Saturday, January 15, 2011


When I think about Martin Luther King, rarely, if at all do I think of him in a jazz context. However, several years ago, when word of MLK's opening remarks at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival began to circulate, MLK and Jazz became top of mind for me and jazz "apprecianados" everywhere. was truly amazing; speech transcripts suddenly became ubiquitous and upon review it was easy to see that the stirring 330 words were indeed written by the civil rights leader. No photos or recordings but there were/are zillions of search results on Google,  postings of the transcript on social network pages, newspaper stories, eyewitness accounts etc., thanks to the speed and global reach of the internet.  But, as we found out with news reports following the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in cyberspace, access is no substitute for accuracy and the reports of MLK's appearance at Jazz Berlin '64 were alas, greatly exaggerated.

Thanks to some painstaking research by saxophonist David Demsey and drummer Bruce Jackson,  under the auspices of William Patterson University, the true origin and nature of King's speech has been revealed, just in time for the 82nd anniversary of MLK's birth (Jan 15th).  Read the full account of their discovery here. A full transcript of his 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival Address is below.

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls. 

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.  In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Source: Muse Media

Los Angeles, California. Legendary musician and genre-defying artist Herbie Hancock will be a recipient at this year's BET HONORS celebration January 15th in Washington, D.C. Along with other honorees including Cicely Tyson, Jamie Foxx and Iman. Hancock will be celebrated by musical artists including Chick Corea, Wallace Roney, Ron Carter, Lenny White and Naturally 7, with the award itself presented by music industry icon Jimmy Jam. Hosted by actress Gabrielle Union, BET HONORS recognizes lifetime contributions and exceptional service of certain individuals to African-American culture in music, media, film, service and education. The special will tape at the historic Warner Theater and will premiere during Black History Month on Monday, February 21 at 9:00 p.m.

Additionally, Hancock is set to perform at The Kennedy Center on January 20th as part of the 50th anniversary festivities marking the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy Hancock will be performing with Esperanza Spaulding and Jack DeJohnette. Other artists on the bill include Paul Simon, Denyce Graves, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and the American Ballet Theatre.

Just recently, Herbie Hancock's “The Imagine Project" has been nominated for three Grammy Awards at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, which takes place on Sunday, February 13th, 2011. “The Imagine Project" is nominated in the categories of Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals (for the track “Imagine" featuring Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No l, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare), Best Improvised Jazz Solo (for the song “A Change Is Gonna Come" featuring Hancock's solo on piano) and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)("Imagine").

“The Imagine Project," the latest CD from the multiple Grammy-winning artist and musical pioneer, is an unprecedented international recording featuring collaborations between Hancock and over a dozen superstars from every region of the planet. “The Imagine Project" utilizes the universal language of music to express its central themes of peace and global responsibility. The musical collaborations on the CD combine Hancock's genre-defying musical vision with the “local" musical identity of cultures from around the world. With veteran music producer Larry Klein serving as one of the album's producers, “The Imagine Project" was released June 22nd via Hancock Records/RED to coincide with Hancock's 70th birthday. An extensive world tour accompanied the release, including a performance at this year's Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, December 11th, and birthday tributes which took place at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl earlier this year.

“Music truly is the universal language," says Hancock, “The Imagine Project" explores that concept across the globe, uniting a myriad of cultures through song and positive creative expression. My hope is that the music will serve as a metaphor for the actions taken by the inhabitants of this wonderful planet as a call for world harmony on all levels."

 Tracks include “The Song Goes On" with Anoushka Shankar (sitarist daughter of Ravi Shankar), Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter which was recorded in Mumbai, India, along with a stellar group of Indian musicians; “Don't Give Up," a duet recorded in London, New York and Los Angeles featuring Pink and John Legend, “Imagine" with Seal, Pink, Konono No l, Jeff Beck, Oumou Sangare, India.Arie, Lionel Loueke and Marcus Miller recorded in Paris, London and Los Angeles; “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus" featuring Tinariwen and Los Lobos, “The Times, They Are A' Changin'" featuring The Chieftains, Toumani Diabete, Lionel Loueke and Lisa Hannigan recorded in Ireland; “Tomorrow Never Knows" featuring Dave Matthews, “Space Captain" with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, “La Tierra" recorded with Latin superstar Juanes in Miami, “A Change Is Gonna Come" with James Morrison and a track with Brazilian singer-songwriter Ceu, “Tempo de Amour," recorded in Sao Paulo.

Check out tracks from The Imagine Project on Hancock's website.

While the CD stands, on one level, as a powerful testament for the goals of world peace, humanity and tolerance along with respect for our planet, Herbie Hancock's “The Imagine Project" shall remain, at its core, entertainment content that is creatively and emotionally deeply fulfilling.

Proceeds from this year's BET HONORS private ticket sales will be given to the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. Additionally, BET Networks will encourage audience members, viewers at home and online visitors to donate to the Project.


We should know by now that Lady Gaga is full of surprises - like the recent impromptu performance of jazz standards she gave at The Oak Room in Manhattan's Plaza Hotel...

Clearly no stranger to jazz - she's been seen checking out the music at the Village Vanguard in the past and, as you can hear was quite comfortable after being invited to join her friend, singer & trumpeter Brian Newman, who was in the process of holding down his regular gig at The Oak Room when the Lady stopped by.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


A few days ago 75 year old jazz piano icon Ramsey Lewis proved he's still got plenty left in the tank -after announcing a revival of his 1974 classic "Sun Goddess", in it's entirety via a nationwide tour later this year.  Ramsey posted a video of his plans...

Here's a little perspective for the uninitiated. In 1973 Lewis, like many jazz musicians at that time, was in the midst of an experimental period; he disbanded his original, hit making acoustic trio (responsible for "The In Crowd" among others) and started working on ways to blend his growing interests in funk and electronic music. Along the way Lewis hooked up with his former drummer, Maurice White, who had just formed a new band, Earth, Wind & Fire, which as we now know, blended jazz and electronic music with funk and R&B. It was a match made in heaven. Lewis and White, who were both living in Chicago, combined forces and the first fruit of their reunion - Sun Goddess, which also featured Earth, Wind and Fire, was released in 1974 and quickly exploded with solar proportion - eventually selling more than a million copies.  Sun Goddess was a bold move is a modest interpretation, Ramsey knew his fans from back in the day would be highly offended by this turn of events, but he did it anyway because this was the dawning of a new day - nothing said that more than the 8 minute length of the title track; Lewis' biggest hits before that (In Crowd Hang On Sloopy Wade in the Water) were no more than 5 min and were acoustic trio settings. And much to the chagrin of the short sighted among his following, the unprecedented success of Sun Goddess meant there was no turning back. In fact, Lewis has always been a forward thinking kinda guy so this shift in his focus during the 1970's makes perfect sense. Ironically, his most recent work has been more like what we remember of the days before Sun Goddess which makes his announcement all the more surprising. Today, Lewis has 80 recordings to his credit and Sun Goddess is by far his most popular and for many, his most memorable. Check out the original recording of Ramsey's opus here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


From the day of it's release in 1977,  every time you heard it, you knew 2 things - you had never heard anything like it and this was something special. Energy, sophistication, soul.  Birdland.  The song that made it's composer - Joe Zawinul - and his band, Weather Report world famous. Where did this defining source of inspiration come from?

Weather Report performing Birdland in 1978, Stadthalle Offenbach.

It's autumn 1944 - the end of World War Two in Europe is just months away and thousands of Allied bombs are falling on Vienna, Austria.  At he prestigious Vienna Conservatory, a twelve -year old pianist named Josef Erich Zawinul is among 28 students being evacuated to a large estate in the Czech Sudentenland, where they will continue studies while being forced to endure a regimented life that includes war training under the direction of injured German SS officers.  It is here that Zawinul hears jazz for the first time when a fellow student performs an impromptu version of "Honeysuckle Rose".

For a musical impression of this period in Joe's life, listen to this - "Unknown Soldier" - from his autobiographical symphony Stories of the Danube

In the years immediately following the war, Europe is feeling the influence of the occupying Americans and Zawinul's interest in jazz deepens; he becomes a professional musician playing in clubs on American military bases, he becomes a fan of Armed Forces Radio and he becomes a reader of Down Beat magazine where he see an advertisement for the Berklee School of Music.  In 1958 Zawinul applies for and wins a scholarship to Berklee and on January 2 1959 Zawinul boards an ocean liner headed for America with $800 (6000 in 2010 $$) in his pocket.  5 days later, the ship arrives in New York City and Zawinul's impromptu tour of the city begins at 1678 Broadway, corner of 52nd Street, known as the "The Jazz Corner of the World" - the location of the world's most famous jazz club,  Birdland.

Named for legendary saxophonist Charlie "YardBird" Parker, the venue was celebrating it's 10th anniversary when Zawinul visited for the first time; later, whenever Zawinul and wife of 40 years, Maxine celebrated their wedding anniversary, thoughts inevitably turned to Birdland, which is were they first met.

The Manhattan Transfer performing Birdland in Tokyo, 1986

Fast forward a couple decades and Joe Zawinul's resume is jam packed with important roles with Maynard Ferguson's big band, Cannonball Adderley's quintet and Miles Davis' super-group, where he met saxophonist Wayne Shorter.By end of  1975 the two men are co-leaders of Weather Report, the preeminent jazz band of seventies, in the middle of recording the legendary album Black Market.       

Before the record could be finished, bassist Alphonso Johnson leaves the band and    Zawinul hires a 24 year old bass bass player from Ft. Lauderdale Fl. named John  "Jaco" Pastorius("Black Market" photo session at left with Pastorius in the middle). Jaco has been writing letters to Zawinul for years, even going as far as calling himself "The World's Greatest Bass Player" upon meeting Zawinul a few years before. Eventually Zawinul & Shorter relent and ask Pastorius to record a couple of tunes for the unfinished album including "Cannonball", a tribute to the recently deceased Adderley (another Florida native).  Pastorius then joins the band for their upcoming European tour and Zawinul is so impressed that he says Jaco is Weather Report's "catalyst." He's invited to stay on for work on the recording of the album Heavy Weather and the band's popularity explodes after the world hears Pastorius's bass playing and singing on the LP's first track - Birdland.

Jaco Pastorius, on the road with Weather Report for the first time, Montreux 1976

As Zawinul put it , "I heard him (Pastorius) play 4 bars and I knew history was being made." Indeed, the new man in the bass chair provided the consummate and transformational mix of virtuosity and showmanship that took the band from an jazz fusion experiment into huge commercial and critical success. Not to take anything away from the immensely gifted Alphonso Johnson but, hearing his style then or now makes it virtually impossible to imagine him playing those signature and (as Zawinul correctly said) "historic" licks that make Birdland what it is today - an unqualified classic. Just ask Quincy Jones or the scores of musicians who have performed or recorded it.    

Birdland provides a rare snapshot of legendary, game changing musicians at peak performance - as a group Weather Report was never better, the chemistry of Zawinul et al. at the time of it's recording elicited a rare combination of critical and commercial accolades; Heavy Weather is the best selling album in the band's history - one million and counting - and the litany of awards included jazz album of the year- 1977.  Birdland became a hit single, unheard of for jazz music then and certainly now.  Zawinul & Shorter were also at their creative high-water marks as collaborators and were beginning to explore new avenues as solo artists and would eventually call it quits (Zawinul would try to carry on the spirit in a new band - Weather Update, which only lasted a year).  Jaco left the band in 1980, although every bass player that followed seemed to be a respectful emulation of what was now know as the "Jaco" sound. Indeed, many fans felt the band's history ended when Jaco left and it is ironic that he died tragically in 1986, the same year Weather Report ceased to exist. 

Monday, January 3, 2011


(from Jazz Times)

Jazz Bassist Charles Fambrough Dies

Philadelphia-based acoustic bassist performed with McCoy Tyner, Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis

Bassist Charles Fambrough died on January 1, 2011. He had been ill for last few years, battling end stage renal disease, congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. He had been receiving dialysis treatments as well. He was 60 years old at the time of his death.
Fambrough was born in Philadelphia on August 25, 1950. Originally trained on the piano, Fambrough received a scholarship to study classical music, but picked up the bass at age 13, eventually leaving school to pursue his true passion in jazz as a bassist. By 1968 he was performing professionally in various pit bands around the city.
Charles Fambrough
In 1970 Fambrough joined Grover Washington Jr.’s band with whom he played for over three years, while the saxophonist experienced his first commercial success. After a stint with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, he then joined the band of fellow Philadelphian McCoy Tyner, appearing on Tyner’s albums Focal PointThe Greeting, and Horizon. He later joined the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers in the early 80s, when that band featured Wynton and Branford Marsalis. When Wynton Marsalis left Blakey to record and tour as a leader, Fambrough was a part of his group, and was featured on Marsalis’Fathers and Sons album for Columbia.
Fambrough also had considerable experience playing Latin jazz, as a sideman with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, as well as Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. Fambrough also regularly performed and recorded with pianist Bill O’Connell.
Fambrough recorded over six albums as a leader, including The Proper Angle andBlues at Bradleys for CTI, City Tribes on Evidence, Upright Citizen on NuGroove, andLive at Zanzibar Blue on Random Chance. He was a first-call bassist in his hometown for his entire life, backing artists such as Shirley Scott and Bootsie Barnes at local venues like Ortliebs, Zanzibar Blue and Chris’s Café.
He was an accomplished composer who wrote often complex and diverse songs for his own band as well as others. However, despite an emphasis on complex harmonies and rhythms, it was always important to him that the melody was there. In 1997 he told Kimberley Berry for All About Jazz: “I try to make a melody that you can sing, but once the melody is gone, you have to know what you're doing. If not, it's over. You can't "hear" it; you have to "know" it. There are musicians who have great ears who can hear anything, so it can be dealt with. There are certain things, it's better to know. That way you can elaborate.”
Bassist Gerald Veasley, who also played with both McCoy Tyner and Grover Washington, Jr., counted Fambrough as a mentor, and for a short time, as a neighbor in a small community in New Jersey. "Charles happened to be a neighbor of mine for about four years," said Veasley. "I was broke but ambitious. He was a force on the bass and very much in demand. Charles would invite me over his house from time to time to show me a song or concept he was working on. Even though most of the time it was over my head, I appreciated his taking me under his wing. Think about it: An established musician coaching a struggling one. What could be truer to the jazz tradition than that?"
Fambrough had a big robust sound on the acoustic bass and was well-respected by his peers and jazz fans. The Philadelphia jazz community had held a few fundraisers and celebrations for Fambrough including a recent one on December 8 at the Clef Club attended by Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Wallace Roney, Pat Martino, John Blake and Veasley among many others.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


We all look for some sort of inspiration to find the right frame of mind with which to begin the new year. Some of us party until it hurts; others spend the occasion in quite reflection. In a tradition that spans geographical, cultural and ethnic distinctions,  my parents and grandparents considered the consumption of certain food dishes on New Year's Day to be fortuitous; I follow their lead every year by cooking something that might bring me much needed luck in the months ahead. There were many choices to consider; last year I had collard greens & cole slaw (for money), my German neighbor had sauerkraut and pork chops, my aunt ate black eyed peas (again, for money).

imgres.jpgThis year I had a greek salad (any greek food will do, for prosperity) and I enlisted the assistance of 2 outstanding jazz musicians - Grammy Award-winning pianist Michel Camilo, from the Dominican Republic and Marcus Roberts, the celebrated pianist and Florida native.

I found their recipes for New Year's Day- appropriate dishes in a cookbook called "Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats", written by Bob Young and Al Stankus; published in 1992 by Stewart Tabori Chang. You'll find dozens of recipes, anecdotes and wonderful photos by Deborah Feingold.

Michel Camilo's Dominican-style Roast Pork
juice of 3 naranja agria or 2 grapefruits
juice of 10 lemons
6-7lb picnic shoulder, bone in
10 garlic cloves mashed
two tsps onion powder
2 tsps salt, pepper to taste; 2 tsps oregano

One night before, squeeze juice from naranja & lemon - remove seeds
place pork in non reactive pan with tight fitting lid
pour juices over meat
cover meat w/garlic onion pwdr salt, oregano & pepper
cover pan, refrigerate overnight
cook in oven at 350 for 5 hrs
basting pork every 45 min
after 5 hrs, raise temp to 450
uncover for additional 15 min
allow meat to sit at room temp for 15 min before serving

Marcus Roberts' Black Eyed Peas Okra Ham Hock Stew
3 ham hocks 
3 16 oz cans black eyed peas
2 lg. cans whole tomatoes
1 lb okra sliced thickly
3tps sugar; salt & pepper to taste

Place ham hocks for 15 min in water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer 
add black eyed peas
add tomatoes for 15 min of cooking
add other ingredients and cook for 35 min.

And for a more than adequate soundtrack to your culinary activities, check out another pianist - Randy Weston - and his 1964 release "African Cookbook"