New releases, club closings, fundraisers, and more

Courtesy of HighNote

James on Jazz

As the pandemic goes on, so does jazz club closings, near-closings, live streaming, and new album releases.

Artists aren’t the only ones learning to adapt in these new turbulent times. We are all rolling with the punches.

The Blue Whale, a jazz club in Los Angeles, recently closed. And the legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York City just had a virtual concert celebration/fundraiser on Jan 24. The club has a GoFundMe page and has already raised nearly 400,000 to help keep the club afloat. The celebration was over two hours long and its overall theme was music, history, and community.

If you missed the celebration, here are some highlights. For one thing, know that a lot of jazz, pop, and theater luminaries made appearances urging people to give what they could.

To start, former president and saxophonist Bill Clinton gave opening remarks. And Catherine Russell began the concert with the Emmet Cohen Trio performing their swinging rendition of “Lullaby of Birdland.”

In between, other performances included Steve Wilson, Peter Cincotti, Sheila Jordan, Kurt Elling, and Ravi Coltrane, among others. People like Clive Davis, Ron Carter, Kevin Eubanks, Ken Burns, and Monty Alexander spoke of the importance of the club, and its Who’s Who on stage.

Coltrane played a version of “Lush Life,” while Sting and Leslie Odom, Jr. also spoke of not letting Birdland disappear from its corner of the jazz world.

Announcing the concert performers as if it were a radio program was WBGO’s Rhonda Hamilton. With her upbeat vibe, she helped keep the music going in more ways than one.

Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater offered some words of encouragement and also performed a bit off the cuff. Wynton Marsalis played with the Arturo O’Farrill band. By then it was time to close the virtual concert. To wrap up a beautifully crafted show from start to finish was the 20-something singer Veronica Swift. She sang a rendition of “This Bitter Earth” that was truly amazing.

While it’s doubtful that Birdland will close anytime soon, its good to know the club has garnered the kind of support that will help keep it going so that when the time is right, we can all unite and get back there to enjoy seeing the artists that we love so much.

We need to support live music.

Thank goodness we have live streaming concerts to enjoy, in addition to new music releases. Buy the tickets. Buy the albums.

It’s 2021 and I’m looking forward to engaging new releases and a diversity of music releases to come.

So far, what interests me and what I think may interest others is new music by pianist, composer, and artistic director of Jazz at The Kennedy Center, Jason Moran’s new album, “The Sound Will Tell You.”

The music is Moran’s combination of influences and art during the pandemic.

The musical collection features 12 songs that he released on Bandcamp four days before its original Jan 15 release date. The songs are named after his favorite passages from works of author Toni Morrison. He had revisited her work while at home during the pandemic.

The album’s title, “The Sound Will Tell You,” he told writer Christopher A. Daniel of, comes from “the culinary griot Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s tip for knowing when fried chicken is done cooking.”

And according to Daniel’s piece on Moran, the album is “a companion piece to an installation of 26 works by Moran that will be on display at the Luhring Augustine Gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca through Feb. 27.” 

Another new release that feels noteworthy features trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. His album is “Griot: This is Important” and it will be released in February. All compositions are by Pelt.

Pelt is investigating the West African Griot tradition where, as the promo notes say, “stories, reminiscences, and accomplishments from times past are handed down as oral histories.”

For this recording, he interviews his own peer group, and afterward, he follows with his own composition in spoken word preludes.

The tracklist includes Pelt in the intro with music and commentary. From there, spoken words from both younger and older musicians include vocalist Paula West, pianist Larry Willis, saxophonist JD Allen, pianist Bertha Hope, pianist Harold Mabern (promo reads: spoken-explicit content), vocalist Rene Marie (again promo reads: spoken-explicit content), percussionist Warren Smith, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

Pelt himself said, “I want people to understand that this is for everybody,” that the project was undertaken to perhaps help them “understand that whatever they might be going through, their perspectives might run parallel to those of people who are generations apart from them. Maybe, to a certain extent, these younger people will find themselves in these stories.”