Archive for August, 2008

August 31st 2008
2008 Tanglewood Jazz Festival — Day 3

Posted under Tanglewood Jazz Festival

The Tanglewood Jazz Festival made it through two days of sporadic rain to end with one of the most beautiful days of the summer — and some of the most powerful music in recent memory.

Spencer Day

spencer.jpgSinger/songwriter/pianist Spencer Day opened the afternoon in the Jazz Cafe, following up on his Day 2 performance with Marian McPartland. He quickly won over the crowd with intimate performances of mostly original material. He also covered a Depeche Mode tune toward the end of the set — and you never would have guessed if you didn’t already know. After the show, I sat down with Spencer for an interview. Look for it on an upcoming episode of The Jazz Session.

Eddie Daniels

eddie.jpgDespite losing drummer Joe LaBarbera to a broken left hand less than 48 hours before the gig, clarinetist and saxophonist Eddie Daniels still managed to put on a perfect show for a summer afternoon. Last-minute replacement Steve Schaeffer fit right in with the rest of the group, and Eddie Daniels proved to be as adept at communicating with the crowd as he is at playing his instruments. From the interesting biography file: pianist Tom Ranier has a day job. He’s the assistant musical director on Dancing With The Stars. Look for an interview with Eddie Daniels on an upcoming episode of The Jazz Session.

Marc O’Connor

mark.jpgViolinist Mark O’Connor has covered a lot of musical ground in his career, from fiddle music to symphonies and everything in between. He performed at Tanglewood with his “Hot Swing” band, including guest vocalist Jane Monheit. For me, the standout musician in the ensemble was guitarist Frank Vignola, who can play more musically at ridiculous tempos than just about anyone I’ve heard. Vignola had the crowd in the palm of his hand for every solo, and Monheit was a hit, too.

Alex Brown

Pianist Alex Brown is currently a member of Paquito D’Rivera’s band, and you can hear some of his boss’s fire in the interplay between Brown and the members of his trio — particularly drummer Eric Doob. Brown’s trio played the evening set at the Jazz Cafe and were definite crowd pleasers.

Terence Blanchard

terence.jpgThree years ago, nearly to the day, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The storm and its aftermath were, to me, our country’s absolute lowest point during my lifetime. I always knew we’d start wars and bomb people in distant places, but the idea that we’d let a city drown right here at home was almost too much to comprehend. Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” was a powerful artistic statement about the storm and the human failures that led to the flooding of New Orleans. The film was made even more gripping by the haunting music of trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who composed the soundtrack.

Blanchard decided that the soundtrack wasn’t enough, and so he and the members of his band created the album A Tale Of God’s Will: Requiem For Katrina (Blue Note, 2007). The final performance of the festival was a rare opportunity to hear this music played by the Blanchard quintet and the 40-piece Tanglewood Jazz Orchestra. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the majesty and sadness of this music. Suffice it to say that it was a concert few in the audience are likely ever to forget.

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August 31st 2008
2008 Tanglewood Jazz Festival — Day 2

Posted under Tanglewood Jazz Festival

The rain came a few times, but all in all it was a lovely afternoon and evening in the Berkshires for the second day of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.

Kate McGarry

iflessismore.jpgI certainly won’t pretend to be objective here — I love Kate McGarry’s music, and have ever since I first heard her. Her set at the Jazz Cafe was a master class in taste, musicality and sensitivity. She sang several selections from her new album, If Less Is More, Nothing Is Everything (Palmetto, 2008), including a great version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’.” She was accompanied throughout by her husband, Keith Ganz, on acoustic guitar, and drummer Clarence Penn. Penn played a percussion kit rather than a full drum set, and he was as tasteful an accompanist and soloist as anyone could want. Full of energy and fun, too.

Marian McPartland

bg_pjazz_summer.jpgMarian McPartland is the beloved host of Piano Jazz on NPR, the longest-running performance program on public radio. She’s celebrating her 90th birthday this year and still going strong. Yesterday a sold-out crowd gathered in Ozawa Hall and on the hill to watch a taping of her show. She played two 45-minute sets with an intermission in between. The first set featured pianist Mulgrew Miller, who’s appeared on more than 400 recordings as a leader or sideman. Toward the end of the set, they did a standout duet version of the Thad Jones composition “A Child Is Born.” I think the birds even stopped chirping to listen. After the set, McPartland announced the intermission, saying, “We’re going in the back to … I don’t know … smoke pot or something.” The crowd roared. The second set featured pianist and vocalist Spencer Day, who charmed the audience with his compositions, including a love song about New Jersey. He and Marian performed “Born To Be Blue” together. Then Nnenna Freelon came out to sing with McPartland. For me, the highlight here was Stevie Wonder’s arresting “All In Love Is Fair,” which McPartland requested and Freelon agreed to sing after a “prayer to the gods of lyrics, that they’ll download the words in the proper order.” Mulgrew Miller came back toward the end for some trio work with Freelon and McPartland, and the crowd ended the show by singing “Happy Birthday” to McPartland.

Jason Palmer

palmer.jpgTrumpeter Jason Palmer accompanied Grace Kelly at the 2007 Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and he was a crowd favorite. This year, he got his own time slot at the Jazz Cafe. Palmer performed with a quintet of young players, including his wife, vocalist Colleen Bryant Palmer. The set had some highlights — I particularly enjoyed their versions of “Come Sunday” and Abbey Lincoln’s “When Malindy Sings.” Bryant Palmer has a deep voice that seems well-suited to gospel or maybe classical lieder, and it worked well in those slow, stately tunes. I thought it was less effective in the uptempo numbers like “I Must Have That Man” and “Jump For Joy.” Jason Palmer is a technically gifted trumpet player, and I look forward to hearing more from him as his individuality emerges.

Sadly, I had to leave early, and thus missed the sets by Donal Fox and Diane Reeves. I did hear Fox’s first tune, which sounded wonderful. Fox is a regular at Tanglewood in a variety of settings, and the crowd welcomed him as a hometown favorite.

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August 30th 2008
2008 Tanglewood Jazz Festival — Day 1

Posted under Tanglewood Jazz Festival

I spent the day today in my hometown of Lenox, MA, at the 2008 Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Any day that combines my favorite place and my favorite music is a good day, and today was a good day.


Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and it’s also home to things like an annual James Taylor concert, an annual recording of A Prairie Home Companion, and the jazz festival. The setting is idyllic — the whole place is nestled in the Berkshire Mountains between Lenox and Stockbridge. The festival is held in Ozawa Hall (named after famed conductor Seiji Ozawa), with additional performances in the “Jazz Cafe” — a tent up the hill from the hall. People also sit on the lawn between the two venues, and the entire back wall of Ozawa Hall opens up for the evening performances to give the lawn folks a view of the show.

There were really only two small issues today — bugs and rain. It was quite humid, and the mosquitoes and gnats were out in full force during the early evening. Then it rained later on. Still, the crowd was happy and into the music, and I’d have to say the opening day was a big success.

Eddie Daniels

eddie.jpgI started out by interviewing clarinetist and saxophonist Eddie Daniels, who plays on Sunday at 2 p.m. While we were recording the interview — which will be on an upcoming edition of The Jazz Session — Eddie got a call from his pianist, Tom Rainier. Tom was calling to say that drummer Joe LaBarbera had just fallen off his bicycle and broken his left hand, and thus couldn’t play their gig in less than 48 hours. Eddie suggested some names and asked Tom to start calling around. “You can leave this in the show,” Eddie said. “This is what it’s like to be bandleader.” (On a personal note: Here’s wishing Joe a speedy recovery!)

Jo Lawry

jo.jpgLater in the afternoon, I stopped over at the VIP reception site and listened to a rehearsal by Australian vocalist Jo Lawry. I was completely knocked out. She has an incredibly pure voice with faultless intonation, and the band featured some top-notch players, including guitarist Keith Ganz, whose name will be familiar if you’re a fan of his wife, singer Kate McGarry. (Kate was on The Jazz Session #33.) Kate was there as well, and she told me that she and Jo Lawry have become good friends and collaborators. I caught part of Jo’s set at the VIP reception and sat down for an interview with her after the set. Listen for it on an upcoming show.

Aaron Parks

I had to leave Jo Lawry’s show to MC a show in the Jazz Cafe by pianist Aaron Parks, who was a guest on The Jazz Session #38. Aaron was joined by most of the line-up from his new album, Invisible Cinema: Matt Penman on bass, Mike Moreno on guitar, and Kendrick Scott on drums in place of Eric Harland, who plays on the record. (Kendrick was on The Jazz Session #25.) Aaron and the band sounded great, and the crowd was appreciative.

Edmar Castaneda & The Great Joe Locke Hunt

edmar.jpgAfter the first few numbers of Aaron’s set, I checked my cell phone and saw several missed calls from vibraphonist Joe Locke, who was performing later in the evening with harpist Edmar Casteneda. I called Joe and learned that he was (a) lost and (b) stuck in traffic and (c) unable to reach the band and (d) needing some help to prepare the vibes. I ran down to Ozawa Hall where Edmar was doing his soundcheck. As I walked in, they were wondering where Joe was. “He’s right here,” I said, holding up my cell phone. We got Joe some directions, got the vibes mostly prepared, and Joe arrived in time for the end of the soundcheck. What’s more, he and Edmar and the band had just flown in from Israel the night before — and Joe had spent all 11 hours of the flight in the bathroom with food poisoning. You sure couldn’t tell at the gig, though. They absolutely rocked the house. Do not pass up any chance to check out Edmar Casteneda.

Eliane Elias

I spent some time after Edmar’s set chatting with David and Carol, a lovely couple from Baltimore who came up for the festival. David is a physical therapist who works primarily with musicians, which sounds fascinating. In fact, he asks them to bring their instruments to his office so he can observe their playing and figure out what to treat. (And all that free music isn’t bad, either!)

eliane.jpgPianist and vocalist Eliane Elias played a fun set split between a tribute to pianist Bill Evans and selections from the world of Brazilian bossa nova. Bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Adam Nussbaum were perfect bandmates, and the communication between Eliane and Adam was something to see. And hear, for that matter.

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August 25th 2008
Aaron Parks CD giveaway!

Posted under Contest

The Jazz Session is giving away a copy of Aaron Parks’ new CD, Invisible Cinema. To win it, be the first person to send an e-mail to Please put “Parks” in the subject line.

And remember, you can listen to an interview with Aaron Parks and samples from the CD on The Jazz Session #38: Aaron Parks.

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August 24th 2008
The Jazz Session #39: Donny McCaslin

Posted under Podcast & Saxophonists

Jason Crane interviews saxophonist and composer Donny McCaslin about his new record, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music, 2008). The new album is McCaslin’s statement in the saxophone trio format, and he’s joined by two of New York’s finest — bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake. McCaslin shines on this album of original compositions, plus Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan. (NOTE: McCaslin was on The Jazz Session #29 last year in an interview that featured an in-depth look at his life and work.)


August 19th 2008
TJS Cause of the Month: Musicians’ Village

Posted under Cause of the Month

The tragedy in New Orleans was a turning point in my life, even though I’ve never been there. For me, it was the single most glaring example of what’s wrong with our government and right with our nation. I’ve been featuring New Orleans charities — particularly those that deal with cultural restoration — in my Cause of the Month for quite a while now. I’m proud to announce the newest addition:

Musicians’ Village was conceived by New Orleans natives (and jazz musicians) Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis. Musicians’ Village will provide a home for both the artists who have defined the city’s culture and the sounds that have shaped the musical vernacular of the world.

Please visit them today and give whatever you can afford. Thank you.

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August 18th 2008

Posted under Site Updates


Today, The Jazz Session hit 100,000 downloads! Thanks to everyone for supporting the show! And thank you to all these fine musicians for appearing on the show:

John Abercrombie, Peter Asplund, Gene Bertoncini, Don Byron, Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Dapp Theory, Toru Dodo, John Ellis, Wayne Escoffery, Robin Eubanks, Joel Frahm, Terry Gibbs, Victor Goines, Brian Groder, Tord Gustavsen, Chico Hamilton, Mel Henderson, Francis Jacob, Christine Jensen, Saskia Laroo, Dino Losita, Donny McCaslin, Kate McGarry, Mike Melito, Midaircondo, Jason Moran, Mr. Something Something, Rick Parker, Aaron Parks, Brian Patneaude, Laurie Pepper, Luis Perdomo, Misha Piatigorsky, Doug Ramsey, Bobby Sanabria, Kendrick Scott, Matt Shulman, Cecilia Smith, Grant Stewart, David Torn, Miroslav Vitous, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Eberhard Weber, Matt Wilson, David Witham, Zanussi Five, and Pete Zimmer.

Coming Up: Donny McCaslin returns, Joel Harrison, Henry Grimes, Brian Blade, David Sanborn, Satoko Fujii, Erin Bode … and more!

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August 18th 2008
The Jazz Session #38: Aaron Parks

Posted under Pianists & Podcast

Jason Crane interviews pianist and composer Aaron Parks. Parks is 24 years old—and he started college 11 years ago. A child prodigy who entered the University of Washington at age 13 as a triple major in math, computer science and music, Parks quickly found that music was his true calling. Now, after a five-year stint with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Parks has released his Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema. The album is a tour de force of composition, imagination and performance.


August 13th 2008
The Jazz Session #37: John Ellis

Posted under Podcast & Saxophonists

Jason Crane interviews saxophonist John Ellis. After making a name for himself during his five years with guitarist Charlie Hunter, Ellis has emerged as a leader and composer in his own right. His new album, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena Records, 2008) is a celebration of the sousaphone (yes, the sousaphone!) in a funky stew of creative and fun tunes, all penned by Ellis.

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