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January 22, 2010

Upcoming PDX Jazz Festival Events

The last weekend of February -- and the last of the Alaskan Airlines/Horizon Air PDX Jazz -- looks like it's going to be an epic one. February 27 and 28 offer a slew of conversations, jams, and performances worth checking out. I'm overall pretty bad with posting about upcoming events on this blog, so pardon if these listings often seem sporadic. The festival hosts dozens of workshops, discussions, and performances that should cater to any breed of jazz fan. Catch their whole schedule of both free and ticketed events here.

  • February 27 offers a Conversation with Dave Holland at 12pm, and a Conversation with Pharoah Sanders at 6:30pm. Both of those take place at PCPA's Art Bar.
  • Also on the 27th, the Dave Holland Quintet performs at 7:30pm at the Newmark Theater.
  • An event that I guess takes place on both Saturday and Sunday is a PDX Jazz Jam hosted by Darrel Grant. This starts Saturday at 11:59pm on the ground floor of Norse Hall.

  • On Sunday the 28th catch a performance by the great Pharoah Sanders at 3pm. Also at the Newmark Theater.

I always try to catch a handful of educational talks and conversations each year, unfortunately my work situation has changed drastically since last and not sure if I'll be able to make any of the events. Financially I can only probably make it one performance this year, so it's still a toss up between Holland and Sanders. It's a rough choice, Holland is legendary with his early ECM recordings, the Circle Band, his work with Anthony Braxton on Arista Records, and even contributions to Miles Davis sessions. But how can I pass up the opportunity to see someone who has performed with Coltrane, on such ground breaking records as Meditations & Ascension, and has developed outstanding recordings on labels like Esp-Disk and Impulse.

Also, a recent newsletter by the Festival organizations mentioned that the discounted package deals are running out fast with a handful remaining, and if you purchase tickets at the PDX Jazz office, not only will you received cheaper rates for fees, but you'll also receive a free jazz CD -- while supplies last of course. Please check their website for office hours and ticketing information.

January 19, 2010

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz, Part Two of Two

I'm always trying to create similarities between free jazz, and specifically Ornette Coleman, with Minimal and Conceptual Art. Just like Ad Reinhardt's famous quote, "art is art, everything else is everything else." For Ornette, the same could be applied -- sound is.

Ornette played in the moment. He was only concerned with sound and wasn't restricted with chords or specific keys. Nothing else mattered, not the past, not the future, but the moment in which sounds were made. Before 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz concluded, they discussed how The Shape of Jazz to Come changed jazz mostly for the second half of the 20th century out of any of the other three albums featured.

Lou Reed shared that he couldn't "understand a negative reaction" to Coleman's playing. I often argue that The Velvet Underground seemed more inspired by Ornette Coleman than perhaps other Rock and Roll music. "Not a day goes by when I'm not humming 'Lonely Woman'," Reed said.

Coleman always wanted to immediately create something new. He was never satisfied with the norm, and for that, his music was so important for the next stages and sculpting of jazz. He's influenced rock, neo-classical, and a whole movement of jazz musicians through the 60s, 70s and beyond. Seeing Coleman perform and having the opportunity to shake his hand back in 2008 was one of my greatest joys.

Jazz did a lot for America, and the mid-20th century was such a relevant era. 1959 focused a lot on the crucial times during the civil rights movement. Even garnering the success of these musicians, they were still often confronted with unequal opportunities. This film did an amazing job arguing that jazz played a major role in the strive for equality. One of the best lines was from Stanley Crouch when he said, "Obama doesn't know it, but jazz is the reason he was elected."

January 17, 2010

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz, Part One of Two

Last Friday I sat in the Whitsell Auditorium through the re-screening of Cool. I was giddy and excited to see 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz. Featuring highlights on Kind of Blue, Time Out, Mingus Ah Um, and for me most importantly The Shape of Jazz To Come. The audience was provided with the insight of individuals consisting of jazz writers, critics & historians Ashley Kahn, Stanley Crouch, Nat Hentoff, producer George Avakian, Charles Mingus' wife and the Mingus Big Band's art director Sue Mingus, the Village Vangaurd's Lorraine Gordon. While also featuring musicians Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, Joe Morelo, Charlie Haden, Jimmy Cobb, and the voice of Ornette Coleman from a 2009 interview. The movie was divided into five sections; one segment for each album, and the fifth for how each artist responded to the times and how the times responded to each artist.

Last year, Fred Kaplan published a book titled, 1959: The Year Everything Changed. Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus wrote about here. This looks like a must for anybody even remotely interested in Mid-Century America. It's certainly on my list.

Kind of Blue, jazz's most selling album, started the discussion. Who else but expert Ashley Kahn consulted us about this historic achievement in jazz. Kahn mentioned how the session was just another day at the office for these players. Just a mere seven hour session, all cuts being just first takes with the exception of one, no one, not even Miles himself, expected this album to be so crucial to jazz. Charlie Haden described Davis' playing as completely individualistic and unlike any other trumpeters technique. And just like in the movie Cool, this film discussed Davis' approach to render his language as a continuation of bebop.

We were then transitioned into Dave Brubeck's, Time Out. I don't think I even even have to go into the success of this record -- or that "Take Five" is probably one the must played songs in jazz. During the 50s, the U.S. saw Dave Brubeck as quintessential middle America. With the Cold War at it's peak, his quartet was sent overseas to tour Eastern Europe. In a way, he was used as an ambassador to represent the "cool" and the freedom of America. Brubeck himself pointed out a contrasting hypocrisy here. Many black citizens were striving for their own civil liberties on America's own front.

What I appreciated most was the film discussing the quartet's commercial success, which was mostly to white, middle America. Many individuals considered Brubeck a racist and sell out. However, Brubeck never intended to turn jazz towards any specific audience and his quartet was merely creating music in which he felt jazz should head. I couldn't agree more when Stanley Crouch when stating that Brubeck's quartet was far from racism and commercialism, it just so happened to be what the public latched itself to.

Much of the touring and exposure to Eastern European countries inspired many of the compositions on Time Out. For example, "Blue Rondo a la Turk," the melody was taken from Turkish folk music. Brubeck also shared a lot of great stories about the quartet. We heard about the struggles for stage popularity between Joe Morello and Paul Desmond, the conflicts with racism and segregation for bassist Eugene Wright while performing in the south, and even how Brubeck received the idea for "Take Five's" time signature while backstage observing Joe Morello tapping on his lap in 5/4.

Charles Mingus was no exception when it came to struggles with race and the recording industry. And with a passion and temper as bold as his, it was no surprise to see outlandish displays of anger on stage. But often you may find Mingus' satirical criticism of these issues in his own compositions, especially on Mingus Ah Um. Mingus created a direct response to racism and civil rights with his composition, "Fables of Faubus." A response to Arkansas' governor, Orval E. Faubus, in which Faubus opposed the Supreme Court rulings to enact integration. In fact, he had originally written lyrics for him and Dannie Richmond to share, but to avoid controversy, Columbia Records banned them from the album.

I believe Mingus is the bridge between bop and the avant-garde. He encouraged freedom in improvisation, and like Coltrane, wanted to get to the roots of jazz while creating something new. I believe Mingus' album, The Clown, is his strongest. It's Conceptual, free, powerful, timeless and here to stay.

Coming up I'll post part two for Ornette Coleman's highlights of 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz.

January 15, 2010

Tonight -- Reel Music Festival

The Portland Art Museum's NW Film Center has their 27th Reel Music Festival going on. Typically each year they have a handful of rare screenings on Jazz. This year is no exception. What's particularly interesting is the double screening of two 2009 British films. Cool, which profiles the resurgence of Cool and West Coast jazz after the debut of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool. The other is titled, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz, a documentary on the influential year which saw great releases such as Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come, Davis' Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Mingus' Ah Um. Four titles that any jazz fan should, if not, already own in their collection.

I had gotten to see the screening of Cool this past Sunday but unfortunately the print of 1959 hadn't arrived in time, so I will certainly be in attendance tonight to catch both. Cool started out with the introduction of Miles Davis' ninetet that was organized in 1949. A gathering of musicians who wanted to take the stylings of bebop and "cool it down." Just like bebop, these musicians wanted to move jazz further from the entertainment spectrum and closer to a creative intellectualism.

The film was filled with wonderful transitions employed by a soundtrack of melodic, ambient, and abstract tones by creator George Taylor. The sounds of vibes, bass, piano, harp, and minimal horn aided in the landscape of synergetic archival footage consisting of beaches, art museums and galleries, city highways, and urban areas. With also a lot of clips of musicians composited over these scenes. Scrolling quotes by musicians contributed to the narrative of the documentary and supplied a peek into the impressions of greats such as Dave Brubeck, Art Farmer, John Lewis, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and others. All of this contributed to the mood, lifestyle, and feeling of "cool."

The film dips into third stream with an uncanny performance by the MJQ. A unique and powerful interpretation of a Bach composition. Cool also featured killer performances of Art Farmer, Paul Desmond, Oscar Peterson, and Diz. And on a final note, given my art background I was pleased to see the film pointing a back and forth with jazz and Abstract Impressionism. Plenty of images of Pollock and Rothko paintings. It even discussed a Brubeck release dedicated to the Surrealist Juan Miro titled, Time Further Out.

I'm looking forward to seeing it again tonight, don't miss this double screening as it may be a once in a lifetime chance. Here's more info provided by the PDX Jazz Fest:

Catch films of history's jazz greats and the jazz "icons among us" during Reel Music 27, an annual celebration of music andfilm running through February 7, 2010. Join Artistic Director of the Portland Jazz Festival, Bill Royston on January 31, as he introduces and talks about ICONS AMONG US: JAZZ IN THE PRESENT TENSE. ICONS, featuring several past festival artists (and some in 2010), provides a lively and insightful snapshot of today's jazz scene, and reveals interviews with dozens of musicians from multiple generations "Terence Blanchard, Bill Frisell, Ravi Coltrane, Medeski Martin & Wood, the Bad Plus, Nicholas Payton, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, along with many others - and a wealth of performance clips and rare photographs to celebrate the past, present, and future of an art form that continues to evolve. DIRECTORS MICHAEL RIVORIA, LARS LARSON, PETER J. VOGT IN ATTENDANCE.

Additional Jazz film highlights include:
Miles Davis - Jan 15
Ornette Coleman - Jan 15
Pannonica "Nica" Rothschild - Jan 16
Thelonious Monk - Jan 16
Count Bassie - Jan 17
Ed Thigpen - Jan 17
Bill Frisell - Jan 21 & 22
Portland Blues - Jan 25
Icons Among Us - Jan 31

Full schedule, film trailers and tickets at www.nwfilm.org