It’s good to acknowledge and celebrate the birthdays of some of the most memorable people in the jazz world, but it’s also good to track and reflect on where some have been this summer as it comes to an end.
Saxophonist Sonny Rollins was born in Harlem on September 7, 1930. He is well-known as the world’s greatest living improviser at 93 years old.
Rollins performed at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis in the early 2000s, and I feel fortunate that I had the chance to interview him to help advance the show on KBEM Jazz 88.5 radio with my good friend music director Kevin O’Connor.
August 31 was the music critic Nate Chinen’s birthday. I really enjoy his writing because I always learn something new. I hope that he has many more happy birthdays to come.
August 29 was saxophonist Charlie Parker’s birthday. “Bird” as he is affectionately known once said, “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”
“For me, preserving the spirit of jazz means change. That’s what jazz is—breakthrough,” said the late saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, whose 90th birthday was on August 25.
On September 4 there was a full house for the young Grammy-award-winning jazz singer Samara Joy, the last show at the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage for this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival. I watched it via livestream.
As part of her set, Joy sang a lovely Charles Mingus song, “Love Bird,” adding her own special lyrics. She also sang Nancy Wilson’s “Guess Who I Saw Today” mixed with Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” which further revealed her growing creative spirit.
Bassist Dezron Douglas also performed at the Detroit Jazz Festival with Stefon Harris and Blackout. Plus, he played with drummer Louis Hayes and company. He said on X (formerly known as Twitter), “Looking forward to catching up with all the cats and just chillin’ and vibin’ with this great American tradition.”
In jazz, it’s also good to mark the release dates of older as well as newer recordings. Often I like to revisit some old favorites, learn from and anticipate the latest recordings.
Here are a few good examples:
Herbie Hancock recorded “Inventions & Dimensions” 60 years ago on August 30, 1963. “Mimosa” is my jam from that outstanding Blue Note album that still sounds fresh today.
Twenty years ago, on August 19, 2003, pianist Jason Moran released “The Bandwagon,” a stellar live recording of his acclaimed trio with Nasheet Waits on drums and Tarus Mateen on bass captured at the famous Village Vanguard in New York City. It’s one of Moran’s best Blue Note recordings and well worth repeat listening.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s bassist Carlos Henriquez independently released “A Nuyorican Tale” on September 15. This is his fourth album as a bandleader. Check out his interview in the current issue of Bass magazine about how the album is rooted in Nuyorican culture.
Drummer Brandon Sanders has a new release out now, “Compton’s Finest” from Savant Records. His bandmates include Keith Brown on piano, Chris Lewis on tenor saxophone, Warren Wolf on vibraphone, Eric Wheeler on bass, and Jazzmeia Horn on vocals. The album is expertly produced by fellow drummer Willie Jones III.
There’s an impressively diverse selection of excellent songs such as Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” and two of Sanders’s originals.
Sanders grew up in Compton, California, and the title of the album is in the spirit of celebrating rather than denigrating the drummer’s hometown. My favorite track is “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”
I’ve never heard it played with vibes, and Wolf shines. Overall, the band has a great chemistry—and Sanders sounds every bit like the seasoned veteran that he is and knows exactly how to lead a band bursting with talent. Don’t sleep on this collection of songs.