As I sit to write this month's column, I find myself absolutely amazed at both the quantity and quality of live jazz available to us here in Louisville.
John Stowell, Jack Wilkins and Jeff Sherman at the Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Clinic Concert
I always think of Bellarmine University's yearly Jazz Guitar Clinic and Concert as the Jazz Rites of Summer. This year marked the 21st birthday of this event and on Monday, June 4 Professor Jeff Sherman was joined by returning guest artists John Stowell and Jack Wilkins. The always-excellent Tyrone Wheeler and Paul Culligan, on bass and drums, provided superb support throughout the evening. The concert began with a waltz-time arrangement of Dave Brubeck's famous "In Your Own Sweet Way," performed by the three guitarists. Billy Strayhorn's beautiful "Lotus Blossom" began with a long solo introduction by Sherman, who was then joined by Wheeler and Culligan. His next choice was Charles Lloyd's signature composition "Forest Flower," which was performed with grace and passion. Wilkins and Stowell, with the rhythm section, returned to the stage for another piece rearranged as a waltz, the classic "Tenderly." Actually, Wheeler and Culligan laid out for all but the final verse, while Stowell and Wilkins wove liquid lines of notes into a gorgeous fabric.
Wilkins was featured on "The Stars Fell on Alabama," beginning with a long solo before being joined by bass and drums. The most straightahead, swinging number thus far was next: "Too Marvelous for Words," with Wilkins and Sherman taking turns soloing over bass and drums. Following a brief (10 minutes, really!) intermission, Stowell opened with a solo rendition of Steve Swallow's "Falling Grace." He was joined by Wheeler and Culligan for the bossa nova "Caminhos Cruzados," written by the master, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Yet another 3/4 arrangement was next (not that I'm complaining), "Yesterdays," which was also given a Latin accent by Stowell. A Ben Monder arrangement of "You and the Night and the Music" brought all the musicians on stage for solos by Stowell, Wilkins and Sherman, after which they played a game of musical hot potato, throwing lines to one another in round robin fashion. The finale was a Claudio Roditi composition, "Recife's Blues," named for a city in his native Brazil. All of the musicians took the concert to new heights with this performance, beginning with Sherman's solo complemented by counterpoint, not just comping by Stowell, followed by Stowell, whose spidery fingers spun a sparkling musical web and through Wilkins, who added extra energy to the already high level of the performance. Before concluding, the three guitarists played together without bass and drums, somehow all soloing yet seemingly magically not getting into one another's way. As has been the case for these 21 years, Sherman has presented some of the finest mainstream jazz guitarists to the Louisville audience.
In a conversation following the performance, Wilkins mentioned that he is working on a new CD, but that it was not quite ready and I hope to pass on information about it when it is available. Stowell has three recent releases, all of which showcase different aspects of his playing. On Swan Tones, Volume 1, Stowell performs unaccompanied solo improvisations on an electric guitar, tuned a whole tone below concert pitch for every tune. The guitar was made by luthier Jim Soloway (www.jimsoloway.com) and is part of his new Swan Long Neck series. The recording is crisp and allows the listener to clearly hear Stowell as he reconfigures a number of standards into new pieces, such as "Silver Wish," based on Horace Silver's "Peace." Stowell includes originals as well, including "The River is Near," a free improvisation and the lilting "Ginger's Dance." Fans of solo guitar will enjoy this set greatly. On Scenes: Along the Way (Origin 82470, www.origin-records.com), Stowell is part of a trio that includes bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop. The group began as a quartet, but health problems of saxophonist Rick Mandyck led to the decision to continue as a trio.
The program consists of four Johnson and six Stowell originals. The opener, "Stay Right There," is a Stowell song, played so melodically that one can almost hear the title in the theme. Johnson's "Studio City" is next and it opens with Johnson soloing over subtle accompaniment by Stowell and Bishop. Over the course of some 64 minutes, these artists generate music that is fresh and original without losing sight of such basic jazz elements as melody and swing. The third recent release, Streams of Consciousness (Pony Boy pb50155, www.ponyboyrecords.com), is attributed to the Jay Thomas/John Stowell Quartet, with Thomas doubling on tenor saxophone and flugelhorn. Bassist Chuck Kistler and drummer Adam Kessler round out the group. Here Stowell's guitar becomes one of two lead instruments and it is enjoyable to hear how he plays in support of Thomas on the opener, Nick Brignola's "Flight of the Eagle," and engages in more interplay on the next number, Cole Porter's "Everything I Love." The liner notes reflect a friendship between Stowell and Thomas that dates back to their work together with David Friesen and Eddie Moore over 35 years ago. The musical friendship is evident on this recording, which, unlike Scenes: Along the Way, relies on other composers for the material. Two standout pieces are the group's performances of Wayne Shorter's "Wild Flower" and his classic "Infant Eyes." In a world where corporate bottom lines sometimes come before artistic excellence, Stowell continues to show that there is a place for talent and hard work.
Jamey Aebersold's Summer Jazz Workshop Concerts
Due to space limitations in the print edition, please look for this online, at www.louisvillemusicnews.net.
Bobby Broom at the Jazz Factory
Guitarist Bobby Broom is no stranger to Louisville audiences, having played here several times over the past few years with his trio, with the collective Deep Blue Organ Trio and as a guest of vibraphonist Dick Sisto. He brought his regular bassist and drummer, Dennis Carroll and Kobie Watkins, respectively, to the Jazz Factory on Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2, in support of their new CD, Song and Dance (Origin Records 82475). I caught the second night, after they had chance to warm up and get acclimated. "I Can See Clearly," from Stand,was in progress as I entered and was played as a waltz rather than as reggae. "You and the Night and the Music" from the new CD was updated with a backbeat, followed by another tune from Song and Dance, Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," which allowed Carroll a chance to shine before the tune went from gentle to intense. Broom danced and swayed through a long workout on the Bonnie Bramlett/Leon Russell composition "Superstar," (also on the new CD) and the group concluded the first set with a medley of Miles Davis' "Theme" and the Gershwin standard, "I Got Rhythm." The Beatles' early hit, "Can't Buy Me Love," opens the CD and also opened the second set, with Broom hitting a bluesy groove. "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top," long associated with Broom's frequent employer, Sonny Rollins, was next. "Minor Major Mishap followed, then the trio returned to its new CD for a take on the R&B classic "Where Is the Love," during which Broom again dipped into his blues bag during his solo. A somewhat slower reprise of "Theme/Rhythm" closed out the performance. Throughout, the trio showed the benefit of playing weekly gigs in Chicago, as Watkins continued to demonstrate his ability to play busily yet unobtrusively, while Carroll was always in the right place at the right time to support Broom while still making his own statement.
Joanne Brackeen and Phil DeGreg at the Jazz Factory: A Tale of Two Pianists
The Jazz Factory brought two excellent yet stylistically very different pianists to town on June 8 and 9, namely Joanne Brackeen and Phil DeGreg. Brackeen is a highly individualistic pianist, whose recordings include many under her own name as well as in support of Art Blakey, Joe Henderson and Stan Getz, to name-check just a few. During her first set, she played solo, imbuing standards such as "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Some Day My Prince Will Come," "Body and Soul," "Black Orpheus" and "Blue Monk" with her own idiosyncratic touches and displaying classical influences along the way. Brackeen originals, including "Picasso," "Pink Elephant Magic" and "Cram and Exam" brought out the storyteller in her, as she related interesting and often humorous insights as to the origins of these pieces. For her second set, she was joined by Louisville's "A Team" of Chris Fitzgerald on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. They opened with "There Is No Greater Love," featuring an unusual take on the theme, followed by solos by all. An Irving Berlin tune, "What'll I Do," seemed more conventional and allowed Tiemann to demonstrate his agility in switching between brushes and sticks. A Brackeen original, "Hidi [sp?]," was a fast Latin number dedicated by Brackeen to "a good cat who did bad things." Two more standards followed, the beautifully played Strayhorn ballad "Chelsea Bridge," and the Jobim bossa nova "Wave." On a Brackeen original, "The Knickerbocker Blues," she demonstrated that notwithstanding her tendencies to sometimes play "outside," she could barrelhouse with the best of them. She and her colleagues closed with Chick Corea's fast-paced "Humpty Dumpty." Each set was special in its own way, as Louisville audiences were treated to a talented improviser in a rare solo setting during the first set and to the ability of Fitzgerald and Tiemann to rise to the occasion of accompanying a very independent-minded player with no prior rehearsal opportunity during the second. Despite Brackeen's sometimes daunting reputation, she was engaging and did not seem to lose the audience even when she stretched out.
The following night brought Cincinnati's preeminent pianist Phil DeGreg to town, with regular accompanists Michael Scharfe on bass and Tony Franklin on drums. To say that DeGreg plays in a more mainstream style than Brackeen is not meant as a judgment of quality, either better or worse, but simply as a point of reference. DeGreg has just released a superb new recording, Down the Middle, featuring Tom Warrington, bass and John LaBarbera, drums. From the personnel to the beautiful, ECM-like cover to, most importantly, the playing, this album is a class act. Throughout the two sets at the Jazz Factory, DeGreg played pieces from this CD. The first set included Jobim's "Bonita" (played gently and relaxed, a natural beauty, as befits the title), Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" (uptempo Latin modulating into bluesy swing, with solo space for all) and his own "Urgency" (which lives up to its title). Other songs from the CD were interspersed in the second set: Jerome Kern's "Pick Yourself Up" (which contained an interlude more "classical" than "jazz") and the title track, "Down The Middle" (played at almost breakneck tempo). Other pieces from the evening included Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," during which both Scharfe and Franklin had a chance to step out; Jim Hall's "Waltz New," played with a stride intro, then moving into a fast-paced workout which included a quote of "Some Day My Prince Will Come." Without going through the entire set list, I must mention the delightful original "Julia's Swing," written for his daughter when she was younger, swinging on a tree and talking to herself. I think sometimes that we Louisvillians take for granted the achievements of our own musicians and those in our region, such as DeGreg and Indianapolis' Steve Allee. DeGreg's website is www.phildegreg.com, which contains links to purchase Down the Middle, as well as his prior releases.
Usually I try to give a more-or-less complete listing for the artists appearing at our premiere jazz venue, The Jazz Factory (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992‑3242). This month, though, I will forgo this and instead simply mention that you can always find a complete and updated schedule, with more details, at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. The reason for this change is to allow more space to discuss two upcoming concerts at the Jazz Factory of the highest order, namely the Wallace Roney Quartet on Friday, August 17 and
the Kenny Garrett Quartet on Thursday, August 30. Coincidentally, both were born in 1960 and both performed with Miles Davis.
Over the past four-plus years, the Jazz Factory has presented an incredible array of world-class jazz artists. There have been many full houses, yet disappointingly there have been low turnouts for some of the great artists (Greg Osby's concert last November comes to mind). We jazz lovers in Louisville should not take for granted the opportunity to see and hear musicians of this caliber. Apparently we took for granted the ongoing existence of jazz on the public radio station throughout the week at accessible times and now we can only find it segregated to the overnight and Sunday program blocks. If we do not support the presentation of artists like Roney and Garrett, we will find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what happened. Okay, I will now descend from my soapbox.
Wallace Roney is a trumpeter who gained wide exposure in the 1980s as "the only trumpet player Davis ever personally mentored. In 1991, Roney performed with Miles in the now legendary Montreux concert conducted by Quincy Jones in which he returned to the landmark music he once recorded with Gil Evans." [www.wallaceroney.com] Roney's recordings include both straightahead and electric or fusion jazz. WFPK-FM's Sunday afternoon jazz host, Mark Bacon and I were recently amazed to find that we both had indelible memories of seeing Kenny Garrett at Washington DC's famed Jazz Alley several years ago, with the late Kenny Kirkland on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and the dynamic Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. In addition to his work with Miles Davis, Garrett has recorded and performed with masters such as the late Elvin Jones and the still-vital Pharoah Sanders. At press-time, the lineups for the bands of Roney and Garrett were not available. Look online as the events come closer for updates.
The Seelbach Jazz Bar, (500 S. Fourth Street, 502-585‑3200), features vibraphonist and occasional pianist Dick Sisto, who always provides excellent mainstream jazz, frequently with guest artists joining him. At deadline time, the schedule of guests was unavailable.
The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317‑253‑4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com), presents: Tim Warfield/Brandon Meeks • Aug 3; Acoustic Alchemy • August 4; Dr. Lonnie Smith • August 19; Kenny Garrett • August 31; The Bad Plus • September 22; Charlie Hunter • September 28 & 29. These are in addition to the nightly offerings of local and regional jazz; check the website for the full schedule.
The August schedule for The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241‑WISP), includes Wednesday night performances by the Blue Wisp Big Band, piano trios on Thursday nights and weekend visitors; for additional information, go to www.bluewisp.net. Note: this is a new site.
As always, I urge you to subscribe to sign up for "The Jazz E‑News," by e-mailing Jenjenjazz@insightbb.com. There are so many opportunities to hear live jazz that it is both impossible for me to try to provide a complete listing here and it would be duplicative in any event. Also, Louisville Music News' monthly music listings are carrying more jazz events than ever, in both the print and online editions (www.louisvillemusicnews.net).
With two eight‑year‑olds, it's hard to get out as much as I would like to hear music. As a result, picking and choosing which performances to catch sometimes require that I postpone seeing some of the local musicians and singers in order to not miss the one-night-stands from out-of-town artists. Invariably, I feel guilty, so in an effort to assuage my guilt and, more positively, to provide more exposure to our community of great local jazz performers, I am initiating this feature containing website and e-mail contact information. I am only including those artists who have given their permission to me; some have indicated a preference for website listing only; others have only e-mail addresses. If you wish to be included, drop a line to me with your permission and preferences, at email@example.com. I reserve the right to edit and to exclude those whose connection to jazz is, in my opinion, tenuous; and this feature may end up online if it begins to take up too much space in print.
BOBBY FALK: www.myspace/bobbyfalk.com, drummer and composer Bobby Falk;
WALKER & KAYS: www.walkerandkays.com, singer Jeanette Kays and guitarist Greg Walker;
JENNIFER LAULETTA: www.jenniferlauletta.com, singer Jennifer Lauletta;
JEFF SHERMAN: firstname.lastname@example.org, guitarist Jeff Sherman;
RON JONES: www.ronjonesquartet.com, email@example.com, saxophonist Ron Jones;
STEVE CREWS: www.jazzcrews.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, pianist Steve Crews.
I am always interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.