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Interview with Brian Charette…

Where did it all start for you? Has it always been your dream to be a musician?

I had a piano in my house I would walk down to it at around 3yrs old and would play it all day.

Do you still remember the very first record you ever bought?

AC/DC For Those About to Rock

How did your parents react, the first time you said, you wanted to be a musician?

Didn’t go over well.


Name something you’re bad at, but just love to do.


You were the winner of Downbeat Critic’s poll “Rising Star” last year. Was it a big change for you?

Sure. It’s a big Validation of your art to win something. Especially from such a respected publication.

You are hooked on Prague, and resides there half of the time. Did you find the American Dream in Europe?

Do you mean hot girls? Yes.


If you could be any animal to roam the earth, what would you be?

A Human.

What’s the favorite part of your daily routine?


Tell us about your book?

I give away all my secrets and then tell you not to practice.


If you could perform with anyone in the world, or even bring someone back to life, who would you chose?

John Lennon.

Your favorite thing to do when you’re bored?

I’m never bored.

What can we expect from you in 2015?

My new record Alphabet City and lots more great study materials.


What’s the top 3 of your bucketlist (10 things to do before i die) ?

See the Pyramids / Smoke a Cuban cigar in Cuba / learn to play Tabla in India.



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JazzTimes article featuring Posi-Tone producer Marc Free

Studio Savvy

Three of jazz’s best producers on how to make the most of your time in headphones

“We make a lot of records in our bedrooms these days,” admits Al Pryor, the executive vice president for A&R at Mack Avenue Records, where his production credits include albums by Stanley Jordan, Sean Jones and Cécile McLorin Salvant. “We don’t often have the resources to be there the way we used to, when the business model for the record business was very different. So it behooves us to really plan well to make great use of the time that we’re there.”


Al Pryor of Mack Avenue Records
By Jaime Kahn

Marc Free of Posi-Tone Records
By Gabriel Ruspini

Michael Cuscuna
By Lisa Cuscuna

1 of 3      Next

The meter is running as soon as an artist sets foot in the recording studio, so it’s important to know how to maximize your time while making the most of your budget. Other veteran producers agree with Pryor that to get the most out of your studio time, you should do most of the work outside of it. “The more preparation you can do before you step into the studio, the better off you’ll be on a financial level and also on a musical level,” says Michael Cuscuna, a producer renowned for his work with Atlantic, Blue Note and many other labels, including his own highly collectible Mosaic imprint. “It makes the difference between an expensive, boring record and an excellent record that comes in under budget.”

Or as Posi-Tone Records founder and resident producer Marc Free succinctly puts it, “In my opinion it’s 90-percent organization and 10-percent execution.” That organization includes choosing repertoire, making sure parts are legibly copied with no errors, determining solo order and getting to know the difficulty level of your material. “Pick something easy and lively to get going,” advises Free, whose label is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “Get some momentum and then after a song or two go right after the hard stuff while everybody’s fresh. Go in prepared with more stuff than you think you need, and try to do two takes of everything and move on. That way, you have something you can use to edit if there’s a mistake. If, after two takes, it’s not really coming together, it’s probably best to move on rather than burn your guys out.”

While many bandleaders choose to produce their own dates, wanting to save money and feeling that they know their compositions and sidemen better than anyone, there are definite advantages, both artistic and practical, to bringing in a producer. “When you’re in the studio [as an artist], there’s a lot on your mind,” Cuscuna explains. “You’re a bandleader, you’re a player, you’re a composer trying to get your music realized in the way you want it. If you can have a producer just worry about getting it on tape, then that’s a whole lot taken off of you.”

“Every artist needs different things,” adds Pryor. “Some artists want to work with producers who are actually arrangers, and they want some involvement in the process of creating the music. Some artists want producers who have an engineering background and focus on the technical aspects. Sometimes you want somebody on the other side of the glass who knows your music well and will tell you the truth. And sometimes it’s a combination of those things.”

“I often say that my job is to advocate for the listener,” Free explains. “The producer is there to help the musician get out of their head and get to an emotionally sincere place where they’re expressing and communicating real feelings.”

While a studio will have an engineer on staff, many artists bring in an engineer of their own choosing who is familiar with the sound they’re looking for. One of the best resources for finding the right engineer, Cuscuna says, is the artist’s personal record collection. “Go through your records and pick out the stuff with audio that you like and that you think has the kind of attitude that would also suit your music. When you find that three or four of them have a common name, you’ve found your engineer.”

It’s important to set monitor levels quickly at the outset of a session, Cuscuna continues, and to make sure that everyone is content with their own mix before getting down to the business of making music. “You want everyone to feel happy with their own sound,” he says, “but you also want them to be able to hear everybody else in the monitoring situation. If they’re not comfortable, it’s going to adversely affect the performance. There’s nothing that kills a groove like stopping and messing with headphone mixes.”

Preparation is integral to these relationships as well. “You might be producing yourself,” Pryor says, “but you’re not going to be engineering yourself, so collaboration is absolutely critical. And it starts way before you get into the studio and it happens all the way through the session.” He says artists should relay their plans and goals to the engineer and producer well ahead of time to avoid unwanted surprises on the day of the session. The engineer should also research an unfamiliar studio’s equipment and resources and, if at all possible, make time to set up microphones and boards the day prior to the session.

Ultimately, Cuscuna stresses, if a professional studio is out of financial reach at the moment, don’t be discouraged from recording your music in any way possible. “If you’re getting your career off the ground and you’re self-producing, there’s no reason in the world not to get a setup for yourself and document the music as best you can,” he says. “Sell it off the bandstand, get it on CDBaby or do whatever you have to do to get your music out there.”


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NCPR news interviews Walt Weiskopf…

Steely Dan Saxophonist Walt Weiskopf releases new CD

Listen to this story

Saxophonist Walt Weiskopf has a regular, high-profile gig as the saxophonist for Steely Dan. But he’s a prolific composer/arranger and forceful, innovative straight ahead jazz player. His new CD on Positone Records is “Overdrive” and he talked with Joel Hurd when Steely Dan made a stop in Ottawa on August 26, 2014.


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A new interview with Eric Wyatt…


Saxophonist Eric Wyatt pays homage to his hometown Brooklyn in his new album Borough of Kings

Eric Wyatt CD cover frontSaxophonist Eric Wyatt’s new album is out, Borough of Kings and I had a chance to catch up with him the last time I was in New York to talk about some of his inspirations for the music. Check out my on-camera interview with Eric below to also hear how he met Miles Davis when he was a kid along with some footage from his gig at Smalls Jazz Club.

For more information on Eric’s new CD, check out ww

Saxophonist Eric Wyatt’s new album is out, Borough of Kings and I had a chance to catch up with him the last time I was in New York to talk about some of his inspirations for the music. Check out my on-camera interview with Eric below to also hear how he met Miles Davis when he was a kid along with some footage from his gig at Smalls Jazz Club.

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Captain Black Big Band gets some great local coverage from the Philly Inquirer…

It’s a challenge to keep even a small band going for any length of time in the current jazz climate, and maintaining a big band that splits its time and membership between two cities is even harder.

But pianist Orrin Evans has done just that, helming his Captain Black Big Band for more than four years since its beginnings at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in late 2009. So why does he regularly corral 14 musicians from New York and Philly to tackle the ensemble’s boisterous arrangements?

“When I figure that out, I’ll probably stop doing it,” Evans said with a shrug last week over lunch at McMenamin’s Tavern near his home in Mount Airy. “It’s overwhelming – I’ve got to make sure everybody’s there, we’re not making tons of money, there’s a lot of people to pay. Musically, I love the sound of all these different colors and different sounds coming together. But I still haven’t quite figured out why I like doing it, and that’s what makes me get on that highway every week to see what happens.”

These days, Captain Black calls New York City home, with a residency on Monday nights at the Upper West Side club Smoke. The band returns to Philadelphia Wednesday night to celebrate release of its second CD, Mother’s Touch, at World Cafe Live with a pair of guests, both Philly natives: vocalist Joanna Pascale and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Rosenwinkel, who will also perform Tuesday at Underground Arts with his new psych-rock-improv trio Bandit 65, writes by e-mail that he’s a big fan of Evans: “Orrin is a brilliant pianist and dynamic composer and bandleader – a very soulful artist. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Wednesday’s show will mark their first chance to play together. “I wanted the opportunity to play with him and to get myself out of the comfort zone,” Evans said. “I don’t normally use guitarists that much, but with Rosenwinkel, I get a chance to play with a guitarist, someone from Philly, and someone I’ve wanted to play with for a while.”

Pascale is an old friend. Their first encounter was a near-disaster. She was 14 years old when her mother brought her to the now-defunct Blue Moon Jazz Club, where Evans was leading a regular jam session. When he called her to the stage, she brought up sheet music for Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” He waved it away.

“This was honestly the first time I’d ever sung when I wasn’t singing along to a record,” Pascale recalls. “Orrin starts playing, and something wasn’t right. I start singing, and he’s in a different key, and I’m horrified. So I turn around, and the bassist and drummer are laughing hysterically to the point where tears were rolling down their faces and their shoulders were shaking trying to hold it in.”

Nevertheless, Pascale and Evans established a musical relationship that has lasted nearly two decades. Most recently, he producedWildflower, her coming CD, which also features an appearance by Rosenwinkel. “Joanna’s like a little sister to me,” Evans said. “I think we really see time and space and rhythm in the same way. So whatever we do, there’s going to be space for us to grow and make something happen.”

What’s cool about Captain Black, Pascale says, “is how loose it is. But the level of musicianship of every single person in that band is so high that no matter what you put in front of them, it elevates the music to a whole other level.”

Mother’s Touch reveals a far more refined ensemble than the raw, combustible band captured live on its self-titled debut. Still, Evans is never one to plan much in advance and enjoys the thrill of the unexpected – even if it means occasionally playing a gig where not a single trombonist manages to show up.

“A part of me thinks it would be great to walk in and have a full band every week,” he said. “But I prefer to not know what’s going to happen. As much as it seems like it would be easier for it to all be the same every week, that would get real boring for me. I never really get nervous – but I get nervous about the big band.”



Orrin Evans’

Captain Black Big Band

8 p.m. Wednesday, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St.

Tickets: $20.

Information: 215-222-1400,

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Take Five with Brian Charette…

Take Five With Brian Charette

Take Five With Brian Charette


Published: March 6, 2014

Meet Brian Charette:
Grammy-nominated organist/pianist, Brian Charette, has established himself as a leading voice in modern jazz. Besides being a critically acclaimed composer and bandleader, he has worked with many notable artists such as Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan, Lou Donaldson and countless others.

Charette is a Hammond endorsed, SteepleChase and Posi-Tone recording artist. In 2013, Charette released Borderline(Steeplechase), his sixth as a leader and was rated with 3 ½ stars inDownbeat. His recordings have been dubbed as “Reliably burning” by Jazz Times and he has been called a “Master of space and time” by WGBO. In the Spring 2014, Charette will releaseThe Question That Drives Us and Square One for SteepleChase and Posi- Tone respectively.

This year, Charette has been playing very successful engagements in NYC, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Spain, Indonesia, Czech Republic and Germany. He also just placed 2nd in the 2013 Downbeat Critic’s Poll for “Rising Star: Organ” for the second year in a row.

Mr. Charette is an active educator. In addition to writing for Keyboard MagazineDownbeat, andMuzikus, he teaches master classes all over the world, and is on the faculty of the Czech Summer Jazz Workshop at Jezek Conservatory in Prague. He also has a new Hammond Organ instructional video on and is featured prominently on two new Mel Bay instructional DVDs by Rodney Jones and Sheryl Bailey.

Outside of music, Brian is passionate about chess and White Crane kung fu, which he holds a black sash.

Piano and organ.

Teachers and/or influences?
Kenny Werner and Charlie Banacos.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…
I was three and would wander down to the piano, open a book called Folk Songs to a two page song called, “The Great Wall.” I would stare at the animated picture of the Great Wall of China with people walking, merchants selling, and a horse drawn ambulance while improvising for hours.

Your sound and approach to music:
I play jazz but I would have to say I’m more of a rocker in my approach. I can be very angular and aggressive in the way I play. I try to balance this with extensive use of space and compositional devices. The solos in my groups are often very short and the motives of the pieces can be very minimal and trance inducing.

Your teaching approach:
I try to show students how to spend time practicing only things they are weak in. After they identify the problem, I tell them to only focus their practice on one weak area at a time until they really internalize the concept they are working on. For example, I had one student practice only in the key of Ab minor for a month. At the end of the month, the student always sounded amazing when we got to an Ab chord change and before had always stumbled over the chord.

Your dream band:
I already have two dream bands with the trio and sextet. I do have a fantasy of playing piano duos with Chick Corea. I would also very much like to play with Roy Haynes.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
One time, 20 years ago, I was playing in Brussels. The King of Belgium had just died a few days before. We were playing in a very big festival with about 8,000 people. There were huge video screens on the side of the stage. The singer picked up a picture of the king that had just died from a cigarette machine backstage and held it up to the audience. There was a camera on him and all the people started to cheer. The road manager on the side of the stage started to wave his arms furiously to put the picture down. The singer gave the road manager the bird and told him to relax. Unfortunately, one of the cameras was on him, and all 8,000 Belgians saw was a big middle finger in front of the picture of their beloved king. They threw rocks and beer at us for an hour. We made the news and left very quickly the morning after the show never to return.

Favorite venue:
My favorite place to play is Small’s in NYC. It has the best vibe of any jazz place I have ever been. I also feel so supported by Spike Wilner and the whole gang at Smalls.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite recording is definitely my new Posi-Tone record Square One. I feel like this is best sounding and looking recording I’ve ever made. I’ve been friends with Marc and Nick at Posi-tone for quite a while. We planned this record for about two years and the musicians, photographer, and graphic designer were very thoughtfully chosen. Yotam Silberstein and Mark Ferber are great friends and play my music like they wrote it themselves. I also love the sound of the organ in Michael Brorby’s studio. Nick is amazing at mixing, and Marc is great with producing, radio and press. I feel like we make a great team and I have very high hopes for the future with Posi-tone.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Jimmy Smith, Unfinished Business (Mercury, 1978).

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? 
I think I sound very different than the other jazz organists. I have the tradition in there for sure, but my compositions with the sextet and new trio recording are very unusual and very easily identifiable. I’m so influenced by rock music and world music. I think my writing reflects that and is very eclectic sounding. I also play in a different harmonic system sometimes. I often use the concepts of Olivier Messiaen in my playing and writing and I know of no other jazz organist using this system.

Did you know…
I hold a black sash in White Crane Kung Fu. I was also deaf until the age of nine.

CDs you are listening to now:
Matt Mitchell, Fiction (Pi, 2013);
Tigran Hamasyan, A Fable (Verve, 2011);
Grant Green, Grantstand Blue Note, 1987);
Kenny Dorham, Quiet Kenny (New Jazz, 1991);
Vijay Iyer, Tirtha (ACT, 2011).

Desert Island picks:
The Beatles, White Album (Apple, 1968);
Deep Purple, Machine Head (Warner Brothers, 1972);
Hank Mobley, Soul Station (Blue Note, 1960);
Kiss, Alive II (Cassablanca, 1977);
Emerson String Quartet, Debussy-Ravel String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I think jazz is in a great place. There are tons of great artists, especially in NYC. I feel very inspired by my peers and I love to listen to their music and get new ideas about my own writing and playing. I am friends with Sam Yahel, Jared Gold, Pat Bianchi and all of the NYC organists. I love to listen to their albums and live gigs. Because their level of artistry is so high, it pushes me to get better also.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? 
I think we have to make music that communicates to real people, not just musicians. That’s not to say that it can’t be complicated. I think people are actually pretty smart. I feel like a lot of jazz music is very selfish though, and the cats can be a little dark. This turns people off to the music. I think if we, as artists, thought more about communicating to our audience, many more people would be interested in jazz albums and concerts

What is in the near future?
I have two albums out this month, a trio recording, Square One, on Positone Records and a new sextet recording for SteepleChase called The Question That Drives Us. I have a CD release for the trio recording in March 12 at Smalls at 9:30pm in NYC with Yotam Silberstein and Mark Ferber. I’ll be on tour in the Midwest and Northeast for the next two weeks. I’ll also be on tour all throughout Europe for three months. My website has my full itinerary

What’s your greatest fear when you perform?
My greatest fear is that my instrument won’t work, or that it will play a minor third higher like it did in Thailand.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
“Nowhere Man” by The Beatles.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower? 
“You’ll never Find” by Lou Rawls. I’m always singing it.

By Day:
I have never worked!

If I weren’t a jazz musician, I would be a:
A gardener or martial arts instructor.

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Burning Ambulance interviews Sarah Manning and discusses her career and her latest release “Harmonious Creature”…

“I’d Rather Say Too Little Than Say Too Much”: An Interview With Sarah Manning


Alto saxophonist Sarah Manning‘s fourth album, Harmonious Creature, is out now on Posi-Tone (buy it from Amazon). Manning’s patient, thoughtful phrasing—reminiscent of Charles Lloyd—is matched on the album (which contains eight originals and covers ofGillian Welch‘s “I Dream a Highway” and Neil Young‘s “On the Beach”) by Eyvind Kang‘s droning, precisely tuned viola, with a rhythm section of guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Jerome Jennings keeping things rock steady, whether they’re swinging hard, as on the fiercely boppish “Floating Bridge,” or gently swaying, as on the album’s final track, “What the Blues Left Behind.”

Instrumental tone is crucial to the music on Harmonious Creature. Manning herself has an affinity for long notes and slowly unfolding phrases, and her alto rarely if ever heads into the piercing range popularized by Ornette Coleman; she’s got a mellow, caramel-like sound. As a co-lead instrument, Kang’s viola doesn’t just harmonize with the saxophone, though there are plenty of unison lines that combine jazz and folk into a kind of eerily lonesome music perfect for soundtracking indie movies about murder in the woods; toward the end of the group’s interpretation of “I Dream a Highway,” a soft noise-drone rises slowly beneath Goldberger’s guitar, reminding listeners that Kang has worked with avant-metallers Sunn O))) as well as in jazz contexts. Goldberger can shift back and forth between conventionally jazzy leads and hazily reverbed background chords as necessary. Hart’s bass has a barbed twang; he plays it like he carved it himself. Jennings’ drums are tuned for sharp snapping and metallic ringing, as befitting the sharp edges created by the front-line instruments’ interactions. At times, he adds an almost martial beat to pieces that might otherwise drift away. Everything coheres in a clean and organic manner—no one is drowned out or overmatched.

Harmonious Creature is a unique, even slightly weird album; it’s definitely jazz, but there are elements of hillbilly music, Jewish music, modern classical, and more. It’s a unique statement from a composer confident in her own voice and wise in choosing collaborators to realize her ideas.

Manning answered a few questions about the album, and her approach to music-making, via email; the interview is after the jump.


The pieces on this album span a fairly broad range—”Copland on Cornelia Street” feels derived from folk music more than jazz, for example, while the Gillian Welch tune, “I Dream a Highway,” is very bluesy and “Floating Bridge” is pretty aggressive and very “jazzy.” Were these all written together with an eye toward making an album, or are they pieces that came together one at a time and were collated?
I still think of albums as conceptual rather than collections of pieces, and so I definitely wrote the music for the album with the idea of it being a larger work in and of itself. For me, the unifying thread is the instrumentation—the combination of alto, viola and guitar create a myriad of possibilities that do have a bit of a dance into other genres that comes organically. In addition, my studio at the MacDowell Colony, where four of the pieces arose in October of 2012, was in the dense New Hampshire woods. With all sorts of creatures around me as I worked, including a barn owl that swiveled its head at me while I was under its tree, blues and roots and folk seeped in. “Copland on Cornelia Street” was one of those pieces, and had to be written, since I was working in a studio thatAaron Copland himself occupied in 1956! I think he left some bright wide intervals lying around in there.

There are some strong elements of drone in this music—as a composer, are you more of a fan of long tones rather than quick, boppish phrases?
Well, long tones are the foundation of my existence. As a saxophonist, I practice them almost as a meditation, with a tuner set to a foundational pitch and with incense and Oolong tea. As a composer right now I’ve been very focused on texture which lends itself to sonic landscapes without a lot of busy phrases. As a player I do always strive to add more faster lines into my vocabulary, but I don’t want to force them with so many mathematical formulas. When I was younger, when I listened to Charlie Parker or John Coltrane I was drawn to the pyrotechnics, but now I’m drawn to the things they leave out. Rather, how they balance the pyrotechnics with musicality and deep expression. I’d rather say too little than say too much. Clearly, this is contrary to my speaking style. Ha.

Eyvind Kang is based on the West Coast, so obviously this can’t be a working band in the traditional sense. How did these musicians come together, and how much rehearsal and time together did you have before recording?
You know, even if we all lived on the same block it would be just as difficult to have a working band. Everyone needs to put food on the table so with dwindling venues most players are going to work wherever they need to which takes priority over the concept of a band. That said, there are certainly opportunities to tour with musicians, regardless of where they live. For this project, I’d been playing with Rene and Jerome for about a year. Heard Jonathan through a Zion80 show at the Stone and some crazy texture he was creating caused me to play some harmonics I didn’t even know I could play and I thought, this is the right guitarist. I’ve always loved Eyvind’s tone and was writing the music with it in mind until I got to the point where it didn’t make sense not to work together. We had a couple rehearsals and a show and then it was into the studio for a day. This kind of total immersion is cathartic.

The harmonies between your saxophone and his viola are very compelling in a way that two horns might not be. What made you decide that was the sound to go for on this record?
Sound is the major thing that drives me as a player, and the perfected tone of Eyvind’s viola is very similar to my timbre on the alto. When I listened back to studio takes, I almost couldn’t tell us apart a couple of times. So I think it’s an intriguing draw for the ear as if there was another alto made of wood and string. I’ve always been influenced by the sound of Bill Frisell‘s record Quartet which has Eyvind, Ron Miles and Curtis Fowlkes, and so that sound was something I had in mind. But when we started playing together, the extreme accuracy of intonation and purity of Eyvind’s sound brought my own tone to a different place that was really thrilling and challenging to explore.

There are no jazz standards on this album, but you did record a song by Gillian Welch and one by Neil Young. What inspired those choices, and how much work did you do on those tracks to bring them into line with the rest of the disc?
Producer Marc Free always likes the artists on Posi-Tone to include a couple of “standards,” which he defines as a bridge to an audience who may know the tune and as a result find a way to your own compositions. He wants those tunes to be authentic representations of what the artist listens to, and these two songs by Neil Young and Gillian Welch were ones that have obsessively occupied places in my headphones. Both of the “arrangements” of these tunes were more of a loose idea of shape. The results were improvised and so it’s really a question of taking the band sound and applying it to the tunes rather than doing any real “work.” With “On the Beach” we did a take that was more structured and it didn’t really work. Eyvind and Jonathan’s eerie soundscape, coupled with Rene and Jerome driving the rhythm forward, just took on a life of its own and the tune became more of a deconstruction. Though actually, the form is still there and Rene’s referencing the melody in the bass at the very end.


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Great interview with pianist David Ake about music and his new CD “Bridges”…

CLEVELAND, Ohio — David Ake’s album“Bridges’’ is showing up on a ton of year-end best-of lists.

You almost expect that from someone who’s been making music his whole life, and whose band includes some of the best in jazz – including tenor sax player Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, as well as alto sax player Peter Epstein, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Mark Ferber.

All of them have pretty impressive pedigrees and resumes at least as strong as Coltrane, who, yes, is the son of the legendary John Coltrane.

Only one, however, is a professor and chairman of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Music. That would be Ake.

“Case has traditionally been focused on early music,’’ said Ake in a call from the Shaker Heights home he and his family have shared since moving here from the University of Reno (Nev.) in July 2013.

“Over the last few years, they’ve started a center for the study of popular music,’’ Ake said. “When they did a search for a new chair about this time last year, I think they noticed I’m also a jazz scholar.’’

And that’s scholar with a capital P – and a lower case hd. Prof. Ake’s doctorate is in musicology, and his written a few books about music. But first and foremost, he’s a musician.

Clearly, musical scales aren’t his only dilemma.

“I’ve been trying to balance this [being a musician and an educator],’’ Ake said. “For a long time, I was just a jazz pianist. I lived in Munich, Los Angeles, New York. That’s all I did was play jazz piano.

“My knowledge of playing and composing feeds into my work on music history, and vice versa,’’ he said. “What I have found is that one of these interests comes to the fore at one time. I can’t do everything all at the same time.’’

With that in mind, Ake for the moment is focusing on being the chairman of Case’s music department.

But that’s not stopping him from enjoying the accolades that have been cast on “Bridges,’’ which was released on Posi-Tone records in May 2013.

Jazz records by their very nature are unusual, and “Bridges’’ raises that to new highs. One review talks about “the convergence of cacophony and structure’’ in the album, which probably is best described as dissonant jazz.

“It’s really the balance of freedom and order,’’ Ake said. “That’s what I’m going for. I set up these structures for these extraordinary improvisers, and we see what happens.’’

But for that to happen – and to come off as well as it does – there has to be an unbelievable amount of trust in each other.

“I’ve known these guys since the mid-1980s,’’ Ake said. “Ralph Alessi the trumpeter, Ravi Coltrane, Scott Colley — most of us went to the California Institute of the Arts.

“Trust in yourself, trust in the musicians and trust in the audience,’’ Ake said. “Things may get weirder than you’re used to, but hang in there and something wondrous might happen.’’

He’s right about that. “Bridges’’ has a feel and a sound all its own. “That’s because it’s something I’m calling dissonant jazz. Certain songs, like ‘Dodge’ and ‘Boats,’ seem to be almost sonic versions of a European roundabout, which goes off in different directions but begins with the same starting point.

“Sometimes, that’s written in,’’ Ake said. “At some point, ‘Let’s head back here, to Letter B or whatever.’ Other times, it could be suggested by whatever somebody’s playing.

“Again, it’s all about trust,’’ he said.

Ake hasn’t played out since moving to Cleveland, but that could change soon.

“Last time I played was the Reno Jazz Festival back in April,’’ he said. “I’m getting a little itchy. I don’t mind not being on the road anymore, but I miss having a band and playing, and I know there are some great players in Cleveland.’’

Sounds like another bridge is about to be crossed, eh?



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An interview with trombonist Steve Davis…

Contemporary jazz great Slide Hampton proclaimed, “we trombonists are problem solvers.” Yet for all the back-boning trombones provide, even the most famous ones — J.J. Johnson, Frank Rosolino, Al Grey or Curtis Fuller — aren’t household names like adored trumpeters or saxophonists. One such “problem solver” has long since made a name for himself in the contemporary jazz world — trombonist and composer, Steve Davis, who was called “one of the greatest trombone players in the world” by legend Freddie Hubbard.

Davis’s credentials include time spent playing with such greats as Art Blakey, Chick Corea and Jackie McClean, where he earned acclaim not only as an elite-caliber trombonist, but also as a sought-after improviser. Steve also happens to be the cousin of local jazz and avant garde monster Jon Davis, clarinetist, bassist and electronic composer known for a litany of envelope-pushing projects.

Steve took a few minutes between teaching lessons to chat with Gimme Noise in anticipation of his appearance this Sunday, April 7 at Icehouse.

Gimme Noise: Was trombone your first instrument?

Steve Davis: No, I started on trumpet, got braces at a young age, 10, and switched to baritone horn, which is like the euphonium, similar timbre to trombone, but it’s like a baby tuba. When I started getting interested in jazz, it was suggested to me, you might want to play slide trombone, and I went with the flow and picked that up at about 14 years old. Then I heard J.J. Johnson on the Horace Silver record my father had called Cape Verdean Blues — it’s one of the Blue Note mid-’60s Horace records — and once I heard J.J. and I heard Curtis Fuller I got really excited… I was listening to Lee Morgan, record of his calledSidewinder, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers… you know I was hooked!

Chick Corea said of your playing, “Steve can create the effect of a string section or brass section.” What is it about the trombone that affords it this timbral potential? Do you do that intentionally? Is it universal to trombonists or something you get/strive for specifically in your tone?

That’s a good question. I’m certainly honored by this compliment from Chick, I think certainly maybe a little bit of both. Trombonists, at least the good ones, tend to be very thoughtful players. I think we have the sound of the instrument going for us, what you refer to at the timbral qualities. It is a very majestic, rich sound, and its main strength. That being said, I probably get a lot of my ideas from other instrumentalists and from the piano, from the harmony, the chord changes of any given piece – all of it really, the rhythmic aspects…You develop a concept or an overall approach so you’re not just playing the music strictly from the vantage point of being a trombonist or a saxophonist…if you really think about the total music and how you can enhance what’s going on, as an improviser, as an arranger, it all comes together under one statement, one concept that hopefully comes through in your playing.

Do you take a similar philosophy when you’re writing pieces as well? Are you thinking in terms of the trombone, or more an ensemble?

Oh yeah, definitely. I’m a big fan of the rhythmic section, I love piano, bass, drums or guitar, bass drums — whatever it may be. When I write music and when I play, I’m playing with the intention of being a part of that, or as integrated in the total music — maybe like a fourth member of the rhythmic section, and it just so happens I’m a trombone player. My voice, I’m a single-note instrument, and you tend to be associated with a solo voice or the melody voice, but that’s not my number one approach. Certainly that’s a part of it, to sing the songs so to speak. I just like to play as much with whom I’m playing with…it’s not like they’re just back there laying down. I could never get into that vibe at all. To me, then you’re not really a jazz musician anymore. The whole fun of what we do, is we get to play together, it’s so important to have those connections in the music.

I would think the sheer physics of the instrument probably requires and promotes some of the best listeners among instrumentalists.

Sure, I think trombonists are good listeners, and good writers, but to me, after awhile, you are the musician you are regardless, and you just happen to be a trombone player and that’s your voice. I always tell my students, especially the incoming Freshman here at the Hartt School at the Jackie McClean Institute here where I teach at the University of Hartford. Here’s the first lesson, you are who you are every day of your life, that’s the person you are. And they all kinda look at you like ‘duh’, but I say, no, don’t take that for granted. And number two, you’re a musician, 24/7, without the horn in your hands. And the sooner you get with those things, THEN you’re the trombone player, trying to be the baddest cat you can be on the trombone – that’s third. You’ve gotta have one and two first. A lot of students have thanked me for that years later. I got that idea from Jackie McClean, who was an alto player, he was my mentor – it didn’t even matter that I played trombone and he played saxophone, it was the concept of being a musician, being a jazz musician and what that entails.

You cultivate your musical voice away from your instrument as much as you do on your instrument. So by the time you get the horn in your hands – and of course there’s many hours and years of practicing, and technique that’s inherent to the trombone, and I don’t take that for granted at all – but there’s more to it than that. I never play to impress the other trombone players. I always wanted to be accepted by the Jackie McCleans, the Chick Coreas, the Jimmy Heaths – all the great masters, Freddie Hubbard, that I’ve been so lucky to be around. Their acceptance always meant more to me than whether or not a room full of 40 trombone players thought I had great chops. That’s nice, but that’s not really it for me. The idea was, if Chick Corea, or Roy Hargrove likes you, wants to play with you, well then you’re going to be the trombone player…and BOOM, there you go, there’s your chance.

Recommend some favorite jazz albums featuring trombone for the new listener?

Wow. Anything by J.J. Anything by Curtis Fuller. Anything by Slide Hampton. Frank Rosolino. Recently I just did a wonderful project with Steve Turre, who’s very well-known and one of my heroes, and he had me and a great trombonist Frank Lacy and another great trombonist Robin Eubanks…a great rhythm section in New York, just recorded two weeks ago, and it’ll be Steve Turre’s next cd on the HighNote label…I don’t know what he’s going to call it, and the idea is that the four of us, the trombonists at least, were all at one time members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, so that’s the common thread and concept he had. It was a wonderful project, I haven’t heard it yet [laughs], but I can hopefully recommend that…and going back, I would suggest Jack Teagarden, that’s going way back, but he was just so good to listen to.

Should we expect any trombone/bass clarinet duo-ing this Sunday at Icehouse?

OH! With my cousin! I am SO excited to have a chance to play with him [Jon Davis]- cause we’ve never played together…and I think that sound is going to be fun. I was able to do that a little bit with Chick Corea’s group Origin, some of that involved bass clarinet, so it’s not totally unfamiliar to me, but it’s not every day either. And not everyday you get to play with your cousin who’s playing bass clarinet AND bass. I’m really excited to play with Jon, it’s gonna be a blast.

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An interview with Sean Nowell…

Part One

Part Two

Sean Nowell is another fine example of the high level of artistry to come out of the Posi-Tone stable of artists. I was fortunate enough to have Sean field some questions for us on his latest release and jazz in general.

Stockholm Swingin’ does just that…It swing hard! Can you tell us more about the record? 

S.N. – “Stockholm Swingin’ began when guitarist Fredrik Olsson decided to bring 15 year old pianist Leo Lindberg to New York for the first time. Fredrik reached out to drummer Joe Abba, an old college friend and longtime cohort of mine, to set up a jam session with some of his favorite musicians and much fun was had by all. This inspired Fredrik to apply for a travel grant from the Swedish Arts Council for Joe and I to fly to Sweden to make a 14 day tour. With the addition of acoustic bassist Lars Ekman, we piled into the van, braved the ice and moose, and were met with enthusiastic ovations across the Swedish countryside. Stockholm Swingin’ represents a snapshot of the group at the end of the tour performing at the world renowned Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm. Since then, the group has done another even more successful tour of Sweden and 2 tours of NYC to consistently delighted audiences. 
Stockholm Swingin’ was recorded over two nights at the Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm. It’s a great sounding, intimate room with lots of energy exchange with the audience. The people of Sweden are really psyched to hear killing swinging!”

The Seeker is another high octane foot to the floor type release. Your tone has a nice blues inflection that some cats work their entire career for and can never find. Being from Birmingham (I’m from Ky.), do you think your regional upbringing played a significant roll in your finding your voice?

S.N. – “I grew up singing in the Southern Baptist Church and even attended Samford, a Southern Baptist University for two years before learning about jazz at Berklee College of Music. It’s been extremely valuable to me to grow up  around people screaming the blues through their voice, guitars, horns, and drums…I learned how to swing from the old guys at the late night jam sessions in rough parts of Birmingham, Al. and have worked to keep that spirit as I’ve added more complexities that I’ve discovered here in NYC and through my world travels. I truly believe that keeping your eyes and ears open is the key to the real essence of jazz.”

You received your B.A. from what I call “Jazz U.” (Berklee) and your M.A. from Manhattan which are arguably the two finest schools to study jazz here in the United States. How tough is the competition and do you think some of the younger cats play with a little more academia than passion? 

S.N. – “Berklee was easily the best music school I’ve ever experienced. When I was there it was around 65% non-North American and most of those people were the best in their country and had been in jazz conservatory since they were 15. Suffice to say that I had quite a lot of ground to cover as I never had any proper schooling in jazz theory or jazz composition (which is why I majored in it). There were 3000 music students there at the time and around 350 of those were sax players. I started out way behind and ended up toward the up middle of the bunch. Many guys go there when they already sound great to just refine their craft and meet people. I was definitely there to learn. I graduated high school knowing 3 major scales and 2 blues scales and had the most uneven technique and pinched sound you’ve ever hear. When I was at Samford, I had to basically relearn how to play Alto Sax through studying classical music. I’ve not had as straight a path down this road as I would have liked to, but it’s given me the unique experiences to draw from that informs my musical taste and compositional style to this day. 

Brandford Marsalis said of Berklee and I’ll paraphrase – “yeah the school is o.k. but it’s close to New York where I can grab great gigs on the weekend otherwise its not really worth most peoples time. Is real swing taking a back seat to a more academic approach from some of the younger players that are starting to emerge on the scene? 

S.N. – “Swinging hard never goes out of style. As a matter of fact, doing anything on a high level with a warm inviting spirit never goes out of style. My favorite compliment to receive from audience members is “I have no idea what you guys are doing, but it makes me feel good!” The audience always knows what’s good. If it’s too self serving, they will be sort of quiet and indifferent. If it’s hitting, they go through the roof. Also if little kids are dancing all over the place and losing their minds, you know your delivering the goods.”

More passion, less academia? 

S.N. -“I like to ride the razors edge of both. To quote my own bio: “Sean Nowell is a tenor saxophonist and composer from Birmingham, Alabama steeped in the southern traditions of blues, gospel, jazz and funk fused with complex harmonic and world rhythm concepts that permeate the music of New York City.” I feel like it’s a necessity to have all of it up in your playing and composing. I like to write infectious (sometimes complex) grooves, strong singable melodies and colorful harmonies. I feel like a lot of guys try to be arbitrarily complicated in their playing and writing. I just simply write what I sing.”