This debut edition of “Giant Steps” for the Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society marks its 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 – Jazz Plus (CD/book reviews)

A. – Music on Disc

“Providence” (charlieballantine.com), guitarist Charlies Ballantine’s second release as a leader, again spotlights his working quartet that includes fellow Indiana University classmates Amanda Gardier (alto sax), Josh Espinoza (organ), Conner Green (bass) and Josh Roberts (drums). The set blends multiple idiomatic fields, echoing elements of vintage jazz-rock (not fusion), soul-jazz, blues and gospel, with Ballantine’s alternately slashing or soothing riffs and licks at the center on tunes that range from spiritual (“Hallelujah”) to edgy (“Conundrum,” “Roads.”) Though the emphasis is equally divided between collective sections and fiery solos, Ballantine and company deliver a fine set with tunes that appeal both to those with minimal interest in non-jazz sounds, and those at home with pop and rock-influenced material.Guitarist/vocalist Debbie Bond’s evocative “Enjoy The Ride: Shoals Sessions” (BRP) is a showcase for her dynamic, resourceful blues instrumental work, and impressive singing on blues and soul originals and covers. It is also a nod to the influence of Muscle Shoals, Alabama and its historical musical impact. Bond heads a first-rate band that includes keyboardist and harmonica player Rick Asherson, drummer Dave Crenshaw, two outstanding background vocalists in Rachel and Carla Edwards, and a host of esteemed guest stars, among them the legendary Spooner Oldham on organ for a soaring version of the Ann Peebles’ gem “Love Vibration.” The originals are strong as well, especially the title cut and “Start With Love.”Guitarist/composer Horace Bray’s fine debut release “Dreamstate”  (HoraceBray.com) is another session that features the collaborative efforts of former classmates. Bray’s joined by University of North Texas comrades Mike Luzecky (bass), Colin Campbell (keyboards) and either Matt Young or Connor Kent (drums) in a date that contains a host of challenging selections. The focus is squarely on original compositions (10), with the pace shifting from shimmering ballads like”Living With Imperfection” to such explosive uptempo works as “Laumeier.” There’s also a distinct rhythmic foundation as Bray gives listeners a good idea of his compositional and playing identity, rather than simply enhance or rework standards.
King Curtis and Junior Walker are prime influences that can be detected in Terry Hanck’s robust tenor sax playing, and he dedicates one of the tunes on “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live!” (Vizztone) to Walker, the slashing “Junior’s Walk.” The Terry Hanck Band plays a compelling, non-stop style of blues that also intersperses vintage R&B (“Ain’t That Just Like A Woman,” “Flatfoot Sam”) and soul covers (“Can I Change My Mind”) into the fabric fueled by Hanck’s crackling vocal leads and instrumental accompaniment, plus tight support from guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand, bassist Tim Wagar and drummer/vocalist Butch Cousins. It’s blues with plenty of soul firepower.Jane Monheit’s sensual, striking delivery makes “The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald” (Emerald City) a delight. Monheit does wondrous things throughout these treatments, whether it’s fresh approaches to familiar numbers like “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” or her choices to do tunes not overly performed like “I Used To Be Colorblind” or “All Too Soon.” Any band with Nicholas Payton’s trumpet at its core will be a great one, and Michael Kanan (acoustic/electric piano), Neal Miner (bass), Rick Montalbano (drums) and Daniel Sadowick (percussion) also prove able collaborators. Payton, Miner, and Kayman divide arranging duties, with Monheit’s lush performances the glue binding everything perfectly together.

B. – Music books

Guitarist Michael Bloomfield was a virtuoso soloist, as well as a complex, often conflicted individual. Arguably the single greatest talent among the generation of young whites who came of age as blues fans and learned the music from the last group of pioneering Black founders, Bloomfield’s searing intensity and constant search for perfection led to  spectacular triumphs in such groups as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag. His versatility enabled Bloomfield to play with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and many others, while being a key figure on more than 20 albums. Rising fame and a growing reputation made him suspicious about the commercial demands of the music business, and often extremely difficult to interact with while playing sessions or working with band members. Add a drug habit that worsened over the years, and the results were a brilliant, yet frequently unhappy genius who died of a drug overdose in 1981 at 38. Bloomfield was initially found on the street and deemed a “John Doe” before later being identified.Esteemed rock historian Ed Ward originally wrote some “MIchael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero” (Chicago Review Press) in 1983. But this revised and greatly expanded version, which was aided by research and contributions from Nashville critic Edd Hurt, really qualifies as a new volume. It has numerous new interviews, an extensive discography and important fresh content. This updated material includes a 1968 “Rolling Stone” interview that would no doubt offend many today with its language and frankness. But those words were pure Bloomfield, and reflected an honesty and integrity that couldn’t be compromised, not even his sometimes less than stellar personal behavior.Even if you read Ward’s original, this shouldn’t be missed. It’s the definitive look at one of the rock era’s first true guitar heroes, and a monster talent.“Rev.” Keith A. Gordon has been a valued critic and music observer for over four decades, specializing primarily in rock and blues, though his knowledge isn’t limited to those areas (he’s also been a personal friend not quite that long, but at least half that time). His passion for the blues has been highlighted during his tenure for a number of publications and websites. The blues fan seeking both knowledge and engagement with the art form will be well served getting “Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’: Blues Music Reviews” (Excitable Press), the second in a planned four-volume archive of the “Rev’s” best material.”Rollin’ ‘n Tumblin” truly covers the blues spectrum. There’s numerous contemporary album reviews, plus several reissues, including some that didn’t get much coverage even in the blues press, let along general music publications. He also includes key book reviews, and periodically also cites DVDs and other video items. “Rollin ‘n’ Tumblin’ provides the kind of diversified, broad coverage that used to be a regular feature in music and arts sections, but sadly is far from the case today in too many places.

Side 2 – Interviews

Jeff Coffin is well known in the Nashville jazz community as a super soloist, key contributor to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band, and a fine composer and bandleader. His newest venture is the Nashville Composers Collective (NJCC). This group focuses on original compositions, as well as improvisation and community-based music education. The NJCC recently had its latest concert in Nashville Sept. 13, with special guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.Unfortunately, things didn’t work out space wise, and I wasn’t able to get this into the Nashville Scene. But I was fortunate enough to get interviews with both Coffin and Gordon. The Coffin is included here. The Gordon will run in the next edition.JEFF COFFIN
The Nashville Composers Collective (NJCC) is just one among many projects that occupy prolific saxophonist/bandleader Jeff Coffin. But he’s very excited about it, as it’s an ongoing venture, and something that potentially can unite divergent parts of Music City’s improvisational community. “We’ve only done two, maybe three concerts so far,” Coffin told me recently while preparing for a Sept. 13th Nashville event. “It’s a big experimental project, and I’m really looking forward to having someone like (trombonist) Wycliffe Gordon coming to this. We connected through various things when we were doing clinics and projects, and I approached him about coming and he thought the collective idea was a great one and said he’d love to come.””He’s even presenting a new piece for it, and he’s also going to do some lecturing and clinics while he’s here,” Coffin added. He also sees the collective as a way to put more focus on the writing and arranging skills of various Nashville musicians. “We want to feature people’s works,” Coffin continued. “We’re up to 40 members now and the numbers vary depending of course on who’s available what they’ve got. We’re looking at getting 501 3 (c) status in the future and we want to do some more shows in Nashville. I’d also certainly like to do some recording with this group in the future as well.”Coffin now has a studio above his home, and he’s been busy there as well, with an upcoming album tentatively set for an October 18 release date. As far as possible Flecktones dates in the future, he says he’s certainly always interested in getting together with the guys if and when it occurs. Meanwhile, he’s stayed busy touring with Dave Matthews while also looking towards the future for the NJCC.”This group is something that I’m really very passionate about and want to see become a regular fixture around Nashville,” he concluded. “I’m also doing a lot of my own writing and I want to expand into doing my own label as well, and to doing more recording and playing. My new album should be coming out sometimes in October, and I’ve got some other people that I’m working with to do some projects as well.”BEEGIE ADAIR TRIO
Pianist Beegie Adair has been a fixture in Nashville’s jazz community for decades, but over the last few years her trio with bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris White has gotten plenty of national attention. That will culminate in a historic event October 7, the first time any Nashville trio has ever been the headliners at Carneige Hall. The event is now sold out, a testament to the popularity that the trio’s attained through a series of New York dates that include appearances at Birdland, Feinstein’s, and other New York hot spots.

“Well it kind of goes without saying that certainly this is a career highpoint,” Adair recently told me. “We’re certainly honored and it’s something that you never expect to happen when you’re starting out. We’re really excited. You can’t overhype what being at Carneige Hall means to a performer. For us to be the first Nashville trio to do it only adds to the luster and makes it truly special.”

While understandably not wanting to divulge the set list, Adair did say that there would be some material from Monk and Ellington, as well as some standards, a little Latin material, some tunes from recent trio LPs, and “some surprises.” In addition the duo release with Adair and vocalist Monica Ramey “Some Enchanted Evening” has been getting nationwide airplay. “This is really going to be a special night,” Adair concludes. “We hope that there will be some Nashville people there to enjoy it with us.”

Side 3 – In Performance

THE GREAT ALBUMS CONCERTSThe second in the series of “Great Albums” concerts was held September 16 at the Nashville Workshop’s Jazz Cave to a full house. This time the LP on the menu was “Ella & Lous,” the first recorded collaboration between the two titans of swing, traditional jazz and the Great American Songbook. As witness to the greatness of Armstrong, Kevin Whalum handled the vocal portion and Rod McGaha, whose trumpet playing was in peak form all night, took care of the instrumental portions. Sandra Dudley was equally superb doing Fitzgerald’s portion, while a wonderful rhythm section that include pianist Bruce Dudley, bassist John Birdsong, guitarist Andy Reiss and drummer Duffy Jackson ably backed the Dudley/Whalum vocalists.Just as Ella and Louis alternated on taking the leads and opening the songs, so did Dudley and Whalum, whose enthusiasm and delight at doing the music was another high point. Despite his admonition for the audience to “understand that no one can play this like Pops,” McGaha delivered a host of sterling solos, from the brilliant accompaniment on “Moonlight In Vermont” to his cagey use of the mute and ringing, declarative openings and closings on several selections. Reiss had highlight solos on “April in Paris” and “A Foggy Day,” while the Dudley/Whalum team were sublime the entire evening, and Bruce Dudley excelled in offering nimble interludes and colorations behind the vocalists.The original album was released on Aug. 16, 1956. On the night of Sept. 16, 2016, it received a most appropriate and enjoyable 50 + year salute.

Side 4 – Commentary

NPR’s uneasy relationship with jazz took another backward step last week, when it terminated its fine jazz editor Patrick Jarenwattananon and ended his “A Blog Supreme.” There’s already been far too many NPR stations who’ve opted to downsize on their jazz programming and increase their talk component. I was working in Boston back in the early ’80s when WBUR were among the first to start this trend. Nat Hentoff a few years later in “Jazz Times” warned of an approaching day when public radio would be greatly cutting back on jazz, and the Jarenwattananon purge is only the latest in what sadly seems like a wave that isn’t going to stop.WMOT has moved jazz from the familiar spot on 89.5FM over to 92.3FM, as well as on its second HD station for those with HD radios or online access. They have shifted the focus to Americana on 89.5. WMOT’s new name is Roots Radio. While also a fan of blues, folk, bluegrass, and the other styles that comprise Americana, it’s still a bit sad to see WMOT’s jazz shuttled to another frequency. But at least WMOT didn’t abandon jazz altogether. It will also be on 104.9 in Brentwood, and the good news is the 24/7 format has been restored for jazz on both those stations.WFSK-FM, the home of smooth jazz (and in full disclosure mode, a place I do a weekly talk show “Freestyle” from 6-7 p.m. on Monday nights) is holding its annual fund-raising drive the weekend of Oct. 7. It’s a 48-hour effort, and I would urge jazz fans to please support WFSK. It is a friend of all jazz, and there are shows there like Rahsaan Barber’s “Generations in Jazz” (Mondays at 7 p.m.) that also appeal to more mainstream/hard bop/conservative jazz listener. Most importantly, there aren’t many stations in this area playing any type of jazz, be it smooth, mainstream, etc. The few that are around need the jazz audience’s support.Lastly, upcoming October concerts include the Beegie Adair Trio at the Jazz Cave on Oct. 15, and Chick Corea’s Elektric Band reunion at Schermerhorn Symphony Center Oct. 14.Let’s do our part to keep the music alive.

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.