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George Cables

George Cables’ Jazz Visions By Eugene Holley, Jr 

It took a pandemic to bring pianist George Cables’ 50 plus-year career to a brief halt. Since the late ’60s, the 76 year old has established himself on both the East and the West Coasts as a reliable and valuable sideman with Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as a current member of super band The Cookers and as a leader, with 49 recordings to his credit.

George’s powerful blend of Thelonious Monk’s harmonic language and McCoy Tyner’s power is going to be in full effect when he takes to the stage at the Jazz Forum with a safety-protocoled, social distanced, half-capacity venue, backed by Nigerian-American artist and fellow Jazz Messengers alum, bassist Essiet Essiet, and band newcomer, drummer Jerome Jennings. “Essiet has a great beat and a great feel, and he’s always present,” says George, “so I always feel his presence and musicality. Jerome is a very fine drummer and musician; he brings enthusiasm and musicality, and we’re just getting to know each other.” 

Much of the set list for the Jazz Forum engagement comes from George’s new recording—his 50th as a leader—entitled Too Close for Comfort. “[The title track] may be possible for the gig,” George reveals. “There’s a new track called ‘This is My Song’ and another new one is ‘Circle of Love.’ There’s one that’s been around for a while called ‘Klimo,’ and [the standard] ‘For All We Know’—maybe two of Bobby Hutcherson’s pieces, ‘Roses Poses’ and ‘Teddy,’ and one of Tadataka Unno’s pieces called ‘Crazy Love.’” 

George has been in love with jazz for a long time. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, he was classically trained and well schooled in music theory when he first encountered jazz as a teenager. “I first heard Charlie Parker on a record when I was about 14,” he recalls. “My friend Larry Fishkin, who was a tuba player in high school, turned me on to some Thelonious Monk records, and I got very excited about that. Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ was a big hit, and there was Art Blakey’s Drum Suite … they all really ignited my fire. I used to go to the Five Spot to see Monk and Charles Mingus. I didn’t just get to hear the music. I got to see them make the music.”

George learned how to improvise with the help of another high school friend, Richard Maldonado, who was later known as Ricardo Ray of the La Playa Sextet. George graduated from the famed High School of Music and Art and attended the Mannes School of Music from 1963 to 1965 when he began gigging around New York with many artists including Max Roach and Paul Jeffrey. He formed a teenage band called The Jazz Samaritans, which featured bassist Clint Houston and drummer Billy Cobham. George also worked with Woody Shaw who, along with local jazz impresario/promoter Jim Harrison, got George into Blakey’s Jazz Messengers ensemble in 1969. 

Inspired by a love interest and fed up with New York’s crime and the diminishing jazz scene, George moved to California in 1971 and stayed for 20 years, living in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He worked with many West Coast-based musicians including Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson, but his two most influential gigs were with Art Pepper and Dexter Gordon. “Art was a very lyrical player who played beautiful ballads,” says George. “Dexter was a musical father. He came from L.A. and would sit down and talk about the history of music, the territorial bands and the influence that Lester Young had on him. So those two guys are very important.” 

George’s first recording as a leader Why Not was released in 1975; other significant albums include Cables Vision (Contemporary, 1979), which features the radio-friendly tracks “Morning Song” and “Inner Glow,” and showcases Cables on electric piano; By George (Contemporary, 1987), his tribute to George Gershwin; and The George Cables Songbook (HighNote, 2016).

George moved back to New York in 1991. “There’s a certain drive and energy that’s here in New York,” he remarks. Today, George Cables still draws on that energy. “I was able to write some new pieces and record a new CD,” he reports, referencing an album with Roni Ben-Hur and with the Cookers, as well as his new piano songbook. “When you write music, you’re discovering something about yourself. So, I'm looking forward to discovering more about myself.”

George Cables performs with Essiet Essiet and Jerome Jennings at Jazz Forum June 25-26; and with Ed Howard on bass at Mezzrow June 18.

Photo Credit by Anna Yatskevitch

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Camille Thurman

Close Listening with Camille Thurman By Seton Hawkins

As Jazz at Lincoln Center wraps up its virtual programming of the 2020-21 season, it is perhaps only natural to close out the run with a celebration of the life and works of John Coltrane. Indeed, his music’s intense spiritual journey—one marked by struggle, constant reflection, growth and triumph—is perhaps most acutely instructive during these times. As a result, June 10 finds the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) returning to the well of Trane’s music in a show that is also marked by the return of a special guest: saxophonist and vocalist Camille Thurman.

Camille is far from a stranger to the orchestra, having enjoyed a lengthy and highly acclaimed tenure in the band’s tenor saxophone section in previous seasons. Her return for this show is a welcome one: Camille’s profound virtuosity has vaulted her into the ranks of today’s greatest young artists in jazz, and the intensity of her musical insight situates her perfectly for an inspiring exploration of Coltrane’s legacy. “When you check out his recordings and see the progression of his career, you can see his search for personal and spiritual fulfillment,” Camille explains. “You hear it in his music: his spiritual journey, as well as his desire to use music to uplift and spread love.” 

While close listening to Coltrane at any point can be a profound experience, Camille has found that the recent months in quarantine have inspired her to approach music listening differently, moving away from a focus on the purely technical aspects of recording and instead looking for broader insights and an in-depth understanding of the art’s context. “We grew up being told to listen for very specific things, trying to understand the melody and chord changes,” Camille notes. “But lately, I’ve found myself like a student, revisiting the recordings as though it’s the first time. Hearing Trane, the way he’s phrasing his ideas—he sings through his horn, giving a sermon.”

While approaching any recording with fresh and open ears is always desirable, the need to listen from the mindset of a student has become even more significant for Camille, as the pandemic led to a dramatic increase in her teaching. Virtual classes, private students, courses with Jazz at Lincoln Center and a teaching post with the University of Northern Colorado have all filled out her extremely busy workload in recent months. However, with the extensive teaching came opportunity to apply her close listening and impart it to a wide range of students, from casual listeners to aspiring artists. 

“In teaching the students, I went back to the records and also learned everything around the music,” she notes. “In dealing with Bessie Smith’s music for Swing University [at Jazz at Lincoln Center], I researched the time period, making connections with the music and how it served a purpose at that point in time.” Indeed, delving into not only the music, but the world and environment that inspired its creation was, for Camille, a revelatory means to instill an even vaster love for the art form within her students. “We often look at music from the lens of ‘these are the records, and this was great, and this is part of the lineage,’ but we don’t dive into what was happening socially, what the world was like for the artists, what made the moment special,” she explains. “Being able to see through that context gives us a deeper appreciation and understanding.”

While the return to performing, live teaching and gathering slowly ramps up, the virtual performance by the JLCO on June 10 offers a chance in the meantime to dive into the rich spiritual realm of Coltrane’s music, engaging in precisely the deep listening that Camille describes. The repertoire, ranging from early Coltrane works to his vaunted masterpiece A Love Supreme, charts the intensely personal journey of this legendary artist. “This opportunity to perform Trane’s music allows us to share with the world how much Trane means to us,” Camille notes, “not just as a musician, but as one of the greatest contributors to this world, connecting humanity as one and uplifting all.” 

Camille Thurman performs Coltrane: A Love Supreme at a virtual Jazz At Lincoln Center event with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on June 10. 

Photo Credit by Daniel Green

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Dmitry Baevsky

Dmitry Baevsky: A Tale of Three Cities By George Kanzler

Releasing his new album Soundtrack (Fresh Sound New Talent), alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky writes in the liner notes, “… the music I’ve chosen could be the soundtrack of my life and it’s my hope that in listening you just might catch a glimpse of my story.”

The story, according to Dmitry—who talked on the phone from his home in Paris—is a tale of three cities: St. Petersburg, New York and Paris. All three, according to Dmitry, have left “an enduring mark” on the person he is and the music he plays. 

Dmitry spent the first 19 years of his life in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia. He was 15 when the Soviet Union dissolved, and remembers a time of hardship and shortages in the first years of post-Soviet Russia. It was about the same time, at age 14, that Dmitry ended up with an alto saxophone. “I went to try out for my school band with my guitar,” he says, “but they said they needed saxophonists and I picked an alto sax.”

During those years, he remembers, there were still no CDs in Russia, so music like jazz circulated on reproduced cassette tapes. “When I first heard John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’” he says, “there was no bass on the cassette because it was probably the hundredth duplicate copy.” He also recalls hearing some Duke Ellington records, especially ones featuring alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, who remains one of his influences today.

But what really converted Dmitry to jazz was hearing Charlie Parker. “When I heard Parker, I was blown away,” he says. “It made me want to be a jazz musician.” He still counts Parker, and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, among his most important influences.

Ann and Bob Hamilton, two Americans Dmitry met when they attended a concert at the Jazz Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, offered to help him go to the United States for a two-week jazz workshop. They arranged a visa for him and he ended up staying with them for six months. During that time, Ann sent tapes of his playing to jazz schools. “I was granted a full scholarship to The New School in New York City,” says Dmitry, who was 19 when he first landed in the U.S. in 1995.

After living in New York for a decade and a half, Dmitry moved to Paris, where he now lives with his French wife and their son. Soundtrack traces his journey from St. Petersburg to New York to Paris, through music. On the album, he is incisively accompanied by Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums.

The St. Petersburg years are represented by a Russian tune “Evening Song,” a samba that Dmitry played in those years “Yamos Nessa” and an original “Baltiyskaya.”

The next seven tracks represent Dmitry’s time in New York, which he remembers at the turn of the 21st Century as “a stimulating jazz scene full of living legends playing, talking, hanging out.” Included are tunes by favorites Sonny Rollins (“Grand Street”) and Dexter Gordon (“Le Coiffeur”) as well as Horace Silver’s boogaloo “The Jody Grand” and an early Ornette Coleman tune, “Invisible,” that Dmitry admires for “going beyond bebop harmonies and conventions.” Also included is Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York.”

The final three songs invoke Paris, beginning with “Stranger in Paradise,” a song that also invokes Russia in its borrowed Borodin melody. Ahmad Jamal’s “Tranquility” suggests Dmitry’s feelings about living in Paris, while album closer, John Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris” is a tune Dmitry has been playing for more than two decades.

Throughout the album, Dmitry plays with a rich, resonant tone and an approach that incorporates bebop and post-bop strategies as well as influences of earlier musicians he admires, such as Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins. It all makes Dmitry’s jazz voice utterly distinctive.

Dmitry Baevsky performs a livestream for Global Music Foundation on June 19.

Photo Credit by Capucine de Chocqueuse

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