Jazz and Presidents

Presidents Day is today, so I thought I would take a look at some photos and videos of Presidents and jazz (the Nixon video might not be jazz, but I found it fun).

Cab Calloway and Lyndon Johnson

Jimmy Carter, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach

Richard Nixon and Duke Ellington

George Bush and Lionel Hampton

Ronald Reagan and Ray Charles



Jazz on Twitter

Since recently learning how to “tweet”, I have tracked down a number of jazz musicians and organizations that you can follow on Twitter. Here is many that I have tracked down (and a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @Kevinkplu).

Terence Blanchard: @T_Blanchard

Ron Blake: @RonBlakeMusic

Ramsey Lewis: @RamseyLewis

Maurice Brown: @mobettabrown

Matt Wilson: @mattwilsonjazz

Joshua Redman: @Joshua_Redman

Joe Lovano: @joelovano

Cassandra Wilson: @reallycassandra

Dianne Reeves: @DianneReeves1

David Marriott, Jr.: @RedRaspus

Chris Potter: @chrispotterjazz

Brian Blade: @BrianBlade

Bela Fleck: @belafleckbanjo

Lee Mergner (JazzTimes editor in chief): @JazzTimes

Jason Parker: @1WorkinMusician

Jamie Cullum: @jamiecullum

Blue Note Records: @bluenoterecords

Chick Corea: @ChickCorea

Karl Denson: @KarlDenson

Charlie Hunter: @charlie_hunter

Sean Jones: @sjonesjazz

Michael Buble: @michaelbuble

Nikki Yanofsky: @NikkiYanofsky

John Patitucci: @JohnJPatitucci

Dave Holland: @TheDaveHolland

Gerald Clayton: @geraldclayton

Vijay Iyer: @vijayiyer

Branford Marsalis: @bmarsalis

Wynton Marsalis: @wyntonmarsalis

Norah Jones: @NorahJones

Diana Krall: @DianaKrall

Christian Scott: @cscottjazz

Dave Douglas: @dave_douglas

Pat Metheny: @PatMetheny

Christian McBride: @mcbridesworld

Herbie Hancock: @herbie__hancock

Marsalis Music: @marsalismusic

Spain and The Netherlands, Jazz, and the World Cup

The World Cup is over, and I suppose the time has come for me to stop complaining. I was cheering for Holland from the beginning, and was crushed when the Netherlands lost to Spain in the final minutes of overtime in the final, in what in general was a pretty good game.

These two countries are soccer superpowers, but have also made some nice contributions as far as jazz musicians go.

The Dutch boasts a drummer who is a virtuoso in all styles, from Dixieland to free jazz. I speak of Han Bennink, who was the drummer of choice for jazz musicians like Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy when they would make their trips to Holland (in fact, Bennink was the drummer on Dolphy’s album Last Date from 1964).

Spain boasts the extremely talented blind-born pianist, Tete Montoliu. Montoliu learned to read music in Braille when he was seven, and a wonderful piano style followed shortly after. Several top-notch jazz musicians enjoyed working with Montoliu as well, including Lionel Hampton and Roland Kirk.

In addition to being thankful for the contributions the Netherlands and Spain gave to the 2010 World Cup, we can also be thankful for the contributions of their jazz musicians as well.

Jazz Modernized

When you have an art form that has existed for well over one hundred years, with roots to that art form going back even farther than that, you undoubtedly end up placing many different interpretations of that art form all under the same umbrella. There may be no better example of that than jazz. Because of the freedom and progression of jazz, a musician could conceivably call anything jazz if they find some ground to justify it on.

Jazz can be broken down by eras, styles, and about a dozen or so other fields. Debates and arguments happen over which era or style is the best, or what really made jazz what it is. And it seems that as time goes on, many artists try to offer their own performance of a traditional tune with as much respect to the original as possible, write new music, or completely transform old recordings into something completely different, with the vaguest hint of the original.

It is the latter that has my attention today. There are some musicians who are doing a wonderful job creating new modern works, or offering new looks at older compositions. Trumpeter Russell Gunn might be a perfect example of that. His original recordings, and his covers of older recordings both offer the same thing: personality. And not just personality in general, they offer his personality. You can hear one of his recordings, and whether its an original or not, it always has a little attitude and a little bite. It becomes very Russell Gunn.

Some vocalists have taken to putting lyrics to old instrumental tunes, and some have made it work. It took guts for Norah Jones to put lyrics to the Duke Ellington tune Melancholia, but she did, called it Don’t Miss You At All, and the end result was wonderful. On the flip side, you won’t see me banging down any doors to get to the Manhattan Transfer vocal interpretation of the Weather Report hit Birdland.

One of the things that stirred these thoughts more vividly recently was hearing more and more songs “remixed”, and hearing them everywhere. Not so much the radio, but in department stores and elevators. These “recordings” are classic songs chopped up by a DJ, who with the help of a couple turntables (used for scratching, not playing) and a $99 music software program turn it into something you could easily hear at a techno music club. The only resemblance the final product bears to the original is one or two lines that Sarah Vaughan or Nina Simone sang that didn’t hit the DJ’s cutting room floor. The rest is purely electronically produced, almost always with a trance-like robotic drum beat.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent hours in dance clubs that featured music produced entirely with electronics. And as a modern day employee of a radio station, there is no more reel-to-reel editing, thank goodness, as everything is done quicker and easier on computers.

But when do we hit the point where we realize, in some ways, that the wonderful modern technology we have in front of us might be a tool that robs us of personality? Is it bad that someone tries to recreate Nobody’s Fault But Mine with one or two lines from the original, plus a recycled drum beat and a heavy bass line, all at five times the original tempo? The majority of the lyrics and anything resembling a solo are completely gone. Maybe it isn’t bad, but it can be unnerving at the very least when someone hears it and assumes it to be the original.

I’m not some old stick in the mud that has anything against modern technology. In fact, it is quite the opposite. But to me, there comes a point where you simply rob music of its originality and personality. And it was that personality that got us all interested in the first place. One might have seen Coltrane in concert and spoke of his 45 minute solo, or heard a recording by Ella Fitzgerald and mentioned how “you could even hear the piano bench Ellis Larkins creak as he rocked in the background, while she sang that heartbreaking tune”.

Give me personality any day, especially when it comes to music…especially when it comes to jazz. Give me something interesting and creative to listen to, and leave the computer and the canned drum beat at home.

Audio Blog: Jazz Perspectives with KPLU’s Weekday Jazz Hosts

KPLU’s four weekday jazz hosts, Dick Stein, Robin Lloyd, Abe Beeson, and myself, individually sat down and recorded thoughts on a variety of topics related to jazz.

With all of us coming from different backgrounds and upbringings, you will hear very different and interesting perspectives on topics ranging from what the first jazz we remember ever hearing, what music was playing when we were growing up, what how we got hooked on jazz, what live jazz performance blew our mind, what jazz musicians we think are doing great things today, and, if we could pick anyone to see play one song in concert, alive or dead, who would it be.

Enjoy the first Groove Notes Audio Blog by clicking here.

Watch Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Lionel Hampton play Moonglow, as picked by Dick Stein:

Watch Thelonious Monk play ‘Round Midnight, as picked by Abe Beeson:

Watch Michael Brecker, as picked by Kevin Kniestedt:

Watch Dizzy Gillespie play Manteca, as picked by Robin Lloyd: