Wow! Last week I was humbled by news that the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) had nominated JazzWax and me for two awards. For those who write about jazz, the JJA is the field's most prestigious organization. This annual recognition of top jazz scribes and broadcasters is akin to the Oscars or Emmys. All of today's major jazz journalists belong to the JJA, as do all the jazz-writing legends. So it's especially gratifying to know that members are passionate about JazzWax and my efforts to tell the stories of jazz legends. Winners will be announced in June. Wish me luck!
Here are the two categories in which I'm nominated along with my esteemed colleagues:
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Do The Math, The Bad Plus blog and webzine
Jazz Beyond Jazz, by Howard Mandel
JazzChronicles, by James Hale
Jazz Lives, by Michael Steinman
JazzWax.com, by Marc Myers
Lerterland, by David Adler
Nate Chinen (The New York Times)
Ted Gioia (Jazz.com)
Bill Milkowski (All About Jazz, et al)
Marc Myers (JazzWax.com)
Ben Ratliff (The New York Times)
Carol Sloane. I traveled down to New York's Iridium Friday night to catch Carol Sloane. Joining Carol was Ken Peplowski (clarinet and tenor sax), Warren Vache (cornet), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Pat O'Leary (bass) and Chuck Redd (drums, vibes). Most of the set's 10 tunes were songs Benny Goodman made famous. Others were, well, just fun. Carol sang on four of them—Someone Like You, Why Don't You Do Right, a penetrating Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, and Don't Be That Way, which included Carol singing backed just by bassist O'Leary.
Carol continues to have a gorgeous understanding of what needs to be done on a standard and how best to reveal a song's lyrics. Few singers today have such beautiful low notes, and Carol is actually at her best when she's accompanied by the fewest number of instruments. Afterward we spoke about the possibility of her recording an album of ballads with just a guitar. There was a twinkle in her eye, so we'll see.
Last Thursday, Carol and the group at Iridium wrapped up recording her next album. I'm looking forward to hearing it.
Congrats, Raymond! Raymond De Felitta, director of one of my favorite jazz documentaries, 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, won a huge award last week. His new movie, City Island, due for release this summer, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. At the festival's end, City Island was voted Audience Favorite, a huge coup. Massive news about a great film from a superb director. I saw the initial City Island screening, and it was fabulous. More here at Raymond's blog, Movies 'Til Dawn.
New Sonny Rollins video clip. Jazz Video Guy Bret Primack traveled out to Los Angeles at the end of April to spend time with Sonny Rollins, who was appearing in concert there. Bret put together a terrific behind-the-scenes clip showing the evolution of Sonny at work. It starts with Sonny warming up behind a closed dressing room door. Then Sonny is warming up on stage with his band. And finally Sonny is blowing in concert. Fascinating to see the genesis of this great tenor saxophonist before and during an appearance. Sonny's energy level and art continue to amaze. Bravo Bret! Here's Bret's new clip...
Richard Sudhalter. Tonight, jazz musician, educator, writer and late-night deejay Bill Kirchner will host an hour-long radio show on the late trumpeter and author Dick Sudhalter. Bill's show will air on New York's WBGO-FM from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT). Go here tonight to listen live.
Doug Ramsey. At Rifftides, Doug Ramsey has written a wonderful essay on John Coltrane's Giant Steps, an album that turned 50 last week. Here's a taste...
"To put the lasting impact of his accomplishment in perspective, think of an influential jazz recording made 50 years before Coltrane laid down Giant Steps, on May 5, 1959. You can't. There was none, because jazz as a distinct form of music did not exist on May 5, 1909."
Benny Goodman. Disc jockey Sid Gribetz informs me that New York's WKCR-FM will feature a marathon Benny Goodman radio broadcast. Starting on Sunday May 17 at 2 p.m. (EDT), the station will play Goodman's music continuously for just over two weeks—until Monday June 1 at 3 p.m. That's a whole lotta BG. Go here to listen live starting next Sunday.
A Miles Davis site. Photographer Paul Slaughter passed along word of Jeffrey Hyatt's site, MilesDavisOnline.
"I enjoyed your piece on Bob Brookmeyer. Many people are unaware that Brookmeyer is the bridge between the Claude Thornhill band in the late 1940s and the Mel Lewis Orchestra of the 1970s and beyond. Brookmeyer's thick orchestrating style has now become commonplace. He and Gerry Mulligan applied similar techniques in more consistently swinging applications: Mulligan for Stan Kenton's and Thornhill's bands and with his own tentet; then Brookmeyer and Mulligan for Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band (enter Mel Lewis); then Brookmeyer writing for Thad Jones/Mel's band, and continuing into the 1980s with Mel's Jazz Orchestra (and, of course, Brookmeyer's writing over the following 25 years).
"Brookmeyer's arrangement of First Love Song for Mel's band (on Bob Brookmeyer: Composer/Arranger) is a remarkable harmonic study. Complex and beautiful at the same time. Brookmeyer really has had a remarkable career as a composer/arranger."
Sinatra's cocky rockers. Many readers wrote me with mock horror following my salute to Sinatra's pop-rock swingers of the mid-1960s and 1970s. Just to clarify before I share a couple of e-mails: My post didn't declare these interpretations the most remarkable tracks of the period. Just that they are far more interesting than many of his rehashes of standards and well worth a re-listen. What you hear is a middle-aged singer's attempt to remain relevant and doing so on his terms. Now, here are two e-mails from the stack...
From Nancy Barell, host of online radio show Jazz Spotlight On Sinatra:
From reader John Pickworth:
"Interesting topic! Another early rock suggestion: Everybody's Twistin', arranged by Neal Hefti for Sinatra's Swingin' Brass. I'll pass on Tie A Yellow Ribbon and Sweet Caroline."
CD discovery of the week: Too many female jazz vocalists today sound sticky sweet and bereft of depth or sentiment. Not Alyssa Graham. She has a warm, cozy voice that wins you over without the all-too-common trappings of today's producers. Graham sounds knowing without being derivative. You can actually hear her listening hard to the lyrics as she sings, and she never forfeits her own style for the sake of singers she admires. Stan the Music Man turned me on to Echo, Graham's second CD, and as always, he was right.
What I enjoy most about Graham is her fresh ability to move gently along the edge of a song, firmly drawing its outline before sliding in and making it her own. Her voice is fleshy and relaxed but not soft or narcotic. There's a new female strength here that's smokey and wise.
The choice of material on Echo also is superb. At first I thought Graham had made a mistake by not including more offbeat jazz standards. But after several listens, I realize that the song choices are perfect. The album opens with Paul Simon's America and ends with Izaura, a splendid bossa nova that Graham delivers in Portuguese. In between the pair are I Burn for You (Sting), Once Upon a Summertime, and quite a few originals by husband and guitarist Douglas Graham.
America is a stunner. Simon's poetic song of wanderlust is truly much better suited for a female vocalist. Graham is joined on the track by male background vocals, a light suspenseful Latin rhythm and Gregoire Maret on harmonica. Hats off to Jon Cowherd [pictured] for a superb arrangement here and throughout the CD along with his terrific piano, French horn and organ.
Alyssa Graham's Echo can be found at iTunes or on CD here.
Oddball album cover of the week: Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this Norwegian album cover from 1966 for jazz singer Karin Krogh foolishly overreached. What the cover demonstrates is just how difficult it is to reproduce the energy of fine art. The Krogh cover clearly is a lift of Dave Pell's famous photo for the cover of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet LP in 1953. While the Pell cover captures youth and ambition as well as motion (the foursome seem to be rising aggressively toward success), this Norwegian knockoff just looks like seven people trapped in an elevator shaft. Going down?