MARCH 2021 DOWNBEAT 1
March 2021 VOLUME 88 / NUMBER 3
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4 DOWNBEAT MARCH 2021
ON THE COVER
20 Ethan Iverson Doing Bud Justice BY ED ENRIGHT DownBeat catches up with
pianist, educator and frequent blogger Ethan Iverson to discuss his big band commission for the 2018 Umbria Winter Jazz festival, documented on the new album Bud Powell In The 21st Century . The suite-like program draws upon Powell classics like “Bouncing With Bud,” “Celia” and “Tempus Fugit,” as well as Iverson’s own original material inspired by the DownBeat Hall of Famer’s frequently overlooked contributions to the classic bebop canon.
Ethan Iverson performs at the 2018 Umbria Jazz Winter festival in Italy. Cover photo of Ethan Iverson shot by Jimmy Katz in New York City.
26 Gretchen Parlato Renaissance in Bloom BY SUZANNE LORGE 30 Gary Bartz Bridging Generations BY DAVE CANTOR 35 Indie Life SARAH ELIZABETH CHARLES ALONZODEMETRIUS ARBORS RECORDS
44 Keith Jarrett
45 Angel Bat Dawid
49 Patricia Brennan
50 Kevin Sun
8 First Take 10 Chords & Discords 12 The Beat 13 Yoko Miwa
BRASS SCHOOL 54 Master Class By Sean Jones 56 Transcription
14 Joe Chambers 16 Billie Holiday
41 Reviews 61 Jazz On Campus 62 Blindfold Test Jason Palmer
Enrico Rava Trumpet Solo
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BY PAQUITO D’RIVERA
I VIVIDLY RECALL A CONVERSATION FROM THE EARLY 1980S, AT the end of a recording session at the Nola Studios in Manhattan. Some musicians were talking to the great Mario Bauzá (1911–’93) about the course the entertainment industry was taking in our ever-changing world. The musical director and co-founder of the iconic band Machito &His Afro-Cubans told us how, in the early ’40s, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk—and other young, enthusias- tic members of the bebop movement—had developed a highly creative, mostly instrumental style. It was totally different from the traditional jazz listened to by most audiences at the time. Bebop players dramatically altered the role of the singer. They virtu- ally replaced the romantic lyrics of their songs with the angular, dis- sonant inflections of scat singing, which evoked the sounds of instru- mentalists. Mario explained very convincingly that by taking away the vocals—and later on, the danceable aspect of the music—the new style became an exquisitely hip and modern art form, but one that was elit- ist and exclusive. The new style was embraced by writers, photographers, poets, painters and intellectuals of the time, moving the music further and further away from the most popular ballrooms, home parties and commercial radio stations. It has been nearly four decades since that enlightening discussion with the legendary Cuban musician, and throughout the years, I have heard so many colleagues complain that jazz seldom is broadcast on radio or TV, nor is it taught widely enough in schools, and that students (and sometimes their teachers) believe that Louis Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon. So, we should remember the seeds of elitism that we sowed, how we alienated listeners in a way that led to jazz becoming—and I see nothing wrong with it—a minority-group activity, much like symphonism, avant-garde music, minimalism, opera, ballet, skydiving and swimming with sharks. Jazz is, and always will be, an important part of America’s cultural contributions to the world. Speaking ill of this country has been a fair- ly widespread practice in certain artistic and intellectual circles. But the undeniable reality is that today, the SFJAZZ Collective in San Francisco, the Jazz Masters fellowship program of the National Endowment for the Arts, and, above all, the monumental and unique project that is Jazz at Lincoln Center—driven by the perseverance and persuasive power of the ineffable Wynton Marsalis and his formidable team—completely refute the exaggerated concept that “Jazz is too good for America.” The truth is that jazzmay not be very popular among themasses—it’s true in the Bronx as in Nicaragua, Poland or Kampuchea—but it is nev- ertheless one of the clearest examples of individuality, independence and democracy. Therefore, its appreciation must be strictly voluntary, never imposed or obligatory. DB Too Good for America? Paquito D’Rivera
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Humor Belongs in Jazz When did DownBeat declare open season on the reputation of its writers? How else, then, to explain your publi- cation of a mean-spirited letter by a reader named Bob Oberg in your January issue (“No Patience for Puns”). Oberg attacks the author of a piece on Charles McPherson, in which said author makes a harmless pun about the saxophon- ist’s range of talent in composing both jazz and music for a ballet company (“Charles McPherson Takes A Leap,” December). Oberg ridicules your writer by suggest- ing that he or she was under the influence of drugs when they wrote the article. Oberg, tellingly, closes his letter by referring to jazz as “our deadly serious art form.” If there’s one thing talented jazz musi- cians through the generations have appre- ciated—from Duke Ellington to Charles Min- gus to Art Tatum and even the cantankerous Miles Davis—it’s that humor can, at times, be just as “deadly serious” a musical compo- nent as anything else. People like Oberg need to get off their collective high horse, and DownBeat needs to be more protective and respectful toward its dedicated writers. Friends & Icons I want to express a multitude of accolades for your coverage and spotlight on the pass- ing of master percussionist and NEA Jazz Master Cándido Camero in your January issue. I amquite fortunate and privileged to have shared the stage with Baba Cándido, and we enjoyed a wonderful friendship. In your article, when listing the extraordinary artists associ- ated with Cándido, you omitted an extremely important person: NEA Jazz Master Dr. Randy Weston (1926–2018). Masters Randy and Cándido had a long and intimate history of making incredible music. Their musical dialogue started in 1960 with the iconic album Uhuru Afrika , continued with the 1973 album Tanjah (which featured Cándido as a percussionist and narrator) and culminated with the 2016 release The African Nubian Suite .
Percussionist Cándido Camero (1921–2020) frequently collaborated with pianist Randy Weston.
As a member of Dr. Weston’s group Afri- can Rhythms for 38 years, I was always over- whelmed with joy when Cándido augmented our band. One such highlight was at Carnegie Hall a couple of years before Randy’s passing. Long live the spirit and musical legacy of Cándido de Guerra Camero.
T.K. BLUE JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY
music that you do choose to review. To my ears, it all sounds like a 1960s Miles Davis re- hash. The writing is mediocre, and they all sound alike. The musicians are clearly high- ly trained, and the recording technology is wonderful, but the players lack soul. Mostly, I go back to my old records.
JAMES MORTON JAMES.MORTON8@COMCAST.NET
The Talented Few As a pianist, bassist and former resident of Cleveland, I want to pay tribute to pianist and Cleveland native Bobby Few, who died on Jan. 6. Before moving to New York and then to Europe, Few established himself as one of Cleveland’s finest and most dedicated jazz musicians. He was known, respected and loved by the inner core of the city’s jazz community, and he will be remembered for his uncompromising and infectious love of post-bop, avant-garde jazz and world music.
RAMA KUMAR RAMAKUMARJONES@GMAIL.COM
Historical Value Is there some reason you have completely stopped reviewing historical jazz releases? So much great new/old music is being re- leased on labels like Corbett vs. Dempsey, Hat Hut, Resonance and others. Sun Ra alone is somehow releasing more music now than when he was on this planet! Your younger readers deserve to know about all this.
CHARLES WINOKOOR FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS
Lack of Innovation? I would like to riff on Dwight L. Wilson’s letter published in your December issue (“Fewer Black Artists in Reviews?”). I am a Black man who is longtime reader of DownBeat. I, too, have noticed the lower number of Black artists in the Reviews section over the decades. That is not my real issue, though: My problem is the lack of innovation in the
TONY ALEXANDER MIAMI, FLORIDA
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10 DOWNBEAT MARCH 2021
News Views FromAround The MusicWorld
14 / JoeChambers 16 / BillieHoliday 19 / DaynaStephens
tional conga player. I was a bebop conga player,” Thomas said. “Most bandleaders expect all conga players to do the same thing, to just play Latin licks for their entire lives, and that’s incredibly boring for me. Monty always let me be myself.” Bubba’s Jazz Restaurant was a supper club that brought A-list musicians to Florida. The month before Alexander’s two-week residency there, however, it had reduced its jazz program- ming 50 percent; management hoped that bring- ing in pop acts would revive its sagging bottom line. It didn’t: Bubba’s closed in 1983. Yet, Alexander and the band packed the seats, playing high-octane, straightahead jazz (“Love You Madly,” “SKJ”), purebred blues (“Blues For Edith”) and infusions with calyp- so (“Fungii Mama”). According to Alexander, even the reggae-tinged rendition of Christopher Cross’s 1981 smash hit, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” was no concession to the pop mainstream: “I was playing what I liked. It was an era when jazz still had that ‘street corner’ vitality to it. Not to say that ‘Arthur’sTheme’ was street-corner music, but it was a movie theme— part of the fabric of what was going on.” The set was recorded by Mack Emerman (1923–2013), founder of Miami’s legendary Criteria Recording Studios. He brought his remote recording equipment, set it up in Bubba’s, and gave Alexander the tape at the end of the night.The pianist put it on a shelf, never listening to it. A few years ago, when Resonance’s George Klabin asked Alexander whether he had any- thing they might work on together, the pianist exhumed the tape. Even then, he didn’t listen. “[Klabin] told me it was one of the best he’d heard in terms of sound,” Alexander recalled. “Andwhen I checked it out, it remindedme ofmy favorite live albums—where you could hear the music, but also the energy of the crowd.” Love You Madly does more than provide a glimpse into one of Alexander’s neglected profes- sional high points, though. It proves that it was a creative high point, too. —Michael J. West
The music on Monty Alexander’s new live album, Love You Madly , was recorded in 1982.
Alexander Hits a High Note on ‘Love’
I n the early 1980s, pianist Monty Alexander was a huge draw for jazz clubs and festivals. His hard-swinging style, spiced with musi- cal elements from his native Jamaica, kept him in demand all over the world. So high was the demand, in fact, that he had neither much need nor much desire tomake albums. “I neverwent out ofmyway to recordmyself,” Alexander said. “I didn’t live in a world where you’re trying to document. You’re just going from joint to joint, from gig to gig.” While Alexander appeared on at least a dozen recordings between 1980 and 1982, most are credited to collabora- tors like bassist Ray Brown or vibraphonist Milt Jackson. However, a newly released recording from Aug. 6, 1982, sheds light on what previously was an underdocumented phase of Alexander’s career as a leader. LoveYouMadly: LiveAt Bubba’s (Resonance), chronicles a gig at a restaurant in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Alexander led a fierce quartet—bassist Paul Berner, drummer Duffy Jackson and conguero Robert Thomas Jr.—that was brimming with creativity and enthusiasm, not tomention chops. “That was fun,” recalled Thomas, who still works frequently with Alexander. “That night was just high energy, every single song. It was just an incredible night of music.” Under his own auspices, Alexander led his own combos. “I would have fabulous musicians who—and I say this proudly—all seemed to love the idea of playing with Monty Alexander,” he said. “They knew that we were going to play music that meant something, but more than that, that the usual resolution of the music was going to be happy.”The size and personnel of the bands varied, but they tended to include Jackson and Thomas as their rhythmic powerhouse. “Monty understood that I was not a tradi-
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Miwa Finds Focus Amid Pandemic Lonely Hours”—with its delicate, upper-register opening pizzicato solo by Slater—in full aware- ness of her father’s deteriorating health. “I sat down and played, and it just came up fromme,” Miwa explained.
W hat Yoko Miwa has gone through during the coronavirus pandemic will sound familiar to a lot of other working musicians: gigs canceled, recording sessions postponed, recitals livestreamed, les- sons remote. For the Boston-based pianist, the stress was compounded by tragedy: the illness and death of her father in Japan, at a time when she was unable to be with her family. Remarkably, Miwa emerged from those first months of the pandemic with a new record- ing by her trio, her ninth, which, given the cir- cumstances is remarkably upbeat and affirma- tive, living up to the album’s title, Songs Of Joy (UbuntuMusic). It wasn’t easy. For starters, the band, which was accus- tomed to playing at least twice weekly at residen- cies in the Boston area, went into the studio cold, after four months apart, for a date that ended up including five new originals by the bandleader. And, of course, there were the necessary proto- cols for collaborating during a pandemic. “I was really nervous for two weeks before,” Miwa said. “Would we be safe?” Will Slater, the band’s longtime bassist, now living inNewYork, usually would stay at the home of Miwa and her husband, the trio’s drummer, Scott Goulding. This time, they booked Slater a hotel room for the day of rehearsal and three days of recording, in July. “We brought hand sanitizer, and extra masks for everybody,” Miwa recalled. “[Typically,] when we perform, we like to be as close as possible.” But under these circumstanc- es, the players had to set up as far apart fromone another as they could. But there’s no sound of strain on Songs Of Joy ,whichkicksoffwitharoaring,McCoyTyner- esque version of Richie Havens’ “Freedom,” inspired by that singer-songwriter’s iconic per- formance atWoodstock.Miwa’s taste for unlike- ly covers of ’60s and ’70s pop also comes through in her reflective take on the Anne Bredon tune popularized by Led Zeppelin, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (with bassist Brad Barrett in place of Slater) and on Billy Preston’s “Song Of Joy,” which Sheila Jordan introduced to her at one of the legendary singer’s annual gigs with theMiwa trio in Cambridge. To stay focused during the pandemic, Miwa gave herself the assignment of writing a tune every day, running them by Goulding for feed- back. Those sessions produced the hard-bop swing of “Small Talk,” the Latin rhythms of “The Rainbirds” (inspired by Kenny Barron), the hooky melodic riff of “Largo Desolato” and the Bill Evans-like impressionism of “Inside A Dream.” Miwa describes her process as driven by mood and emotion. She wrote the pensive “The
In addition to writing every day during the first months of the pandemic, Miwa lives- treamed Facebook performances every Friday and Saturday, drawing some interesting audi- ences. “I’d be looking at the comments,” recalled Goulding, who acted as cameraman, “and I’d say, ‘Yoko, George Cables is watching now. ... Kenny Barron is watching now.’” As an associate professor at Berklee College of Music, Miwa has been teaching remotely, with individual students connecting from their homes around the world. “I actually enjoyed it,” she said. “I set up two cameras, so students could see my hands on the keyboard, and I sent themrecordings after the lesson. ... And students would sometimes walk around their house with the camera. I’d see their families, and they’d showme their pets. It’s kind of fun.” Still the fallout from the pandemic has been rough. Miwa saw numerous gigs postponed or canceled, including a show at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center and a performance at the Ella Fitzgerald Competition at the National
Yoko Miwa recorded her trio album Songs Of Joy during the pandemic.
Mall, in Washington, D.C. Plus, the home of one of Miwa’s regular weekly gigs, Boston’s Les Zygomates bistro, has closed permanently. All the more reason Miwa was glad to get into a recording studio: “I was so happy to be playing with my trio again. Even though I was very nervous about the situation, at the same time, the joy, the happiness came from our music.” —Jon Garelick
MARCH 2021 DOWNBEAT 13
Joe Chambers Heads Back to Blue Note
MALLET MASTER AND COMPOSER JOE Chambers found his footing in 1963, when he moved to New York and built a reputation as a first-call drummer for Blue Note’s stable of stars, among them Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson. “I didn’t really learn how to play until I came to New York,” Chambers, 78, said during December fromhis home inWilmington, North Carolina. “I learned what swing was all about, what drive was all about.” It was an unfortunate coincidence that, in March, just as he had returned to the Big Apple to record his first Blue Note album in 22 years, the pandemic hit the city andhe had tohead back to the relatively safer confines of hisWilmington home. “NewYork got ridiculous with the virus,” he explained. “I said, ‘Later for that.’” But all was not lost. Determined todeliver his album, he replaced New York pianist Rick Germanson and bassist Ira Coleman—both of whom appeared on his previous album, 2016’s Landscapes (Savant)—with, respectively, North Carolina-based Brad Merritt and Steve Haines. In April, Haines said, he and Merritt received notes on themusic fromChambers. In June, fully masked and socially distanced, they laid down tracks in a North Carolina studio. The album, Samba DeMaracatu , is set to be released Feb. 26. “Because of the virus everything was sort of thrown together,” Haines lamented, even as he praised Chambers’ ability to draw on his expe- rience and fashion a satisfying outcome. “The thing about Joe is, he’s got a tremendous width and depth of knowledge of music.” That knowledge is reflected throughout the nine-track collection as Chambers—his vibra- phone and percussion, layered over previous- ly recorded piano, bass and drums—recalls key collaborations. The disc revisits “Visions,” from Hutcherson’s album Spiral . On the new record- ing, Chambers, behind the vibes, reveals a rich tone and modernist sensibility that echo without imitating his former boss. “Bobby always had his own sound on the instrument, more than Milt [Jackson] or Lionel Hampton, from the old school,” he said. Chambers took up the vibraphone in 1970, whenMax Roach asked him to join his new per- cussion ensembleM’Boom. Under Roach’s guid- ance, Chambers and the group’s other mem- bers gathered at Warren Smith’s studio on West 21st Street in Manhattan for a year of Saturdays to become proficient on a range of percussion instruments. Chambers, whose first instrument was piano, took to the vibes immediately. “It was just amatter of getting the sticking,” he said.
Grammys Rescheduled: The Grammy Awards will be presented onMarch 14, and a portion of the ceremonywill be broadcast live by CBS. Big band leaders John Beasley andMaria Schneider, pianist Gerald Clayton and trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah are among the artists who have receivedmultiple nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. After initially announcing that the ceremonywould take place Jan. 31, the RecordingAcademy an- nounced on Jan. 5 that the datewould be changed, citing pandemic health concerns. grammy.com Graves Returns: Keyboardist and com- poser CameronGraves returns with Seven , his sophomore album, slated for a Feb. 19 release onArtistryMusic. Like his 2017 de- but, Planetary Prince , the forthcoming disc features contributions fromsaxophonist Kamasi Washington. mackavenue.com InMemoriam: Pianist JuniorMance , an Illinois-born artist who performedwith everyone fromDizzy Gillespie and Lester Young toDinahWashington and Joe Williams, has died at the age of 92. “Hewas just as happy holding court at the piano in his college classroomas hewas playing for audiences in swanky clubs in Europe,” saxophonist AndrewHadrowrote in an email toDownBeat. “I learnedmore from himthan just about anyone, yet I never felt like hewas trying to teach.” Final Bar: Frank Kimbrough , a pianist, composer, educator and longtimemember of theMaria Schneider Orchestra, diedDec. 30 inQueens at age 64. ... French jazz pia- nist Claude Bolling diedDec. 29 at the age of 89near Paris. ... Cleveland-born pianist Bobby Few , who led his own dates, record- edwithAlbert Ayler and Steve Lacy, and left the States behind for a life in France, died Jan. 6 in Paris at age 85. ... Howard John- son , a tuba player andmulti-instrumentalist who led groups and spent five years in the Saturday Night Live house band, diedJan. 11 inHarlemat theageof 79.
Percussionist Joe Chambers, 78, had returned to New York to record a Blue Note leader date just as the pandemic hit the city.
On Samba De Maracatu , that labor is still bearing fruit on a Chambers contribution to M’Boom’s book, “Circles.”The tune appeared on M’Boom’s 1984 album Collage , and Chambers’ new treatment parallels the format of the earlier version, employing a Bahian rhythmwithmixed meters, modal harmony and a sonorous impro- visation in which the overdubbed vibraphone and piano play “together.” If the new album has an outlier it is “New York State Of Mind Rain.”The tune brings to the fore a fragment of Chambers’ “Mind Rain” that rapper Nas sampled for his 1994 hit “N.Y. State Of Mind.” The tune first was heard as a mind- bending keyboard duet with organist Larry Young on 1977’s Double Exposure . The new album’s spin-off, a belated response to Nas, incorporates a rap that, while smartly penned by his son, Fenton Chambers, and slickly executed by MC Parrain, does not herald a new direction for the elder Chambers. “I’m not a fan of rap or hip-hop,” he said. “I understand it. It’s not new.” Instead, a stylistic counterweight is singer Stephanie Jordan’s dreamy take on “Never Let Me Go.” Floating over Chambers’ subtle bole- ro, Jordan’s voice projects the kind of captivating appeal that could landher a spot in a future large- scale recording project of Chambers’—pending, he said, the easing of public-health concerns. “If we get past this,” he said of the pandemic, “I do want to do an orchestral record, with per- cussion and singer and everything.” —Phillip Lutz
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MARCH 2021 DOWNBEAT 15
“Clarke and Blackburn were how I first dis- covered their existence,” Erskine said from his home near Norfolk, England. Several years ago, producer Barry Clark- Ewers asked Erskine if there were any film proj- ects he had in mind. He thought at once of Holiday. The problem was finding a fresh frame for a familiar story. Erskine thought about the Kuehl tapes and wondered if they still existed. “I tried half-heartedly myself to find them,” Erskine recalls, “but I wasn’t successful. Barry, on the other hand, was very good at finding obscure things and people. It took him just a couple of months. “Theywere 40- and 50-year-old cassettes that hadn’t been played in years,” Erskine continued. “When we made a deal to use them, we wanted to make sure we weren’t spending a lot of money on nothing. So, we took them to a studio in New York and had a specialist review them. And, sure enough, some snapped and had to be rebuilt.The first tape we heard was Charles Mingus with his deep, gravelly voice, so rich in atmosphere. And especially there were the voices of street hustlers from the ’30s that are largely lost to history.” Erskine and Clark-Ewers realized they had come upon a virgin treasure trove of audio testi- mony that would yield a unique dual biography: one of Holiday and the other of Kuehl. “I wanted to frame the film through the veri- similitude of Linda’s journey in the 1970s,” Erskine said, “her own process of getting close to Billie. But there were more than 200 hours of often sprawling conversations. So, I needed some sort of rigor in choosing what to use. What I decided was, I would only allow people to speak if they were either relating an event to which they were an eyewitness, or if they were relating a con- versation they had with Billie where she related an event. I was trying to minimize the amount of hearsay.” That became the essential structure of the film. But where did Kuehl fit in? “She was one of the draws for me,” Erskine explained. “But it wasn’t apparent to me at the beginning how I would be able to weave her own story intoBillie’s. Indeed, when I first spoke to the family, they said they had no photos of her.Then, when I visited their house and went into the den, there were thousands of home movies. We were able to restore them and add a visual portrait of Linda to remind you of whowas asking the ques- tions. And what perspective is she coming from? Shewas a feministwhowanted to exploreBillie as a female artist and not one purely defined by the lines drawn around her by men. I thought it was really interesting to allow her to take us through those tapes and the questions she chose to ask. It gives the story an inner voice from Linda’s perspective.” Erskine covers the audio interludes visually with close-ups of cassettes being slotted into and out of tape decks—in a sense, visual symbols of
A new documentary about Billie Holiday (seen here with pianist Bobby Tucker) includes photos and film clips that have been digitally colorized by Marina Amaral.
Billie Holiday Documentary Chronicles 2Women’s Lives
who had ever crossed Holiday’s path and would talk about her. During the next 10 years, she recorded more than 200 hours of cassette inter- views with both the famous and the forgotten— musicians, police officers, classmates, lovers, pimps, abusers, managers, rescuers and bystand- ers. Taken together, the interviews contain much speculation, many generalities and abundant dis- agreements; each witness had formed his or her ownmyths about Holiday by then. Kuehl recorded her final interview in November 1977, two years after the publication of John Chilton’s Billie’s Blues , the first import- ant Holiday biography. But Kuehl didn’t survive to complete her book. She died unexpectedly in April 1978, a suspected suicide. The cassettes and Kuehl’s notes survived and were sold by her family a decade later to a New Jersey collector named Toby Byron. Their secrets aged in a kind of limbo. Knowledge of their exis- tence circulated within a tight circle of Holiday experts, one of whom, Donald Clarke, gained access to them for his 1994 biography, Wishing on the Moon . Eleven years later, Julia Blackburn drew heavily on them for her book With Billie , which is virtually a transcript of the interviews.
SHE IS PERHAPS THE MOST INTENSELY chronicled figure in jazz history. The details of her short, sad life are by now engraved in gran- ite. But in the new documentary Billie , director James Erskine devises a Citizen Kane -like angle through which to convey a familiar tale: It is a biography within a biography in which he tells the story of journalist Linda LipnackKuehl’s long quest to unlock Billie Holiday’s story. Kuehl was a 14-year-old with a middle-class Bronx background when, in the early ’60s, she discovered the Verve LP The Essential Billie Holiday . The 1956 Carnegie Hall concert record- ing was an epiphany and cast a spell. “A strange voice,” she reflects in the film, “more real and true than I’d ever heard. I hadno choice. I had to listen to where that voice came from.” Her search begins several years later and becomes the film’s parallel plot line.The literature on Holiday was still slim then. William Duffy’s Lady Sings the Blues was the only book in print. But many of Holiday’s contemporaries were still alive. A “real and unsentimental” biography was waiting to be written, andKuehl believed she was the one to write it. She began seeking out anyone
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Kuehl’s presence. Two things stand out about the accompany- ing visuals. While many appear in black-and- white, others are carefully colorized, giving them a fresh life without detaching them from their time. Overall, the quality of the imag- es is astonishing. Especially striking is the first moving image we have of Holiday, when she sings “Saddest Tale” in the famous 1935 Duke Ellington short Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life . Long available on YouTube in second- and third-generation dubs, here the 19-year-old Holiday jumps off the screen with a level of visual shading and detail never before seen. Erskine wisely lets it play in black-and- white. Similarly pristine is Holiday and Count Basie’s octet froma smartly colorized 1950 short. “The decision to colorize was partly artistic and partly financial,” Erskine noted. “It is ridic- ulously expensive and difficult. ... In choosing to colorize or not, I didn’t want to be bound by the limited technology of the day, which was forcing us into black-and-white. Billie lived in a full-col- or world in the ’30s and ’40s, and [digital color- ist] Marina Amaral’s colorization of the stills is amazing.” Early in the film, Tony Bennett strikes a tone of ineluctable doom, musing, “Why do all girl singers crack up when they hit the top?” Despite the sweeping sexism of his premise, he sounds a familiar note in the literature onHoliday. In pur- suing an answer, Erskine necessarily finds him- self confined to the darker paths that Kuehl fol- lowed in her interviews, which narrate the story. By the ’60s and ’70s, when Kuehl’s search was underway, that darkness had been baked into Holiday’s identity for more than 25 years. “Linda may have discovered Billie as a tragic figure,” Erskine speculated. “But based on her notes andmanuscripts, I don’t think that was the story shewas trying todo. Shewas trying to exca- vate why this woman’s issues led where they did. Shewanted towalk that journeyandremindpeo- ple what was beautiful about Billie and explain how such a beautiful flower could be so crushed.” Kuehl’s quest led to interviews with a fasci- nating, extensive cast of characters: Count Basie, trombonist Melba Liston, guitarist Barney Kessel, record producers John Hammond and Milt Gabler, dancer/singer Marie Bryant, night- club owner Barney Josephson and even Jimmy Fletcher, the narcotics agent who helped engi- neer Holiday’s 1947 arrest for heroin. Kuehl’s persistent efforts to understand her subject broke newground that others, likeClarke and Blackburn, would build on and weave into existing Holiday lore. The irony seemed to come with a price. “I found it uncanny,” Erskine pondered, “that a female biographer of Billie Holiday— her first female biographer—should find herself tragically dead before she tells her story. There’s something about that dangerous world that Billie
inhabited and that Linda entered into that lends itself to this sort of noir ending.” Kuehl’s journey into that dark world provides a dramatic minor- key counterpart that in some ways echoes and amplifies the major storyline. Billie:The Original Soundtrack (Verve) offers a compilation of the most popular music fea- tured in the film, all of which has been previ- ously issued. Versions of “Strange Fruit” and “Fine And Mellow” come from the original Commodore sessions, while other selections originated on Verve andMGM albums.
The soundtrack offers nothing from Holiday’s classic 1935–’41 body of work or the later Decca period that made her popular. Erskine noted that studio sessions were not his focus. “Billie’s preeminence was as a performer,” he said. “I wanted to be able to see Billie perform because there’s not a lot of film or video where we can see her singing to us. Part of the joy of the film is to have an evening with Billie, where she stands in front of you and sings to you.” —JohnMcDonough
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certainly in the classical realm. But they’re not known in jazz. One of the things I had in mind was to identify music that was clearly recognized as classical. My charge to the orchestrators was to find a fresh take on things that were very familiar inother genres and reimagine it ina jazz context.” The “orchestrators” to which Young referred are the arrangers JayAshby, Darryl Brenzel, Scott Silbert, Mike Tomaro and Steve Williams, who all are represented in the 10-track program. Not all of the choices are obscure. “Times Square Ballet” (from On The Town ), opens the album, welcoming the listener with a familiar tune, wrapped in Silbert’s Ellingtonish blend of swinging brass and reeds, and invites the listen- er deeper into Bernstein’s lesser-known world. “I’ve studied Ellington and love to play those plunger trombone parts,” said Jennifer Krupa, who divides her time between the SJMO brass section and her role as the musical director for the Commodores, the premier jazz band of the U.S. Navy. “It was thrilling to take some of the Ellingtonelements andapply themto a complete- ly different composer.” Young explained that Bernstein came of age during the height of the great 1930s swing bands and “couldn’t help but be influenced by the har- monic innovation that was becoming a part of jazz then.” Yet, most of Bernstein’s music is com- pletely overlooked by the jazz community. “In revisiting his work to find what might speak to the jazz audience,” Young explained, “I got past the more lyrical melodic material and moved into the emotional and harmonic corners of his music. If you can get past the simpler ele- ments, then you see new possibilities. The music I chose was primarily for its emotional impact. A piece like ‘Postlude,’ from A Quiet Place , is rich and compelling for that reason. Does it lend itself to jazz? Absolutely. Especially when you think about how jazz colorations expanded in the 1940s, when so much of the impact was felt in its harmonic palette.” Young believes that Bernstein had to be caught up in these influences. The album, which was recorded in 2018 at Bias Studios in Springfield, Virginia, present- ed unique challenges for the players, because the music was new to the jazz world. “It wasn’t like a Basie or Ellington program,” Krupa said. “How do we play it? Do we swing certain figures? How much? In what manner? The music had never been done before. It demanded more investiga- tion, because it had no history to draw on. So, we relied on or own educated guesses. We had a bunch of rehearsals and performed two concerts, which gave us a chance to live with it. But to this day, I can hear things I might do differently.” Young and the musicians are hopeful that an SJMO tour will be possible after the COVID-19 pandemic is more under control. Until that day arrives, Bernstein Reimagined will spark listen- ers’ imaginations and help extend the maestro’s remarkable legacy. —JohnMcDonough
Charlie Young conducts the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
Lesser-Known Bernstein Works Spotlit by SJMO
Jazz), which rushes in where jazz has seldom feared to tread, showcasingpieces that rarelyhave been performed in a jazz setting. In 2018, Young used the occasion of Bernstein’s centennial to revisit the compos- er’s catalog and possibly expand the range of the jazz repertoire—which, for some time, has been caught in something of a stalemate between older jazz standards of the Great American Songbook, and a torrent of new material created by musi- cians that very few listeners know. “I did look for more obscure Bernsteinmate- rial initially,” Young said, “but only because I didn’t want to do another West Side Story album. As I looked into his work, I looked for interest- ing music. ‘Dream With Me’ might be consid- ered obscure because it was cut from the [1950 Broadway] production of Peter Pan . Others, like ‘Chichester Psalms’ and the Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront are pretty well known,
“JAZZ IS A VERY BIG WORD,” COMPOSER- conductor Leonard Bernstein assured us when he explained jazz to America in the second of his famous CBS Omnibus programs in October 1955. But over the years, it never was quite big enough to embrace Bernstein himself, who admired it, advocated for it, occasionally fel- low-traveled with it but inhabited its sensibili- ties like an interplanetary tourist skipping eager- ly fromone landmark to the next. With a few exceptions, the jazz world has looked upon Bernstein from a similarly respect- ful but remote perspective that included a few tunes from West Side Story but little else. That’s one of the reasons why Charlie Young—artistic director and conductor of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra—dove into Bernstein’s oeuvre and found fresh possibilities in unexpect- ed places. The result is Bernstein Reimagined (MCG
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Dayna Stephens Fulfills Long-Held Dreams
Street and drummer Eric Harland, he shows off his talent for building complex musical struc- tures—absent any chordal scaffolding. Stephens borrowed from Liberty and his pre- vious eight albums as a leader to create the set lists for his 2019 Vanguard residency, a six-night stint with Street, pianist Aaron Parks and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The live recording captures the quartet in deep concentration on more than a dozen tunes: Parks’ comping with open, nuanced chords on “Ran”; Street’s exacting, full-bodied solo on “Loosy Goosy”; Hutchinson’s deftly punctuat- ed swing on “Lesson One”; and Stephens’ clever, monotone motion on “JFK International.” Such moments reveal how carefully Stephens’ ensem- ble executes his concepts. By the time of the residency, Stephens already was a Vanguard veteran, having played there in groups alongside Barron every year since 2007. These annual gigs led, eventually, to an invita- tion to helm his own troupe at the club. “Getting a chance to play there as a leader was a special thing,” he said. “Every time I enter that room, I become like a kid.” On Feb. 12 and 13, Stephens will return to that room to launch Right Now! via the club’s livestream. For the saxophonist, at top of mind is
SAXOPHONIST DAYNA STEPHENS’ WORLD- view differs from that of most people. As the survivor of a rare kidney disease, he understood the threat of the impending global pandemic earlier than most. “At the beginning [of the outbreak], I was really freaked out, because I’m on immunosuppressant drugs to keep the kidney I received,” he recalled. “I had a gig with [pianist] Kenny Barron in Atlanta ... and I was afraid to get on an airplane. So, I drove fromNew York to Atlanta.” Those early, uncertain days of the global health crisis proved transformative for the pro- lific multi-instrumentalist. Six months earlier, he had topped the category Rising Star–Tenor Saxophone in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll. And in February 2020, he launched Liberty , his first record for saxophone trio, released on his own label, Contagious Music. He was planning to self-release Right Now! Live At The Village Vanguard , the triumphal recording of his first run as a leader at the fabledWest Village jazz club, in April. “But with the pandemic, it didn’t seem right to release anything,” he said. Stephens had recorded these two career-ex- panding albums, each the fulfillment of a long-held dream, a month apart in early 2019. On Liberty , a spacious recording with bassist Ben
Dayna Stephens has released two career-expanding albums during the past year.
how much has changed since then—technologi- cally, professionally and personally. “There’s an upside to being there on the stage [via streaming], inside of the music, with great sound. It’s like having a front rowseat,” hemused, recalling the many videos of Vanguard perfor- mances that have influenced him. “For us musi- cians, though, it’s not quite the same. The live interaction with the crowd isn’t there.” But in some ways, he sees less interaction as a positive thing: “[The pandemic] has been a great time for self-reflection. I’ve learned that I need to spendmore time [at home], to chill andmeditate. With that in mind, I don’t know if I’ll be out as much, touring and playing.” —Suzanne Lorge
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Whenever Ethan Iverson takes on a repertory project, his goal is to do two things simultaneously. “One side is to play it like the composer would want,” said the Brooklyn-based pianist, a New York transplant from Menomonie, Wisconsin, who turns 48 on Feb. 11. “And then the other side is, you’ve got to make it very fresh and do something new. Both things are true. But you’ve got to choose your places for one or the other.”
I verson faithfully stuck to both self-imposed standards in creating Bud Powell InThe 21st Century , a large-scale work that originated as a series of three commissioned performances for the 2018 Umbria Winter Jazz festival in Italy. Now, a recording culled from those shows is being released as a live album on the Sunnyside label. Iverson’s career has always struck a balance between the presentation of contemporary works and jazz history. Consider his long stint as a founding member of The Bad Plus (from 2000–2017) alongside his frequent ruminations on jazz icons of yesteryear in his blog Do the Math. In recent years, Iverson has immersed himself in the world of large productions and specially commissioned works. In addition to leading the Powell project, he curated Duke University’s 10-day MONK@100 event, put together an overview of the British jazz scene for the London Jazz Festival, wrote a piano concerto for the American Composers Orchestra, and arranged and composed Beatles-related con-
tentfortheMarkMorrisDanceGroupproduction Pepperland . As a longtime member of drummer Billy Hart’s quartet, Iverson played the Village Vanguard’s first livestreamed show in June. He recorded the 2018 duo project Temporary Kings (ECM) with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, and 2019 saw the release of Common Practice (ECM), a live albumwith trumpeter TomHarrell. Lately, Iverson has been posting vid- eos of himself onTwitter playinghis favoriteTVtheme songs. And he continues to teach at New England Conservatory. Bud Powell InThe 21st Century is a landmark not only in Iverson’s discography but also in the legacy of Powell (1924– ’66), a masterful pianist, bebop innovator and DownBeat Hall of Famer who remains underappreciated today. Iverson has stylishly recreated Powell’s notoriously difficult compo- sitions—which were almost always performed and recorded in a trio setting—for a concert-length big band production, using deep cuts Powell recorded with horns during a 1949 quintet session as his starting point.
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ple were involved: Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Thelonious Monk. But I would say after Bird, the person with the most utterly devastat- ing bebop line, as an improviser, is Bud Powell. And he’s sort of unapproachable. He’s very influential, but he’s also up on a summit. Of course, many people love their Bud Powell. A partial list would include Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Sonny Clark, Cedar Walton, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, then finally to Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. All these musicians, you know, would bow down to Bud as being “the source.” I read something you posted online about how, in Powell’s music, momentary imperfections are part of a deliberate- ly unpolished aesthetic. I think anyone who can play jazz at a pretty high level understands what I mean about a cer- tain imperfection being part of a “secret sauce,” especially in Bud’s work. Not everyone would agree; Oscar Peterson famously said that Bud just played too many wrong notes. He was real- ly critical of Bud as a player, which I think is not right. In Umbria, I actually cut a rehearsal because I thought it was sounding so good. And I thought there was no reason to try to force a final level of perfection into it. I thought, “Let’s roll.” The results were good. And the musicians love you when you cut a rehearsal. What was your impression of that orchestra? I understand they’re somewhat of a regular group for various commis- sion projects Umbria has presented in recent years. I think there’s something about Italians and bebop that really fit. It’s dangerous to be too ste- reotypical because there are great musicians everywhere. But if you want to talk about play- ing some actual bebop, I think the country of Italy has a legacy of that. You’ve noted that two of Powell’s most distinctive attri- butes are the vocal quality of his improvised lines and the complexity of his rhythms. Do you feel you were able to convey that in Umbria? It’s not on the album because of a copyright issue, but part of the official [staging] of my arrangement of “Bud Powell In The 21st Century” is that we play a tape of Bud scat-sing- ing, which would then bleed into the French horn feature of “I’ll Keep Loving You.” I want- ed to include the sound of Bud scatting because it’s incredible, and it does clarify certain attri- butes of the music. We tend to think of bebop as a strictly instrumental music, but it’s also a vocal music. It’s also the blues. It’s all of that folkloric information that’s so crucial to get- ting it right. Lewis Nash is an incredible singer. He sings the blues, scats bebop, and he plays the drums that way, too. He has all these accents, and he shapes the line in a way that’s very deep. It’s very important for good bop to have that. I think that as great as Bud Powell is, he is
Ethan Iverson performs at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival.
With the blessing of Enzo Capua—a pre- senter at Umbria Jazz who helped conceive the Powell project—Iverson brought trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stevens, bassist Ben Street and drummer Lewis Nash along for the ride. Together, these five American jazz artists served as a core quintet that integrat- ed itself into a larger ensemble of first-call Italian horn players assembled by the festival’s musical director, Manuele Morbidini. In their collective hands, Powell’s music comes to life in fascinating new ways: as medi- tative chorales (called “Five Simple Spells”) built upon bits of Powell melodies and improvisa- tions, as fully fleshed-out big band orchestra- tions andas straightaheadquintet arrangements. A pair of Iverson big band pieces composed just for the occasion are also part of the program. It all comes together as one gorgeously woven, grand tapestry that’s simultaneously elegant and awe-inspiring. For Jensen, the experience openedher ears to the more subtle aspects of Powell’s work and sparked insights into her own playing. “When I was younger, bebop intimidated me because I didn’t have much technique, and when Ethan askedme to do the project, I was like, ‘I think you might have called the wrong person; I don’t real- ly play bebop,” she said. “But at the same time, I really appreciate the way Bud approached the piano, so it deepened my awareness of the lin- eage. And it helped me get in touch with my inner bebopper—which isn’t really bebop, if that makes sense. After doing this project and digging into the deep details, I realize that this is good music that expands through many dif- ferent genres. I was like, ‘This is just more deep, melodic music that I have to be able to rhythmi- cally wrap myself around as much as I have to technically stop doubting myself.’” Morbidini, who played alto saxophone in the big band, described the rehearsals and perfor- mances as an “extraordinarily stimulating” experience. “Bud Powell’s music has the amaz-
ing ability to renew itself every time you listen to it,” hewrote in an email fromItaly. “There always seems to be some element that’s new in a certain way, compared to the last time. I guess it depends on the (lucky) inability of my/our ears to grasp all that’s in there at once. Dealing with it from the perspective of Ethan’s vision amplified this effect: In every piece we worked on, an unex- pected reference, an implicit assonance or simply something not so evident, resonated. It is a mat- ter of details and surgical underlining—nothing is more seductive.” Iverson discussed his deep dive into Powell’s music and shared personal reflections on his Umbria experience during a late-December phone call with DownBeat from his Brooklyn home. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. includes four tunes that Powell recorded in 1949 in a quintet setting, with Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone and Fats Navarro on trumpet. Let’s talk about how that material functions within the larger structure of the presentation, and how it served as the backbone for your original orchestrations. That quintet material is the only music Bud wrote for horns. It was incredibly hard music, and you can really hear them struggling, as great as these guys are—Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes and Tommy Potter. It’s a pretty challenging session for everybody, except for maybe Bud. I would say Bud really knows what he wants, and he sounds like that as a player. But it was important to me in this project to treat that with reverence: to be like, we don’t actually need to expand on that quin- tet music; we just should try to play it right. What are some of the more significant contributions to modern jazz piano that come out of Powell? The number one bebop genius in terms of the improvised line is Charlie Parker. You even could say he gave us bebop, although other peo-
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