Friday, November 30, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (December 2012): Wayne Shorter

Born in Newark, New Jersey on August 25, 1933, had his first great jazz epiphany as a teenager: “I remember seeing Lester Young when I was 15 years old. It was a Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic show in Newark and he was late coming to the theater. Me and a couple of other guys were waiting out front of the Adams Theater and when he finally did show up, he had the pork pie hat and everything. So then we were trying to figure out how to get into the theater from the fire escape around the back. We eventually got into the mezzanine and saw that whole show — Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie bands together on stage doing ‘Peanut Vendor,’ Charlie Parker with strings doing ‘Laura’ and stuff like that. And Russell Jacquet…Ilinois Jacquet. He was there doing his thing. That whole scene impressed me so much that I just decided, ‘Hey, man, let me get a clarinet.’ So I got one when I was 16, and that’s when I started music.”

Switching to tenor saxophone, Shorter formed a teenage band in Newark called The Jazz Informers. While still in high school, Shorter participated in several cutting contests on Newark’s jazz scene, including one memorable encounter with sax great Sonny Stitt. He attended college at New York University while also soaking up the Manhattan jazz scene by frequenting popular nightspots like Birdland and Cafe Bohemia. Wayne worked his way through college by playing with the Nat Phipps orchestra. Upon graduating in 1956, he worked briefly with Johnny Eaton and his Princetonians, earning the nickname “The Newark Flash” for his speed and facility on the tenor saxophone.

Just as he was beginning making his mark, Shorter was drafted into the Army. “A week before I went into the Army I went to the Cafe Bohemia to hear music, I said, for the last time in my life. I was standing at the bar having a cognac and I had my draft notice in my back pocket. That’s when I met Max Roach. He said, ‘You’re the kid from Newark, huh? You’re The Flash.’ And he asked me to sit in. They were changing drummers throughout the night, so Max played drums, then Art Taylor, then Art Blakey. Oscar Pettiford was on cello. Jimmy Smith came in the door with his organ. He drove to the club with his organ in a hearse. And outside we heard that Miles was looking for somebody named Cannonball. And I’m saying to myself, ‘All this stuff is going on and I gotta go to the Army in about five days!’

Following his time in the service, Shorter had a brief stint in 1958 with Horace Silver and later played in the house band at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. It was around this time that Shorter began jamming with fellow tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. In 1959, Shorter had a brief stint with the Maynard Ferguson big band before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in August of that year. He remained with the Jazz Messengers through 1963, becoming Blakey’s musical director and contributing several key compositions to the band’s book during those years. Shorter made his recording debut as a leader in 1959 for the Vee Jay label and in 1964 cut the first of a string of important recordings for the Blue Note label.

In 1964 Miles Davis invited Wayne to go on the road. He joined Herbie Hancock (piano), Tony Williams (drums) and Ron Carter (bass). This tour turned into a 6 year run with Davis in which he recorded a number albums with him. Along with Davis, he helped craft a sound that changed the face of music In his autobiography, the late Miles Davis said about Wayne…“Wayne is a real composer…he knew that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste…” In his time with Miles he crafted what have become jazz standards like “Nefertiti,” “E.S.P.,” “Pinocchio,” “Sanctuary,” “Fall” and “Footprints

Simultaneous with his time in the Miles Davis quintet, Shorter recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, featuring almost exclusively his own compositions, with a variety of line-ups, quartets and larger groups including Blue Note favourites such as Freddie Hubbard. His first Blue Note album (of nine in total) was Night Dreamer recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in 1964 with Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones. The later album The All Seeing Eye was a free-jazz workout with a larger group, while Adam’s Apple of 1966 was back to carefully constructed melodies by Shorter leading a quartet. Then a sextet again in the following year for Schizophrenia with his Miles Davis band mates Hancock and Carter plus trombonist Curtis Fuller, alto saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding and strong rhythms by drummer Joe Chambers. These albums have recently been remastered by Rudy Van Gelder.

In 1970, Shorter co-founded the group Weather Report with keyboardist and Miles Davis alum, Joe Zawinul. It remained the premier fusion group through the ’70s and into the early ’80s before disbanding in 1985 after 16 acclaimed recordings, including 1980’s Grammy Award-winning double-live LP set, 8:30. Shorter formed his own group in 1986 and produced a succession of electric jazz albums for the Columbia label — 1986’s Atlantis, 1987’s Phantom Navigator, 1988’s Joy Ryder. He re-emerged on the Verve label with 1995’s High Life. After the tragic loss of his wife in 1996 (she was aboard the ill-fated Paris-bound flight TWA 800), Shorter returned to the scene with 1997’s 1+1, an intimate duet recording with pianist and former Miles Davis quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock. The two spent 1998 touring as a duet.

After Weather Report, Shorter continued to record and lead groups in jazz fusion styles, including touring in 1988 with guitarist Carlos Santana, who appeared on the last Weather Report disc This is This! In 1989, he scored a hit on the rock charts, playing the sax solo on Don Henley’s song “The End of the Innocence” and also produced the album “Pilar” by the Portuguese singer-songwriter Pilar Homem de Melo.

In 1995, Shorter released the album High Life, his first solo recording for seven years. It was also Shorter’s debut as a leader for Verve Records. Shorter composed all the compositions on the album and co-produced it with the bassist Marcus Miller. High Life received the Grammy Award for best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997. Shorter would work with Hancock once again in 1997, on the much acclaimed and heralded album 1+1. The song “Aung San Suu Kyi” (named for the Burmese pro-democracy activist) won both Hancock and Shorter a Grammy Award. In 2009, he was announced as one of the headline acts at the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco.

By the summer of 2001, Wayne began touring as the leader of a talented young lineup featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, each a celebrated recording artist and bandleader in his own right. The group’s uncanny chemistry was well documented on 2002’s acclaimed Footprints Live! Shorter followed in 2003 with the ambitious Alegria, an expanded vision for large ensemble which earned him a Grammy Award. In 2005, Shorter released the live Beyond the Sound Barrier which earned him another Grammy Award. “It’s the same mission…fighting the good fight,” he said. “It’s making a statement about what life is, really. And I’m going to end the line with it.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (November 2012) : William Cepeda


William Cepeda - trombone, composer, producer

William Cepeda comes from a well known family rooted in music. The Familia Cepeda is famous for their performances of folkloric music with African roots, the ‘Bomba,’ and as keepers of traditional Puerto Rican music for many years. The legendary Cepedas’ have produced many of Puerto Rico's most respected Afro-Rican percussionists, singers, dancers, composers and instrumentalists. Now, in William Cepeda, the young multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who was nurtured by the twin spirits of bomba and bebop, Puerto Rico's potent rhythms and entrancing melodies radiate out to enthrall an international audience hungry for new Latin sounds.

Despite his family’s intimate association with folkloric music, as a soloist Cepeda went his own way. His interest in jazz and great talent has enabled him to develop a unique jazz style which he calls “Afrorican Jazz”. The music is a fusion of jazz with the musical themes so prevalent in the folk music he grew up with.

Born in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Cepeda was immersed in the rhythms and melodies of the native danza, bomba and plena and even the folk music of the jibaro. With this background and family history, he started playing percussion with friends by age ten. In his teens, Cepeda picked up the trombone and got an early start as a professional musician.

Cepeda’s formal musical training includes BA degrees from Berklee College of Music in Boston and from the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. He also attended the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York, on a full scholarship, where he was awarded a Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance. The training exposed Cepeda to some of the greatest jazz musicians and taught him complexities of jazz improvisation and composition. He studied and played with such notable jazz musicians as Slide Hampton, Donald Byrd, David Murray, and others. He also played and recorded with Latin music artists such as Oscar De Leon, Paquito d’Rivera, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. When he is not touring, Cepeda is busy in the recording studio. As a recording artist, he appears on over 100 recordings as well as jingles and movie soundtracks.

Cepeda also played with and learned much from Dizzy Gillespie, one of the founders of Latin Jazz. The association began in 1989 when Cepeda was hired by Gillespie during a tour by Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra. Joining the tour with Miriam Makeba, Cepeda participated in the fusion of jazz with South African music. On his return to Puerto Rico in 1990, after the tour, and inspired by collaboration with Gillespie and Makeba, Cepeda created his Afrorican jazz style. He had made a unique contribution in fusing the distinct musical styles and traditions of Africa and Puerto Rico, in a way that only Rafael Cortijo had done before with the major difference being the addition of jazz.

A chance encounter with Gillespie had opened a great artistic vehicle for Cepeda. It turned into an invitation to tour Europe with Gillespie, a lasting relationship, and unique musical style. It has afforded Cepeda to show his talents as a composer as well as an accomplished trombonist.

In 1997, Cepeda was selected one of the most important and influential Puerto Rican composers. His talent has brought him more than just popular recognition. It has won him many awards as well as grants from such diverse groups as the American Composers Orchestra, the American Composers Forum, the Association of Hispanic Arts and the Latino Arts Advancement Program. In2002 Cepeda was honored with a Meet The Composer’ New Residencies Program award to be a composer-in-residence of the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico for the next three years. During this residence Cepeda began writing music for many different kind of groupings, from chamber ensembles to big bands and symphonic orchestra, and developing artistic collaboration with dance and theater ensembles. Cepeda is currently on the faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, teaches part-time and conducts seminars and workshops.

But Cepeda has also been successful as a record producer. He produced “Bombazo” (1998) for Grupo Afro Boricua,( highly recommended) as well as his own CD’s on the Blue Jackel label. “My Roots and Beyond,” (1998) and “Branching Out,” in 2000. He has started his own record label Casabe and has released “Live at Montreux,” and “Unity,” both in 2007.

Trombonist /composer /arranger William Cepeda is part of a new generation of musicians who have not only mastered the skills a jazz artist requires, but combine them with the traditional music of their homeland, creating a new and challenging repertoire. Cepeda calls his own variation on this theme “Afrorican Jazz.”

“This is my contribution to Puerto Rican music...Nothing like this has been done before, because while there are plenty of great jazz albums inspired by Cuban rhythms and music, Cuban-jazz fusions and such, there's nothing quite of the same calibre out there for Puerto Rican music and jazz. And there should be. It's time. You know, don Rafael Cepeda said that when the Puerto Rican people understand the value of their music and folklore, they will fight with great force to defend their honor. This music is about my people and for my people.”

“Traditional Puerto Rican music isn't heard that much outside of the island and it's a shame. We have a very strong music. By using a variety of instruments and the wealth of jazz resources, I have brought this rich tradition to another level, to a wider audience but also to a new level of feeling, more in line with the experience of today. I'm putting a little fire into it, with the result, I hope, of offering a dynamic and beautiful music for many, many people to enjoy.” William Cepeda

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (October 2012) - Jerry Gonzalez

Born 5 June 1949, New York City, New York, USA. Multi-instrumentalist Gonz lez and his Fort Apache Band are one of the most exciting Latin jazz ensembles to emerge in the 90s, fusing the rhythms of Cal Tjader, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri with a fiery bebop horn section, with Gonz lez featuring on trumpet and percussion. He started off playing congas in a Latin jazz quintet alongside his bass-playing younger brother Andy, and attended the New York High School Of Music And Art and the New York City College Of Music. He joined Dizzy Gillespie's band as a percussionist, and then played for four years with Palmieri during which he was able to nurture his interest in Afro-Cuban rhythms. Gonz les left Palmieri to form the influential progressive salsa band Libre with his brother and timbales player Manny Oquendo.

Gonz lez continued to develop his jazz and rumba fusion experiments with a series of informal basement sessions at his mother's house in the Bronx, attended by a stellar cast of musicians including Kenny Dorham, Woody Shaw, Alfredo De La F‚, Alfredo Rodriguez, Eddie Mart¡nez and Wilfredo Velez. These sessions resulted in two all-star albums by the influential Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino. In 1979 Gonz lez was given the opportunity to transfer his fusion experiments to vinyl when he was signed to the American Clav‚ label as a solo artist by producer Kip Hanrahan. He made his solo debut with the notable Ya Yo Me Cur‚ in 1980, backed by sidemen including trombonist Steve Turr‚, tenor saxophonist Mario Rivera, pianist Hilton Ruiz and singer Frankie Rodriguez on a mixture of Afro-Cuban originals and jazz standards by Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk (a remarkable reading of "Evidence"). A European tour followed, with Gonz lez's ensemble hastily named the Fort Apache Band (taken from the 1981 movie Fort Apache, The Bronx). Gonz lez made his recording debut with the Fort Apache Band on The River Is Deep, which was recorded at the Berlin Jazz Festival in November 1982.

Gonz lez left Libre at the end of the 80s to devote his energies to band leading. In 1989, he released Obatal and Rumba Para Monk. On the latter album, an Afro-Cuban Monk tribute, Gonz lez scaled his band down to a quintet comprising his brother, pianist Larry Willis, percussionist Steve Berrios and tenor Carter Jefferson. In November 1990, the Fort Apache Band made their UK debut with an outstanding concert at London's Empire Ballroom. With the addition of alto saxophonist Joe Ford, Gonz lez's sextet recorded two more acclaimed albums on the Sunnyside label. Jefferson died in 1993 and was replaced by the experienced John Stubblefield. The current line-up of the band has released several albums on Milestone Records that have helped firmly establish them at the forefront of Latin jazz.

Discography: Ya Yo Me Cur‚ (American Clav‚ 1980)***, The River Is Deep (Enja 1983)****, Obatal (Enja 1989)****, Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside 1989)****, Earthdance (Sunnyside 1991)****, Moliendo Caf‚ (Sunnyside)***, Crossroads (Milestone 1994)****, Pensativo (Milestone 1995)***, Fire Dance (Milestone 1996)****, Jerry Gonzalez Y Los Piratos Del Flamenco (Lola 2004)***.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (September 2012): Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, educator and a leading advocate of American culture. He is the world’s first jazz artist to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum from its New Orleans roots to bebop to modern jazz.

By creating and performing an expansive range of brilliant new music for quartets to big bands, chamber music ensembles to symphony orchestras, tap dance to ballet, Wynton has expanded the vocabulary for jazz and created a vital body of work that places him among the world’s finest musicians and composers.

The Early Years

Wynton was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1961, to Ellis and Dolores Marsalis, the second of six sons. At an early age he exhibited a superior aptitude for music and a desire to participate in American culture. At age eight Wynton performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by legendary banjoist Danny Barker, and at 14 he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school Wynton performed with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, various jazz bands and the popular local funk band, the Creators.

At age 17 Wynton became the youngest musician ever to be admitted to Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center. Despite his youth, he was awarded the school’s prestigious Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Wynton moved to New York City to attend Juilliard in 1979. When he began to pick up gigs around town, the grapevine began to buzz. In 1980 Wynton seized the opportunity to join the Jazz Messengers to study under master drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. It was from Blakey that Wynton acquired his concept for band leading and for bringing intensity to each and every performance. In the years to follow Wynton performed with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and countless other jazz legends.

Wynton assembled his own band in 1981 and hit the road, performing over 120 concerts every year for 15 consecutive years. With the power of his superior musicianship, the infectious sound of his swinging bands and an exhaustive series of performances and music workshops, Marsalis rekindled widespread interest in jazz throughout the world. Wynton embraced the jazz lineage to garner recognition for the older generation of overlooked jazz musicians and prompted the re-issue of jazz catalog by record companies worldwide. He also inspired a renaissance that attracted a new generation of fine young talent to jazz. A look at the more distinguished jazz musicians of today reveals numerous students of Marsalis’ workshops: James Carter, Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, Eric Reed and Eric Lewis, to name a few.

Classical Career

Wynton’s love of the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others drove him to pursue a career in classical music as well. He recorded the Haydn, Hummel and Leopold Mozart trumpet concertos at age 20. His debut recording received glorious reviews and won the Grammy Award® for “Best Classical Soloist with an Orchestra.” Marsalis went on to record 10 additional classical records, all to critical acclaim. Wynton performed with leading orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Pops, The Cleveland Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and London’s Royal Philharmonic, working with an eminent group of conductors including: Leppard, Dutoit, Maazel, Slatkin, Salonen and Tilson-Thomas. Famed classical trumpeter Maurice André praised Wynton as “potentially the greatest trumpeter of all time.”

Record Production

To date Wynton has produced over 70 records which have sold over seven million copies worldwide including three Gold Records. His recordings consistently incorporate a heavy emphasis on the blues, an inclusive approach to all forms of jazz from New Orleans to modern jazz, persistent use of swing as the primary rhythm, an embrace of the American popular song, individual and collective improvisation, and a panoramic vision of compositional styles from ditties to dynamic call and response patterns (both within the rhythm section and between the rhythm section and horn players). Always swinging, Marsalis blows his trumpet with a clear tone and a unique, virtuosic style derived from an encyclopedic range of trumpet techniques.

The Composer

Wynton Marsalis is a prolific and inventive composer. The dance community embraced Wynton’s inventiveness by awarding him with commissions to create new music for Garth Fagan (Citi Movement-Griot New York), Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet (Jazz: Six Syncopated Movements and Them Twos), Twyla Tharp with the American Ballet Theatre (Jump Start), Judith Jamison at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (Sweet Release and Here…Now), and Savion Glover (Petite Suite and Spaces). Marsalis collaborated with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society in 1995 to compose the string quartet At The Octoroon Balls, and again in 1998 to create a response to Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale with his composition A Fiddler’s Tale.

With his collection of standards arrangements, Wynton reconnected audiences with the beauty of the American popular song (Standard Time Volumes I-VI). He re-introduced the joy in New Orleans jazz with his recording The Majesty Of The Blues. He extended the jazz musician’s interplay with the blues in Levee Low Moan, Thick In The South and other blues recordings.

With Citi Movement, In This House On This Morning and Blood On The Fields, Wynton invented a fresh conception for extended form compositions. His inventive interplay with melody, harmony and rhythm, along with his lyrical voicing and tonal coloring assert new possibilities for the jazz ensemble. In his dramatic oratorio Blood On The Fields, Wynton draws upon the blues, work songs, chants, call and response, spirituals, New Orleans jazz, Ellingtonesque orchestral arrangements and Afro-Caribbean rhythms; and he uses Greek chorus-style recitations to move the work along. The New York Times Magazine said the work “marked the symbolic moment when the full heritage of the line, Ellington through Mingus, was extended into the present.” The San Francisco Examiner stated, “Marsalis’ orchestral arrangements are magnificent. Duke Ellington’s shadings and themes come and go but Marsalis’ free use of dissonance, counter rhythms and polyphonics is way ahead of Ellington’s mid-century era.”

Wynton extended his achievements in Blood On The Fields with All Rise, an epic composition for big band, gospel choir, and symphony orchestra –- a classic work of high art -– which was performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Kurt Masur along with the Morgan State University Choir and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (December 1999).

Marsalis collaborated with Ghanaian master drummer Yacub Addy to create Congo Square, a groundbreaking composition combining elegant harmonies from America’s jazz tradition with fundamental rituals in African percussion and vocals (2006).

For the anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church’s 200th year of service, Marsalis blended Baptist church choir cadences with blues accents and big band swing rhythms to compose Abyssinian 200: A Celebration, which was performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Abyssinian’s 100 voice choir before packed houses in New York City (May 2008).

In the fall of 2009 the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra premiered Marsalis’ composition Blues Symphony. By infusing blues and ragtime rhythms with symphonic orchestrations Wynton creates a fresh type of enjoyment of classical repertoire. Employing complex layers of collective improvisation, Marsalis further expanded his repertoire for symphony orchestra with Swing Symphony, premiered by the renowned Berlin Philharmonic in June 2010, creating new possibilities for audiences to experience a symphony orchestra swing. The New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Barbican have all signed on to perform Swing Symphony.

Marsalis’ rich and expansive body of music for the ages places him among the world’s most significant composers.

TV and Radio

In the fall of 1995 Wynton launched two major broadcast events. In October PBS premiered Marsalis On Music, an educational television series on jazz and classical music. The series was written and hosted by Marsalis and was enjoyed by millions of parents and children. Writers distinguished Marsalis On Music with comparisons to Leonard Bernstein’s celebrated Young People’s Concerts of the 50s and 60s. That same month National Public Radio aired the first of Marsalis’ 26-week series entitled Making the Music. These entertaining and insightful radio shows were the first full exposition of jazz music in American broadcast history. Wynton’s radio and television series were awarded the most prestigious distinction in broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody Award.

Marsalis has also written five books: Sweet Swing Blues on the Road, Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, To a Young Musician: Letters from the Road, Jazz ABZ (an A to Z collection of poems celebrating jazz greats), and his most recent release Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life.

Awards and Accolades

Wynton Marsalis has won nine Grammy Awards® in grand style. In 1983 he became the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards® for both jazz and classical records; and he repeated the distinction by winning jazz and classical Grammy Awards® again in 1984. Marsalis went on to win Grammy Awards® for five consecutive years (1983-1987). Honorary degrees have been conferred upon Wynton by over 30 of America’s leading academic institutions including Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton and Yale. Elsewhere Wynton was honored with the Louis Armstrong Memorial Medal and the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts. He was inducted into the American Academy of Achievement and was dubbed an Honorary Dreamer by the “I Have a Dream Foundation.” The New York Urban League awarded Wynton with the Frederick Douglass Medallion for distinguished leadership and the American Arts Council presented him with the Arts Education Award. Time magazine selected Wynton as one of America’s most promising leaders under age 40 in 1995, and in 1996 Time celebrated Marsalis again as one of America’s 25 most influential people. In November 2005 Wynton Marsalis received The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan proclaimed Wynton Marsalis an international ambassador of goodwill for the Unites States by appointing him a UN Messenger of Peace (2001).

In 1997 Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his epic oratorio Blood On The Fields. During the five preceding decades the Pulitzer Prize jury refused to recognize jazz musicians and their improvisational music, reserving this distinction for classical composers. In the years following Marsalis’ award, the Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded posthumously to Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. In a personal note to Wynton, Zarin Mehta wrote:

“I was not surprised at your winning the Pulitzer Prize for Blood On The Fields. It is a broad, beautifully painted canvas that impresses and inspires. It speaks to us all … I’m sure that, somewhere in the firmament, Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong and legions of others are smiling down on you.”

Wynton’s creativity has been celebrated throughout the world. He won the Netherlands’ Edison Award and the Grand Prix Du Disque of France. The Mayor of Vitoria, Spain, awarded Wynton with the city’s Gold Medal – its most coveted distinction. Britain’s senior conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music, granted Mr. Marsalis Honorary Membership, the Academy’s highest decoration for a non-British citizen (1996). The city of Marciac, France, erected a bronze statue in his honor. The French Ministry of Culture appointed Wynton the rank of Knight in the Order of Arts and Literature and in the fall of 2009 Wynton received France’s highest distinction, the insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, an honor that was first awarded by Napoleon Bonaparte. French Ambassador, His Excellency Pierre Vimont, captured the evening best with his introduction:

“We are gathered here tonight to express the French government’s recognition of one of the most influential figures in American music, an outstanding artist, in one word: a visionary…

I want to stress how important your work has been for both the American and the French. I want to put the emphasis on the main values and concerns that we all share: the importance of education and transmission of culture from one generation to the other, and a true commitment to the profoundly democratic idea that lies in jazz music.

I strongly believe that, for you, jazz is more than just a musical form. It is tradition, it is part of American history and culture and life. To you, jazz is the sound of democracy. And from this democratic nature of jazz derives openness, generosity, and universality.”

Jazz at Lincoln Center

In 1987 Wynton Marsalis co-founded a jazz program at Lincoln Center. In July 1996, due to its significant success, Jazz at Lincoln Center was installed as new constituent of Lincoln Center, equal in stature with the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and New York City Ballet – a historic moment for jazz as an art form and for Lincoln Center as a cultural institution. In October 2004, with the assistance of a dedicated Board and staff, Marsalis opened Frederick P. Rose Hall, the world’s first institution for jazz. The complex contains three state-of-the-art performance spaces (including the first concert hall designed specifically for jazz) along with recording, broadcast, rehearsal and educational facilities. Jazz at Lincoln Center has become a preferred venue for New York jazz fans and a destination for travelers from throughout the world. Wynton presently serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Music Director for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Under Wynton’s leadership, Jazz at Lincoln Center has developed an international agenda presenting rich and diverse programming that includes concerts, debates, film forums, dances, television and radio broadcasts, and educational activities.

Jazz at Lincoln Center is a mecca for learning as well as a hub for performance. Their comprehensive educational programming includes a Band Director’s Academy, a hugely popular concert series for kids called Jazz for Young People, Jazz in the Schools, a Middle School Jazz Academy, WeBop! (for kids ages 8 months to 5 years), an annual High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival that reaches over 2000 bands in 50 states and Canada, and online learning tools.

Giving Back

Wynton Marsalis has devoted his life to uplifting populations worldwide with the egalitarian spirit of jazz. And while his body of work is enough to fill two lifetimes, Wynton continues to work tirelessly to contribute even more to our world’s cultural landscape. It has been said that he is an artist for whom greatness is not just possible, but inevitable. The most extraordinary dimension of Wynton Marsalis, however, is not his accomplishments but his character. It is the lesser-known part of this man who finds endless ways to give of himself. It is the person who waited in an empty parking lot for one full hour after a concert in Baltimore, waiting for a single student to return from home with his horn for a trumpet lesson. It is the citizen who personally funds scholarships for students and covers medical expenses for those in need. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Wynton organized the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Concert and raised over $3 million for musicians and cultural organizations impacted by the hurricane. At the same time, he assumed a leadership role on the Bring Back New Orleans Cultural Commission where he was instrumental in shaping a master plan that would revitalize the city’s cultural base. Wynton Marsalis has selflessly donated his time and talent to non-profit organizations throughout the country to raise money to meet the many needs within our society. From My Sister’s Place (a shelter for battered women) to Graham Windham (a shelter for homeless children), the Children’s Defense Fund, Amnesty International, the Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, Food For All Seasons (a food bank for the elderly and disadvantaged), Very Special Arts (an organization that provides experiences in dance, drama, literature, and music for individuals with physical and mental disabilities) to the Newark Boys Chorus School (a full-time academic music school for disadvantaged youths) and many, many more – Wynton responded enthusiastically to the call for service. It is Wynton Marsalis’ commitment to the improvement of life for all people that portrays the best of his character and humanity.

Honorary Degrees ■Brown University (Doctor of Music, 1988 ) ■Southern University at New Orleans (Doctor of Music, 1988) ■University at Buffalo – State University of New York (Doctor of Music, 1989) ■Boston University (Doctor of Music, 1992) ■University of Miami (Doctor of Music, 1994) ■Hunter College (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1995) ■Manhattan School of Music (Doctor of Music, 1995) ■Princeton University (Doctor of Arts, 1995) ■Yale University (Doctor of Music, 1995) ■Brandies University (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1996) ■Columbia University (Doctor of Music, 1996) ■Governors State University (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1996) ■Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Doctor of Fine Arts, 1996) ■University of Scranton (Doctor of Fine Arts, 1996) ■Amherst College (Doctor of Music, 1997) ■Howard University (Doctor of Music, 1997) ■Long Island University (Doctor of Music, 1997) ■Rutgers University (Doctor of Fine Arts, 1997) ■Bard College (Doctor of Fine Arts, 1998) ■Haverford College (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1998) ■University of Massachusetts Amherst (Doctor of Fine Arts, 1998) ■Middlebury College (Doctor of Arts, 2000) ■University of Pennsylvania (Doctor of Music, 2000) ■Clark Atlanta University (Doctorate of Humane Letters, 2001) ■Connecticut College (Doctor of Fine Arts, 2001) ■Bloomfield College (Doctor of Fine Arts, 2004) ■New York University (Doctor of Fine Arts, 2007) ■Harvard University (Doctor of Music, 2009) ■Northwestern University (Doctor of Arts, 2009) ■State University of New York at Potsdam (Doctor of Music, 2010) ■The College of New Rochelle (Doctor of Humane Letters, 2012)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (August 2012): Sonny Rollins

Theodore Walter Rollins was born on September 7, 1930 in New York City. He grew up in Harlem not far from the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theatre, and the doorstep of his idol, Coleman Hawkins. After early discovery of Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, he started out on alto saxophone, inspired by Louis Jordan. At the age of sixteen, he switched to tenor, trying to emulate Hawkins. He also fell under the spell of the musical revolution that surrounded him, Bebop.

He began to follow Charlie Parker, and soon came under the wing of Thelonious Monk, who became his musical mentor and guru. Living in Sugar Hill, his neighborhood musical peers included Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Art Taylor, but it was young Sonny who was first out of the pack, working and recording with Babs Gonzales, J.J. Johnson, Bud Powell and Miles Davis before he turned twenty.

"Of course, these people are there to be called on because I think I represent them in a way," Rollins said recently of his peers and mentors. "They're not here now so I feel like I'm sort of representing all of them, all of the guys. Remember, I'm one of the last guys left, as I'm constantly being told, so I feel a holy obligation sometimes to evoke these people."

In the early fifties, he established a reputation first among musicians, then the public, as the most brash and creative young tenor on the scene, through his work with Miles, Monk, and the MJQ.

Miles Davis was an early Sonny Rollins fan and in his autobiography wrote that he "began to hang out with Sonny Rollins and his Sugar Hill Harlem crowd...anyway, Sonny had a big reputation among a lot of the younger musicians in Harlem. People loved Sonny Rollins up in Harlem and everywhere else. He was a legend, almost a god to a lot of the younger musicians. Some thought he was playing the saxophone on the level of Bird. I know one thing--he was close. He was an aggressive, innovative player who always had fresh musical ideas. I loved him back then as a player and he could also write his ass off..."

Sonny moved to Chicago for a few years to remove himself from the surrounding elements of negativity around the Jazz scene. He reemerged at the end of 1955 as a member of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, with an even more authoritative presence. His trademarks became a caustic, often humorous style of melodic invention, a command of everything from the most arcane ballads to calypsos, and an overriding logic in his playing that found him hailed for models of thematic improvisation.

It was during this time that Sonny acquired a nickname,"Newk." As Miles Davis explains in his autobiography: "Sonny had just got back from playing a gig out in Chicago. He knew Bird, and Bird really liked Sonny, or "Newk" as we called him, because he looked like the Brooklyn Dodgers' pitcher Don Newcombe. One day, me and Sonny were in a cab...when the white cabdriver turned around and looked at Sonny and said, `Damn, you're Don Newcombe!'' Man, the guy was totally excited. I was amazed, because I hadn't thought about it before. We just put that cabdriver on something terrible. Sonny started talking about what kind of pitches he was going to throw Stan Musial, the great hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals, that evening..."

In 1956, Sonny began recording the first of a series of landmark recordings issued under his own name: Valse Hot introduced the practice, now common, of playing bop in 3/4 meter; St. Thomas initiated his explorations of calypso patterns; and Blue 7 was hailed by Gunther Schuller as demonstrating a new manner of "thematic improvisation," in which the soloist develops motifs extracted from his theme. Way Out West (1957), Rollins's first album using a trio of saxophone, double bass, and drums, offered a solution to his longstanding difficulties with incompatible pianists, and exemplified his witty ability to improvise on hackneyed material (Wagon Wheels, I'm an Old Cowhand). It Could Happen to You (also 1957) was the first in a long series of unaccompanied solo recordings, and The Freedom Suite (1958) foreshadowed the political stances taken in jazz in the 1960s. During the years 1956 to 1958 Rollins was widely regarded as the most talented and innovative tenor saxophonist in jazz.

Rollins's first examples of the unaccompanied solo playing that would become a specialty also appeared in this period; yet the perpetually dissatisfied saxophonist questioned the acclaim his music was attracting, and between 1959 and late `61 withdrew from public performance.

Sonny remembers that he took his leave of absence from the scene because "I was getting very famous at the time and I felt I needed to brush up on various aspects of my craft. I felt I was getting too much, too soon, so I said, wait a minute, I'm going to do it my way. I wasn't going to let people push me out there, so I could fall down. I wanted to get myself together, on my own. I used to practice on the Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge because I was living on the Lower East Side at the time."

When he returned to action in early `62, his first recording was appropriately titled The Bridge. By the mid 60's, his live sets became grand, marathon stream-of-consciousness solos where he would call forth melodies from his encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs, including startling segues and sometimes barely visiting one theme before surging into dazzling variations upon the next. Rollins was brilliant, yet restless. The period between 1962 and `66 saw him returning to action and striking productive relationships with Jim Hall, Don Cherry, Paul Bley, and his idol Hawkins, yet he grew dissatisfied with the music business once again and started yet another sabbatical in `66. "I was getting into eastern religions," he remembers. "I've always been my own man. I've always done, tried to do, what I wanted to do for myself. So these are things I wanted to do. I wanted to go on the Bridge. I wanted to get into religion. But also, the Jazz music business is always bad. It's never good. So that led me to stop playing in public for a while, again. During the second sabbatical, I worked in Japan a little bit, and went to India after that and spent a lot of time in a monastery. I resurfaced in the early 70s, and made my first record in `72. I took some time off to get myself together and I think it's a good thing for anybody to do."

In 1972, with the encouragement and support of his wife Lucille, who had become his business manager, Rollins returned to performing and recording, signing with Milestone and releasing Next Album. (Working at first with Orrin Keepnews, Sonny was by the early ’80s producing his own Milestone sessions with Lucille.) His lengthy association with the Berkeley-based label produced two dozen albums in various settings – from his working groups to all-star ensembles (Tommy Flanagan, Jack DeJohnette, Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams); from a solo recital to tour recordings with the Milestone Jazzstars (Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner); in the studio and on the concert stage (Montreux, San Francisco, New York, Boston). Sonny was also the subject of a mid-’80s documentary by Robert Mugge entitled Saxophone Colossus; part of its soundtrack is available as G-Man.

He won his first performance Grammy for This Is What I Do (2000), and his second for 2004’s Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert), in the Best Jazz Instrumental Solo category (for “Why Was I Born”). In addition, Sonny received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2004.

In June 2006 Rollins was inducted into the Academy of Achievement – and gave a solo performance – at the International Achievement Summit in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and attended by world leaders as well as distinguished figures in the arts and sciences.

Rollins was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class, in November 2009. The award is one of Austria’s highest honors, given to leading international figures for distinguished achievements. The only other American artists who have received this recognition are Frank Sinatra and Jessye Norman.

In 2010 on the eve of his 80th birthday, Sonny Rollins is one of 229 leaders in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, business, and public affairs who have been elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A center for independent policy research, the Academy is among the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and celebrates the 230th anniversary of its founding this year.

In August 2010, Rollins was named the Edward MacDowell Medalist, the first jazz composer to be so honored. The Medal has been awarded annually since 1960 to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field.

Yet another major award was bestowed on Rollins on March 2, 2011, when he received the Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony. Rollins accepted the award, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, “on behalf of the gods of our music.”

Since 2006, Rollins has been releasing his music on his own label, Doxy Records (with distribution from the Decca Label Group). The first Doxy album was Sonny, Please, Rollins’s first studio recording since This Is What I Do. That was followed by the acclaimed Road Shows, vol. 1 (2008), the first in a planned series of recordings from Rollins’s audio archives.

Mr. Rollins released Road Shows, vol. 2 in the fall of 2011. In addition to material recorded in Sapporo and Tokyo, Japan during an October 2010 tour, the recording contains several tracks from Sonny’s September 2010 80th birthday concert in New York—including the historic and electrifying encounter with Ornette Coleman.

Sonny Rollins was a recipient of the prestigious Polar Music Prize in May, 2007

Monday, July 2, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (July 2012) - Cassandra Wilson

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (July 2012) - Cassandra Wilson

Personal Information

Born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes, in 1955, in Jackson, MS; daughter of Herman B. Fowlkes (a jazz guitarist and mail carrier), and Mary Fowlkes (a schoolteacher); married Anthony Wilson, 1981 (divorced, 1983); child: Jeris (son). Education: Attended Milsaps College; Jackson State University, BA.


Asst. public affairs director at New Orleans television station, c. 1982. Began performing career at folk clubs around Milsaps College, mid-1970s; performed with various jazz artists, including Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis, in New Orleans, 1981; moved to New York and began association with M-Base collective, 1982; made several albums with Steve Coleman, beginning with Motherland Pulse, 1985; recorded first solo album, Point of View, 1986; recording artist, JMT label, 1986-92, Blue Note, 1993--.

Life's Work

By now, it has become almost pointless to write that Cassandra Wilson is the most prominent jazz vocalist of her generation. Her recordings have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, astounding numbers for a jazz artist. But what is most remarkable about Wilson is her ability to woo a crossover audience with U2 and Monkees covers, while at the same time retaining her credibility with hardline jazz aficionados. The key to this tough balancing act lies in her deeply-ingrained jazz sensibility, an approach that brings a smoky edge to even her most pop-based songs. As diverse as her influences are, the underlying approach is all jazz.

Wilson was born Cassandra Marie Fowlkes in 1955 in Jackson, Mississippi. Her father, Herman B. Fowlkes, was a jazz guitarist. He made sure that there was plenty of music around the house--both in the number and variety of instruments lying about, and in his collection of recordings by jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Thelonious Monk. Although he gave up performing professionally once Cassandra was born--he turned down a chance to tour with Ray Charles in order to spend more time with his family-- Fowlkes encouraged his daughter's musical aspirations from the start. At her father's urging, Cassandra studied piano, both classical and jazz, beginning when she was about six years old. A few years later, he began teaching her guitar chords, and by the time she was a teenager, Cassandra was writing her own songs. Her tastes at the time ran toward the folk stylings of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez, and her early compositions reflected that preference.

After graduating from high school, Wilson began making the local rounds as a guitar-strumming folk singer, while attending Milsaps College. During the mid-1970s, she landed a weekly Tuesday night gig at a folk club near the college. In 1981 Cassandra married Anthony Wilson, and about the same time she gave up singing for a while. She went back to school, this time at Jackson State University, and received a degree in communications. Wilson and her husband then moved to New Orleans, where she hoped to begin a career in broadcasting. Perhaps it was something in the New Orleans air that made Wilson start thinking about singing again. Working days as the assistant public affairs director of a local television station, she spent her evenings sitting in with notable New Orleans jazzers like Earl Turbinton and Ellis Marsalis (father of stars Wynton and Branford).

After a year in New Orleans, Wilson moved to New York. Unable to find a regular day job, she began showing up at jam sessions, and soon became a regular at several of them all over town. She became primarily an interpreter of jazz standards, in the Betty Carter mold. The event that changed--or started, really--Wilson's career came in 1983, when she met saxophonist-composer Steve Coleman, leader of the avant-garde jazz collective M-Base, known for its cutting-edge mixture of jazz improvisation and contemporary urban rhythms, such as funk and hip-hop. Coleman's influence on Wilson's development as a musician was profound. He encouraged her to look beyond bebop, and to begin composing her own original material. Gradually, Wilson began to forge her own stylistic direction, without abandoning her beloved standards entirely.

Wilson worked with Coleman quite a bit over the next several years. She made her recording debut on Coleman's 1985 release Motherland Pulse. She made her first solo album, Point of View, the following year, taking only two days to record and mix it. Another solo effort, Days Aweigh, released in 1987, took four days to make, with Wilson doing most of the production herself. These early recordings show Wilson at her most mystical lyrically, singing dreamy, metaphysical words over a variety of grooves that contain hints of funk, fusion, and reggae. A year later, she changed direction entirely with the release of Blue Skies, a collection of jazz standards by the likes of Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. It featured a conventional jazz trio of piano, bass, and drums. Blue Skies sold nearly ten times as many copies as either of her previous recordings, and was the top selling jazz album in 1989.

Over the next few years, however, Wilson struggled to develop a coherent musical vision. Torn between her own eclectic tastes and the demands of her record company to produce conservative hits, she ended up satisfying neither. Her 1991 release, She Who Weeps, failed to generate the kind of attention that Wilson had hoped for. By the early 1990s, Wilson had veered away from jazz standards, and was now exploring more of a black pop angle with her music. Her 1992 release Dance to the Drums Again made use of such pop tools as drum machines and synthetic strings. The following year, Wilson signed with the Blue Note label and hooked up with producer Craig Street. This formula proved to be a winner. Street convinced Wilson to abandon her plan to release a collection of Southern soul music, and to instead look inward to the music that she had enjoyed since her teens, including that of folk-inspired performers such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, as well as the 1970s pop that had shaped her musical sensibilities.

The resulting album was Blue Light 'Til Dawn, considered by many to be Wilson's strongest project to date. Blue Light contained material by, among others, Joni Mitchell, the Stylistics, and pioneering Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. The recording made Wilson a crossover sensation, leading to a string of four consecutive years as Down Beat magazine's top female jazz vocalist. There seemed to be something on the album for everybody. Serious jazz fans looked at Wilson's spare arrangements and desire to cover pop tunes, and drew parallels with Miles Davis. Intellectuals started calling her "post-modern." Pop fans just dug the songs. The success of Blue Light also created quite a bit of demand for Wilson's services on other people's projects. Wynton Marsalis asked her to sing the lead on Blood on the Fields, his three-hour, Pulitzer Prize-winning orchestral jazz composition that premiered at New York's Lincoln Center in the spring of 1994, and later spawned a recorded version. She was also tapped to sing the title track on When Doves Cry, a tribute album to the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. In addition, Van Morrison liked her version of his song "Tupelo Honey" so much that he specifically invited her to cover another one of his songs.

Joining forces with Street once again, Wilson repeated her winning formula on the 1996 release New Moon Daughter. Like Blue Light, New Moon Daughter contained songs written by several 1970s icons that had helped to shape Wilson's ear. Covers included Monkees hit "Last Train to Clarksville;" Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"; and "Love is Blindness" by U2. Also on the album were songs by Hank Williams, Hoagie Carmichael, and Son House. Again the orchestration was bare- bones, allowing Wilson's voice to take center stage throughout. The praise lavished on Wilson following the release of New Moon Daughter was so unanimously glowing it became almost trite. Greg Tate, writing in Essence, called her "the most original jazz vocalist of her generation." To Chris Norris of New York magazine, she is "jazz's most sensual and fearless vocalist." Time crowned her "the queen of contemporary jazz vocalists and the true heir of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan."

Touring endlessly throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, Wilson has begun to attain a level of stardom rarely enjoyed these days by anyone involved in jazz. As John Ephland of Down Beat pointed out in 1995, the secret is her ability to "criss-cross the boundaries between jazz and pop with such reverence and authenticity." Rather than alienating either camp, she delights both of them. As her producer Street put it, "it doesn't matter what Cassandra does, it all comes out sounding like Cassandra, and it all comes out sounding like jazz."


Down Beat Female Singer of the Year, 1994, 1995.


Selective Discography Point of View, JMT, 1986. Days Aweigh, JMT, 1987. Blue Skies, JMT, 1988. She Who Weeps, JMT, 1991. Dance to the Drums Again, DIW/Columbia, 1992. Blue Light 'Til Dawn, Blue Note, 1993. Live, 1993. Jump World, JMT. New Moon Daughter, Blue Note, 1996. With Steve Coleman Motherland Pulse, JMT, 1985. World Expansion, JMT. On the Edge of Tomorrow, JMT. With others (With New Air) Air Show No. 1, Black Saint. (With Jim DeAngelis and Tony Signs) Straight From the Top, Statiras. (With Wynton Marsalis) Blood On The Fields. (Tribute album) When Doves Cry.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month ( June 2012 ) - Esperanza Spalding

From the beginning of her life to her current success as a creative musician, Esperanza Spalding has charted her own course. The young bassist/vocalist/composer was one of the biggest breakout stars of 2011—not just in jazz, but in all genres of music. Her receipt of the 2011 GRAMMY®for Best New Artist was unprecedented—the first time a jazz musician had won the award— but Spalding continues to make the unprecedented the norm.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Spalding grew up in a single-parent home and learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model whom she holds in the highest regard to this day – her mother.

But even with a rock-solid role model, school did not come easy to Spalding, although not for any lack of intellectual acumen. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly intuitive learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that, she was shut in by a lengthy illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a significant portion of her elementary school years.

However, the one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”

Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had been elevated to a concertmaster position.

But by then, she had also discovered the bass, and all of the non-classical avenues that the instrument could open for her. Suddenly, playing classical music in a community orchestra wasn’t enough for this young teenager anymore. Before long she was playing blues, funk, hip-hop and a variety of other styles on the local club circuit. Her first band, Noise for Pretend, expanded Spalding’s musical horizons and presented her earliest opportunities to sing and write music.

She also came under the influence of several elders in Portland’s musical community, including Greg McKelvey, Ronnie Harrison, Geoff Lee, Warren Rand, Stan Bock, Ronnie Steen, Janice Scroggins, Dr. Thara Memory and many other teachers in the Cultural Recreation Band and Mel Brown’s Jazz Camp.

At 15, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a generous scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying through the material, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay, she does have talent.’”

Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started opening. After a move to the opposite coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20 – an appointment that has made her one of the youngest faculty members in the history of the college. She was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.

In addition to studying and teaching at Berklee, Spalding also had a chance to perform with many jazz icons, including pianist Michel Camilo, singer Patti Austin, guitarist Adam Rogers, and saxophonists Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano. “Working with Joe was terrifying,” she recalls, “but he’s a really generous person. I don’t know if I was ready for the gig or not, but he had a lot of faith in me. These years playing with him have been an amazing learning experience.”

Spalding has gone through several phases, which have been well documented during her brief recording career. Her journey as a solo artist began with the 2006 release of Junjo, on the Spanish label Ayva Music, which featured pianist Aruán Ortiz and drummer Francisco Mela. She presented the many different sides of her writing on Esperanza, her 2008 international debut recording for Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group, which quickly topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart and became the year’s best selling album worldwide by a new jazz artist. Numerous awards and appearances followed, including an invitation by President Barack Obama to appear at both the White House and the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, and an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman that found Letterman and bandleader Paul Shaffer proclaiming the young musician the “coolest” guest in the three-decade history of the program.

“The objective of Esperanza was to show many sides of my musical personality,” Spalding explains; “but I also imagined that my next records would be built around a more concrete project-concept.” What followed, Chamber Music Society from 2010 and her newly released Radio Music Society, made it clear that her initial triumphs were just the beginning.

“Originally I conceived the two albums as a double record, with intimate, subtle explorations of chamber works on one and jazz musicians exploring melodies, grooves and song associated with what we categorize as ‘pop-songs.’ Those are the two ways of looking at music that really interest me.”

Returning to her ever-expanding book of musical sketches, “taking my notes and organizing them into something coherent,” Spalding began with Chamber Music Society, the 2010 release on which the bassist was joined by longtime colleagues Leo Genovese (keyboards) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), plus percussionist Quintino Cinalli, vocalists (including the legendary Milton Nascimento) and a string trio (arranged by Gil Goldstein and Spalding). The disc was another instant chart topper and gained multiple awards, none more imposing than the Best New Artist GRAMMY®.

Spalding’s latest release, Radio Music Society, expands the cast to include, among many others, jazz legends Lovano, Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart; hip-hop giant Q-Tip, Algebra Blessett, Lalah Hathaway, Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke, among an array of notable vocalists; and Portland mentors Scroggins and Memory, as well as the horn section of Memory’s American Music Program ensemble. “I’ve had the honor and blessing of working with so many phenomenal jazz musicians over the years,” Spalding explains, “As I’ve gotten to know them and their music, I’ve grown to love them as family and colleagues. I wished for an opportunity for us all to interpret songs together, so that they can be heard and received by a larger audience. All my personal heroes who are revered in the jazz world – like Joe Lovano and Terri Lyne Carrington – should be heard by a mainstream audience, because what they manifest in their music is so beautiful, sincere and uplifting. I think they literally bring good into the lives of the people who hear them”.

Radio Music Society is another unprecedented chapter in the Esperanza Spalding story, building on her past triumphs and achieving new heights that she will no doubt exceed in the future. “The main way in which the Grammy has changed my life is that I keep getting asked how the Grammy has changed my life,” she says.

Spalding continues to spread her message around the globe. In addition to over 110 Chamber Music Society concerts, she still found time to tour with Joe Lovano’s US 5, perform at Rock In Rio with Milton Nascimento, play at Prince’s “Welcome 2 America” tour and join Wayne Shorter in celebrating Herbie Hancock’s 70th birthday at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. As Jeff Baker of The Oregonian once raved of her electrifying talent, “This was about art, performed at the highest level by someone with the vision, talent, and determination to make it happen”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month ( May 2012 ) - Brenda Hopkins Miranda

A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Brenda Hopkins Miranda is the consummate musician, having excelled as pianist, composer, arranger, improviser, band leader, writer and educator. She holds a Bachelors degree in Classical Piano from the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, a Masters degree in Contemporary Improvisation from New England Conservatory in Boston, and completed Doctoral Studies in Musicology from the Universidad de Granada in Spain. From 2003-2006 Hopkins Miranda was appointed Director of the Music Program of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. She has also been on the staff at the Inter American University Metropolitan Campus, where she taught improvisation, piano, harmony and other courses. She has been an active mentor in master classes, seminars and workshops at diverse institutions and taught privately. As an academic author her music related articles have been published in various newspapers and magazines.

Having grown up with the magical blend of rhythms and melodies which encompasses Puerto Rican music, she developed her innate talent and expanded her repertoire to include Caribbean, Latin American,with authentic Spanish and flamenco influences as well. She has been active as a first call pianist for a host of Latin American artists on international tours and recording dates, and is a recognized composer and artist on soundtracks for several short films. As a bandleader Hopkins Miranda has released three recordings of original music on her BHM label: “Boricua on Board,” (1998) “Bohemia,” (1999) and her latest effort which was a culmination of her years in Spain, the 2009 release of “Recuerdos de Granada/Memoirs of Granada.”

It was while in studying in Granada, Spain that Ms. Hopkins began to seek out the nightlife and music of the city. With her background and experience, it was inevitable that she would wind up sitting in on jam sessions like those at the famed Booga Club, leading to her forming her own Latin jazz ensemble called Zona Boricua, in honor of her Puerto Rican roots. This opened up more venues of engagement as in the ancient Albayzin part of the city, where she teamed up with Raiz and Duende a local flamenco dance show known locally as tablao, and her immersion into this classical Spanish art form was complete. Then the music took over.

Over the next two years she continued to hone her skills and absorb the flamenco culture while concentrating on composing and forming the ideas which would lead to “Recuerdos de Granada/Memoirs of Granada.”

Upon her return to Puerto Rico she set out to assemble the musicians for the recording project and in June of 2009 went into the studio to make this a realization of a purpose. This record would be not only her own reminisces of her time in Granada, but a way to show appreciation and gratitude to those she encountered, assisting, and encouraging her on her musical sojourn in the city.

In her own words “Recuerdos de Granada/Memoirs of Granada, is the story of those two years. To show how everything you live, you experience, you hear, influences you as a person and artist. It is about realizing that we are not as separated as it seems that there is more that brings us together than what seems to keep us apart. To once again let the south of Spain and Puerto Rico meet musically... my music is all about being honest and sharing who I am at the moment, and right now this was the latest experience that deeply touched me.”

by James Nadal for “All About Jazz”


Simple (Zona Boricua Records, 2012) Group leader, composer, arranger, pianist and producer

Puya P'a ti en vivo live in Puerto Rico DVD (Ahorake Corp., 2010) Guest artist for Puya on "Si aja"

Recuerdos de Granada/Memoirs from Granada (Zona Boricua Records, 2009) Group leader, composer, arranger, pianist and producer

En lo que Vol. 1 (En lo que música, 2009) Various artists, pianista y compositora

En lo que el hacha va y viene, Yeva (Ahorake/Rum&Humble 2007) Pianist, keyboardist

La Mecedora (2007) Short film written and directed by María Bird Picó sponsored by the Puerto Rico Film Commission and Procuradoría de la Mujer Pianist, composer

Nuestra versión; Rafael Hernández (ICP 2006) Producer

Seres , Seres de Plasticina (2003) Pianist

Yo Misma fui mi ruta (2002) Short film on the work of Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos written and directed by Karen A. Rossi Pianist, composer

Union, Puya (MCA 2001) Pianist

There the Eye Goes Not, Michael Bullock Quartet (Tautology 2001) Pianist

The Already and the Not Yet, James Falzone Septet (2000) Pianist

Bohemia (BHM Music 1999) Group leader, composer, arranger, pianist and producer

After the Storm, Lonnie Elfbaum Solo Piano Compositions (Elf Music 1999) Pianist

Boricua on Board (BHM Music 1998) Group leader, composer, arranger, pianist and producer

Concerts, international tours and/or recordings:

Bob Moses, George Russel, Oskar Cartaya, William Cepeda, Anthony Carrillo, Cachete Maldonado, Paoli Mejías, Endel Dueño, Juancito Torres, Polito Huertas, Oscar Stagnaro, Charlie Sepúlveda, Henry Cole, Peter Row, Israel Paz, Ricardo Pons, Aldemar Valentín, Efraín Martínez, Héctor Matos, Samuel Morales, Furito Ríos, Eggie Castrillo, Puya, Yeva, Luis Enrique Juliá, Ricardo Montaner, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Pandora, Lucecita Benítez, Glenn Monroig, Ednita Nazario, Yolandita Monge, Roy Brown, Choco Orta, Roberto Figueroa, Luis Ángel, Jessica Cristina, Marco Antonio Muñiz, Lourdes Robles, Zorayda Santiago, Chucho Avellanet, Proyecto M, Hilda Ramos, Tambó Tropical, Los Pleneros del Coco and many others.

The album “Memoirs from Granada” was chosen amongst the top albums of 2009 by Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular, the newspaper “El Nuevo Día”, and radio shows En Clave de Jazz”, “Saravá” and “Son del Caribe”.

Chosen artist of the week by the jazz sites: Jazz N’ Bossa and VID90 Jazz.

Pianist and composer for the flamenco show in Granada, Spain, “Raíz y Duende” for a year and a half, which was part of the Festival Patrimonio Flamenco 2008, organized by the Granada City Council.

Pianist, composer and leader of her own groups including the Brenda Hopkins Miranda Group, Zona Boricua, Rumba con Piano, Daydream, Island Project and others.

Performed as a group leader in music festivals in Puerto Rico, United States, Central and South America and Spain, including the XXVII Festival Internacional de Jazz de Granada and the I Festival Intercultural de Motril “Entreculturas”.

Chosen to be the opening act for Jerry González and Jorge Pardo at La Telonera in Spain and guest pianist for the Conservatorio Profesional de Música “Ángel Barrios” Big Band. She performed in Spain with international artists Dan Ben Lior, Toto Fabris, Rachel Maduri and others.

Included in a documentary about foreigners living in Andalucía presented by Spanish TV channel Canal Sur.

The first woman to perform on the TV show “En Clave de Jazz TV” in a special edition dedicated to Puerto Rico’s jazz pianists.Also included on the “En Clave de Jazz” radio program’s list of the “most important Puerto Rican pianists”.

Participated on the first encounter of Puerto Rican women in jazz “E-Jazz”. Performed as a group leader at the Boriquén Jazz Fest, Mayagüez Internacional Jazz Fest, Noches de Jazz del Hotel Marriot, Noches de Jazz del Café de la Plaza en Santurce, Festival de Jazz Chivas Regal, and others.

Invited to perform for the Dalai Lama on his first visit to Puerto Rico in 2004.

Guest artist for the show Pasión, Romance y Embrujo joining Spanish cantaor Israel Paz and singer Ana del Rocío, the Festival de Arte y Música Experimental “Giratorio” and the “Entre celta, jazz y flamenco” show at the Fundación Nacional Para la Cultura Popular.

Keyboard player for four years for the number one TV show, “Marcano el Show, whereshe played with guest artists like Tito Puente, Sheila E., Néstor Torres, Dave Valentín, Charlie Sepúlveda, El Gran Combo, Franco de Vita and others.

Appointed Director of the Music Department of the national government agency Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, administrated the Banda Estatal de Puerto Rico, produced many recordings, concerts, wokshops, seminars and was a member of the Board of Editors of the music magazine, Resonancias.


Offeres workshops, conferences, seminars and master classes on a variety of themes including: creativity, jazz, instrument performance, piano, improvisation, composition and arranging, the art of practicing, and music business at different institutions, universities and schools.

University music professor at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico and Universidad Interamericana Recinto Metropolitano.

Hired to design the Jazz Caribbean Music Program for the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico.

Also taught at the Agencia de Talleres Educativos, Boston Music Company, Intermezzo (director), Polifonía, Villa Piano and Academia de Artes El Señorial.


Universidad de Granada, Spain Doctoral studies in Musicology and Creativity (2007-09)

New England Conservatory Contemporary Improvisation Master Degree (2000)

Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico Classical Piano Performance Magna Cum Laude Bachelor Degree (1991)

Berklee College of Music Jazz Piano Performance studies Music Scholarship (1996)

Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Literature studies (1985)


El Nuevo Día (11 de julio de 2010) Petróleo puertorriqueño

Claridad (23 al 29 de abril, 2009) La ruta de lo popular y el reggaetón

Revista de Cultura Lenguas de Fuego (noviembre 2007) Hablando Jazz

Entorno (febrero 2007) Hablando jazz

Pa’l Músico de Aquí (III 2006) La Música como profesión

Revista Domingo, El Nuevo Día (23 de julio de 2006) Nacimiento, vida y muerte de la música popular

Revista Domingo, El Nuevo Día (23 de abril de 2006 El Mestizaje no es una amenaza

Resonancias (Mayo, 2004) Revista musical del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña La Improvisación: el arte de tomar decisiones musicales

Resonancias (Marzo, 2003) Revista musical del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña La Mujer en el jazz: abriendo caminos, 2002) La Improvisación, 2001) Sin Atajos, el arte de practicar

Claridad (Junio, 1998) Las Trampas de lo hallado

Now, Music (Abril, 1998) Musician Now

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (April 2012) - David Sanchez

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (April 2012) - David Sanchez

Ask a roomful of jazz fans about Grammy Award-winning saxophonist David Sánchez and the ensuing buzz will be filled with exultant praise for one of the finest saxophonists of his generation. Such comments are entirely valid, to a point. Born in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Sánchez is unquestionably one of the finest, most progressive players on the contemporary scene, as more than a decade’s worth of bold, brilliant work has already proven. But, is Sánchez a master of Latin Jazz or an exemplary player who also happens to be of Latin heritage? The distinction may seem subtle, but is actually profound. As noted critic Bob Blumenthal observed, “[Sánchez] has been nurturing his own distinct variety in recent years, one that draws heavily on…Miles Davis and John Coltrane and weaves rhythms in fluid strands. In a review, world-renown jazz critic Howard Reich saluted the young bandleader saying, “Technically, tonally and creatively, he seems to have it all. His sound is never less than plush, his pitch is unerring, his rapid-fire playing is ravishing in its combination of speed, accuracy and utter evenness of tone.” What results is far closer to the more daring postbop tradition than to standard Latin music.” Pose the question to Sánchez himself, and he heartily responds, “ I think the music speaks for itself. If you really listen, you’ll discover that it would be incomplete to call it Latin Jazz. But I don’t get concerned about labels. It’s like art in a museum. You see a painting and it means something to you, but it means something completely different to someone else. I know my influences and I know my direction. I just keep doing what I’m doing.”

In 2004, the recording “Coral” earned David his first Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album and his fifth Grammy Award nomination. This recording features orchestrations and arrangements by Carlos Franzetti with the City of Prague Philharmonic. After that, Sánchez concluded a seven album relationship with Sony Music. Three years of intensive writing, performing and shopping around for a new musical home followed, with Sánchez ultimately opting to sign with Concord, where his latest, and arguably most artistically progressive album, Cultural Survival, was released on May 20, 2008. Of the new relationship he’s forging with Concord, Sánchez says he finds it “very refreshing. I mean, I was allowed to include a piece commissioned by Chamber Music America’s “New Works: Creation and Presentation Program.” The highly prestigious program is made possible through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation [the album closing “La Leyenda del Cañaveral]. The piece is set to a poem and extends to 20 minutes - that’s how supportive the label is. To me it’s all great news.”

Explaining Cultural Survival’s intriguing title, Sánchez says, “It’s generally about the human condition. How we keep pushing ourselves away from nature instead of being part of it. How other beings are suffering from our actions, including other humans that perhaps are more sensitive, and who are in direct contact with natural events.” I love listening to NPR and especially “All Things Considered.” But I’m often left wondering, ‘where is the world going?’ You realize you’re surrounded by a new generation that seems a little unconscious, living in their own space.”

Longtime Sánchez listeners will notice significant lineup changes on Cultural Survival, most notably the absence of piano on all but three of the eight tracks and the inclusion of guitar. It was, he explains, “an idea that came from different directions. First, I was listening to a lot of African music — from southeast Cameroon, [Baka Forest people], from Ethiopia [Ari people] and also music from Mali. The Ngombi [eight string instrument use by the Baka] and the Shungi [Ari for the Lyre] are very strong influences for this album and the reason why I added guitar, especially on the first tune [“Coast to Coast”], and the final one [“La Leyenda del Cañaveral”].

Also, I had the chance to work with Pat Metheny. He called me at the last minute to join his trio on tour as a special guest. Never before in my career had I worked with a guitarist on such a consistent basis. It was so fun. How you react to harmony is different, and you can go in so many directions. It’s more linear than horizontal, and it can really open things up. I had already written a lot of music with piano doubling but I wanted more of the guitar sound.”

As for his choice of guitarist, Sánchez says he was “impressed with Lage the first time I heard him. A lot of people focus more on a player’s ability and technical skills, but for me the most vital part of technique is the sound, and Lage’s sound is the first thing that attracted me. Ben [Street] knew I’d been talking about making a change to incorporate guitar, so he said ‘you’ve got to check this guy out.’ I called Lage, and he gave a great audition. Working with guitar is something I’ve only been doing for about a year, but it has enormous potential to grow in so many ways.

Of the albums’ two guest pianists, Robert Rodriquez, who appears on “La Leyenda del Cañaveral,” is, says Sánchez, “from a younger generation, and I was very impressed with him. His skill [and] musicianship are very strong. He did an unbelievable job. He came very prepared, and is a guy who is willing to commit everything to the music.” As for Pérez, Sánchez enthuses that “he is like my brother. We’ve known each other for such a long time, and having him on the album was a real treat. These days, he’s extremely busy playing with Wayne [Shorter] and teaching fulltime at the New England Conservatory. So, when he said he could do it, I was like, ‘Wow! Great!’ Words can’t describe his musicianship. These days, people are easily impressed with pyrotechnics, but you don’t see too many who are impressed with the ability to respond to any type of music. Danilo has that. It takes not only great ears, but also great intuition. To me, that is truly an amazing level of artistry, and it’s a blessing to have him on the recording.”

Musical Trajectory of David Sánchez Sánchez began playing percussion and drums at age 8 before migrating to tenor saxophone four years later. While a student at the prestigious La Escuela Libre de Música in San Juan, he also took up soprano and alto saxophones as well as flute and clarinet. The bomba and plena rhythms of Puerto Rico, along with Cuban and Brazilian traditions, were among the biggest influences on Sánchez’s early taste in music. Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane had the greatest impact on his playing. “Charlie Parker is also a major influence, of course, and many, many others.”

In 1986 Sánchez enrolled at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Rio Píedras, but the pull of New York was irresistible. By 1988 he had auditioned for and won a music scholarship at Rutgers University in New Jersey. With such close proximity to New York City, Sánchez quickly became a member of its swirling jazz scene. Some of his first New York musical experiences were with piano giant Eddie Palmieri, Hilton Ruiz and trumpeter Claudio Roditi who brought Sánchez to the attention of Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. In 1991, Gillespie invited the young saxophonist to join his “Live the Future” tour with Miriam Makeba. Sánchez has also performed and recorded with Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Charlie Haden, Lalo Schifrin, Tom Harrell and had the opportunity to perform with the legendary drummer Elvin Jones.

Whether with Gillespie, Palmieri, Haden and his other jazz mentors, or under his own name, Sánchez has continued to tour extensively, bringing his mix of mainstream jazz with Afro-Latin influences to delighted audiences throughout the globe.

David has also proven to be a compelling presence with student musicians and continues to be in demand for workshops and master classes throughout the world. Sánchez’s passion for teaching and sharing his art with up and coming musicians has led him to conduct clinics with students around the world. He works with high school students, and has led clinics and workshops with music students which often culminate in performances with student and faculty orchestras and big bands. In 2007 alone, he gave master classes in Brazil, at the Peabody Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University’s School of Music, University of Memphis, the University of Northern Iowa, Emory University, and Georgia State University. Sánchez has also completed year-long residencies, most recently at Georgia State University, at el Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, and with the prestigious Quad City Arts program.

Concurrent with what is sure to be a crowded tour schedule, Sánchez will continue his longstanding tradition of assisting with jazz education programs. Such work, he says, “gives me great satisfaction. At the same time, it’s a real challenge, and you end up learning so much yourself. You give, but you receive too. It gives me such tremendous joy. I see so much talent out there. I am very optimistic. But the music scene has become tougher than it was before and therefore there are not enough opportunities play. There’s no real chance for [young players] to develop their music. The only way to truly develop is by playing. The history of jazz bears that out. They have lots of technical ability and knowledge but wisdom is knowledge applied, and their knowledge isn’t getting applied as it could. I think it is not enough to study music, you need to experience it to be able to understand it’s power as a way of communication.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (March 2012): Miguel Zenón

Multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz.

His latest recording, Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music, 2011), is a tribute to The Puerto Rican Songbook. On it he arranges and explores the music of five legendary Puerto Rican composers: Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach (whom he considers “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song”). The recording features his longtime working quartet of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, plus a ten piece woodwind ensemble orchestrated and conducted by close friend and collaborator Guillermo Klein. This groundbreaking project both honors the music of these masters while at the same time exposing their music to new audiences. Alma Adentro was chosen as the Best Jazz Recording of 2011 by iTunes and NPR, and was Nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón studied classical saxophone at the Escuela Libre de Música in Puerto Rico before receiving a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from Berklee College of Music, and a master’s degree in Jazz Performance at Manhattan School of Music. Zenón’s more formal studies, however, are supplemented and enhanced by his vast and diverse experience as a sideman and collaborator. Throughout his career he has divided his time equally between working with older jazz masters and working with the music’s younger innovators --irrespective of styles and genres. The list of musicians Zenón has toured and/or recorded with includes: Charlie Haden, David Sánchez, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Guillermo Klein y los Guachos, The Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson and Steve Coleman. He has also participated in recent projects with Adam Cruz, Antonio Sánchez, Jason Linder, Miles Okazaki, Kenny Werner, David Gilmore and Aaron Goldberg.

He is a founding member of the groundbreaking SFJAZZ Collective, a group whose past and current members include Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas, and Eric Harland. In 2012, Zenón’s association with SFJAZZ will further expand to include his new role as resident artistic director along with Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Regina Carter and John Santos.

Zenón’s six recordings as a leader (including the above mentioned Alma Adentro) represent not only his growth as a musician, but also his ability to constantly evolve and reinvent himself as a conceptualist and producer.

His debut CD, Looking Forward (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2002), represents a snapshot of the very eclectic musical interests of the then 24 year old musician, and was selected by the New York Times as the number one “alternative” jazz recording of 2002.

His second recording as a leader, Ceremonial (Marsalis Music, 2004), was described by All About Jazz as a “ head on crash of Latin, Jazz and Classical traditions--modern Jazz at it’s very best, ” and garnered unanimous critical praise and recognition both within and outside the jazz world.

Jíbaro (Marsalis Music, 2005), his third recording, was further proof that all the critical praise he had been receiving was well deserved. The recording is an exploration of a style of popular Puerto Rican folk music known as La Música Jíbara. The Chicago Tribune summed it up best when they wrote: “The instrumental prowess of Zenon's playing, the vigor of his compositions and the sensitivity of his band to Puerto Rican song forms point to new possibilities in jazz.” Like his previous recordings, Jíbaro was uniformly well received and appeared on many top ten lists including The New York Times, Latin Beat, El Nuevo Día, and the Chicago Tribune.

Decidedly more personal and introspective, Awake (Marsalis Music, 2008) incorporates a string quartet and additional horns to Zenón's core group and brings to the forefront his formidable skills as a writer and arranger. As was admirably put in Audiophile Audition: “ This is an album far beyond the usual sax & string outing, revealing a unique statement that communicates passion, intellect and spirit to the listener." Awake also caught the attention of the international press, garnering it 5 star reviews and top honors in publications like Jazzwise (UK), Jazz Man (France) and Jazz Magazine (France).

Zenón returned to his Puerto Rican roots for inspiration in his next outing, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music, 2009), which draws from the traditional Plena music style of his home country and was supported by a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. On it Zenón augmented his quartet to include three percussionists/vocalists and took on the additional roles of both lyricist and vocalist. Jazz Times wrote that Esta Plena is “…music with integrity, energy, poise and a fresh vision of how the Afro-Caribbean jazz aesthetic can evolve without losing its deep roots." In addition to being hailed by critics (New York Times, Village Voice, El Nuevo Día , Downbeat, The Chicago Tribune ) as one of the best recordings of 2009, the recording earned Zenón two Grammy nominations (one for Best Improvised solo and one for Best Latin Jazz Recording of the year) as well as a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Recording of the year.

As a composer he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, The New York State Council for the Arts, Chamber Music America, The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Jazz Reach, Montclair University, and many of his peers.

He has been featured in articles on publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Jazz Times, Jazziz, Boston Globe, Billboard, Newsday, Details, as well as gracing the cover of Downbeat Magazine and the Swiss jazz magazine, Jazz N More. He has also toped the Rising Star Alto Sax category of the Downbeat Critic's Poll on four different occasions.

Zenon’s biography would not be complete without discussing his role as an educator. In 2003, he was chosen by the Kennedy Center to teach and perform in West Africa as part of their Jazz Ambassador program. Since then, he has given hundreds of lectures and master classes and has taught all over the world at institutions which include: The Banff Centre, Berklee College of Music, Siena Jazz, Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, Conservatoire de Paris, University of Manitoba, Manhattan School of Music, UMass-Amherst and the Brubeck Institute. He is also a permanent faculty member at New England Conservatory of Music. But perhaps what best reflects his commitment to education and cements his growing reputation as a "cultural ambassador", is a program that he founded in 2011, called Caravana Cultural.

The main purpose of Caravana Cultural is to present free Jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico. The program makes a "cultural investment" in the Island by giving these communities a chance to listen to jazz of the highest caliber (Zenón invites some of the best musicians in the New York jazz scene to perform as guests), while at the same time getting young Puerto Rican musicians actively involved in the concert activities. Starting in February 2011 and continuing through 2013, Zenón will present a concert every four months. Each concert focuses on the music of a specific jazz legend (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, among others) and is preceded by a pre-concert presentation which touches on the basic elements of jazz and improvisation. Over the last six years Zenón has also personally organized "Jazz Jam Sessions" in the area of San Juan, as a way of creating a platform for younger jazz musicians to grow and interact with one another.

In 2008 he was selected as one of 25 distinguished individuals to receive the prestigious and coveted MacArthur Fellowship, more commonly known as the "Genius Grant”.

Zenón lives in New York City with his wife Elga.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jazz and Bossa Artist of the Month (February 2012): Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen - Biography

An established bandleader and prolific composer, idiomatically conversant with modern and traditional jazz, classical music, Brazilian choro, Argentine tango, and an expansive timeline of Afro-Cuban styles, Anat Cohen has established herself as one of the primary voices of her generation on both the tenor saxophone and clarinet since arriving in New York in 1999.

In September 2008, Anat Cohen released Notes From The Village, her fourth album as a leader. Recorded at Avatar studios in New York City, the album builds on Cohen's acclaimed 2007 releases, captures the thrilling energy of her live shows, and proves her to be an artistically adventurous writer and performer. Notes From The Village finds Anat leading a quartet of some of the most sought-after, engaging young performers in New York, including pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital, and drummer Daniel Freedman, with accompaniment from guitarist Gilad Hekselman on three tracks. The album features compositions written by Cohen as well as her interpretations of songs by Fats Waller, John Coltrane, Sam Cooke and Ernesto Lecuona.

“In preparing for the recording,” says Anat “I really wanted to capture the free, risk-taking, open quality this band achieves when performing live. I also wanted to stretch my compositions, and arrangements.”

Early responses to the album have been overwhelmingly positive; The New York Times’ Nate Chinen wrote that “Notes From The Village is a resounding confirmation; yes, she is the real deal”, DownBeat Magazine awarded the release four stars, stating that “Cohen makes it seem easy, mixing a gift for melody and an improvisational fluidity that has few peers today.”

Anat’s previous outings, Noir and Poetica were released simultaneously in April 2007, inspiring a string of enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said that “Cohen has emerged as one of the brightest, most original young instrumentalists in jazz [...] [she] has expanded the vocabulary of jazz with a distinctive accent of her own.” The Village Voice spoke of her “Enviable insouciance” and how “she alludes to the mystical in a merry way,” and Downbeat Magazine expressed the opinion that “Noir could be a classic” and “[Cohen’s] stately intonation and unforced elegance on clarinet could take her to the top.” Noir and Poetica both appeared on many year-end best-of summary lists, including those of Paste Magazine, The New York Sun, Slate, JazzTimes and others.

Anat has performed for audiences in New York’s Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Iridium, The Jazz Gallery, and the JVC Jazz Festival. She has also appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, Chicago Jazz Festival, Washington DC’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s Yoshi's, Boston’s Regattabar, Umbria Jazz Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival, and the Montreal Jazz Festival. Anat’s July 2007 engagement at the Village Vanguard in New York was a historic one; Anat is the first female reed player, and the first Israeli to headline at the club.

Ms. Cohen’s accomplishments have been recognized in a flurry of awards and distinctions from critics and fans alike; In 2011 she was the winner of both DownBeat Magazine’s critics poll and Reader’s Poll in the Clarinet category, She topped the Rising Star-Clarinet category from 2007 through 2010, and in 2010 she won DownBeat Critic’s poll for both Rising Star Jazz Artist and Rising Star Jazz Soprano Saxophone. The Jazz Journalists Association named Anat Cohen Clarinetist of the Year from 2007 through 2011 – the first time in the history of the awards that an artist has earned top clarinet honors five years running.

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Anat grew up with musical siblings; her older brother Yuval is himself a saxophonist of note, and her younger brother, Avishai, is one of New York’s busiest trumpeters. She began clarinet studies at age 12 and played jazz on clarinet for the first time in the Jaffa Conservatory’s Dixieland band. At 16, she joined the school’s big band and learned to play the tenor saxophone. The same year, Anat entered the prestigious “Thelma Yelin” High School for the Arts, where she majored in jazz. After graduation, she discharged her mandatory Israeli military service duty from 1993-95, playing tenor saxophone in the Israeli Air Force band.

In 1996, Anat matriculated at Berklee College of Music in Boston. There she met faculty member Phil Wilson, who encouraged her to play clarinet, and other inspiring teachers such as Greg Hopkins, Ed Tomassi, Hal Crook, George Garzone, and Bill Pierce, and an elite international peer group of students.

During her Berklee years, Anat visited New York during breaks between semesters, making a beeline for Smalls to soak up the hybrid of grooves, world music and mainstream jazz that people like Jason Lindner and Omer Avital were then evolving. Back in Boston, she played tenor saxophone in a variety of musical contexts with various bands including Afro-Cuban, Argentinean, klezmer, contemporary Brazilian music and classical Brazilian choro. Anat also began her association with Sherrie Maricle’s top-shelf all-woman big band Diva Jazz Orchestra, which continued into the new millennium.

Once ensconced in New York, Anat quickly found work in various Brazilian ensembles like the Choro Ensemble and Duduka Da Fonseca’s Samba Jazz Quintet, and started performing with David Ostwald’s “Gully Low Jazz Band,” which explores the music of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and their Pan-American contemporaries.

Anat documented her bona fides on her debut CD, Place and Time, one of All About Jazz-New York’s “Best Debut Albums of 2005.” On the liner notes for Notes From the Village, Ira Gitler writes “She is formidable. Long may she continue to enrich the music in myriad ways.” There is every indication that her star will continue to rise for a long time to come.

Anat Cohen’s Clarinetwork Live at the Village Vanguard album, released April 2010, inspired by Benny Goodman and celebrating his centennial, is a musical tour-de-force. Cohen leads an all star rhythm section (Benny Green, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash ) on this exquisite live recording that returns the clarinet to its rightful role at the forefront of jazz. Winner of five consecutive Jazz Journalists Association “Clarinetist of the Year” awards and winner of DownBeat critic’s & Reader’s polls in the clarinet category (2011) Anat Continues to perfrom around the world in Various musical settings.