Thursday, June 28, 2012

Miles Davis Gets a Postage Stamp - LA Weekly

A Celebration of Miles Davis
Hollywood Bowl

Better than...celebrating Garfield creator Jim Davis

Last night, under a vivid half moon, this year's Bowl jazz series kicked off with a tribute to Miles Davis. It was largely a hit and as eclectic as the great trumpeter's game-changing career. Even better: dude now has his own postage stamp.

Before the show, there was the West coast unveiling of the US Postal Service's stamp in his honor at the Bowl's museum. Pianist Herbie Hancock mingled with featured bassist Marcus Miller, while Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo (in a snazzy Joker-esque suit) posed for photos with our man Henry Rollins. Rollins has long been a Davis fan and friend of the Davis family. "When they call, I come," Rollins said. The unveiling was a nice gesture that had many people asking: what would Miles think of this?

The show opened with drummer Jimmy Cobb's "So What" band. Cobb is the last surviving member of the Davis' 1959 classic jazz session Kind of Blue. Dressed in suspenders and a NASA baseball hat, Cobb took the drum stool behind a sextet of talents both young and old.

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt filled Davis' place with force, delivering a brighter sound on "So What" while tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson went the other way in interpreting the role of John Coltrane, offering confident solos but nothing approaching the barrage of notes Coltrane was capable of. Pianist Larry Willis offered some hard swinging piano, pounding through a rapid-fire "All Blues." Cobb still has the touch and was given his chance in the spotlight at the end with a popping solo turn.

The set was a pretty straight-forward reading of the classic session. It must be strange to be playing the same five tunes 53 years after they were first recorded. It's generous of Cobb to provide all of us that opportunity and the audience was respectful of his great legacy.

Despite the fact that Herbie Hancock, a key member of Davis' classic '60s band, took to the stage repeatedly, the evening completely bypassed that era in favor of Davis' electric period of the 1970s. The rotating stage revealed a band equipped with more percussion and electrical outlets than most music stores.

Nicholas Payton was the next trumpeter to take the Davis chair. His approach practically blew out the candles of the champagne-sipping box seats. It was an explosion of light and sound that was jarring for many people who had enough trouble accepting the same transition from Davis when he took over ten years to make it. Here the change happened within five minutes of Cobb's last cymbal splash.

After a low-key introduction from tablist Badal Roy, Payton echoed across the full band alongside saxophonist Antoine Roney. Guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight, in his Technicolor dreamshirt, shredded over the band, driven by two eager percussionists: Munyungo Jackson and Mino Cinelu. Keyboardist John Beasely set loose with help from a KAOS pad as the camera tried to find him in the back.

Marcus Miller led the third band, which was a tribute to Davis' mid-'80s era. Miller said more within the first minute than the other two bands combined. His polish as an entertainer, not just a musician, was one of the main reasons he closed the show. His impressive thump on the bass is probably the other reason.

Miller played a few tunes from Tutu, his 1986 collaboration with Davis. It was always kind of unclear to me who uses whammy bars on keyboards. Federico Pena is one of those guys. His wah-wahing synthesizers harkened to a time more specific than either of the first bands. We were transported to the sounds of Ronald Reagan's second term.

Trumpeter Sean Jones, who was only two when Reagan was first elected, filled the trumpet role for this set. His muted horn fit well amid the keyboard sounds and Miller's bellowing bass.

"We're playing the music of the past but we got to update it," announced Miller, midway through his set. "Otherwise, what would Miles think?" This led to Miller digging into his more current catalog, although it mostly resembled the earlier part of his set. His spin on the bass clarinet was a nice change and probably the funkiest that instrument has ever sounded.

In the end it was unclear what Davis would think of all this reverence. He probably wouldn't have showed anyway. He'd be too busy working on his Flying Lotus collaboration.

Personal Bias:
I once played in a backing trio for Jones when I was 19. I barely survived.

The Crowd: People who remember buying Tutu on vinyl.

Random Notebook Dump: How long has that old man been singing with his dirty dog puppet outside of the Hollywood Bowl? I can remember back at least fifteen years.

Miles Davis @  LA Weekly

Friday, June 22, 2012

Joey DeFrancesco review - LA Weekly

Joey DeFrancesco Trio

Pity the poor guys who had to bring that B3 organ and Leslie speaker upstairs. Maybe that's why Joey DeFrancesco gets booked for more than one night. Last night, the New York-based organist, aided by two first-call locals, drummer Ramon Banda and guitarist Steve Cotter, started off his two-day stint at Studio City's Vitello's in swinging style. His lengthy set summoned the ghosts of organ trios past with a tight oscillating sound that helped make the funky B3 a turntable regular several decades ago.

With a gruff count-off, the trio launched into "Donny's Tune," the opening track from his latest album, with a Latin-ish start that quickly turned to swing. Cotter opened up the solos with brisk lines over DeFrancesco's active accompaniment before making way for an organ and drum solo. DeFrancesco closed the tune with a sly reference to McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance" before segueing into country chestnut "Wagon Wheels."

DeFrancesco chuckled his way through the tune with Cotter offering his own bellowing strut. The band was clearly enjoying themselves and DeFrancesco copped to telling "bad jokes" between tunes.
The band followed with a bouncing "Up Jumped Spring." Cotter started proceedings with a disjointed guitar solo before DeFrancesco built from a slow and steady start to rapid-fire lines. The band playfully rolled through the swinging waltz with Banda pummeling and splashing his way through an unaccompanied drum solo.

DeFrancesco offered up his versatility on the next tune by busting out a well-concealed trumpet. He played his muted horn with his right hand while providing basslines with his left. His eloquent and spacious tone evoked a late 1950s Miles Davis, with each note deliberately drawn out. It was an impressive display of multi-tasking without either the organ or trumpet suffering in the process.

"V & G" got the full stadium organ effect with Cotter hitting four-to-the-bar block chords as Banda lightly brushed his way across the kit. DeFrancesco gave a swinging solo that hovered over Basie-ish simplicity while highlighting the capabilities of the organ.

The band closed with "Ashley Blue," a tune dedicated to DeFrancesco's daughter, who was in attendance. It was a straight-forward blues with Cotter and DeFrancesco doubling on the melody. Cotter focused on his lower strings for a Kenny Burrell like solo while DeFrancesco opted for a coy spin that relied upon several breaks before commanding the audience to clap along. The bashing swing was a pleasant close; his great throwback sound goes a long way towards making DeFrancesco's self-proclaimed title of "finest organist on the planet" seem not entirely unreasonable.

Personal Bias: The jazz organ is one of my favorite sounds but I'd hate to have to bring one of those behemoths on the road with me.

The Crowd: Old enough to remember the golden days of the jazz organ.

Random Notebook Dump: All jazz clubs should smell like marinara sauce.

Joey DeFrancesco @ LA Weekly

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Phil Upchurch talks Muddy Waters - LA Weekly

Phil Upchurch helped introduce Muddy Waters to the Hippies - LA Weekly

If he had to pick a number, guitarist Phil Upchurch estimates he has played on over 2000 recordings. Based on the frequency with which his name arises, he's probably right. Asking him to recall some of those dates can be like asking a fisherman about a particular fish he caught 40 years ago.

"I'll just have to take your word for it," he says in response to the details of a mid-'60s Oscar Brown Jr. record we describe. But some of his performances are better remembered than others: Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, Minnie Riperton's Come to My Garden and especially Muddy Waters' Electric Mud.

Upchurch got his start playing guitar around Chicago in the early 1960s. He had an instrumental radio hit called "You Can't Sit Down" that rose to #3 on the Billboard charts when the Dovells put lyrics to it in 1963. "I was very young," recalls Upchurch. "I didn't have the confidence to go on my own. Between me not having the confidence and having a good paying job, I figured I'll just stay where I am."

Staying where he was paid off when the Moonglows, featuring a young Marvin Gaye, got him some regular studio work at Chess Records -- home to Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Following a stint in the army, Upchurch returned to Chess as a salaried session musician, adding guitar and bass anywhere he was needed.

In 1968, Marshall Chess, the enterprising son of label owner Leonard Chess, attempted to cash in on the blacklight generation, placing Muddy Waters in a tornado of psychedelic sounds that featured a wah-wahing guitar frontline including Roland Faulkner, Pete Cosey and Upchurch.

"We would get together and just pass around ideas," says Upchurch. "'Why don't we do this?' [Marshall] wanted to bring Muddy up to date, to get him out there with the hippie crowd." The result was one of the most curious additions to the Chess catalog.

Waters, strong-voiced yet leery, belts out classics like "Mannish Boy" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" as well as the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together," awash in screeching, effect-driven guitars more befitting a Fillmore West musician than a 54-year-old bluesman from Mississippi. The album is a time-capsule of lysergic guitar pyrotechnics, far from Waters' rollicking Newport Jazz Festival set eight years prior.

What was Waters' impression? "He hated it," says an amused Upchurch.

"He hated every second of it. We did one with Howlin' Wolf too. He didn't like the album either." Although the album sold well, netting Waters' first appearance on the Billboard charts, he referred to the record as "dogshit."

But the album was embraced by those it was aimed at and has gradually claimed its spot as a blues curiosity. Jimi Hendrix was known to blast it before shows and Chuck D has credited the album with getting him into traditional blues. Chuck D even assembled the living members of the band for a questionable re-recording for Martin Scorcese's Blues series.

Following his time at Chess, Upchurch went on to record a couple albums as a leader for Blue Thumb in the 1970s that would help define soul-jazz (Darkness, Darkness and Lovin' Feeling), eventually settling in Los Angeles 30 years ago.

Now in his early '70s, it appears Upchurch is ready for his own revival. "The greatest artists out there are doing their own music," says Phil about his current project. "In the past I played songs that I wish that I had written. Now, I'm going to concentrate on being a true artist and play my own music."
Electric Phil anyone?

Phil Upchurch @ LA Weekly

Monday, June 18, 2012

Playboy Jazz Festival - LA Weekly

Timothy Norris
Sheila E and dancers

Playboy Jazz Festival
Hollywood Bowl

This past weekend the Playboy Jazz Festival celebrated its 34th anniversary with two days of bands, both jazz and otherwise. It was also a farewell to Bill Cosby, who would be MCing for the last time. The crowd came prepared to party and even caught some of the music between jello shots.

Timothy Norris
Bill Cosby

I arrived at the well-sauced Hollywood Bowl in time for a boisterous set from the Soul Rebels brass band. Dressed in their finest barbeque threads, which included trumpeter Julian Gosin in a Lebron James jersey, the band blasted out their brand of New Orleans funk aided by some N'awlins ringers: guitarist Leo Nocentelli of the Meters, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and vocalist Ivan Neville. The band worked the sound system to its fullest, giving Nocentelli plenty of room to shred on a rousing "Big Chief" as crowd members danced with their parasols.

The Global Gumbo All Stars followed on the rotating stage, replacing the party vibe with a serious jazz cat vibe. Unfortunately the crowd didn't follow and for much of pianist Alfredo Rodriguez's intro the sound man didn't follow either. The band, which also consisted of guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Richard Bona and drummer Francisco Mela, played a set of worldly jazz dipping into Cuban and African rhythms.

Subtlety is not well suited for the Hollywood Bowl. With 18,000 people socializing and imbibing it's hard to compete for their attention. The chatter was overpowering but the band perked up when Loueke dug into a kora vibe. Although immensely talented the band was better suited for a venue the size of the stage as opposed to the sprawling amphitheater.

Sharon Jones, on the other hand, is no stranger to getting a crowd going. As the shade overtook the venue, she and her ten-piece Dap Kings played a set of burning soul that by the end had the crowd dancing in the aisles. Ian Hendrickson-Smith bellowed his baritone saxophone amid the horn lines, drawing a heavy funk in the process. A version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" brought the white handkerchiefs back out, continuing the second line feel of the Soul Rebels.

Christian McBride, a former jazz director for the LA Phil, returned to the Bowl with his 17-piece big band. Riding high off a recent Grammy win, McBride worked his band through a series of standards including "Darn That Dream" before introducing vocalist Melissa Walker for some straight-ahead readings of "When I Fall In Love" and "The More I See You." This was the festival at its swinging best and by that point a majority of the attendees were actually facing the stage.

For much of the day Cosby sat in a chair by the side of the stage, announcing the new bands without even getting up. He seemed like a man who was days from retirement. His sweatpants, tucked in shirt and flip-flops made him look like a college freshman rattled by a dorm fire-drill, but an invite from McBride brought the Cos front and center to sing "Hikky Burr," the theme song to the original Bill Cosby show from the late '60s. Cosby sprung to life with the nonsense lyrics, strutting around the stage and dropping his inimitable Cosby-isms.

Timothy Norris
Christian McBride Big Band

The band closed with "In a Hurry," the opening track from McBride's 1995 debut Gettin' To It. For the entire set McBride had young bassist Ben Williams standing by his side, taking over bass duties during his stage patter. The finale was Williams' chance to strut his stuff. After nearly everyone in the band took a lightning fast solo, Williams and McBride battled in rapid-fire phrases.

Sheila E was a crowd pleaser. Looking exactly as she did 25 years ago, Ms. Escovedo took to the stage amid thunderous applause. As the band broke into a deep samba, a parade of about 20 dancers circled in front of the stage decked out in their Brazilian best. Timbales, bouncing synthesizers and frenetic horns got much of the crowd on their feet.

Midway through her set she walked around the box seats handing out autographed sheets of paper (Glossies? Resumes? It was hard to tell from my vantage point) while the band bashed through an energetic '80s rock thump. She was joined by her father Pete Escovedo for a couple of numbers including his strange bid for Tony Bennett status, crooning "Fly Me to the Moon" in his salmon-colored jacket and Benedetto-like phrasing.

The rest of the set played out like a revived Santana show featuring rock star poses and shredding guitar solos, as every light on the stage flashed wildly.

Personal Bias: "Jager, peach schnapps and cranberry juice!" yelled a benchmate. I had never heard any of those words spoken at a jazz show before.

The Crowd: 18,000 people trying to eat food in their laps, many of them wearing pink, even more sparking a joint.

Random Notebook Dump:
The term "Jazz festival" should always be in quotes. They include jazz but are no means geared towards the average jazz fan. Filling the Hollywood Bowl is not an easy task and as far as compromise goes, this festival continues to keep most everyone happy. It will be interesting to see the changes next year without Cosby.

Playboy Jazz Festival @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Les Paul Estate Auction - LA Weekly

Les Paul Auction
Julien's Auctions

Les Paul died about three years ago. He was 94 and still gigging every Monday night in Manhattan. If you don't know much about him other than the guitars that bear his name, know that he was "without exaggeration the single most important figure in the history of modern music technology," as Weekly writer John Payne wrote about him after an interview with the guitarist and inventor in the mid-aughts.

This past Friday and Saturday, at Julien's Auction house in Beverly Hills, Paul's estate auctioned off over 700 lots of his belongings, including hundreds of guitars, effect machines, trophies and street signs. Pretty much everything except the light bulbs in his house was up for grabs.

I was joined Saturday morning by local jazz guitarist Bruce Forman, who played with Paul at his famous New York residency some years ago. His most recent release, Formanism, is a more straight-ahead affair of original compositions with former students Gabe Noel on bass and Jake Reed holding down the drums. He is a nimble guitarist unafraid to entertain his listeners. After signing his life away on a credit check and receiving his paddle, we were just in time for the 10 a.m. start. Ten minutes and five lots later the auction had already netted over $20,000. "I think I might be out of my league," said Forman.

Drew Berlin, one of the famed guitar pros behind the Burst Brothers, was a consultant for the auction. "We were hoping to take in a million, million and a half," he said, clearly satisfied with the proceedings. "Yesterday alone we took in 1.7 million."

It is an understatement to say that the estimated prices in the catalog were a little low. Guitar schematics from the late 1960s valued between $600 and $800 sold for $17,000. A wristwatch given to Paul by Frank Sinatra was listed to sell between $400 and $600. It sold for $20,000 in less than a minute. A harmonica rack expected to go for upwards of $1,500 sold for $47,500.

Buried deep in the lush, 400-page catalog, Forman and guitar collector Andy Pascoe set their sights on a 1937 D'Angelico acoustic archtop. It sold at the comparatively low price of $12,000. Neither Forman nor Pascoe came away with the guitar, but then again neither had to come up with an excuse for his wife either.

Auctioneer Leila Dunbar played fast and loose, keeping the crowd entertained through what could have been a very tedious process while also recognizing some of the more, shall we say, subtle thousand dollar nods. A barrage of numbers flowed from her podium as the table full of phone bidder representatives yelped their increasingly reckless bids.

On particularly lucrative battles, the crowd would applaud. I'm not sure if they were applauding the thrill of the hunt or just the grandiose display of financial priorities. Either way, all of the proceeds were going to the Les Paul Foundation, which spreads their money around music education and medical research. With Berlin estimating sales totaling $4 million, it will go quite a ways to celebrate what would have been Paul's 97th birthday.

Personal Bias: I don't like buying things on eBay if they cost more than $20. The likelihood of me winning even Paul's health insurance cards was slim.

The Crowd: Middle-aged men with money to burn, including Vincent Gallo.

Random Notebook Dump: A lot of the people in the room were representing larger establishments like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Hard Rock Café enterprise.

Les Paul Auction @ LA Weekly

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hesitation Blues #8 - LA Record

Hesitation Blues #8

Why does LA only have free outdoor shows in the summer?  This is sunny, Randy Newman hollering LA. You could have an outdoor show on New Year’s Day and people would be comfortable. I guess musicians have sensitive fingers though. Nobody likes chapped hands but if you like free jazz and unbearable traffic, you are in luck.

LACMA resumes their usual Friday night freebies. They always have interesting bookings over there. Who’s doing those? Give me a job! Drummer Alphonse Mouzon is there on the 1st of June and saxophone legend Ernie Watts follows him a week later. But Ernie Watts is everywhere.

Watts can play alongside the tasteful Charlie Haden but was also just handy alongside the less-than-tasteful Frank Zappa. Aside from LACMA he is also doing the 3rd Street Farmer’s Market free jazz night on Thursday, July 12th. That series has a pretty great lineup plus old people eating donuts and lots of Price is Right fans. Multi-reedist Katisse Buckingham is there on the 7th of June and Josh Nelson is there with his group the following Thursday.

As they have done the last few years, the Hollywood and Highland center will be offering up free jazz concerts every Tuesday night. The evening as build as wine and jazz so, yes, the music is wine jazz. It’s the usual rotation of local jazzbos but Pete Escovedo is playing on July 8th and he’s bringing an orchestra. That should at least get your toes tapping. If he can’t do it, maybe his daughter can.  She’ll be performing for a boogalooing Hugh Hefner on June 16th.

The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival is happening on June 16th and 17th at the Hollywood Bowl. Amid the crowd-pleasing ticket sellers like Ozomatli, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and the aforementioned Ms. E. are a few more challenging acts like the Global Gumbo All-Stars which features drummer Francisco Mela and guitarist Lionel Loueke and Spectrum Road which features Vernon Reid and John Medeski. I got to go to the Playboy mansion this year and dig on the free bar and strange, angry jokes from Bill Cosby. They have peacocks just roaming around over there but very few women roaming around.

On June 10th the annual Vibe Summit is happening at the Remo Recreational Music Center in North Hollywood. I could never figure out who plays the vibes. How do you get into that? Do you have to own a van? Expect every mallet-wielding swinger in town to make their way to that regular event. This is the 19th one!

Good old reliable Blue Whale is offering a June residency from Nine Winds records, who are happily celebrating their 35th year. Every Wednesday the label will present some of the artists that label founder and multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia helped to nurture. Golia himself will play the last two Wednesdays. Challenging stuff that proves the West Coast can compete with any of those cities with better public transportation.

I usually like to point out a good show in Orange County for this column too but their ain’t shit. Soka University, whoever those guys are, put on a few good shows earlier in the year. I guess once the kiddies skedaddle for the summer there is no point because no one else is going to haul ass down to Aliso Viejo at 6 o’clock on a Friday night. Maybe in September? In the meantime, dig on Yanni at Segerstrom Hall on July 18th and catch up on your rest.

Hesitation Blues @ LA Record

Nick Rosen review - LA Record

Nick Rosen - Violet

I get wary of any artist biography that references Jeremy Piven. That’s the kind of information I would keep to myself. Nonetheless, multi-instrumentalist Nick Rosen, amid his more impressive credentials, proudly includes the one-time George Costanza impersonator as a collaborator. Thankfully John Cusack’s right-hand man is not on this album but Rosen does get an assist from a bunch of friends including KCRW mainstay Anthony Valadez and Dexter Story. This new album moves at a very slow pace. With song titles that include the words “countryside,” “tears” and “angels” that shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The man likes atmospheric slow jams. “Eastside/Westside” gets a cognac and cigar vibe sliding over an echo-laden drumbeat. He immediately follows that track with “See You Again,” a strummed, beach-side folk-pop, perfect for hanging up cut-out photos from a magazine on a pink wall. This relatively brief album is solely dedicated to atmosphere. The songs are unobtrusive and there are even some bird sound effects over the phased-out guitar on “Let’s Go Back.” The band even digs into that jazz stuff with the record’s namesake but the track isn’t out of place, sticking firmly to the introspective scene. The piano/bass/drum gets into a sort of Keith Jarrett feeling, clocking in at nearly two and half minutes longer than any other track. The album closes on an epic swell with vibrating strings hovering above a gently plucked acoustic guitar and the vocals of Maiya Sykes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Vinny Golia & Nine Winds Records - LA Weekly

When free jazz, multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia first set foot in Los Angeles in the early 1970s he wasn't expecting to stay. But circumstances dictated he was here for good, so Golia embarked on a project that helped him become one of the most important guardians of the more experimental pockets of West Coast jazz history.
Thirty-five years later, his project of necessity, Nine Winds Records, is celebrating its unstoppable mission with a Wednesday night June residency at the Blue Whale.

The self-taught woodwind genie has a sound that can bellow like a foghorn or squeak like a nest full of birds; it's frenetic, unstoppable, and a far cry from what anyone might consider commercial.

"We already saw the writing on the walls. If you weren't living in New York City, you weren't going to get a record deal. I thought maybe I'd have to do it for two or three years," Golia says. "And then people started taking notice. And then there were other people I was playing with who had records they wanted to release." After unleashing four of his own challenging albums over three years, Golia took a left turn with the more subdued debut of guitarist Nels Cline and the late bassist Eric Von Essen, Elegies.

"They got killed in the press," Golia recalls. "It was totally divided. They either totally loved it or hated it. One guy called it 'another entry into the whole wheat movement.' It was automatically classified as new age because it didn't have any sweaty saxophone players."

Thankfully Golia has never been afraid of challenging an audience. Over the next twenty plus years he continued to release his own sweaty albums, plus recordings by the likes of string-man Jeff Gauthier (The Present), drummer Alex Cline (Not Alone) and pianist Wayne Peet (Down In-Ness) that would further broaden the sound of the coastal fringe.

By the turn of the century, Golia found himself teaching classes at the educational center of that fringe, CalArts. "I'm not really a 'jazz' jazz guy. I have no idea where I fit into that category," he says. And that made him a perfect fit for the school.

More than a dozen years later, Golia is a full-time faculty member, imparting his knowledge while also absorbing the youth that has breathed new life into his composing, his performing and especially his label. "I like the younger kids because they are so respectful of the traditions," says Golia. "They know the history but they have other new things that they bring into it. It's really smoking. It's kind of the way it should be."

With a back-catalogue of over 200 albums, Nine Winds and Golia's legacy is well-documented. That he continues to innovate and inspire with the same uncompromising DIY ethos that he started with is icing on the cake. Rather than focus on the label's ground-breaking past, the residency will feature some of the newest additions to the Nine Winds roster which includes numerous CalArts alums like trumpeter Dan Rosenboom and the far-reaching quartet Slumgum.

"It always feels like we're expanding. New people keep coming but no one goes away," says a hopeful Golia. "It's like an amoeba. It keeps stretching out and engulfing something else."

Vinny Golia @ LA Weekly

Friday, June 01, 2012

Charlie Watts Interview - NYC Jazz Record

[Author's Note: I got to talk to Charlie Watts for a half an hour and he was one of the most generous and talkative interviews I've ever had. Definitely a career highlight.]

Charlie Watts is one of the most famous rock and roll
drummers of all time but his first love was jazz. In the early
‘80s Watts returned to his first passion with an allstar big
band and, when the Rolling Stones’ schedule permits,
organizes a new project a little more swinging than his day
job. This month he appears at Lincoln Center with his
newest project, the The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie, which
has him swinging behind a modern day Meade Lux Lewis/
Albert Ammons duo consisting of pianists Axel
Zwingenberger and Ben Waters.

The New York City Jazz Record: The British jazz scene
was thriving when you were musically growing up in
the late ‘50s and as an early 20-year old in the early
‘60s. Which British jazz musicians influenced you?

Charlie Watts: Phil Seaman, Jimmy Deuchar…there’s a
whole crowd of people. Half of them were in an
orchestra I had, a big band I brought over to New York
[in the mid ‘80s]. But there were many of them. The
guy [Dave Green] who is playing bass with me was my
childhood neighbor and we used to listen to jazz. He
used to play with a lot of those people.

TNYCJR: How close were you to trying to make a
career out of being a jazz musician yourself?

CW: Not very. I used to play the drums and the only
drumming I knew was jazz drumming. Eventually I
was asked to play with various R&B bands but it’s not
an easy adventure trying to be a jazz musician. You
live on the end of a telephone. I was pleased to be in a
band. I’m not really a virtuoso. I prefer to be a band

TNYCJR: Does your approach to the drums change
when you are in front of 200 people rather than 20,000?

CW: Only volume, really. It’s about the only difference
for me. I play exactly the same either way. You just fit
in with what’s going on. You hope.

TNYCJR: You’ve expressed a distaste for touring but
does your interest change when you are leading your
band? Or is a hotel room a hotel room?

CW: I never had time to do anything outside of the
Stones things. Touring was constant and it got on your
nerves really. I never had time to do anything at home.
I’m so used to it. It seems easier now than it used to be.
Our tours used to go on so long. They would become
an epic on its own but it’s turned to naught now.

TNYCJR: What jazz drummers influenced you and, as
you were growing up, what American jazz drummers
do you recall hearing live? And who left the biggest

CW: The first guy I ever heard play was Chico
Hamilton. I’ve always loved what he does. From
records, you know. Davey Tough, Big Sid Catlett. The
man I used to see in Paris was Kenny Clarke who I
really loved but the ambassador of jazz drumming
throughout his life is Roy Haynes. I think Roy Haynes
is the most amazing man to be playing like he does at
his age with his skill and everything. He’s never played
in a bad band. Every artist that has asked him to play
has been for one of their great bands, from Lester
Young to Charlie Parker, Stan Getz. The band he played
in with Stan Getz was one of the greats. Haynes is
someone everyone should admire.

There were a lot of guys when I was a kid that I
was lucky to meet. They’ve been very friendly to me
like Jake Hanna. Jake was fabulous and Stan Levey.
Stan Levey was one of those real admirable guys. He
was something else really.

Shelly Manne was a great influence as well. One of
the guys I used to see in London was Joe Morello. Elvin
Jones and Chico Hamilton came to see me play a jazz
gig once. They’re just having a good time and you have
to play.

TNYCJR: In 1964 you released a children’s book about
Charlie Parker, Ode to a Highflying Bird. Did you have
any idea that copies would eventually sell for $3,000?

CW: During the early ‘60s I used to work in a studio.
To get a job you had to have a CV - a folder with all
your work. That was just me making an excuse to draw
and write a thing so that I could show it to people.
That’s what I do. About two years after the Rolling
Stones started going John Lennon brought A Spaniard
in the Works out. They asked if I wanted to put it out
[Ode] and I told them, “If you do it exactly like I did it
then yes.” And it sold. And then about 20 years after
that a guy called Mark Hayward wanted to put it out
and he said put some music with it. And I said “no, no,
no, I’m not going to do that” but we got a quintet
together anyway. Quite a good replica actually.
I’ve got the original original and the reprint that
Mark Hayward did and it’s copied exactly. Difficult to
tell the difference. I hope the one that sold was an
original one.

It’s for children. It’s to help children learn about
Charlie Parker. I didn’t realize about all those sorts of
things but given time. I have programs signed by
Coleman Hawkins - they’re worth a 1,000 pounds
today but for you to say to Coleman Hawkins in 1942
that this would be worth that he would have laughed.
It’s a bit like painting. The artist sells it for 10 quid
and then ten years later they sell for 4,000 dollars. The
painter doesn’t get the other 3,990. It’s all collectors
really and I’m one of them. I collect jazz records and I
pay a fortune for some of them.

I collect drums too. I have lots of guys’ drums. I
have one of Joe Morello’s drum kits. Sonny Greer. I
have some things of Stan Levey. I got Jake’s snare
drum. Big Sid Catlett’s cymbals are recently obtained.
They’re just lovely things to have.

TNYCJR: When you would tour the States did you
make a point of sneaking away and hearing live jazz?
Do you spend a lot of time in New York?

CW: Oh yeah. Always did when I first came here. My
shaggy dog period. That was the first thing I did in
New York. Me and [Rolling Stones co-founder] Ian
Stewart would go to Birdland and the Hickory House.
Then I went to the Metropole. I saw Gene Krupa there
with a quartet. We hit all the clubs really. I first saw
Roy Haynes somewhere like that.

When I go to LA I’m very lucky. Since 1970 I
became very close to [drummer] Jim Keltner. We do
sort of drum weeks and look for people playing. Once
we caught Roy Haynes at Catalina’s and then went
over to see Elvin Jones at the Jazz Bakery in one night.

TNYCJR: You put out a record with Jim Keltner. How
did that collaboration come about?

CW: It was an accident. It was never to be anything.
The Rolling Stones were recording and we took the
whole of whatever studio it was. Well, we didn’t take it
over. It just so happened we were using all the rooms
in the place. There was a room there not being used
and Jim and I went in there. He always asked me to
play on his electronic things. We had [drummer] Kenny
Aronoff knocking around. It just grew out of that.
I should have taken more time and done it properly
but it was never meant to be anything. I took it to Paris
with me. I was waiting to start a tour. I got this guy in
Paris, Phillipe Chauveau. He started playing around
with it a lot. He put all sorts of samples of things on. It
was just Jim’s electronics stuff and me overdubbing on
them. Some of it was live. The Latin stuff was live.

TNYCJR: You guys honored a wide variety of
drummers. How did you settle on particular drummers
like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Billy Higgins, etc.?

CW: When we were recording we had no way of saying
what song it was. We were just talking and started
naming my favorite drummers. If you got to call it
“Stormy Weather”, you might as well call it Shelly
Manne. I thought it was a way to get the drummers
names on the label. Give the drummer some.
One planned was Elvin’s suite. The other ones
were Airto, Tony Williams. That was the week Tony
died. Jim was on his megaphone period. Mick [Jagger]
was mucking about on the Rhodes and we started
doing this. Jim read an article on his megaphone that
Tony had written. That was really for Tony. The rest are
just things.

TNYCJR: Whose idea was it to get Sonny Rollins to
play the saxophone solo on the Rolling Stones’ Tattoo
You album?

CW: That was Mick. Mick asked me. We’ve always
used saxophone players. Mick asked “who could we
use to overdub a couple of tracks?” I said the best
saxophonist alive. This was the late ‘70s but he still is.
“But you’ll never get him,” I told him. “It’s Sonny
Rollins! The god of gods!” Sure enough when we were
in New York, Sonny said yes. My only disappointment
was that we didn’t do it live. Since then I’ve sort of
spoken to him. He’s a lovely, lovely man. A real
gentleman, Sonny Rollins. And still for me in the same
way Roy Haynes is, he has a terrific sort of wow. An
amazing talent and terrific sort of dignity. I love them.
Both of them.

TNYCJR: Your recent CD project (The ABC&D of Boogie
Woogie: Live in Paris) shows you’ve been recently
playing with some boogie woogie piano players. How
does your approach to that sound change versus a
bebop band?

CW: Dave Green is the bass player, me in the middle
and two grand pianos. It’s great. Very unusual. People
don’t play that anymore. They don’t play it as a way of
piano. [In the Rolling Stones] Mick and Keith [Richards]
write the songs. Here most of it is jamming. It keeps
you on the edge. Some of it is kind of predictable and
you’ve done it but we never rehearse anything. I never
know what they are going to play. It’s not very
professional but it is more fun. The Rolling Stones is
enough being on it all the time for me. Mind you,
playing with Keith is fun. But when this band gets
going it’s like a steam train. That was one of the things.
In the late ‘30s when it was kind of developed it was
fantastic. It’s just swing. It’s swing all the time, which
is really nice to do.

Charlie Watts @ NYC Jazz Record

Brad Mehldau - NYC Jazz Record

Brad Mehldau - Ode

Despite drummer Jeff Ballard joining pianist Brad
Mehldau’s trio with bassist Larry Grenadier almost ten
years ago, this is the first studio album featuring just
the three of them. There are no orchestras or guests,
just Mehldau’s working group burning through over
an hour of original material.

As the title suggests, the tunes on Ode find
Mehldau in a reflective mode, paying homage to a host
of characters living, deceased and fictional. Curiously,
although this is the first studio album for the trio, 8 out
of the 11 tracks were waxed over three and half years
ago, with a few albums recorded and released in the

The album opens with a skittering homage to late
saxophonist Michael Brecker entitled “M.B.”.
Mehldau’s fingers dash in ten different directions like
cross-town traffic, swerving narrowly around each
other. The title track - Mehldau’s “ode to odes” - recalls
his earlier Jon Brion-produced pop approach with a
gentle lull of pure, pulsating chords driven by Ballard’s
vibrant cymbal. “Bee Blues” has the pianist in an
angular Monk mode, Grenadier taking an elegant
striding solo that Mehldau matches with a methodically
playful one.

“Twiggy”, a tune dedicated to Mehldau’s wife
Fleurine, features what sounds like Ballard playing the
drums with his hands and a persistent tambourine
jangling somewhere in the background, Mehldau’s left
hand building the tension as his right hand floats over
it. “Wyatt’s Eulogy for George Hanson” is a tribute to
Jack Nicholson’s murdered hanger-on in Easy Rider.
The nine-and-a-half minute track is the most ‘free’ tune
on the album as the band rumbles through a menacing
collective improvisation. The trio closes with “Days of
Dilbert Delaney”, written by Mehldau for his son.
Punctuated by Ballard’s rolling snare, the lengthy tune
is a satisfying display of Mehldau’s unrestrained

Although this is an album of remembrance it isn’t
particularly somber. Mehldau does ponder the ideas of
mortality while treasuring the importance of family
but it never gets as contemplative as his solo 1999
release Elegiac Cycle. The band is tightly locked in,
whether considering the cosmos or swinging hard,
which only further solidifies its command of the piano
trio format.

Brad Mehldau @ NYC Jazz Record

Alfredo Rodriguez - NYC Jazz Record

Alfredo Rodriguez - Sounds of Space
Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez is only 26. Although he
hails from Cuba, he isn’t a ‘Cuban’ pianist, he’s a jazz
one. He may use a few montunos and the occasional
Spanish word in his song titles but this release goes far
beyond that Caribbean nation.

He has a lot of weapons at his disposal, including
a man named Quincy Jones offering his production
expertise. What Jones’ contributions are isn’t
immediately obvious but he has lent his credibility to a
unique young artist. This is a straightforward,
unadorned debut that most importantly highlights
Rodriguez’ impeccable command of the 88.
Within the first 30 seconds Rodriguez establishes
himself with a display of playful versatility,
overdubbing a melodica over his jittery piano-led
melody “Qbafrica”. Countryman Francisco Mela, who
plays drums on a couple of the tracks, provides a
subdued cross-stick pulse that drives the tune without
getting in the way. “Cu-Bop” has the pianist channeling
a twisting Bud Powell with tricky lines over a pulsating
backbeat from the album’s other drummer Michael
Olivera. “Transculturation”, driven by Rodriguez’
loping left-hand, draws a shimmering performance
from soprano saxophonist Ernesto Vega, who also
contributes fine clarinet work elsewhere on the album.
Album closer “Fog” gets gloomy assistance from the
Santa Cecilia Quartet, which adds cinematic touches to
Rodriguez’ high-register ambling.

The highlights of the album, however, are
Rodriguez’ two tour de force solo performances. The
brooding “April” hinges upon his resonating keyboard
as much as it does on his pyrotechnics while “Crossing
the Border”, a reference to Rodriguez’ entry into
America by way of Mexico, is a breathless assault of
mutant montunos, deliberately disjointed harmonies, a
fearless left-hand and a brief uncredited clave. In just
under seven minutes, Rodriguez lets it all out on the
keyboard, occasionally firing at the speed of light
before collapsing into a legato crawl only to close with
an even faster pace than before.

It is easy to see why someone like Quincy Jones
would be interested in a talent like Rodriguez.
Thankfully the album isn’t peppered with guest stars
or a heavy-handed ProTools approach. Just an
ambitious young pianist giving it his all.

Alfredo Rodriguez @ NYC Jazz Record