The New NEA Jazz Masters: Keith Jarrett

Jarrett, eyes closed

Pianist Keith Jarrett is one of the four new NEA Jazz Masters who will accept their awards at Lincoln Center Monday evening. In its advance publicity, the National Endowment for the Arts says that Jarrett has a “talent for playing both abstractly and lyrically, sometimes during the same song.” True as that assessment is, it doesn’t begin to describe the brilliance of his work when he is at his peak of inspiration, as in the most recent recording with his trio—one of five albums he released … [Read more...]

The New NEA Jazz Masters: Anthony Braxton

Braxton, soprano sax

There has been disagreement for more than forty years about whether the saxophonist, composer and sometime pianist Anthony Braxton is a jazz musician. With many others, he long insisted that the music he wrote and played was not jazz, but in 1993 he told author Cole Gagne… …even though I have been saying I'm not a jazz musician for the last 25 years; in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ahh, he's jazz! Maybe that concession is part of what led the National … [Read more...]

The New NEA Jazz Masters: Richard Davis

Richard Davis 1974

The 20014 NEA Jazz Masters will receive their awards in a ceremony at New York’s Lincoln Center Monday evening, January 13. The four recipients are pianist Keith Jarrett, saxophonist Anthony Braxton, bassist Richard Davis and— in the jazz advocacy category—publisher, recording executive and musician Jamey Aebersold. They will be the 32nd group in the jazz community to be so honored since the National Endowment for the Arts established the recognition program in 1982. The affair will … [Read more...]

Winter Jazzfest 2014


New York’s Winter Jazzfest opens a five-day run tomorrow, celebrating its tenth year featuring musicians who operate on the leading edge of the music. The atmosphere of adventurism does not necessarily indicate that the artists are all young revolutionaries. Among the dozens of seasoned players appearing in clubs and concert halls throughout Manhattan will be Gary Bartz, Craig Handy, Miguel Zenon Don Byron, Matt Wilson and Jason Moran. For their Wednesday Town Hall concert, Moran and fellow … [Read more...]

Saul Zaentz

Saul Zaentz

The passing of Saul Zaentz yesterday at 92 brings to mind the crucial part he played in expanding Fantasy Records from a vital, colorful, but minor independent label into a pop hit-maker and a major repository of jazz recordings from the late 1940s on. He is being remembered in obituaries around the world as the producer of Amadeus, The English Patient, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and other major motion pictures. For a thorough review of his life and career, see this piece in The New York … [Read more...]

Farewell, Al Porcino

Porcino 1

Al Porcino, a powerful lead trumpeter for several big bands, died on New Years Eve. He was 88. His wife said that he succumbed to complications following a fall in his house in Munich. Porcino had lived in Germany since the late 1970s, frequently augmenting American bands touring in Europe, as well as leading his own large ensemble. After debuting in 1943 with Louis Prima when he was 18, Porcino played with swing bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Georgie Auld and Gene Krupa. He made the transition … [Read more...]

Ray Charles, Slow

Ray Charles '74

There seems to be a Ray Charles aura abroad in 2014; several Rifftides readers have called my attention to a remarkable 1974 performance by Charles, his band and the Raelets. The headline on the clip reads, Ray Charles Plays the Slow Blues in Madrid. “Slow” doesn’t begin to describe the tempo. At roughly 30 beats to the minute, a 12-bar chorus takes about a minute and a half. But that’s not the point. The point is the depth of Charles’s distillation of blues feeling. Be sure to stay for the … [Read more...]

Happy New Year

Happy New Year 2014

Deadlines and an unimaginable series of technical snafus have put blogging aside for the past few days. The good news is that a whole new year of opportunities is upon us. The Rifftides staff thanks you for being with us this year and sharing your thoughts with us in your comments. We wish all of you the best possible 2014. … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Four Pianos, Eight Hands

Tommy Flanagan, small head

 Just for fun. In the first video, Tommy Flanagan on the left, Barry Harris on the right; with respect to Thelonious Monk, sometime, somewhere, in the 1970s.     In the second video, Dave Frank on the left, Dick Hyman on the right, remembering Lennie Tristano, in New York, in 2011.         Have a pleasant holiday weekend. … [Read more...]

Young Coleman Hawkins Speaks And Plays

Coleman Hawkins, young

After Coleman Hawkins left Fletcher Henderson in 1934, he spent nearly five years touring in Europe. Having established the saxophone as a serious jazz instrument, he provided significant inspiration among European musicians as jazz took a solid foothold on the continent and in the British Isles. Hawkins appeared with bands in England, Switzerland, France and Holland, recording often. Records he made in Paris with Benny Carter, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli are among the finest of the … [Read more...]

A Bill Evans Rehearsal

Bill Evans, head down

Rifftides reader Mike Harris (more about him later) alerts us to a little-known piece of video catching Bill Evans in rehearsal for a 1966 Danish television broadcast. The 21-minute sequence lets us see and hear Evans and his trio preparing pieces he frequently included in his playlists: “Very Early,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “If You Could See Me Now” and, toward the end, “Five,” his rhythmically demanding original based on the “I Got Rhythm” chord progression. The trio includes bassist Eddie Gomez, … [Read more...]

No Christmas Is Complete Without Bird

Charlie Parker ca 1950 Small

Sixty-five years ago today in the early hours of the morning, Charlie Parker and his quintet were close to wrapping up their broadcast from the Royal Roost in New York City when someone requested a Christmas song. Parker obliged. Christmas 1948 with Charlie Parker, Kenny Dorham, Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. I hope that your Christmas 2013 has been equally merry. … [Read more...]

Joyeux Noel, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Christmas Alegre, Lystig Jul, メリークリスマス, Natale Allegro, 圣诞快乐, Καλά Χριστούγεννα, 즐거운 성탄, И к всему доброй ночи And С Новым Годом


The Rifftides staff wishes you a Merry Christmas, a splendid holiday season and happy listening. The bonus winter scene is of the magnificent Mount Adams in southwestern Washington State, about 60 miles away and easily visible from Rifftides world headquarters. … [Read more...]

Yusef Lateef, R.I.P.


The roll call of distinguished jazz artists leaving us seems to grow longer by the day. Now comes news of the passing of Yusef Lateef, who died today at his home in Massachusetts. He was 93. As a youngster in Detroit, Lateef mastered several reed instruments and early in his career became a respected performer, composer and educator. He was an inspiration and model for a generation of young Detroit musicians who in the 1950s moved to New York and themselves became influences in the burgeoning … [Read more...]

Herb Geller, 1928-2013

Herb Geller looking right

We have word from Herb Geller’s family that the venerable alto saxophonist died on Thursday in a Hamburg, Germany, hospital. He succumbed to pneumonia. Geller had been under treatment for the past twelve months for a form of lymphoma. He turned 85 in November. As noted in this Rifftides post last June, Geller remained not merely active but energetic until fairly recently, performing in clubs and at festivals throughout Europe. He had lived in Hamburg since 1965. Until his mandatory retirement at … [Read more...]

Snyder On Hall

Jim Hall Smiling

John Snyder, who produced some of Jim Hall’s best albums, sent a comment on Hall’s passing. It appears with the dozens of other observations sent by readers following the Rifftides remembrance posted on December 10, but the staff decided that the poetic eloquence of Mr. Snyder’s tribute stands on its own. We reproduce it here, followed by a performance from Jim Hall Live, the 1975 Hall trio album with bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke recorded at Bourbon Street in Toronto and … [Read more...]

Other Places: Cerra on That Desmond Book


Steve Cerra, the proprietor of the endlessly interesting Jazz Profiles blog, has posted a new piece about Take Five: The Public And Private Lives Of Paul Desmond. In it, he says that the book would make a good Christmas present, a suggestion that I wouldn't dream of challenging. Steve observes that any stocking the book might stuff would have to be huge. That was true in the days when Take Five existed only as a hard cover volume. Now, it is an eBook, meaning that the recipient's stocking can be … [Read more...]

The Critics’ Choices

Shorter 2013

Try as I might to ignore requests to vote in polls, I don’t seem to be able to say no to Francis Davis. This year, the eminent critic persuaded 136 people to take part in his annual critics poll, which he has moved to the website of National Public Radio. He asked writers, broadcasters, bloggers and others to name their choices for the best jazz recordings of the year. The results are in. The overall winner, hands down, is Wayne Shorter, 80 years old and, evidently, indefatigable. In his … [Read more...]

It’s Eddie Palmieri’s Birthday

eddie palmieri 4

This is the 77th birthday of Eddie Palmieri. The pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader moved with his family to New York from Puerto when he and his older brother Charlie were children. By the time Eddie was eight, he and Charlie were performing in talent contests. Both became major figures in the Latin jazz movement. As a teenager, Eddie Palmieri worked with experienced Latin bands, including that of Tito Rodriguez. At fourteen, he had his own band. In the early 1960s, his Conjunto La … [Read more...]

Passings: Stan Tracey, George Buck

Stan Tracey

Stan Tracey, the pianist sometimes called the godfather of British jazz, died on December 6. He was 86. Tracey helped to draw international attention to jazz in the United Kingdom and influenced the development of scores of younger players. Through most of the 1960s he was the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s club in London and frequently accompanied visiting American musicians. Of that period, he told The Guardian’s John Fordam, …with people like Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Sonny Rollins and Charlie … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Holiday Albums

70046 christmas music

Every year, albums of Christmas music by jazz artists pop up in late October or early November, provide pleasure through the season, then are mostly forgotten. Once in a while, we get lucky with new releases that not only entertain us for the holidays but also leave music of permanent value. Think of Duke Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (1960), Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (1964) or Alan Broadbent’s lush arrangements of Christmas songs … [Read more...]

Grover Washington, Jr.

Grover Washington, Jr.

Grover Washington, Jr., was born on this day in 1943 and died on December 17, 1999. He was a tenor, alto and soprano saxophonist who had huge success as a popular artist, in great part because his 1974 album Mister Magic was high on the pop, soul and R&B charts for weeks. He followed with additional best-selling albums and singles. Predictably, his ability as a hit-maker had critics reaching for their sharp knives, but far from being a sellout, Washington was a superbly inventive jazz soloist … [Read more...]

Guest Column: A Brubeck Anniversary

Brubeck 2 heads

The two volumes of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz at the College of the Pacific on the Fantasy label have never received quite the degree of acclaim that met Jazz at Oberlin, recorded earlier in 1953. That’s a puzzle; The C.O.P. albums often equal the brilliance of Oberlin and of the phenomenally successful Jazz Goes to College, the quartet’s first LP for Columbia. Having blazed the trail that opened college campuses to performances by major jazz groups, Brubeck's C.O.P. concert was a triumphal return … [Read more...]

Jim Hall, 1930-2013

Jim Hall, 2013

Devra Hall Levy informed friends this morning that her father died last night in his sleep at home in New York, six days following his 83rd birthday. In her message, Ms. Levy wrote from Los Angeles, “He was not feeling well, but had not to my knowledge been diagnosed with any particular illness.” Jim Hall was born in Buffalo, New York, raised in Cleveland and received his formal musical education at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The guitarist performed steadily into his eighties, … [Read more...]

Jack Sheldon: He’s Alive

Sheldon Playin' It Straight

The cover photo of the out-of-print 1981 album to the left appears to show Jack Sheldon playing his trumpet left-handed. Whether someone reversed the picture by mistake or as an ironic turn on the album title is beside the point. It turned out to be prophetic. Left-handed is the only way Sheldon can play now. His ability to do so is a testament to his courage in fighting his way back following a stroke that deprived him of the use of his right arm. He was forced to retool or stop playing. … [Read more...]

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela

In millions of ways, the world tonight is remembering Nelson Mandela. Music is one way. I have found no more powerful expression of what Mandela fought for and against in South Africa all of his life than this performance by Hugh Masakela. It was at a festival on Clapham Common south of London in 1986, four years before Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence ended. Eight years later, Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected black president, changing his nation and in many … [Read more...]