Mike Stern; Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey, Lenny White Trio; Tanglewood Jazz Festival
January 1, 1970This week's newsletter includes my review of last weekend's Tanglewood Jazz Festival, where Tony Bennett and Sonny Rollins gave especially impressive performances. You wouldn't think either of them was well into his seventies, but Bennett is 79 and Rollins turned 75 on Wednesday.
There were some young musicians at Tanglewood who didn't make it into the review for lack of space. But Esperanza Spalding (whom I profiled a few months ago) and Christian Scott (whom I plan to profile when his debut CD comes out and he performs in Boston early next year) played a first-rate free concert at the Tanglewood Jazz Cafe with three other musicians.
Other pieces this week included a profile of guitarist Mike Stern, a protege of the late, great Miles Davis. A couple of other quotes about Davis didn't make it into the story, for lack of space and for fear the story would start to seem more about Miles Davis than Mike Stern. But maybe they're worth repeating here.
The first concerns Miles's concern over Stern's drug and alcohol abuse. (Miles had wasted the late '70s on cocaine and cognac, according to his autobiography, and he famously kicked a heroin habit in the 1950s.)
"I played with Jaco [Pastorius] after Miles for a while, and then I really kind of bottomed out. I was already scraping the bottom for a while, and Miles actually tried to put me in a rehab at one point. So when Miles Davis tries to put you in a rehab you've got to figure you've got a little bit of a jones."
And here's a quote from Stern about Mile's never-ending love of bebop:
"We always tried to push him to do more bebop in the band we were in," says Stern of Davis. "He said, 'Nooo, that shit makes me feel old.' But he loved it. He always loved it."
The Calendar pick this week was a trio of guitarist Larry Coryell, electric bassist Victor Bailey, and drummer Lenny White — all important figures from jazz-rock fusion's 1970s heyday. I reviewed their first set Thursday for today's paper, but lack of space has gotten the review bumped to Monday — so expect to see it in next week's newsletter.
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Davis protege included among guitar greats
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | September 9, 2005
It was Miles Davis who made Mike Stern officially part of jazz guitar history. More precisely, it was the 1981 Davis track ''Fat Time," on which Stern played. The song was selected as the last cut on the four-CD box set "100 Years of Jazz Guitar," due out this month from Columbia Legacy. Among the other 73 guitar masters included are such Stern heroes as Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, and Jimi Hendrix.
"I was really honored they put that [as] the last thing to close the four CDs," says Stern, 52, who'll be leading a quartet at Regattabar two nights next week. Honored, too, he says, that the late Davis named that hard-rocking fusion tune selected for the box set after him.
"That's what he called me," Stern says of "Fat Time." "I was weighing a lot more in those days, because I was carrying on like crazy. And he always liked my time feel. He always told me I had 'fat time.'"
A few years later, Stern shed the drug and alcohol addiction that had packed on the extra weight (he's been sober for 22 years now), got rehired for Davis's band, and found Davis's nickname for him trimmed as well.
"I'd lost a lot of weight at that point," he recalls, "and he said, 'Oh, no more Fat Time.' So from then on he was just calling me Time, which was great."
That was a long time ago, but Stern shares Davis's openness to bringing other musical influences to jazz.
"Miles had this amazing attitude about music," says Stern. "It was always about just whatever got his heart. Some nights he'd talk about playing with Charlie Parker, how amazing that was.
"'We used to play eight hours a day,'" Stern says, quoting Davis and mimicking the trumpeter's familiar rasp. "He said they used to play all the time and just try to learn that way. And then he told me about the first time he heard Hendrix, with equal excitement. Be talking about Bird, then talking about Hendrix. It was all music to him, and if it got his heart, he wouldn't try to overthink it after that. Which was very cool. I certainly learned a lot from Miles in that regard."
Stern's own recent projects have emphasized a vocal sound. Sometimes that means literal vocals, with Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona usually doing the singing, as on Stern's two most recent CDs, "Voices" and "These Times." Other times it's the vocal quality Stern strives for with his guitar.
Like many jazz guitarists of his generation, Stern started off playing mostly rock and blues. It wasn't until he began studies at the Berklee College of Music that Stern became serious about jazz. But he retained those earlier influences.
"I didn't just say, 'Let me put this over here and get a fat jazz guitar and play more straight-ahead,'" Stern says. "I kind of took with me what I had grown up with, and tried to incorporate that with whatever I do today, which has got some of that Hendrix stuff and some Jim Hall and Wes."
Joining Stern at Regattabar are three musicians who, like him, are equally adept at playing rock-influenced fusion and straight-ahead jazz: saxophonist Bob Franceschini, bassist Chris Minh Doky, and drummer Kim Thompson. Thompson, a fresh face on drums, was impressive backing pianist Kenny Barron at the Regattabar last year.
"She's deep into more of a traditional jazz, Tony [Williams] and Jack [DeJohnette] and all those great players," Stern says. "But she can rock. I mean, it's very much from the heart the way she plays, and she's got all of that in her — all the funky kind of stuff, and swinging stuff. It's hard to find somebody who can cover all that stuff, and play with that kind of spirit and that kind of conviction."
Stern figures the mix next week will include enough straight-ahead material to justify his inclusion on the jazz guitar box set.
"We always do some swinging, that's for sure," says Stern. "But it's going to be some of my tunes, from my record. I've been doing more of my own tunes, because everybody seems to want to play original stuff more. But we always end up doing some swinging, at least for a couple of the tunes."
Mike Stern performs at the Regattabar on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Tickets $22.50. Call 617-395-7757, www.regattabarjazz.com.
Hurricane relief: Scullers has announced that profits from New Orleans native Terence Blanchard's two sets Thursday will be donated to the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund. And New England Jazz Alliance president Ron Gill reports that the local jazz community is in the early stages of planning a major concert to help the New Orleans cause.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
The Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey, Lenny White Trio
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. $20. Repeats Fri.
Three decades or so ago, jazz musicians of a certain age tended to harbor dueling loyalties. They loved the straight-ahead jazz of their forebears, but had a thing for rock and other forms of pop music going on around them, too. That's how jazz-rock fusion came to be born, and what compelled three of its pioneers to join forces on "Electric," the two-week-old album they'll be promoting at Regattabar tonight and tomorrow. Guitarist Larry Coryell (inset) was last seen in these parts playing a straight-ahead solo set at the JVC Jazz Festival Newport last month. But Coryell, along with John McLaughlin, invented fusion guitar in the late 1960s, and his partners for "Electric" each played key roles in behemoth 1970s fusion bands: Victor Bailey followed Jaco Pastorius in the Weather Report electric bass chair, and Lenny White was the standout longtime drummer for Return to Forever. Their new disc includes originals composed by each of them, but it's the five covers that most succinctly summarize the range of their collective tastes. They include tunes identified with James Brown ("Sex Machine"), Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog"), and bluesman Albert King ("Born Under a Bad Sign"), plus one apiece by jazz greats Miles Davis ("So What") and Wayne Shorter ("Footprints").
Tues 9-13 Syncopation The Boston-based quartet of Christy Bluhm, Christine Fawson, Jeremy Ragsdale, and Tsunenori "Lee" Abe specializes in a cappella jazz vocals, but Fawson blows a wicked trumpet when she wants to, too. Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 p.m. $15, $55 with dinner.
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At Tanglewood, a dazzling array of jazz talent
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | September 5, 2005
LENOX — This year's Tanglewood Jazz Festival seemed carefully calibrated to appeal to each of several distinct jazz tastes. From the Latin jazz that officially opened the festival Friday night to the swinging pop perfection of Tony Bennett on Saturday — his fee, Bennett announced, would be donated to help victims of Hurricane Katrina — to yesterday's instrumental pyrotechnics of saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins and the festival-closing double bill of fusion and smooth jazz, there was something to please just about everyone.
The festival, which drew nearly 19,000 fans, officially got underway with a hot set from the Caribbean Jazz Project featuring vibraphonist Dave Samuels, highlighted by the group's Latinization of Oliver Nelson's classic "Stolen Moments." Diane Schuur then joined the band onstage and let her 3 1/ 2-octave vocal range loose on tunes from their joint album, "Schuur Fire," by composers including Berkshires resident James Taylor ("Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight") and Stevie Wonder ("As").
Harmonica legend Toots Thielemans was up next, joined by Kenny Werner on piano, "Schuur Fire" arranger-producer Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, and Airto Moreira on drums and percussion. The addition of Castro-Neves and Moreira seemed to energize Thielemans and Werner.
These four masters played a splendid set that included covers of Michel Legrand, Antonio Carlos Jobim (Castro-Neves sang Jobim's "Waters of March"), and "God Bless America." Musician's musician Werner played a brilliant set, mostly (and mercifully) ignoring the synthesizer atop his Steinway grand.
A noon concert by the Legends Trio — Skitch Henderson, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Jay Leonhart, bass — opened Saturday's events, and was followed by another legend, Marian McPartland, taping an episode of her show "Piano Jazz" with guest Madeleine Peyroux. Besides some good music, the audience heard McPart-land read several takes of the "beastly" announcements she's obliged to read on air. There were also two takes of Peyroux and McPartland performing "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" together, though oddly enough neither time was the devastation in that city mentioned.
The Count Basie Orchestra opened for Bennett later that night, Basie vet Bill Hughes directing and the dreadlocked Tony Suggs providing an approximation of the late Basie's minimalist piano. Then Bennett brought out his crack rhythm section — Lee Muskier, piano; Gary Sargent, guitar; Paul Langosch, bass; Harold Jones, drums — and, joined by the Basie horns, conjured up those halcyon days when jazz and pop music were one and the same.
Bennett belted his way through so many tunes in such crisp succession it appeared he might empty the Great American Songbook. Highlights included "I'll Be Seeing You," a series of three tunes by Duke Ellington, and the inevitable "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Bennett also paused midway through the set to tell the crowd of 6,800, "I'd like to tell you that I'm not working for money tonight, because I'm giving it to those fellows down South."
Sonny Rollins, in especially fine form, commandeered most of his sextet's soloing yesterday afternoon. He sparkled on a tour de force run through Irving Berlin's "They Say Falling in Love Is Wonderful," working that melody inside and out over and over to smiles from his band and a standing ovation from the audience.
Rollins closed his superlative set with "Without a Song," then was coaxed back onstage by another standing ovation for an encore ballad. All that was left then was for the fusion group Yellowjackets and contemporary-jazz trumpeter Chris Botti to wrap things up with their festival-closing double bill.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company