Bad Music

Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music – good and the other kind.
Here are some of observations regarding the Other:

    a jazz group is not an ensemble when all of the individuals solo simultaneously
    velocity and volume do not make up for a lack of taste or talent, no matter how great the technical execution
    drowning an audience in an avalanche of sounds gives them no space in which to discern
    it’s not likely to be good if the only message sent is ‘look ma, no hands’
    same approach to each and every tune – performer can’t possibly understand the ‘meaning’ of the compositions
    a few inventive licks get re-used, over-used, and ultimately abused until the spice kills the whole dish

Too many performers have played too many notes while managing to say nothing at all.

Benny Powell, R.I.P.

b. March 1, 1930, d. June 26, 2010

The funeral will be held
July 12, 7 PM
Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street)
New York, New York 10022-4610

A jazz service is being planned and is likely to include: Randy Weston and African Rhythms, a classical piece on violin played by one of his nieces, and Nextep featuring Frank Wess (Benny’s last group with whom he recorded). There will be New Orleans Brass band to play first and second line.

Condolences may be sent to:
Lisa Dickerson
3128 Westover Drive SE
Washington DC 20020

Instead of flowers the family has setup an education fund for his Grandchildren.
Kyle and Faith Swetnam
CO Evelyn Nolan (Grandmother)
2890 Emerald Spring Dr
Lawrenceville GA 30095

Benny died on the morning of June 26th. He was at Roosevelt Hospital, in New York City, recovering from successful spinal surgery when he died from causes not yet determined. He may have suffered a fatal heart attack, but the official report is not due until later this week.

Benny is survived by his daughter Demitra Powell Clay, his grandchildren Faith and Kyle Swetnam, his sister Elizabeth Powell McCrowey, his nieces, Lisa Dickerson who was in New York with him for the surgery, Terri Dickerson Hawkins, Patrice Dickerson, Laurie Dickerson, Verna Von Holtzclaw, Ann McCrowey Mickle and Bennette Brown; his nephews Bryon Brown, Craig Brown, Gilbert Mc Crowey Michael McCrowey, and Scott McCrowey; Barry K. Cooper, whom he loved as a son, and a host of grand nephews, nieces, cousins, and dear friends.

[info as of 7/1/2010]

Jake Hanna, R.I.P.


This video of Jake, swinging with the All Stars: Jimmy Cleveland, Jeff Fuller, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Bunch, Warren Vaché, Scott Hamilton is a short excerpt from one posted at Drummer World. The tune is Perdido.




It used to be in days of yore, that news, be it good or bad, took weeks to travel – pony express. Now word goes out so fast that scarcely an hour passes before the entire world becomes aware. So it was on Friday evening that I learned that Jake Hanna had left us. It has been years since I’ve been in real touch with Jake & Denisa, but my affection for them both remains always in my heart. You’ll read elsewhere, and everywhere, about Jake’s tremedous talent, his huge heart, his super-sized sense of humor and penchant for telling a good, often hilarious story.

Not only was Jake a wonderful raconteur but he was also a perpetrator of many pranks. Every once in a while, though, someone would turn the tables on him and one such time it was my dad who, much to his own chagrin, prevailed. It was during The Merv Griffin Show days in New York. The show was taped in the Little Theatre on 44th street between Broadway and 8th avenue, next door to Sardi’s. Mort Lindsay was the band leader, and musicians included Bill Berry, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Davis, Jim Hall, Jake Hanna, Richie Kamuca,…

As Jake got up from his seat at the drums, after or during a rehearsal, he had a habit of deliberately stepping into a small waste basket — when done at the correct angle, he’d then walk a few feet with the basket affixed as a boot. One day my dad decided to put quite a few inches of water in the bottom and float a few wadded-up papers on top to hide the tide. Rehearsal came and went but Jake didn’t step in it; oh well.

That night, during the show, Jake had the rare occasion to leave his drums and walk a few feet onto the stage to hit a gong — yes, you guessed it. TV cameras rolling, Jake walks onstage with a very wet pant leg. The camera didn’t see him step in the basket, but the band did and they all fell out, quietly. The water had sloshed up towards his knee and Jake just had to keep on going to hit his mark and ring that gong.

I am sure he is now instigating heavenly hilarity and swinging with all his angelic friends – well, maybe not angelic….

Read more about Jake here and here.

UPDATE: Also check out the Rifftides post and dig the early photo of Jake that looks to me to be circa the time of the Wastebasket Caper, along with a great video clip.

Celebrating BB

Bob Brookmeyer has been in the news a lot of late. It shouldn’t take an 80th birthday to precipitate this avalanche of applause — his artistry and tremendous output throughout the decades should be cause enough — but such is the nature of arts coverage in America so I am thrilled that he has garnered a spotlight.

Thanks to Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides for reminding me and for posting a video I had not seen, AND for pointing me to Spirit Music: Bob Brookmeyer at 80, an appreciation that includes a brief account of the Eastman celebration on Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society blog plus several delectable downloadable audio clips and other links.

My personal memories of Bob go back a ways. “Trombone and guitar duets? Your kidding, right?” So said the little kid that I was in the 1960s when dad said he and Bob Brookmeyer were going to play a duo gig at Hopper’s, a now long-defunct restaurant/jazz club just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. Filial love aside, I was mesmerized and have been an ardent follower of all-things-BB ever since. By my teen years I was addicted to his arrangements for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.

In 1999 a recording of Brookmeyer & Hall 1979 duo performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival was released on CD and I got to write the liner notes.

And here are just a few more BB links worth noting:

  • Jazz Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on His Career, Influences, and Outlook on Music at ArtistHouse Music.
  • Bob Brookmeyer at Trombone Page of the World.
  • Bob Brookmeyer to blow out some candles (with his trombone) at Jazz @ Rochester blog.
  • Bob Brookmeyer and Some of His Friends on Night Lights (a weekly one-hour radio program of classic jazz hosted by David Brent Johnson and produced by WFIU Public Radio).
  • A Reluctant Reviewer

    There are several dozen CDs awaiting my attention, many sent by publicists who likely have long since given up on me – some have been waiting for more than a year. Some came directly from the artists themselves. Back in August of 2007 I explained that “I do not consider or even intend for this blog to be an impartial journal or source of news as in ‘all-the-news-that’s-fit-to-print. I receive tons of press releases and even some review copies of books and CDs, but I used to be very selective in what I choose to write about, and my selection criteria is admittedly based on my personal taste.” (Read the entire It’s My Party post here )

    As readership grew, more submissions arrived. When it comes to the roles of music critics and reviewers, I am conflicted about whether I wish to be one. Today I am leaning toward “no.” Duke Ellington is often quoted as defining two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. I have a minimum of three categories, carving out a subsection of Good for the Truly Great. The truly great songs, singers, musicians, arrangements, and performances (live or recorded) are those that transcend the quotidian and make a lasting mark on my soul.

    Still, a number of people have sent me these stacks of CDs and I now feel obligated to respond. This feeling will not continue into the new year. Be forewarned: while you are welcomed to send review copies, please know that I will only blog about those I really like. I may from time to time include something for intellectual reasons, allowing for its evolutionary impact, or rail against something I find offensive, but from here on out my primary criteria for a mention on DevraDoWrite will be to share only the music that has touched me. Luckily there are many ‘“reviewers” and “critics” out there who relish the assignment of screening it all for you and they will be the ones who will reap the joy of a new discovery — I am just not one of those people.

    So now, here are a few discs that I placed in a pile marked “well done” – they don’t deserve a spot in my forever time capsule, and they do not even rank near the top of the Good list, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.

    Jammin’ by the Jay T. Vonada Quartet is Vonada’s debut release. I got nervous when I realized that it was a self-produced novice production comprised entirely of original tunes, but my ears were pleasantly surprised. His compositions have form and flow, and he displays versatility (blues, Latin, swing, bebop, ballad…) This young man has been studying, shedding, and striving. Being a youngster, he has a way to go, but this release bodes well for his future in jazz.

    Morning Glory features flautist Dotti Anita Taylor backed by a lady’s trio: Bertha Hope, Miriam Sullivan and Bernice Brooks. This easy swinging CD is a mix of original compositions and well-knowns ranging from a jaunty Time After Time to a contemplative A Child Is Born (Thad Jones). The recording was produced by Houston Person and the trio is joined by percussionist Steve Kroon, saxophonist Patience Higgins, trumpeter Eddie Allen, and guitarist Dave Tunnell on a few tracks.

    Our Delight by the Paul Gormley Quartet features Paul on bass, Sam Most on flute, Paul Kreibach on drums and Larry Koonse on guitar. Toe-tapping with the pros from the opening notes, these gents have clocked a lot of hours on the bandstand. The ensemble is tight, the solos good, and the wide-ranging collection of tunes includes compositions by Tadd Dameron, Nat Adderley, Horace Silver, Cole Porter, Henry Mancini. Very enjoyable!

    If you want to hear some standards, old-style, take a trip down memory lane with Since You by vocalist Josie Courreges. And if you’re also a movie buff you might appreciate Jazz and the Movies featuring vocalist Jack Wood backed by a number of Los Angeles-based heavy-hitters including George Gaffney and Llew Matthews, Luther Hughes and Jim Hughart, John Pisano and Peter Woodford, Pete Christlieb and Buddy Childers. The songs come from 11 different movies, penned by the likes of Marilyn & Alan Bergman, Arlen/Mercer, Cole Poter, Gershwin, and more.

    Dorothy Donegan

    While visiting recently (Ted Gioia’s piece on Denny Zeitlin piqued my interest), I also came across Scott Albin’s look back at Dorothy Donegan’s career. If you don’t know about her, you’ve got to check her out. I knew her quite well, and my two favorite personal memories of her took place several years apart.

    The first was at the home of a friend of hers in New York City on the upper west side. I was living in the same neighborhood at the time. This person was also a friend of Sweets Edison, and it was Sweets who had invited me to join him for dinner. Dorothy was there too, and after dinner, we all went upstairs to the music room. Dorothy said she was just beginning to practice classical pieces as she was slated to appear some months later with a Symphony. She started playing a Chopin Nocturne, this one (no, that’s not her playing, it’s Horowitz at Carnegie Hall), but she stopped midway or so in the second section, saying she didn’t remember the rest. I was in my early 20s. My conservatory-trained classical chops were in pretty good shape back then, and as befitting my know-it-all ultra-confident age, I said “move over.” I will always wonder if Sweets might have rolled his eyes, but I wasn’t looking and everyone was quiet; Dorothy gave way. I had just begun studying the Ballades and the Nocturne seemed easy by comparison. It’s not a difficult piece and I acquitted myself quite well. Dorothy was gracious, and then she sat down and played the Nocturne to perfection, and then some.

    A handful of years later I ran into Dorothy at a bar. I had since moved to Los Angeles and used to meet Ernie Andrews at Tommy Tucker’s Playroom for drinks in the late afternoon when i got off work from my office gig. The Playroom was catty-corner to the old Parisian Room, a nightclub that used to sit on the south-west corner of La Brea and Washington. One day, Ernie and I were siting at the bar, and Dorothy came in and sat down next to Ernie. They started talking, and talking, and talking. She didn’t say a word to me and I was sure she didn’t even know me. Why should she? Two scotches later, Ernie excused himself for a moment and while he was gone, Dorothy leaned over and said, “So, are you still playing the F minor Nocturne.?” I nearly fell off my barstool and we remained friendly ’til the end.

    This story never would have happened if I had ever heard Dorothy play Rachmaninoff’s Prelude In C Sharp Minor back in 1944. Take a listen from an Armed Forces Radio broadcast.

    Scott’s reflections also include links to two YouTube videos: one from 1945, and one from 1993 at the White House. She was a show-woman from start to finish.

    Jazz Ladies In March

    February’s Black History Month is over and April’s Jazz Appreciation Month is coming soon, meanwhile March 8th is International Women’s Day and NPR’s Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler is celebrating with It’s A Woman’s World: Six Jazz Trailblazers featuring Mary Lou Williams, Shirley Scott, Marian McPartland, Geri Allen, Regina Carter, and Maria Schneider. Three of these women are good friends of mine, and from conversations with them over the years I know that they don’t particularly care to be singled out for their gender — “you sure play great” looses something when the unspoken end of the sentence is “for a girl” — but the past-publicist in me says any angle that helps to gain exposure is a good angle.

    Birthdays this month include: Carol Sloane, Shirley Scott, Marian McPartland, Eliane Elias, and Sarah Vaughan.

    NPR and Jazz?

    I have very mixed feelings about NPR and their commitment to jazz, or lack thereof. They long ago dropped staff and funding for Jazz Profiles — no new ones, just re-runs. Jazz Set, now hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater is still running (I don’t know how much of it is new or not), and thankfully Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz also continues. (I think there’d be a world-wide honest-to-God rebellion if they dropped Marian’s show.)

    But lately I’ve taken notice of the NPR online jazz offerings such as their Jazz & Blues page with changing features and Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler. This week’s sampler is titled Feeling The Vibes: The Short History Of A Long Instrument. The five selections include the usual suspects — Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson — plus Stefon Harris playing Bach, specifically “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

    This particular track brought to my attention The Classical Jazz Quartet featuring some of my favorite people – Kenny Barron on piano, Lewis Nash on drums and Ron Carter on bass. How this series of recordings (CJQ Plays Bach, CJQ Plays Rachmaninoff, and CJQ Plays Tchaikovsky) escaped my radar I do not know.

    Perhaps due to my classical conservatory training, combined with growing up in a jazz household, I am one of those who love the jazz/classical hybrid. Eons ago, during lessons with Roland Hanna, he would take a classical piece from my repertoire and interpret it his way. At that time he was especially fond of Debussy and also introduced me to Scriabin. I could only dream of making such magic.

    To this day, when I’m writing, or editing, I find it soothing to listen to John Lewis’ Bach Preludes & Fugues or Ron Carter Meets Bach. So now I’ve got some new CDs on the way.

    Takin’ It Back With Barack, Jack!

    James Moody hipped Jimmy Heath to this YouTube clip and Jimmy sent it to me.
    Watch, enjoy, and don’t forget to vote. (No matter what your viewpoint, it’s your right and your responsibility to make your voice heard)

    Here are the lyrics:

    Hate to see the nation being run by a hack
    Dig the situation that he dug in Iraq
    Half the population wants to give him the sack
    And now he’s lookin’ round for somebody else to attack
    We need somebody great to get us back on the track

    So we’re takin’ it back with Barack, Jack!

    Choo Choo, Change to believe in
    Woo woo, we can achieve it
    Choo Choo, Change to believe in
    Takin’ it back with Barack, Jack!

    Now that global warming is a matter of fact
    The only real question is just how to react
    The new administration needs the guts to enact
    Drastic legislation, leave the planet intact
    We can’t be foolin’ round with some Republican Mac

    So we’re takin’ it back with Barack, Jack!

    Choo Choo….

    He only gets his money from your regular macs
    Doesn’t take a penny from some whackity PAC’s
    For bringin’ folk together he’s the man with the knack
    And he’ll supply the hope and inspiration we lack
    Cause he’s the best we got and did I ….mention he’s black?

    So we’re takin’ it back with Barack, Jack!

    Jazz For Obama – October 1 in New York City

    This just in from JazzCorner

    Just as we were about to give a shout out for jazz musicians and jazz fans to get more involved in the November election, we get this notice about this incredible line-up of jazz musicians performing for one night only to present Jazz For Obama, a concert event to benefit Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama:

    • Dee Dee Bridgewater
    • Dianne Reeves
    • Brad Mehldau
    • Joe Lovano
    • Roy Hargrove
    • Christian McBride
    • Stanley Jordan
    • Hank Jones
    • The Charlie Hunter/Doug Wamble Duo
    • Bilal/Robert Glasper
    • Stefon Harris
    • Roberta Gambarini
      …and special guests

    The concert takes place at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall on Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30 PM. The Kaufmann Concert Hall is located at Lexington Avenue at East 92nd Street. Tickets are $100 and available now at Jazz For Obama. A limited number of student tickets are available for $50. VIP tickets are $250 and include reserved seating and a post-concert reception. The concert is produced by Jazz for America’s Future. All proceeds benefit the Obama For America Presidential Campaign. Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30 PM at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall New York, NY. You can only purchase tickets through Jazz For Obama