Philadelphia has bred an astonishing number of great jazz musicians, like John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and so many more. According to 81 year-old drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath: “Some guys joke and say it’s in the water. A lot of wonderful people that I grew up with and experienced playing with came out of Philadelphia.”
The “Tootie” thing? “It came from my grandfather, he gave me that name when I was a very tiny little person. But then he died before I could figure out why. So that’s been my name all through life. A lot of people know me as Tootie and not as Albert Heath.”
The Heath household that raised brothers Jimmy (sax), Percy (bass) and Albert (drums) was a magnet for the all-important “hang,” the informal gatherings of musicians and friends for food, conversation and jamming. “I’m sorry that house wasn’t enshrined, because some of the greatest people in jazz came through that house,” says Tootie. John Coltrane’s house in Philadelphia was listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places in 1999.
Tootie’s first recording was with Coltrane in 1957. His most recent recordings have been with Ethan Iverson of the trio Bad Plus, and a 5-part suite written by pianist Richard Sears called “Altadena.” That CD is being released by Ropeadope Records, and the suite will be performed on October 2 at the Royal Room in Seattle.
Tootie says, “Richard was commissioned to write the suite [by the Los Angeles Jazz Society in 2013], and I was privileged to have him ask me to perform it with him at the Jon Anson Ford Theatre in Los Angeles. About two years later we made the recording of it, and now we’re doing the tour.”
He enjoyed working with the young composer. “His music was very new for me, his approach to writing was very new, his performing was new. All those young people in the group were wonderful, they did his music justice. It was a great experience.”
The Altadena suite has a lot of space for improvisation. “It is more free-form. Richard said he wanted me to play as freely as possible, so it gave me an chance to reach back and grab some of my very old experiences, like with Don Cherry and Abdullah Ibrahim. Lately I haven’t had the opportunity play that freely until Richard came along with this suite.”
Tootie enjoys his interaction with young people. He’s been a regular instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and this year was artist-in-residence at the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp in New Orleans. “It was very fun. I met some wonderful young people, the faculty and administrators, too. I’ll never forget it. I learned some things about music history that I didn’t know. It’s a great historical place.”
He likes to stay busy. He’ll be helping brother Jimmy celebrate his 90th birthday at Lincoln Center in NYC on October 25th, and after that, he’ll be at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, performing with his drum group “Whole Drum Truth,” which includes Sylvia Cuenca, Joe Saylor and Louis Hayes.
Tootie is looking forward to this trip to Seattle, and he fondly recalls the Seattle jazz greats he’s worked with over the years: Lucky Thompson, Buddy Catlett, Hadley Caliman and Julian Priester. “A lot of my contemporaries lived in Seattle. I’m happy to be able to come there and perform, especially with Richard and with a whole new approach, for me, to music.”
Hear The Altadena Suite by the Richard Sears Sextet featuring the legendary Albert Tootie Heath at Seattle’s Royal Room on Sunday October 2.
Saxophonist Chico Freeman has been on a 10-year journey of discovery.
“I always wanted to try to live in another place, besides the United States. I went from Chicago to New York, and I always had it in my mind that I wanted to base myself somewhere else in the world. I wanted to edify myself about other cultures and how people express music relative to their cultures,” he says.
“At first I thought about France, because of the history France has with jazz, from Sidney Bechet to Eric Dolphy and a lot of musicians who went to France. I thought about Northern Europe, Copenhagen, places like that, because of Dexter Gordon spending so much time there. I also wanted to try Japan and Australia.”
Chico ended up in Greece, then the Balkans. “I met a lot of Gypsy people, and I found that really interesting, because I found a similarity to the blues musicians in America, in the ways they live and their relationship to society. Flamenco music in Spain was originally Gypsy music. It’s their blues form.”
He’s had the opportunity to spend time in Africa, too. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Congo, South Africa, Morocco, and Algeria all offered him a chance to explore the many cultures and musical forms of the continent.
Not that he’s lacking in music and culture from his home country. Chico is part of Chicago’s musical Freeman family. His father, beloved saxophonist Von Freeman was a mainstay of that city’s music scene, and Von’s brothers George (guitar) and Bruz (drums) lived and worked with him. Young Chico and the neighborhood kids would check out their rehearsals, and they also got to hear Andrew Hill, Ahmad Jamal, Malachi Favors and other Chicago-based jazz greats when they came to work with Von.
Von was one of the founders of the “Chicago School” of tenor sax, along with Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin and Clifford Jordan. Chico worked as a bartender so he could hear their jam sessions and see other musicians from New York and around the world as they came through. It was quite an education for the aspiring young saxophonist.
“Chicago is the home of the urban blues. If you’re a musician from Chicago, you’ve got to know how to play the blues.” Chico gigged with BB King and Buddy Guy.
He also worked with drummer Elvin Jones in the late 1970s. “Elvin was a good friend and a great mentor. Since John Coltrane was a big influence on me, working with Elvin was a dream for me.”
Chico left Chicago for the many musical opportunities in New York, which included spending a good deal of his time with the Latin Jazz masters like Machito, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. He formed his own Latin band, Guataca. He’s been to Cuba and has worked with the Duke Ellington of that country, Chucho Valdez.
Chico’s got about 40 recordings under his own name, and a world-wide reputation as an innovator.
Having been so many places and having worked with so many great musicians, Chico has come to believe that “…playing this music is a privilege. It takes hard work, dedication and commitment. But it pays off. And it’s probably one of the noblest professions you can go into, especially if you enter it with purity of heart. By that I mean, I believe it’s only music, by its nature, that gives the practitioner the opportunity to express himself, or herself, in non-conditional terms. That’s something I believe people look for, and need.
Dizzy Gillespie said that jazz was the search for truth. That’s exactly what it is. It’s the search for the truth of who you are at that moment. It’s a pure truth. That’s as much truth as anybody has. This music gives you the opportunity to do that. And when you do that, you connect with your audience. If the people who are there are able to share that with you, that’s possibly the most honest, truest connection you can have with any other person.”
The Chico Freeman 4-tet CD, “Spoken Into Existence” is a beautiful recording that released in May, and the band has been touring the US. They’ll be at the Triple Door in Seattle tomorrow, Tuesday August 16, and I’ll be hosting a live Studio Session with them that afternoon at 2pm on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.
Drummer Matt Wilson delights in being a little different. His enthusiasm for the quirky is infectious, as I found out in our phone conversation last week.
Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-o plays slightly warped or just plain outrageous versions of Christmas carols and “holiday favorites.” The Tree-o has been active for a few years, and they’ve recorded a CD, but just like the white-bearded man in the red suit, they have a limited season.
You can catch Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-o at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle on December 8 and 9. Matt advises wearing your most obnoxious Christmas sweater. Santa hats, antlers and jingle bells are also encouraged.
“We’ve added new songs for this tour, and two short films. It’s a multimedia entertainment experience,” says Matt. “The Matt Wilson Christmas Special, like Andy Williams!”
Especially exciting for the band this year are the matching red velvet blazers they’ll be wearing. That, and the first annual Jazz Alley Christmas Lighting of the Drumset ceremony, which Matt has invited me to officiate.
Matt is all about fun, but he’s a serious musician and committed to being a jazz educator, too. He does clinics and workshops all over the country, including at Centrum in Port Townsend and the Cornish College Seattle Jazz Experience.
“I do it mainly because I was given those kind of opportunities by people, especially by players. I saw workshops when I was a kid by Louis Bellson and Clark Terry, and the stories you get from those folks are amazing. I’m really dedicated to trying to foster and provide growth for the mentor/apprenticeship aspect of learning the music. I believe in the institutions, too, and I’m part of them. What we do there is provide people with craft, and also the inspiration to continue to learn, continue to be curious, continue to really want to know. You’re learning this for the rest of your life.”
Matt and his good friend vibraphonist Stefon Harris agree that they get the same satisfaction from teaching as they do from performing at this point in their lives.
The Tree-o is only one of Matt’s musical projects. He has the Matt Wilson Quartet and the group called Arts and Crafts. His new CD coming out in March is dedicated to his wife of almost 32 years, Felicia, who died in July of 2014. When he’s not touring, recording or giving workshops, Matt spends as much time as he can with his daughter, a senior in high school who is very active in theatre, and his triplet sons who “…are 14 now. And they’re huge!” Matt’s very proud of his kids.
The Christmas Tree-o is more than a novelty act. The musicianship is superb, and the teamwork and the fun of taking chances together makes Matt wish they could play year-round.
“Here at Christmas Tree Headquarters, in Baldwin NY, we’ve had various meetings about how to expand the concept. We might expand it to other holidays: Labor Day Trio, Arbor Day Tree-o, or just a monthly calendar trio, play a Valentine’s Day song and a Halloween song, etc.”
He’s looking forward to this trip. “I love Seattle, I love the musicians there, I love the audiences there, I love the town. It’s become another great home for me in the US, like Chicago and the Bay Area,” he says.
Matt has invited many of his Seattle musician friends to come sit in with the Tree-o at Jazz Alley, and hopes that they will bring their students along too. It sounds like a holiday experience that you won’t want to miss. Jim Wilke will be hosting on Tuesday night at Jazz Alley, and I’ll be there on Wednesday night…with bells on!
Here’s a sample of Christmas Tree-o fun from NPR Music:
Clarinetist Anat Cohen’s transcendent appearances with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra last February are still resonating.
“I loved the trip to Seattle, loved meeting all the people there, the SRJO and other musicians, it was great time, and a wonderful hang,” she says. “Everybody there is so nice!”
Her latest CD “Luminosa” features a number of beautiful Brazilian melodies. Anat first encountered the varied styles of Brazilian music when she was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I met some Brazilian musicians and they invited me to play in different shows with them, and I just fell in love with the music and the people, the whole culture and language. The language- everything about it sounded so mysterious and musical. Also, Brazilian people are very similar in their behavior to the Israeli people, very physical, similar expressions…I felt so comfortable. I wanted to be part of it and learn more about it, so I pursued it as much as I could, immersed myself in it for 15 years. I went to Brazil a bunch of times and learned the language. I fell in love with it.”
She’s always an exuberant player, but playing Brazilian music lifts her to higher level of joy. It’s something she’s started to recognize and think about.
“I wonder why it is, and how I can have this feeling everywhere, every time, in every musical situation and personal situation. It’s a challenge.”
Anat will be busy during this visit to Seattle for the Earshot Jazz Festival, starting with a recently added concert on November 9 at the PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the Arts. She’ll be doing a master class at noon on November 10 at Cornish, then she’ll bring her quartet to KPLU for a live Studio Session at 2pm, and finally the second (sold out) Earshot Jazz Festival Concert at PONCHO Concert Hall at 8pm.
Listen for some music from Anat Cohen’s CD “Luminosa” on this week’s Jazz Caliente, Thursday at 2pm on KPLU!
Singer Ed Reed and saxophonist Anton Schwartz met almost 10 years ago in the SF Bay area. Ed was 78 years old at the time, and just getting recognized as a jazz singer.
Partly due to his love of jazz, Ed has survived drug addiction and multiple prison terms. Four CDs later, he’s been on the Downbeat Critic’s Poll list of “Rising Stars” for six years, topping that list in 2014. Read more about Ed’s amazing life at edreedsings.com.
“I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, and I was thinking Coltrane, I wasn’t thinking about Johnny Hartman. I was thinking about the ballads that Coltrane played, and as soon as I opened my mouth, everybody said ‘Hartman’. That’s the way it evolved, and it’s really been a lot of fun, people have appreciated it,” says Ed.
The 1963 John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album is an iconic romantic ballads recording which was re-introduced to music lovers through the 1995 Clint Eastwood film “The Bridges of Madison County.” Ed and Anton will be playing the songs from that album on November 6 and 7 at Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club for the Earshot Jazz Festival.
“I came of age with that recording,” says Anton Schwartz. “It helped me through some of my dark hours when I was in college. I’ve listened to it dozens, if not hundreds of times. So there’s that ages-old question of how do you honor something without trying to duplicate it.”
Ed: “We’re doing ‘Lush Life’ in a way that nobody’s done it, just saxophone and voice. I wanted to do it with just me and that one instrument, and Anton is ideal. And I feel like we’re still growing into it. It’s all new each time we do it. And that goes for the rest of the songs, too. I don’t think we’ve done any of it the same way twice.”
Anton: “I have to go at it each time without any pre-conception, because you’re telling the story, and it’s my job primarily to be in the moment and see where you’re leading things.”
Ed: “We try to stay close to the original arrangements, but everything else is kind of free-flowing. It’s exciting.”
Anton: “Coltrane and Hartman only recorded six songs, so we’re doing a bunch of other things, all of it from Coltrane, a few that maybe people aren’t as familiar with.”
Ed and Anton will perform at Tula’s this Friday and Saturday with Dawn Clement on piano, Michael Glynn on bass and D’vonne Lewis on drums.
Born and raised in Cadiz, this remarkable Spanish pianist recently moved his family to Seattle, adding a flamenco touch to our outstanding musical scene. “I have played in so many places around the world and in the USA, and for me, Seattle is one of the most wonderful cities. We are very happy to be here,” he says.
“I grew up in a poor family in the south of Spain, in Andalusia. It was hard, because I didn’t have an instrument, and I cried every year for a flamenco guitar. I finally got a guitar when I was eight years old, and I started playing the music of the city of Cadiz, where flamenco was born. So that was my first instrument. But when I was a teenager, I discovered the music of Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever, and I started to play keyboards and to transcribe from the records. They were my first jazz teachers.”
Chano was already a star in Europe when he made his appearance in Fernando Trueba’s 2001 film Calle 54, which introduced him to American audiences. He won a Latin Grammy for his part of the soundtrack for that movie, and his 2012 Blue Note recording Flamenco Sketches was Grammy nominated for Best Latin Jazz album.
“Flamenco Sketches was recorded in the Jazz Standard club in New York. It was a great experience for me to play the Miles Davis music I’d been listening to for 30 years, to play it in the way I like to play my own music, with the flamenco rhythms like bulería, soleá, tanguillo or tango, in the flavor of my childhood.”
His most recent recording is with flamenco guitarist Niño Josele. It’s a collection of melodic standards by Michel LeGrand, Henry Mancini and others “with the flamenco blend inside.” Another CD releasing soon is Chano with Europe’s premier big band, the WDR Big Band. Chano composed all new music for the band, and he’s very excited about the recording.
For his Earshot Jazz Festival première, he wants to “show the music I’m doing now as well as the music I’ve done in the last 30 years. So selections from my recordings from 1993 forward, selecting the songs that are most important to me.”
Chano is delighted to have talented Seattle musicians like bassist Jeff Johnson, percussionist Jose Martinez and saxophone master Hans Teuber in the band for this concert. “They understand my music very well,” he says. He’s also thrilled with the venue for the concert, the grand magical cabaret/circus tent of Teatro ZinZanni. “I love it!” And he let drop that there will be a surprise performance involving Chano’s son Pablo. I won’t say anymore…it’s a surprise, after all.
This concert will be recorded by Jim Wilke for a future Jazz Northwest program, which airs Sundays at 2pm on KPLU.
Listen for Chano’s music on Jazz Caliente this week, at 2pm on Thursday during KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.
Hear the Chano Domínguez Quartet and more on Wednesday October 28 at Teatro ZinZanni, part of the 2015 Earshot Jazz Festival.
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd is a mystic, a nature lover and a sound-seeker. He seems to inhabit an enchanted space, and considers himself in service to the music, which he must share. “It changes the molecules,” he explains. “People seem to brighten up, and I brighten up, and we all get blessed.” He also has an uncanny ability to look backward and forward at the same time, which makes for some interesting conversations.
His latest CD “Wild Man Dance” resulted from a commission by a Polish jazz festival, asking for a large work utilizing a symphony orchestra and choruses, and whatever he wanted to do. Charles added a Hungarian cimbalom, a large dulcimer. “I’m a big fan of Hungarian music, Bela Bartok and all of that. (Guitarist) Gabor Szabo used to play with me, he’s from over there. I have this deep connection with that music,” he says. “The Wild Man Dance, that name comes from all those great wild men that I played with throughout my life. The Wild Men are the guys who go inside and face the mirror of their inadequacies, face the Creator and ask for the divine elixirs.”
“I started out in Memphis, my hero was Phineas Newborn, my first mentor; Booker Little was my best friend. I went to school with Harold Mabern and Frank Strozier…we were just dreamers and we were trying to get up into the heavens with the music.
“I also played these blues gigs with Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker, BB King, Roscoe Gordon. That early information from Memphis was very powerful because those guys were great masters. Also coming through town were Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.” Charles’ mother had a big house and the bandleaders would stay there. “Duke did tell my mother, don’t let that boy be a musician, let him be a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, this life is too hard, but by that time I was already bit by the cobra, and there was not much choice. They couldn’t talk me out of it. I’ve traveled around the globe and played with all the great musicians. I’ve been really blessed.”
For the Earshot Jazz Festival, he’ll be appearing with his latest crop of young musicians: Gerald Clayton at the piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.
“I’ve been coming to your beautiful area for a long time, I have lots of dear friends there, I’ve played the festival several times. I’ve been coming to Seattle since the 1960s…before you were born.”
I protest, “Not quite before I was born, but before I knew you,” which starts him on the “Younger Than Springtime” theme that he’s been using in conversations lately. “I have these young musicians who want to serve with me now, and I remember the time when I was the youngest musician, and all the elders were bringing me along.”
“I’m really enamored with this group, we just played two concerts in Memphis, and then I’ve been in the studio, mastering and mixing various things of mine. So I’m always busy, and I love that I can still find elevation in the music and I still love it and it makes me to be almost like you, younger than springtime. I just love to go on this journey of playing music.”
For his next project, Charles is working on recordings from a recent tour with guitarist Bill Frisell, which he expects to be released in January.
Journey with the Charles Lloyd Quartet this Saturday October 17 at 8pm in Seattle’s Town Hall, it’s part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.
Edmar Castañeda plays the arpa llanera, a traditional folkloric instrument from Columbia and Venezuela. Classical harps have 46 or 47 strings, but the smaller llanera has only 32. That makes it lighter, swifter and somehow more versatile…at least it sounds like it in the hands of this master from Bogotá.
Edmar comes from a musical family, and at age 7 started folkloric dance classes along with his sister. The thing he liked best about the classes was the music, and the harp in particular. “As soon as I heard it, I knew I was born to play the harp!” he says. When he was 13, he was given an instrument by his aunt, after constantly asking her to let him come over and play hers. He’s been playing harp ever since.
When he moved to New York in the 1990s, he delighted in the multi-cultural blend of music he found there. He studied trumpet and discovered jazz, and then decided to make his harp an instrument of exploration: mixing jazz and music from around the world.
When I asked him if the llanera requires any special care or maintenance, he laughed. “Just play it! The harp gets sad if you don’t play it. If you play it all the time, it knows you love it.”
Castañeda has also designed a harp that’s being produced by the French harp builder, Camac. He’s proud of the finished product and the innovations that have been adopted to the traditional arpa llanera.
Edmar will be playing solo for his first appearance in Seattle, showcasing his original music with influences from Columbia, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and New York. The concert is Friday October 16 at the PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the Arts. It’s part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.
Listen for Edmar Casteñeda’s music on Jazz Caliente this week, Thursday afternoon at 2pm on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz!
Initiated last year by Kent Devereaux, the former Music Department Chair of Cornish College of the Arts, the Seattle Jazz Experience is a youth jazz festival that presents two full days of workshops and performances this Friday and Saturday at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. It’s collaboration between Cornish, Earshot Jazz, Seattle JazzEd and Seattle Center.
Dr. David Deacon-Joyner, Director of Jazz Studies at Pacific Lutheran University is on the steering committee for the festival.
“The idea was to have a local jazz festival that’s on a national level. The real intention, primarily, was to bring at least regional attention to the Seattle jazz scene,” says Joyner. “Seattle has a world-class jazz scene. And it’s as distinctive as New York or LA or any other place would be. We wanted to showcase that, and the myriad of styles that jazz covers in Seattle, from straight-ahead to very experimental. We wanted to bring both high school and college ensembles to the region so they could take a look at Seattle and its jazz scene.”
Hence the name “Seattle Jazz Experience.”
There are a number of high school jazz band festivals and performance opportunities all over the country, but far fewer at the college level.
This festival is built around a featured composer-in-residence, who provides compositions for the bands to work on, and who will do clinics with selected ensembles. This year’s featured composer is Christine Jensen, the Canadian saxophonist and composer who is a recipient of 5-star reviews in Downbeat Magazine and a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy).
This year’s impressive list of guest artists who will do clinics and concerts: the genre-defying group Kneebody, guitarist Julian Lage, trombonist Robin Eubanks, pianist Darrell Grant, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Scott Colley.
“Last year’s inaugural festival was just the greatest vibe in the world,” says Dr. Joyner. “The interaction with the kids, the after-hours jam sessions, the ensembles, it was absolutely electric. They did such a beautiful job. We know that this year it will be another knock-it-out-of-the-park experience.” He hopes the Seattle Jazz Experience will become a feature of Seattle’s arts community. “Seattle deserves to have a festival like this, one that showcases its local jazz scene, but also puts the invitation out to high schools and colleges worldwide. I think it’s important to highlight this region between Portland and Seattle as a bottomless pool of talent.”
The Seattle Jazz Experience is Friday March 13 and Saturday March 14 at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. You’ll find the list of this year’s participating schools, the concert schedule, tickets and information at seattlejazzexperience.org.
Christine Jensen plays her composition “Blue Yonder.”
Mark your calendar for some great live Latin Jazz in October and November!
Coming to Seattle’s Jazz Alley October 18-21 (Thurs-Sun) on his 91st birthday tour, Candido Camero worked with Machito in Cuba, then came to the US in the early 1950s. He recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and was featured on Art Blakey’s classic album Drum Suite. He’s credited with being the first percussionist to use 3 conga drums at once, each tuned to a different pitch in order to play melody, not just keep time.
Also coming to Jazz Alley, Orquesta Aragon was formed in 1939 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. A traditional charanga ensemble that features flute and violins instead of a brass section, the group presents Cuba’s most popular musical genres of son, danzon and cha cha cha. Perfect for a night of dancing! They’ll be at Jazz Alley two nights, October 30 and 31.
Nine-time Grammy Award winner and a 2013 NEA Jazz Master, pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri has led innovative salsa and latin jazz bands for over 50 years. As a youngster he wanted to play drums. He explains his unique piano style this way: “I’m a frustrated percussionist, so I take it out on the piano.” Mr. Palmieri is as much fun to watch as he is to listen to, and he’ll be at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma with percussionist Jose Madera and the UPS Jazz Band on November 1.
Pianist, composer, arranger, and professor of music, he’s won 5 Grammy Awards and 3 Latin Grammys. Known as “The Duke Ellington of Cuba,” he’s served as the director of the Havana Jazz Festival, founded the influential group Irakere, and is noted as one of the world’s greatest pianists. He’s the son of Cuban music legend Bebo Valdes, and his own son, Chuchito is also a pianist. Chucho Valdes appears at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle on November 3.