Monday, March 14, 2011


Believe or not, as jazz fans we have Jascha Heifitz to thank for Joe Morello.

Cut to Boston, MA, 1943. A promising 15 year old violinist is in a small room, waiting for the chance of a lifetime - a meeting with his idol, who many consider to be the greatest violinist of all time. 9 years before, because of a birth defect that left him with poor vision and a life spent mostly indoors, the youngster discovered music, which he absorbed with a prodigious appetite. At age 9 he was featured violin soloist with The Boston Symphony Orchestra, (performing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto) after playing the instrument for only 3 years. He would play with The BSO again 3 years later. Now the young man is attracting international attention among the classical music elite.

After waiting for what must have seemed like an eternity for the young prodigy, Joseph Morello meets his 42 year old violin hero Jascha Heifitz. Profoundly moved by the experience, Morello decides on a course that would change the world - he'd give up violin and switch to percussion, feeling he would never be able to "equal" Heifitz's precision and distinctive sound. Although Morello had hoped to continue as a classical musician, his instructor, legendary percussionist and percussion theorist George Lawrence Stone, became the prophetic conduit of miraculous intervention, convincing Morello the younger that his future lay in jazz.

Of course, Stone's prescient suggestion planted a seed that would grow into a life full of extraordinary accomplishment and innovation that ended with Joe Morello's death at home in Irvington, NJ on March 12. He was 82. The miracle that was Morello can be verified time and time again with his presence in The Dave Brubeck Quartet and it's groundbreaking recordings and performances. Morello's tenure with Brubeck began in 1955 when he was asked to be a last-minute replacement for a two-month temp gig; it ended in 1968, when DBQ finally disbanded. So, every time you hear one of the Brubeck Quartet classics like Take Five or Pick Up Sticks, remember Joe Morello and Jascha Heifitz.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Drummer, pianist, singer, songwriter, band leader and jazz lover Phil Collins has announced on the Atlantic Records website the decision to stop playing and performing indefinitely,  possibly ending a remarkable career that has lasted a half century. 

It seems Collins, who turned 60 this year, decided to emerge from behind his taciturn and intensely private persona as a response to a number of reports that he was "retiring" for a variety of reasons, including professional disappointment and health problems.  Read Mr. Collins' intentions and explanation here. 

There are some indications that Collins may return someday, after all he's not the first high-profile entertainer to throw in the towel, only to pick it up again after a brief respite.   I guess we'll have to wait see if Mr. Collins has, as the title of one of his most popular songs says, "One More Night" left in the tank.  In any case, his work as an exciting and indefatigable live performer will be missed for as long as he is away...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


With the arrival of baseball season comes a (home) plate-full of appropriate terminology - hence the phrase "Around the Horn" (not to be confused with the ESPN show of the same name) which relates to the practice of tossing the ball around the infield, from one position player to another - see diagram above.  For the purposes of this piece, the words connote a trip around the various departments of the jazz category or as our masthead indicates, what the jazz world is hearing reading seeing etc...

*I was intrigued by Nate Chinen's New York Times article about what Brad Mehldau listens to during his down time, you might be too...
*Also in the NYT, the ongoing mystery surrounding the theft of a beloved statue from the Brooklyn jazz club Barbes; 

*What's the most unusual paring of musicians in a jazz club so far this year? If you chose Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, some would say you're "certifiable", as in crazy and some would say you're "absolutely brilliant!" For now, you'll have to settle for   "absolutely correct." Scheduled to take place in April, as part of the new season at Jazz At Lincoln Center, this imaginative set was no doubt inspired by Wynton's well-received JALC gig with Willie Nelson a couple years ago.  Check out the video...

*BBC Radio is spearheading a new campaign to expose new jazz talent in Great Britain via a nationwide new and unsigned artist competition; one of the judges will be pianist/singer Jamie Cullum...

* The Dave Arivett article on the All About Jazz website titled "Why Is Jazz A Dirty Word" raised an eyebrow; sure, jazz is no longer considered popular music as it was in the 30's & 40's but a dirty word? I beg to differ. Just ask the voting members at NARAS - National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
( the Grammy folks); where for the past several years jazz as a category has been celebrated in very significant ways, with major Grammy Awards going to Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spaulding most recently. Unfortunately, I think Mr. Arivett's thinking echoes a sort of "congenital" inferiority complex in the minds of many jazz practitioners and observers who are taught from birth that jazz is not for everybody; this assessment also reflects the lack of inter-generational fellowship and communication between the various sub-genres within the idiom. Also in the article, a list of the "top five reasons people think and feel this way..."

1) It's old and outdated music;
2) It's way too dissonant and too far outside the normal harmonic box;
3) It's insider musical language that only other jazz musicians can understand;
4) It's boring, with 10 minute solos featuring musicians playing strange sounding scales;
5) It's music played by a bunch of artsy weirdos and drug addicts; you have to be using drugs/alcohol to really appreciate it.

Where the hell does Mr. Arivett get his information?! Whatever the source, it all seems a bit outdated to me and it does nothing more than perpetuate this long held belief by some and I stress some that jazz music is relegated to second-class citizen status.      

*Kudos to Sonny Rollins, recipient of the 2010 National Medal of Arts for outstanding achievement and support of the arts; President Obama delivered the nation's highest honor for artistic excellence to Mr. Rollins, Quincy Jones and 7 others, Wed March 2nd in the East Room of The White House. Here's a video of the ceremony...

*Artistshare has just launched the THE GIL EVANS CENTENNIAL PROJECT - a year-long celebration leading up to Evans' 100th birthday in May 2012, including concerts, releases and performances of newly discovered music and online composers lessons. Here's a video detailing the effort...

*New Music
 Steve Gadd and Friends Live at Voce
 Moonlight - Steve Cole
 Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantu√°ria - Lagrimas Mexicanas
 World Saxophone Quartet - Yes We Can

*Hot off the presses: New books worthy of a jazz eye...
"Jazz", A Collection of  Photographs by the late Herman Leonard;
"Sun Ra - Interviews and Essays", edited by John Sinclair;
"Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway" by Alyn Shipton;
"Coltrane: The Story of a Sound" by Ben Ratliff;
"Glorious Days and Nights: A Jazz Memoir" by Herb Snitzer
"Thinking in Jazz" by Paul F. Berliner
"The Blue Moment: Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music" by Richard Williams
"The Return of Jazz: Joachim-Ernst Berendt and West German Cultural Change" by Andrew Wright Hurley
"Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversation With The Men Who Make the Music" by Thomas W. Jacobson
"The Evolution of Jazz Drumming" by Danny Gottlieb

*My favorite musician of the week - drummer Antonio Sanchez.  Check out this Jazz Times Magazine article article on the poly-rhythmic avatar and check out the video sample of his breath-stealing work with Chick Corea...