The saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith has caught his share of deflected stardust: as a former foot soldier with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, as a hired gun for the likes of Al Green and as a member of “The Tonight Show” band (which is to say, the Roots). For the rest of this year, as part of the Loston Harris Trio, he’ll appear Thursday through Saturday nights at Bemelmans Bar, the hobnobby lounge in the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan.
“Live at Smalls,” Mr. Hendrickson-Smith’s new album, belongs to a different scale of accomplishment. It’s a sturdy, uncomplicated set of vintage-style soul jazz, recorded in one of New York’s least pretentious clubs, possibly as an afterthought. If it’s a token of artistic independence, it’s a modest one. But the welcoming gleam in Mr. Hendrickson-Smith’s playing, and the assertive support of a rhythm section with David Hazeltine on piano, are worth the trouble. The album has a spark of life, a reason for being.
It happens to be one of several albums out in physical form this week on SmallsLive, a record label associated with that Greenwich Village jazz haunt. And SmallsLive, in turn, is one of several notable labels to have grown out of the New York club scene. Half Note, affiliated with the Blue Note Jazz Club (but, it should be said, not Blue Note Records), has been in business for years. Smoke Sessions, the imprint of the Upper West Side club Smoke, started up just this year, proving itself right out of the gate.
Herbie Hancock, Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones and a litany of major jazz musicians saluted President Bill Clinton on Sunday at L.A.’s Dolby Theater for his efforts in using jazz as a diplomatic force over the last 25 years.
Clinton, whom Hancock introduced as “the commander in chief of swing,” received the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Maria Fisher Founder’s Award for his contributions to the perpetuation of jazz music and the global expansion of jazz and music education in schools. Clinton chronicled his own relationship with jazz as a saxophonist, starting at age 6 and ending around 16 when he decided he could not follow in John Coltrane’s footsteps. In addition to praising the underpaid pioneers of jazz culture, Clinton said the teamwork learned in jazz education could play out in other areas.
“Sometimes a frustrated jazz musician,” Clinton said, “winds up in another field and it works out well.”
Around 8 p.m. on a recent Saturday, a few dozen people were gathered in a narrow, dimly lit Harlem brownstone. Couples smoked in the backyard beneath Christmas lights; a group of Chilean expats sought a corkscrew; a man and his young son searched for seats.
From the basement downstairs, Bill Saxton, a bebop saxophonist, could hear the anticipatory chatter. All these people had come to his place. A few minutes later, standing with his band in the tiny parlor, he honked his sax loudly. The track lights dimmed.
It is well known that the Nazi regime denounced modernist art as “degenerate”, but not so well known that the Third Reich also proscribed “Entartete Musik” or “degenerate music”. Another name for this was jazz. It makes complete sense, therefore, that the most renowned of American jazz recording companies – Blue Note Records – was founded by refugees from Hitler’s Germany.
Blue Note survives in name, if not – some would argue – in spirit. This weighty book helps to explain the mystique that continues to surround the label, though in that regard the pictures are more helpful than the text. One of the crucial points about Blue Note records was that they looked beautiful – and distinctive.
Herbie Hancock enjoyed “A Great Night in Harlem” with a look to the past and the future as the legendary jazz pianist received a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America at a benefit concert at the historic Apollo Theater.
Actor Bruce Willis, introducing Hancock at Friday night’s concert, offered a glance at “the future of jazz” as he brought out 11-year-old Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander to play a solo rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight.”
“When I was eight years old you heard me playing. You told me that you believed in me and that was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz,” Alexander told Hancock who was standing alongside him.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the first sign that they might have an offbeat sense of humor ought to be the name. That hasn’t stopped plenty of people from being outraged at the group’s new album.
It’s called Blue, and it’s a reproduction of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, perhaps the most famous jazz album of all time. Not a tribute; not “inspired by”; not even a simple covers album. It’s a painstaking, note-for-note reproduction. The musicians have transcribed and reproduced each walking bass line, each cymbal tap, each Bill Evans piano flourish, each note of John Coltrane’s and Cannonball Adderley’s and Miles Davis’s solos.
What can be said about such a peculiar act? First, it’s not jazz. Second, it’s hilarious and important.
Of all those rubbish ideas dreamt up by major-label record honchos frantically trying to balance their ailing books, the pop star – often fading, but not necessarily – sings jazz standards album feels the most desperate. Like sitcom writers who think sending their much-loved characters to Torremolinos for a feature-length “special” is the best way to re-oxygenate a programme whose days are numbered, the success rate of popster jazz is virtually nil.
Jazz is a serious and noble pursuit, with a culture and history of its own, fed by a pool of nuts-and-bolts techniques that can to outsiders feel as obscure and nebulous as the formula for Coca-Cola.
Anyone who has seen Kevin Washington play the drums knows that he is among the most versatile of jazz musicians – as adept at playing straight-ahead tunes as he is incorporating Afro-Latin rhythms or hip-hop into his sets.
“One minute I’ll be playing funk and you’ll think that’s all I do. And right around in like the next minute — just like that — I can play a bebop song so authentic, you’ll think that’s two different drummers,” Washington said. “People ask me that all the time, ‘how do you do that?’ I just do it. You’ve got to do your homework though.”
Washington has been dedicated to his art for much of his 39 years.
Tim Hauser, a singer and showman who founded the Manhattan Transfer, a Grammy-winning vocal group that brought four-part harmonies to several decades’ worth of American popular songs, died on Thursday in Sayre, Pa. He was 72.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said his sister, Fayette. She said he had been taken to a hospital in Elmira, N.Y., with pneumonia shortly after arriving in nearby Corning for a scheduled performance and was later moved to a hospital in Sayre, where he died.
Researchers are one step closer to confirming what people in New Orleans have known for decades: Jazz is good for you. Patients undergoing elective hysterectomies who listened to jazz music during their recovery experienced significantly lower heart rates, suggests a study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2014 annual meeting.
But the research also found that silence is golden. Patients who wore noise-cancelling headphones also had lower heart rates, as well as less pain.
Movies about musicians offer musical approximations that usually satisfy in inverse proportion to a viewer’s devotion to the actual music behind the story. Few, if any, fictionalized musicians are played onscreen by real-life musicians of their calibre. (Dexter Gordon, in “’Round Midnight,” is perhaps the best; Jackie McLean and Freddie Redd, in “The Connection,” don’t do as much acting, but their music is brilliant.) Most good music in movies is played by musicians playing themselves, whether it’s Little Richard in “The Girl Can’t Help It,” Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton in “A Song Is Born,” the Rolling Stones in “Sympathy for the Devil,” or Artur Rubinstein in “Carnegie Hall.” Yet I’m not bothered by musical approximations and allusions in dramas, as long as the drama itself has the spirit of music. The mediocre jazz in Damien Chazelle’s new film, “Whiplash,” the story (set in the present day) of a young drummer (Miles Teller) under the brutal tutelage of a conservatory professor (J. K. Simmons), isn’t itself a problem.
Along with NPR Music’s partners at WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center, we’re proud to announce a new public media initiative: Jazz Night In America. You can check it out on your local public radio station, as well as online at npr.org/jazznight.
Jazz Night In America is many things. It’s a weekly radio show from three groups that have all made nationally syndicated jazz radio for many years, with an internationally renowned musician as our guide. It’s a weekly concert video webcast from venues across the country. It’s a hub for video features, multi-platform journalism and on-demand access. All together, it’s a portrait of jazz music today, as seen through many of its exceptional live performances and performers.