jazz

Kind of Blue for 60 Years

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, my favorite album, celebrated its 60th anniversary a few weeks ago. Below is a YouTube video explaining what makes Kind of Blue so special. Here’s an older video featuring Herbie Hancock. People disagree on the best track on the album. I’d pick “Blue in Green”. There’s something about that first note with that Harmon mute that just gets me every time.

A few years ago I did an interview with Myke Hurley where I talked about the album. Please note it was 5am when we recorded that. I was not the high jazz man I sounded like. I was just not entirely awake yet.

Either way, if you don’t own a single jazz album and were to get just one, I’d recommend Kind of Blue. I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy it at some level.

Jazz Friday - Ben Wendell's Seasons

Today for Jazz Friday I want to share a contemporary saxophone player that I enjoy, Ben Wendell. Ben plays the sax and bassoon. He's been a sideman for many artists in many genres (including Snoop Dogg!), but some of my favorite music from Ben are shorts he does with other talented musicians on YouTube. He does collections of these videos that all eventually turn into albums. Lately, I've been listing to the Seasons collection and enjoying it. You can get the album on Apple Music and below is one of my favorite videos in the collection.

Jazz Friday - Chris Potter

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I recently received an email from a reader thanking me for these jazz Friday posts. He explained that he loved learning about some of these older musicians that he had never heard of before but then he very politely ended the email, "Do you listen to anyone that's not dead?" After I got done laughing I wrote him back and said that yes I indeed do and will even share a few of my favorite non-dead jazz artists.

Chris Potter (Wikipedia) is one of them. He's one of the finest saxophonists ever to pick up the instrument. For whatever reason, his name has never really entered the public awareness like Wynton Marsalis or (God have mercy on my soul) Kenny G. Nevertheless, he's an amazing saxophonist. He came to prominence in the late 90s but has continued to release solo albums and work as a sideman with a variety of groups. The guy is a monster. You really can’t go wrong with any Chris Potter album but my favorite is Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (iTunes). Live jazz is always the best, even recorded live jazz. The lead track on that album, Train (iTunes) always makes me smile and on Togo (iTunes), Chris puts down his tenor sax and plays the bass clarinet at the beginning and then comes back in later to play one of my favorite Chris Potter solos on his tenor sax. Be warned ... Chris goes way out there on the Togo solo. Another good starting place for Chris Potter is the Apple Music playlist, Chris Potter Essentials. And best of all, Chris Potter is not dead.

Merry Christmas! Now Download Some Jazz

Merry Christmas everybody. I hope you and your family are enjoying a great holiday. This year I shared my Yule jazz playlist, and its got lots of subscribers. I've heard from listeners that are using it for everything from cooking Christmas dinner to playing in the background while they perform surgery (that's true!).

Anyway, if you'd like to listen to my favorite jazz Christmas music, check it out for Apple Music. Also, thanks to listener Alex for converting the list to Spotify and posting it on the Mac Power Users Facebook group.

Jazz Friday - Bill Evans' Santa Claus is Coming To Town

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This week for Jazz Friday, I'm featuring the Bill Evans' cover of Santa Claus is Coming to Town from 1964. This is a weird track. It’s the only Christmas tune buried on Evans’ Trio 64 album released in January 1964. I'm guessing it is a live recording from the holiday season of 1963. They probably played it for giggles and then decided to put it on the album because what musician isn’t at least a little interested in holiday music residuals?

Anyway, to continue the weirdness, the song starts with this odd, loping, off meter melody. Go ahead and tap your foot to the beginning of this song. I dare you. Then it gets a more straight ahead feel, including a most excellent bass solo by Gary Peacock. The whole thing is quintessential Bill Evans. It's so easy to cover traditional holiday music. I like it when musicians decide to mix it up a bit and this track does that.

I'm going to cover some more holiday jazz through December but if you’d like to cut to the end, here’s my Jazz Yule Apple Music playlist. Enjoy

Jazz Friday: Wynton Marsalis Christmas Jazz Jam

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This year I'm going to feature some of my favorite holiday-themed jazz music every Friday. One of my favorites Wynton Marsalis’s Christmas Jazz Jam (iTunes) (Apple Music). Wynton, who I’ll cover another day in greater detail, is very much a traditionalist but as he’s got older, he’s also added more of a sense of joy and humor to his trumpet (in my opinion). This album fits in nicely. It’s jazz music that you could just play in the background while eating or, you could carefully listen to and have moments of delight. This album works both ways. 

Some of my favorite parts are Wycliffe Gordon’s wild, reindeer-inspired trombone Solo on Santa Clause is Coming to Town and the Dixieland feel in Jingle Bells. You are going to either love or hate what they did with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer but it makes me laugh out loud every time it comes on. Finally, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is classic, straight ahead jazz, and excellent. If you like Wynton, you’ll also want to check out his 1989 album, Crescent City Christmas Card (iTunes) (Apple Music), which is also pretty an excellent jazz holiday album.

Jazz Friday – Bill Evans

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For Jazz Friday this week, I'd like to feature one of my favorite pianists of all time, Bill Evans (website)(Wikipedia). Evans was one of the pioneers of the modal jazz movement and a significant influence on Miles Davis with the Kind of Blue album (iTunes)(Apple Music), the best-selling jazz album of all time. I once read an article about how Davis used to call Evans just to ask him to play the piano over the phone. I believe it. I think Evans’s collaborations with Davis were some of his best, but Evans also did some pretty remarkable stuff in his solo career. One of my favorite compositions from Evans is “Waltz for Debby” (iTunes)(Apple Music). It has a little lilting melody that just makes you smile.

After leaving Miles Davis, Bill Evans had a solo career including several groups he put together through the rest of his life. No matter whom he played with, however, the music always showed his influence in those wonderful impressionist-inspired modal tones and themes. Aside from his work on the Kind of Blue album, my next favorite album from Evans is The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (iTunes)(Apple Music). That album gets a lot of play in my library.

Jazz Friday: Joey Alexander’s Joey. Monk. Live!

Joey Alexander, the jazz piano prodigy that continues to surprise me, released a new album, Joey. Monk. Live!, (iTunes)(Apple Music) where he played music from Thelonious Monk. I’ve written it before but I can’t get over how Joey plays with so much fire. I’ve heard a lot of prodigies that are technically excellent but yet their music still lacks soul. That’s not the case with Joey. This is a great album for the weekend.

Jazz Friday - Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage

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If you’re building up your library of jazz standards, you definitely need tot add Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (iTunes)(Apple Music) to the list. Maiden Voyage was the name of Herbie Hancock’s 1965 album and the title track. The song has a great sort-of motion feel to it. Herbie explained once that his idea of this song was to capture “the splendor of a sea-going vessel on its maiden voyage.” I can see that.

To me, Maiden Voyage is a bit of sublime modal, post-bop jazz that some days is exactly I need. I particularly like the way George Coleman goes a bit off the rails at the end of the sax solo but, of course, I would.

If you are interested in jazz and you’ve never fallen down the Herbie Hancock rabbit hole (Wikipedia), you probably should. He’s remarkably talented and, by all accounts, a swell guy (and a bit of a geek). 

 

Jazz Friday – The Kashmere Stage Band

Recently I was riding in my daughter's car and she was playing the soundtrack from Baby Driver  (iTunes) (Apple Music) and this song came on that blew my mind a little bit. After a little investigation, I discovered it was a jazz band from the late 60's and early 70's from Houston Texas known as the Kashmere Stage Band. Further investigation revealed this was not a band formed of seasoned professionals but instead high school kids. Bandleader and teacher Conrad O. Johnson wrote arrangements for his band that were a unique mix of jazz and funk and he got such a sound out of his band. It just makes you want to dance. It's a crazy story that eventually became the subject of a documentary film, Thunder Soul, (YouTube) produced by Jamie Foxx. You don't have to go that deep if you don't want to, however. Just stream or buy their album, Thunder Soul, and prepare yourself for some big band jazz, unlike anything you've heard before. 

Jazz Friday: Jacob Collier

Last Jazz Friday I wrote about prodigy Joey Alexander and received a lot of feedback from readers that are now Joey Alexander fans. So this time I thought I'd cover another prodigy, Jacob Collier. Jacob's parents are both musicians with the Royal Academy of Music in London and the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

In addition to the ability to play the keyboard and just about any stringed instrument, Jacob has a 4-octave voice. In 2011 he went viral with his YouTube video rendition of Pure Imagination. My favorite, although, is Fascinating Rhythm. Jacob is ridiculously talented and at just 22, understands harmony in ways that I'll never figure out in my lifetime. He's now working with Quincy Jones and I expect we'll be hearing more from Jacob in the future.

 

 

Jazz Friday – Joey Alexander, Countdown

I wrote up Joey Alexander, the 13-year-old Indonesian jazz prodigy pianist earlier this year. Joey just released a new album, Countdown (Apple Music)(iTunes), The last time I wrote about Joey, I explained that he is more than just technically proficient. He also plays with his heart. You can hear that even more in the new album. This album is full of John Coltrane music (another Jazz Friday alum) and it's delicious from beginning to end. 

My favorite track is Countdown (Apple Music)(iTunes). I wouldn't however listen to that track while driving. I could see myself accelerating to 100mph during the piano solo.

Victor Cajiao's Surrender

Over a year ago I was talking to my pal Victor Cajiao and he told me he was making an album. From a lot of people I'd hear something like that and smile and wonder if he truly knew what he was getting himself in for. With Victor, I immediately knew that not only would he finish the album, he'd make it great. Victor delivered with Surrender. It's a fusion jazz album extremely well done. You can get the album at CD Baby. I really enjoyed reading Victor's description of the tracks as I listened. Of course you can download the album in MP3, but you can also download in FLAC if you like because Victor's a nerd just like the rest of us.