Jazz is alive and thriving

William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonores. Gershwin fund collection, music division, Library of Congress Earl Hines

James on Jazz

Jazz is very much still evolving and far from dead. Case and point, all of the great new releases out now. Also, there are still several live-streaming events taking place to sustain the music and make up for no in-person gigs, although those are definitely on the way this coming fall.

One exciting new release is The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-1966—a seven-disc set of Armstrong’s studio recordings.

Another reason for excitement was catching pianist Keith Jarrett, WBGO’s Sunday Spotlight with Rhonda Hamilton on Mother’s Day. Songs played included, “God Bless the Child,” “So Tender,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”  

Hamilton hosts the show “Sunday Spotlight” every Sunday on WBGO 88.3 FM at 3 pm CST. Jarrett celebrated his 76th birthday on May 8.

If you miss Hamilton’s show on Sunday, you can always plan to check out Live from Rudy Van Gelder Studio, a series of live-stream performances happening in the same studio where hundreds of jazz icons have recorded. The series pays homage to the recording legacy of Rudy Van Gelder who built his renowned Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey studio.

Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco along with drummer Billy Hart and guitarist Peter Bernstein was featured via livestream on May 15. For more information visit, www.vangelder.live.

Another high profile live-streaming event took place recently from the legendary Village Vanguard and featured Blue Note Records labelmates vibist Joel Ross and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, as a duo. Tickets were only $10!

Speaking of Blue Note artists, saxophonist Melissa Aldana has signed to Blue Note Records and will have a new album out early next year. The album will feature guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Kush Abadey. This is significant news as Aldana is one of her generation’s most impressive saxophonists on the scene today. She’s played to joyful crowds in the Twin Cities previously.

In a press release, Blue Note president Don Was called Aldana “one of the foremost musician/composers of her generation,” adding, “Her vibrant artistic vision, mastery of her instrument and her deep groove make Ms. Aldana a perfect exponent of the Blue Note ethos.”

Curtis Fuller, trombonist and composer passed away on May 8 at age 88. Many will fondly remember his stellar playing on the iconic John Coltrane Blue Note recording, “Blue Train.” I’ll remember him for his kindness. I was fortunate to share a dinner with Fuller, some other jazz musicians, and friends in New York City.

The DC Jazz Festival has announced its full 2021 line-up featuring Regina Carter, The Maria Schneider Orchestra, Lakecia Benjamin, Cyrus Chestnut and many others. The DC Jazz Fest (17th Annual) takes place September 1-5, 2021.

The festival will be a hybrid of in-person performances of international superstars and homegrown talent and live streamed events to a worldwide audience. 

Blue Note 2021 Jazz Festival announced that shows will take place from June 15-August 15 at both the reopened NYC club and in Central Park. Check out details for the Blue Note 2021 Jazz Festival at bluenotejazzfestival.com.

Highlights will be the performances of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane with pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Also, Aug 4-8 Ron Carter with pianist Renee Rosnes, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and drummer Payton Crossley. On June 20, trumpeter Chris Botti will be on the Summer Stage in Central Park.

Other albums out now of note include Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band, “Soul Conversations” (May 7); Benito Gonzalez, “Sing to the World,” (May 14);

Willie Jones III, “Fallen Heroes, (May 2); and James Brandon Lewis “Jesup Wagon,” (May 7).  

I can’t leave out saxophonist Vincent Herring’s latest album, “Preaching to the Choir” from Smoke Sessions Records, which is one swingin’ recording!

Yet, more proof that jazz is still relevant, Pittsburgh jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines will receive a historical marker in his hometown of Duquesne. He will be formally recognized by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Hines is one of the most influential jazz pianists and well-known as the father of the modern school of jazz piano. He was a mainstay in Louis Armstrong’s band in Chicago.