Download Hot House Pdf Here:  July Hot House Jazz Guide

 

 

"After the Call" episode 5
Guests: Rodney Green and Nicole Glover
Rodney plays Mezzrow July 13-14 and Nicole plays Smalls Jazz Club July 14 and Fat Cat July 26.
Featured artists on Ringtones for Jones’ Phones: Kenneka Cook, Freelance, Renee Rosnes 

Rene Marie

René Marie: Persistence Pays Off By George Kanzler

While still early in her singing career, around the turn of the millennium, René Marie was preparing original songs for an upcoming album and performed them at a jazz club with her band.

“The club owner came to me and said that my songs were turning his stomach,” she said. “He said that nobody wanted to hear my own music. He pointed to pictures of Ella and Sarah and Carmen up on the wall and said ‘How do you think these singers got where they did? They sang the great standards.’ But I thought, if I die who is going to sing these songs? So, we went on the second night and did our songs again. Luckily a jazz critic from a local paper was there and he liked our music, so the club owner stopped complaining.”

It was a model case of how persistence pays off, but it was by no means the first. René

 spent the first two and a half decades of her adult life as a wife, mother and bank employee. She didn’t start singing until she was in her forties, and she didn’t have an extensive knowledge of jazz or classic pop music. She was living in Denver and began singing locally with a quartet.

“My was-bund [her term for her first spouse] was very opposed to what I was doing and said, ‘Stop singing or get out.’ I couldn’t stop so I got out, moved to Richmond [she had grown up in Virginia] and kept singing.”

René signed with the MaxJazz label and made four albums from 2000 to 2005. But she didn’t know much about the music she was dedicating herself to.

“I didn’t have much depth of knowledge of singers or repertoire,” she admits. For years, her only jazz listening was three cassettes she owned, by Sarah, Ella and Cleo Laine. “That lack of knowledge was a source of consternation to the many jazz musicians I met,” René continued. “They’d be sitting around talking about a musician or singer I’d never heard. But I learned very early on not to pretend to know what they were talking about because you don’t learn that way. I would tell them, so they could inform me.”

At the same time as she was learning more about jazz and jazz singers, René was also honing her songwriting skills, even though some of her friends thought she should explore more of the standard repertoire.

“They said they could understand where that club owner who didn’t want me to do my songs was coming from, but I said, ‘What about all those songs these instrumentalists write and play on their gigs and records?’ Singers are at the low end of the totem pole in jazz, we don’t get the respect as musicians that instrumentalists do.”

But René has persisted, performing and recording her own compositions, as she did on her most recent Motéma album, Sounds of Red. She wrote all the songs on the album displaying the wide scope of her talents and interests. The songs range from torchy first-person accounts of women’s emotional life to socially conscious ones like “This Is (Not) A Protest Song.” It is a 180-degree turnaround from her last album, 2013’s I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt (Motéma).

“We were talking about singers whose songs I liked when I joked that I ought to do a whole Eartha Kitt album. It wasn’t a joke to the label, and I had so much fun doing that music. My personality changed, and I wanted to be evil. I think I couldn’t have been any younger [she was close to 60] and done it like I did.”

And what about a new album, does she have anything in the works?  “Life catches up with you,” she said. “I moved back to Virginia to help my mother, who is 92 and still lives alone. I’ve got a lot of original songs: I seem to get more prolific as I get older. I’m having trouble finding time to finish them and getting them into rehearsals with my band. My goal is to record all my originals. Someone pointed out that most of my songs aren’t love songs, so maybe my goal should be to write more love songs. But what did Paul McCartney write: ‘Who needs another love song?’”       

René Marie sings with a jazz septet led by Bill Charlap at the Jazz in July series’ Leonard Bernstein: Jazz on the Town at the 92Y on July 25.

Photo Credit:  John Abbott

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Shenel Johns

Another Reason to Celebrate By Elzy Kolb

The spirits of our ancestors

Singers and arrangers Shenel Johns and Vuyo Sotashe have worked on numerous projects together and share a diverse range of musical interests, but knew they were on to something special when they began workshopping the music of vocalists Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba. Shenel has done Simone’s repertoire for a long time, while the South African-born Vuyo is “well-versed in Miriam Makeba’s music and is bringing a subgenre of South African music to New York,” Shenel says.

They’ve presented some portions of their collaboration at the Jazz at Lincoln Center-produced Sessions at the Circle series, but since then have expanded the concept into and evening of music they’re calling A Revolutionary Friendship: The Music of Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone.

The two legendary vocalists were known for their political commitment: Makeba was exiled from her homeland of South Africa for more than 30 years; Simone was a civil rights activist. Each had a crossover appeal into pop and world music which helped to spread their message far and wide. The two became friends and performed together, including at Carnegie Hall.

“Their lives were dedicated to unification and equality and they went crazy because of it and got sane again. Their struggle is portrayed in their music,” Shenel explains. “Playing this concert is almost like a dream: I’ve studied their music for so long and it’s been great to find like-minded people with the same mission.”

Among the material chosen for the concert is “Westwind,” which Simone and Makeba performed together: “Pata Pata,” a hit for Makeba that reached #12 on the Billboard chart in the U.S.,  and signature tunes by Simone such as “Four Women” and “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Shenel describes the challenge the material presents: “I’ve listened to ‘Mississippi Goddam’ on repeat, thinking of how much emotion there is behind this one song and wondering: How am I going to sing this song, in this way?” To get to the heart of the feeling, the singer “pulls from what’s happening now, the political struggle, the shootings that have been happening. It’s frustrating and frightening, but inspirational and as artists it fuels us.”

Shenel hasn’t released an album as a leader, but she has recorded with Dominic Farinacci, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ronnie Burrage and Eddie Palmieri. But, she says, “If Vuyo is interested in recording this, I’d do it in a heartbeat.” The two have worked together in a variety of different bands, including a Billie Holiday project.

Shenel and Vuyo, along with their “young, fresh, passionate band,” perform A Revolutionary Friendship: The Music of Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone in its entirety for the first time on July 21 at the Caramoor Jazz Festival in Katonah, N.Y. The daylong festival includes performances by Dianne Reeves, Benny Green, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque and others on multiple stages.

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Melba Joyce

Another Reason to Celebrate By Elzy Kolb

Blues is truth

Though she’s primarily known as a jazz singer, if anyone knows her way around the blues, it’s Melba Joyce, who heard the music spilling out of a juke joint across the street from her childhood home in Dallas. She slept on the porch in warm weather and some of her recollections from that time would be right at home in blues lyrics, such as seeing a man stumbling out of the club with his throat cut.

“I saw all kinds of stuff happen in that place. I loved to hear the music all night long, but after I saw that man, I sneaked back into the house, so my mother wouldn’t know I had been out there.”

When it comes to performing the blues, she got plenty of feedback from veterans of the genre when she understudied for Carrie Smith, Linda Hopkins and Ruth Brown during the original Broadway production of Black and Blue. (Melba later headed the international tour in the leading role.)

“I thought I could sing the blues pretty well, but every time I did something they thought wasn’t right, they’d correct me. Sometimes they’d say ‘uh-uh,’ or just grunt and I knew I had some work to do,” Melba says. “Today, people tell me they’re going to be blues singers, but I don’t know about that: You really have to live it. It’s really a process.”

Melba is happy to demonstrate how it should be done at the upcoming concert Blues in the Night. She’s in good company with saxophonist Houston Person, trumpeter Eddie Allen, guitarist Rodney Jones, pianists Lafayette Harris and Bill Charlap, organist Mike LeDonne, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington.

It’s the first collaboration for Melba and Houston, known for his empathetic work with vocalists. The set list is evolving but is likely to include Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” and “I Worry About You,” a favorite of baritone vocalist Arthur Prysock who recorded several versions, including one with Count Basie. “I’ve had the song in the back of my head for a long time, then I heard Brianna Thomas do it recently and decided it’s time,” Melba notes.

The Blues in the Night concert on July 26 wraps up the annual Jazz in July series at the 92Y, aka the 92nd Street Y.

“This music has a spirit of its own that’s going to play and play and play: Jazz is forever,” Melba declares. “Jazz would not exist without the blues. I’m teaching an introduction to world music at Medgar Evers College and you can hear the blues in the chords of the African music I play for the students. It’s so clear and so plain: There is no doubt the blues came from Africa music. There are the same changes in church music and spiritual music, in church, the only difference is the lyric.”

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Lesedi Ntsane

Hot Flashes By Seton Hawkins

Artist Talks Inspirations: Lesedi Ntsane

In April 2017, a remarkable reunion was to take place as trumpeter Hugh Masekela was set to join his onetime bandmate Abdullah Ibrahim to revisit the music of their classic ensemble the Jazz Epistles in a performance at Town Hall. Due to an injury, Hugh was forced to withdraw on short notice. What might have proven a disaster was ultimately saved by the eleventh-hour addition of South African trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane to the ensemble, who filled Hugh’s seat by providing his own incredible takes on the material.

Hearing Lesedi’s masterful playing, it is easy to see why he was the first call. And in learning of the inspirations that guide his own work and artistry, one can see even more clearly how the connection runs deep. Indeed, the Jazz Epistles were held as one of the core groups of a rising Black Consciousness movement in South Africa that utilized jazz in its message. For Lesedi, a key inspiration to his musical projects lies in another iconic figure of Black Consciousness in South Africa: Steve Biko, whose writings he encountered in college. Lesedi felt a resonance between the thoughts of Steve Biko in the 1970s and the societal issues faced by South Africa in the early 2000s.

“Steve Biko was inspired by the frustration of really seeing what it would take for actual progress to occur,” Lesedi explains. “His only form of protest was to write, and for him the only way forward was to speak truth.” For Biko, speaking the truth required articulating a vision for South Africa, one that addressed apartheid and expressed a plan for what a different nation would have to look like. “Taking it to the 2000s, it was really relevant because the mandate that Mandela gave us when he came out of prison was ‘let's figure it out,’” Lesedi explains. “It conflicted with what Steve Biko had been writing about. We cannot just figure it out. Certain fundamental changes have to be part of the society. We inherited our narratives and byproducts of the struggle, and we’ve had to find a way to move forward. We found ourselves isolated, frustrated in finding a way of making things right, without having fundamental changes being implemented in the society. We had the responsibility of shaping our lives on our own.”

Artistically, this imprint is readily apparent in Lesedi’s musical vision, articulated first in the Azanian People’s Movement ensemble, later the Congress of African People. “Steve Biko is telling us that we have to be the change that we want to see in our society, we cannot rely on the government or institutions to do that,” he notes. “When I created the Azanian People's Movement, the whole idea was to document our history and preserve it through music.” Soon though, the ensemble’s name would change, as its conceptual underpinnings would expand, and the Congress of African People was born.

In July, Lesedi joins The Descendants, a collective sextet of New York-based artists hailing from South Africa, Kenya and Tunisia, to premiere the ensemble in a performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The evening honors July’s centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth. “I don't think there's anybody else who's going to be like him ever again,” Lesedi explains. “To give up his life, sacrifice the right to raise his children, all for the sake of the nation. We are his grandchildren, and we come together to celebrate him and the commitment that he made.”

Lesedi Ntsane performs with The Descendants featuring Melanie Scholtz on vocals, Yacine Boularès on tenor saxophone, Aaron Rimbui on piano, Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere on bass and Kesivan Naidoo on drums on July 23 at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. To learn more, visit www.lesedintsane.com.

Photo Credit:  Florence Leyret

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Bill O Connell

Latin Side By Raul da Gama

Bill O’Connell: Piano Con Alma

There is an easy fluidity about the pianism of Bill O’Connell.  And, in case you missed it because of all the years he played in various ensembles, he finally provided an opportunity to fall prey to this magical fluidity when he recorded his only solo piano CD, Monk’s Cha Cha – Live at the Carnegie-Farian Room (Savant, 2017). This solo performance provides a measure of the man and his music.

Rarely has one heard a pianist play with bite, erudition, an impish sense of humor, and with such tumbao—that single- and multi-celled tresillo pattern that forms the rhythmic basis of the ostinato bassline in Cuban son-based music which includes son montuno, mambo, salsa and Latin jazz. It’s like listening to a piano played as a conga drum. In Bill’s case, all of this comes with his singular voice that echoes a deep profundity with a childlike sense of fun rolled into melody, harmony and rhythm.

It was this amalgamation that first attracted the musical cognoscenti to Bill. Among them was Mongo Santamaria who hired Bill for his almost mythical salsa band in 1977. Not long after, many other important musicians took notice; among them were Chet Baker, and Sonny Rollins with whom Bill toured the U.S. and Europe. Other great musicians such as guitarist Emily Remler, bassist Charles Famborough and the Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin also inducted Bill into their bands. Choosing Bill was easy; not only was his pianism breathtaking, he was a remarkable composer. In fact, Bill’s composition “Oasis” became one of the pieces of music most requested of Dave Valentin wherever he performed.

“Yeah, I’ve done a few things in my time,” he says with typical modesty, “always spreading the gospel of jazz.”

Although Bill has recorded on scores of albums since the late 1970s, to hear him on Monk’s Cha Cha is special. Here Bill's music is stripped bare and he appears as himself in a genre-defining fashion, and he sounds so completely singular that he considered titling the album Naked. The music here is marked by long unbroken melodic lines with his right hand and tumbao with his left, combined in a vivid, poetic whole. What is also significant is the way in which he decorates a simple phrase, not as ornament for ornament’s sake but as an expression of deeply felt emotion.

This poetry of feeling also informs everything on Jazz Latin (Savant, 2018). “Goodbye My Friend,” a eulogy for his friend and drummer Kim Plainfield is the icing on the cake of this recording with Lincoln Goines on bass and Robby Ameen on drums. The song has an intimacy and an emotional intensity that is almost scorching, and it is classic Bill. Much of the burning humanism that comes through in Bill’s music has to do with having lived a life completely immersed in a world as a musical introvert and a miniaturist. All of this reaches its highest pinnacle on “Goodbye My Friend.”

“Playing with Robby and Lincoln, two of my closest friends and great virtuosos on their instruments, was very special to me,” Bill says of the CD. “Everything came so easily; the music just flowed spontaneously. And, yes, speaking of ‘Goodbye My Friend,’ Kim’s death was particularly painful. He was…well, I loved him like a brother. Also, as we were all jazz musicians together, I thought let’s send him to his better place in true jazz fashion, with second-line funk as well.”

He may as well have also added: “And we played with absolute heart and soul.”

The Bill O'Connell Jazz Latin Quartet, with Craig Handy, saxophone; Lincoln Goines, bass; Richie Barshay, drums; special guests Andrea Brachfeld, flute and Dan Carillo on guitar, performs on July 24 at Jazz Standard.

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