Frank Morgan, Sherrie Maricle & the Diva Jazz Orchestra, Bill Charlap
January 1, 1970Three pieces this week: today's review of Frank Morgan's quartet at Scullers on Thursday night, a profile of Sherrie Maricle & the Diva Jazz Orchestra, and a Calendar preview of Bill Charlap's superb trio.
Besides the Morgan set Thursday, I managed to make it out again last night to catch Charlap's trio at Regattabar and the second set (and a bit of the first) of the Diva Jazz Orchestra and guest vocalist Marlena Shaw. The latter was even more impressive live than on disc, and Anat Cohen was as brilliant a clarinetist as Maricle and Tommy Newsom had told me she was. (Newsom, in a bit of the profile that got snipped for space, had told me that most sax players "own a clarinet. I was one of those." But Cohen, he said, is "unlimited" in her ability to actually play the thing.)
Karolina Strassmayer wasn't on hand at Scullers, alas (she's now working with a jazz orchestra in Germany), but Scheila Gonzalez shone on tenor sax (I'm told that Sonny Rollins himself is in love with her tone), Noriko Ueda was thoroughly impressive on bass, and the whole group in general lived up to its billing as a top-notch big band.
On Thursday, I also spent a little time as part of an ad hoc steering committee for the New England branch of the Jazz Journalists Association, along with Dawn Signh, Jon Hammond, and Cheryl Symister-Masterson. We did a little brainstorming on future JJA events, and the other three committed themselves to serving on the permanent steering committee. And while we were discussing all this at the bar area above Scullers, Frank Morgan passed our table and was called over to chat about his life in Taos, New Mexico, and other such pleasantries. Then he excused himself to head downstairs for the soundcheck for that evening's shows.
And a little while later it was time for yours truly to get back to work. (If listening to Morgan's ad hoc bebop band can really be thought of as work.)
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Saxophonist Morgan, veteran beboppers band together brilliantly
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 22, 2005
The buzz may have faded since alto saxophonist Frank Morgan leapt back into the jazz limelight two decades ago. But his musicianship most assuredly has not.
Morgan, 71, whose career was derailed for about 30 years because of drug problems, took the stage at Scullers on Thursday and delivered a night as close to the music of Charlie Parker as exists anywhere a half-century after the master's passing.
Supported by three comparably gifted veterans — Ronnie Mathews on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, Billy Hart on drums — Morgan began by whipping off a pretty and riveting version of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," which the leader jokingly announced as "A Night in Boston." Then he made a technical request. "I'd like to ask the sound man to turn everything down just a little bit," he said. "We're just a little bebop band."
And the quartet went right back to playing exemplary bebop. If there was anything "little" about these gentlemen, it was the offhandedness of their brilliance. (They are, all four of them, well beyond the need to be show-offy at this stage in their careers. New England Conservatory professor Hart is the baby of the group at 64; Mathews and McBee are both 69.)
On Parker's "Scrapple From the Apple," which they took at a relaxed tempo, McBee walked the bass along steadily and Morgan flittered sweetly overhead. The fun the musicians were having with this rare opportunity to perform together (Morgan generally sticks close to his New Mexico home) was evident: Mathews and Hart frequently smiled at each other as they played behind McBee's solo, as if sharing some private joke whenever Mathews floated an intriguing chord or Hart unveiled some rhythmic surprise.
Morgan's playing throughout was beautifully lyrical, but nowhere more than during the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein charmer "All the Things You Are." Morgan suffered a stroke in 1998, but you never would have known it from hearing him play — his only apparent concession to it on Thursday was that he performed seated on a barstool.
Mathews shined brightest on "Blue Monk," starting off his solo on the Thelonious Monk composition simply, with Monklike little dissonances flicked in amid halting phrases, then building to something particularly bluesy of his own, with McBee keeping a simple pulse below. Morgan took the tune's second solo, coming in with a Birdlike flurry of notes up front before slowing to something more contemplative.
Hart led off Parker's "Billie's Bounce" with a marvelous drum solo, then the rest of the band joined in for a casual sprint through the piece, each of the other three getting a solo as well. Mathews drew an appreciative chuckle from the crowd when, mindful of the weather outside, he slipped in a fast quote of "Sleigh Ride Together With You" during his.
McBee had the best of his several strong solos of the night on the set-ender, Monk's "52nd Street Theme," the perfect tune to close out this exquisite glance back toward the days when bebop was king and Bird, Monk, and Dizzy ruled that famous little strip of Manhattan.
At: Scullers, Thursday night, first set
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Diva swings to its own big band sound
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 21, 2005
Let's not harp on the unusualness of an all-female big band. Sherrie Maricle & the Diva Jazz Orchestra is one of the most talented big bands around these days. Period.
Diva has everything that makes for classic big band jazz down cold: smart, pegged-to-the-players arrangements; tight horn sections; an assortment of dazzling soloists; and the collective ability to swing like hell. Just last month it ranked No. 2 in the Down Beat Readers Poll's big-band category, trailing only Dave Holland's group. And the ensemble has been lauded by the eminent jazz writer Nat Hentoff in JazzTimes.
The orchestra will be performing at Scullers tonight and tomorrow with guest vocalist Marlena Shaw, and touting a brand-new CD, "T.N.T.," short for "Tommy Newsom Tribute."
Yes, that Tommy Newsom — the bandleader who often filled in for Doc Severinsen leading the orchestra on "The Tonight Show" and the straight man for all those Johnny Carson jokes. Newsom arranged all 10 tracks on Diva's new disc, among them his own compositions "Titter Pipes" and "Three Shades of Blue."
"It just occurred to us that Tommy has been such a contributor to our book for the whole life of the band," says Maricle, 41, Diva's drummer and leader, who launched the group with former Buddy Rich Big Band manager Stanley Kay in 1992. "We have so much of his music that we hadn't recorded, it just seemed a natural thing at the time to honor him. He's a very underrated writer and arranger in the jazz field. Many people don't realize he wrote most of the music that 'The Tonight Show' band played."
Diva, with a lineup of 15 musicians, plays from a listener-friendly songbook — for example, the Nat King Cole medley on the new CD joins three songs people already know and love. But like Newsom, the music is considerably hipper than it appears on the surface.
"Sometimes," says Maricle, "people come to see Diva because when they see 'big band' they think, 'Oh, it's Glenn Miller.' And then they come and they're disappointed, because it's not. But [we] take a lot of familiar melodies and have them rearranged for us, so that they're really, really challenging for the musicians, and exciting — fresh harmony and new rhythmic twists to it.
"It reminds me," she adds, "of what Woody Herman's band used to do: have accessible music for the audience, but also really fun and challenging for the players. And everything's going to swing."
That's certainly true of "T.N.T.," which swings especially hard on a clarinet solo by lead tenor sax player, Anat Cohen.
"She's one of the best clarinetists alive," says Maricle. "She's got a feature on a Benny Goodman tribute, 'What a Little Moonlight Can Do,' that's particularly extraordinary. And somewhat unique: Not too many sax players play such great clarinet."
Newsom, 75, who spent some time in Goodman's band before joining "The Tonight Show," agrees. "She's a fabulous player," he says.
He is equally impressed with Diva's lead alto player, Karolina Strassmayer. "I was sitting at a restaurant in Florida at one of these jazz parties," Newsom says. "The girls were playing in the other room, with a sextet or something, and Karolina started to play, and I saw Phil Woods jump out of his seat and run around the corner to see who was doing that. Which I thought was the ultimate compliment."
Newsom, who plays with the band from time to time, offers another incident to illustrate the band's prowess. It occurred at a charity event in Tampa. "I brought two new arrangements to accompany myself on the saxophone," he recalls. "We put it on the stand, we had no time to rehearse, and they played that thing like they knew it. It was stunning."
Not so stunning to Maricle, who has no worries that tonight's opening set with Shaw will be nearly as unrehearsed.
"My guess is that we'll probably open and do half the set," says Maricle, "and then she'll come out and do the other half. We'll rehearse that day. Everybody in the band is a great reader, so I'm sure we won't have any troubles. Because I know she swings her tail off, too."
Sherrie Maricle & the Diva Jazz Orchestra featuring Marlena Shaw will perform at Scullers tonight and tomorrow, two sets nightly at 8 and 10:30. $26. Call 617-562-4111.
A night of Cole
Yet more familiar orchestral jazz is in store when Berklee College of Music hosts "The Great American Songbook: The Music of Cole Porter." The Thursday evening performance, fourth in the school's eight-concert "Song's Nothing Conservatory About It" series, will feature faculty vocalists Donna McElroy and Maggie Scott, student vocalist Jeremy Ragsdale, arrangements and saxophone work by Larry Monroe, and Berklee's 40-piece Great American Songbook Orchestra.
Music director for the event is Richard Evans. General admission is $20 (there are discounts for seniors and WGBH members). Proceeds will benefit Mercy Corps tsunami relief efforts.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Bill Charlap Trio
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $20. Fri $22.50.
Bill Charlap is a pianist with an extraordinary pedigree. His father was the late Broadway composer Moose Charlap, his mother and the big band and cabaret vocalist Sandy Stewart. His professional associations include a two-year stint with Gerry Mulligan and an ongoing 10-year run with the Phil Woods Quintet. Singers he has accompanied include everyone from his mom to Tony Bennett. But Charlap in recent years has been garnering particular acclaim for his work with his trio, which includes bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation). Their CD "Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein," which came out last year, was especially impressive. As critic Terry Teachout wrote in the Washington Post: "Start with [Charlap's] warm-toned piano playing, as harmonically subtle as that of Bill Evans in his prime but more immediate in its melodic appeal. Add the smooth, super-sly drums of Kenny Washington and the rock-solid bass of Peter Washington, one of the best rhythm teams in the business, and you've got a working group whose playing, honed by countless hours on countless bandstands, is telepathically tight."
Thurs 1/20 Frank Morgan The alto sax master Frank Morgan arrives for one night of bebop and ballads, backed by fellow stalwarts Ronnie Mathews, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. Ticket only, $20; dinner/show, $58.