T.S. Monk Jr., Mark Elf, John Pizzarelli and Boston Pops, Cyrus Chestnut & Summer Preview
January 1, 1970This is coming to you a full week late because the week got away from me somehow. There's more stuff than usual in it, in any case, owing to a review of the opening of the first-ever Boston Pops Jazz Fest and the summer preview roundup that ran a couple of Sundays ago.
The week's column was on T.S. Monk Jr., son of Thelonious, who besides keeping his father's legacy alive as chairman of the Monk Institute also maintains a career as a drummer and bandleader. The Calendar Pick was veteran guitarist Mark Elf, who has a nice new CD out. The profile leading off the summer preview was of Cyrus Chestnut, who'll perform with two groups at Newport this August in addition to leading a trio in Marblehead in July.
The concert review contained a gaffe, with yours truly misidentifying "Honeysuckle Rose" as "Sing, Sing, Sing." A reader alerted my editor to the screwup, sending along the smart-alecky suggestion that I make sure I consult a set list in the future. Actually, though, a set list contributed to the mistake. I'd been handed a set list that had "Sing, Sing, Sing" on it, but no "Honeysuckle Rose," and when I heard something toward the end of the set that I recognized as Benny Goodman, I took the shortcut of trusting what was on the set list rather than thinking any more about it myself. I had only another hour or so to write the story so it would make the next morning's paper, after all, so I had other things to think about. I should've known better. As soon as my editor forwarded the reader's note to me, I realized it hadn't really been "Sing, Sing, Sing." And Pizzarelli himself confirmed as much the next day, via the publicist who'd handed me the not-quite-trustworthy set list.
The old saying at the City News Bureau of Chicago was, "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it." I should have kept that in mind that night. Even if there wsan't really time enough to do so.
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After years away, T.S. Monk Jr. is back on the beat
Drummer is looking beyond his father's legacy
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 26, 2006
What's in a name? For T.S. Monk Jr., there are dual responsibilities.
First, there's preserving the legacy of his namesake father, Thelonious Sphere Monk, whose place among the greatest jazz composers of all time was further validated this spring with a posthumous Pulitzer Prize citation. He, along with Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington, are the only jazz artists to be so honored. "It means an awful lot to me and my family," Monk Jr. says by phone from New Jersey, "but I think it is so damn good for jazz."
But Monk also has a responsibility to himself and to a career that's brought him from jazz to R&B and back again. The 56-year-old drummer and bandleader performs at Scullers tonight and tomorrow with his sextet, sets that will also feature the Boston debut of vocalist and New England Conservatory senior Rachael Price.
Monk got his own start drumming in his father's quartet, from 1971-'75. But his career took a turn when Monk Sr. stopped performing in the mid-'70s.
"I went into an R&B thing," explains Monk, "like anybody who was 25 years old in 1975. There was no redemptive value at all to being a young jazz musician. There was no such thing as a 'young lion.' You couldn't get a gig."
Monk eventually assembled a group called T.S. Monk with his sister, Barbara (who went by her nickname, Boo Boo), and his then-girl-friend, Yvonne Fletcher. Their 1981 album "House of Music" was a hit. But a double dose of tragedy followed in 1983. Fletcher and Barbara were both diagnosed with breast cancer and died a few months later.
"My life went upside down completely," recalls Monk. "I stepped out of the music completely. T.S. Monk disappeared. I wasn't playing no jazz. I wasn't playing no R&B. I stopped playing the drums, totally packed it in. I sat on my butt, out in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and did nothing."
What brought him back to performing was the Monk Institute, which Barbara created following their father's death in 1982. Family members asked Monk to take over after his sister's death, and he reluctantly agreed. Fellow board members remembered that Monk had played drums and said it would be a plus if he performed at Monk Institute functions. He started practicing again.
The next push came during an Institute tour with Monk's first drum teacher, Max Roach. Monk had thought his own playing would be kept separate from Roach's. But on the first day of the tour, Roach ordered that their two drum sets be set up facing each other.
"Well, I come out of this music," says Monk. "I know what that means."
Sure enough, Monk was in for the first of several drum battles with his mentor. "When I finished that," Monk says, "I said, `Man, you just did 10 days with Max, and he was smiling the whole time. You can get back into this music.' And that's when I decided to form a band."
Monk spent most of the '90s playing straight-ahead jazz with that band, a period culminating in the CD "Monk on Monk," interpretations of his father's compositions.
"After I did `Monk on Monk,' " he says, "I said to myself, `OK, that's been the 800-pound gorilla in the room with me, and it's not in the room anymore. But there's one thing you haven't done. You haven't undressed like your father did, like Miles did, like Coltrane did, like every great jazz musician did.'"
Undressing, for Monk, meant bringing his entire personality to bear on his music.
"When you come and see T.S. Monk today," says Monk, a man as voluble as his father was reticent, "you're very likely to get some straight-ahead Kenny Dorham that will have your foot just pounding. You'll get some modern Donald Brown or some Bobby Watson that will have you really thinking and swooning. You'll get some modern stuff like `Ladera Heights' and things that are really modern funk. I'm very likely to sing you a song. I'm very likely to tell you a story about my father. And you're very likely to get a heavy dose of Monk played properly. So that's what I am. I am a cross-talker. That is what my band is all about."
Price, whom Monk discovered at the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, agrees.
"He tells a lot of stories about his dad and growing up with various other amazing jazz musicians, names everyone recognizes," says the 20-year-old singer. "And if you come to the show, you'll hear it all."
T.S. Monk Jr. performs at 8 and 10:30 tonight and tomorrow night at Scullers, with guest vocalist Rachael Price. Tickets $22. Call 617-562-4111 or visit www.scullersjazz.com.
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Mark Elf Trio
Ryles, 212 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-9330. 9 p.m. $12.
In the realm of rocket launches, the countdown leads to liftoff. So it makes perfect sense for guitarist Mark Elf (right) to have titled his recently released CD "Liftoff." The title tune, of which there are two takes on the CD, is an Elf melody applied to the chord changes of John Coltrane's "Countdown," the furiously up-tempo classic concluding Trane's great album "Giant Steps." Elf's self-produced disc also features Elf wielding a seldom-seen baritone guitar on two tracks, plus covers of the Bob Hope-associated "Thanks for the Memory" and Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before." Joining Elf on the CD is a stellar rhythm section of pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash. Tomorrow's trio will include local veterans Marshall Wood and Bob Savine on bass and drums, respectively.
Fri 5-26 Bruce Gertz/ Jerry Bergonzi Quartet Gertz and Bergonzi lead a quartet of top-drawer professionals deserving wider recognition with Gertz on bass, Bergonzi on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano, and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Local sax hero Bergonzi, who teaches at New England Conservatory, also has a fine new CD just out on Savant Records, titled "Tenor of the Times." Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 & 10 p.m. $18.
Wed 5-31 Bud Shank with Bill Mays Trio The career of alto sax great Shank dates back to late '40s stints with Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton. Next week he'll be backed by the trio of pianist Bill Mays, with Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10 p.m. $20, $60 with dinner.
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Pizzarelli gets fest off to swinging start
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 19, 2006
The first-ever Boston Pops Jazz Fest got underway last night with a mild snag. Conductor Keith Lockhart, in a hurry to get to jazz's first great composer, recited his introductory spiel on Jelly Roll Morton and announced Morton's "Black Bottom Stomp," raised his arms to cue the orchestra . . . and realized he'd forgotten something.
Lockhart turned back to the audience and smiled. "I forgot a piece," he said. "These things happen." He instead launched the orchestra into John Williams's swing tribute "Swing, Swing, Swing.' From that point on, the festival opener swung along smoothly. The Pops orchestra played a fine set alone that showed why early jazz deserves respect from the classical world. Then John Pizzarelli brought his quartet out to join the orchestra and further upped the evening's already impressive swing quotient.
The Morton piece, when Lockhart got to it, gave the audience its one hint of Dixie, and it was followed by Don Sebesky's adaptation of George Gershwin's "Prelude No. 2," the night's most classical-sounding work. The Pops' principal clarinetist, Thomas Martin, then flashed his considerable chops on Artie Shaw's "Clarinet Concerto." The orchestra closed out its set with the greatest jazz composer of them all, Duke Ellington, and his familiar orchestral piece "Harlem."
Pizzarelli led his set off with "Pick Yourself Up," which set the tone nicely by coupling his soft, insouciant tenor voice with solid instrumental solos from his pianist, Larry Fuller, and himself Pizzarelli scatting in unison with his rapid-fire guitar lines. Other highlights included Pizzarelli's burning guitar solo on "Avalon," which he followed by mouthing "That's my brother" to the audience as Martin Pizzarelli played a bass solo. Frank Loesser's "Say It Over and Over Again" had Pizzarelli's tenor floating over lush orchestration.
But Pizzarelli's biggest round of applause came for a snippet of "The Wonder of It All," the casino theme that made him famous, into which he substituted lines such as "Yes, I am that guy" and "residuals are sweet." The Pizzarelli set seemed on the verge of concluding with Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing," but he followed it with a swinging version of the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" before the orchestra took over on the evening-ending "Stars and Stripes Forever."
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A pianist with an ear for everything
Chestnut plays gospel, indie rock, Afro-Cuban
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 21, 2006
If you missed Cyrus Chestnut when the gifted pianist was plugging his new CD, "Genuine Chestnut," at the Regattabar earlier this month, you'll get two more good chances to catch him nearby this summer.
Chestnut, 43, will be among the hardest-working musicians on the local festival scene in the coming months. With his trio mates, bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith, Chestnut will perform at the Marblehead Summer Jazz festival on July 22 and at the JVC Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I., on Aug. 12 the trio fleshed out to a quartet for the latter gig with the addition of saxophonist Eric Alexander. Also at Newport that same afternoon, Chestnut will join jazzmen James Carter, Reginald Veal, and Ali Jackson in performing music from "Gold Sounds," their recent CD collaboration covering music from the influential indie-rock band Pavement.
Chestnut strays from jazz on his new CD, too. These days, he says, he's more interested in making music than in flashing his mastery of jazz theory.
"I want the music to paint pictures," Chestnut explains on the phone from his hometown of Baltimore. "I'm just trying to write music. I'm not trying to write stuff to be hip or anything. I'm writing music that's inside me."
That music embraces many genres besides jazz, with gospel, classical, R&B, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and traditional Korean music among the styles he mentions. His ties to gospel are particularly strong, and he, Hawkins, and Smith close out "Genuine Chestnut" with their take on the spiritual "Lord, I Give Myself to Thee."
Chestnut also revisits his youth via a pair of pop tunes, "If" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," made famous by Bread and Roberta Flack, respectively.
"The thing about those two pieces, they're very sentimental to me," Chestnut says, adding that he learned "If" in the seventh grade when a favorite teacher asked him to play it at her wedding.
Chestnut had no such personal ties to Pavement. The idea for the "Gold Sounds" project originated with Jake Cohn and David Elkins of Brown Brothers Recordings, and Chestnut admits to being skeptical about it early on.
"At first listen, I was like, `Oh really?'" Chestnut recalls. "But I'm never the type of person that just chucks something out right away. And as I started to listen to it more, it was like, 'OK, this is interesting.'"
The CD came out in September, and Chestnut, Carter, and company recently revisited the material live in Minneapolis. "We just finished a stint at the Dakota Bar & Grill," Chestnut says, "and basically every time we get down to play it's like re-creating things again, taking chances, going into territory we haven't gone into before."
As Chestnut sees it, there's a common thread linking "Genuine Chestnut" and "Gold Sounds."
"See, I think that's where I'm finally getting to now," he says, "not being afraid to just try different things and just explore who I am. You know, without fear of people saying, 'Hey, you're a jazz musician. You're not supposed to do that.'"
Cyrus Chestnut performs at 8 p.m. July 22 at Marblehead Summer Jazz 2006. Tickets $25 in advance, $27 at the door. Call 781-631-1528 or visit www.marbleheadjazz.org. He performs at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I., at the JVC Jazz Festival, Newport, R.I., on Aug. 12, times to be announced. Tickets $65 in advance, $70 festival weekend. Call 866-468-7619 or visit www.festivalproductions.net.
SUMMER PEVIEW SIDEBAR:
JAZZ IN BLOOM
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal: The summer jazz festival season gets underway in Canada June 29-July 9. This year's jazz highlights include: the Brad Mehldau Trio, the Wayne Shorter Quartet, McCoy Tyner's "Story of Impulse!" Septet, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Pharoah Sanders, the Bad Plus, Patricia Barber, Pat Martino, Stefon Harris & Blackout, the Joe Lovano Quartet, Don Byron's Ivey-Divey Trio, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Not to mention pop stars Tony Bennett, B.B. King, Paul Simon, and Elvis Costello & the Imposters joined by Allen Toussaint and his New Orleans horns. It's a bit of a schlep from Boston, to be sure, but this may be the biggest and best festival of them all. Call 888-515-0515 or visit www.montrealjazzfest.com.
Marblehead Summer Jazz 2006: Jazz comes to the north shore every other Saturday from mid-June through mid-August. This year's lineup: Greg Abate Quartet (June 10), Esperanza Spalding Quintet (June 24), Rebecca Parris (July 8), Cyrus Chestnut Trio (July 22), Joe Locke and Geoff Keezer (Aug. 5), and Houston Person Quartet (Aug. 19). Call 781-631-1528 or visit www.marbleheadjazz.org.
Boston clubs: The Hub's leading clubs will stay busy this summer. Regattabar highlights include Donal Fox (June 10), Ralph Towner (June 20), Laszlo Gardony (June 21), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (July 7-8), Erin Bode (July 26), and Charlie Haden's Quartet West (Aug. 11-12). Scullers will host James Moody (June 2-3), Vernon Reid (June 6), Nnenna Freelon (June 15), the Hank Jones Trio with guest vocalist Roberta Gambarini (June 16-17), Jon Faddis (Aug. 10-11), and Hiromi (Aug. 17). Call Regattabar at 617-395-7757 or visit www.regattabarjazz.com. Scullers is 617-562-4111 or www.scullersjazz.com.
JVC Jazz Festival, Newport: The schedule is trimmed back somewhat from the 50th anniversary celebration of 2004 and the massive follow-up last year. But there'll still be a bunch of good jazz Aug. 11-13. John Pizzarelli and Jane Monheit will open Aug. 11. Highlights on Aug. 12 include: George Benson, Al Jarreau, Arturo Sandoval, the Robert Glasper Trio, Luciana Souza, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and solo piano from Kenny Barron On Aug. 13: the Bad Plus, Hiromi, Chris Botti, the Avishai Cohen Trio, the James Carter Organ Trio, and the festival-closing Dave Brubeck Quartet. Call 866-468-7619 or visit www.festivalproductions.net.
Tanglewood Jazz Festival: The festival season wraps up Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3, at Tanglewood. Featured acts this year include: a Latin double bill of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the Big Three Palladium Orchestra Sept. 1; Elvis Costello as Marian McPartland's guest for a taping of "Piano Jazz" on the afternoon of Sept. 2; and a double bill Saturday night of Wynton Marsalis followed by Dr. John with guests John Pizzarelli and Steve Tyrell. On Sept. 3, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band will play in the afternoon, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing that night. Call 888-266-1200 or visit www.tanglewoodjazz.org.