Odds And Ends

Jason Moran

From Washington, DC, comes news that pianist Jason Moran will be the late Billy Taylor’s successor as the Kennedy Center’s artistic adviser for jazz. From the center’s release announcing the appointment:

Moran hopes to expand the accessibility that was so important to Taylor, in part by emphasizing that music, and especially jazz, can be fun.

“ ‘Fun’ is not a very intellectual term,” he says, “but I think people like good music, people enjoy good drinks and good food, people like to move, I think people like to laugh. So, I’m really looking for ways in which, through intellectual and investigative music, we can get these feelings to occur.”

Eric Felten

Speaking of the nation’s capitol and fun (it does exist there, away from Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill), trombonist, singer, recording artist and Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten and his big band have been popular for years in Washington, DC. They summon up living memories of the time when big bands were woven into the nation’s social fabric, and going to dances was entertainment for millions. Felten and company wrapped up the Kennedy Center’s “Swing, Swing, Swing” festival last Friday night with the piquant singer Nellie McKay as featured guest. The center has posted a generous video sampling of the proceedings—more than an hour. Felten, one of the best trombonists in jazz, played too few solos, but he sings well, the band is good and the customers were eager to use the dance floor laid down for the occasion. To see and hear the fun, go here (don’t click on the arrow in that little picture to your right; it’s not the video).

And listen to that bass player. His name is Michael Bowie.

Bill Kirchner

In proportion to his talent, there is too little Bill Kirchner on record. The saxophonist, composer and arranger has taken digital steps to make more of his music available as MP3 downloads. Two albums present him in contrasting settings. The first, One Starry Night, finds him in concert in Chicago in 1987 with his nonet—one of the finest mid-sized bands in jazz. His guest vocalist is Sheila Jordan, whose daring and musicality are at a peak here, notably on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to.” Such prominent players as trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Ralph LaLama and bassist Mike Richmond negotiate Kirchner’s demanding and satisfying ensemble writing and are stimulated to first-rate improvisation. The title of Old Friends (2008) describes Kirchner’s relationship with pianist Marc Copland, whose harmonic resourcefulness and reactive listening make him an inspirational accompanist. As a soloist, Copland’s ease of execution in this collection of duets is deceptive. He and Kirchner, playing soprano saxophone, interact with spontaneity and freshness that belie the challenges they set themselves. They explore at length standard songs, and originals by Johnny Mandel, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis. Kirchner is particularly evocative in Shorter’s “Footprints.”

Independent Films
Charles Mingus

The internet has made it easier for film makers to go public in an effort to get funding for their efforts. Independent producers are raising money for projects about two jazz musicians, one long gone and still influential, the other very much alive, intrepid and controversial.

Kevin Mingus, a grandson of Charles Mingus, proposes a film about the bassist, bandleader and composer, whom he never met. The fund-raising website for the film describes it:

Surrounded by controversy for his polemic actions and his unpredictability, the enigmatic figure of his grandfather became a jazz icon. The documentary opens doors to unknown facets of a composer who left one of the largest musical legacies of 20th Century American music. It is the path of his grandson, looking at the life of his grandfather through the eyes of those he touched and inspired, and through the locations where he lived and composed his art. The film rediscovers both, the man and the artist: Charles Mingus.

For more about the film and the fund-raising, and to see a trailer, go here.

Matthew Shipp

Co-producers Matthew Shipp and Barb Januskiewicz are working to fund The Composer, a film about Shipp, the energetic avant garde pianist. Its website describes the film as an “innovative art/music fusion project about hope, creative vision and its extraordinary spiritual power of music. No words, no conversations only sounds and music… with a surprise ending!” The film’s co-star, we are told, will be Shipp’s Fazioli piano.

The Fazioli and Shipp make an iconic pair: one of the most renowned jazz pianists playing on the most exquisitively crafted piano; contemporary jazz music pouring out of an elegant, unique vessel with a clear, pristine sound. The spotlight is shared between the two equally. Shipp’s spellbinding skill emanates from the piano, which serves as both his inspiration and his mode of expression.

Learn more and see a promotional video at the website.

Kenny Dennis

Here is one of the octogenarians listed in the comments section of the Rifftides Going Like 80 (+) item that has attracted so much attention: Drummer Kenny Dennis (81) with pianist Llew Matthews and bassist Mike Gurrola in concert in Los Angeles in 2010.

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  1. Ahmed Bousanjani says

    “ ‘Fun’ is not a very intellectual term,” – but what’s the point of playing without it?

    Thanks for your delightful mention of Dr. Taylor’s successor, (and of my good friend Eric Felten)


  2. says

    I believe Moran is an excellent choice and will help introduce jazz to a new generation of followers. Only time will tell, but if he approaches the position with the same determination he brings to his music, and there is nothing to suggest he won’t, then the future looks bright!



  3. Red Sullivan says

    Bassist Michael Bowie: of Carmen McRae fame? And, I believe time spent – well spent – with Stephen Scott’s trio, and with The Harper Bros.?

    And spellbound with fascination at this news of the great Kenny Dennis. Often wondered about him. Often!!