“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.

Side 1 – The year in Jazz, Blues, & related music

2016 was only in its third day when jazz and blues fans learned about the first of what proved a lengthy list of shattering deaths. The magnificent pianist, composer and bandleader Paul Bley, whose tenure in the music dated back to the days of Charlie Parker,  someone who had worked extensively with such giants as Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, was dead at 83. Throughout the remaining months, it sometimes seemed a day didn’t pass without a devastating, and often totally unexpected, passing of an irreplaceable artist. While death is certainly every bit as much a part of the human experience as life, one could be forgiven for thinking that there were just a few too many crushing losses this year (and as we write this there are still 25 days left in 2016).The second piece of rugged news arrived on Sept. 2, when longtime vital broadcasting ally WMOT-FM (89.5) officially changed its format and became an Americana station. Now setting aside the fact there are many fine artists in various elements of that genre whose music deserves wider exposure, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Americana having its own outlet, jazz losing a 100,000 watt station in any market these days is huge. The cutbacks at various National Public Radio stations over the past few years have disproportionately affected jazz and blues more than any other idioms. While the rise of satellite and Internet radio aids the cause, they can’t completely make up for the potential audience losses whenever a conventional broadcast station that doesn’t require any subscription or additional/special receiver to hear opts out of playing jazz and blues.Thankfully, there still remain numerous dedicated and devoted jazz and blues (as well as other related idioms) broadcasters and stations. WFSK-FM (88.1), Fisk University’s 24/7 smooth jazz station continues to air a variety of fine programs, included one hosted by Nashville label owner, prolific instrumentalist, producer, and award winner Rahsaan Barber. Let’s also not forget both longtime roots music advocate WRFN (Radio Free Nashville) and new kid on the block WXNA. Neither are fulltime jazz and blues. but both include some entertaining shows in those genres by knowledgeable and entertaining on-air personalists. Plus another new addition, ACME radio online debuted with a wonderful weekly show hosted by Greg Pogue. Pogue’s exhaustive sports background as a writer and broadcaster is well known, but this show gives him a chance to spotlight his other passion, which is being a huge jazz fan. An equally great show on that same station, even if it’s not strictly about jazz and blues, is author and critic Barry Mazor’s show on roots music of all styles.

Indeed, it would be grossly unfair to say all, or even most of what happened this year was somber and tragic. There were many notable things to celebrate, and the biggest theme for this and any other year when you’re talking about jazz and blues is perseverance and survival. Even though you wouldn’t know it if you considered the benchmarks of TV programs like “The Voice,” music awards shows, or commercial/corporate radio playlists, the sensibilities of jazz and blues permeate this nation’s musical culture in many ways. Whether in extended solos and lengthy jams, variations on blues themes expressed in everything from rap to alternative rock, or the embrace by such aging stars as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Rod Stewart of the show tunes and theatrical standards canon that’s always been the proving ground for true jazz vocal credibility, as one of Ornette’s greatest albums proclaimed, “This Is Our Music.” It truly affects, influences and drives this nation’s culture, despite the fact many who deem themselves its commentators and gatekeepers often ignore that fact.

Locally, it was quite a joy to see the breakout this year for vocalist Kandace Springs. Other than Gregory Porter and Norah Jones, she’s the biggest jazz voice on Blue Note, and she’s definitely a Music City denizen. “Soul Eyes,” her debut, was universally praised and no less than the late and great Prince encouraged her to forget about vying to get on urban radio and concentrate instead on being a dynamic jazz artist. Indeed, Nashville has a host of topflight jazz vocal talent, and it’s great to see it being noticed nationally. A close second in that regard was Dara Tucker, one of the winners in Nashville Music Awards’ newly established jazz division. She also was a guest on Tavis Smiley’s nationally syndicated Public Television show and a NY club headliner.Tucker was joined by fellow award winners saxophonist and prolific talent Rahsaan Barber (Best Jazz Instrumentalist), the Nashville Jazz Orchestra (Best Jazz Group) and another prodigious soloist and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Coffin (Best Jazz Album).Pianist Beegie Adair’s trio has done wonderful things and made superb records for years, but got a special reward in 2016. They got to headline Carnegie Hall for a spotlight show, the first Nashville trio to achieve that degree of fame. The event was also a sellout, while the duo of Adair and vocalist Monica Ramey also made a triumphant return visit to New York for another performance at Birdland. Of course Adair, Ramey and numerous other area jazz talents have long been involved with the Nashville Jazz Workshop, an invaluable source for jazz and blues throughout the state and nation. The NJW alongside the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society provided sterling examples the entire year of advocacy, scholarship and performance presentation.Whether it was the TJBS’ Classic Albums series that featured some of Nashville’s finest musicians performing in their entirety John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” the Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald duet album or Herbie Hancock’s “Thrust,” or the Snap on 2&4 and other “Jazz Cave” events presented by the NJW, there were many events throughout the year for fans to enjoy. These also included periodic Jazz On The Move series events and concerts at the downtown Public Library, as well as the interview/performance “Steinway Sessions.” There were also some exciting tribute shows celebrating and commemorating B.B. King, Duane Allman and Allen Toussaint.Kudos also to Markey Blue, Stacy Mitchhart, Debbie Bond, Etta Britt, Jimmy Hall, Jack Pearson, Shaun Murphy, Keb Mo’ and Tom Hambridge (to cite only on handful),  toiling in the blues  and club scene.  Nashville also welcomed concerts from Chick Corea, Madeline Peyroux, trombone virtuoso Wycliffe Gordon through a collaboration with the Nashville Jazz Composers Collective, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, whose December appearance also brought to town the amazing Catherine Russell and gave the Hume Fogg Jazz Band a chance to show their stuff to the very tops in the field. Nashville also got a chance to hear jazz on the edge, with concerts from premier avant-garde trumpeter and saxophonist Joe McPhee and longtime Sun Ra stalwart Marshall Allen.There’s also no way to understate the loss of the great Marion James, a vibrant and vital force in the city’s blues and R&B worlds for decades. Her Musicians Reunion shows will always be a memorable and important aspect of Music City cultural programming, and her devotion to ensuring that innovative and frequently forgotten figures not be overlooked continues to drive everyone who ever met or heard her speak and perform. We also lost the fine soul vocalist Clifford Curry, and Memphis’ Queen of the Blues Ruby Wilson.

But above all else, the music continues.

Side 2 – R.I.P.

R.I.P.Paul Bley
Long John Hunter
Otis Clay
Nicholas Caldwell (founding member of the Whispers)
Herb Hardesty
Maurice White (founder of Earth, Wind & Fire)
James Jamerson Jr.
Jimmy Riley (reggae great)
Gato Barbieri
Leon Haywood
Lonnie Mack
Candye Kane
Marshall Jones (Ohio Players)
Bernie Worrell
“Sir” Mack Rice
Rob Wasserman
Pete Fountain
Ruby Wilson
Clifford Curry
Marion James
Bobby Hutcherson
Prince Buster (ska giant)
Buckwheat Zydeco
Rod Temperton
Phil Chess
Kay Starr
Leon Russell
Mose Allison
Sharon Jones

Side 3 – Our Choices for 2016’s Best albums (Jazz)

1. Jack Dejohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison-  “Movement” (ECM)
2. Gregory Porter – “Take Me to the Alley ” (Blue Note).
3. Vijay Iyer/ Wadada Leo Smith- “A Cosmic Touch With Each Stroke ” (ECM).
4. George Coleman – “A Master Speaks” (Smoke Sessions)
5. Heads of State – “Search For Peace” (Smoke Sessions).
6. Henry Threadgill – “Old Locks and Irregular Verbs” (PI)
7. Marquis Hill – “The Way We Play” (Concord) .
8. Kandace Springs – “Soul Eyes” (Blue Note).
9. Antonio Shanchez- “The Meridian Suite ” (CAM) .
10. Afredo Rodriguez – “Tocororo” (Mack Avenue).Historical/Reissues
1. Larry Young-  “In Paris-  The ORTF Recordings” (Resonance).
2. Stan Getz – “Moments in Time” (Resonance) .
3. Miles Davis – “Freedom Jazz Dance – The Bootleg Sessions, Vol. 5” (Legacy).

Side 4 – December Reviews

Album of the month
Evan Cobb – “Hot Chicken (Ear Up)Stalwart Nashville saxophonist and composer Evan Cobb displays and demonstrates his versatility as a leader, soloist and writer on this strong set of original material that is also a showcase for many fine Music City players. Cobb’s stylistic menu ranges from hard bop to Latin, soul jazz to straight-ahead blowing exchanges. The core band includes trumpet/flugelhornist Matt White, rousing pianist Joe Davidan, bassist Jonathan Wires, and drummer Joshua Hunt, augmented by outstanding guest musicians. Trombone ace Roland Barber joins the group for three sparkling numbers, most notably “Heaven Beside You” and “Tea For Forty-Seven.” The latter is a set tour de force, as Cobb and Gabriel Collins supply fine tenor solos, and Jay Karp ably contributes to the fireworks on alto sax. James DaSilva’s precise, soulful guitar adds edge to “Hot Chicken” and nice flourishes to “Heaven Beside You.” Cobb utilizes flute on “Neuhoff Mambo” and “If I Only Had A Brain,” while delivering authoritative alto sax solos on “TLab,” his lone turn on that instrument. The songs are crisply played and smartly arranged to offer both ample moments of excellent ensemble interaction and maximum space for individual expressiveness. “Hot Chicken” is a delight and excellent addition to the ranks of first-rate LPs from Nashville artists.Book of the Month
Bob Gluck – “The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and other Revolutionary Ensembles” (University of Chicago Press))Pianist/critic/author Bob Gluck puts a seminal, yet in some circles still controversial ensemble in the spotlight with his newest volume. For some jazz fans, Miles Davis’ electric ’70s bands represented the beginning of an artistic decline that has affected the entire genre to this day. Others view it as a breakthrough, the logical next step for a master musician who had never stood still and had done pretty much all he could at that point with conventional jazz arrangements, instrumentation, song choices, even on stage appearance. But while Gluck begins his look at this group with what’s widely considered the era’s most important work “Bitches Brew,” he offers a surprising twist in his analysis of the influences on Davis’ direction. While acknowledging the importance of funk and rock on Davis, he maintains there was equal impact on the move from another lesser recognized end – the avant-garde.Late period Coltrane and cutting edge Ornette Coleman are viewed by Gluck alongside Sly Stone, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix as forces that shaped the early ’70s Miles Davis sound. “The Miles Davis Lost Quintet”  probes the connection in multiple ways, from a breakdown of individual tunes to a look at the personalities of the band members, how their interaction with each other and Davis changed over time, and what his impact was on the music they later made on their own, as well as what they were doing nightly. The book also covers a turbulent time in jazz, as rock’s hegemony is becoming more evident in recording circles and musicians are wrestling with the changing demands of audiences and trying to figure out what parts of the newer sounds and styles they want to incorporate within their music, if any.

This is a thoroughly  researched and quite enjoyable volume, a fine mix of scholarship and both musical and personal appreciation for some exceptional, frequently misunderstood material. It is particularly recommended for fans who feel that the ’70s in general, and Miles Davis’ music of that period, has been grossly undervalued.

(Some material in this month’s column has previously appeared in different fashion in “The Scene” and National Public Radio’s year-end jazz poll.)

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville SceneCity Paper, and the Tennessee Tribune, and nationally in Jazz Times.Ron is former editor of the New Memphis Star, and was chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He has contributed to such publications such as BillboardThe Village VoiceCreemRock & Roll DiscLiving BluesThe Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.