Holiday treats for jazz fans

Courtesy of

Farewell to pianist Barry Harris. He passed away at the age of 91 on Dec 8. You may remember him from the iconic “Sidewinder,” a classic Blue Note album from trumpeter Lee Morgan. He is also credited with helping Art Blakey during his time with the Jazz Messengers. 

Harris had been hospitalized and died of complications due to COVID, according to an obituary by Mark Stryker for NPR Music. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s holiday tradition—Big Band Holidays is back! Well, sort of. 

The orchestra, led by co-musical director and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, brought its festive big band arrangements of holiday classics to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for a one-night-only on Nov. 30 at Pablo Center at the Confluence. Each year for their holiday show the orchestra features guest singers, and this year’s special guest was vocalist Alita Moses. 

The band opened the concert with a joyous “Jingle Bells.” Other songs to follow included “Mary Had a Baby,” a spiritual and arrangement by multi-instrumentalist Victor Goines. The best song of the night was one re-made into a Christmas song, “It’s Easy to Blame the Weather,” “because why not,” Marsalis said. Arranged by multi-instrumentalist Sherman Irby, the song featured Moses in fine form. 

The band closed with the spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” arrangement by co-musical director and trumpeter Marcus Printup. 

It highlighted a fantastic solo by Goines on tenor saxophone. There was no encore unfortunately, but the band took an early intermission and played longer for the second half, which was indeed a treat. 

Congrats to vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, who has been a special guest with JLCO for Big Band Holidays, for signing with Nonesuch Records. Her new album “Ghost Song” will be out March 2022. 

Another cause for excitement is “Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson” written by the Philly jazz legend himself along with Jim Merod. The book is published by Temple University Press and will be available on May 16, 2022. Golson is 92 years young. 

He is an NEA Jazz Master who is also a prolific composer, arranger, and saxophonist. Golson has composed such popular jazz standards as “Along Came Betty” and “Killer Joe.” He also composed music for film and television that includes “It Takes a Thief” and “M*A*S*H. The great saxophonist Sonny Rollins said, “Composer supreme, tenor man supreme, jazzman supreme, good guy supreme: that’s Benny Golson!” 

Both Rollins and Golson are the only two remaining jazz musicians who appear in the famous Great Day in Harlem photo featuring many jazz greats. 

December birthdays include two of my favorites that are no longer with us, singer and songwriter Lou Rawls and pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. Luckily, they left us with plenty of good music. 

It’s December and Christmas is right around the corner. so there’s lots of music to choose from, but wait just a little longer and jazz fans will really have something to be merry about in the New Year. For example, Blue Note just announced a 6-LP Tone Poet vinyl box set of Ornette Coleman’s Blue Note albums coming out on Jan 28. 

Nicholas Payton, 48, has a new offering out now, “Smoke Sessions,” (Smoke Sessions Records). It features a dream team collaboration with elder jazz statesmen, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist George Coleman, who is a special guest on the album. Coleman is well known for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock in the 1960s. The outstanding drummer Karriem Riggins also appears on the new recording. 

The New Orleans trumpeter told Jazz.FM 91 writer Javon Christopher Anderson that Davis’s “Four & More” was the album that really inspired him to take up music seriously, and ever since then Ron Carter has been an idol and a favorite musician of his. Carter played on “Four & More.” Payton’s “Smoke Sessions” was released on Oct 29, 2021. 

If you’re still looking for something special to do this New Year’s Eve and don’t mind a quick drive to Chicago, go check Payton out at the Jazz Showcase. He’ll be there Dec 29-Jan 2. Payton last played in the Twin Cities in 2019.  

Happy Holidays, everybody!