Building a “Trendy” Dream Big Band Part 2 of 2

Following up on the previous post, here is the rest of the band that I’ve created filled with who I believe are the “trend setters” in jazz today. Again, just my own personal thoughts, on some people I feel are hip, cool, and making it happen. Enjoy the trombones, rhythm section, and singers!

The Trombones:

Lead Trombone: Steve Turre

The long, black pointy beard and the jet black hair has been hard to miss when watching the house band of NBC’s Saturday Night Live play. That is not to take away from the fact that he is an amazing trombone player, and has put out some fantastic releases over the last ten years.

Watch Steve Turre play the shells:

Second Trombone: Conrad Herwig

Conrad may be one of the most natural big band guys in this completely fictional and unrealistic big band. Seven albums as a leader and a University of North Texas grad, he’s been recruited for big bands led by Clark Terry and Buddy Rich, just to name a few.

Conrad Herwig plays below:

Third Trombone: Delfeayo Marsalis

It pays to be a Marsalis. But just having the name didn’t make him an excellent trombone player and producer. Chalk that up to studying both at Berklee an touring with Ray Charles and Art Blakey.

Delfeayo Marsalis plays with his father Ellis in this video:

Fourth Trombone: Wycliffe Gordon

“Pine Cone” holds a special place in the hearts of NPR listeners (even if they don’t know it). His composition of the NPR theme song¬† is just one of many compositions, most of them fantastic.¬† He can more or less play anything, and is one guy who can make the sounds of the 30’s sound modern and trendy.

Wycliffe Gordon solos with three other trombone greats:

The Rhythm Section:

Piano: Herbie Hancock

Herbie’s last two albums have featured him alongside the most popular names in music from a variety of genres. And for the first time in 37 years, a jazz album, his jazz album, beat out rock stars, rappers, and country singers to win the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. I’d say he is keeping with the trend.

A look into Herbie’s Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters:

Bass: Christian McBride

Christian is likely the most sought after bassist by big name jazz musicians today. Alot of bassist can play technically perfect, but McBride gives everything he touches a enjoyable personality.

Christian plays with Herbie and Jack DeJohnette:

Drums: Jack DeJohnette

DeJohnette is similar to Christian McBride where he can play anything with anybody, and make it sound wonderful and effortless.

Watch Jack solo:

Guitar: John Scofield

Maybe the biggest guitarist in jazz (aside from Pat Metheny), it is Scofield’s rock influence that sets him apart for me. He adds a hip edge to whatever he is playing.

Scofield with Jon Mayer on the Tonight Show:

The Singers:

Male Vocalist: Jamie Cullum

Can anyone today really be called a “bad boy” of jazz? No one will call this young British vocalist a traditional jazz singer, but that is what I like about him. He’s doing his own thing by recreating songs with his own style. He will never sound like Frank Sinatra, but I don’t believe he really wants to.

Jamie Cullum’s version of Wind Cries Mary:

Female Vocalist: Diana Krall

Krall is the most popular jazz singer today, and she deserves that title. She has her own romantic, sensual style, warranting large crowds and tons of fans. Her biggest fan might be her husband, Elvis Costello, which definitely earns her major cool points.

Diana Krall’s Look of Love video:

Jazz and Trendiness

If someone calls you “trendy”, you can assume that you have managed to stay current and up-to-date on things that might include fashion sense and style, pop culture, attitudes, lingo, and current events. To stay trendy, you have to adjust as the trends do. If you don’t, or haven’t, it’s possible that you may show a slight resemblance to these guys:

Flock of Seagulls
Flock of Seagulls

Jazz has survived for over one hundred years, and its likely that it will always survive in some fashion. We can find countless books and recordings on how it has changed over the decades, thanks in large part to not only those who were brave enough to experiment with their own unique thoughts and ideas, but also to great classic recordings that kind-of-bluehave withstood the test of time. Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, sold 5,000 copies a week in 2008, roughly a half century after its creation. When you ask someone who isn’t a huge jazz fan why that CD happens to be part of their music collection, a collection filled with rap and country and rock, they usually just say “because its cool”. “Jazzheads”, on the other hand, will give you a twenty minute response on its modality, tonality, and improvisation and how it changed the world. Both are right.

Today, “jazz” is rarely used in the same sentence as “trendy”. For younger generations, jazz concerts are not as much of a must-see event as they are a random, occasional novelty. It’s far less likely that a high school cafeteria would be buzzing with discussion about what Coltrane’s best album was during lunch hour, and more likely that it will be buzzing with the latest Brittney Spears gossip.

The question is though, does jazz need to be trendy to survive? Will a younger generation find jazz and buy records and go to concerts without jazz being the main headline in pop-culture publications? Some jazz purists feel that it’s not necessary for jazz to be the headline. But doesn’t a younger generation need to be exposed to jazz somehow in order for record companies to not only invest in new jazz artists but to also afford to invest in printing copies of older albums for sale? Isn’t anything that needs to remain trendy, or even viable, or to even have a pulse, in need of new audience members year after year?

Will younger generations find satisfaction in old recordings, or will they need newer, more modern sounding recordings to enjoy. Will artists be willing to take that step and record them, and will jazz radio stations play the new stuff that might appeal to “the kids”?

There is always hope and promise. Artists like Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Michael Buble over the last few years have definitely given jazz record sales a boost. But at the same time Norah Jones and Michael Buble have received criticism for not being “true” jazz musicians, while Herbie recently has teamed up with pop superstars, drawing his own critiques from jazz purists.

Whether you think that the days of jazz appealing to a younger audience are still possible or not, or which way you think the jazz industry should go about marketing to a younger audience, or if jazz needs to be or can be trendy at all, it is safe to say that jazz has to find its way into the hands of every new generation.

Below, see some “trendy” videos of musicians of today.

Norah Jones singing Cold, Cold Heart:

Herbie Hancock with Corinne Bailey Rae performing River:

Michael Buble in a Starbucks commercial:

Building a Dream Big Band Part IV: The Rhythm Section

Well if you’ve read the previous “Building a Dream Big Band” posts, you’ve noticed that all of the horns are in place. I’m pretty proud of my band so far, although I did catch some flack via email and Facebook for placing Michael Brecker in the “1” chair above John Coltrane in the sax section. The good news is that I completely encourage your feedback to my dream big band. No doubt everyone will fill their sections based on their own tastes, and that is what I am simply doing with mine. I encourage you to post your feedback on the blog, so that others can see and share their opinion not only on what I think, but to what you think as well. There are no wrong answers. We all enjoy different musicians for different reasons, and remember, this is not a “best of” or “top 10” list. It is simply based off what musicians I would dream to see together.

When finished, the band will be 21 pieces, with 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes, guitar, bass, drums, piano, a male and female singer, and a bandleader (by the way, if Michael Brecker as first tenor was a shocker, wait until you see who I picked to be the bandleader). Here is how the band looks so far:


Lead: Arturo Sandoval

2nd Chair: Wynton Marsalis

Third Chair: Freddie Hubbard

Fourth Chair: Miles Davis

Fifth Chair: Thad Jones

Trombones (selected by former KPLU host Troy Oppie):

Lead: Bob Burgess

Second Chair: Frank Rosilino

Third Chair: Al Grey

Bass Trombone: Bill Hughes


First Alto: Charlie Parker

Second Alto: Cannonball Adderley

First Tenor: Michael Brecker

Second Tenor: John Coltrane

Baritone Saxophone: Cecil Payne

And now, its time to introduce you to my rhythm section.

The Rhythm Section:

Guitar: Charlie Christian

How does someone have a career that lasted, at best, five years, manage to leave such a permanent mark on jazz guitarists? Simple – your name is Charlie Christian. Sadly, Christian died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis, but still remains the fundamental influence on all jazz guitarists. Christian spend time with Benny Goodman, followed by a run at the cradle of bebop, Minton’s Playhouse, where he would perform with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. Christian is rarely any lower that number three on anyones “top guitarist” list.

I struggled to find video of Charlie Christian, but you can see a slide show and hear him play Swing to Bop below:

Piano: Herbie Hancock

There were about 10 million pianists to choose from, but I just had to choose Herbie. He has done virtually everything, and continues to become more popular. While there are dozens of pianists who have spent way more time in big bands, I find Herbie more diverse, and blessed with the ability to entertain crowds of all varieties. over through four decades.

Watch Herbie Hancock play his classic Cantaloupe Island:

Bass: Jaco Pastorius

So what if my dream big band features an electric bass player? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially when he happens to be the best electric bass player ever. Emotionally Jaco was his own worst enemy, but again, this band just simply cannot be without his bass.

Watch Jaco Pastorius play The Chicken:

Drums: Jack DeJohnette

Like other musicians in this band, I chose DeJohnette because of his ability to excel at playing all forms of music, not just one style. He plays with such fluidity and adds so much to the sound of a group that it would be insulting to suggest that Jack is just there to “keep time”. Again, the jazz purists make come after me for not putting a more “famous” drummer like Blakey or Roach or Buddy Rich in this spot, but Jack’s versatility was the deciding factor for me.

Watch JackDeJohnette play Thieves in the Temple with Herbie Hancock:

So with 18 instrumental members of the band in, next time I select a male a female vocalist to be featured. Expect a couple of surprises. And, as always, I encourage your thoughts!