Download Hot House Pdf Here:  September Hot House Jazz Guide


Larry Fuller

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Larry Fuller and Eliane Elias are both consummate jazz pianists, but their new albums address very different aspects of their artistry. Larry digs into the robust heart of piano trio and solo expressiveness, while Eliane largely sidelines her instrument in favor of her voice, with a lush orchestral setting and an overarching theme.

Larry Fuller’s new release, Overjoyed (Capri), has a perfectly descriptive title for his often jubilant, swinging and infectious playing. Bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Lewis Nash join Larry as he romps through nine of the album’s dozen tunes with gusto and soulful swing. Wes Montgomery’s bright, funky “Fried Pies,” introduced by stop-time piano riffs, kicks things off, with Larry launching a boisterous, swiftly paced solo before ceding space to bass and drum solos. One of Larry’s notable employers was the late bassist Ray Brown, and Larry features his own bassist, Hassan, in the melody lead on Ray’s “Lined with a Groove.” Hassan also shines on “Got My Mojo Workin’,” excavating the groove along with Lewis’ boogaloo beats, and trading fours with the drummer after Larry’s blues-drenched solo. And Hassan contributes a high trilling ostinato tag to Larry’s choruses on Oscar Peterson’s “Bossa Beguine.”

Larry is a pianist who avoids abstraction, his playing rarely cerebral, even at slow tempos. So a light, joyous spirit animates his exploration of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” It begins with a lyrical prelude, largely rubato, ruminating on the melody before tempo kicks in and Larry etches the familiar, insistent theme over a Latin-tinged beat, creating a resonant solo that rarely strays far from the outlines of Wonder’s melody. Larry articulates single notes with a crystalline, bell-like clarity, especially on slower ballads, as in his ringing, single-notes limning of the Nat King Cole chestnut, “Mona Lisa.” His pearly touch also brings distinction to his original, “Jane’s Theme,” a tune that practically dances out of the speakers.

Two tracks are solo piano explorations exposing Larry’s romantic tendencies. The Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On” begins as a rubato fantasia on the melody, then settles into a light stride improvisation. “Never Let Me Go” takes off as a rhapsodic solo that glides into a gentle tempo, never straying far from the core melody. The content of this recording is rewardingly diverse, but all of it exudes the joyous, personal piano voice of Larry Fuller.

Larry Fuller’s trio plays Birdland Theater Sept. 12-14.

Photo Credit: Marzena Manganaro

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McCoy Mrubata

Hot Flashes By Seton Hawkins

Artists Talk Inspirations: McCoy Mrubata

In April 1994, millions of South Africans lined up at polling booths around the country to vote in fully democratic elections for the first time in the nation’s history. With 2019 marking the 25th anniversary of that historic moment, Jazz at Lincoln Center opens its season with The South African Songbook, a performance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra celebrating the nation’s jazz scene and featuring music composed by South African artists post-1994.

Joining the orchestra are eight extraordinary South African artists, including the saxophonist, flautist and composer McCoy Mrubata. He emerged on the music scene in the 1980s and rose to prominence in the following decade, recording seminal albums that helped shape and define the post-apartheid jazz scene and sound of South Africa.

“People started to follow me,” McCoy explains. “I stuck to the South African sound and tried to speak to what I grew up with. Many others leaned on a fusion sound, or a more American type of jazz. What I’m noticing now is that musicians here are trying to find themselves. Let’s say you’re of Zulu descent, you might start trying now to find a folk song to include.”

McCoy’s work captures a rich portrait of his musical influences: South African mbaqanga, gospel music, swing-era jazz, hard bop and traditional Xhosa music all collide into something unforgettably wonderful in his playing. Indeed, South Africa’s jazz history is rich and varied with its own unique songbook and standards. While American listeners might know Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba or Abdullah Ibrahim, less familiar to international listeners are local legends like the late Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi, a tenor saxophonist whose sound is all but synonymous with South Africa’s tenor saxophone tradition. In preparing for his September performance with the JLCO, McCoy brought several pieces to table: One of then, Mankunku’s 1998 composition “A Song for Bra Des Tutu,” serves as McCoy’s tribute to the elder musician. “We were privileged to have someone like Mankunku,” he explains. “He might not have gotten the recognition he deserved, but he shaped our sound.”

The September concerts mark McCoy’s third time performing at Jazz at Lincoln Center; previously, he appeared as musical director for the Johannesburg-based jazz supergroup Uhadi, which played at Dizzy’s in 2014 and 2016. With the upcoming performance in Rose Theater with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, McCoy fulfills a lifelong goal. “It’s a dream come true,” he notes. “It’s like I’ve arrived.”

McCoy Mrubata joins Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center Sept. 12-14. To learn more about McCoy, visit

Photo Credit: Ngoma Mphahlele

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Eliane Elias

Winning Spins By George Kanzler

Larry Fuller and Eliane Elias are both consummate jazz pianists, but their new albums address very different aspects of their artistry. Larry digs into the robust heart of piano trio and solo expressiveness, while Eliane largely sidelines her instrument in favor of her voice, with a lush orchestral setting and an overarching theme.

Eliane Elias’s Love Stories (Concord) is an orchestral project as well as a thematic one. It seems more than a coincidence that three of the nine songs have been closely associated with Frank Sinatra, for like Frank, Eliane is presenting an album as a unified mood with a singular theme, in this case the “many facets and forms of love.” Eliane’s voice is present, and the focus, on all of the tunes here, including three originals. Because she shares a limited range and soft tone, often devoid of vocal drama, with her Brazilian countrywoman Astrud Gilberto, Eliane is sometimes underrated as a singer. Her voice can be swallowed into the orchestral setting, especially when bossa nova is the rhythm, as on the opener, “A Man and a Woman.” But she can also be hypnotically enthralling, her voice insinuating itself into the subconscious, as in her languorous intoning of “Don’t be afraid to fall in love with me,” on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Bonita,” one of those compositions recorded by Frank. On her own “Silence” and “The View” Eliane’s delivery becomes more personal, intimate and convincing. Not coincidentally, neither selection is a bossa, both are ballads propelled by strings and discreet piano.

However, there are some sparkling piano moments on this CD, moments that enforce Eliane’s conviction that “the piano is an extension of my body and the deepest expression of my soul.” Her more lyrical side emerges in piano solos on “Angel Eyes” and “The View,” while “Little Boat,” a bossa and the only track with some Portuguese lyrics, finds her in her lilting comfort zone on the keys. The most forceful piano comes on a big, rocking version of “Come Fly With Me,” which also has her most suave and sultry vocal. It is the swinging center of an album that explores the shifting moods of love.

Eliane Elias headlines at Birdland Sept. 17-21.

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Howard Johnson

Tuba titan tribute By Elzy Kolb

The tuba has been around for close to 200 years. But for many modern players, the instrument’s history is divided into two major eras: pre-Howard Johnson and the present. The veteran musician’s six-plus octave range and expressive soloing changed perceptions of what the instrument could do, decisively moving the big horn from rhythm-section anchor to featured role.

The horn’s musical Cinderella act can be traced directly to Howard, according to multi-instrumentalist and composer Joseph Daley, a long-time friend, collaborator and band mate of the legendary brass master. “He’s a visionary,” Joe declares. “Going back to the 1960s, Howard saw the tuba in a whole different light.”

When Johnson arrived on the New York jazz scene, not much was expected from tuba players. “They had to play fairly well, in tune, play the part,” Joe explains. “No one thought of a tuba player having a role like Dizzy Gillespie, and molding the music so it has your personality and sound. But Howard is on the level of Dizzy, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders. When these people play, the instrument is secondary and the sound, the unique approach, is primary.”

According to Howard, who also plays baritone sax, electric bass, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, penny whistle and more, “A tuba can be thunderous, it can be a rough-and-tumble instrument. People don’t think of it as anything delicate. I never thought there was anything the tuba couldn’t do, and I’ve been pretty satisfied with what I can do with a tuba.”

Countless appearances alongside the likes of George Russell, Gary Burton, Charlie Haden, Hank Crawford, Gerald Wilson, Pharoah Sanders and scores of others boosted Howard’s reputation and visibility. Recognized masters such as Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, George Gruntz and Gil Evans took to writing parts specifically for him, further enhancing his status.

His ability to perform any kind of music is well-documented on hundreds of albums. Howard baffled critics and even some listeners by being equally at home in bands headed up by stylists as diverse as Buddy Rich, Archie Shepp, George Benson, Cecil Taylor, Slide Hampton and Anthony Braxton. However, he is also known for bringing something extra and unique to every gig: his vision. “For most professionals, the part is the part, what I’m paid to do, sort of like the New York Philharmonic. For Howard, it’s just the starting point,” Joe Daley explains.

Gil Evans, with whom Howard played for more than two decades, was among those who valued his willingness to depart from the beaten path. “We played with Gil at the same time, and I’d be sitting next to Howard as he reshaped his part night after night,” Joe recalls. “Eventually, Gil rewrote the part based on what Howard was playing, adding his nuances.”

For his newly reissued album, The Seven Heavenly Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins, Joe composed parts specifically for Howard, but allowing plenty of leeway. “Howard always adds; that’s what we expect, me and everyone else who hires him. We write a basic part, then he builds on it and makes it Howard. He’s a unique person in that regard.”

Howard notes, “Some bandleaders appreciate that. Some have told me, ‘If I knew what you did was possible, I would have written it myself.’” 

With a scant handful of albums as a leader, Howard’s writing and arranging are perhaps under sung, but not underrated by those who have heard it. In fact, his input in shaping composers’ charts often cast him in the role of de facto arranger. He is particularly noted for his arranging for his multi-tuba band, Gravity, which made its recording debut on singer Taj Mahal’s 1971 album The Real Thing. “What I know about texture comes from having bands and being in bands,” Howard says. “I look at every possibility in arranging, the textures for the horns can all be different. I never talked to anybody about textures, you just have to hear it.”

Joe points out, “Howard understands how to orchestrate a tuba ensemble so it sounds like a choir of male singers. When he leads in the high parts it sounds like no instrument, it’s like a voice reaching for spiritual experience. When we did The Real Thing, it was like Taj was Gladys Knight and we were the Pips, like a four-voice men’s vocal choir.”

Expect to hear Howard Johnson originals and arrangements, such as a soulful version of the classic Jerome Kern ballad “Yesterdays” and a rollicking take on Don Pullen’s “Big Alice,” when an all-star lineup of musicians gathers at Merkin Hall on Sept. 18 to pay tribute to the 78-year-old jazz innovator. The concert includes Howard’s tuba ensemble, Gravity, and his baritone sax band, the Bear-Tones; Taj Mahal is going to be on hand, as is the Levon Helm Horns. A short list of players on the roster include Joe Daley, Earl McIntyre, Bob Stewart, Velvet Brown, Dave Bargeron, Nedra Johnson, Steven Bernstein, Claire Daly (playing Howard’s first baritone sax), Erik Lawrence, Clark Gayton, Lauren Sevian, Jason Marshall and Melissa Slocum. Students of InterSchool Orchestras, including three young tubists, also play; the event is a benefit for the student financial aid fund of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York. The gala event concludes with more than two dozen tuba players taking to the stage for the grand finale. Musicians from around the world are coming to town to participate.

For tickets and information, go to: https://

The tribute to Howard Johnson is scheduled at Merkin Hall on Sept. 18. 

Photo Credit: Scott Friedlander 

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Judy Wexler

Another Reason To Celebrate By Elzy Kolb

High standards

Judy Wexler studied psychology in college, but she doesn’t count her grasp of what makes humans tick as her most useful tool when it comes plumbing the depths of a lyric. That honor goes to her background in acting. “That’s more of an influence,” the vocalist muses. “Getting inside a song is more of an acting exercise. I analyze the lyrics; I appreciate a good melodic structure, but I need words I can relate to and convincingly interpret.”

An ear for top-quality material that hasn’t been done to death has been a widely recognized hallmark of Judy’s life in song since she released her first album, Easy on the Heart, in 2005. For her latest recording, Crowded Heart (Jewel City Jazz), she set out to find 10 tunes by contemporary songwriters that could measure up to the beloved standards embraced by vocalists and audiences alike and have endured for decades. Among the criteria: a good story and a certain indescribable vibe that instantly marks it as a standard to Judy’s ears. “It’s all intuitive: I know it when I hear it,” she notes.

The title track, written by Judy’s friend Sinne Eeg, was among her first picks. “I heard her sing it and thought, That sounds like a standard. I had the same impression about ‘The Last Goodbye,’ by Alan Broadbent. I wanted to do a whole album of songs like that. They were the gold standard of what I was looking for,” Judy says. “The two songs are excellently constructed, the stories are told in a literate, easy-to-follow way.”

Besides searching online and listening to a lot of recordings, the Los Angeles-based singer asked for suggestions and reached out to the jazz songwriting community. Picking the tunes took a year. “It was harder than I thought it would be,” she admits. “I got a lot of suggestions, some didn’t fit the concept. Some challenged me. I did a lot of listening and evaluating. It was an interesting process.”

Before recording, Judy sanity-checked her choices with pianist, arranger and co-producer Alan Pasqua. “He gave the thumbs up to every song I desperately wanted,” she says. “We see eye to eye on what makes a good tune.” All of the songs have been recorded at least once before, but most are unlikely to be familiar to many listeners.

Crowded Heart includes material by the likes of Luciana Souza, Kurt Elling, Gregory Porter, René Marie and Fred Hersch. One song in particular piqued Judy’s imagination, “I Took Your Hand,” by Lorraine Feather and Enrico Pieranunzi. “It’s not easy to sing the melody,” Judy admits. “The story of the song reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, the masked ballroom scene in Zeffirelli’s movie version.”

New York-area audiences have a chance to hear the results of Judy’s song search this month, as she celebrates the release of Crowded Heart at Jazz at Kitano Sept. 20, and at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar in Nyack, NY, Sept. 21. Joining her on the bandstand both nights are pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Bill Moring and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. In addition to the songs from the new album, Judy is likely to mix in tunes from her previous recordings, along with some new material.

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Juan Andrés Ospina

The Latin Side of Hot House By Raul da Gama

Juan Andrés Ospina: Tramontana and the Thousand Rhythms

It was an angry Catalan wind that wrapped its frozen arms around composer, pianist and big band leader Juan Andrés Ospina, delivering him from Bogotá and Barcelona to Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2005, and later to New York City. There, that wind, tramontana, turned into the welcoming warmth of numerous audiences who were privileged to listen to his epic works. Since then Juan has travelled the world spreading the gospel, so to speak, of the music of Colombia, turning its thousand rhythms into a molten mix with grand compositions that leap off the page through musicians’ breathtaking improvisations.

As a matter of fact, Colombia is known to have more than 1,025 folk rhythms, and Juan has immersed himself in everything from the bambuco to the joropo de los Llanos and zumba que zumba. “I have been writing music since childhood, while I was at Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá and thereafter, when I attended the Escola D’Angel Soler and the Taller de Musics in Barcelona,” he says. Juan’s enigmatic music integrates melody, harmony and rhythm, composition and improvisation, individuality and tradition in equal measure.

He was not always sure of himself though. “It took me years to realize I could make it happen,” he says. He finally put it together in 2018’s critically acclaimed self-produced recording Tramontana, named as much for the home in which he was raised in rural Colombia, as for that Catalan wind that brought him from Bogotá to New York City. “I had to convince myself that it could happen. It finally struck me like a strong windstorm, like the cold and fierce tramontana that lashes the Catalan coasts, leaving a clear sky behind,” he says with poetic flourish.

Nearly everything changed for Juan after that release. In May 2018, the world-renowned WDR Big Band in Köln, Germany hosted him and his close musical associate Magda Giannikou; Juan conducted the prestigious band playing selections from Tramontana. Thousands heard the concert in the auditorium and on its global live stream. Juan presented the music again, at a triumphant homecoming of sorts at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, performed by 26 New York-based musicians from 10 countries.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family; my dad and mum,” he says, modestly, “and my brother Nicholás and sister, Sylvia; Magda and my partner Sofia Ribeiro too. They’ve always believed in me and pushed me to record and perform this music. Thank God I listened!” he adds with a touch of pride.

Where will the music take him from here? Back to Dizzy’s for starters, for a big band concert featuring two new songs. “Then who knows. Perhaps a duo performance with Nicholás, and our comedy and music act, Inténtalo Carito,” he says, triggering thoughts of another happy tramontana

Juan Andrés Ospina’s big band performs at Dizzy’s Club Sept. 30.

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