Hank Jones, Gutbucket, SF Jazz Collective
January 1, 1970The column was about Hank Jones this week, who is in town for a four-day residency at Harvard that concludes with a concert honoring him tomorrow night. Jones continues playing piano brilliantly at age 86 (he'll turn 87 this summer), and he's as courtly a gentleman as you'll ever meet. He's also the elder brother of the late, great drummer Elvin Jones and the late, great arranger-composer-bandleader-trumpet Thad Jones. These guys make the Marsalises look like sluggards in compartison.
I also made it out to catch the SF Jazz Collective perform last Sunday, an eight-piece band under the direction of Joshua Redman. This group, in some sense, is a more adventurous version of the Wynton Marsalis-lad Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Tomorrow's Sunday Boston Globe will have a much-condensed e-mail Q&A with tenor great Charles Lloyd, who will perform at Scullers next Thursday and Friday. That will make it into next week's newsletter, along with a more complete version of the exchange. Lloyd is quite a talented writer — his memories of the years he spent in Big Sur, California, are downright poetic (and didn't make it into the Globe version).
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High praise for the low-profile Hank Jones
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 8, 2005
Pianist Hank Jones is the eldest and least well-known of the three great Jones brothers of jazz.
The late Elvin Jones, Hank's junior by nine years, revolutionized jazz drumming in the early 1960s as a member of John Coltrane's legendary quartet. Middle brother Thad, an arranger and composer who died in 1986, made his name playing trumpet with Count Basie in the mid-1950s and cofounding the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra a decade later.
Now 86, Hank was smartly labeled "the dean of jazz pianists" by the New Yorker a few years ago. Still, his self-effacing manner, his genius as an accompanist, and his deft interpretations of others' compositions have conspired to keep his profile relatively low.
But student musicians in Harvard's various jazz ensembles are getting to know Jones and his work quite well this week. They'll be joining Jones and saxophonist Joe Lovano at Sanders Theatre on Sunday for "Thanking Hank: A Salute to the Piano Master," a concert culminating Jones's four-day residency in Cambridge.
(A "Learning From Performers" discussion with Jones at 3:30 p.m. today in the living room at Cabot House, 60 Linnaean St., Cambridge, is free and open to the public.)
In Jones, the students are encountering a musician unusually steeped in jazz history, and one who remains very active. A notable recent triumph was joining bassist George Mraz and drummer Paul Motian for Lovano's "I'm All for You," an album of ballads that topped some critics' lists as best jazz album of 2004. The project went over so well that the quartet reassembled for a second CD, "Joyful Encounter," due out from Blue Note next month.
Jones got his start playing piano in Pontiac, Mich., third in line at the family piano behind two elder sisters. His early influences included Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole, and Art Tatum. Elements of his style, such as his subtle use of dynamics and the active, stride-like use of his left hand, can be traced back to the heroes of his youth.
After several years of performing professionally in the Midwest, Jones moved to New York in 1944, his friend and onetime bandmate Lucky Thompson having gotten him a job with Hot Lips Page. But union rules required a waiting period before he could begin working with Page's band. He spent the time going out to clubs and hearing music, and adding to his list of piano influences.
"I knew nothing of Bud Powell and [Thelonious] Monk, people like that, until I arrived in New York," says Jones. "One of the places I went was the Three Deuces, where Charlie Parker was working with Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, or Al Haig. They were playing down there, and then you had Max Roach or Stan Levy playing drums. Fantastic group. And playing a different style — a very exciting, very cerebral style. And it was difficult to play. You had to listen carefully to even absorb it. A lot of people didn't like it, including some musicians."
That style, of course, was bebop, and Jones was catching it right at its inception. It wasn't long before Jones was playing bebop with Parker on Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. Those tours led to other work, most notably several years as accompanist to Ella Fitzgerald and some late-'50s stints touring with Benny Goodman. By 1959, though, Jones was ready to come off the road. He spent the next 17 years as staff pianist at CBS, where he worked on hit TV programs including "The Jackie Gleason Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show," did two or three radio shows a week, and accompanied a steady stream of auditioning singers.
"People used to say to me, incredulously, 'Why are you working at CBS? You could be out on the road making five times as much money,'" Jones recalls. "They forgot to mention that the road has its drawbacks, too. You lose a lot of sleep, you do a lot of traveling, you stay in sometimes less than four-star hotels, and eat food that is not, let's say, the very best food possible. I considered all that. I thought working at CBS was an advantage for me, because I was able to build a modest financial base, and I could count on checks coming every week."
It wasn't until 1975 that Jones resumed freelancing full time, and he's been doing it ever since. Highlights among his recordings include a couple of trio dates with his brother Elvin: "Upon Reflection," an examination of 10 pieces by their brother Thad, and last year's "Someday My Prince Will Come."
Then there's his copious sideman work. Hank Jones may not be a household name, but his fellow musicians revere him.
"I've learned so much playing with him as far as spontaneous orchestration for a quartet," says Lovano. "He doesn't play a thousand choruses like a lot of people. He's really clear and focused, and he could play two choruses on any given tune and it's as deep as someone else might have to play 10 [to accomplish]."
Lovano continued: "He's the ultimate as far as leading a rhythm section and playing with the kind of execution that feeds you and follows you at the same time. He doesn't just play chords and rhythm. He feels the music so beautifully."
Special events: This weekend is a busy one for campus-based concerts, with the proceeds from two to help tsunami victims. At Berklee Performance Center tonight, Russell Ferrante and Marcus Baylor of the Yellowjackets will lead Berklee students through a performance of selections from the famed fusion group's songbook. On Sunday, at the same place, Berklee faculty will perform "The Great American Songbook: The Music of Cole Porter," proceeds going to Mercy Corps' tsunami relief efforts. Also: a lengthy list of local musicians will perform from 3 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Roxbury Community College's Media Arts Building (1234 Columbus Ave.) in a benefit concert for Oxfam America.
Hank Jones will perform with guest Joe Lovano and the Harvard University jazz bands at "Thanking Hank: A Salute to the Piano Master" on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Sanders Theatre. Tickets: $15 ($8, students and seniors). Call 617-496-2222.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Gutbucket Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 7 p.m. $15.
If you like the frenzied, genre-blurring improvisations of Sex Mob, chances are you'll dig Gutbucket. The six-year-old quartet - Ken Thomson, saxophone; Ty Citerman, guitar; Eric Rockwin, bass; Paul Chuffo, drums - blends free jazz, hardcore rock, oddball time signatures, and other elements into a cacophonous, humor-laden sound all its own, even if critics can't help hearing traces of Ornette Coleman, Sonic Youth, Albert Ayler, and the Pixies in the mix. On tap tomorrow will be tunes from the group's year-old CD, "Dry Humping the American Dream." The CD is good fun, and Gutbucket's live shows are said to be even more so. Time Out New York warns concertgoers to "Keep all limbs, drinks and small children well clear of manic sax dervish Ken Thomson." You'd better be receptive to rock, too. "We've all had training in jazz," explains Thomson, "but we'd like to move outside that world into the rock world, and actually bring something new to that."
Sun 4/ 10 "Thanking Hank: A Salute to Hank Jones" A concert featuring piano great Hank Jones and special guest Joe Lovano performing with the Harvard Jazz Bands wraps up Jones's four-day residency at Harvard University. Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St., Harvard Square, Cambridge. 617-496-2222. 7 p.m.. $15, $8 students and seniors.
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Group's talented parts add up to a thrilling whole
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 5, 2005
Sunday night marked the first visit to Boston by the two-year-old SFJazz Collective, San Francisco's answer to New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The all-star octet played a mix of John Coltrane classics and new compositions by its own members, and did so with such brio and skill that one can only hope for many more such visits.
Led by SFJazz artistic director Joshua Redman, the group has emphasized postmodern jazz over bebop and swing. Between that and commissioning a fresh piece from its members each year, the collective seems more energized than its East Coast rival.
The group led off with Coltrane's familiar "Moment's Notice," on which trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Renee Rosnes, and bassist Matt Penman all took solid solos. Coltrane's ballad "Naima" followed, with vibraphone great Bobby Hutcherson's graceful solo accompanied by unison horn lines arranged by Gil Goldstein.
An original by Penman led to two of the night's highlights: Payton's "Scrambled Eggs" and Redman's "Half Full." The former, Redman explained, took as its starting point "Humpty Dumpty" by Chick Corea. "As you can imagine," Redman said, ''this is what happens when Humpty falls."
The piece opened with a series of loud, brief notes from the four horns, then moved on to its jagged, angular melody. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and trombonist Isaac Smith each took delightful solos, Smith's starting off with a phrase reminiscent of Three Stooges theme music, then moving on to high-pitched peeps that sounded almost electronic. Payton stood smiling as an Anthony Braxton-ish horn line built in frenzy toward a sudden ending.
Two more Coltrane standards followed: the highly spiritual "Crescent," with a brilliant solo from Payton, and the breakneck "26-2," part of Coltrane's chord-heavy "Giant Steps" cycle, which in this instance featured Zenón's Birdlike blowing and an up-tempo solo from Hutcherson.
Zenón's own complex, rapid-fire "Two and Two" followed, which despite its similar name, Redman explained, "bears no relationship to '26-2,' except that it's darn hard." The collective, however, made it look easy.
At: Berklee Performance Center, Sunday night
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company