Monday Recommendation: Holly Hofmann

Hofmann Low Life

Holly Hofmann, Low Life (Capri) Holly Hofmann made her reputation concentrating on the C flute, an instrument whose flexibility and three-octave range are suited to her customary orientation toward the bop tradition. Here, she sets it aside in favor of its relative the alto flute. Pitched in G, the alto is capable of bewitching resonance and dynamic presence at the low end of its range. Ms. Hofmann takes full advantage of those qualities in a collection that tends toward romanticism tinged … [Read more...]

Recent Listening In Brief…

CD Stacks

Frank Zappa (1940-1993), a gifted musician who dipped his toe into jazz, never demonstrated more than a smidgeon of what he knew about the genre. But he left us with the memorable observation, “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.” A web search shows that lesser wits have adapted Zappa’s line to all kinds of topics from politics to marketing management and, of all things, science journalism. None of those endeavors seems to be dying, either. For years, people have been predicting the end of … [Read more...]

Les Paul Over The Rainbow

Paul & McCartney

Thanks to Rifftides reader Greg Curtis for flagging a performance by Les Paul of Harold Arlen’s best known song. This was at Fat Tuesday’s in New York, most likely in the 1990s. Paul’s accompanists were rhythm guitarist Lou Pollo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. … [Read more...]

Recent Listening, Vinyly: Broadbent, Lowe, Horvitz, Chemical Clock, Kanda

Turntable and Vinyl

Once during a listening session, I apologized to Paul Desmond for the pops and scratches on a worn LP. “I don’t care if it’s on a cellophane strip,” he said, “ as long as I can hear what everybody is doing.” When it comes to sound quality, high-end audio perfectionists tend to be more demanding than Desmond was that evening, and there are getting to be more of them. In an artist’s note on the inside jacket of his new album, Just One Of Those Things, pianist Alan Broadbent writes, “With so … [Read more...]

Weekend Listening Tip: Holiday Jazz

Wilke Christmas

If your listening mood has shifted to Christmas, veteran jazz broadcaster Jim Wilke is ready to accommodate you. He has prepared a wide-ranging program by artists from his neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest. Here’s Jim’s announcement about tomorrow’s program. Jazz musicians are often an unconventional lot, and when it comes to holiday music you can expect re-harmonizations, different tempos, unexpected rhythms and other surprises as they find new ways to play old music and old … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Risk And Playing From The Heart


How do you get to Carnegie Hall? "Practice," the violinist Fritz Kreisler famously told a tourist who asked him that question on a New York street. But can a performer practice too much—practice the life out of a piece of music? No and yes, said one of Kreisler's great contemporaries, pianist Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982). Here is Rubinstein in a clip from a PBS documentary hosted by Robert MacNeil, discussing a proposition that serious musicians of all genres will always confront. … [Read more...]

Recent Viewing: Films About Hersch, Brown And McFarland

My Coma Dreams

The new video recording of an acclaimed theatre piece recounts the surreal workings of pianist Fred Hersch’s mind during a long medically induced coma. Documentaries about trumpeter Clifford Brown and the composer, arranger and vibraharpist Gary McFarland recall major artists who died as their brilliant careers were flowering. Fred Hersch, My Coma Dreams In 2008 Hersch had been feeling unwell and one day found himself unable to get out of his bathtub. His partner Scott Morgan rushed him to … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Stefano Bollani

Bollani Joy In Spite...

Stefano Bollani, Joy In Spite Of Everything (ECM The Italian pianist, his Danish rhythm section mates and two American stars emphasize the joy of the title, but Bollani’s album also has moments of thoughtful stateliness. Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund join Bollani in various combinations from duo to quintet. Bollani’s eight compositions reflect inspiration from the Caribbean, Africa, bebop and his fertile imagination. … [Read more...]

Brubeck A La Russe, Part 2: A Story From Moscow

Russian Story illustration

Alexander Eydelman, who founded the Moscow Jazz Art Club in 1993 and has been its only president, writes stories under the name Aleksander Antoshin. Through the help of Rifftides Moscow correspondent Svetlana Ilicheva, Mr. Eydelman has agreed to our publishing one of his stories.  The tale set in the 1960s helps put in perspective some of the ways in which Russian jazz fans bucked the Soviet system's suppression of their efforts to hear American music. GETTING TO KNOW BRUBECK By Aleksander … [Read more...]

Brubeck A La Russe


On this second anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s death, an animated cartoon from Russia is a reminder of the impact that his music has had in many, perhaps most, parts of the world. Occasional Rifftides Moscow correspondent Svetlana Ilicheva called it to my attention. The cartoon is a creation of the Russian artist Ivan Maximov. Its quirkiness and charm are typical of his work. Whether he captures the spirit of the Brubeck Quartet’s music may be up to the eye and ear of the beholder, but there is no … [Read more...]

Steinbeck And Condon


Pianist Spike Wilner, the proprietor of Smalls and Mezzrow’s in New York’s Greenwich Village, sends occasional email newsletters about who is playing at his clubs. Now and then he includes sidebar items about things that interest him. It’s a list that jazz listeners may enjoy being on for the asides as much as for the schedules. Here’s an entry from a recent issue: Been reading further from Eddie Condon's (and Hank O’Neal’s) Scrapbook of Jazz—wonderful anecdotes. But the best thing … [Read more...]

Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn was born 99 years ago today. He wrote the music and the wan, world-weary lyric of “Lush Life” when he was a sixteen-year-old in his native Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having arranged to meet Duke Ellington backstage at a concert when he was in his early twenties, he demonstrated the song and others he had written. Impressed, Ellington said that he would send for Strayhorn. Before long, he called the young man to New York and launched a collaborative partnership that further … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Language.


Three cheers, five stars and a slap on the back for Sony. I was trapped interminably in the electronics company's voice mail system. Sony made up for it when I finally got a robot voice that said, Due to an unusually high volume of calls, all of our associates are busy with other customers. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. The robot did not say, as nearly all voice mail robots do, "... in the order it was received." A victory for clear … [Read more...]

Zeitlin Alone

Zeitlin, D., at piano

Into his waking hours Denny Zeitlin manages to work fly fishing, mountain biking, master-level wine connoisseurship, the practice of psychiatry and—let’s see, there was something else. Oh yes, he plays the piano. In his mid-seventies, Zeitlin shows no inclination to slow down in any of his pursuits, least of all at the keyboard. Following a remarkable recording debut with the flutist Jeremy Steig in 1963, the pianist went on to record frequently with trios that have included some of … [Read more...]

Other Places: Kirchner’s New School Concert

Kirchner thinking

Nearly two months ago, I alerted you to a concert that the soprano saxophonist Bill Kirchner was going to play on October 7 at the New School in New York City. I regretted that it was 3,000 miles away. Now, my regret is that I didn’t jump on a plane and attend. Fortunately for me and for you, fellow blogger Marc Myers of Jazz Wax was in the audience. For Marc, it was an easy trip. He lives in the neighborhood, give or take a few dozen long Manhattan north-south blocks. One of his recent posts is … [Read more...]

Thanksgiving 2014

This is a national holiday in the United States, important ever since the newly arrived Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag gave thanks in 1621. To Americans observing it, the Rifftides staff sends wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. To readers in the US and around the world: thank you for your interest, readership and comments, which are always welcome. … [Read more...]

It’s Nice To Go Traveling, But…

CD arrivals 112514

...The mailman and the UPS and Fedex folks bring bills, the junk mail that metastasizes around holidays, and—if you're in the reviewing game—recordings, lots of recordings. This was the start of unpacking two weeks' worth of packages containing dozens of CDs and a few audiophile LPs from record companies and artists hoping for reviews, mentions and votes in the polls that proliferate at the end of the year. There's a lot of (I hope) rewarding listening to do. It is impossible … [Read more...]

Paul Desmond At 90

Paul-Desmond at 90 # 2

Today is Paul Desmond's 90th birthday. Years after Paul's death, his guitar companion and good friend Jim Hall (1930-2013) said, "He would have been a great old man." The last birthday Desmond celebrated, his fifty-second, fell on Thanksgiving, 1976. He spent it with Jim and his wife Jane at their daughter's tiny apartment in New York City. He had taken a hiatus from his lung cancer therapy to play the Monterey Jazz Festival and an engagement at Barnaby Conrad's El Matador in San Francisco. From … [Read more...]

Vacation Shot(s) #2

Santa Barbar Beach

Near the windup of our visit to southern California, we took a walk along the beach in Santa Barbara. Not far from our host's house, we stood for a long time admiring the ocean and the sky's patches of blue expanding and contracting as the weather tried to make up its mind. In the third year of a drought, people were hoping for rain. They got sprinkles. Those dots on the far horizon near the middle of the photograph are oil rigs. Santa Barbara is a magnet for tourists and travelers. The … [Read more...]

Korb In Santa Barbara: Busman’s Holiday

Korb Trio, SB 111614

The Rifftides staff's vacation visit to California coincided with an appearance by Kristin Korb on her US tour. The bassist and singer appeared at a Santa Barbara Jazz Society concert at the downtown restaurant called Soho. Korb, pianist Magnus Hjorth and drummer Snorre Kirk were winding up a string of concerts that began in the state of Washington and took them south through Oregon and California. The tour ended tonight in San Diego. The Santa Barbara concert followed the outlines of Korb's … [Read more...]

Other Places: Marquis Hill’s Monk Institute Win

Clinton, Hancock

This news is five days old, but perhaps I’m not the only one who has been on the road and out of touch. The young Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill won the Thelonious Monk Institute’s big award. Charles Gans of the Associated Press included that fact as the final paragraph in his story about a retired tenor saxophonist and government official, seen above with pianist Herbie Hancock at the ceremony. For the full AP story, go here. For a sample of Hill’s work with his Blacktet, see the video … [Read more...]

Buddy Catlett, 1933-2014

Buddy Catlett

I was saddened to learn on the road that Buddy Catlett died yesterday. I remember him looking as he does in this photograph made around the time we were both involved in Seattle’s vibrant jazz community in the early-to-mid 1950s. He left town to work with a variety of large and small bands. By the end of the decade Buddy had joined the big band his childhood friend Quincy Jones took to Europe that also included Seattleites Floyd Standifer and Patti Bown. For an obituary, read the Seattle Times … [Read more...]

Vacation Note: Brother Thelonious And Friends

Brother Thelonious Ale

On the way south, we spent a couple of nights in Fort Bragg on the northern California coast. In addition to admiring the bird pictured in the post below, we took time to visit with Mark Ruedrich and Doug Moody. They are the president and senior vice president of the North Coast Brewery, the biggest—and by far the hippest—employer in that Mendocino County town, population 7,200. Among his other achievements, Brewmaster Ruedrich developed a Belgian ale inspired by a pianist (pictured) … [Read more...]

Vacation Shot # 1

Pacific gull

You never know who you'll run into when you're on vacation. This morning, this guy was on the balcony railing outside our room in Fort Bragg on Northern California's Mendocino coast. He's a Pacific Gull, I believe. He was good at looking hungry. We had nothing to contribute to his breakfast. … [Read more...]

Chet Baker And Bruce Jenner: Separated At Birth?

Chet BakerBruce Jenner 1

Sorry about the headline. While I waited in line at the supermarket, I was infected by tabloid newspapers. Jenner didn't play trumpet or sing. Baker is not known for decathlon victories. What he is famous for is captured in a video made in Laren, The Netherlands, in 1975, 13 years before his death. He was captured in concert with alto saxophonist Bob Mover, pianist Harold Danko, bassist Dave Shapiro and drummer Beaver Harris. The guest artist is soprano saxophonist and flutist Jacques … [Read more...]