Makanda Ken McIntyre Project, Henri Smith-Nat Simpkins review, Chris Potter
January 1, 1970This week's newsletter is coming at you two days late, because I'm traveling this weekend and leaving my laptop at home for a change — then forgot to borrow my father-in-law's desktop to ship this off Saturday morning.
The trip will also mark my first miss of a Jazz Notes column in next Friday's paper. I had a subject lined up to write about before leaving town, then had my editor phone to say that one of the Globe's feature writers already had dibs on the 13-year-old alto sax phenomenon I was planning on profiling. Her name is Grace Kelly, she lives in Brookline, and her dad says he's disappointed that it won't be me profiling her. So am I.
In any case, by the time I got the news I'd been bigfooted by a Globe staffer, it was too late to line up a replacement. Or maybe I was just too irritated by the reminder of my second-class status at the Globe to bother trying. But I told my editor I'd be taking the week off. And now I'm enjoying a couple of days in Florida.
This week's Jazz Notes was about the Makanda Ken McIntyre Project, and Boston pianist John Kordalewski's connection to the late musician/teacher/composer. The Calendar pick was Chris Potter, one of the most talented youngish tenor sax players on the scene. There's also a review of the Mardi Gras performance of last week's Jazz Notes subjects, Nat Simpkins and Henri Smith. That one was knocked out by 11 o'clock the night of the concert, I thought for the next day's paper. Turns out it was scheduled for the Globe's new Thursday Styles section, which ships earlier than the rest of the paper. So for all anyone who read it knows, I'd had all Wednesday morning to write it.
Anyway, expect a light newsletter next week owing to the missing Jazz Notes.
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He's arranged an introduction to a unique composer
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | March 3, 2006
MILTON — Boston native Makanda Ken McIntyre was best known as a virtuosic improviser on a range of woodwind instruments and as an educator. He recorded with big-name innovators such as Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor through the years and retired in 1995 with the rank of professor emeritus after a 24-year tenure at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury.
Less known are McIntyre's ample contributions as a composer. But now a former McIntyre student, pianist John Kordalewski, is helping correct that. Tomorrow night, Kordalewski's arrangements of several of the 400 unrecorded pieces McIntyre left behind when he died in 2001 will be performed at the Institute of Contemporary Art by a nine-piece tribute band, joined by guest and reed great Oliver Lake, kicking off the new season of the Boston Creative Music Alliance.
"Composer might not be the first thing that comes into people's mind when you think of him," Kordalewski says of McIntyre, "but amongst everything else he was, he was not only extremely prolific but also an extremely unique and, I think, significant composer."
Some of the McIntyre lead sheets that Kordalewski worked from in arranging the music for tomorrow's concert are stacked neatly on his piano as Kordalewski, 51, describes what made his mentor's music unique.
"He was able to do unexpected things in a way that worked," Kordalewski says. "The next chord would not be the one that you would expect it to be, and you couldn't even explain logically why that next chord would come next sometimes. . . . But you could hear what he was hearing, and it makes sense."
McIntyre's music was unconventional, says Kordalewski, but more recognizable as jazz than that of some of the other leading lights of the '70s avant-garde.
"The thing about Makanda's music is that there's a lyricism," says Kordalewski. "There's a distinct sound to it, and it's a personal voice. I mean, there are certain things that if we hear a piece that we hadn't heard before, it would be, 'Oh, that sounds like Makanda.' And I think there are relatively few jazz composers who've achieved that to the degree that he has."
Kordalewski first met McIntyre in Western Massachusetts in the early 1970s; he was an undergraduate at Amherst and McIntyre a visiting professor at Smith. Kordalewski began private studies with McIntyre then, and traveled to New York regularly to continue doing so after graduating and launching his own music career in Washington, D.C. In the 1980s, Kordalewski lost touch with McIntyre. But they reconnected after Kordalewski moved to the Boston area in 1991 to pursue a doctorate in education at Harvard. Kordalewski was playing at a South End club one night when a fellow band member pointed out McIntyre's sister Eileen in the audience.
McIntyre had grown up in the neighborhood and took up the alto saxophone in his teens after hearing Charlie Parker in 1948. He went on to earn degrees from Boston Conservatory (and, much later, a PhD from the University of Massachusetts), but Parker remained a dominant influence throughout his life — though not, emphasizes Kordalewski, in some merely imitative sense.
"His way of absorbing the influence of Charlie Parker wasn't to play bebop licks," Kordalewski explains. "It was some more abstract principle of how you sing through your instrument, I think, and the shapes and the expression and the rhythm."
Kordalewski's chance meeting with Eileen that night brought him back in touch with McIntyre, and eventually McIntyre began making regular trips to Boston to help Eileen through what proved a losing battle with cancer. Nineteen days after his sister's death, McIntyre himself collapsed and died of a heart attack. A year later, Kordalewski helped stage a tribute concert for McIntyre in Boston, and it was then he began working with McIntyre's widow, Joy Rosenthal, to bring some of McIntyre's unheard music to life.
"He had a remarkable sense of rhythm," says Rosenthal of her late husband, "and felt that rhythm was the beginning — that you start with rhythm and build melodies on top of that, whereas European music is the other way. But he felt strongly that African-based music you start with the rhythm, and John's been able to pick up on that remarkably."
Kordalewski's also done a remarkable job of gathering busy musicians willing to commit to the ongoing project. The group's regular lineup consists of veterans Kurtis Rivers, Salim Washington, Charlie Kohlhase, Bill Lowe, John Lockwood, and Yoron Israel, plus New England Conservatory grad students Sean Berry and Josiah Woodson. (Robert Stringer fills in for Lowe on trombone tomorrow.)
"He's the only one who could improvise like he could," Kordalewski says of McIntyre, "but the compositions are materials that he left that are not realized until somebody does something with them. That's our part, to complete the process."
The Makanda Ken McIntyre Project performs with special guest Oliver Lake at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 955 Boylston St. Tickets $10 ($8 students). Call 617-628-4342 or visit www.icaboston.org.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Trio's celebration of Mardi Gras warms the soul
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | March 2, 2006
Mardi Gras was celebrated New Orleans-style at Bob's Southern Bistro Tuesday night, where vocalist Henri Smith and saxophonist Nat Simpkins played an opening set of Crescent City-linked music fresh from their live performance that morning on "Good Morning America."
Smith is fond of saying that Bostonians told him not to worry about the snow or cold when he relocated to Gloucester after Hurricane Katrina drove him from New Orleans. The people here promised to keep him warm, he said. Smith returned the favor on a bitterly cold night in the South End.
First, though, Simpkins and guest saxophonist Charles Neville (of Neville Brothers fame) led the rhythm section of pianist Ben Selling, bassist Rick Maida, and drummer Dave Brophy through the bluesy instrumental warm-ups "Soul Cookin' " and "Soothe My Soul."
Smith joined the band then for the groove tune "Hu-Ta-Nay," and from there the set kept its focus on New Orleans. Neville took a soulful tenor sax solo, then switched to tapping a cowbell while Simpkins did likewise on alto. Smith, decked out in a flashy green shirt and black bow tie, squeezed in a little dancing while the saxophonists soloed.
"Bourbon Street Parade" was up next, and then Smith spoke a bit about how he and Simpkins had each recorded an album over 10 1/ 2 hours one day at Ultrasonic Studios the same year than Fats Domino had done some work there. That led them into a sweet cover of Domino's hit "Blueberry Hill," which featured a slow, particularly lyrical solo from Neville.
The Hoagy Carmichael classic "New Orleans" followed, and Smith was at his best here — little wonder that this had been the tune that Smith and Simpkins performed that morning on national television.
Two more classics followed — "That Old Black Magic" and "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" — and then the set closed with perhaps the most famous Mardi Gras Indian chant of all: "Iko Iko."
Only a handful of people bestirred themselves to try a bit of the second-line dancing that had been advertised as part of the evening's entertainment. They snaked their way down the crowded aisle through the packed house, a couple of them twirling parasols, while most people sat concentrating on the music and their buffet dinners. But "Iko Iko" had people clapping along to its infectious rhythm, and Neville took a turn singing lead through part of it.
Two more sets would follow, but Smith, Simpkins, Neville, and company had already given the crowd a Mardi Gras to remember.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 & 10 p.m. $24. Repeats Sat.
Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter (above) first caught people's attention as a sideman, for everyone from Dave Holland and Dave Douglas to Steely Dan. He earned a 1999 Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental solo playing on Joanne Brackeen's "Pink Elephant Magic." He also played on Holland's "Overtime," which took this year's Grammy for best large jazz ensemble. Lately, though, Potter has established himself as a leader, via the 2004 disc "Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard" and this year's "Underground." Both emphasize Potter originals, plus the occasional familiar standby — everything from Charles Mingus's "Boogie Stop Shuffle" to Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" to the Lennon/ McCartney hit "Yesterday." Both also get a distinctive sound from the Fender Rhodes electric piano, which Craig Taborn will be playing with Potter this weekend, joined by guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith.
Thurs 3-2 Rich Greenblatt Jazz Vibes Berklee professor Greenblatt brings his vibraphone and his band to Inman Square, where he'll offer the same sort of standards and originals that make up his tasty 2004 CD, "Hot & Dry." Ryles, 212 Hampshire St., Cambridge. 617-876-9330. 9 p.m. $7.
Sat 3-4 The Makanda Ken McIntyre Project with special guest Oliver Lake McIntyre was a prolific composer, reed player, and educator who left hundreds of original works at his death in 2001. Now a nine-piece band of mostly Boston-based all-stars is performing some of them, from arrangements by pianist John Kordalewski. Oliver Lake will join them for this concert, the first 2006 offering. Institute for Contemporary Art, 955 Boylston St., Boston. 617-354-6898. 8 p.m. $10, $8 students and seniors.