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My feelings about April being Jazz Appreciation Month are identical to my thoughts about similar celebrations like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Black Music Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc. On one hand it is always good in a nation that has historically tended to overlook the contributions of blacks, women and Latinos, and kept jazz and its companion idioms in a marginal status, to take time out and acknowledge these groups and cultures. But for me, every day is one to celebrate jazz, so this special month doesn’t have the same meaning or importance. I am thrilled to see the special events, and to know that for at least a few days jazz is getting some attention from the mainstream media.Still, things are bad and getting worse for the arts in general, and jazz specifically. The list of broadcast stations with regular jazz programming keeps shrinking. Now there’s a possibility Internet access, already something that’s far from universal, may become even more dicey with the newly reconstituted FCC poised to lift restrictions on content carriers, something that will allow them to operate as they please in regards to setting customer rates. The Trump administration wants to kill the National Endowment For the Arts, and that would likely eliminate future NEA jazz masters.But there are bright lights in this awful climate, and it is vital they be supported. Nashville is fortunate to have a Nashville Jazz Workshop, a WFSK-FM (88.1), an online source like ACME Radio with Greg Pogue’s vital Sunday evening interview/music program, and a host of topflight jazz musicians. The City Winery has lately been presenting some outstanding concerts, and there’s talk about a new 24/7 jazz spot opening locally soon. We also hope there will be a jazz presence in the new African American Music Museum opening downtown next year, and urge that people support  events like the upcoming spring and summer jazz concert series.We also urge that you support blues jam sessions, concerts and recordings featuring local, regional and national acts, celebrate the vast heritage of gospel in this city, and recognize the links between jazz and all other American music idioms. Jazz needs backing all year round, and while it is wonderful to see special celebrations in April, they can’t take the place of the daily advocacy this music’s continual survival demands.

Ron Wynn.

Side 1 – Interview with Ted Gioia

Ted Gioia is a nationally recognized, highly acclaimed author, musician, critic and educator. He has won multiple ASCAP Deems Taylor awards for his books, which range from volumes on love songs and jazz standards to essays on the blues, West Coast jazz, and many other subjects. He’s also an accomplished pianist who has released three CDs, and a noted educator who helped establish the jazz department at Stanford University. He’s been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and is currently a columnist for the Daily Beast. We met online a few years ago, and he graciously consented to an interview for his latest book, “How To Listen To Jazz,” (Basic) which seems quite appropriate for this month. We conducted this interview a few weeks ago via e-mail.Your latest book “How To Listen To Jazz” goes a long way towards demystifying the process of enjoying jazz. Why do you think that so many people feel you have to be a musician or intellectual to appreciate it?“Jazz lovers may have contributed to the notion that only special people can appreciate jazz. We have been clamoring for so many years to get respect, and this led us to emphasize how serious and intense the jazz craft is. We make jazz seem like rocket science.””Maybe it is in some ways, but in other ways it’s very different. In any event, these efforts have enhanced the respectability of jazz, but I’m not sure it endears us to the vast majority of music fans. Jazz is now taken very seriously, even by people who don’t know much about it. Jazz is embedded in universities and concert halls that once shunned it. Jazz musicians now win Pulitzer Prizes and genius grants. These are all good things. But I’d like see jazz get some more love, and not just respect.”

“What I’m suggesting is that this intense atmosphere of respectability does not come without a cost. I encounter many music fans who are reluctant to embrace jazz because they feel it will be hard work, like taking a calculus test or passing the Certified Public Accountant examination. This is a shame. Jazz is certainly full of details that can be analyzed and codified.”

“But the real appeal of the music comes from its sheer visceral energy and rhythmic excitement—and those don’t need to be analyzed, they can simply be felt. A lot of my effort in writing “How to Listen to Jazz” is to cut through the jargon and posturing and instead offer listening strategies that will open the readers’ ears and increase their enjoyment of the music. The amount of technical knowledge that is absolutely required to do this is actually quite small. ”

Who were the musicians that initially attracted you to jazz?

“I stumbled into jazz as part of my piano studies. Around the age of 14, I learned a bunch of ragtime pieces by Scott Joplin, and then got exposed to Jelly Roll Morton, whose work had many similarities to ragtime. But the big breakthrough for me came when I started visiting jazz clubs. That thrust me immediately into
all the turbulence and energy of 1970s jazz—which was very different from those ragtime roots.”

“At that juncture, the hot hard bop bands really sealed the deal for me. The experience of seeing Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers was like a baptism by fire in a whole new way of playing music. I also had the chance to see Rahsaan Roland Kirk while I was a teenager at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and again a few months later at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco—and that really rocked my world.”

“But it could just as easily have been Cannonball Adderley or Horace Silver or Hampton Hawes or any number of other artists who would have been a catalyst. By the time of my senior year in high school, I was obsessed with jazz. I read every book on the subject that the public library contained. I listened to every album I could lay my hands on. I went to the clubs. And, above all, I tried to work out all the sounds I was hearing on the piano.”

Do you agree with the contention that there are no more innovators on the jazz scene?

“I don’t think that innovation is the only important criterion we should seek in jazz. But, that said, there is plenty of innovation in jazz. Just look at all the young musicians around the world blending jazz techniques with their own regional styles. Or consider the ongoing dialogue between jazz and R&B or hip-hop or other styles of commercial music.”

“Or check out the jazz remixes that apply new technologies to old music. Enjoy how the band Dawn of Midi makes a jazz trio sound like software effects, or gaze at the multimedia jazz polyphony videos of Jacob Collier, or listen to the John Adams sax concerto and hear how he brings jazz techniques into the heart of a post-minimalist orchestral piece. Or experience the various jazz projects that mix up laptops and saxophones as thought they were long-lost siblings. As I said, innovation isn’t the only thing to praise in jazz, but there certainly is no shortage of it in the current day.”

What are the most common misconceptions you find many people have when it comes to jazz?

The biggest one is people’s fear that they won’t enjoy it. Probably the most satisfying moment as a teacher comes in that moment when the newcomer experiences the delight and enchantment of jazz. You can see it in their eyes and in their facial expressions. There are certain recordings that are almost certain to bring this about, for example the vocal duets between Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald or the Miles Davis projects with Gil Evans, or many of those classic Blue Note albums from the 1950s and 1960s. If you use these as your tools, you can bring almost any listener into the jazz camp. ”

You praise and enjoy all the various genres and styles. Do you think there has been too much emphasis on the more advanced/esoteric/experimental players and not enough on the mainstream/hard bop/soul-jazz/blues types?

“You raise an interesting question. The situation of avant-garde jazz is a peculiar one. You can’t really say that it gets too much attention from jazz radio, or music fans, or mainstream media—in fact, they tend to ignore it. Musicians committed to the free jazz aesthetic will struggle to gain acceptance even in many parts of the jazz community.”

“On the other hand, avant-garde jazz gets an extraordinary amount of attention from non-profit foundations giving out grants, universities, and institutional insiders. This presents a bit of a paradox. Avant-garde music prides itself on its radical outsider status, but has somehow evolved into the consummate insider.”

“Why is this happening? Well, it’s worth recalling that the avant-garde was never just another style of jazz. It prided itself on being the music of the future, the endpoint of the evolution of jazz, a style that superseded all earlier styles. Just look at the boastful album titles—”The Future is Now,” “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” “Change of the Century.” Never before had exponents of a jazz style made such bold claims. They were staking the credibility of their music on a prediction about the future. There was a big ego boost to being part of this confident faction in the music. No one wanted to be left behind in the race to the future.”

“The irony is that this prediction failed to come true. As the developments of the 1980s and 1990s made clear, the tradition was very robust and wasn’t ready to be sent to the graveyard of dead musical styles. Hard bop, bebop, New Orleans style, swing and other genres still had lots to say to us. I think jazz fans understand that very clearly in the current day.”

“The people giving out grants, however, are still adherents of
this Hegelian model of progressing jazz styles that gives special treatment to the avant-garde. In some ways, there’s a powerful contingent in the world of institutional music—and even among some jazz writers, although fewer with each passing year—that still hasn’t moved beyond the paradigms of the late 1950s. I will even hear people refer to albums from more than a half-century ago as examples of the new thing in jazz. That’s a very odd notion, no? ”

“My belief is that there is a place for every style and subgenre of jazz. This diversity is part of the music’s strength. The avant-garde is a vital part of this, but only one part, and we would do well to step back from any view that it somehow supersedes the other styles. Let’s celebrate all aspects of the jazz idiom, and help newcomers get a taste of each one. I think the jazz wars that forced fans to pick styles and battle over them has done more harm than good.”

Do you feel the continuing disappearance of jazz from terrestrial radio has played any role in the problem?

“This is a serious issue. There are plenty of people who are dissatisfied with the formulas of current-day commercial music, and an exposure to jazz might revitalize their whole attitude toward music. But where do they get that exposure in the current day? Certainly not on television or video games or browsing the
leading websites. Broadcast radio has been an entry point into jazz for many fans over the years, but it is disappearing.”

“Back in the 1980s, I ran a jazz record label and put together files on every radio station in the US that broadcast at least ten hours of jazz per week. I eventually had files on more than 600 radio stations that met that criterion. Fast forward to the current day. Those stations are still around, but most don’t play jazz anymore. They have switched to other formats that generate more cash for the owners. This is devastating to the rest of the jazz ecosystem—because radio was a constant source of new listeners, and was the chief way these listeners learned about new artists.”

Likewise, how have the cutbacks in general arts coverage in newspapers and magazines affected the potential audience for jazz?

“We are witnessing a narrowing of cultural experience across the board, not just in jazz, but in other arts as well. In theory, the new digital age gives us access to a wider range of cultural options than ever before. But is that really true if newspapers stop reviewing concerts and albums except for pop megastars? Or if
Netflix eliminates 90% of movies released before 2010 from their streaming options? Or if radio stations play the same 20 songs by the same 10 artists over and over again. Or if magazines only give coverage to musicians who have already sold 20 million albums?”

“Newspapers are in decline. They do less and less with each passing year to support the artistic ecosystems in their communities. Those of us who love jazz ought to do whatever we can to improve this situation, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We also need to create vibrant alternatives to traditional media. This is one of the reason I spend so much energy on web platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and various websites. I am
trying to reach people directly and keep them informed on good music they might not hear about otherwise. Years ago, people might learn about new music in a newspaper review or from a trusted radio deejay. Nowadays it might be from Twitter or a blog. So let’s continue to support the old media, but we absolutely
must embrace new media too.”

There are those who want jazz to be viewed as art music, America’s equivalent of classical/symphonic music. There are even players who avoid the word, or prefer such terms as “Black American Music” or “Black classical music.” Do you agree with either of these premises?

“I know that some people are unhappy with the word ‘jazz’ and would like to get rid of it. That debate has been simmering for decades, although with renewed energy during the last few years. But I have the opposite worry. I am concerned about other parties taking over the word ‘jazz’ and using it for their own purposes. As a result, we have ‘jazz’ festivals that won’t book jazz musicians. We have ‘jazz’ record labels releasing albums by Donny Osmond and Barry Manilow.”

“We have companies using the word ‘jazz’ as a brand name for an automobile or a computer software package. We find ‘jazz’ applied to a basketball team in Utah, or a trendy exercise regimen, or in some other surprising setting. These things wouldn’t be happening if the word ‘jazz’ didn’t have value. The word has commercial value. It has cultural value. It has psychological value. Instead of discarding the word, those of us who love the music should stake our claim to these economic and cultural values.”

For me, the word ‘jazz’ represents something rich, beautiful and alluring. I don’t want to see it degraded or compromised. If we abandon our time-honored identity, that degradation will inevitably happen. It’s already starting to happen. And no musician benefits from this.”

Why do you think there are folks who enjoy blues or gospel, but don’t like jazz, and vice versa, when we’re talking about sounds originating out of similar traditions?

“In the current day, music genres are bought and sold as lifestyle accessories. So people aren’t just responding to the music, but to all the cultural baggage surrounding it. Stereotypes emerge and the public develops a mental image of the typical country-and-western fan, or the hip-hop fan, or the punk rock fan, or
the classical music fan, or the jazz fan. At an extreme, people stop judging the music and only judge the lifestyle. Even many music critics are susceptible to this.”

“For the most part, this co-opting of music by lifestyles has had a deadening effect on our musical culture. It puts fans in isolated bunkers, and prevents them from experiencing songs and sounds that might delight them, and certainly would broaden their horizons. You’re absolutely right that jazz shares many similarities with blues or gospel, but there’s so much other baggage in our musical culture that even knowledgeable fans might not realize these deep connections. The first step in overcoming this is to convince people to open their ears and listen, without prejudice, to what’s actually happening in a musical performance. A lot of my writing aims at precisely that.”

Is it possible to truly love jazz without having any knowledge of musical technique or training?

“It’s always useful to expand your knowledge of any field. I lived in Napa some years ago, and my appreciation of wine was enhanced by learning more of the technical details about how it is made. My appreciation of a film is increased by understanding more of the nuances of filmmaking. And certainly a trained musician will pick up things in a jazz performance that a non-musician might miss.”

“But that doesn’t mean technical knowledge is required. Plenty of people enjoy a glass of red wine, yet wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of a single grape. Jazz is no different. You can enjoy it without technical knowledge. My efforts in my book “How to Listen to Jazz” focus on providing readers with some listening strategies that don’t require formal training.”

“Of course, many of these listening techniques still demand time and effort. You don’t need to know all the terminology, but you still need to listen attentively. The real leverage point is nurturing a newcomer’s ability to focus on the music with care and a sense of delight. That’s more valuable than a hundred lessons in advanced jazz harmony.”

Should anyone who wants to be a critic or reviewer of jazz also either be a musician, or at least have had some musical training at some point in their career?

“I have found that some very reliable music critics don’t possess much technical training in music. But they do listen carefully, and have built up strong powers of discernment. They might not be able to tell you the names of the chords, but they are trustworthy guides to the music. And even a critic with musical training
might be unreliable—for example, the kind of critic who jumps on trends and fashions and wants to impress readers with hip pronouncements that often have little relationship with the actual music in question. The bottom line: technical training is valuable, but isn’t the only way of getting inside the jazz experience.”

You have written optimistically about what you see as a trend towards jazz having more impact now on pop music than at any time in the past few years. Why do you think that is the case, and who are some of those you feel are responsible for it?

“The situation in music is comparable to what has happened in food over the last two decades. In the old days, the hottest trends in food were simplification and deskilling—as a result, the public embraced fast food, microwave meals, canned goods, just-add-water processed products, and other such products. But we have recently seen a widespread rejection of this, and the fastest growing areas in food are now organic and artisan products. People want something special in their meals, something less processed, fresher, prepared with more skill—not less skill.”

“Music is now entering on a similar phase. Just as people seek out artisan cheeses and crafted beers, they are now looking for artisan musical experiences and crafted songs. Many in the music industry don’t realize this yet—just as the big food brands like Kraft and Campbell’s were slow to grasp the new attitudes toward food. But the more visionary people in music already understand this shift. That’s why David Bowie hired jazz musicians for his last album. That’s why Prince was turning to more jazz-oriented techniques in his final days. That’s why Lady Gaga or Kendrick Lamar are working with jazz musicians. That’s why echoes and samples of jazz are showing up on so many non-jazz tracks.”

“Here’s the reality. In the current moment, jazz is a touchstone for musical excellence. This is against all odds and despite all those hasty predictions about the ‘death’ of jazz. Jazz is the epicenter of craft and artisan skill in the broader commercial music ecosystem. That doesn’t necessarily mean that jazz artists will soon start selling 10 million albums. But jazz will start influencing popular culture in more overt ways, maybe even surprising ways.”

“We are already seeing that, and not just in the music business. Take a look at movies. Why is Hollywood making biopics about Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Nina Simone? Why did HBO build a miniseries around Bessie Smith? Clearly they aren’t making these movies for diehard jazz fans—there aren’t enough of us to
matter. The studios believe that the broader public will respond to these artists. This is the mystique of the artisan, and it’s getting stronger in popular culture, not weaker.”

“Or consider the unexpectedly positive audience reaction to the jazz mystique in La La Land. I know that many jazz insiders are unhappy when a mass audience latches on to jazz. Well, they need to be prepared for more of this in the future. Pop culture
is ailing, and it will need jazz ingredients more and more in the coming years to revitalize itself. This isn’t just a passing trend but the first stage in a long-term secular shift in attitudes toward music. The sad thing is that many people in the music business who should be part of this revitalization process—even people
running legacy jazz labels, for example—haven’t got a clue about what’s happening right in front of their eyes. Or perhaps ‘ears’ would be a better way of putting it.”

Have international players grown in stature and ability to the point where they are every bit as important to the music as American players?

“I’ve seen this change firsthand. When I was younger, I lived in England for two years and also spent six months in Italy—and then in subsequent years, I visited around 25 or 30 other countries for shorter or longer stints. I’ve been to Australia on more than 20 occasions, for example, and have been all over Europe and the Asia Pacific. So I have firsthand experience of jazz overseas stretching back more than 30 years.The change during this period has been dramatic.”

“Back in the 1980s, the jazz musicians in those countries tended to imitate role models from the US. I recently traveled back to Britain and spent a lot of time with young jazz musicians, and was struck by how focused they now are on their own jazz ecosystem. They are still aware of the US artists, who still tend to
dominate the idiom, but the British jazz lovers have plenty of homegrown talent now and increasingly feel self-sufficient.”

“In my opinion, that’s true throughout Europe in the present day. Asia is a little behind, but won’t be for long. When I played with some musicians in China back in the 1990s, they were far behind the US players. But not so much anymore. In the next few years, I expect to see more high-caliber jazz stars emerge from Asia. The recent rise to fame of Joey Alexander, the jazz piano prodigy from Indonesia, is an indicator of the future. If someone is looking for ‘the shape of jazz to come’ (if I can again quote the title of that Ornette Coleman album), they would do well to pay attention to these developments.”

You’ve covered a lot of territory over the years as an author, from blues to West Coast jazz, standards and love songs to listening/appreciation. What areas are you interested in for future

“For many years now, I have been interested in the role of music as a change agent in human life. In fact,this has been the most significant area of focus for my research since the early 1990s. I believe that music has been devalued in our society as mere entertainment, but songs are much more powerful than that.
Music is a catalyst for social change and a source of enchantment for individuals.”

“My research tells me that music can alter our body chemistry, strengthen our immune systems, impact our brainwaves, improve our communities, alleviate the toil of work, inspire soldiers in battle, bring couples together in romance,
broaden our attitudes, strengthen our teamwork in group settings, indeed change our lives. I am currently working on an in-depth history that will show the many ways music has been a change agent in human life over the last 4,000 years.”

“I think readers will be surprised by this approach to music. They
will see how songs have altered the course of history—that’s a bold claim but it’s true—and have done so repeatedly over the centuries. Songs have helped expand human rights and personal autonomy, and they have even served as a kind of alternative technology for societies that lacked microchips and spaceships. No one has written a history of music from this perspective, and it very much needs to be done, if only to set the record straight.”

Finally, when you’re not working and just listening for fun or enjoyment, who are your favorites, both past and present artists?

“My favorites seem to change from week to week and month to month, depending on what I am listening to. But here are some of the artists I’ve been enjoying in recent months: Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Shostakovich, Bruckner, the Magnetic Fields, Ella Fitzgerald, the Malian band Tinariwen, blues guitarist
Otis Taylor, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Eva Cassidy, Laura Mvula, Jason Collier, Caroline Shaw, Terry Riley, Son House, Lennie Tristano, Paul Bley, the young classical pianist Lucas Debargue, Maria João Pires, Bud Powell, Bach and the Beatles.”

“If you asked me the same question next year, some of these
would still be on the list, others replaced. I’m always trying to expose myself to new and exciting musical sounds. But the greatest artists of the past never get old. “

Side 2 – Part 2 of two-part Interview with pianist/author/scholar Bob Gluck

Bob Gluck is also an acclaimed author, musician and educator. Last column we began our interview about his most recent book “The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles” (University of Chicago). This is the second part of our interview.
Of the various contributing musicians in that period (of the Lost Quintet) which members would you consider the most important and conversely, which ones had the most difficulty finding their place within the musical structure.“I think it was really a process of evolution. My own take on this is that the band hit its stride when Jack DeJohnette joined. I’ve only heard one audience recording of the period but one that was when Tony Williams was still in the band, but really wanted to be doing Tony Williams Lifetime. I am not aware of any recording of Herbie Hancock’s last gigs just before that (at Count Basie’s) although I wish I could listen to that band with Dave (Holland) but before Chick (Corea) arrives. Herbie remembers the shows which had him on stage still on acoustic piano. But it’s Jack’s arrival that the chemistry just works. Wayne (Shorter) seemed easily ready to adjust to the new rhythm section given his own side projects, his expansiveness and openness are obvious.””After Wayne left the band, he was replaced by Steve Grossman. I like the sound of his playing in the band, although it is very different from Shorter’s. I guess Miles either didn’t think it worked, or he was ready for Gary Bartz who joins for the final gigs of the Lost in August 1970. The interplay of Grossman and Corea was quite good. Grossman appears elsewhere in the book because he was one of the people who was jamming all night at Dave Liebman’s loft on 19th street, the same building that Corea and Holland also lived. They were engaging in multihorn music in the vein of Coltrane’s “Ascension.” So you can imagine the soprano sax wailing that translates from The Lost Quintet.”How much of that music has not yet been made available publicly?

“There are a number of audience recorded and other bootlegs that I’ve heard; often the audio quality isn’t great. They were important for me to listen to in writing the book, but maybe not up to release quality. A handful of live recordings have been released on small, often European labels, not Sony. One of those is from the club in Brooklyn in 1969. There are sets from the spring and summer 1970 Fillmore recordings that are available from Wolfgang’s vault, but not Sony. I think there are various releases on video DVD and CD of the August 1970 shows at the Isle of Wright and Tanglewood. But I periodically learn about shows that haven’t been documented so there may be more of those.”

What would you consider the biggest misconception that people have about either the group or its music?

“The biggest misconception people have about the band is that it either didn’t exist or that “Bitches Brew” represents all you need to know about it.  Or that it was only important as a transition to the Jarrett/Henderson formation. In fact, it is of enormous substance on its own. Listening to its spring/summer 1970 gigs side-by-side with the acoustic improvisations of the Corea trio with Holland and (Barry) Altschul and then Circle’s earliest days with Anthony Braxton is really enlightening. You can hear where Corea and Holland wanted to go but couldn’t quite do so with Miles, but also what a slightly different version of what they were doing could sound like thanks to the transparency of the acoustic instruments in Circle. I think also the idea that Miles learned from not just Coltrane but Ornette Coleman is something most people miss entirely. The band was part of a musical ecosystem of that time and that’s always something to watch. Nothing operates in a vacuum or necessarily in just the context in which it is said – without listening really closely – to function.”

Are there any contemporary jazz bands whose sound reflects that music?

“If one thinks of its aesthetic as really an electronic extension of the 1960s Davis quintet as I do (along with Mwandshi and early Weather Report), then I hear parallel ideas continued in Wayne Shorter’s quartet of the past decade. Danilo Perez shares with Hancock and Corea an incredible ability to listen closely; all three are remarkable accompanists; paradoxically their approach to comping sounds like soloing, but doing so in parallel and deep interaction with others.”

Lastly, now that you’ve completed the project, looking back are there any things you think might have been true that were proven false or vice versa?

“Not really. The question that is discussed is the balance between Miles’ being in the drivers seat vs. his placing the right people in the room together and letting them create without interference. Those are not actually polar opposites; they happen at the same time – Miles was the kind of leader like Herbie Hancock after him, who allowed a lot of space for the band to go where it finds itself in an organic way. He does step in sometimes to chill things down, and he surely was exasperated at times. But I think I got that balance just right in the book. Looking back, I might have included more of the theory I’ve been developing that’s behind how I approach the music – really a look at an improvising group in the moment of creation in a way that parallels how all kinds of groups of people interact.”

“But that’s really another book; there was not space in this one to expand on that. There was already sufficient compromise required to fit just enough about the Lost Quintet and also the other two bands, plus a bit about the loft scene in Soho and Chelse, to more than fill the book. I urge people to look closely at the index, which offers multiple routes through the book, at the time lines in the back, and also at the footnotes that often include material that is important, but interferes with the flow of the narrative.”

“My next book may feature another band through the lens of group process, or focus on the broader theory. I suspect it will be the former, but including more of the methodology since it’s in the details where the action lies.”

Side 3 – Jazz on the Move – Cal Tjader in the spotlight

The latest installment of Jazz On The Move at the Frist provided a blend of information and a twist on the usual program on Easter Sunday. Vibist, percussionist, bandleader and academic James Westfall was in the spotlight as the program focused on the music of Cal Tjader, a definitely different figure among jazz greats. Tjader began as a drummer in Dave Brubeck’s band, and his roots were in bop and West Coast jazz. However he got hooked early on Latin jazz, and spent the largest portion of his career not only performing it, but showcasing many of the idiom’s greatest percussionists, among them Armando Peraza (later in some of Santana’s bands), Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, and Poncho Sanchez.Westfall led a fine group that also included Denis Solee on flute and tenor sax, Lori Mechem on piano, Roger Spencer on bass, Chris Brown on drums and Dann Sherill on percussion. The Brown/Sherrill duo were particularly inspired on a couple of numbers that called for extended rhythm duets, while Spencer was his usual steady, rock solid self as he smoothly navigated the differently accented grooves of the Latin beat. Mechem had several fine solos, with Westfall demonstrating excellent versatility as the bandleader and principal soloist. He was tremendous on ballads and uptempo tunes, especially memorable during his solos on Claire Fischer’s “Morning,” and such Tjader staples as “Soul Burst” and “Soul Sauce,” two brisk tunes that also gave Solee a chance to shine on both sax and flute.The bonus was seeing folks dancing during some of the latter selections, as Westfall’s repeated encouragement for those so inclined to take the floor was finally heeded. The interesting thing about Tjader’s music as Westfall noted was his ability to straddle idiomatic fences. He kept a foot in straight-ahead jazz, even as percussionists would constantly change and rework the rhythms behind and underneath his playing. Brown and Sherrill provided that for Westfall, while the Mechem/Spencer duo smoothly integrated their playing within the percussion twosome’s fabric, and Westfall kept everything nicely moving ahead.The Jazz On the Move series is certainly among the city’s finest musical values. Each session combines sterling playing, historical detail and information about the featured artist, and is always free and open to the public. This was a great way to spend an Easter Sunday, and something particularly engaging for fans of Latin jazz.

Side 4 – Jazz Plus Reviews

Akua Dixon
“Akua’s Dance”
(Akua Music)
Cellist Akua Dixon’s shimmering, soothing lines and assertive, fiery statements are augmented on her newest release by a new weapon in her instrumental arsenal, the baritone violin. It was built by the late Carleen Hutchins. Though tuned in identical fashion to her customary cello, it has a deeper, thicker sound. Dixon’s music is equal parts compelling, expansive and memorable. Three selections spotlight a smaller working group, with Dixon joined by premier bassist Ron Carter and expert guitarist Russell Malone. They are especially strong on the exquisite composition “Afrika! Afrika!” The other seven tunes are powered by Victor Lewis’ dynamic drumming in conjunction with the tight interplay between guitarist Freddie Bryant and bassist Kenny Davis. Dixon’s cello not only serves as the lead voice, it sets the tone on such numbers as “I Dream a Dream,” which was originally included in her opera written for New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and masterful covers of Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” (with Dixon taking a solid vocal turn) and Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo,” with impressive solos on both cello and baritone violin. But perhaps the disc’s powerful piece is the quartet’s interpretation of “I’m Gonna Tell God All My Troubles.” Dixon is dazzling on baritone violin, with Bryant’s arrangement nicely framing it, while the guitar/bass/drums undergirding reaffirms the tune’s poignant message. This disc not only spotlights Dixon’s range and versatility, but shows how formidable the cello and baritone violin can be as a group’s main pieces in a group rather than confined to support or rhythm section duties.
Chris Greene
“Boundary Issues”
(Single Malt)
Saxophonist Chris Greene’s ninth release continues his trademark pattern of mixing and blurring idiomatic areas. He’s equally at home exploring hard bop and standards, pop and rock numbers, smooth jazz piece,  or original material. His comfort zone with longtime mates pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Steve Corley is such they have a chemistry that communicates a constant air of excitement and edge as they interact not only with each other, but special guests saxophonist Marqueal Jordan, percussionist JoVia Armstrong, guitarist Isaiah Sharkey and vocalist Julio Davis. The results are a delightful session that truly has something for everyone. More traditionalist listeners will enjoy their versions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” and Kenny Kirkland’s adventurous “Dienda.,” Greene really stretches things with the group’s rendition of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” Rather than a hard bop/mainstream approach, they perform it reggae style, with Piane and Corley nicely accenting the rhythmic changes as Greene delivers an exuberant solo. He also reworks the YellowJackets’ “Summer Song,” offering a lush saxophone meditation  that was originally done vocally by the great Bobby McFerrin. He and Espinosa conclude the session in bombastic fashion with an exciting duet on “Day Dream. New material includes Espinosa’s edgy “Thunder Show,” and “Here To Help,” a potent tribute to both Eddie Harris and house music giant Frankie Knuckles. Chris Greene has never worried about labels, and “Boundary Issues” shows he’s comfortable working in any and all jazz styles.
“Giant Steps” for the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society marks the third incarnation and home for this feature. It began as a blog for the now departed Nashville City Paper, then returned as an online column for the Nashville Scene. Now it’s intended to become a monthly feature for the TJBS. This version will resemble the second version with a couple more features. The goal is to make it a monthly sort of one-stop guide for jazz and blues, as well as related idioms, fans. It will combine reviews, interviews, and commentary, and hopefully offer something of value along with reflecting the opinions and experiences of both great musicians and a long-time music follower, fan and advocate.