Orrin Keepnews, RIP

Orrin Keepnews wGrammys

The influential jazz producer, record company head and author Orrin Keepnews died today at his home in El Cerrito, California. He would have been 92 tomorrow. Keepnews guided the recording careers of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins and many other leading jazz artists of the 20th Century. The announcement of his death came from his son Peter Keepnews, who with his brother David had flown from New York to their father’s bedside two days earlier. Keepnews is pictured with … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: That Swinging Eighth Note Illustrated

Swinging 8th Note illustrated

In answer to a Rifftides reader’s request, pianist Alan Broadbent expanded here last month on a concept that he mentioned in an earlier comment. The reader wanted to know what Broadbent (pictured below, left) meant by, “a swinging eighth note.” Here is part of his answer. The pushing and pulling of a musical phrase over a steady beat by a soloist, the tension and release of a phrase, is what creates a profound feeling of swing. This is not what singers call “back phrasing”, which is a … [Read more...]

After Portland

East side of Mt. Hood

For those Mount Hood devotees who enjoyed seeing the mountain’s west side the other day, here’s how it looks facing east. This is the view from the town of Mount Hood, Oregon, The original post misidentified Mount Adams as Mount Hood. The real Mount Hood replaces that shot. Apologies to fans of both mountains in the Cascades chain and thanks to Rifftides readers Larry Peterson, Paul Morris and Karen Merola Krueger for catching the goof (me). … [Read more...]

The Billy Childs Concert At PDX

Billy Childs by Mark Sheldon

Pianist Billy Childs and vocalist Alicia Olatuja, their flight delayed for hours by snowstorms in the east, made it to Portland barely in time for Childs’ concert of songs by Laura Nyro (1947-1997). The material came from Childs’ 2014 Nyro tribute album Map To The Treasure. Olatuja and vocalist Becca Stevens each sang several Nyro songs. Olatuja made a major impression with “Been On a Train.” Childs introduced the piece as, “a powerful song.” In an impressive act of vocal drama, Olatuja … [Read more...]

Payton At The Portland Festival

Nicholas Payton in Portland

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s kaleidoscopic talent was on full, and generally satisfying, display with his trio at the Newmark Theatre. He frequently accompanied himself with his left hand on an electric piano as he played the trumpet held in his right. Sitting at the junction of an angle formed by the electric piano and a concert grand, he turned from one to the other, and occasionally played both at once. He sang soulfully in falsetto or a low baritone. He played bebop and hinted at hip-hop. He … [Read more...]

Young Lions And An Old Lion

Young Lions 2

The Portland Jazz Festival is in the final week of its 12-day run, with performances by headliners Julian Lage, Hal Galper, Sheila Jordan, Laurence Hobgood, Ron Carter and bluesman Lucky Peterson. Also scheduled: a plethora of Portland and Northwest artists, among them David Friesen, Pink Martini’s Phil Baker, Clay Giberson and Darrell Grant with Marilyn Keller. For the schedule of remaining events, go here. These are impressions of some of the music I heard before I returned to Rifftides … [Read more...]

Services For Clark Terry

CT & Duke E.

There will be a funeral Service for Clark Terry next Saturday at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City’s Harlem. The trumpet and flugelhorn giant died last Sunday in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he and his wife Gwen lived for many years after they left New York. Terry will be buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. From the time we first met when he was in the house band at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in the late 1960s, CT and I spent time together whenever we found ourselves … [Read more...]

McBride, Donaldson And Charlap in Portland

Bill Charlap by Mark Sheldon 2

In the student competition held in connection with the festival, first-place prizes went to alto saxophonist Joel Steinke and singer Jacob Houser, both from Edmonds-Woodway High School near Seattle. Backed by the trio of pianist George Colligan, a Portlander transplanted from New York, they each played two numbers as they opened for bassist Christian McBride. McBride’s trio had the bright young sidemen Christian Sands on piano and Ulysses Owens, Jr., on drums. Their three-way exchanges on the … [Read more...]

Elling And Iyer At The PDX Festival

Elling by Mark Sheridan

With the theme of the Portland Jazz Festival centered around the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's birth, two artists with top billing focused on interpreting songs associated with Sinatra. Mini-concerts by winners of the festival’s student competitions preceded some of the featured performers. Warming up the audience for Kurt Elling, a 20-voice choir (pictured below) from Battle Ground High School in Washington, sang two pieces. They included a spirited expansion of the Lambert, Hendricks … [Read more...]

Freda Payne At Jimmy Mak’s

Payne, Freda - Mark Sheldon A23A5276

At the Portland Jazz Festival, Freda Payne reached into her jazz, pop and soul background for the ingredients of an eclectic evening. Her performance summarized a career that began in the 1950s when she was a Detroit teenager. Payne appeared at Jimmy Mak’s, a club near downtown that serves as an official festival venue. Playing to an audience overflowing with standing listeners, she worked with a quintet led by the veteran Portland drummer Mel Brown. Payne opened her late set with Cole Porter’s … [Read more...]

Clark Terry Is Gone

clark terry 2

Clark Terry has died at 94 following his long battle with the effects of advanced diabetes. His wife Gwen posted the announcement this morning on her Facebook page. Our beloved Clark Terry has joined the big band in heaven where he'll be singing and playing with the angels. He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends. Clark has known and played with so many amazing people in his life. He has found great joy in his friendships and his greatest passion was spending … [Read more...]

PDX Jazz: Eigsti With Stevens & Harrison’s Free Country

Harrison Free Country 2

As usual at the Portland Jazz Festival, no one can take in more than a slice of the music filling this city of 610,000. A friend and I paused at a crosswalk to hear a musician, tip basket at his feet, serenading passersby with his bass clarinet. He was no Eric Dolphy and he wasn’t officially a part of the festival, but he was providing some of the music heard everywhere in Portland, from street corners to bars, clubs, restaurants, hotel lobbies and theaters. Trying to hear as much music as … [Read more...]

Portland 2015

Portland & Mt. Hood

The Rifftides staff is off to Portland, Oregon for the first four days of the ten-day PDX Jazz Festival. I have been recruited to moderate a Saturday panel discussion about Frank Sinatra’s influence on jazz musicians. In my primary role as observer, I’m looking forward to hearing a diverse cast that includes newcomers like the French singer Cyrille Aimée and the young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, as well as oldcomers like alto sax giants Lou Donaldson, 88, and Lee Konitz, 87. In between: … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Pullman On Powell

Wail Bud Powell cover

Peter Pullman, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (Pullman) Pullman’s research, detail and zeal override flaws of style in this indispensible study of the architect and spirit of modern jazz piano. The author is illuminating in his treatment of Powell’s early years as a child prodigy. He is chilling in his documentation of the mature pianist’s tribulations in the hands of police, mental institutions, lawyers, the courts, and some of his women companions. He paints a bleaker picture than the … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Snowless Winter (Sorry, Boston)

Snowless February

Boston, it would be kinder not to let you see this, but February out here is treating us rather differently from what you are enduring. Most years at this time eastern Washington State is likely to be covered in white. Today, it was winter on the calendar but spring in the valley. The high temperature was in the sixties. I took the bicycle along a road halfway up Ahtanum Ridge, looked west and saw snow only on the summit of Mount Rainier, 14,400 feet high and 60 miles away (in the middle … [Read more...]

Happy CT Valentine’s Day

CT Plays In Bed

The obvious choice for music in a Valentine’s Day post may seem a cliché. Of course, Rifftides wouldn’t be caught dead clichéing. Still, given yesterday’s news about Clark Terry (see the next item in the queue), it seemed appropriate to discover whether “My Funny Valentine” shows up in his discography. It does in a 1963 Gary Burton album by the 20-year-old vibraharpist and guest artists. Terry plays flugelhorn on the Rodgers and Hart song which, under his stewardship, is too lovely to be a … [Read more...]

Clark Terry Goes To Hospice

Clark Terry Hospice 2

Clark Terry has gone into hospice care after years of illness in which he was able to stay at home. The great trumpeter is 94 and suffers from extreme complications of diabetes. A fund raising campaign in and beyond the jazz community made his home care possible. This afternoon, Billboard posted the hospice news with a message from CT’s wife Gwen, a brief summary of his career and video of a memorable appearance as his alter ego, the blues singer celebrated as “Mumbles.” To read the Billboard … [Read more...]

My Kind Of Friday The 13th


It is possible to have good luck on Friday the 13th. We have proof in the form of a recording from a Town Hall concert played by Thelonious Monk in New York City on February 28, 1959. “The Thelonious Monk Orchestra” is the grand term that the promoters and the record company applied to the 10-piece band assembled for the occasion, one of the most memorable of Monk’s career. Fortunately for posterity, the concert was recorded. Hall Overton wrote an arrangement that observed the eighth-note rhythm … [Read more...]

A New Old Bill Evans Interview

Since Rifftides has been pretty much about Bill Evans since last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal article, let’s continue with a discovery brought to light through fellow blogger Marc Myers on his JazzWax. It’s a 1976 interview with Evans by a pair of young jazz broadcasters on a Madison, Wisconsin radio station. Marc recruited Bret Primack, The Jazz Video Guy, to add pictures to the sound track of James Farber’s and Larry Goldberg’s interview. Thirty-nine years later, it’s fascinating to hear … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Vijay Iyer Trio

Iyer Break STuff

Vijay Iyer, Break Stuff (ECM) It would be safe to say that the pianist Vijay Iyer is the only jazz musician who constructs his music on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers introduced by the Medieval Italian mathematician. Safe that is, if Iyer didn’t credit saxophonist Steve Coleman with giving him the idea years ago. Maybe Coleman got it from Bartók (e.g., “Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta”). Whether Iyer’s ascendency in jazz can be credited to his mathematical expertise and … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Broadbent On The Swinging 8th Note

Alan Broadbent head

Mike Harris, Rifftides reader, surreptitious recordist (Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions) and avocational pianist, sent this query: I wonder if Alan Broadbent could expand a bit on the thought he expresses, in your Wall Street Journal article about Bill Evans, that his “aim was to have a swinging eighth-note?” I have long speculated as to just what it is that makes the quality of his gentle swing so appealingly distinctive, and perhaps it is this concept of a “swinging eighth-note” that is … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Evans Reflects On Ellington

NYC; 1968

In the aftermath of my Bill Evans piece in The Wall Street Journal this week and the many generous comments about it here and in the online edition of the paper, I thought you might enjoy a rare Evans performance. It is the exquisite concert version of a piece that he recorded for this album in 1978 and played again in his memorable appearance on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program. This was at Carnegie Hall on June 28, 1978. Bill makes the introduction. … [Read more...]

Odds And Ends: Sloane On Balliett, Reilly On Haden

Tea Bag

On her SloaneView blogspot, Carol Sloane posts recollections of her long-running affection for The New Yorker. Describing the time Whitney Balliett interviewed her for a profile in the magazine, she discloses how the great writer prepared his tea. Haven’t you always wondered? And she tells what it was like to be on the confirmation end of The New Yorker’s exhaustive fact-checking process. To read Ms. Sloane's blog, go here. Also in the recollection department, the veteran pianist Jack Reilly … [Read more...]

The Bill Evans Legacy

bill-evans-color head shot

My piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is about Bill Evans, his continuing influence on pianists and on the general course of jazz, 35 years after his death. You may be able to see the column here (that's a link). Otherwise, I hope that your town has a newsstand or a full-service supermarket that sells the Journal. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott Round Tripper

Lisa Parrott, Round Tripper (Serious Niceness Records) There is muscle and grit in the sound of Ms. Parrott’s baritone saxophone on Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip.” Playing alto, she comes closer to essence of Coleman in “Rosa Takes a Stand” and “D. Day.” Her work on both horns is inflected with a kind of Coleman chanciness, but it would be a mistake to categorize this Australian who moved to New York in the 1990s. In a song written with her bassist sister Nikki, “Do You Think That I Do Not … [Read more...]