Friday, March 04, 2011

Winter Jazzfest - Downbeat Magazine

Caught: Winter Jazzfest Proves New York Jazz Scene's Strength in Numbers

New York's Winter Jazzfest requires a physical stamina rarely asked of jazz fans. Drink minimums and hushed crowds give way to wrist bands and a sea of shoulders, each pair supporting a much-needed winter coat. For its seventh year, the festival presented 68 acts on five West Village stages (Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny's Castaways, Sullivan Hall, Zinc Bar and Bitter End) to more than 4,000 attendees on January 7 and 8.

Drummer Chico Hamilton, who was about to turn 90, helped kick off the festival at Le Poisson Rouge with a comparatively youthful septet. Amid countless jokes about his age, Hamilton displayed an effortless mastery of his kit, proving himself as relevant as the bandleaders one quarter his age. At the close of his set the crowd moved en masse across the street to witness Charles Gayle's fiery saxophone at Kenny's Castaways, his big tone filling the kitschy venue with squealing flights, while bassist Larry Roland and drummer Michael TA Thompson clattered with intensity alongside him. More subdued in decor but no less in sound was Zinc Bar which featured exquisite performances from Aaron Goldberg's trio and Marcus Strickland's quartet.

Saturday night expanded from three venues to five - selling out by 9 p.m. Le Poisson Rouge had one of the more disparate booking sequences. Charlie Hunter played his seven-string guitar to a talkative crowd, laying down intertwined blues riffs in his split-brained style. Following his straightforward set was Stained Radiance featuring Nels Cline's lurking guitar, looping through feedback and fire, providing the soundtrack to Norton Wisdom's rapidly transforming backlit paintings. Organist John Medeski had a rock 'n' roll-like following with various camera phones pointed his way throughout RedCred's set of wailing funk and klezmer soul-jazz. Later in the evening the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey brought its pointillistic bravado to a diminished but enthusiastic crowd. The quartet made the most of the venue's sound system, turning on a dime while Chris Combs' slide guitar and Jeff Harshbarger's bowed bass-lines arrived in thunderous waves.

Kenny's Castaways hosted a couple of heavy tenor saxophones on its cluttered stage. Donny McCaslin's quartet, aided by Uri Caine's raspy Rhodes, blazed through a handful of breathless originals, sheet music fluttering in their wake. A few sets later powerhouse trio Athereal Bace hit the stage missing one of two drummers, but saxophonist Abraham Burton and drummer Nasheet Waits generated enough hurricane forces to rattle the walls on their own.

Sullivan Hall, the most remote of the venues, was where everyone was discreetly partying, with DJs premiering unreleased recordings between sets and nearly every other person in the room carrying an instrument case. The tuned-in crowd ran at capacity all night on sleepy Sullivan Street. Maurice Brown brought his powerful chops and effortless showmanship, while the Robert Glaser Experiment dealt in heavier grooves with the crowd sweating and swaying along.

At the Bitter End, the American Midwest-meets-Africa dance band Nomo crammed onto the tiny stage for a surging crowd, heating up the room with rapid-fire horn solos and polyrhythmic dance beats while Noah Preminger's saxophone eloquently ushered in Sunday morning as Frank Kimbrough wrestled with the house's wobbly tuned piano.

Downbeat - April 2011

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Hazel Scott - NYC Jazz Record

Karen Chilton
Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC

In 1968 Ebony magazine succinctly stated, “Hazel
Dorothy Scott Powell Bedin has, in the span of what
might be considered a short lifetime, been many
things: child prodigy, darling of café society, concert
artist, civil rights pioneer, the wife of a famous and
powerful man, mother, divorcee, expatriate.” Karen
Chilton’s biography is a straightforward account of
an extraordinary life that never wavered in the face
of racism, political witch-hunts or financial
hardships, providing ample reason for resurrecting
her as both a social and musical pioneer.

Born in Trinidad in 1920, Scott emerged as a
piano prodigy, guided by her musically-inclined
mother towards classical repertoire. While still in
her teens she became the toast of New York, putting
a boogie-woogie spin on the ten-fingered puzzles of
Liszt and Chopin. This success led to a handful of
film appearances that ended when she chose her
integrity over employment, displaying a stoicism
that would lead to financial hardships as she
outgrew her captivating looks. In her mid 20s she
married political trailblazer Adam Clayton Powell
Jr., forming one of the most powerful couples in
New York and they lived accordingly, supplying
plenty of ammunition for those looking to take them
down. By the mid ‘50s her marriage had dissolved
and she was facing charges from the House
Un-American Activities Committee. She escaped the
scrutiny by moving to France but eventually
returned to New York to focus on her family before
succumbing to pancreatic cancer in 1981.

Through Scott’s unpublished memoirs and
interviews with her son Adam Clayton Powell III,
Chilton weaves the story of a woman who, due to
her strong beliefs, often found herself with her
artistic pride intact but her career in shambles. Scott
was a complex and stubborn woman whose musical
prowess was shaped equally by the classics and
family friends like Billie Holiday, Lester Young and
Art Tatum. Her glamorous lifestyle and unmatched
musicality make for a moving story that Chilton has
eloquently brought to light. A well-researched
biography on an unnecessarily forgotten star.

Hazel Scott @ New York City Jazz Record