For fans of improvised music in the Black American tradition, the arrival of Tri-C JazzFest to Playhouse Square with a roster of artists including Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride and phenomenal shooting-star vocalist Samara Joy is hands down the biggest week of the year.
The touring artists whose shelves are heavy with Grammy Awards and other honors deservedly grab the clicks and dominate the buzz, but for dozens of musicians from throughout Northeast Ohio, JazzFest will be the biggest gig of their year. For some of them, it will be the biggest opportunity of their young careers.
Pianist Javier Red was in his mid-40s and had been a working musician for years, both in his native Mexico and in the United States, when he arrived at a musical crossroads.
It happened at a workshop in 2015 with saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman at the University of Chicago. “I told Steve that I’ve got two options. I can deny everything that I saw there and keep my music flowing in a comfortable way, or I can accept that what Steve was saying is a completely new and different conception of music,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Man, what I’m losing? Nothing!’ And I decided to go that way.”
He’s still going that way on a musical and life journey that will bring Red and his Chicago quartet Imagery Converter to BOP STOP Thursday for a New Ghosts concert that will have meaning well beyond music.
Johnny Hodges is widely acknowledged as perhaps the preeminent alto saxophone player in the decades before Charlie Parker’s emergence. Yet unlike Parker, whose influence on saxophonists is apparent 68 years after his death, Hodges’ style is almost universally celebrated in print and online yet never heard on the bandstand.
Until now. Saxophonist Owen Broder is putting Hodges where he rightfully belongs: front and center with an ambitious recording project and a new band that swoops into BLU Jazz+ on Friday.
Among the many souvenirs of his half century as a music producer, manager, writer and activist, Marty Khan also has a collection of sculptures carved in ebony by the Makonde people of Tanzania, among them, one that resembled both Rodin’s “The Thinker” and his longtime friend and client Makanda Ken McIntyre. One bright and sunny day in June 2001, Khan picked up the phone to call McIntyre, when he heard a rumble in the mountains near his Tucson home. “It was this really deep rumble like thunder,” Khan remembered. “All of a sudden, a wind picks up that sculpture and smashes it on the floor, and the head breaks off. A half hour later we get a call from [producer] Steve Rowland, his brother-in-law, to tell us that Makanda just passed.”
It was a characteristic move for McIntyre, the composer and instrumentalist who shunned the spotlight but still projected his formidable intellect and influence on the jazz seen as an educator and mentor. Yet like the thunder in the Arizona mountains, McIntyre’s presence continues to be felt, as it will be in Cleveland Thursday when the 13-piece Makanda Project big band roars into Bop Stop playing a book of his unpublished compositions.
I get a lot of new music for my consideration, 407 releases so far this year. Almost all of them are notable for something, and I’d like to give them their due. So, every week, more or less, I’ll offer hot takes on the releases of the preceding seven days. The week of August 28 was so busy–15 new releases–that I spread it out over two posts, and two weeks. Now I’m effectively a week behind with more delays probably on the way as a big review of Cleveland’s Tri-C festival will occupy my time next week. For now, though, savor what was a very strong week for creative music.
Pianist Rachel Eckroth got her start playing with and writing for large jazz ensembles, but lately, the LA-based musician has added color and texture to music by genre-agnostic artists such as Rufus Wainwright, St. Vincent and KT Tunstall.