Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Remarkable Forrest Westbrook - KPCC's Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp Jazz Correspondent Sean J. O'Connell reviews two new CDs featuring jazz pianist Forrest Westbrook: Carmell Jones Quartet with Forrest Westbrook and The Remarkable Forrest Westbrook, both available now on Blue Sound Records.
There is a small, disorganized box of CDs squeezed into the back of my garage labeled: “Demos, 2000s.” The box isn’t so much for me. I know what’s on those CDs because I played piano on every track. The box is for my daughter.

Long after I’m gone, crushed by a shipping container on the 710 or mistaken for a koala bear by a famished mountain lion, that box will be proof to her that Dada was hip for at least a little while. Two fantastic new albums featuring the late jazz pianist Forrest Westbrook provide a glimmer of hope for any artist who has ever felt a little underappreciated.

Forrest Westbrook was barely a household name in his own house. The hard-working musician played battered pianos across Southern California, often leaving his best ideas among the clouds of cigarette smoke and two drink minimums. He died two years ago at the age of 86, overlooked and under-recorded.

But when his daughter Leslie sorted through his stuff, she found swinging reel-to-reel tapes of sessions he had masterfully engineered in his Hollywood apartment dating back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. She knew they had to be heard and through a partnership with the Spanish jazz label Fresh Sounds, Forrest Westbrook is finally finding a bit of recognition.

Last year, the first of the Westbrook trove was released as the Carmell Jones Quartet featuring Forrest Westbrook. Recorded in 1960, the cuts were intended as an audition tape for Jones for Pacific Jazz records, a local tastemaker that launched the careers of musicians Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Les McCann.

At the time of the recording, Carmell Jones was an explosive, 24 year old hard-bop trumpeter from Kansas City. He arrived on the West Coast looking for fame, fortune and a record contract. Less than a year later, he crossed one of those goals off the list: releasing the first of three engaging but underselling albums. Within five years he had moved on to New York and eventually Europe. He made his most widely-heard recording alongside saxophonist Joe Henderson on Horace Silver's Song For My Father, a cornerstone of mid-60s Blue Note soul.

On Jones’ session, the quartet eases into the heat with a simmering “Willow Weep for Me.” Bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Bill Shwemmer work on a subdued groove while Jones slides in on buttered valves. A double-time piano solo briefly enters into the finger-popping realm but the grooves reach their peak later on “For Every Man There’s A Woman.”

There, Jones’ fanfare unfurls over a blues march, leaving the Earth’s atmosphere with a precise jolt. Westbrook is equally forceful, twisting around the confines of the piano’s lower register.
Westbrook only ever released one album under his name, a 1970 free jazz LP called This Is Their Time, Oh Yes. But these new tapes prove that a decade prior he had a unique voice — linked equally to then-contemporary pianists like Lennie Tristano, Red Garland and Errol Garner. He had a deep well of nimble flourishes far hipper than many of the so-called West Coast jazz pianists.
Recorded two years earlier than the Jones session, the Forrest Westbrook Trio & Quintet finds Westbrook in a knottier bag, doubling back on rumbling lines on a crisp “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and evoking Dave Brubeck with a mid-tempo “In Your Own Sweet Way.”  Following a particularly exuberant solo on the Charlie Parker blues “Buzzy” it is either bassist Bill Plummer or drummer Maurice Miller who can be heard shouting “Yeah, Forrest,” an affectionate encouragement that exemplifies the homespun charm of Westbrook’s tapes.

These albums are a delight, but the pleasure is bittersweet. Westbrook was a great talent unearthed a little too late. If it wasn’t for his daughter’s determination, much of the record-buying public would never have even known his name. I’m sure her Dada would be proud.

Forrest Westbrook @ KPCC's Off-Ramp

Friday, April 29, 2016

Anthony Wilson on "Frogtown" - KPCC's Off-Ramp

If there’s such thing as royalty in the Los Angeles jazz scene, Anthony Wilson is a prince. He’s a guitarist who’s worked with Paul McCartney, Leon Russell and Willie Nelson. For a day job, he plays guitar with singer Diana Krall. His father is the late Gerald Wilson, a trumpeter and big band leader who arranged for musicians like Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and more.
Anthony Wilson’s also a solo artist, with a handful of albums under his belt. For his latest record, "Frogtown," Wilson explored personal themes like love, death and family. "Frogtown" also marks the first time the guitarist has picked up a vocal mic.
Off-Ramp jazz correspondent Sean J O’Connell met Wilson in his Arts District apartment to talk about how he made the transition.

On "Frogtown," his latest album
It's named after a neighborhood here in Los Angeles between the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River. I used to live nearby there and I walked quite a bit through the neighborhood. It's sort of an odd place that feels a little bit lost in time. The album itself, I consider it to be a collection of musical depictions of very specific moods, or feelings, or stories. That door opens and we keep you there.
On singing live for the first time
Just to begin to open my mouth, and begin singing after years and years of not doing it, and being identified with purely instrumental music... to sort of go to the first gig and sing the first song that I had written in front of that audience — it was like jumping off a cliff. 
Some of the songs on the record definitely touch on quite tender emotions, stories. The one I'm thinking of right at this moment is a song called "Our Affair" — which was definitely not easy to write or to sing. It's about my mother and my father, they met while he was married and had a family. They had an affair, which lead to me being born. 
On the legacy of his father, bandleader Gerald Wilson
My father moved to Los Angeles to 1944, I believe, and started his first big band. He loved this city. I heard him speak so many times about what it was like for him to see L.A. for the first time, and experience it for the first time. And I put myself in his shoes and imagined what kind of feelings he must have experienced, being on Central Avenue within the whole black community in Los Angeles at that time. 
It echoes of him constantly in other peoples' work, though you might not always hear the credit given.
On transitioning out of instrumental jazz and into vocal pop music
I love that. I mean, in a sense that has been one of my kind of building frustrations with playing instrumental music only. What if songs could be more specific?
Jazz musicians will play a song, and they'll say "this is my song, titled 'X' and it's about X." But Instrumental music can never be about X, really. Instrumental music is simply sound being played. As much as people who play instrumental music want to say that their songs are about something, it's actually not quite true. 
Anthony Wilson @ KPCC's "Off-Ramp" 

Monday, April 25, 2016

On the Couch with Emitt Rhodes - KPCC's Off-Ramp

I got to spend an hour in Emitt Rhodes' living room in Hawthorne, California. He recorded a lot of great stuff there a long time ago. Someone finally got him to record some more great stuff again.

For the first time in 40+ years, he has a new album out. It's good. Sort of a Gerry Rafferty toasts Warren Zevon sound, an evolutionary step forward from his late 1960s/early 70s days as a composer/engineer/instrumentalist/lyricist pop master.

It's called "Rainbow Ends." It was released on Omnivore Recordings. Nels Cline has a great guitar solo. Susanna Hoffs does some sweet background vocals. Aimee Mann & Jon Brion do their thing and they do it well.

The interview I conducted was turned into this story for KPCC's Off-Ramp.

Emitt Rhodes on KPCC's Off-Ramp

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wayne Shorter: Jazz For the Sake of Future-Sound - KCET's Artbound

When saxophonist Wayne Shorter first came on the scene, he was known as the "Newark Flash." The name was apt. Brilliant and fast with an extensive knowledge of superhero lore, Shorter arrived ready to be heard. But for more than half of his life now, Shorter has been a resident of Los Angeles.
At 82 years old, it is unlikely Shorter is answering to any nicknames but he does answer his phone early in the morning. "From where I live I can see the ocean, Century City," he told me recently. "I can see Catalina. I'm way up on top. At night, the sky, man, the shapes and everything. It's really happening."
In conversation, Shorter is elastic and tangential; he is amused at his ideas and not unafraid to share his opinions (He doesn't care for Kurt Vonnegut but is looking forward to the new "Star Wars" movie. Of the film "Whiplash," he says "It's an essay on how not to be."). The top of the hills is an appropriate place for Shorter to dwell because he has ascended to a level of mastery far beyond what most jazz musicians will ever glimpse.
After graduating from NYU and accruing some post-graduate work in a set of fatigues, Shorter hit the ground running in the mid 1950s, racking up time with pianist Horace Silver and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson before spending five years as a fixture of the legendary Jazz Messengers, led by drummer Art Blakey.
It was with Blakey that Shorter first saw Los Angeles. "I thought it was nice. It seemed like people had more space in between them. But I realized that no matter where I am, the environment should not really matter. An environment should not dictate your destiny."
He closed out the latter part of the 1960s as part of the Miles Davis Quintet alongside pianistHerbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, before springing into the 1970s with his band Weather Report, the definitive jazz fusion band. In 1973, amidst the skyrocketing success of that band, he moved here hoping to provide a better environment for his epileptic daughter who eventually succumbed to the affliction while only a teenager.
With a touring schedule that allowed him to live anywhere (or nowhere, really) Shorter stayed on his perch, dispensing with new and challenging ideas for anyone ready to engage. The Thelonious Monk Institute, one of the largest and most influential jazz organizations, offers jazz outreach, a fully-accredited graduate jazz studies program and an annual competition that has helped to launch the careers of talented up-and-comers like Kris Bowers and Joshua White. The organization is currently housed at UCLA and is one of those places where Shorter has recently been spending a lot of time.
"I think Monk would've OKed it," Shorter says about the Institute's mission. "I knew Monk. We spent some time with him over the years especially when I worked with Art Blakey. Those two were buddies. I think Monk would've said go ahead with it. He wanted jazz to pierce the future but not forget something called foundation. Don't cut the bridges behind you and drop all of that for the sake of future-sound."

Shorter first became involved with the Institute during a fundraiser for then president Bill Clinton. Clinton, a saxophonist who no doubt was influenced by Shorter's great 1960s "Blue Note" releases, proved to be a giddy fan. At last year's Institute competition, Clinton came on stage to receive an award from Quincy Jones and Hancock. Before accepting it, he went out of his way to greet Shorter who was sitting in the darkness, watching the pageantry. "One time I got a telephone call," remembers Shorter, "Clinton's staff called to see if I knew a reliable dealer to send him a birthday present of a saxophone stand."
In a bold move, Holophonor, a group formed from the most recent graduates from the Monk program, asked Shorter if he would produce their most recent album. He was happy to lend his ears but mostly let things run their course.
"When I was there, I didn't say much," he remembers. "I said 'yeah' or 'that's cool' but they decide the final takes and all that stuff. They are doing it themselves and that is the object. Somebody introduced a producer to Miles once. They said, 'Miles, this is the great producer so-and-so' and Miles said: 'Produce what? As a producer of oranges and fruit, stuff like that?' It's kind of like let's make up a job called 'producer.' Then we can funnel this money. Maybe you can even drive the truck, drive the artistic ship."
Shorter still tours regularly with his quartet, challenging audiences with a collective improvisation that dances with the ethereal and blinks with synchronistic sorcery. After more than 60 years onstage, he is still happily reaching for the unknowable with horn in hand.
"There was always a lot at stake," he says. "In hindsight, I can see it more clearly. The trap-door is becoming gratified in a moment, of believing that you are there wherever there is in the world. You're there and somebody else is not there. You have reached a place lots of people haven't reached. To be in a state of glorified bliss, that's a trap. A big trap. To realize that humbling oneself sincerely, going through that process of being humble, to realize that awards are OK but to reveal oneself in front of an audience... Take off all your awards. Go on the stage naked. Or your pajamas. And go out there and do what you can do to inspire something greater than yourself."
Wayne Shorter @ KCET

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Kamasi Washington: '65 to '92 - LA Weekly

Tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington sits on a couch in the middle of South L.A.'s Central Avenue. Since closing the Central Avenue Jazz Festival 30 minutes earlier with the Ryan Porter Group (one of many billings that features the collective known as the West Coast Get Down), Washington has posed for a dozen photos, signed a painting featuring his likeness and fielded a sales pitch from an aggressive shoemaker/mystic.

Yesterday he played the festival's main stage with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, then hustled to downtown L.A. to lead his own project for more than 1,000 fans at Grand Performances. That one-off show, titled "65-92: The Rhythm Changes but the Struggle Remains," managed to distill the last 50 years of African-American music into a boiling ball of fuzzed-out bass, pummeling drums and wailing horns, which looked back on our city's racially divided past and pointed hopefully toward our shaky future.

"Music only serves one purpose — to express the essence of a person's experience," Washington says, catching a rare breather in the Central Avenue Jazz Festival's deserted, makeshift lounge. "If you listen to my music, you will eventually get a feeling for who I am. You don't have to know what I went through. ... Music is the deeper level of communication, communication that goes through your understanding of words and history."

Washington followed his father, Rickey, into jazz. The Inglewood-raised saxophonist first played onstage at the Hollywood Bowl while in high school, graduated from UCLA's jazz department and was a major part of bandleader Gerald Wilson's swinging ensemble in the '00s. He also became fluent in the rhythms and conventions of hip-hop, playing in Snoop Dogg's touring band and, more recently, writing the string arrangements on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly.

Since the May release of Washington's debut studio album, The Epic, a three-hour tour de force featuring a doubled-up rhythm section, strings and a choir, the rest of the listening world has caught up. The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times featured laudatory coverage of the 34-year-old's ferocious approach, while NPR dedicated numerous hours to his record release show at the Regent Theater.

Coronations of all sorts continue to be heaped upon his head, occasionally tasking him with saving the entire genre of jazz, or at least Los Angeles' part of it. But Washington is still the same humble saxophonist, expressing his hopes and frustrations through a post-Coltrane roar.

He was only 11 years old and living in Inglewood when the 1992 riots broke out. His father was around the same age in 1965 and living in Watts. So when Grand Performances approached Washington more than a year ago with the initial idea for what would become "65-92," it resonated on a deeply personal level. He dove into the project with even more than his usual passion.

"It was really astounding," says Leigh Ann Hahn, Grand Performances' director of programming. "I think he conducted what would be the equivalent of a master's thesis ... the hours he put in writing the charts, the research, the conversations with elders in the community. It was more than a labor of love."

Amidst the fighting and frustration of the 1965 and 1992 riots, the radio played on, broadcasting music by black artists, which acquired significant social consciousness following '65 and careened into seething anger by '92. Washington faced the challenge of marrying those two eras. He laid out lists of Los Angeles–raised, mid–20th century jazz musicians such as Eric Dolphy and Dexter Gordon and early-'90s rappers like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, looking for connections he could weave into his arrangements.

After all his research, Washington looks back at the last 50 years warily, well aware of the roadblocks that have stifled generations. "We were heading in such a good direction in the '60s. We were doing so many things to help make a balanced society. What happened?"

Despite the recent outrages in Ferguson, Baltimore and beyond, Washington remains optimistic. "All of these horrible events are happening on camera for the world to see. People are going to get ignited and we are going to invoke change. And it's going to get better. I already know that."

He sees a glimpse of the future in a component of his fan base that has blossomed in the last few months — a generation of kids born after the 1992 riots. "There is a certain amount of empowerment to an ignorance of bigotry and racism. It's almost cool," Washington says. "A lot of kids just think it doesn't exist, or it is so far removed from them living in L.A. Part of me likes that. The other part of me doesn’t."


On the evening of July 25, Washington stood atop the Grand Performances stage at showtime, adorned with flowing white fabrics, looking ready for a baptism in the placid pool that separated the band from the crowd. Visible waves spread across the water from the mountain of speakers stacked on its shore as they thumped out sounds from more than a dozen musicians and MCs, largely from the West Coast Get Down (and including Washington's father in the horn section).

Opening with Watts native Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus," Washington's group dug into the ode to Arkansas' segregationist governor with fire. Upright bassist Miles Mosley introduced himself with a frenetic thump before segueing into Snoop's "Serial Killa" with help from the other nimble bassist onstage, Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner.

"We can't talk about jazz in Los Angeles and hip-hop in Los Angeles without mentioning Leimert Park," Washington said halfway through the performance. Leimert Park, the African-American cultural hub just east of Crenshaw Boulevard, is home to drummer Billy Higgins' physical legacy, beyond the thousands of albums he contributed to. Higgins' performance space, the World Stage, is an institution for many of the musicians in Washington's group and has served over the years as a color-blind haven from social unrest.

Appropriating Higgins' patented boogaloo swing, drummer Tony Austin presented a display of inventive chops while the horns danced around Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance" before the band shifted to Ice Cube's Isley Brothers–sampling "Today Was a Good Day." The transition from a tricky avant-garde melody to a '70s soul groove is not for the faint of heart, but it didn't faze the tight ensemble. Nor did jumping from Gerald Wilson's "Viva Tirado" to The Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By." Or Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows" into Freestyle Fellowship's "Park Bench People."

The songs flowed like one radio station bleeding into another, shifting from jazz to hip-hop and back again with intriguing grace. And Washington's swirling collective handled it as it always does — losing neither groove nor audience.

"It seemed effortless," Grand Performances' Hahn said later of the performance. "It was a love letter to the music, but it was holding all of us accountable for those things that happened [in the past], and our own future as a city. It was medicine wrapped in magic."

Kamasi Washington @ LA Weekly

Robert Glasper: Covered - DownBeat

Robert Glasper

Pianist Robert Glasper ruffled some feathers when he stated in DownBeat a couple of years ago that jazz needed a "big-ass slap." His intentions paid off nicely in the form of a Grammy award and heaps of acclaim later that year. This record is more about the intricacies of the fingertips than the brutality of the open palm.

Recorded live last December in Blue Note's glamorous West Coast offices, the Capitol Records building, the album is a no-frills nod to the purists. The 13-minute "In Case You Forgot" opens with a solo piano intro reminiscent of "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs"-era Chick Corea. Crisp and lightning quick, Glasper doesn't dwell on any notes for long, flicking daggers before being joined by the rest of the trio (drummer Damion Reid and bassist Vicente Archer).

A few months ago in this section, writer Bradley Baumbargner used the phrase "depressingly de rigueur Radiohead cover." Add Glasper to that strange list of those who drank from the well of Thom Yorke. It's a shame that with so many smart and interesting r&b covers, Glasper doesn't look particularly far for a rock song. But he makes amends by covering Kendrick Lamar to close out the affair. "I'm Dying Of Thirst" is an instrumental backdrop to a recording of children reciting the names of black murder victims at the hands of law enforcement. It is a powerful message presented without comment. Glasper isn't done slapping yet.

Robert Glasper @ DownBeat

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Nightlife Map of Los Angeles's Central Avenue

Here is a hand-drawn, not-to-scale Central Avenue map I made as an insert for my Los Angeles's Central Avenue Jazz book. Make a copy, drive around Central Avenue, look for ghosts. Thanks for reading.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Herbie Hancock Interview - KCET's Artbound

Hancock has always kept his eye on the horizon and at 75 finds himself a Harvard professor, UNESCO World Ambassador, the chairman of the Thelonious Monk Jazz institute and a guest star on Flying Lotus' "You're Dead," one of the most innovative electronic albums of the past decade.
He spoke with Artbound by phone between tours of Europe and Australia about his gig in-between -- the Playboy Jazz Festival -- as well as his last forty years as a resident of Los Angeles.
The first time you played at the Hollywood Bowl was in 1964 with Miles Davis. Is that correct?
I guess. Ha ha. You don't think I'd remember that, do you?
How do you prepare to play an 18,000 seat outdoor venue?
There's no special preparation. I've played the Hollywood Bowl several times now. There's the realization that if it's the day time, the sun may or may not be out. Well, at the Hollywood Bowl the sun is usually out. It's going to be very different in that respect than in the evening. The Bowl is a huge place. Very often in the day time, especially at the Playboy Jazz Festival, people bring their families and they have picnics and it's very difficult to actually get the attention of the audience. In the evening, there is much more focus on the stage. That doesn't mean that artists can't get their attention but it takes a lot of work.

Is it frustrating to play in that situation?
It could be. It's a reality that exists. It goes with the program.
Are ballads out?
You've better have their attention already before you play a ballad. Maybe Tony Bennett could pull that off.
What factors do you consider when putting a program together with the Los Angeles Philharmonic?
It's a pretty large venue. You try to make a package that's going to have not just "popular jazz" but have a package that has some cutting-edge stuff with something else that has more of a name. I like the idea of exposing new music and concepts and new creative ideas to an audience. Not just make a cookie-cutter kind of program. I have great help in putting together with Laura Connelly who is my absolute right-hand person for the LA Philharmonic.
Is there anyone that you wish you could book but hasn't worked yet?
We tried to book Maria Schneider with her orchestra with Dave Holland's big band. I didn't want it to be a battle of the bands or anything. She turned it down. Maybe she wasn't able to do it. She's an amazing talent. I would love to have her on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl.
You moved to Los Angeles in the early 70s. What was the incentive to come here at that time?
I had been living in New York for eleven years. When I would finish a tour and finally come back to New York, I wasn't looking forward to coming back to New York anymore. I had to analyze why. I think it was cause I always felt like I was surviving in New York. That was one reason. There was so much input, so many things going on that I needed some space to gather my thoughts and figure out my own take on things. When I came out to California to explore the possibility of moving here, I felt the difference right away. I've been able to have that space in order to find my own way. At the same time, Los Angeles was much cheaper to have a wonderful living space. The main thing was I feel like I'm living in LA rather than just surviving. There are trees around, not just big tall buildings. You can't beat the weather here. Even though it gets hot, it's still comfortable. It's comfortable even when it's 88.
Were you afraid that your career would suffer trading New York for Los Angeles?
No because I traveled a lot anyway. It didn't matter so much where I lived. I lived in apartments until I moved to LA. I've lived in the same house I bought in 1973. I moved here in December of 1972. In February or March, I bought this house. I can drive my car. I can swim in my pool.
There's a certain spirit of vitality here that I think that resonates with me. The friends that I have here are not friends out of desperation. We're close because of our heart. There's a kind of a bright light that kind of pervades the world from LA. It is it's own entity. A lot of things are generated from LA. A lot of great music is generated here. Some of it is in the hip-hop area not just jazz. Like Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, for example.
You played keyboards on Flying Lotus' last album, "You're Dead." How did you become involved with him?
I had been asking around about young artists who were doing some cutting-edge things. All the young people said Flying Lotus is the guy. I finally got a chance to meet him. I find out that he has a family history in jazz. Alice Coltrane is his aunt. His mother was a jazz musician. I got a chance to meet him. We talked and I got to see his show which blew my mind. We began to interact. I hung out with him at his house and I met Thundercat, an amazing bass player with his own career. Besides talking we just started playing some stuff. Little bits and pieces of things. I didn't know what was going to happen with it. Some of it ended up being on "You're Dead" which is an astounding album.
Did you hope film work pick up for you when you moved to Los Angeles?
I never thought about it. Doing film scores is one of the things I do. I never considered it a major part of my career because I'm primarily a pianist, keyboardist and composer. I've done about ten film scores. I never focused on it as a major part of my career I never considered whether I'd get more film work living in Los Angeles.
It crossed my mind. Maybe there'll be more opportunities for film work. I never concentrated on whether I did or not. I certainly did more films but it didn't change that much. Before I moved here, I did two film scores: "Blow-Up" back in the mid-60s and then a film called "The Spook Who Sat By the Door," kind of a cult film. After I moved here, I did the other eight films.
Don Cheadle is making a bio-pic about your old boss, Miles Davis, called "Miles Ahead." Is it true you are contributing music to that project?
Not primarily me. I did one scene that I'm involved with playing [by] me and Wayne Shorter and some other musicians. Robert Glasper is the guy that is mainly doing the score.
Is someone portraying you in the film?
I don't know. I haven't seen it.

Would that be strange for you to see that?
Strange is not the word you are looking for.
Intriguing, maybe. I figured I couldn't play myself. I'm too old to play myself.
You are playing this weekend with students from the Thelonious Monk Institute. Since establishing their permanent campus in Westwood, the program has left quite an impact on the local scene.
There are so many innovative ideas that come from the Institute's association with UCLA. I think it's that flow of creative ideas that has attracted Herb Alpert. Herb is a major supporter of the Monk Institute. The music school is very excited about the thing's we are doing in our program. We are not just focussed on the kind of insular jazz music arena. We are looking at other arenas that jazz can impact or could be an interesting connection. For example, the medical and science field. What improvisation does to the human spirit and body, that could impact even religion. Los Angeles has been very receptive to the Monk Institute and its programs.
Are you surprised that the keytar didn't become a more widely embraced instrument?
I thought it might be more widely accepted by musicians than it is. The interesting thing is, every time I put it on at my performances there is always applause. I'm sure it's from the younger segment of my audience that comes to my concerts. The appeal is still there but I feel it from the audience but I don't see that many musicians picking up on it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Epicness of the West Coast Get Down - KCET's Artbound

Earlier this month, more than three dozen, influential jazz, R&B and soul musicians took over the stage of the sold-out Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. With a soundboard manned by National Public Radio and the giddy anticipation brought on by global accolades -- Los Angeles Times profileNew York Times profileFlea's twitter feed -- jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington was finally getting the recognition he had worked so hard at. This wasn't the birth of a new era of jazz in Los Angeles. But it was a cosmic communion, and a breakthrough for Washington.
"I do feel an obligation to promote Los Angeles jazz," Washington says. "I was one of those people overlooked."
The origins of the evening's massive band, the West Coast Get Down, is a bit nebulous. The double-down rhythm section grew out of Los Angeles's Leimert Park. Washington, an Inglewood-raised UCLA graduate, booked a gig upstairs at Fifth Street Dick's coffeehouse more than ten years ago. When childhood friends -- bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and keyboardist Cameron Graves -- informed Washington they couldn't make the gig, he called another trio, upright bassist Miles Mosley, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and drummer Tony Austin. Then to Washington's surprise everybody showed up. The formation stuck, later adding trombonist Ryan Porter, trumpeter Dontae Winslow and vocalist Patrice Quinn.
That core group can easily be linked to thousands of musicians around the world.
Washington toured with Snoop Dogg after college and Chaka Khan. Bassist Bruner, Jr. has worked for Kenny Garrett and Suicidal Tendencies. Mosley has had recording contracts since he was a teenager and even toured with Jonathan Davis of Korn. Austin has held it down for Santana and Willow Smith. But they have always returned to Hollywood's Piano Bar for their twice weekly residency.
Washington has been a towering local presence since the late 1990s. He was a vibrant burst of youthful firepower in the Gerald Wilson big band. He has toured with drummer Harvey Mason.
In the last decade he has performed under his own name at Walt Disney Concert Hall, LACMA and Grand Performances. And earlier this year he was an integral part ofKendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" ensemble, contributing string arrangements and some horn work. Finally, this spring a recording with his name as the headliner was coming out.
Washington's debut on Los Angeles-based Brainfeeder Records is making up for lost time. Called "The Epic," the album is nearly three hours long, spread across three discs. Through hard-hitting originals and a few unexpected left turns ("Clair De Lune," "Cherokee"), Washington presents a sound that is 21st century jazz. It is informed by hip-hop, brushed with a little reggae but wholly in the pocket, full of fire and sensitivity. Washington blares through the dense arrangements with unwavering confidence. It is as grand a statement as one could hope for from someone with so much to say.
"The record was playing in my dream," said Washington of the marathon recording sessions that took place back in 2011. "I would dream the whole three hour record. It tripped me out. I took it as a sign."
He also took it to his label boss Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, and told him that all seventeen tracks had to be released together. Ellison, a cornerstone of the Los Angeles electronica scene, and an increasing advocate for the jazz world, expected that response and agreed to release Washington's vision in full. "Lotus shined a light and opened a door," Washington says, "he gave me the confidence to go all in."
Washington's armfuls of tapes were just part of the recorded output. All ten members of the collective are capable bandleaders with very different perspectives and many of them came away with recordings of their own from that original session. Brandon Coleman, on loan from the Mothership, has an album waiting. Bruner, Jr. has his own double-fisted project ready to go and Mosley and Austin have a duo called BFI that clobbers with funky precision.
So how long can the West Coast Get Down last? Will they perhaps splinter under the weight of some long-deserved recognition? How long can they continue playing twice a week in Hollywood? Thundercat was the first to step out with a pair of releases also for Brainfeeder showcasing his astounding bass work and dilated psychedelic "third-eye" influence. Those albums helped him become an in-demand entertainer, even headlining a tent at the Cape Town Jazz Festival last March, eschewing his usual chainmail for colorful dashikis. Washington is filling his calendar with tour dates reaching as far as New Zealand and with each spotlight-worthy excursion, the West Coast Get Down will become harder and harder to contain.
But Washington keeps spreading the group's gospel. "I'm making a point to tell everybody how amazing my friends are," he says. "Ronald Bruner is a genius. Brandon Coleman is a genius."
And the world is finally paying attention.

Josh Nelson On Exploring Mars - KPCC's Off-Ramp

This is a description of an interview with pianist Josh Nelson in anticipation of his newest album "Exploring Mars." For the full audio, click the link below.
______What does Mars sound like on a piano? Pianist Josh Nelson came up with one answer on his latest album: Exploring Mars.
Nelson has performed and collaborated with musicians like Jeff Hamilton, Peter Erskine and vocalist Natalie Cole. When performing live, the pianist and composer often includes a live videographer to collaborate with his band.
Off-Ramp contributor Sean J. O'Connell went to Nelson's home to talk about the newest album. Here are some highlights:
On writing an album about Mars
Mars is awesome, lets just start with that. Second, it's been in the news quite a lot. For me, it was the landing of the Curiosity rover in August 2012 that kind of seeded the project. And then with all of the Space X stuff going on, with trials of people hopefully populating that planet someday... it seemed like an apropos time to release something with that subject matter.
It all started with "Martian Chronicles" — Ray Bradbury and his vision for the Martian fantasy world definitely got me going before that. 
I really love the romanticism, the idea of musically reflecting upon the planet. But at the same time, paying homage to someone like Gustav Holst, who took Mars and the astrological meaning of the planets, and putting my own spin on it.
 On translating the concept of Mars to music
For this record, I would take other records — or also films, like "Invaders from Mars" from the 1950s — and just put it on and just start playing. Solo piano wise, [it sounds] romantic and kind of other worldly. But I really love the idea of just kind of improvising, especially with the films of Mars, or the JPL/NASA stuff that they've been putting out from the Curiosity rover landing — that's super inspirational to me as well. 
 On performing live with a videographer
I love film, I love theater, and I just wanted to marry the two with my music. Growing up a Disney kid, my dad was an Imagineer with Disney. My brother and I got to be the first guys to ride on a lot of rides at Disneyland, testing them out. And we were fascinated by the theatrics that go into it. And the mechanics, but also the resulting art — the feeling that you get from seeing something like this.
So, yeah. We have the Discovery Project. I'm surprised more  jazz artists don't do it, actually. Because there's a serious visual component that I think a lot of them deal with. It's really fun for the band. It's fun for the audience. It's a really fun journey from beginning to end. 
 On the impact video has on the musicians' performance
Absolutely, there's different performances, yeah. They respond visually and then it manifests different sonically when they perform it. I actually like really hearing the tunes performed with video and without to see how they're different and to see if the guys are, in fact, reacting.
Josh Nelson @ KPCC's Off-Ramp