Thanks to President Barack Obama, January-February 2009 has been a great time for American popular music. It’s well known he’s got big ears.Â But Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and Herbie HancockÂ at theÂ Lincoln Memorial, Aretha Franklin singing at the Inauguration, Paul Simon and Esperanza Spaulding among those paying tribute to Stevie Wonder, winner of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize — who himself tore it up on “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” — Â at the WhiteÂ House!?! What other U.S. leader has so valued and spotlit our internationally popular vernacular music?
Archives for February 2009
The Master Musicians of Jajouka, a troupe from Morocco’s Rif Mountains, stretch anyone’s definition of “jazz.” They sure don’t make the cut according to alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who regaled the crowd attending his “Jazz Conversation” at the PDX Jazz Festival (Portland OR) with the opinion that he’s the only real “jazz” artist on the sched during the fest’s second weekend, dissing saxophonists Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Tom Scott, among others, as having “nothing to do with jazz” slighting Frank Morgan as a “phony” and Cannonball Adderley as “not all they said he was.”
A new hole in the safety net for jazz musicians: In an e-mail message sent February 18, Jazz Foundation of America executive director Wendy Oxenhorn reports:
Our magnificent E*TRADE Emergency Housing Fund has allowed us to pay rents and mortgages all these years when elderly musicians fell ill, and when Katrina struck. Because of this fund we have never lost anyone to homelessness or eviction in the past 8 years! What ETRADE did for us all these years was amazing but we have just been told that they can no longer support our program going forward. Without their contribution our Emergency Fund is now at an all time low.
The PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, OregonÂ last week began to garner good reviews for its programs, many of which celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Blue Note Records. Yet as the first major jazz festival of 2009, it may be the canary in the coalmine regarding effects of the economic downturn. Last fallÂ Alaska Airlines rescued the fest from folding after its major funder, Seattle-based Qwest Communications, pulled out, having been one of the decade’s 25-worst performing S&P 500 Index stocks. Now, according to PDX Jazz artistic director Bill Royston, severely disappointing ticket sales forced his cancellation of a major show scheduled for Friday 2/20 headlined by singer Cassandra Wilson,Â with pianist Jason Moran‘s band as an opening act.
Al Green, age 62, won two Grammy awards last week Â — Best R&B Performance by a Duo for “Stay with Me (By the Sea)”Â and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “You’ve Got The Love I Need” — and of course out-classed Justin Timberlake on the televised award program singing his 1972 classic “Let’s Stay Together.”Â
Eddie Palmieri, the genius and prophet of Afro-Caribbean jazz, showed Herbie Hancock, maybe Wynton Marsalis and certainly the roaring audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall a thing or three last weekend. His band La Perfecta II, reconstituting the instrumentation and compositions for mambo, cha-cha and pachanga dancing Palmieri introduced in 1961, blew the lid off the joint as I’ve heard no other band do since it opened in 2004, establishing Latin music’s clavÃ© rhythm for all time at the core of what Marsalis likes to call “the house that swing built.”Â
Attempts to revisit the music of an extraordinary improviser work all too infrequently, if “work” means evoking something close to the living presence of the player him-or-herself. This is true even when the tribute-payers are the tributee’s collaborators, bearing the best intentions.