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Danny Mixon

Danny Mixon’s Jazz Mix

By Eugene Holley, Jr.

If you were to construct a prototype for a hard-working, New York jazz musician, the Harlem-born, Brooklyn-based pianist, organist, bandleader and educator Danny Mixon would be the model. In the five decades he’s been on the scene, he played with the brightest stars in the business, including Frank Foster, Charles Mingus, Yuseff Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, Betty Carter, Kenny Dorham, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Cecil Payne. Danny replaced Bobby Timmons in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and was musical director at Harlem’s famed Lenox Lounge until its 2012 closing. Danny, whose latest recording, Pass it On, came out in 2015, was a student of piano master Sir Roland Hanna.

Often expressing his moving and modern pianism in the trio and organ quartet formats,

Danny has worked a multitude of gigs in recent years. He could be found at The New School as an adjunct professor, appearing with vocalist Antoinette Montague in New Jersey, busy with the Jazz Foundation of America, and fronting his organ quartet at Showman’s Jazz Club in Harlem. Then COVID-19 shut everything down. Danny recalls wondering, “Where in the world are we going?”

“People starving. People on the food lines. How am I going to pay my rent? I didn’t know what was going to be the next move by the government. There were protests in the cities. It was [the fear of] the unknown. There was a lot going on, mentally,” the pianist reveals.

For the first time in his life, Danny went months without a gig. Quarantined at home, he fell into the kind of funk you wouldn’t wish on a musician: the funk of inactivity, brought on by the mental fatigue of dealing with the unfamiliar and unpredictable times that lay ahead. “I wasn’t motivated to touch my piano,” he muses. “I had no feeling for it. The only thing I had a feeling for was the melodica. It was my best friend.”

A handheld instrument developed in the ’50s, the melodica combines a small keyboard with a mouthpiece. It’s often heard in genres like folk, world and pop music, with Brazilian composer Hermento Pascoal, Jamaican reggae star Augustus Pablo and jazz pianist Jon Batiste among the melodica’s well-known performers. “I would pick it up when I was watching TV,” Danny explains. “I saw a commercial I Iiked, and figured out the chords for the ear training, the melody to learn the lines and the rhythm. That got me going.”

A month and a half later, he returned to the piano sparingly, and his trademark keyboard prowess slowly made its way back to Danny’s fingers. “I started playing songs that I knew by heart,” he notes, “and there were a lot of things that as a pianist I needed to work on, like scales and chords … So all of that helped me to start playing the piano again.”

On August 10, 11 and 13, listeners can hear the fruits of Mixon’s pianistic woodshedding when he performs outdoors at the Piano in Bryant Park (PIBP) series in Manhattan, in a rare solo setting. A popular performance program in the city for two decades, PIBP has showcased the city’s finest stride, ragtime and modern jazz pianists. Other jazz piano greats, including Terry Waldo and Russ Kassoff among others, also will appear in the midday events.

The program’s return will no doubt be welcomed by music lovers starved for the live performances that disappeared during the COVD-19 quarantine. Listeners are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing while enjoying Danny’s potpourri of original compositions and standards. “It’s part of my character and chemistry to play different styles of music,” he says. “I like a little funk, the bossa nova, the waltz, different meters … So I’m going to demonstrate my ability to do all of that, and make people smile, make people heal, make people’s spirit come up.”

When the virus is brought to bay, and things return to some altered form of normalcy, Danny hopes that hunger for live music will be a boon for the jazz community, and will inspire a deeper appreciation for the music. “I hope that jazz comes back harder than ever,” he muses. “I hope that people come out and support the music and the musicians, and the young people who are playing. And I’d like the clubs to be more respectful to the musicians and promote them. That’s what I’d like to see.”

<span lang="EN" style="line-height: 115%;" times="" new="" roman";="" mso-fareast-font-family:arial;mso-bidi-font-family:"times="" mso-ansi-language:en;mso-fareast-language:fr;mso-bidi-language:ar-sa"="">Danny Mixon plays lunchtime concerts at Bryant Park August 10, 11 and 13.

Photo by Melanie Futorian

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Mark Morganelli

Mark Morganelli: Man on Wire

By Elzy Kolb

Some people complain of boredom and too much time on their hands. Mark Morganelli is not among them. In pre-pandemic times, he was a perpetual motion machine, figuring out lineups for his Jazz Forum club in Tarrytown, working with visual artists for exhibitions in the venue, planning outdoor concert series and special events, looking ahead to the next project, the next year, the next challenge. And practicing, practicing, practicing.

It’s different these days. The Westchester County-based multi-instrumentalist (trumpet,  flugelhorn, piano), composer, arranger, producer and entrepreneur is still busy, still generating lists and lineups, still talking to sponsors and drawing up contracts. But now a lot of decisions are out of his hands. It’s not up to just Mark and his wife and partner, Ellen Prior, to determine how many of their carefully plotted events, programs and performances will actually come to fruition.

As we scheduled this interview, Mark was waiting to find out if the club—closed since Friday, March 13—could reopen, if his summer concert series was a go, if upcoming gigs with his trio would stay on the calendar.

But waiting isn’t the same as doing nothing. In recent months Mark’s energy level seems to have ratcheted up, as he strategizes ways to keep the shuttered Jazz Forum viable and visible. He has run the metrics of opening with a smaller audience. He learned more than he’d ever imagined about crowd flow, air flow, social distancing, between-set sanitation. He worries, “Will people come out? I want to open, but it’s got to be safe. People have to feel safe.”

He’s turned his focus to a variety of web initiatives, including Facebook streaming a live performance from a musician’s home each Saturday. “It takes us 10 to 20 hours a week to prepare for each remote performance,” Mark notes. “Donald Harrison streamed from New Orleans. He recorded the rhythm tracks himself, then played sax over it. We’ve had Bob James, Karrin Allyson, Jimmy Greene, a great lineup.”

The Jazz Forum’s third anniversary celebration went online, with Mark and guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Tony Jefferson masking up and taking the stage for the only live stream so far from the empty club. “We got about 6,500 views for that,” Mark points out. “People are interested. We got about 10,000 each for Donald Harrison and Bob James.”

Mark and Ellen produce weekly Jazz Forum @ Home blog posts and e-blasts with news, photos and links to video clips of past club performances. The tag line says it all: Because music sustains us. They’ve instituted a fund-raising campaign, Jazz Together, to stay connected to the community and support jazz musicians.

Just before this interview, sponsors pulled the plug on Mark’s long-running series of free summer concerts held in county parks. “I had 25 acts booked already, I had banners made,” he laments. With New York’s Stage 4 reopening regulations mandating gatherings of no more than 50 people, “We’d have had to make it a ticketed event. It wouldn’t be feasible—a crowd of 700 to 1,200 is usual for each of our outdoor concerts,” he says. “This is the first time in 35 years we haven’t had a free summer series.”

A few days later, state officials declared that the Jazz Forum must remain closed.

Mark’s still waiting. By press time, there was no final decision on whether a series of outdoor gigs in Sleepy Hollow featuring Mark’s Brazilian Trio with Eddie Monteiro and Nanny Assis, would go off as planned.

Each day starts with music, with Mark playing trumpet or flugelhorn or piano, recording a short clip he shares on Facebook. “That’s my morning music, I post it every day, usually by 7 a.m. It’s a minute or so, just playing the melody of a beautiful tune, a standard, something from the Great American Songbook, maybe something Brazilian or an original. It’s a salve to the spirit,” the multi-instrumentalist says. While recognizing all that’s happening in the world, Mark’s sense of humor shows no sign of flagging. He’s recently penned a pair of topical originals: “COVID Blues” and “Corona Calypso.”

“We gotta stay sane,” he advises.

Check out the weekly live streams every Thursday at 7 p.m. at www.facebook.com/jazzforumclub; find info on upcoming gigs, Jazz Forum membership, Jazz Forum @ Home blog, Jazz Together campaign and other initiatives at jazzforumarts.org; Mark Morganelli’s daily music posts are available at: www.facebook.com/mark.morganelli.

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Alexis Cole

Alexis Cole Launches Jazzvoice.com, a jazz vocal education community

By Don Jay Smith

Anyone who enjoys singing, whether on stage or just in the shower, may want to check out JazzVoice.com, an extensive program created by acclaimed vocalist Alexis Cole. Billed as an online jazz vocal education community, JazzVoice.com offers regular programs designed to foster artistic growth in the craft and art of making music.

A well-worn proverb reminds us that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and the pandemic has given Alexis plenty of time and inspiration to let her creativity take over. She explains, “I had to complete the semester teaching online and had great success with it. At the same time, I realized that my colleagues were also doing online teaching, and would be home for a while. So it seemed as though JazzVoice was an idea meant to be. I just needed to decide that it was right for me, and after several days of thinking I bought the domain and haven’t looked back.”

Alexis recruited many of the singers she knows to become online instructors, offering master classes, private lessons and small group instruction. The online faculty includes Cyrille Aimée, Nicole Henry, Karrin Allyson, Paul Jost, Catherine Russell, Tierney Sutton, John Proulx and many more.

The award-winning vocalist Jane Monheit jumped at the chance to be a part of JazzVoice.com. “I think what Alexis is building is a truly valuable resource for singers of all ages and skill levels, and I’m thrilled to be involved from the ground floor,” Jane says. “We’re a deeply connected community as vocalists, and to have a place to come together and learn from each other, even with interpreters where needed, is a huge gift in this new normal.”

Growing up in Florida, Alexis discovered her love for jazz while at the New World School of the Arts in Miami. After two years at the University of Miami, she transferred to the renowned jazz studies program at William Paterson University, completing a B.A. in music, followed by a master’s degree from Queens College.

In 2009, she joined the Army and spent seven years as lead singer for West Point’s Jazz Knights big band, honing her skills and growing as a musician and as a person. Since leaving the military, she has recorded several critically acclaimed CDs and performed at many of the world’s best-known venues, including The Carlyle, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Blue Note.

Not only has she built an enthusiastic and loyal fan base, she has been recognized by critics as a superb jazz singer. Jonathan Schwartz called her “one of the great voices of today” and New York Times critic Stephen Holder praised her singing as “exquisite.”

A passionate and popular teacher, Alexis heads the jazz vocal program at SUNY Purchase College. “I get a lot of joy from teaching and I’m so happy to give all of these great artists the opportunity to reach students,” she notes. “Just as I write a song or sing a line, working with students to create their own authentic interpretations is making art.”

In addition to booking private lessons, JazzVoice.com offers three tiers of membership starting at $15 a month. “I don’t want to exclude anybody, so we’ve priced the various programs to be extremely affordable,” Alexis says. “Depending on their membership, people can attend our weekly Zoom master classes, participate in weekly skills-building workshops, and dip into our program archives.”

JazzVoice.com even offers a monthly networking hang with working professionals and the roster of online teachers.

Upcoming master classes include: Catherine Russell, August 4; Vanessa Rubin, August 12; Jay Clayton, August 23; and Sheila Jordan, September 2. Upcoming professional development sessions include Building Your Fan Base, Crafting Your Message, and Ask a Pro, with recording engineer Katherine Miller.

Also on the lineup are workshops such as Jam Session Etiquette, with Jocelyn Medina; How to Make a Melody Your Own, with John Proulx; and Phrasing Math, an improv session with Michele Weir.

With the world confronting the reality of a new normal, JazzVoice.com has found a way to offer the community of jazz singers a rich and vibrant educational resource that brings together amateurs and professionals in a compelling and enjoyable way. Alexis sums it up perfectly, saying, “In this difficult time, [JazzVoice.com] is a balm to come together around something we all love that gives life meaning.” And so it is.

JazzVoice.com’s master class features Catherine Russell August 4, Vanessa Rubin August 12, and Jay Clayton August 23. Catch Alexis at Jazz Forum online August 6 and August 29 when she presents her “Virtually Yours” concert on Zoom.

Photo by Alfie Goodrich

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