Another Kind of Blue, Monk semi-finalists
January 1, 1970Just one piece this week, with a bit more about this year's Thelonious Monk competition appended at the end. I was busy entertaining German relatives or there would have been a review of this year's Tanglewood Jazz Festival as well.
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Tribute to Miles: Kind of Latin
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | September 10, 2004
Is there a Spanish word for chutzpah? The news that something called "Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis" was coming to the Regattabar for three nights this week may have planted that question in a few skeptical minds.
"Kind of Blue" is probably the most famous album in jazz history. Miles Davis recorded it in 1959, with John Coltrane and the rest of Davis's phenomenal sextet of that period, and it went on to become the most popular straight-ahead jazz album of all time. For many, it is also the best. Beloved by musicians and fans alike, "Kind of Blue" has become so revered that a few years ago two competing books appeared documenting the making of it.
It takes brass to tinker with such success, and trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch are providing it. It's not the first time they've Latinized the work of one of their jazz idols, either. Herwig's 1996 CD, "The Latin Side of John Coltrane" (they were co-leading the band even then, but the CD is under Herwig's name), added Afro-Caribbean rhythms to such Coltrane masterworks as "A Love Supreme," "Naima," and "Afro Blue" and wound up a Grammy finalist for best Latin jazz album.
Not bad for a couple of guys who grew up in Hawaii (Herwig) and Milwaukee (Lynch) and are both best known for playing more mainstream jazz. Each has made numerous non-Latin albums under his own name, and both also stay busy as sidemen in other top straight-ahead ensembles — Herwig with the Mingus Big Band and Joe Lovano's nonet, Lynch as a member of the Phil Woods quintet.
They met in 1982 in Toshiko Akiyoshi's band, but the seeds of these Latin projects were planted in the '90s on bandstands with Eddie Palmieri, in whose adventuresome Latin jazz groups Herwig, 44, and Lynch, who turns 48 on Sunday, still both occasionally perform.
"An Eddie Palmieri concert is like starting with a familiar palette of colors and then creating a new painting every night," explains Herwig. "We used to just improvise on some of Eddie's tunes. He had a tune called `V.P. Blues,' and we would spontaneously riff on Coltrane's `Blue Train' over the top of it."
"Another Kind of Blue" actually began as a wider-reaching "Latin Side of Miles Davis" project, with Herwig, Lynch, and a band including special guests Paquito D'Rivera and Dave Valentin recording — live, at New York's Blue Note jazz club — Latinized arrangements of "Solar," "Seven Steps to Heaven," and "Sketches of Spain" in addition to the material from "Kind of Blue."
The decision to put out a CD built around "Kind of Blue" earlier this year was one of marketing, and Herwig and Lynch are hopeful that the rest of the Davis material will come out on a second CD sometime next year. (Another CD of their Latinized Coltrane, "Que Viva Coltrane," is due out next month.)
"Everybody from your grandmother to the soccer coach knows ["Kind of Blue"], has a copy," notes Herwig. "So that's kind of unusual — it's the musicians' musicians' cult record, and the average public knows about it too, and enjoys it."
Still, it isn't their grandma's "Kind of Blue" folks will be hearing at the Regattabar. "When we do `All Blues,' we're doing it as a boogaloo cha-cha," says Herwig.
Herwig figures he and Lynch have earned the right to do so. "Both Brian and I have literally played probably 2,000 or more salsa gigs. And I'm talking about playing for the people in the Bronx, or uptown in Manhattan, at 3 in the morning, for a dance crowd."
Yes, it was bold to put their own Latin stamp on a masterpiece like "Kind of Blue." But Herwig and Lynch insist they did so out of respect.
"I feel like `Kind of Blue' is like an old friend," says Lynch. "I'm not trying to take its place or anything like that. I couldn't do that."
Monk time: This Sunday, two singers with Boston ties will be among 13 semifinalists competing in Washington, D.C., in this year's prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, cohosted by Herbie Hancock and Billy Dee Williams, with special guest Quincy Jones. Rachael Price, a 19-year-old sophomore at New England Conservatory, was surprised to have been chosen for one of the slots. "I did the tape I sent in at the last moment," she said earlier this week from her home in Hendersonville, Tenn. "I still can't believe I'm going."
Robin McKelle, 28, a Berklee graduate ('99) who now teaches in the school's voice department, will be singing three songs but is keeping them a secret in case she decides to switch. "I don't know what the vibe will be," she says. "You kind of want to feel it out when you get there."
Three finalists will compete for top honors on Monday in front of judges including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau, and Jimmy Scott.
"Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis," co-led by Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch, will be at the Regattabar tonight and tomorrow night, with sets at 7:30 and 10. $20. 617-395-7757.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company