JAZZ A LA MODE

Lester Young was born 108 years ago, on August 27, 1909, in Woodville, Mississippi. The state's been the birthplace of countless blues legends, but very few jazz artists, and fewer still who grew up there. (What's up with that?) Two of those few, Gerald Wilson and Teddy Edwards, got out early, as both moved on to benefit from the excellent music education curriculum in the Detroit public schools. As for Lester, Woodville wasn't much more than a dateline in his life, as Algiers, Louisiana, which sits across the river from New Orleans, became his family's primary residence until he was ten.

It doesn’t require more than a casual knowledge of blues to know that there were two prominent figures in the music named Sonny Boy Williamson. On his new album, Brain Matter, Randy Newman declares unequivocally for one of them, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, as the one true owner of that moniker. In his song, "Sonny Boy," a sprightly cadence drives the pianist's dreamy narrative about the Jackson, Tennessee, native's short, productive life.

Jimmy Rowles
Sy Johnson / All Music

Tomorrow is Jimmy Rowles's 99th birthday anniversary. The Spokane, Washington, native was quirky, unpredictable, and utterly compelling, making even the most hackneyed standard sound fresh, alive, and better than you'd remembered it. He had a unique harmonic sense that left plenty of room for surprise. He's reputed to have known more tunes than anyone else in the business, and he knew potential when he heard it. Diana Krall took lessons with him in 1983 before she enrolled at Berklee, and he (and bassist Ray Brown) encouraged her to sing.

Jane Ira Bloom at the Dickinson Homestead in 2016
Emily Dickinson Museum

Last Friday, I had the honor of presenting to Jane Ira Bloom the Jazz Journalists Association 2017 Award for Soprano Saxophonist of the Year. Jane was at Amherst College to perform her new work, "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson." The August 11 concert was sponsored by the The Emily Dickinson Museum in conjunction with a Dickinson conference.

http://paulbutterfield.blogspot.com/2014/01/

One of the most widely-circulated films of Paul Butterfield in action is the footage that D.A. Pennebaker shot of the Butterfield Blues Band performing  "Driftin' and Driftin'" at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17,1967. Butterfield's adaptation of Charles Brown's "Driftin' Blues" became the slow blues staple of his repertoire for the next five years. Brown was the singer-pianist with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, a Nat Cole Trio-style combo that played the blues in Los Angeles supper club and scored big with the classic "Merry Christmas, Baby."

Diahann Carroll, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington in Paris Blues
Herman Leonard / Morrison Hotel Gallery

Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington recorded only one album together, and it was a long time in coming.  The Great Summit was made for Roulette Records in 1961, decades after these giants of jazz had come to prominence in the twenties, and several years after George Avakian proposed such a meeting for Columbia Records in 1955.

Lionel Hampton, Chuck Green, Sandman Sims, and Bunny Briggs in No Maps on My Taps
George T. Nierenberg

 

There's a big new feature on Bonnie Raitt in the San Diego Union-Tribune in which she goes in-depth and mentions numerous influences, including the legendary Judy Roderick. I've been a fan of Judy's since my high school days and keep going back to her great Vanguard album, Woman Blue.

Geri Allen
SFJAZZ

Geri Allen died on Tuesday (June 27) at 60, only a day or two after word got out that she was in grave health. I didn't know Geri beyond a few brief off-stage greetings at the Knitting Factory, Newport, and Jazz in July at UMass, but over the past 30 years, I saw her brilliance displayed on bandstands with Charlie Haden & Paul Motian; Charles Lloyd; Wallace Roney; and the trio seen below with Spalding Esperanza and Terri Lyne Carrington. I always sensed a great feeling of love from her toward her collaborators and the music they created.

One of the most exciting jazz discoveries I've experienced in recent years involved the Russian-born alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky and a restaurant in the tiny (pop. 1600) Massachusetts-Vermont border town of Colrain, Mass. While hosting Jazz à la Mode on a Thursday night in 2008, I got a call from a woman in Greenfield urging me to find coverage for the following night's show so that I could hear Baevsky at the Green Emporium.

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