Jeremy Udden, James Moody
January 1, 1970Back to the usual two items this week. The column profiled saxophonist Jeremy Udden, who grew up in Boston's south suburbs, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from New England Conservatory, and is probably most recognizable for having spent the past six-plus years in the Either/Orchestra. But he's also got a new CD of his own out, whose release he's celebrating in a series of performances starting tonight in Amherst.
The Calendar Pick was NEA Jazz Master James Moody, whose sets, alas, it looks like I'll be missing.
With any luck, maybe I'll get back to sending this out Saturday morning next week.
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In apartment, Udden had room to grow
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | June 2, 2006
Jeremy Udden has logged a lot of miles since taking over the alto sax chair in the Either/ Orchestra six years ago. There were trips with the orchestra to Italy and Russia early on, while Udden (pronounced "You-Deen") was still an undergraduate at New England Conservatory.
There's the commute back to Boston he's been making most weekends since moving to New York a year and a half ago, for Either/ Orchestra rehearsals. He also teaches in NEC's prep program and at his alma mater, King Philip High School in Wrentham .
"Most of the year I was dealing with the Chinatown bus and crashing on my sister's couch," says Udden, 28, by cellphone. "That got a little tiresome, so I put a car back on the road."
There was also a long stay in China last summer, where Udden worked five nights a week in Shanghai's thriving jazz scene. "I wanted to do it again this summer," he says, "but with the record coming out, I didn't want to go hide in China."
It's ironic then that the record, "Torchsongs ," had its genesis when Udden wasn't traveling at all. More than half the tunes on Udden's debut CD were composed while he was stuck in a Cambridge apartment for four months, suffering from a severe case of vertigo. This weekend, Udden will celebrate the CD's release with performances at the Moan and Dove in Amherst tomorrow and at the Lily Pad in Cambridge Sunday. (Udden will also appear with the Either/ Orchestra at the Lily Pad tonight.)
"I basically didn't leave my apartment for a few months," recalls Udden, who by then was completing his master's degree. "That was during my last year at NEC. I kind of left one day a week for lessons, stuff like that. And I wrote these songs."
Those early tunes were written to cheer himself up, he says, and inspired by the harmonies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He didn't have a band to play them at the time, but by spring 2003 his health had improved to where he was able to enter — and win — the Fish Middleton Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C. He decided to take his prize money and his new tunes and make a demo, and recruited a group of ringers to help: guitarist Ben Monder, bassist John Lockwood, drummer Matt Wilson, and, on two tracks, Bob Brookmeyer, his former NEC professor, on valve trombone.
"He was one of my prize students," says Brookmeyer. "We [transformed] him from [legendary saxophonist] Lee Konitz to him. He was just great to work with, very gifted."
Udden has compared the CD that resulted to work by Bill Frisell, Keith Jarrett, and another former teacher, the late Steve Lacy. But there are also echoes of reedman Jimmy Giuffre on those early tracks, in their calm, quiet accessibility and deceptive simplicity, especially when Udden switches from alto to soprano. Brookmeyer had famously collaborated with Giuffre in the late 1950s, but Udden found Giuffre on his own.
"He's one of these people that, almost totally randomly, I discovered early on when I was getting into jazz," says Udden of Giuffre. "Part of why I really wanted to go to NEC was I thought I was going to be able to hang with him. But he got sick. I got there in '96, and that's right around when he stopped teaching."
Even so, says Udden, Giuffre's influence on him was huge.
"It's the way he improvises as well as the way he writes," Udden explains. "He sort of sits on this thing where it almost sounds like folk music, like American folk music or something meets jazz."
Improvising over slower music can be harder than playing over fast stuff, Udden says. And an album made up entirely of slower music can be a tough sell. Jordi Pujol of Fresh Sound New Talent Records told Udden he liked his demo but thought it "basically a ballads album." Udden agreed, and wrote some more energetic material for the young band that will be with him this weekend: Nathan Blehar on tenor sax, Leo Genovese on Fender Rhodes electric piano, Garth Stevenson on bass, and Ziv Ravitz on drums. Those tunes wound up on "Torchsongs" alongside the demo tracks, as did covers of Lacy's "Blinks" and the Bangles' "Eternal Flame."
The package coheres nicely, and shows a side of Udden not much on display with the Either/ Orchestra — one both cooler and more pop-oriented.
"He has that thing from the [Lennie] Tristano school, Lee Konitz," says Genovese, "and on the other hand he has a lot of rock elements, or folk — like, I don't know, Nick Drake. He has many different influences."
Jeremy Udden performs at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Lily Pad. Tickets $10. Call 617-388-1168 or visit www.lily- pad.net.
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10:30 p.m. $27, $67 with dinner. Repeats Sat.
James Moody (right) is a certified NEA Jazz Master, a saxophone and flute virtuoso whose 80th birthday was celebrated in December with an all-star performance at the Kennedy Center (he has since turned 81). Moody joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1946, struck off on his own three years later, and had his big hit with "Moody's Mood for Love" not long afterward. He later rejoined Gillespie for much of the 1960s, and rode out the '70s — a dismal period for jazz — in the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra. But Moody jumped back into the jazz limelight with a 1985 Grammy nomination for a solo on "Vocalese," the breakthrough album of the Manhattan Transfer. Moody's instrumental skills remain sublime. But don't be surprised to see him sing and tell a few jokes this weekend, too.
Fri 6-2 Ellen O'Brien Local gal O'Brien's past Regattabar appearances have leaned mostly R&B/ smooth jazz. But she knocked people out with her rawer take on the Etta James classic "At Last" at Al Vega's 85th birthday celebration last month. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $16.
Tues 6-6 Vernon Reid & Masque Guitar wizard Reid, best-known for fronting Living Colour, and his new band of cutting-edge genre-crossers are very much into doing their own thing. But that includes having covered everyone from Thelonious Monk ("Brilliant Corners") and Lee Morgan ("Sidewinder") to Radiohead ("National Anthem") and Depeche Mode ("Enjoy the Silence") thus far on disc. Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10 p.m. $20, $60 with dinner.