Clarion Call for Northampton's Jazz Workshop; L.A.'s Jazz Bakery; Prez at the Patio
Pianist Paul Arslanian and the late bassist Dave Shapiro satisfied a long overdue need in Valley jazz circles when they established the Jazz Workshop series two years ago at Green Street Café, and since then Tuesday nights have been swinging in Northampton. Each week, Arslanian, bassist George Kaye and drummer Jon Fisher invite a guest soloist to join them for a one-hour set that mixes great standards and originals, and then the bandstand opens up for an organized jam session. Paul moderates the jam by having players sign in upon arrival and then wait their turn for an opportunity to sit in. At night’s end, the featured soloist returns to play with the assemblage on stage.
The series has managed to provide a showcase for a number of the area's finest players, and has lately been bringing in some great players from New York and Hartford. Among the guests have been saxophonists Gary Smulyan, Grant Stewart, Charles Neville, Ralph LaLama, Scott Mullet, and Charles Langford; trumpeters Cicci Santucci, Rob Faulkner, and Steve Sontag; trombonist Steve Davis; harmonica player Chet Williamson; vocalists Karrin Allyson, Giacomo Gates and Nikki Mathis; pianists Andy Jaffe and Miro Sprague; and guitarists Freddie Bryant, Draa Hobbs, and Jay Messer.
Arslanian’s compositions have been recorded by jazz greats George Coleman, John Hicks, and Roy Hargrove, and he’s toured with Archie Shepp. He modeled the workshop on the kinds of venues where he honed his chops, among them the 23rd Street Café in Philadelphia, where sessions featured Philly sax legend Bootsie Barnes, and the Divisadero Club in San Francisco, where Eddie Henderson, James Leary and the late Eddie Marshall often sat in.
“This is how I grew up as a player,” Paul says, “and so did Dave [Shapiro], and we wanted to provide something similar not only for the kids to learn their way around a jam session, but for audiences to appreciate the kind of communicative and social ritual that is essential to jazz.”
Alas, the venerable Green Street Café closed its doors on January 21st, but the Jazz Workshop promptly found a new home at Page’s in the Clarion Hotel in Northampton, and they’ll begin anew on Tuesday at 7:30 with Gary Smulyan. Gary's been the top vote-getter among baritone saxophonists in the Downbeat Critics Poll for the past several years, and there's a nice feature on him in this month's DB about his new recording, Smul's Paradise. By the way, Grant Stewart, whom we blogged about last Friday, will be featured at the Clarion on March 13.
Speaking of venues, I was delighted to read yesterday that the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry will design the Jazz Bakery’s new 250-seat venue in Culver City, CA. Jazz Bakery had been one of the finest jazz rooms in Los Angeles since its opening in 1992, but it was shuttered two years ago and since then presented a series of “movable feast” concerts around the city. The new venue will be built on land donated by Culver City; the Annenberg Trust is seeding $2m to the project, and the non-profit Jazz Bakery will raise the rest of its $10m construction budget through a capital campaign. Plans are to present 250 concerts per year; additional details are in this Culver CityTimes report. Here’s good wishes to an operation where I’ve heard great music on visits to L.A., and where Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau recorded two fine releases for Blue Note in 1997. Here's their version of "'Round Midnight."
(Lester Young in his signature porkpie hat)
It’s unlikely that Lester Young played in non-profit venues during his career, but he worked in just about every imaginable place where jazz was played in the first decades of its history. From minstrel shows and speakeasies to marquee clubs and concert halls, Lester barnstormed the South and Midwest with the Young family band led by his father Willis, then played with territory outfits around Kansas City before coming to prominence with Count Basie in the late ‘30’s and early ‘40s. Young toured as a star attraction with Jazz at the Philharmonic for several years, and from the late 40’s until his death in 1959, he free-lanced with pick-up groups in cities nationwide. Among these was the Bill Potts Trio which Young spent an exceptionally fruitful week working with at Olivia’s Patio Lounge in Washington D.C. in 1956.
By the mid-fifties Lester’s playing had become increasingly erratic and unfocused. His 1955 recording session with Harry "Sweets" Edison and Oscar Peterson was perhaps the weakest of his career and not long after its completion Prez suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for an extended period of time. The following year, refreshed and energized, he recorded two fine studio sessions with his old colleagues Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, and Roy Eldridge. Verve records released them as Prez and Teddy and The Jazz Giants. But as good as these sound, Lester was even more playful and inspired during his week at the Patio.
As it happened, Willie Williams, bassist with Potts and drummer Jim Lucht, had a portable home recorder on location which prompted the trio to ask Lester if they "might record a few tunes for home use.” Prez said OK, and that prompted the installation of more sophisticated recording equipment, the results of which Norman Granz began issuing on Pablo Records in 1980. How fortuitous that 55 years later we can still luxuriate in the sublime sounds of the poet of the tenor saxophone. Here’s a taste of what went down on December 7, 1956 at the Patio.
And here's an appreciation of Prez by the King of the Blues.