Chuck Gabriel, Jane Monheit, Dave Holland
January 1, 1970The emphasis was on jazz bass this week, with Friday's column a profile of Chuck Gabriel to coincide with a three-concert local tour to tout his septet's debut album, "Blueprints," and a Q&A interview with Dave Holland earlier in the week.
The Holland interview broke the news that Holland, in town this past week for a four-day teaching residency at New England Conservatory, has signed on as NEC artist-in-residence, in which capacity he'll be making similar four-day stops at the school each semester. It also has Holland passing along a joke about bass solos that Ray Brown once told him.
In between, there was a little Calendar blurb about Jane Monheit — another Calendar writer having already laid claim to writing about Luciana Souza, who performs at the Regattabar on Monday, and whom I'd have written about instead of Monheit had I had my druthers. (I'd already done a Q&A with Monheit a couple of months back, after all.)
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Bassist fine-tunes band to his liking
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | February 11, 2005
The seeds of what became bassist-composer Chuck Gabriel's blues-fueled debut CD, "Blueprint," were planted nearly seven years ago, when Gabriel returned home to Merrimack, N.H., from an ill-fated cruise ship job in the Caribbean.
Gabriel, whose septet launches a three-concert tour in support of the new disc tonight at the Artists-at-Large Gallery in Hyde Park, had signed on for what he thought was six weeks of performing with a trio aboard ship. But the group's drummer/bandleader clashed with the ship's management, and the trio was fired after a week.
"I had paid my rent for the summer, in advance before leaving," recalls Gabriel, now 34 and living in Watertown, "so I got back to New Hampshire and was broke and had a lot of time on my hands. The situation on that cruise ship gig was so bad, and it was very uncreative. So I think I just got home and wanted to shoot the moon, and write exactly the music that I wanted to write."
That meant music drawing heavily from the blues, to be performed by a septet that included — but wasn't dominated by — electric guitar. Gabriel's blues would swing hard, be built around quirky unison horn lines, and yet leave soloists plenty of freedom to improvise. Blues as interpreted by a sophisticated jazz ensemble, that is, rather than commonplace bar-band stuff.
"Before I went on the ill-fated cruise ship gig," Gabriel says, "I was doing a lot of playing in blues bands and R&B stuff. There's a lot of that in New Hampshire. I liked the sound, the timbres involved in it and the moods. But I found that, in performance, where the tunes can go is not very flexible. When I was writing that first bunch of tunes I had a bunch of things that I wanted to draw on that were around me, and the guitar fit into it that way."
And the septet? That came from Gabriel's desire for a band that was neither too large nor too small.
"I wanted to have a big enough band that there could be multiple lines happening all the time," he says. "Overlapping lines was really important to the way I was thinking about the music. But also not so large that I as the bass player couldn't have certain amounts of mobility."
Gabriel didn't actually assemble a band for another couple of years, when he did so for his master's recital at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Aside from Chinese guitarist Lawrence Ku (who has since returned to Beijing and been replaced by Eric Byers), everyone else in the band — Charlie Kohlhase on alto sax, Sean Berry on tenor sax, Scott Grant on trombone, Mark Shilansky on piano, Don Holm on drums — has ties to New Hampshire, though Gabriel didn't meet most of them until relocating to Boston.
Kohlhase had been a hero of Gabriel's for his work on his own albums and with the Either/Orchestra. Landing him for the septet, though, was Shilansky's idea.
"He said, 'Why don't you call Kohlhase?'" recalls Gabriel. "And I thought, 'That's great, Mark. And while I'm at it I'll call Sonny Rollins to play tenor, and forget you, I'll get Kenny Barron to play piano.'"
But Shilansky insisted Gabriel should "think big."
"There's no reason why some of the greatest players that he'd grown up listening to wouldn't want to play this stuff," says Shilansky. "It's hard to find situations to play creative music. But also, I knew that on the merits of the music Charlie wouldn't say no."
Other Gabriel heroes influenced the compositions themselves. From Mingus and Dave Holland, he borrowed both his ensemble's medium size and his improvisation-friendly arrangements. From Thelonious Monk, the quirky logic of the compositions.
"You can hear a phrase or something out of a Monk tune," explains Gabriel, "and it may sound very angular and dissonant, but over the course of the tune the logic of the whole thing is revealed."
Most importantly, other masters — Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, David Murray, Roland Kirk — inspired Gabriel through "the amount of variety that they're able to get out of treatments of the blues.
"It's an archetypal form," says Gabriel, "but there always seems to be another way to approach it."
The Chuck Gabriel Septet will perform tonight at Artists-at-Large Gallery, 6 Webster St., Hyde Park. 8 p.m. $8. 617-276-3223. Also on Sunday at First Parish in Malden, Universalist, 2 Elm St., Malden. 3 p.m. $10 ($5 students and seniors). 781-322-0474.
Masekela concert: "An Evening With Hugh Masekela" is being held tonight at the DoubleTree Guest Suites to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. The $125 admission price includes a reception featuring a performance by the Boston Arts Academy Charlie Brown Blues Band, an autographed copy of the South African trumpeter's autobiography and companion CD (both titled "Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela"), and dinner. Proceeds from the event will support a Masekela-led master class for students from the Boston Arts Academy and Berklee College of Music, the international tour of the South African art exhibit "A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa," and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. Call 617-576-0680.
Columbia/Legacy and Verve have raided their vaults in celebration of another big date coming up Monday: Valentine's Day. Columbia/Legacy is offering four "Love Songs" compilations, featuring Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Ramsey Lewis, and Marlene Dietrich. Verve is countering with "Nina Simone for Lovers" and "Ben Webster for Lovers."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10 p.m. Ticket only, $28, $76 with dinner. Also Feb. 11-12, weekend prices $32 & $80.
Luciana Souza's star might be rising even faster if she had Jane Monheit's publicists. It was Monheit who was crowned "The 'It" Girl" on Down Beat's December cover a couple of months ago, though she failed to make the cut in that issue's readers poll of favorite female vocalists. What she did do was jump to Sony Classical with a new CD, "Taking a Chance on Love," which leapt immediately to No. 1 on Billboard's jazz charts and has slipped only a few spots since. This will likely make future appearances by Monheit in intimate, Scullers-sized rooms an endangered species, as she increasingly moves her blend of jazz, pop, and cabaret into larger venues. Admittedly, most hard-core jazz buffs consider Monheit overrated. But judging by sales figures, oodles of other listeners love her. If you're one of them, here's what could prove a dwindling opportunity to hear her up close.
Fri 2/11 Dave Bryant Quartet/Eric Zinman Trio A double-bill of adventuresome free-jazz pianists, Bryant was most noticeable as a onetime member of Ornette Coleman's band Prime Time. Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 9:30 p.m. $12.
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Dave Holland brings his bass to the head of the class at NEC
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | February 8, 2005
Composer and bass player Dave Holland, fresh off a spectacular 2004 that saw him dominating jazz polls and launching his own record label (the first release, "Overtime," is due out Feb. 22), is in the midst of a four-day intensive teaching residency at New England Conservatory. It's not Holland's first stint at NEC; he taught there between 1987 and 1990. Nor will it be the last: Holland is slated to become NEC artist-in-residence beginning next year, which will involve similar visits by him once each semester.
BB: Let's start with the big question: Can jazz be taught?
DH: Well, it is taught. It's been taught ever since it started. It's just not been institutionalized teaching, mostly. It's been taught through transmission from one musician to another. For me, that's still the best way.
BB: Who were some of your best teachers?
DH: I had a formal teacher for the bass. He was a classical bassist, James Edward Merritt. He taught at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and I studied with him for four years. He was the principal bassist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Apart from that I had teachers all through my life who have been friends and musicians that I've played with. I'm still learning from the musicians that I play with.
BB:You joined the NEC faculty full time in the late '80s. What made you decide to do that, and what made you decide to leave?
DH: I wanted to retreat from the music business for a couple of years, and I enjoy teaching. In its best form it's a very pure and unspoiled way of dealing with the music and talking to young players who have that uncorrupted sort of view of what the music is.
BB: You've asked the students who attend your two afternoon jazz bass master classes to work up solo pieces to perform for you.
DH: Yeah. What better way to judge a person's musical ability than to have them play a piece of music for you?
BB: During one of your sets with Jim Hall in Cambridge this past December, you mentioned performing in front of Charles Mingus when you were younger.
DH: Oh yeah, a couple of times. On my 30th birthday I was playing at the Vanguard with Betty Carter, and Mingus came in to hear Betty and was very nice to me and gave me a few encouraging words.
BB: There are people out there who think that bass solos are boring and that there are too many of them. Gary Giddins, for example, has jokingly likened them to TV commercials. What's your opinion?
DH: Ray Brown told me this joke. It's about a married couple that wasn't speaking to each other. Psychiatrist said, "Go down to this place, I'll give you an address, and you'll find a table and a couple of chairs. Just sit there and something will happen, and then this will help you." So they go down, sit down at this table, and out comes a bass player, and he starts playing a solo. And the couple immediately starts talking to each other. OK, as far as bass solos are concerned, certainly in my band you won't hear me playing a bass solo every tune. I don't want to hear a bass solo every tune. I don't want to play a bass solo every tune. On the other hand, bass solos are no less interesting in my mind than any other instrument if they're done creatively, with form and taste and development and so on.
BB: Besides being a bass player, you're a celebrated bandleader and arranger-composer. Are you teaching those other things during your NEC residency?
DH: Absolutely. I'm going to be doing probably one or two master classes with the bass players, but there's going to be a composition class, ensemble classes. I'm planning on covering quite a wide range of what I have to offer.
BB: You've also now launched your own record label, Dare2 Records. Will you spend time speaking with your students about that being the wave of the future?
DH: Absolutely. One of the things that needs to be talked about with young musicians is how to run their business and how to watch out for themselves and learn from the mistakes of the past. You have to be creative in business as well as in music.
Dave Holland performs Thursday night at 8 in Jordan Hall. The free concert, featuring Holland performing his compositions with NEC students, is open to the public. Call 617-585-1122.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company