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Cirque Du Soleil
“Someone”
Delirium
(Cirque Du Soleil)
[listen] [buy] [download]

Patricia Barber
“Whiteworld/Oedipus”
Mythologies
(Blue Note)
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Cirque Du Soleil
“Someone”
Delirium
(Cirque Du Soleil)
[listen] [buy] [download]

Jim Pearce
“Why I Haven't Got You”
Prairie Dog Ballet
(Oak Avenue Publishing)
[listen] [buy]

Andy Timmons Band
“Gone (9/11/01)”
Resolution
(Favored Nations)
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Ralph Towner
“If”
Time Line
(ECM Records)
[listen] [buy]

Anoushka Shankar
"Beloved"
Rise
(Angel)
[listen]

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
Amos Lee
(Blue Note)
[listen]

Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
Alligator Shoes
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Lemon
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Feature [Issue #21]
Various: The New Feeling of Jazz:Setting The New Standards
By Jason Sklar


Since the 1930’s, jazz has thrived on commonly known “standards” – a shared lexicon of tunes that unify jazzmen the world over. From George Gershwin’s “Summertime” to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Hello, Young Lovers,” jazz has continued to breathe new life into songs made famous by legends such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. These melodies continue to receive new treatments by players like Joshua Redman and Bill Charlap. With the evolution of the standard came the transformed role of the rhythm section, reshaping the genre to become the boundary-pushing, yet reverent jazz we find today.

Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe”, Miles Davis’ “So What” and “All Blues,” John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema,” and Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” have all received numerous treatments by jazz players. Duke Ellington was a bastion of jazz composition. He partnered with Milt Gabler, Irving Mills, Juan Tizol, Manny Kurtz, and Billy Strayhorn to produce “Caravan,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Solitude,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Take the ‘A’ Train,” greatly contributing to the backbone of modern jazz. At a certain point, a song becomes so standard that a horn player or bassist need only play the first few notes of one of these songs, and the rest of the band can join in.
While jazz musicians have long played songs from the American Songbook, today’s contemporary musicians (as they are disdainfully referred to) have invited new “standards” into the lexicon covering the likes of Radiohead, Bjork, and Nirvana. Since the 1960s, coverage of Lennon/McCartney Beatles tunes, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown have increasingly appeared on jazz recordings. These songs not only serve up new terrain for improvisational exploration, but also create a way to introduce those less familiar with the genre by relating to audiences through more mainstream numbers.
“Musicians are trying to find some new pieces,” simplifies Marcin Wasilewski, a young Polish piano player for Tomasz Stanko, Manu Katché, and leader of his own trio. He plays a wistful version of Bjork’s “Hyperballad” on Trio. “My reason was simple,” he says. “I was inspired by Bjork.” In the same way Brad Mehldau interprets Beatles compositions in his piano trio, Wasilewski enjoys incorporating the popular songs of our time into his repertoire if only to find some new music. “John Coltrane and Duke Ellington were widely influential in the 50s and 60s. It doesn’t make sense to record it again and again,” he says.
Gerald Wilson, who began his career in jazz in 1939 as a trumpet player and arranger for the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra, is still blazing along at 87 years old. He agrees that the catalogue of standards is expanding to embrace more recent songs. In his own bands, he has recorded the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and James Brown’s “Feelin’ Good (I Got You).” “I enjoyed doing those numbers. I feel there’s good music there,” he says. But with all his years (nearly spanning the lifetime of jazz), Wilson makes clear that the real backbone in jazz is the blues. “It’s okay to play the blues,” he reassures. “You can’t play jazz if you can’t play the blues. It’s just impossible.”
Tenor saxophonist extraordinaire Joe Lovano cites the work of The Modern Jazz Quartet to convey how jazz’s recent history has thrust jazz to where it is and where it is headed. “The MJQ was really collective and very full of intimacy,” he comments. “They exemplified the most spontaneous form of jazz within the ensemble. Nobody just plays ‘the role,’ so it’s a freer approach and a more creative way of improvising as a group.” Lovano observes that it depends on the group and the conception behind the music. On one hand, a musician explores where he yearns to find the right notes and settle into a way of playing. On the other more commercial hand, there is a technical conception that is not quite as organic. Depending on the mix of personal and technical requirements, a piece may come together over a few hours or over several years. On bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade, Lovano teams with guitarist John Scofield, drummer Joey Barron, and pianist Eliane Elias, fellow musicians he’s known and played with for the last few decades. “When you have a relationship with people, you can not play together for years, but when you do come together there’s magic,” Lovano remarks.
Sometimes a musician will approach a piece from a more technical standpoint. In that vein, Lovano pursues a “Birth of the Cool Suite” in an expanded ensemble setting on his upcoming album Streams of Expression. The inclusion of a familiar song like Cleo Henry’s “Boplicity” among Lovano’s originals helps welcome the listener to this new music while heightening the vivacity of this revamped bop offering.

The jazz standard diverges greatly from classical etudes and fugues. A classical performance requires playing the music as it was composed. The beauty of songs that become standards is that they encourage exploration - new interpretations that redefine the genre as they reconfirm what the idiom represents.

26-year-old pianist Robert Glasper approaches piano trio jazz with a hip-hop slant. “We’re playing the music of our times,” he affirms. “The same way Trane played ‘My Favorite Things’ and others played songs from Broadway. I’m just playing the standards of my time. Why play shit that’s old? Our shit will be our old standards.” Glasper is mature in his youth. He recognizes a need to make a mark to one day look back and one day to see this is where we were in this time period. “You can’t keep going back and back,” he urges.

A more experienced pianist who has lived a life in jazz - Ramsey Lewis, age 71, echoes Glasper’s remarks. “It’s good to bridge the gap to a younger generation,” Lewis says. “When a musician plays his own music it might be easier for the listener to get their footing after hearing a familiar song. If they like an arrangement, they might get hooked and listen to something unfamiliar.” Lewis is a modern day advocate for the music and focuses on growing the audience in the under-40 crowd. “We definitely need to show these kids jazz is truly an American art form that has soaked up idioms and styles outside of the traditional genre,” he says. “Jazz has to be performed. If it is never in front of people to see, you will never see how ideas form. Musicians and audiences arrive at an original voice by playing out.”

While developing artists often hear the bell tolls of teachers reminding them to practice, practice, practice, Lewis calls out that at the end of the day it is “performance, performance, performance” that really matters. In concert with his performance mantra, Lewis undertook production of Legends of Jazz, a 30-minute television series introducing viewers to some of the greatest living legends in crisp, tightly edited High Definition with 5.1 digital surround sound. This decision came after learning that 5 million people were listening to his Chicago jazz radio show every weekend. This show wasn’t the best of; it wasn’t the greatest hits. Lewis attracted audiences by playing artists ranging from Charlie Parker to Roy Hargrove, not limiting his sessions to a particular era.

Larry Rosen, Executive Producer of Legends of Jazz, explains that they felt that by bringing on players in the setting of studio recording discussions, jazz’s finest could speak as well as play with an added historical perspective to open up the door more easily. “The music is pretty inclusive if people would just give it a chance,” says Rosen. Just as Ken Burns turned a spotlight on the history of jazz, Lewis and Rosen have brought the spotlight on a jazz music that looks and sounds alive and well today. Performances include solo and duet presentations of: Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling, Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, Jane Monheit, Dave Valentin, Dave Brubeck and Billy Taylor, just to name a few. The level of playing and musicianship on the program leaves one simply breathless.

Drummer Ignacio Berroa, who for more than 25 years has held down the drum kit with an array of straight-ahead and Latin jazz kings including Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, and Tito Puente, defines the different styles of jazz that allow one to access and play the music as “codes,” the title of his latest album. On Codes, Berroa’s first as a leader, he teams up with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Danilo Perez, and David Sanchez to integrate the swing and Afro-Cuban feeling. He strongly supports playing songs of the past. But when he reached into the pot of jazz past, he arose with a handful of less familiar, yet equally tasty standards including Chick Corea’s “Matrix,” Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio,” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody n’ You.” “What makes a song a standard is when a tune becomes famous,” Berroa explains. Use in movies, Broadway, or just the fact that a song gets played a lot helps songs gain traction to stand the test of time in the jazz world. But as a member of the rhythm section, Berroa can attest to the notion that a band is only as good as its drummer.

When present, the drums and bass are arguably the most critical members of any jazz ensemble. A bass player or drummer can make or break a band. The shaping force of these instruments can not only raise or diminish the level of a performance, but it has also propelled jazz into new rhythms, styles, and genres. From Gene Krupa to Roy Haynes, drummers have had their own feeling of what swing was, what it is, and what it could be. Larry Rosen remarks there has been a huge change in the role of the drums. “The environment that they have grown up in is so complex, so the level of playing has never been at a higher standard,” he says. On Canvas, Robert Glasper epitomizes the direction jazz has headed by discarding the “ching-ching-a-ching.” Like other modern jazz musicians, he frequently composes in 5, 7, and 9 time signatures and explores groove-oriented jazz without relegating drummer Damion Reid to the role of the timekeeper.

“The bass cannot be quite as adventurous as the drums because of the nature of the instrument, but it can be much more stylized and take many more chances,” says Ramsey Lewis. From Charles Mingus to Christian McBride, “It has to execute like that of frontline players with taste and feeling,” says Joe Lovano. “It has to support and contribute ideas.”

Gerald Wilson reminds us of the roots of the Kansas City Jazz style that first took shape in the early 1930s with players like Bennie Moten, whose namesake lends itself to the song “Moten Swing.” If a song was said to swing in this time period, it meant it was “a real smooth ride,” Wilson says. Pianist and band leader Count Basie came out of Moten’s group playing standards of the 30s including “One O’ Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” Basie’s drummer and bassist, Jo Jones and Walter Page, respectively, were doing an entirely different thing than rhythm players today. They served as constants - walking scales on the bass four beats per bar and accenting the two and four on the hi-hat cymbals.

Juxtapose that with Marcin Wasilewski’s remark that his trio, rounded out by Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, is more like conversation. “In our way, we try to converse - just talk in music language because we play such a long time,” he notes. “The music is changing all the time, but it can’t stop. It’s hard to say in words. We are feeling very well together and the music is living with us.”
The music is changing all the time, but so is the world that surrounds it. Jazz is evolving to catch up with contemporary culture to be relevant, yet more challenging. It longs to relate to larger audiences as it searches for more freedom than ever before. It is alive and well with living legends, up-and-comers, and historians all doing their part to preserve, promote, and most importantly, perform, perform, perform.




The New Feeling of Jazz:Setting The New Standards Various


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