Download Hot House Pdf Here:  December Hot House Jazz Guide


Erica Lindsay

Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

The Only Constant

When composer, saxophonist, educator Erica Lindsay began work on her new commission, “Meditations on Transformation,” she didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “Everything is always evolving and transforming—things are constantly changing in nature, in our bodies, our souls. Nothing stays the same. I wanted to translate those ideas into a musical narrative,” she explains.

The common thread of change joins the ten separate movements of the suite. At the start of the writing process, Erica meditates on an image or inspiration—such as a blood orange-hued August full moon. “There’s an emotional transformation, starting in a deep introspective space, you see where that leads you, what it inspires. It could be a more energetic, hopeful space.”

The saxophonist studied with Mal Waldron, and played with Mary Lou Williams, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, George Gruntz, Oliver Lake, Melba Liston & Co., Howard Johnson and Baikida Carroll; she also guested with diverse bands from A to Z—Art Blakey to Frank Zappa. Erica composed “Meditations on Transformation” with long-time collaborators Alchemy Sound Project in mind.

            In addition to Erica, the collective’s core members include pianist Sumi Tonooka, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, multi-instrumentalist Salim Washington and bassist David Arend. “It’s a unique group, with the interesting voices you get to play with as a composer,” Erica notes. “It’s a treat to write for their specific voices and musical personalities.”

The collective has two albums out, and a third set for 2019 release. Alchemy Sound Project members are far-flung, spread out from the East and West coasts of the U.S. to Africa, but they are going to get together this month to perform the new material. “We have to make it work during a specific small timeframe,” she says.

The collective features a rotating roster of special guests; trombonist Willem de Koch and drummer Victor Lewis are on hand for the debut of “Meditations on Transformation.”

“Each person that comes in, you see their strengths, their personal voices, and you try to make the most of it from a compositional point of view,” says Erica. “That’s what I love about being a jazz composer; there’s a chemical kind of process among the players. There’s the written part, then there’s what they’re going to put into that note on the page. For each, their own voice creates a chemical change. It transforms. Ultimately, it surprises you. It can be a wondrous experience.” 

Catch the New York premiere of “Meditations in Transformation” Dec. 11 at Greenwich House. Besides presenting her new work in its entirety, Erica also hopes to play some compositions from Alchemy Sound Project’s 2018 release Adventures in Time and Space. The new work was commissioned by Chamber Music America New Jazz Works, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation. Grants like these “give composers a chance to dig in and do an ambitious project,” Erica says. “It’s a great opportunity to explore, and makes you grow as a composer.”

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Adam O’Farrill

Fresh Takes by Nick Dunston

Trumpeter and composer Adam O’Farrill is no stranger to the New York jazz scene. In addition to being a sideman to established artists such as Stephan Crump and Rudresh Mahanthappa, he is also a prolific composer, primarily utilizing his working quartet Stranger Days. Adam often writes music for projects separate from his usual band and, accordingly, is premiering a taste of his latest effort later this month. On the beginnings of a new project Bird Blown Out of Latitude, he says “I’d been inspired by this documentary called Coda about Ryuichi Sakamoto. He talks about his most recent album Async, and that his goal was to write a score for a movie that only exists in his head—or maybe one that doesn’t exist at all? I don’t remember exactly what he said. But that fueled me in wanting to write a new book of music, wanting to achieve a similar goal. This music came from a place of feeling like I was losing my center. Emotionally, mentally, physically, maybe spiritually. To travel and lose sense of place, that’s what this music reflects.”

Adam O’Farrill performs Bird Blown Out of Latitude at The Jazz Gallery Dec. 14-15.

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Anne Phillips

Another Reason to Celebrate by Elzy Kolb

All in the family

“It’s good to be the busiest old lady you ever saw,” declares composer, pianist, singer and writer Anne Phillips, while deep in the throes of preparing for the annual presentation of Bending Towards the Light, a Jazz Nativity. Since its 1985 debut, the show has been a magnet for some of the most beloved names in jazz, including Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Candido, Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Valentin, Lew Soloff and a host of others.  

Getting artists involved has never been a problem; though scheduling conflicts occasionally forces some players to regretfully decline, others, including musical legends such as the great Tito Puente, just say “no” to other gigs in favor of this festive holiday tradition. 

This year, the 33rd season, trombonist and shell maven Steve Turre, tap dancer Maurice Chestnut and drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria are slated to appear as the three kings. “Bobby will play the part I wrote for Tito, that will wake the place up,” Anne notes. She recalls that a few years back, Bobby ran out to his car to get some drumsticks as props for a pre-show photo shoot. Already bedecked in his regal robes, the percussionist found himself the center of attention on a busy Manhattan street, garnering smiles from even the most jaded New Yorkers.

Numerous artists have left their stamp on the production. “Things have grown organically,” Anne points out. “We still use the scat chorus the New York Voices wrote for us, and the Latin backup Steve Turre sketched out is part of the book now.” Longtime CBS journalist Charles Kuralt is another contributor. “I wrote something for him and he Kuraltized it,” Anne says, citing her favorite passage: “It is a very spiritual story. And jazz is a very spiritual music—the most spontaneous and personal form of music. What you will hear tonight comes straight from the heart.”

As with every performance of Bending Towards the Light, the jazz family—such as vocalists the Royal Bopsters, drummer Tim Horner, trombonist Art Baron, bassist Dean Johnson and saxophonist Anton Denner—is going to turn out in full force. In 2018, some of the people on stage actually share family ties, including tween twin tap dancers Jaden and Ellis Foreman; the saxophone-playing Anderson Twins, Peter and Will; and the Jensen sisters: trumpeter Ingrid and saxophonist Christine. 

Anne never thought Bending Towards the Light would become an annual tradition. “But after the first performance, a custodian at the space told me, ‘This should be in Radio City!’ That was my tipoff that I might be on to something.” The show traditionally ends with a joyous rendition of “Deck the Halls,” with players sitting in and the audience singing along. “This is the most extraordinary place to be in the whole world,” was Anne’s thought during one finale. “Onstage, surrounded by the greatest jazz musicians on the planet, listening to them improvise and hearing the audience’s reaction and feedback—it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Bending Towards the Light has been staged at concert halls, theaters, clubs, auditoriums and even at a synagogue. “The rabbi invited us, saying it was a beautiful way to show respect for different traditions,” Anne says. This year you can fire up your holiday spirit Dec. 16 at Christ & Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church on West 69th St. in Manhattan, as Kindred Spirits and Chelsea Opera present Bending Towards the Light, a Jazz Nativity. The show’s popularity extends beyond the five boroughs. This year, there also will be productions in Syracuse, Utica, Chicago and Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Veronica Swift

Veronica Swift: On Storytelling by Seton Hawkins

In some respects, it might seem as though the rise to fame of vocalist Veronica Swift has been sudden and massive. Indeed, while still a young singer, Veronica is now rapidly becoming a national and international name, particularly following her second-place win in the 2015 Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition. On the other hand, one could argue this acclaim is a long-time coming for Veronica, who is in fact a veteran of the industry, having grown up in a household of professional jazz artists and who, therefore, has been singing her entire life. Hearing Veronica’s impeccable artistry—a confident sense of swing, a skilled ability to scat and a deeply nuanced sense of delivering lyrics—one becomes quickly aware that one is in fact hearing a seasoned pro.

Exploring her performance calendar, one can certainly see that the past three years have been marked by an explosion in her career, leading her into near-nonstop touring and working extensively with artists like Benny Green and Wynton Marsalis, while also leading her own highly acclaimed ensembles and recording as a bandleader. In fact, December serves as a wonderful microcosm for the inspiring—if hectic—career of hers. As she comes off a lengthy run at Birdland leading her own group, Veronica finds herself touring the U.S. with Wynton and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra through Dec. 23; the very next day, Veronica begins spending the final week of 2018 performing with Chris Botti at Blue Note. A stint with either artist would be a career highlight for many musicians; to achieve both is a stunning testament to Veronica’s abilities.

“I was singing at The Django one night, and Chris happened to be there and liked my work,” she recalls. “I’ve been touring with him for about a year now. With Jazz at Lincoln Center, I performed in a Benny Goodman show with the orchestra in January, and that went well; so when they called about this, of course I wanted to do it.”

This rapidly building fan club comprising highly acclaimed musicians is no accident; anyone who has heard Veronica sing is aware that she is a singular talent. Having been raised in a household of exceptional musicians—her parents are vocalist Stephanie Nakasian and late pianist Hod O’Brien—Veronica grew up with a direct line into the bebop tradition, learning crucial lessons that she has confidently molded into her own unique sound. Additionally, she has taken inspiration from, without copying, the artistry of a number of legendary vocalists, especially Anita O’Day.

“When I started digging into the history of the music and seeking out my own tastes, I came to Anita’s music,” Veronica notes. “She was an edgy singer. A lot of this music is very ‘adult,’ with complex emotional situations. Anita would let some of the ugliness come out. I loved that, and I loved her time – the way she floated over fast tempos. That was a huge influence on the way I sing today.”

Veronica’s recordings, notably her superb effort Lonely Woman, have offered glimpses of a talented lyricist and composer, and future endeavors may well find her exploring her compositional skills more fully. “Jazz is one medium that I use to tell stories but, to me, that’s the real genre: storytelling,” she explains. “We’re all up there telling stories, whether it’s a singer playing jazz or an actor in a play. Theater has always been my passion, and I want to incorporate that into my career. When it’s the proper time, I’ll unleash a jazz musical I’ve written. I’ve been meeting with off-Broadway producers and directors, because I think that’s where a lot of the provocative work is being done that really challenges audiences.”

This emphasis on finding unique and compelling avenues for storytelling may indeed lie at the heart of Veronica’s success, and will hopefully guide her to further artistic achievements.

“When I meet and talk with audiences around the world, everyone agrees that, even if they may not know a particular genre, they all need to hear good stories,” she explains. “Jazz itself may not be in the mainstream today, but if you approach it with the spirit of telling the great story in a song, then you can bring people into jazz.”

Veronica Swift performs with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Rose Theater Dec. 19-23, and with Chris Botti at Blue Note Dec. 26-Jan. 6.

Photo Credit:  Bill Westmoreland

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