

I came away from the night with my head spinning, a very happy jazz fan. A more musical evening I've seldom experienced.

Sonny Swings The Flynn

Sonny Rollins, 80 on September 7, says 'bye with band behind him.

My shot is as fuzzy as his beard but both are full of spirit, with circular breathing, slaps, leaning forward into the tenor sax and rocking it as it hangs by the neck strap and talks through the horn, comments and asides abound.

And then there was Jim Hall, 82, duetting on guitar with Sonny's tenor.

As if that wasn't way too much already, up pops Sonny on the front mike to sing blues and then wail that tenor. Kobie Watkins on drums never stopped, not even one second, and drove - mouth open - the band as hard as Sonny did.

Russell Malone on guitar was a total pro handling the stance of one bandleader playing with another out of complete respect and love.

After a solid week of great jazz, one sated Festival-goer was heard to say - "cool".

Songs heard:

Why Was I Born
The Everywhere Calypso
*How Are Things In Glocca Mora?
If Ever I Should Leave You

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flickr: Grace Potter, Gerald Clayton, Bearquarium, Sonny Rollins, and Jazz 'Round Town

Check out the recent photos on Flickr from the Burlington Discover Jazz Fest.

(Speaking of social media, if you're Twitter-inclined don't forget to follow the #BDJF hashtag, the official Jazz Fest Twitter @DiscoverJazzVT, or both).

Sonny Rollins & Bob Blumenthal

The 5:30 session at FlynnSpace on Friday was packed with tenor saxophonists, writers, photographers and jazz lovers. Friends for many years, a book of Bob's interviews & writings on Sonny Rollins with photographs by John Abbott will be published this September: Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait Of Sonny Rollins. Don't miss the show tonight at The Flynn.

Meet The Critic

There was a really nice moment at the end of yesterday's Meet the Artist session with Sonny Rollins.

Resident Festival critic Bob Blumenthal thanked the audience for their support of the series, and mentioned this has been his 10th year in the role(!)

Sonny Rollins and the rest of the house were already on their feet since the session was concluding, and the Saxophone Colossus joined the enthusiastic, grateful crowd in clapping at Bob's quiet announcement.

Right on cue with his hallmark quick wit, Bob popped off with:

"I never thought I'd see the day I'd be getting a standing ovation from Sonny Rollins!"

Thank you, Bob, for your ten years with Discover Jazz and for being one of the reasons the festival lives up to its name every year. We are much the richer for your expertise, your humor, and your gentle encouragement to share thoughts and learn more about the art.

Sol & Soul

Thursday evening, Bearaquarium with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Waterfront tent. The closer I got, the prettier it became as the thunderstorms moved out and sunshine moved on in. (Meteorologically and musically!)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jazz, With Gypsy Style

Gypsy Jazz. It swings. It lilts. It makes you feel good. With a single instrument - the guitar - it can encompass everything from nostalgia and playfulness, to fury, and outright joy.

And then...there are the shoes.


Burlington-based guitarist Jim Stout and I met for coffee on a recent afternoon and one of the first things I noticed was his classy wingtip Doc Martens. During the course of our conversation over the next hour or I so I discovered that's kind of a "thing" among gypsy jazzers. Well why not, those toes can sure get to tapping in the heat of a good swing. They might as well be dressed up for the occasion.

Jim brought to my attention in particular a video featuring some of today's top manouche guitarists. Sure enough, around 3:46 into the video, there are the shoes.

(Check out this still shot from the video---------->

... and then - below - check out the whole thing. It's great.)

He also also brought his guitar along that afternoon, and we spent some time outside enjoying a few tunes and taking in the sunshine.

I met Jim a year ago, when he and the Queen City Hot Club played at Leunig's during last year's Festival. I'd been hearing there was a new gypsy jazz group in town and I went to give it a listen, since I love that style music and I'm always looking to be turned on to players I haven't heard yet. I was immediately taken with the Club's strumming, singing, cheerfully free-spirited style.

A year later, Jim has settled nicely in to life in Vermont teaching and frequently playing around town. "Here, you can actually make a living making music,", he said during our talk, comparing Burlington to his previous life in New York City where an unrelated full-time job was necessary on top of occasional gigs with the band. "It's just a lot easier to play here."

We all benefit from that.

The Queen City Hot Club has two more Leunig's appearances coming up this weekend, tomorrow (Saturday) from 2-5pm, and on Sunday from 1-4pm.

Come on over and shake a leg. Just make sure you're wearing the right footwear for it.

Big Sounds: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and Jason Kao Hwang / Edge

Photo by Josie Sourdiffe

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings brought in a large crowd at the waterfront tonight, despite the heavy rain. Following a tight and energetic set from Bearquarium, the clouds rolled away. By the time the Dap-Kings took to the stage, the sun was shining. Sharon Jones claimed that the rain always clears away in her presence, and I could believe it. Her energetic dancing across the stage seemed like more than enough to force the clouds back, never mind her powerful singing.

The Dap-King's lack of musical theatrics produced a powerful sound. There were no solos at all, and no showing off technical skills with showy lines packed with 1/16th notes. The band's focus seemed to be all about the sound: the deep baritone saxophone, the tenor sax holding down the mid range, and trumpet with just a little edge to the sound, and the carefully placed guitar lines & chords. The whole sound was certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

Following Sharon Jones, I rushed to the FlynnSpace to catch violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang's quartet, The Edge. Going from a soul band, to an avante garde jazz quartet, I didn't expect find much in common. However, like the Dap-Kings, they had the same focus on producing great sound as a group, without flaunting individual technique. Drummer Andrew Drury produced a wide array of sounds, often using his drum heads as acoustic amplifiers for other objects, including a bowed dustpan. Taylor Ho Bynum switched between flugelhorn, cornet, and pocket cornet (one switch was unplanned - a valve flew off the cornet during a frenzied cornet solo, and he quickly grabbed his pocket cornet from the ground to finish the song). In addition to the three instruments, he used a wide range of objects as mutes, extending the vocabulary of the instruments. There was a felt hat, a CD that resulted in a buzzing sound, and the traditional plunger and Harmon mute.

Bassist Ken Filiano and Jason Kao Hwang didn't add any unusual objects to augment the sound of their instruments, but the range of bowing techniques, harmonics, tapping, plucking, and hitting was more than enough. Alone, all of these sounds were interesting. Kao Hwang's compositions, and the musicians' careful listening turned the sounds in to music.

One other note - what CD had the honor of muting the cornet? I asked Taylor after the concert - it turned out to be a recording he did with one of Anthony Braxton's ensembles. When the CD was manufactured, the last track looped the first few seconds over and over . . . the error produced thousands of potential cornet mutes.

Strong Quartet

We knew Matt Wilson's drums would add a lot to Michael Zsoldos Quartet, but most of us were knocked out by Miro Sprague's piano & Martin Wind, on and all over, the upright bass.

Jim Hall, Sit-Down Comic, Warms Up Crowd

Jim Hall,
interviewed by Jazz Critic
Bob Blumenthal
Thursday 5:30 said the following:

Free Jazz,
I don't mean I don't get paid,
we just start playing

I'm playing with,
what's his name?
Oh yeah,
Sonny Rollins.

No computer, no cell phone, kerosene amplifier

(faced with tough, complicated, slightly dry questions from a very knowledgeable audience, Jim leaned over to Bob and said) I feel like I'm in analysis

Sure, there were musicians in our family, my grandfather was a conductor
on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway

Staying in the Now,
maybe a little in the Future,
never in the Past.

Thursday Night Heaven & Melt-Down

Warm up in FlynnSpace with the Michael Zsoldos Quartet, Matt Wilson sneakin' in the bottom right while Martin Wind seems attached to Michael's back.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Colossal Experience

I try to make sure my days are as filled with music as possible. It makes me happy, it restores my spirit, it centers me and fires me up. It keeps me going. Music gives me hope for the great acts of beauty and expression that humans are capable of creating.

We all need these reminders in life, and music is one of the places where I find that affirmation.

But even by my standards of saturation, yesterday was an extraordinary day of music.

The morning began with Chopin and Schumann, beautifully played by pianist Annemieke Spoelstra as we celebrated the launch of VPR Classical's new radio station, WOXM (90.1FM) in Middlebury.

I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the radio, enjoying and reflecting on VPR Classical's continuing celebration of the Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann bicentennial anniversary year.

Then in the early evening I popped Razia's new recording of groovy music from Madagascar - Zebu Nation - into the car CD player for the drive in to Burlington for the 6:30pm showing at the Firehouse Gallery of the Sonny Rollins documentary, Saxophone Colossus., and the 8:30pm FlynnSpace concert with the Gerald Clayton Trio.

(2nd floor at the Firehouse, film in progress! ------>

Saxophone Colossus
is Robert Mugge's artfully crafted film from 1986. It combines live concert footage with thoughts from critics, from Rollins's wife/booking agent/manager/producer Lucille, and from the Man himself.

Thought I'd share some of the observations I picked up in the film. In no particular order:
  • Rollins was the first person to break down the barrier of what a tenor sax "should" sound like - until he came along, it was a common perception that the tenor couldn't (shouldn't) be played like Charlie Parker played the alto.
  • Rollins has a "strong visual sense" in his playing
  • He's a communicator, always telling a story with a clear beginning, middle and end
  • Considered the greatest living jazz improvisor today
  • Comment: "playtime for us is wartime for Rollins"
  • "Unlike John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, Rollins never formed a band in his own image."
  • Rollins improvises from the melody rather than just improvising over the chord changes.
  • He's an "Aristotelian" player who offers an "orderly" journey, with no "self-indulgent honking".
  • Rollins' personal aesthetic drove him to unearth music no one else was playing, like "I'm An Old Cowhand", like Al Jolsen, and other songs from the '20s and '30s
  • And, finally, Rollins' own thought on his eclectic choice of repertoire: "if you find the right tempo, the right attack to music - you can make it work for you."
I'll see/hear Sonny Rollins this Saturday night on the Flynn Main Stage in a different light after seeing Saxophone Colossus and taking some time to think about the insights it revealed. I appreciate that "Discover" jazz not only refers to the music itself, but also to the educational sessions that are part of every year's Festival!

(By the way, speaking of music from Madagascar and the new album "Zebu Nation" - Razia will be performing on Friday night at 7:30, at Parima Thai Restaurant in Burlington.)

Aural Exam - Jazz

Bob Blumenthal, 3x Grammy-winner for his liner notes and resident critic at The Fest, lead a panel of four (including yours truly) local listeners/jazz fanatics in a version of guess the artist, Tuesday at 5:30 at The Amy Tarrent Gallery at the Flynn.
The audience got to guess along with the panel: who were the mystery artist(s); when was the recording made; did you like it; why.

Not easy stuff when you figure all the panelists were trying, to some degree at least, to test their fellow panelists with savvy but very challenging & often obscure choices. There were many guesses from the audience and one in particular, from Jeff Phillips, who currently chairs the Advisory Board of the Festival, identified the artists who had stumped the panel. My favorite part? Listening to all the joy and passion everyone in the room had for jazz music, especially Bob Blumenthal who had multi-layered stories on all of the artists, wonderful insights on the music itself, how one tenor sax player hit or dragged out a note and how it added to a distinctive voice, and so on. It was pure fun.

Coming up and not to be missed: Bob Blumenthal talks with Jim Hall on Thursday 6/10 at 5:30 and with Sonny Rollins at 5:30p, both at the FlynnSpace. These are two of most revered and respected jazz players alive. (Note that these times are different than those listed in the Fest Program guide.)

The Panelists, from the back of the photo to the front: Michael Rosenberg, former chair of the Fest Advisory Board; David Beckett(mostly hidden), member of the Advisory Board; Bob Blumenthal and Alex Stewart, Associate Professor Jazz Studies/Ethnomusicology at UVM and leader of the Discover Jazz Big Band.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Gerald Clayton Trio - With Soul!

A few pictures from the Gerald Clayton Trio's set at the FlynnSpace:

Update - Meet The Artist Sessions

Late afternoon press release from the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: this week's Meet the Artist Sessions with Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins have changed times and dates!

Jim Hall's Meet the Artist session is on Thursday, June 10 at 5:30pm in FlynnSpace. Please note that Mr. Hall's Meet the Artist session is on Thursday, June 10, even though his performance is on Friday, June 11.

Sonny Rollins' Meet the Artist Session is Friday, June 11 at 5:30 pm in FlynnSpace. Please Note that Mr. Rollins' Meet the Artist session is on Friday, June 11, even though his performance is on Saturday, June 12.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stephane Wrembel's take on tradition

As a genre, gypsy jazz is unusual. Not many other genres are dominated by one musician, in the way that Django Reinhardt defined the sound of gypsy jazz. Lead guitarists even frequently play Django's improvised solos, note for note.

Stephane Wrembel's guitar playing at the Flynn Space tonight certainly acknowledged Django's dominating presence in the genre, including reciting a couple of Django's solos. But he didn't stop there. Before the group even appeared on stage, the drum set in the corner hinted at some departures from the traditional stringed rhythm section. Nick Anderson's drumming with sticks, brushes and hands added an array of interesting textures, and rhythmic interplay with Wrembel. The material diverged in many directions - unusual time signatures, and rhythmic and harmonic ideas far beyond the traditional borders of gypsy jazz.

It certainly seemed like an appropriate 100th birthday tribute to an innovative musician.

#bdjf: "Liberace was killer!"

Of course, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has a Twitter feed and hashtag. You can follow the BDJF on Twitter at @DiscoverJazzVT. If you're a Twitter user, Tweet about the festival using the #BDJF hashtag (it's a good idea to include the Burlington hashtag as well, #BTV). You'll find the latest schedule changes, promotions, and news from the festival and can share your own thoughts and insights.

One of the great things about Twitter is you can share quotes, observations, and thoughts that are scribbled in the reporter's notebook but might not otherwise be the basis of a longer piece. To wit, during the Meet The Artist session with Allen Toussaint and Don Byron, Mr. Toussaint shared his thoughts on many of the great artists and producers he's worked with in his career. What did he have to say about the late, fabulous Liberace? "I loved Liberace. Liberace was killer!"

Most people remember Liberace for the opulence, the character, and the controversies. But with Toussaint, it's all about the music - and at the piano "Liberace was killer." To me, that was definitely Tweetworthy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Meet The Artist: Allen Toussaint

Musician Allen Toussaint (left) and critic/writer Bob Blumenthal appear to be talking simultaneously but actually were carefully listening to each other as Allen Toussaint described a mentor of his, Ernest Penn, describing "stride" piano style as "tents in my left hand and butterflies in my right hand." To which Professor Longhair added the "Junker Blues" style and Fats Domino had his first hit with "The Fat Man."

Allen Toussaint knows his New Orleans history and has been intimately involved in creating & continuing it for over 50 years. After the discussion, the evening's concert covered a lot of ground but really shined when it got down to basics, like the sublime version of St. James Infirmary with space between the notes big enough to dance through. Perfect.

The Michael Chorney Sextet (actually a Septet and even an Octet when singer Miriam Bernardo joined in) opened for Allen Toussaint & The Bright Mississippi and provided a set of Sun Ra, Kurt Weill and originals that were clear, rhythmic and full of quiet texture.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Flickr'd Photos From BDJF

Some early shots from around town during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival:

Jazz Soaks Into Our Soul

The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is officially open and required equipment includes open ears, a generous heart umbrella.

Big Joe Burrell's statue directs passerby to go forth and experience jazz:

Project Organ Trio with Harrison Shulman on guitar, Tyler Mast on organ and drummer Dan Ryan at the Festival kick-off Thursday night:

The Big Joe Burrell plaque says it all:

Invisible Bass(ist)s

I was drawn to the center stage on Church Street last night by the sound of Bob Wagner's electric guitar. He was complemented by steady, sparse drumming, and the thick sound of Ray Paczkowski's organ. A solid bass line completed the sound, with occasional quick runs, although I couldn't see the bassist. Thinking that the bass player might be hidden behind the large organ and Leslie speaker cabinet setup, I walked around the stage. There was no bass player! Paczkowski was playing an impressive bass line on the organ with his left hand, even during his solos.

I had a similar experience at the Flynn: Arturo Sandoval scatted an extended imitation of a bass solo over a bebop medley of Cherokee, Hot House and Donna Lee. In the course of the solo, he mimed playing an electric bass, and then switched to a comic imitation of a bowed bass solo. Invisible bass certainly wasn't his only instrument - in addition to his blazing trumpet solos, he played timbales, piano, and keyboards!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jazz... In A Very Vermont Way

Last night the 27th annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (#BDJF) kicked off with the opening reception at Halvorson's on Church St. There were quick remarks of welcome and thanks by Geeda Searfoorce - Associate Director of the Festival, Doreen Kraft - Executive Director of Burlington City Arts, Andrea Rogers - Executive Director of the Flynn Center, Tom Pelletier - president of Northfield Savings Bank, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss, and Jeff Phillips - Chair of the BDJF Advisory Board. There were many thanks to the sponsors, volunteers, and staff who make the festival happen, including a standing ovation for Rogers, who is retiring from her role at the Flynn.

Regardless of the thanks, sentiments, and other remarks, every speaker agrees it's alllll about the music and, as with every music festival, someone's gotta go first. This year, the honor of unofficial opening act for the Festival went to local jazz band Project Organ Trio.

Like many of the groups, bands, trios, and projects playing 'round town at the festival, Project Organ Trio is an organic get together of local musicians. Drummer Dan Ryan is a regular at Radio Bean on Thursday nights with the Anthony Santor Group, organist Tyler Mast plays wit local band Bearquarium, and guitarist Harrison Shulman has hosted open jazz at Parima.

This is just the first of many BDJF gigs for the Project: you can hear them at Leunig's, American Flatbread, The Skinny Pancake, and Red Square, to name a few (for the full schedule, check the BDJF website or program in the 'Round Town section). You can even catch Tyler and Harrison, along with locals Craig Mitchell, Bryan McNamara, and others, as part of "Operation: Prince" a tribute performance at Club Metronome on Monday, 6/7, in honor the Purple One's birthday.

While Dan, Tyler, and Harrison have known each other and played together for years (and, in the case of Dan and Harrison, even been roommates), the incarnation as Project Organ Trio is very recent. I asked Harrison, since they're a new trio, how did they land the gig at the BDJF Opening Reception? He didn't really have an answer. He said it's sortof been a joke among the 3 of them - "how the heck did we get this gig, anyway?" As we tried to reconstruct the connections that led to Halvorson's - 'the BDJF needed a band for the reception, someone recommended us, so-and-so said 'yeah, they'd be great', some other stars aligned, and here we are' - we realized that it all came together, from one person to another, in a very Vermont way.

And that's true of the festival: local artists, community support, educational sessions, lots of free music, jazz in every corner of town, many experienced hands, lots of volunteers, prayers for good weather (and a determined spirit if the elements don't cooperate), residents, visitors, and even a shiny new statue to honor those who paved the way.

That is jazz... in a very Vermont way.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Opening Night At The 27th Annual BDJF

Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Burlington mayor Bob Kiss offered a slightly different version of that thought, in tonight's opening reception for this year's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: "Good streets plus good sidewalks make a good jazz festival."

He had been introduced as a champion of jazz, and while he didn't disagree with that description he also wanted to give a little perspective on the broader range of his mayoral responsibilities. It's not all fun and games. Tomorrow morning first thing he'll be working on securing funding for an upcoming street and sidewalk project in the city.

True enough, a mayor has to be able to perform in a lot of different roles. And the point was well taken: like a city, the Festival is also dependent on all of the underlying systems and structures that support it.

But on this night, it was just about the music.

Halvorson's hosted the reception, including a bluesy, searing opening set on the outdoor patio featuring Project Organ Trio. They simmered along nicely in a grooving musical complement to the sweet Lake Champlain Chocolates and the cured Vermont Smoked Meats making their way around the place on everyone's plates.

Where to go after an opening like this? Tomorrow night's fun continues with the Big Joe Burrell statue dedication at the top of Church Street at 4:30; Arturo Sandoval's show at the Flynn at 8; Sierra Leone's Refugee AllStars at the Fountain Stage (10:30) and the first of many nights of great music all around town.

Things are off to a very good start!

Jazz Fest Ticket Winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the tickets to the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival! The winners are:
  • Melendy Comey of Shelburne
  • Bruce Anderson of Brookfield
  • Kaitlin Gregg of Burlington
  • Louise Wright of Enosburg
  • Beth Burgess of Montpelier
  • Nancy Wilson of Bristol
  • Carolyn Tesini of Charlotte
Thanks for participating in the drawing - enjoy the shows!

(picture of Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings courtesy