Donald Harrison, Chris Botti, 2004 in review, 10 best concerts
January 1, 1970This week's stuff includes a profile of Donald Harrison and a round-up of jazz in 2004, including a list of the 10 best concerts I saw this past year that the Globe asked me to put together.
Last night Kim and I caught Donald Harrison at Berklee for his segment of last night's NPR "Toast of the Nation" ringing in of the new year. As I told him afterward, the concert would have made the top 10 if it hadn't happened past my deadline. Harrison and his trumpet-playing newphew, Christian Scott, were especially great. They led the audience in a Mardi Gras Indian call-and-response (Harrison is a big chief of the one of the tribes, and Scott says he's been a Spy Boy since he was four years old), did some Mardi Gras dancing, and Harrison even warbled his way through a Ray Charles tune. That all in addition to some very fine bebop and "nouveau swing."
A young pianist from Chicago named Dan Kaufman played half the Harrison set (he didn't make it into my story, alas, because I didn't realized he'd have such a large role in the set). And Christian Scott played brilliantly — we'll be hearing a lot about him in coming years, as he's already signed to a recording contract with Concord Records. He's the latest in a long line of great trumpeters from New Orleans dating back to the greatest of them all.
Kim and I managed to snap a few digital photos of the action last night. They'll go up among the baby photos a little later today.
Happy New Year, everyone, and have a great 2005.
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Berklee alum ready to 'Toast' new year
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 31, 2004
Several names were tossed around as potential headliners when WGBH-FM (89.7) was told it would contribute a special live New Year's Eve segment on National Public Radio's "Toast of the Nation."
The station decided to broadcast a concert by Donald Harrison, says program director Steve Charbonneau, "because we wanted to have somebody who was steeped in the tradition but also had the right kind of star power and was very hip."
Harrison, 44, a standout alto saxophonist who cut his professional teeth with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the early '80s had the added qualification of being an alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, which is cohosting the local leg of the event with WGBH. And Harrison is hip to what makes the event special, having fronted a "Toast of the Nation" segment from New Orleans a few years ago.
"We actually played at midnight that time, did 'Auld Lang Syne,'" Harrison recalls from New York, where last week he was pianist Cyrus Chestnut's special guest at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola . "It's probably the biggest radio broadcast, in terms of notoriety, in this country."
Joining Harrison will be his nephew Christian Scott on trumpet (who recorded with Harrison five years ago at age 16); John Lamkin on drums; and the brothers Luques and Zaccai Curtis on bass and piano, respectively.
That Harrison would have three recent Berklee and New England Conservatory students join him is no surprise. (Scott and Zaccai Curtis are Berklee and NEC graduates, and Luques Curtis is a Berklee student.) He's been scouting out young talent for years.
"What Art did for me I always wanted to do for other people," Harrison says.
"It's important for me that this kind of music stays around. And that [young musicians] tell their story from their perspective."
Classrooms, Harrison knows, can go only so far. There, "you can learn the mechanics of music, he says. "Like if you're an electrician, then you would know this wire goes to this wire. But until you actually do it, it's all a theory."
Berklee ranks above other schools in that regard, Harrison says, because of its exceptional faculty. "You have Bill Pierce, who's one of the greatest saxophonists in the world. Larry Monroe is another great saxophonist. That's like having Lester Young at your school."
Pierce, who was a member of Jazz Messengers, introduced Harrison to Blakey when Pierce was juggling his spot in Blakey's band with teaching duties at Berklee.
"Bill said, 'Come into the dressing room with me,'" Harrison recalls. "And Art was sitting there holding court, and Bill said, 'This is my student. Man, he's something else.' So Art says, 'Well, where's your horn?' I said, 'I left it at the school.' And he said, 'Go get it.'
"I got to play with Art Blakey that night. And he told me, 'One day, I'm going to be looking for you.'"
That day came in 1982, when Blakey tapped Harrison and trumpeter Terence Blanchard to succeed Wynton and Branford Marsalis in the Messengers' front line. Blanchard and Harrison went on to co-lead their own band for several years afterward, then moved on to their own things.
Harrison returned home to New Orleans and put out several well-received CDs in a style he calls "nouveau swing," mixing straight-ahead post-bop jazz with more danceable stuff — R&B, funk, hip-hop, Mardi Gras Indian chants.
"I hear music like maybe a Rubik's Cube," he explains. "I hear it with interchangeable parts. I can hear the connection with all types of music. I like to go to clubs and dance, so when I'm dancing I'm also hearing Art Blakey playing the ride cymbal behind, maybe, a song by Digable Planets."
For tonight's NPR audience, Harrison says, he and the band will be touching on several styles — a little swing, a little bit of New Orleans, as well as some standards. "I like all the types of music that I play and have been associated with," he says. "I also think it's important that we have a depth of knowledge of knowing how to play a song by Charlie Parker, but then be able to go out and do what we want to do, too."
Harrison remembers a night Freddie Hubbard was sitting in with the Messengers, and Harrison, stunned by Hubbard's terrific trumpet playing, tried to shrink from the stage when his turn came to solo.
"You step up there and do what you do," Blakey told him. "Don't think about anything, just do what you're doing and get out of the way."
Hitting the road: Harrison and his young band mates will be toasting the nation in good company. Their performance at Berklee kicks off WGBH's coverage of the event from 7 to 8 p.m. The program will then broadcast a tribute to Shirley Horn, taped earlier this month at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
That segment features Horn herself singing, as well as performances by Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sheila Jordan, Kevin Mahogany, and Lizz Wright.
Then it's back to live music, with the show moving on to New York for two segments: a Quincy Jones-led tribute to Ray Charles at the Apollo Theater, followed by Cyrus Chestnut ringing in midnight with Frank Morgan at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.
From there, the toast heads West: blues from Clarksdale, Miss.; the Latin Giants of Jazz and special guest Eddie Palmieri from Denver; and finally the Joshua Redman Elastic Trio from Yoshi's in Oakland.
Donald Harrison will perform tonight at 6 at the Berklee College of Music. Tickets for the WGBH-FM fundraiser cost $150 and include dinner. Call 888-897-9424.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Calendar Jazz Picks
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Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 11 p.m. $50 and $60.
Smooth trumpeter Chris Botti is as jazzy as you'll get if you want a five-course dinner and champagne to accompany a musical ringing in of the New Year. The one-time sideman to Paul Simon and Sting has a new album out, "When I Fall in Love," that's riding high on contemporary jazz charts on the strength of its sleek romanticism and Botti's bottled-blond good looks. Botti's no favorite with jazz purists, but he doesn't try to be. "After I came to New York," Botti recalls in the biography section of one of his two official websites (www.bottiology.com), "I realized I didn't want to be a jazz musician. I love improvising, but you really need to live the bebop tradition in order to play it. That kind of music — the kind that Woody Shaw, for example, played so brilliantly — just moves a little too quickly for me. The music that really inspired me as a teenager was more like Miles Davis playing ballads with the second Quintet. ... But this atmospheric quality is what I really loved about jazz, and I've tried to marry that feel to the textures and melodies you might hear on a record by Peter Gabriel or Bryan Ferry."
Fri 12/31 Scullers is offering early and late New Year's Eve packages, including five-course dinners at the Boathouse Grille and a midnight champagne toast, for $269 and $339 per couple, respectively.
Tues 1/4 If it's something less smooth you're looking for, the Bad Plus will give it to you Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the Regattabar, two shows nightly at 7:30 and 10. Regattabar, the Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. $25.
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Live music venues really shook things up
Rooms and those who book them saw changes
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 26, 2004
The biggest news in jazz concerned changes in venues. Locally, Fenton Hollander was shown the door by Charles Hotel management after nearly 20 years of booking jazz at the Regattabar so those duties could be taken over by Steve Bensusan of the New York-based Blue Note jazz club empire.
Hollander responded by opening a rival club, the Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe, across town in the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center — and taking his extensive mailing list of jazz club patrons with him.
Ryles passed through some turbulence as well, as longtime booker Frank Vardaros was replaced early in the year by Brian Walkley and Willow Entertainment, only to be brought back to replace his replacement several months later. And while Fred Taylor remained at his longtime post across the Charles River at Scullers, concerns arose that the club might be in jeopardy when the DoubleTree Hotel was put up for sale.
The one room of note to experience smooth sailing, oddly, was Zeitgeist Gallery, the tiny Inman Square outlet for free jazz.
It will be interesting to see how all this shakes out next year and beyond. Will the Real Deal make a go of it way over there by the Lechmere T stop, where bars and restaurants are so much scarcer than in Harvard Square? Will Blue Note's international clout give it a monopoly on brand-name artists? Could Harvard's appetite for land in Allston cause it to gobble up the DoubleTree and put Scullers out of business in favor of, say, a dorm cafeteria?
And the biggest question of all: Is Boston's supply of jazz enthusiasts large and devoted enough to support this many clubs?
So far clubs are struggling. But that has been blamed on a confluence of hazards and distractions beyond the control of club bookers: a rickety economy, the presidential election, and the World Series march by the Red Sox.
Bensusan has also done some public grousing about the inconvenience of Hollander having retained his mailing list when he left the Regattabar, and he and Hollander have bickered over Hollander's enforcing of exclusivity contracts with artists who were signed while he was at the Regattabar.
But maybe somehow they can find a way to get along. And maybe audiences will start filling these clubs to where they can all be profitable. If so, an already thriving Boston jazz scene will become even stronger.
In New York, meanwhile, an already thriving scene got stronger in 2004 in a way that matters nationally, with the PBS-televised opening in October of the house that Wynton Marsalis built — the lavish new $128 million Jazz at Lincoln Center performing arts complex — on Marsalis's 43d birthday.
Housed in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, the complex boasts three spaces for jazz performances: the 1,100- to 1,200-seat Rose Theater, the 310- to 550-seat Allen Room (built amphitheater-style to accommodate performances without amplification), and the 140-seat Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola nightclub. Who will be performing in those rooms will be up to Marsalis, the longtime artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Marsalis was also a visible example of the trend of major record labels shedding jazz artists from their rosters. He put out the first two CDs of his career as a leader with a label other than Sony/Columbia in 2004. Blue Note Records brought him aboard after Marsalis and Columbia parted company after 20-plus years together.
Luckily for artists, small- and medium-size labels — Blue Note, Telarc, Sunnyside, Concord, and others — have been stepping into the big-label breach. And in some cases, artists have been starting up their own small labels. Branford Marsalis's Cambridge-based Marsalis Music, launched when he left Columbia a couple of years ago, put out three new CDs and a DVD in 2004, and just this month Dave Holland announced plans to launch Dare2 Records with his big band CD "Overtime" in February, the follow-up to the group's 2003 Grammy-winning "What Goes Around."
Yet another approach to getting music to the public in defiance of big-label indifference is ArtistShare, the online-service brainchild of Boston native Brian Camelio that opened for business this past spring and that offers mail-order CDs and MP3 downloads. The debut ArtistShare project, Maria Schneider's "Concert in the Garden," was a remarkable success, landing three Grammy nominations — for best large jazz ensemble album, best instrumental composition, and best jazz instrumental solo.
More remarkable still, the recording is completely unavailable in retail stores; the only place to get it is at Schneider's website, MariaSchneider.com.
Still, there wasn't any shortage of superb jazz recordings released on disc in 2004, as anyone can attest who struggled with choosing a 10-best list from the wealth of this year's riches.
Making a living from jazz is as tough as it's always been for musicians and promoters. But there is still a great deal of excellent jazz being created and performed.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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Bill Beuttler’s jazz picks
1. Shirley Horn at Scullers, June 12
2. Jim Hall and Dave Holland at the Real Deal Jazz Club & Cafe, Dec. 3
3. Dave Douglas at the Regattabar, Feb. 18
4. Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette at Symphony Hall, April 18
5. Kurt Elling at the Museum of Fine Arts, April 4
6. Ron Carter Trio at the Regattabar, March 12
7. Bill Charlap at the Regattabar, Aug. 17
8. Donal Fox at the Regattabar, April 24
9. Sonny Rollins at the Berklee Performance