Friday, July 31, 2009

Where To Buy & Where To See

From time to time I get people asking "where can I get that?" or "where can we see some jazz?". So I thought I would provide a shortlist of some of the places in particular areas across the globe that I've been to or know about for jazz. I haven't spent enough time in the Southern US to give a good assessment. So if anyone knows the good hotspots in the South and Southwest please comment.
I hope you enjoy your next trip if you're in any of these cities.

Clubs: The New Apartment Lounge attracts a wide array of artists and has a great low key vibe that everyone should enjoy. The Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western Ave.) and Velvet Lounge ( are other great options if you want to avant garde and experimental jazz.
Stores: Dusty Groove America ( for obscure, out-there jazz albums and funky soul (old and new). Jazz Record Mart ( is almost a massive supermarket of jazz in a space built for a shoe (figuratively speaking). But it's worth the time spent hunting for cool stuff.

San Francisco
Clubs: Yoshis ( is the place to be for anyone looking for all styles of jazz. Just get there when they tell you to get there or you'll miss out. The audience is the quintessential jazz crowd, no noise, no phones, just listen to the music--you dig.
Stores: Amoeba ( is probably one of the best s(independent or chain) in the country. A selection of everything - alternative, pop, country, classical and jazz. They also have fantastic live performances.

New York
Clubs: The Village Vanguard ( is the grandaddy of them all. If you want the jazz experience you've dreamed about or seen in books and on TV, The Vanguard is it. The Jazz Standard ( is another great venue for both upcoming musicians and big names. The atmosphere at the Standard can sometimes be annoying but for the most part people are there for the music.
Stores: Well, considering that there are very few music stores left in NYC, the best place for a wide selection and good prices will be J and R Music (

Clubs: Jazz Cafe ( in Camden Town is where you need to be if you want to learn anything about Jazz in England. It is the hip place for jazz and neo-soul. The classic jazz club that still remains is Ronnie Scott's Club ( Not allot needs to be said - it is the Blue Note or Birdland of London. Everyone who's anyone has to play Ronnie Scott's Club.
Stores: Believe it or not but many of the independent record stores have become underwhelming in recent years but except for Rays Jazz Shop and Soul Brother ( They each still have some goods to make your trip worth while.

Clubs: Bla ( is considered by many as the best jazz club in Norway. It attracts the best in European jazz and audiences are a nice mixture of both tourists and the hardcore jazz fan. It might be a little too hip for its own good but its still a nice place to hang.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cartoon Jazz

You've heard Raymond Scott's music before even if you don't recognize his name. Some have called it "cartoon jazz," because its frantic energy and cheerful melodies made it a natural soundtrack for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons (as adapted by the brilliant Carl Stalling) and much later Ren & Stimpy and other modern animated shows.

Born in Brooklyn in 1908 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Scott (born Harry Warnow) was a composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, inventor and recording studio innovator.

According to Wikipedia, Scott formed the "Raymond Scott Quintette" in 1936 with Pete Pumiglio (clarinet); Bunny Berigan (trumpet, soon replaced by Dave Wade); Louis Shoobe (upright bass); Dave Harris (tenor sax); and Johnny Williams (drums). They made their first recordings in New York on February 20, 1937, for the Master Records label, owned by music publisher/impresario Irving Mills (who was also Duke Ellington's manager).

The Quintette represented Scott's attempt to revitalize Swing music through tight, busy arrangements and reduced reliance on improvisation. He called this musical style "descriptive jazz," and gave his works unusual titles like "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House," "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals" (recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1993), and "Bumpy Weather Over Newark." While popular with the public, jazz critics disdained it as novelty music. Besides being a prominent figure in recording studios and on radio and concert stages, Scott wrote and was widely interviewed about his sometimes controversial music theories for the leading music publications of the day, including Down Beat, Metronome, and Billboard. (source: Wikipedia)

One of the best ways to enjoy Scott's cartoon jazz is to acquire Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals (reissued on CD by Basta Records), which his sideman Dave Harris recorded in 1958. Here, Harris and his band the Powerhouse Five recaptured the manic fun and rhythmic sophistication of a dozen Scott numbers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Vandermark 5: The Chicago Sound

The Vandermark 5 (group)

Chicago has given music everything mainly R&B, Blues and Jazz. One of the most talked about group of the last decade has been The Vandermark 5. Led by multi-sax man Ken Vandermak, this piano-less, reeds driven quintet have set a new standard for free-jazz groups in America and Europe. The band doesn't tour much in U.S. but when they do it is mainly in their home base at The Empty Bottle.

I have seen them on a few occasions in NYC at Tonic and they have been nothing short of phenomenal. V5 as many refer to them start off many of their compositions with a complex but rhythmic structure and then spiral outward. It makes for an amazing journey through the scales.

With your first listen you will immediately hear the melody but as the piece continues you hear the breakdown of each musician and his delicacies. Vandermark himself is a bit of a multi-instrumentalist--performing on sax, clarinet, bass (sometimes piano). The band are on their eighth album not including 2 albums of covers.

The Vandermark 5 is a band with a lot of muscle and talent that get better and more creative with each release. Each member of the band has his own side project so the band doesn't record on a regular basis. This I believe keeps the material fresh and original each time out. Truly one of the leading protagonist in American music today, The Vandermark 5 are worth your time and effort.

Check out a great performance I found on youtube and if you dig that than check out their most recent album A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic).

A Discontinuous Line (2006 Atavistic Records)

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Damn, I'm Famous. Ain't That A Bitch!?!"

Thelonious Monk (piano, b. 1917 - d. 1982)

Those are the words of one of the most famous, inventive and eccentric composers in jazz--Thelonious Monk.

While there are at least five jazz pianists that can be considered the benchmark (the obvious being Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton) I believe Monk is one of the first artists that would be mentioned with whom to start your collection with. And for all the complexity of his music, I too would suggest Thelonious Monk as one of the first purchases for anyone just getting into jazz (other pianist would be Dave Brubeck).

The playfulness of Monk's compositions and his ability to swing from blues type ballad to uptempo bebop was nothing but sheer masterclass. It's no wonder that you see many children learning about Thelonious Monk in music classes from an early age.

Now I think its time for the adults to take notice as well. The Monk catalog is massive so I would suggest starting with two records, Brilliant Corners (OJC) which many to consider Monk at the peak of his powers. Brilliant Corners also features stellar lineup with Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Oscar Pettiford and Ernie Henry. The other release I would recommend is a compilation, The Essential Thelonious Monk (Columbia Records). This unfortunately only covers his long tenure with Columbia Records but its does contain the most familiar material including one of two of my favorite songs of all time "Well You Needn't" and "Epistrophy."

Once you've checked out these two releases you can pretty much go in any direction for your next Monk fix.

Here's some video proof of Monk's greatness.

"Epistrophy" (Live):

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Best Of 2009...So Far

WOW! It has been a good year so far for listening to jazz. Some of my favorites have finally resurrected themselves from the studio and released records of real quality. Here's a shortlist of a few that I have on repeat in the stereo as well as the iPod. I actually would like to talk about more but that would make today's entry a bit long in the tooth. So I will discuss those releases in the coming weeks and lets hope the rest of the year is as good as this.

Acoustic Ladyland Living With A Tiger (Strong & Wrong)
The title almost says it all. The four piece British outfit continue to lead the way in European jazz with their forth album of spellbinding, ear-splintering, rhythmic motifs that will surely be remembered at the end of the year. Here's to hoping they get even wider recognition.

Madeleine Peyroux Bare Bones (Rounder)
Finally!!! On her fifth album Madeleine Peyroux breaks through with material that brings originality to her voice. The Holiday influence is easy to pick up on first listen but by the time you're finished with this release you will realize we are dealing with a true talent.

Steve Kuhn Mostly Coltrane (ECM)
Not all Coltrane tributes go well. This one takes a lot of phenomenal twists and turns with a wonderful rendition of "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes". Steve Kuhn is a legendary pianist who has never done a bad record. His experimentation with each album always amounts to something very intriguing.

Joshua Redman Compass (Nonesuch)
After experimenting on his last couple of albums, saxophonist Joshua Redman has return to straightahead jazz with Compass. This album strikes the perfect balance between introspection and adventure. Compass also shows an older, wiser Joshua Redman with a new voice and vision stretching out with great clarity. A welcome return indeed.

Dave Douglas Spirit Moves (Greenleaf)
I have talked about my joy for Dave Douglas before. His new album Spirit Moves reinforces why I believe he is one of the few trumpet players who continues to push the envelope on jazz. This is a brass album. Meaning the focus is squarely on trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba--oh and drums. Sounds odd, eh!?! Well it's not. Listen and see why he is one of the few American originals at the moment.

Bill Frisell The Best Of Bill Frisell Vol.1 (Nonesuch)
I've never been a big fan of Bill Frisell as a leader. Although I have managed to enjoy his 1992 release This Land (Nonesuch) which was a nice collection of folksy Americana. Folk is the focus of The Best Of...Vol. 1, featuring a number of his more folk leaning recordings. It's actually left me quite excited to see what Vol.2 (if there is one coming) will feature.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jazz Soundtracks — Part 10

The following are excerpts from the book Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer, founder of

Before blaxploitation came into being, African-American Quincy Jones equaled Schifrin’s effort in introducing funk to movie audiences in the mid to late ’60s. Q — as he’s known to many — made his reputation in the ’50s and early ’60s as a talented arranger and composer for jazz legends such as Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, and for such singing stars as Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. Beginning in the early ’60s, Q composed numerous big budget crime movies, including four starring Sidney Poitier, Hollywood’s original, black leading man.

Jones constantly experimented with style, incorporating swinging jazz, cool bossa nova, funk, soul and pop into big band or orchestral settings. His classic crime jazz highlights of the period include “Harlem Drive” and “Rack ’em Up” (from The Pawnbroker), “Blondie Tails” (from The Deadly Affair) and “Shoot to Kill” (from Mirage).

Although it is in no way a blaxploitation film, the Academy Awards®-winning In the Heat of the Night (’67) was influential because it features not only a black actor in the leading role but also a score infused with black music. The most telling example is the Ray Charles-sung theme song, which is soulful, funky and swinging.
Tracks like “Peep Freak Patrol Car” and “Cotton Curtain” feature an unexpected blend of orchestral tension, bluesy piano fills, moaning Ellington-esque horns, throaty flute squeals and vocal scats; their funk is as potent as moonshine. On “Where Whitey Ain’t Around” a mean wah guitar solo joins an already volatile vibe. Elsewhere, Jones displays his great versatility with passages of pure orchestral movie music (“Shag Bag, Hounds and Harvey”). Taken in its entirety, Heat is but one of Jones’ proto-blaxploitation outings, and not a pure example of what would be heard in the ’70s.

Two other Jones scores from this period also qualify as proto-blaxploitation: the heist flick The Lost Man (’69) and Heat’s sequel They Call Me Mister Tibbs (’70) — both starring Poitier.

The Lost Man theme blends African percussion, an angular melodic motif and a singsong chorus of chanting children to mysterious, hypnotic effect. The theme’s disconcertingly unresolved scraps of melody resurface in more satisfying form on “Main Squeeze” and “Up Against the Wall,” where complicated experimental arrangements are propelled by funky rhythms and electric instrumentation. On ‘Slum Creeper” a funky clavinet keyboard pushes the rhythm forward with slow deliberation as electric guitar competes for the sonic turf. The most straightforward track on the album may be “Sweet Soul Sister,” a catchy mid-tempo number featuring a smooth vocal performance by Nate Turner with backing vocals by the Mirettes.

While The Lost Man remains Jones’ edgiest score, his work on Tibbs proved much more popular. Although the movie isn’t considered pure blaxploitation, its theme created the template for many title tracks to come, including Hayes’ Shaft and Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon. Its hard-driving rhythm section, screaming organ blasts, punchy brass, chicken scratch guitars and vibrato-colored keyboard line set the standard for cinematic funk in ’70. Elsewhere in the score Jones continued to exploit the electric charge he’d harnessed on the theme song. “Fat Poppadaddy,” with its catchy organ lick, screaming guitar solo and fatback drum break, pushed the funk harder and faster. He busted out the blues on “Side Pocket,” with its saxophone solo and call and response between the organ, guitar and horns. Tibbs, like Heat and Lost, is chuck-full of intense, virtuoso arrangements that call upon funk, blues, soul and jazz. Without Jones’ influence, the blaxploitation sound might never have come together so quickly and so potently.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Acoustic Ladyland: Everything In One

Acoustic Ladyland (group; '00s)

The whole is the sum of its parts. Acoustic Ladyland is a four piece ensemble from London, England who have made seismic waves in the European jazz scene for almost ten years now. They probably won't have an album released in the U.S. but you can find all their albums on iTunes or order from

If you've been looking for a jazz, funk, rock hybrid (you have right!?!) then Acoustic Ladyland is for you. If you're looking for something to freak out your friends and neighbours (you have right!?!) then Acoustic Ladyland is for you. A frenetic mix of the scat saxophone, pulsating drums, drinding guitars and thumping bass (and sometimes an understated piano), Acoustic Ladyland will make your Fridayand/or Saturday hangover much worse but you'll enjoy the ride. Imagine Metallica adding a saxophone player. Or John Zorn joining Sonic Youth (which I think might have happened at one point in history)---enough said.

Each of Acoustic Ladyland's four albums has upped the creative qoutient, making this one of the most revered bands of the last few years. Their most recent release, Living With A Tiger (Strong & Wrong Records) doesn't disappoint. This is an unconventional and uncompromising band on every level. From their album covers which resemble an indie rock band more than jazz quartet, Acoustic Ladyland are provocative and the final output really is everything in one. Check out a couple of different aspects of the band for yourself...beware loud noises and nightmares...

"Iggy" live on Later With Jools Holland:

"Cuts and Lies" (music video):

Acoustic Ladyland Official Site:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

David S. Ware: Pushing Jazz Forward

David S. Ware (Saxophone; b. 1949)

I have been a massive fan of David S. Ware for years. He has truly picked up the mantle left by John Coltrane's spiritual recordings such as OM, Crescent, and Ascension to name a few.

David S. Ware is an acquired taste. His recordings are melodic, atmospheric, highly inventive and yet still rhythmic. For the uninitiated I would suggest a nice bottle of wine and a night to let your mind be adventurous - you won't be disappointed.

David S. Ware doesn't tour very often in the U.S. but he is worth checking out if you want something that is completely different, and he just might blow your mind.

If you are interested, one good starting point would be Balladware (Thirsty Ear) which takes a conservative approach but does showcase some avant garde tendencies. At the point where you really want to expand your horizons, David S. Ware would be my one of top choices.
Here's an audio clip from the live album Live In The World (Thirsty Ear) entitled "Mikuro's Blues".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jazz Soundtracks — Part 9

The following are excerpts from the book Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer, founder of

When considering European sexploitation, Great Britain probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind (except for The Benny Hill Show, a saucy variety comedy hour that premiered in ’69 and ran for 20 years). Compared to relatively liberated countries like Denmark and Sweden, Great Britain hasn’t been a particularly productive sexploitation film exporter. But there are several independent and mainstream British films of the ’60s that reflect in the influence of the sexual revolution...

One British film that deals with sex and the single man is Alfie (’66) that uses frank sexual content to examine the foibles of a promiscuous bachelor. Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David contributed the theme song, but much of the score belongs to Sonny Rollins and his conductor Oliver Nelson. The soundtrack release does not contain the Bacharach tune.

Rollin’s “Alfie’s Theme” captures the main character’s beguiling ways with women through its jaunty tempo and minor key. It’s the sort of theme that winds its way through the listener’s brain long after hearing it. Rollins’ nine-piece band includes such veteran jazz greats as Kenny Burrell (guitar), J.J. Johnson (trombone) and Jimmy Cleveland (trombone). Heard within the film, this jazz score reinforces the sense that Michael Caine’s incorrigible philanderer is constantly improvising his way in and out of trouble. Heard on its own, one might think that Alfie is a merely a wonderful but not especially cinematic jazz record of the ’60s.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Man Walking On Eggshells

Herbert Simmons Man Walking On Eggshells

Man Walking On Eggshells is one of only two novels Herbert Simmons wrote (the other being Corner Boy). A dark and soulful story of a man growing up in the ghettos of St. Louis to become a great jazz trumpeter.

The book is a prose with pace and feels like you're listening to an extended jam session. If there is a story of one man's life seeking an identity through jazz, this is it. Man Walking On Eggshells shows the main character Raymond Douglas struggling with racism, drugs, family and his music to a profound degree. You become quickly engulfed in his world and you are touched by his journey.

The author and some critics have said the story was inspired by the life of Miles Davis. This I believe is possible but even without that as foundation this a beautifully written novel.

Man Walking On Eggshells continues to be one of my favorite books. A wonderful read that should inspire you to listen to jazz more closely and hear the story that each musician is telling you. It's one of those books that you will come back to time and time again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Art Of The Jazz Vocalist (Part I)

For many, jazz vocals are a strange and argumentative subject.

For me, I love that argument.

I believe there is one thing on which we can all can agree -- there will never be another Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Rushing, Mel Torme, Johnny Hartman, Anita O'Day and someday Tony Bennett. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

But today we have a number of vocalists who have picked up the mantle in fantastic fashion. Many of whom should get more respect than they do within the jazz community. In this two part entry I wanted to give my thoughts and a list of current artists whom I believe are either moving forward with the tradition of jazz vocals or are adequate pretenders that are okay for your dinner party. I've also included a couple of videos from youtube that are pretty interesting.

Stacey Kent (b.1968)

Stacey Kent is an American born singer married and living in England. Her style is very relaxed. She mainly sticks to standards and performers them extremely well; She has continued to hold the candle for the great American Songbook. She has recorded seven albums the most recent entitled Breakfast on the Morning Tram (Blue Note), although I feel the perfect selection of upbeat and mellow recordings for the beginner exist on her 1999 album Let Yourself Go (Candid Records). An enjoyable adventure for you if you're looking for new vocalists.

"Shall We Do? (Live In Stuggart):

Claire Martin (b.1967)

Claire Martin for me is far and away the leader of this entire list. She has been around a long time and her material contains standards, originals and an interesting array of covers (David Sylvian, Nick Drake among others). She has a delicate and extremely well concentrated delivery that will captivate you from the start. Try the album Take My Heart as a great starting point. It features covers of Thomas Dolby and the aforementioned Sylvian and Drake. Also for a good overview of her first seven albums (she has eleven in all), try The Very Best Of Claire Martin (Linn Records).

"Gettin' High" (Live):

Mark Murphy (b.1932)

Mark is not every one's cup of tea. His vocals are almost spoken at times. At others they are like Haiku. Either way in my opinion he is a benchmark for many jazz vocalists. Think what Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin could do if they had better songwriters or songs to write about. Mark has been best known for his Kerouac recordings from the sixties, Bop For Kerouac and Kerouac Then And Now. He has released two critically acclaimed albums in the last four years Once To Every Heart and Love Is What Stays (both on Verve). His current work with a number of European jazz artists has raised his profile among the "Hip Crowd" but that's worth it. I do recommend you try him out even if you end up not liking him. It's worth the listen to see what an adventurous vocalist can do.

"Empty Faces" (Live from a forthcoming documentary):

Diana Krall (b.1964)

Talk about not every one's cup of tea. Now we've reached it. I am not a fan of Diana Krall at all. I'm still trying to figure out what the fascination is with her. She is an average piano player. Her standards are very pedestrian. And finally her vocals are raspy to the point of pretentious. I see the possible Carmen McCrae influence but it's nItalicot having any impact on me. To contradict myself I understand that sometimes this marginal fare is easily digestible to the public at large and for that, more power to her. She has a large enough discography now that she also has a best of compilation, The Very Best Of Diana Krall (Verve) that is probably a good place for anyone other me to start.

Karrin Allyson (b.1963)

An Amazing vocalist who has experimented with each album - She has delved into the American Songbook, jazz standards, pop, blues and most recently bossa nova and samba. Her most popular album was the 2001, Ballads: A Tribute To John Coltrane (Concord Records). I continue to enjoy her exploration into different genres. It sometimes is not easy for the uninitiated but if you like your favorite musicians to experiment and not put out the same album year after year than I suggest Karrin Allyson as option. Check out In Blue (Concord Records) for starters. She is a magnificent composer, pianist, & songwriter who I'm sure you will come to love. Karrin Allyson has also just released her first compilation entitled By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson (Concord Records).

"Moanin" (Live At Montreux):

This is only the beginning. Take a listen and experience these artist for yourself. I hope you enjoy them and I would be interested in hearing your opinions. Jazz vocalists are a slightly different breed and everyone has a different vibe that they are looking for. I hope yours lays somewhere in this two part discussion.

More next time.