Recently in main Category

Brand-new Henry Threadgill CD, Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (Pi Recordings) landed in my mailbox today! Actually, the forecast in NY is for continued rain. But that should be easier to bear thanks to Threadgill, whose every release momentarily shoves aside my work-at-hand--and especially since this new recording adds cellist Christopher Hoffman, thus returning Threadgill's Zooid band to its original sextet format. When I heard this edition of the group at Brooklyn's Roulette not too long ago, the interplay between Hoffman and guitarist Liberty Ellman was spectacular. 
Loading into my iTunes now...
Comes out June 26th.
May 22, 2012 11:07 AM |
Remember four years ago, when Obama was running for president and Sarah Palin mocked the very notion of a community organizer? 

The Jazz Journalists Association has what they call a blogathon going on through April 30th, and the theme is community. It's hard to write about jazz and not be thinking about community--my community and jazz's presence in it, and the many communities that gave rise to and sustain those who I interview, review and hear playing jazz. I could walk to and from each of Dr John's three weekly installments of a residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, thereby blending my actual community and my adoptive one, New Orleans (for Dr John, it's the reverse--born and raised in New Orleans' 3rd Ward, but adopted NYC as his hometown for a long stretch). I posted the last of my three reviews on the series today at the Village Voice "Sound of the City" blog: there are 2 previous installments, adding up to some 3,000 words for hardy readers. 

The New Orleans-New York connection is so vital that while down in New Orleans for a jazzfest trip, I'll end up missing one of NOLA's best players here in my own backyard.--saxophonist Donald Harrison at Symphony Space later this month. But I'll be back in time for the New Orleans Piano Kings Celebration at Dizzy's, spanning three generations with Ellis Marsalis, Henry Butler, and Jonathan Batiste. Meanwhile, when I'm in New Orleans, I'll continue my research into the fates of the communities that have long been the hothouses for the culture these pianists represent. 

What does a community mean to a musician? 
April 16, 2012 2:32 PM |

During Jeremy Lin's dizzying rise from obscurity to fame, before the New York Knick's promotion department had even printed the fan posters, the point guard had been held up as poster boy for a variety of things. Christian faithful pointed to his unabashed faith, fashioning him the successor to quarterback Tim Tebow on a touched-by-god run. Author Gish Jen reflected on his success with a New York Times Op-Ed. piece titled "Asian Men Can Jump." And Lin has become, for many, the newest little guy who can topple giants (in the NBA, that works even if you're 6'3").

But for me the message in the story of this undrafted benchwarmer who was about to be waived from his third team, a guy who two weeks ago was hoping to simply play in the NBA and now, suddenly, can harbor legitimate dreams of lasting stardom, is simply the fact that his ability to do what he's done--to score 20-plus points in six straight games, distribute 13 assists in a seventh, beat the Lakers in crunch time and then go one better by burying Toronto with a three-pointer in the waning second of regulation--eluded the many coaches, scouts and experts charged with evaluating talent and achievement potential.

February 17, 2012 10:50 AM |
Like so many music lovers, I'm mourning the death of Sam Rivers

I heard Sam play a few times, late in his life. Never back in the day, at the RivBea loft, though. 

But I do have a very clear memory of attending Jason Moran's sessions that led to his 2001 release Black Stars, at Systems Two in Brooklyn. Jason was maybe 25 at the time, Sam 77. Saxophonist Greg Osby, in whose band Moran played at the time, was producing. 

(I've described that scene below; Moran pointed out to me that these sessions were captured on video; about 4 minutes in is the action I'll describe here, the album's closing piece. There's also some nice commentary from Moran about what Rivers's presence meant to him.)

At one point, Moran walked over to Osby and said, "We're going to do a completely impovised piece, and Sam will start it on piano." Osby is one of those people who can raise one eyebrow without moving the other--I can't--and he did that in an exaggerated way. 

So Sam sat down and began playing, stuff some people would liken to Cecil Taylor for lack of better reference but really pools of pretty distinctive melody that decomposed here and there just like real pools of water when it starts to rain, and then some crashing stuff, and then, after a minute or so, with Sam working in the piano's middle register, Jason walked over and began playing in a slightly lower key, pretty much matching the trill on which Rivers had settled. Moran soon moved into a more structured harmonic territory, and with some of his own signature phrases. 
December 28, 2011 11:30 AM |

JAZZIZ Magazine
Cover Story, Winter 2011

Out of New Orleans 
The remarkable rise of Trombone Shorty

By Larry Blumenfeld 

Click on Winter Issue to Preview

Description: Description: C:\Users\JAZZIZ\Desktop\Winter 2012\Winter 2011 Website files\JZ_Wint2011_MagCDs.jpg

Hurricane Irene bore down on New York City in late August. The forecasts sounded dire. An email from a Long Island music club called Stephen Talkhouse announced that a scheduled performance by Trombone Shorty and his Orleans Avenue band was canceled. "Having lived through Katrina," the promoter explained, "they have opted to head home." 
A week later, having returned to New York, Troy Andrews -- Trombone Shorty's given name -- rubs the sleep from his eyes at a midtown Manhattan hotel. "Imagine that," he says, in a soft, direct voice. "A New Orleans musician going home to avoid a hurricane." The breakfast sandwich a publicist had provided sits untouched, either simply because Andrews isn't hungry or perhaps due to the disdain most people born and raised in New Orleans feel about food in cities other than their own.
Andrews knows a great deal about the threat of a hurricane. He's even better acquainted with the enduring lure of the unique characteristics, from food to music to the warmth of everyday life, that distinguish New Orleans. We'll never know precisely how many former residents of New Orleans remain displaced since the levees broke in 2005 despite wishes to return. But Andrews is among the many who did return. He was raised to be a musician, and in New Orleans that nearly always means, among other things, projecting what's special about your hometown through your work. Andrews has devised fresh ways of doing that. At 25, his nascent career beyond New Orleans is hot. Hence the bleary eyes. "We did a gangsta tour of Europe," he says. "Hard core -- 29 shows in 31 days with just about that many flights." 

December 20, 2011 11:50 AM |

Aside from his prowess as a drummer, his restless need to invent on the bandstand and his compassionate embrace of musical partners young and old, famous and not, Paul Motian, who died very early this morning at 80, was a real person. The kind you need to meet and sit with a while to understand. And then you get up and leave, feeling better and wiser in ways you can't yet process. Motian didn't want to meet with me for the July Cultural Conversation piece I wrote about him for The Wall Street Journal back in July. His stalwart and wonderful publicist, Tina Pelikan, finessed my way in. Motian told me up front how unhappy he was with his decision to do another interview. ("What haven't I said yet?") Then, two hours later, I could scarcely get him to stop his soft-spoken, stop-start, painterly flow of words, which were not entirely unlike his drumming.

I don't know if I'll write anything new in commemoration of Motian's life and career. I do know that I'm reflecting on it today, and that I welcome any news of memorial concerts or gatherings. Here's that Journal piece again:

November 22, 2011 1:03 PM |

Just a bit of reflection on hurtling balls of precipitation and anniversaries.

A email on Thursday from Long Island's Stephen Talkhouse informed me that, with Irene (then still a bona fide hurricane) on its way, last weekend's shows by Trombone Shorty and his Orleans Avenue band would be cancelled.

"Having lived through Katrina," the promoter explained, "they have opted to head home."

A New Orleans musician heading back home from New York to avoid a hurricane--to feel safe. Irony is only a few letters removed from Irene. It turned out that, for New Yorkers, Irene wasn't the monster it appeared to be--and could well have been. Not to dismiss the floods, blackouts, damages, costs, and even, up and down the East Coast, several losses of lives. But we were braced for something far more devastating and it looked real.

In my Brooklyn neighborhood, save for a few fallen trees, Irene was mostly just heavy rains and howling winds while holed up inside. But don't head to a hardware store the day before a forecast hurricane. There is the smell of panic. Flashlights? Gone. D Batteries? Sold out. Duct tape? Shoulda come yesterday.

Only days earlier, I'd been rethinking my plans, considering heading down to NOLA for what I hesitate to call an "anniversary" of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the precipitating event of the levee failures that caused the flood of 2005, leading to a manmade disaster of unprecedented and long-running proportion. It felt odd not to be covering the day for a newspaper or magazine, as I have each of the past six years, save for the one, three years ago, when my boy Sam was newborn. For me, the 29th is more than an anniversary or commemoration; rather, it has been a peg to draw national (and editors') attention to both the ongoing needs and glories of a city I've come to hold as dear as the family with which I was holed up.

August 29, 2011 1:15 PM | | Comments (1)

A quarterly magazine takes some time till publication. So here's my piece in the Winter issue of JAZZIZ, inspired by Sonny Rollins and, sort of, by my brother Leslie.

Blu Notes

Winter 2010

Sonny Skies

by Larry Blumenfeld

Pull quote: "It was a metaphysical experience, not a musical experience. You had to be there."

It was the best thing I'd ever done for my older brother Leslie -- a seventh-row seat to Sonny Rollins 80th birthday concert at New York's Beacon Theater in September. Back in the '70s, when I was listening to Billy Joel, Leslie was into modern jazz. I couldn't wrap my head around the music he listened to then -- Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Rollins. A few years later, while he was off studying music at college, I grew to appreciate those LPs enough to steal them before heading off for my sophomore year at Boston University.

Though he earns his living in computers in Jacksonville, Florida, Leslie remains a dedicated reedman, playing on weekends in wine bars and restaurants. (I like him best on tenor sax, Rollins' instrument of choice.) But he had never heard Rollins in person. So with Leslie turning 50 and Rollins turning 80, I figured it was time to get the former in front of the latter. Who knew how many more chances there'd be? I sprung for concert and plane tickets.

Rollins no longer performs in clubs. The Beacon show was his first in New York in three years, making it the sort of hot ticket rare these days in jazz. Rollins was billed with his working quintet, plus trumpeter Roy Hargrove, guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Christian McBride and "surprise special guests." Since Rollins' last New York concert, at Carnegie Hall, featured him in trio with McBride and drummer Roy Haynes, I suspected Haynes would be among the surprises. At least I hoped so. At Carnegie, Haynes and Rollins had maintained a musical dialogue loose as a barbershop conversation. For all his harmonic genius, Rollins' rhythmic prowess (and an adventurousness grounded in that ability) has been just as elemental to the brilliance of his epic solos. Haynes' driving and utterly organic brand of swing time -- which has anchored music by Louis Armstrong through Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and today's best -- is the perfect complement. I couldn't wait for another taste of that hookup. I happened to interview Haynes for an article about jazz families the day before the Rollins show. He confirmed that he'd be on the date. "And there's someone else, too," he said, eyes agleam. "Not gonna say who, though."

December 12, 2010 10:58 PM |

I've been back from Barcelona for more than a week, but it seems like yesterday.

If Barcelona is one of the world's most alluring cities--and it is--its Voll-Damm International Jazz Festival must be counted as one of the world's most distinctive and complete jazz events.

The audacious architectural achievements of Gaudí, the searching experimentalism of early works at the Picasso Museum, and the unexpected culinary inventions (what, for instance, Catalan chef Isma Prados can do with tomatoes, strawberries, and sardines) all figure into a novel context for great and adventurous music, and for concert-going in general. The "tenderness sutras," as he calls them, offered by saxophonist Charles Lloyd and his terrific quartet seemed especially radiant there, and both the intimacy and the ostentation of Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés's music were perfectly matched by his setting, the Palau de Música. Not to mention the graciousness of artistic director Joan Anton Cararach, a former music critic himself, his exceedingly lovely wife, Doan Manfugas, whose deeply felt ideas about music owe to her early training in Havana's finest conservatories, and the suave General Director Tito Ramoneda, whose dream of a cultural event linking his city with both New York and Rio de Janeiro seems just crazy enough to work.

December 3, 2010 12:43 PM |

So I'm finally stepping up as a sibling, doing something deep and grand: Flying my older brother Leslie, who happens to play tenor saxophone, to New York so that he can sit tomorrow night in the seventh row of the Beacon Theater, at the feet of Sonny Rollins. The occasion? Leslie's 50th and Sonny' 80th birthdays.

No saxophonist should walk through life without at least once listening in Rollins's presence. Hell, no human should. There is so much spiritual presence embedded in Rollins's sound, so much intellectual wonder invested in how he treats a melody, so much musical history referenced in his solos, and yet more--philosophy, politics, and a sense of social purpose--reflected in simply how he conducts himself on and off the stage.

Here's an interview I did with Rollins for The Village Voice, during which we dealt mostly with extra-musical affairs, including for instance why music is an appropriate response to terror. I'd also suggest this lovely piece, full of reminiscences of the Harlem in which Rollins grew up, by my colleague Marc Myers in The Wall Street Journal. 

August 9, 2010 10:17 AM |
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.