Art Imitates Life, And Vice Versa: Christian Scott And ‘Treme’

Fans of the trumpeter and bandleader Christian Scott may know that he’s done a little acting, appearing briefly in feature films like Rachel Getting Married and Leatherheads. Fans of the HBO program Treme know that he not only appears on camera: His life story partially inspired the character Delmond Lambreaux, a jazz trumpeter who has left New Orleans to pursue a career in New York. In fact, in episode one of season two, the character Delmond and the real Scott appeared on screen together, “performing” in New York City.

But if art imitated life, then life might just be imitating art in return. With the impending release of his new album Christian aTunde Adjuah, which you can currently hear via NPR Music’s First Listen series, Scott’s actual career now appears to mirror that of his fictional counterpart.

It’s far from an exact parallel, of course. But here are a few of the details. (Spoiler alert applies for those who haven’t seen the show.)

Christian Scott now lives in Harlem, but is from a musical family in New Orleans. His grandfather, Donald Harrison Sr., founded the real-life Guardians of the Flame Indian tribe; his uncle, Donald Harrison Jr., took over as Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame, and is a noted saxophonist. Scott is clearly talented; he was drafted into his uncle’s band as a teenager, assuring that he has a strong command of the jazz tradition. But compared against the New Orleans canon, he has insisted on his own distinctly modern artistic direction, one which “stretches” the conventions of jazz. Continue reading Art Imitates Life, And Vice Versa: Christian Scott And ‘Treme’

Remembering Laurie Frink, The ‘Trumpet Mother’ Of The Jazz Scene

Sometimes, the most important musicians are the ones farthest away from the spotlight.

Laurie Frink was a great trumpet player. Great enough to tour with jazz big bands led by Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan (where she played lead) and Maria Schneider; to be one of the first female trumpet players on the Broadway pit orchestra circuit in New York. As a freelancer, she was known for her ability to execute just about anything, no matter the level of difficulty. Continue reading Remembering Laurie Frink, The ‘Trumpet Mother’ Of The Jazz Scene

‘A Walking Encyclopedia Of Rhythms’: Remembering Steve Berrios

It is not easy to play both jazz drum set and Afro-Caribbean percussion. Lots of drummers do it, but few have mastered it in a way that makes their sound in either style unmistakable from the first beat.

The music community lost one of those true innovators Wednesday with the death of percussionist Steve Berrios in New York at age 68. Berrios could move seamlessly from jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms in a way that perfectly reflected his bicultural roots.

Berrios was a true Nuevoriqueño, born in New York in 1945 to parents who had recently arrived from Puerto Rico. His father was a percussionist who played with many of the top dance orchestras in New York during the height of the 1950s mambo craze. Berrios followed in his dad’s footsteps and eventually landed an important gig with Mongo Santamaría, perhaps the greatest exponent of Afro-Cuban music in this country. He had a long list of album credits and even a Grammy nomination for one of his two solo albums. Continue reading ‘A Walking Encyclopedia Of Rhythms’: Remembering Steve Berrios

A Work Song For Monday

There’s something about the melodies of the great hard bop tunes — they unfurl with a certain sonic poetry. They’re taut and neat, the ledgers of ragged syncopations all balanced out. Every repetition feels necessary, every variation opens up a new universe of possibilities, every chord change is the exact right movement. Think “Moment’s Notice,” or “Recorda Me,” or “Along Came Betty,” or “Sister Sadie,” or “Minority,” or “Three in One.” You want to hum them as you walk down the street, each two-bar phrase a succinct magnificence, and when you do, you find you have to account for the drum hits and jabbing piano fills, too. Continue reading A Work Song For Monday

Coleman Hawkins And Charlie Parker Were Not Particularly Good Actors

I was wondering just how much Madonna was lip-synching during the pitch-perfect (and ridiculously spectacular) Super Bowl halftime show last night. Coincidentally, I was recently reminded of this play-synching gem from Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and company. Someone uploaded a BBC documentary’s explanation to YouTube:

A little context. In 1944, impresario Norman Granz and the photographer/filmmaker Gjon Mili teamed up to make “Jammin’ the Blues,” a beautiful 10-minute short with stars of the time. In 1950, they started another project called Improvisation, with an even larger cast and running time. Five tunes were recorded, featuring various luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young, among others. The bit that we’re watching is from the section featuring Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), supported by the rhythm section of Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums). What a lineup, right? Continue reading Coleman Hawkins And Charlie Parker Were Not Particularly Good Actors

The Jazz Journey Of Joe Byrd: From Background Bassist To Spotlight Star

For every music star, thousands spend their lives playing a supporting role — those who barely see and often don’t seek the spotlight.

One of them died Tuesday. His name was Joe Byrd, and he was a hell of a bass player. He was 78 when the driver of an SUV ran a red light and struck his car.

He was also guitarist Charlie Byrd’s younger brother. Charlie came to international attention in 1962 with his album Jazz Samba. Recorded in a church in Washington, D.C., with guest saxophonist Stan Getz, it produced a Top 20 pop hit with the Antonio Carlos Jobim tune “Desafinado.” The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and helped launch the bossa nova craze in the U.S.

Joe played rhythm guitar and a little bass on Jazz Samba. (His given name was Gene Byrd, and that’s how he’s credited on the album.) Charlie became a jazz star and Joe happily backed him up for four decades. Here’s a later clip of the Charlie Byrd Trio, with Chuck Redd on drums. Continue reading The Jazz Journey Of Joe Byrd: From Background Bassist To Spotlight Star

5 Points Where Poetry Meets Jazz

Poetry and song were once the same: The first poems were recited to music played on the lyre. (It’s the source of the word “lyric.”) Today, poems are published in books and journals, while songs are heard but seldom read. The poet Robert Pinsky tells of a successful songwriter-singer who said, “A little poetry can really help a song, but too much poetry will sink a song.”

Surprisingly, we’re left with relatively few recordings of poetry sung by jazz artists. Speaking truth and emotion, sonic and rhythmic, structured and free, poetry and jazz seem like natural born partners. More often, we do hear poets read their writing to accompaniment by jazz musicians — a form of spoken-word performance. Others write poetry inspired, informed and shaped by jazz. (If you’d like to read some examples, take a look at Jazz Poems, edited by Kevin Young, or The Jazz Poetry Anthology by Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa, for starters.)

In honor of National Poetry Month, the world’s largest literary celebration, and Jazz Appreciation Month, which culminates with a global concert on International Jazz Day (April 30), this week’s Take Five samples the collisions between poetry and jazz.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Legacy And Future Of A Black Entertainment Palace

During the age of segregation, Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre was one of the country’s first large venues to welcome black audiences and performers. It was the most prestigious room in the city’s entertainment and nightlife district of the African American community — its “Black Broadway.” And after decades of dormancy and disrepair, the renovated Howard Theatre reopened in 2012. NPR’s Weekend Edition gave a good sense of the building’s historical importance in a report.

Name a popular African American entertainer between 1910 and 1970, and he or she probably played the Howard: Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Supremes, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder. Because jazz was once pop music, this means the Howard hosted plenty of jazz legends in the primes of their careers, including everyone from proto-jazz bandleader James Reese Europe to Louis Armstrong to the Count Basie Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald to Charlie Parker to Jimmy Smith. For further reading, The Washington Post put together this oral history, and created this handy timeline graphic too.

All this makes for a fascinating story, especially as it connects the dots between jazz history and African American history. But now the theater is again becoming a living part of its community. And the particular way the Howard is rebooting gives some clues as to where its legacy stands — how, in the great jazz tradition, its past figures into its present. For example:

Continue reading The Legacy And Future Of A Black Entertainment Palace

Remembering Teddy Charles: Composer, Vibraphonist, Sailboat Captain

This album cover represents some of the greatest work of one Teddy Charles. As a vibraphone player, composer, arranger and record producer based in New York City (and briefly Los Angeles), he had opportunities to work with the greats of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s: Charles Mingus, Mal Waldron, Miles Davis and many others. These talents and opportunities coincided with the January 1956 recording sessions most famously released as The Teddy Charles Tentet, on Atlantic Records.

Charles died after a storied life in and out of music. He was as much Teddy Charles, jazz pioneer, as Captain Ted Charles, operator of commercial charter sailboats. He left music in the early 1960s to run boats in the Caribbean, and even when he returned to the New York region, he continued to own and operate charter vessels alongside his musical activities. In recent years, collaborations with saxophonist Chris Byars brought about a small resurgence of interest in Charles’ music, including a studio album (2009’s Dances With Bulls) and increased performance opportunities — including with a 10-piece ensemble. Continue reading Remembering Teddy Charles: Composer, Vibraphonist, Sailboat Captain

40 Years Of Mondays: One Saxophonist’s Addiction To The Fringe

I was an 18-year-old saxophone student at Berklee College of Music when my new best friend, a trumpeter named Willy Olenick, told me about The Fringe. “You’ve got to hear this band,” he said. “They’re an amazing trio. You can hear them any Monday night at Michael’s and you’re nuts not to go.”

Willy didn’t mention anything about what style they played, and I didn’t ask. I just took his advice and went.

Michael’s was a small, narrow bar behind Symphony Hall in Boston. There was a WPA mural on the wall. They only served beer and wine, and let’s just say a contingent of a few regulars might have been there just for the Rolling Rocks. (In fact, they may have been there all day for the Rolling Rocks.) A man named Bill was at the front door at night, collecting the $2 cover charge. Michael himself manned the bar.

Frankly, on first hearing The Fringe, I wasn’t sure what was happening. The trio took the stage, and I don’t think I was even sure when the set started. At some point, I realized that this music was not like the other jazz I had heard. Until that time, my jazz listening had been mostly big bands and straight-ahead, swinging jazz groups. Continue reading 40 Years Of Mondays: One Saxophonist’s Addiction To The Fringe