“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive elements in your style.” — Kurt Vonnegut
So where was I? Oh yes, the show was… terrific, of course.
Vocal Legacy opened with a bright and breezy one-two-punch, combing The Great City (Clairdee) with Sunday In New York (Henry Johnson). After the first song, Nancy Wilson took the stage, not to sing, but to support the work of these fine performers. (She said she’d been coaching Henry by phone on his singing and she is pleased with the results.) In fact, she liked them so much that she took a seat in the back of the room and stayed to hear most of the show, slipping out just before the set was over.
In keeping with the vocal legacy theme, the opening songs were in salute to Shirley Horn. Other selections were inspired by artists as diverse as Joe Williams, Donny Hathaway, Helen Humes, Johnny Hartman, and Ernestine Anderson. When I say “inspired by” all that I mean to imply is that Clairdee and Henry are well-versed in the history of their music, and that they have been touched or moved by particular performances. But don’t think, not even for a moment, that Vocal Legacy is another new act attempting to resurrect or imitate the work of others. Clairdee and Henry both have their own sounds and their own unique and contemporary approaches to the music. What is “old school” is their attitude – it’s all about good music and entertaining the audience, none of that “aren’t-I-great” and “see-how-fast-I-can-play” nonsense.
My personal favorites are the medleys, or pairings, as Clairdee likes to call them. (“Like pairing a gourmet dish with a fine wine.”) Strictly speaking, combining two songs does not a medley make. Looking up medley in the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, one is referred to the entry for potpourri: “A medley of popular tunes…played in succession, connected by a few measures of introduction or modulation.” Nor is Webster’s of any use here: “A piece of music arranged from a series of melodies from various other sources.” Neither definition reflects the effects achieved by weaving together two disparate yet harmonically compatible songs, commingling their not only their musical structures but their lyrical intentions as well. So call it what you will, I’ll settle for calling it great music. Here’s the set list:
The Great City + Sunday In New York
After You’ve Gone
Deed I Do
My One & Only Love + Why Did I Choose You
All They Way
Someone Else Is Steppin’ In
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
For All We Know
Alright, Okay, You Win
The audience encompassed myriad ages and ethnicities. From my vantage point, standing on the side of the room near the front, I saw a lot of toe-tapping and smiles all around. After the show, many stopped to share their enthusiasm with the musicians and with John, including Chicago deejay Marsha Noble, veteran record producer Herb Wong (he loved those “entrancing duets”), radio promoter Neil Sapper, and Kevin Calabro from Hyena Records (distributors of Clairdee’s CD Music Moves).
As for the audio clip that I’d hoped to post — sorry. I’m glad that when I first mentioned it I used that every-important caveat, “if.” The powers that be (management, in this case) have decreed that the recording is a great tool for self-evaluation, but not of a quality that they wish to share with the public. So, you’ll just have to wait for the professionally recorded duets, or catch Clairdee and Henry Johnson together in a live performance. You know I’ll be cluing you in when the time comes.
Those who know me, and some of you just getting acquainted, have figured out that I wear many hats – some might suggest too many. Be that as it may, I had much to accomplish this weekend and I did what most writers do – procrastinate first, write second.
I should write a handbook for procrastinators – all the things you can do before you do what you have to do, eventually. You can pick up lots of such tips at any writers conference. One of my personal favorites used to be alphabetizing the spice rack (those of you who know that I’m not much of a cook are now clutching your splitting sides). These days I try to confine my procrastinations to activities that I can justify as somehow necessary to completing those other tasks – like cleaning my office so that I can find my notes, find my chair… hell, find my desk. Of course, for me, cleaning means completely re-arranging the furniture, and in my office rearranging furniture means disconnecting, moving and re-connecting lots of computer equipment and peripheral devices.
Soooo, “procrastinating” took up the whole day on Saturday. Today was devoted to my role as Minister of Education for the Jazz Journalists Association, preparing a plan of action for what I hope will evolve into tasks that will be accomplished by a real live committee. Now I think I’ll power-down the computer and spend some time with my husband. I’ll probably start drafting my IAJE/NEA report, longhand, before I drift off to sleep, so I should have something new to post by a reasonable hour tomorrow.
I’m off to the gym, and then the studio, but I had just enough time to check my email and read a few articles, including To Blog or Not to Blog? by Marc Babej, in Media Magazine. It’s brief, with some good points and tips, including this:
Blogging is about saying it as it is — exactly what many advertising creatives are trained not to do.
The bad news is that I got hung up in the studio all afternoon and have to go back again today, so I have not finished writing up my account of the Vocal Legacy debut at IAJE. The good news is that while in the studio those genius engineers were able to help me retrieve data from my Sony mini disc. What was on it? A “bootleg” recording of the Vocal Legacy debut! If I can create a snipet of reasonable quality, I will post it. So please hang in there and check back again later. It’s now Friday at 1:30 AM and I’m going to catch a few hours sleep. I’ll try to catch up by nightfall, but if not, certainly over the weekend.
George Ziskind, the correspondent who sent in the report about the Sonny Rollins session, has forwarded to me a correction he received from Ira Gitler. Ira wrote:
…thanks for the kind words but you got the Rollins’ quote about his extended solos wrong. He said–and I am quoting as closely as I can: “The guys in the band are saying, ‘When is he going to finish’? “I guess I’m just a ham.” And I said, “But a very tasty one.”
So where was I when I so rudely interrupted myself to tend to other matters? I think I was about to tell you about Saturday, January 14th in New York, the last day of the IAJE convention, and a day that was just as busy for me and John as Friday the 13th, the day John received his NEA Jazz Master award.
The day began not as early as we had hoped; we overslept. There was just enough time to grab coffee and croissant in the upsairs hotel lounge before hopping a taxi to take us to Carroll’s Rehearsal Studios‘ new digs on twelfth avenue. (The only thing farther West is the West Side Highway and the Hudson River.) I had booked a three-hour slot for the first and only rehearsal of John’ new project, Vocal Legacy featuring jazz singer Clairdee and jazz guitarist/vocalist Henry Johnson. (Here’s a pdf of the press release.) Clairdee and her musical director Ken French had met Henry only once, for an all-day marathon meeting and planning session last November. To the mix we added Dennis Mackrel, a wonderful, steadfast and tasty drummer (not to mention longtime friend) who is pefect in any setting be it the Hank Jones Trio or the Count Basie Orchestra, and bassist Mary Ann McSweeney who had recently been on tour with Lee Konitz. It was magic, the kind that is only possible when everyone has enough self-confidence to maintain an open mind and the desire to collaborate in furtherance of a common goal. Of course, Leroy Hamilton was on the scene to document the magic. (I hope to be sharing pictures with you soon.)
John and I left the rehearsal a little early because John had to get back to the Hilton in time to sit on the NEA Jazz Masters panel session moderated by A.B. Spellman. It was an hour-long group reminiscence that was quite entertaining, and it is one of the sessions that was taped for sale by the On-Site Recording folks who I wrote about yesterday. (Scroll down to yesterday’s post for contact info and link to order form.)
After the panel, and the the post-panel handshakes and “can I give you my CD?” queries, we hightailed it to the exhibition hall where John spent over an hour at the MCG Jazz booth autographing our book, “Men, Women, and Girl Singers.” Lots of friends visited the booth during that time, including drummer Michael Stephens, vibraphonist Warren Chiasson, and photographer Carol Friedman. I snagged a ham sandwich to tide us over until the signing ended and we could join his son and daughter-in-law for a very late lunch/early dinner in the hotel cafe, after which we headed up to Sutton South on the second floor of the Hilton, for the 6 PM debut of Vocal Legacy. The show was….
Sorry folks, I’ve got to jump off to the recording studio and I don’t want to be late. Check back later for the rest of the story.
I received a quick reply from IAJE main offices directing me to the folks at On-Site Recording Productions. A phone call to Northern California connected me to Zach Schwartz who told me that they are in the process of updating their web site to support online ordering. Meanwhile, he gave me this two-page pdf file that lists the events and prices of the IAJE sessions and panels they have available. You can phone in or mail in an order. I didn’t ask how long they keep their masters (probably forever), so maybe they have sessions available from past years as well. Here’s their contact info:
On-Site Recording Productions
5551 Fremont Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
Some days I can whip off a blog post, no sweat; other days seem crammed full of demands leaving me with little if any time to think, let alone blog. [Hmmm, blog as a verb? Funny think how quickly nouns become verbs these days — something I have been known to abhor in days past.]
Anyway, I have at least two more posts in mind to wrap up my account of our New York trip, but haven’t written them as of yet. To tide you over, pianist George Ziskind has come to my rescue, providing me with a brief account of the Sonny Rollins event that I, and hundreds of others, missed out on. According to a bio blurb I read, George is “an ex-Chicagoan, pianist, and child of the bebop age, who has lived in New York City since the mid-’60s. He was one of Lennie Tristano’s first students and notes that, “The low point of my career was a month spent as musical director for Brenda Lee. The high point is yet to come.” He believes in: “God, Country, and Art Tatum (not necessarily in that order).” You can read his I Remember Tadd [Dameron] on the Jazz Institute of Chicago web site. Here’s his IAJE Rollins Report:
In a room holding about 2000 people who began taking the best seats more than an hour before hit time, a smallish area at one end was set up as a stage. Props were minimal: two armchairs bisected by a small table holding a couple bottled waters and glasses. The pre-event buzz in the room was electric and palpable. We were all waiting for the chairs to be filled with Sonny Rollins and Ira Gitler, the former to be interviewed by the latter.
This was more than one of the deans of jazz journalism talking to the premier living tenor player. Ira actually produced Sonny’s first date as a leader, over 55 years ago. They are as connected as (with apologies to the Bergmans) two branches on a vine. They are surely two bebop emblems.
At long last, out walked Ira, and then – Sonny, followed by instant standing ovation. (Not one of those “I’d better stand up because everyone else is standing up” ovations; rather, the whole room rose en masse, as if on cue. The joint levitated.)
Sonny was togged out in Full Icon mode. Navy blue suit, white shirt with that dressiest of accoutrements, a white four-in-hand. This was topped off with shades and a rakishly-angled beret. He looked downright magisterial.
For more than 75 minutes, Ira would throw out a topic or an event; Sonny then grabbed the ball and expounded. A few of the many topics:
– 1949, a seminal year that found Sonny recording with the likes of J.J., Bud, Fats, Kenny Dorham, John Lewis, and on and on;
– vibrant Harlem in his growing-up years of the ’30s and ’40s, having neighbors like Jackie McLean and Bud Powell;
– drugs, during which Sonny spoke in slow, measured words. He told how many who got caught up in drugs were loathe to talk about it later on, but how his late wife Lucille told him “Sonny, you have overcome drugs so you have no reason to hide this fact”;
– Ira pointed out Sonny’s ability to go on and on with a tune, draining every possible drop of improv from it, until the crowd would erupt in applause. At which, Sonny would plow back into the meat of the tune and deliver yet another 15 minutes of even more intense improv. At hearing this, Sonny did a piece of rare-for-him schtick: he put on an accusatory look and said to Ira, “Oh – so you’re calling me a ham?” The room erupted in laughter.
No breaking news was divulged; rather, just two guys chewing the fat. But, two guys who are surely beentheredonethat in what A.B. Spellman called “the bebop business.”
I know in years past that some IAJE events were audio taped and made available for purchase. If they are available, I plan to buy a copy of the interviews with Sonny, Clark Terry, and Billy Taylor. I haven’t yet found a link for same on the IAJE web site, but I have a call in to the powers that be asking about this and will post the info when I receive a response.
Friday was John’s big day and Leroy Hamilton was on hand to document it. If you’ve not yet heard of Leroy, go here. Leroy is a truly talented photographer with an artist’s eye and the soul of a saint. He arrived in New York at dawn and at 10:30 AM he met up with us in a conference room where John was being interviewed by Katti Gray, a columnist for Newsday. [Her piece about John ran on Monday, January 16th, here’s the link].
After the interview, we went to the Etrusca Restaurant for the Jazz Masters Luncheon. This is the event that most Jazz Masters like best, because it’s the only time when they can sit and visit with one another, swapping stories and telling ‘lies.’ Hosted by NEA Chairman Dana Gioia, it’s a private affair for the Jazz Master’s and their significant others. All Jazz Masters are invited and usually a handful of past recipients show up in addition to the current year’s inductees. In attendance at Friday’s luncheon were Ray Baretto, Tony Bennett, Bob Brookmeyer, Chick Corea, Buddy DeFranco, Freddie Hubbard, and John, plus Chico Hamilton, Jim Hall, Nat Hentoff, Nancy Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Ron Carter, Slide Hampton, Frank Foster and probably a few others I am not remembering at the moment. Before we sat down to eat, The Masters were led out into a roped-off area in the hotel lobby for this year’s group photo. Never before had they staged the photo in a public area, but it was a stroke of maketing genius to do so as both the public and he paparazzi seemed to love it. After the group shot of all the Jazz Masters on hand, they did a shot of just this years inductees. Finally, they led us back into the restaurant for lunch.
The original plan was to eat first, and then Chairman Gioia and IAJE President David Caffey would give out the plaques. But no sooner did we finish our Farmer’s Market Salads with herbed goat cheese and toasted croutons atop a bed of mixed baby greens with a light citrus vinaigrette, than the plan changed — that’s jazz, always improvising — it was decided to give the awards before the main course. While talking to NEA Director of Music & Opera Wayne Brown, who was seated to my left, I noticed John get up to say hello to Freddie Hubbard, but when I turned my attention to the podium, I didn’t see John anywhere in the room. The giving of the awards involved little more than announcing the person’s name, applause applause, and a photo. Luckily John was last in line as he came back into the room with barely a minute to spare.
Following the luncheon (a choice of Petit Filet Mignon with Wild Mushroom Ragout or Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Picante Mango Peach Salsa, and Warm Peach Cobbler for dessert), John amazed me by agreeing to do more press interviews. It was around 2:30 or so when he spoke with a local television crew (NY1) and then he did a lengthy segment for Listen Here! The jazz review with Neil Tesser and Mark Ruffin. We had wanted to see Nat Hentoff’s one-on-one interview with Clark Terry, but we just couldn’t be everywhere at once, and we needed a short rest before the evening events.
John was scheduled for his NEA portrait photo at 5:45 PM, just before the Pre-Concert Reception that began at 6. He also took a few minutes to do a short cable television interview with Jaron Eames, who has been pursuing him with a smile for many years. Then it was on to the reception in the Mercury Ballroom. It’s not that large a room and it was crowded. Somehow I managed to find our invited guests in the crowd: retired William Morris booking agent Marty Klein, musical director Bobby Tucker, and John’s son, Michael, who had worked with him at one time as road manager for Sarah Vaughan, Freddie Hubbard, and Wes Montgomery. There were lots of friends in the room, some of whom we barely had a chance to wave at: John Snyder, Bill Kirchner and Judy Kahn, and Maria Schneider come to mind. Then it was hurry up and wait time. They shepherded the Jazz Masters through the kitchen and into the back entrance to the Grand Ballroom where we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Chairs had been set up along the wall with name tags, and we were to wait in these positions so that we could enter in a processional. The Ballroom was filled to capacity, and later I heard that even people who had VIP tags could not get in to the main floor and had to go up to the balcony.
The program opened with two big band pieces played by The Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra — “Beige,” from Duke Ellington’s suite, “Black, Brown & Beige” and a Frank Foster arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Countdown.” Then the first three of seven Jazz Master awards were presented to Freddie Hubbard, Ray Baretto, and Chick Corea. Each presentation was preceded by a short biographical video clip, and followed by a brief acceptance speech. Then the Count Basie Orchestra took the stage and was all-too-soon joined by vocalist Nnenna Freelon. After her third song it was back to the awards presentations.
The video segment on John, which included the obligatory childhood photo, also included some seldom seen footage of John playing bass with the original George Shearing Quintet, something most people in the room had never seen or heard before. Then it was time for Nancy to give John his award, the moment she’d been waiting for all night. I have seen her tear up before when talking about John, but this time it really got to her. She wanted to regale the audience with chapter and verse of John’s good deeds, but she couldn’t, and it was just as well because John wanted to get on with thanking some of the people who helped him in his long career. He thanked Bobby Tucker, George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, Marty Klein, Laurie Goldstein, his son, George Wein, Darlene Chan, his in-laws (my parents), and me.
The last award given was to Tony Bennett, who, in his acceptance speech, thanked his son, the best manager he’s ever known…except for John Levy. I couldn’t see in the dark, but John might actually have blushed at that one.
The evening ended with a classic battle of the bands, playing the Frank Wess arrangement of Ellington’s “Battle Royale” and a Thad Jones piece titled “To You.” The finale was One O’Clock Jump, during which several Masters sat in (Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Chick Corea, James Moody scat singing) and were upstaged by a ten-year old trumpet dynamo named Tyler.
When it was all over…we were hungry. There was no dinner served, just the luncheon and some hors d’oeuvres at the reception, so we went upstairs, changed into “street clothes” and headed for the Carnegie Deli where I had a bowl of matzo ball soup and we shared a hot pastrami sandwich. Can’t get that in Los Angeles (Jeri’s Deli and Cantor’s not withstanding). We didn’t linger, though, because Saturday’s schedule was just as busy. Stay tuned.
[Note: As you can see, the photo of John and Nancy posted here is not one of Leroy’s. I hope to have his pictures soon, and I know that between my blog, John’s website, and Leroy’s site, we’ll be posting quite a few. I’ll let you know when that happens.]