In the middle of recording his debut album, jazz vocalist Joon Lee received a phone call out of nowhere that made him stop, quite literally, in his tracks. A dark, run-down karaoke bar in the corner of a Little Tokyo strip mall was on the market — would he like to have a look?
It was the fall of 2009, and Lee was still a relative unknown in the Los Angeles jazz community. A Korean immigrant, he had been studying architecture in New York City when he heard a recording of pianist Chick Corea and vocalist Bobby McFerrin. He promptly quit school and moved across the country to study jazz singing.
Lee had also fantasized about opening a small performance venue, though initially he didn’t find the karaoke bar particularly captivating. “The only really attractive thing about it was that the elevator was really close,” he recalled. “That way, the musicians can bring their gear.” The timing couldn’t have been worse, either — it was, after all, the middle of a major economic recession.
But the appeal proved too powerful. He gave himself only two months to redesign the room. “I had so little time and so little money,” he said. “The only stuff that I bought was the ice machine, toilet bowls, stuff like that.” Even the elevator proved unreliable. Continue reading →
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 →
Marc Cary came to New York City to find and save his father. Instead, he found artists like Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln — and saved himself.
“I hadn’t seen my dad in 10 years,” Cary says over a recent lunch in downtown Manhattan. “He’s a percussionist, but he was living another lifestyle, and I came to rescue him. He was living at the Port Authority Bus Station.”
Cary was 21; he arrived with only $20 in his pocket. But he was also a talented jazz pianist. On the recommendation of a friend, he soon connected with the late Art Taylor, a venerated jazz drummer. Taylor was assembling a new incarnation of the Wailers, his own seminal jazz group.
“I called him that night, and he told me to come over immediately,” Cary says. At the time, Taylor lived a block away in Harlem. When Cary arrived, Abbey Lincoln was there; she lived next door. “[Lincoln] checked me out, gave me a lot of encouragement and told me that one day we’ll play together.” Continue reading →