*The Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel, home to the Montrose Room, is offering discounted room rates for those attending this show. Book a room, stay 'til the very last note of the final encore and don't worry about having to make the drive home! For information, click here.
The Smooth Video of the Day: Jesse Cook previews his October 22 show with his latest track, "Shake."
Remember the piece of office equipment that was on every executive’s desk in the 1980s, the one that you talk into and then someone else listens to and transcribes from? It’s not what I would consider a musical instrument, but then again, how many drum solos are performed on desk tops every day? Seems that the lowly Dictaphone has been used as an instrument and incubator for one our favorite jazz bands, Down to the Bone.
Digging further, I learned that Down to the Bone isn’t just one band. It had a US set of artists and a UK set, but the common denominator was writer, producer and leader Stuart Wade.
According to Wikipedia: "Down to the Bone is unique in that the leader, Stuart Wade, does not play any instruments at all. Instead, Wade uses a dictaphone to hum tunes into which are then recorded by the band." Amazing!
From their bio on their official website – the first paragraph says it all:
"Down To The Bone is Stuart Wade as producer, writer and mastermind behind the whole groove project, working with other talented musicians and co-writers to bring together a project of good grooves."
And he has done it over and over again since 1995. The list of artists who have played in Down to the Bone is a wonderful who’s who of contemporary jazz. On the current US side of things, the flutist and saxman, Katisse Buckingham is a Los Angeles native who provided the sound for Will Ferrell’s jazz flute solo in the movie, The Anchorman. He won a Golden Globe for his score for the Robert Redford film, All Is Lost, and is a featured soloist on the Universal Pictures animated film, Minions. Rufus Philpot on five string bass and Oli Silk on keyboards and Pablo Mendelssohn on trumpet are transplanted Londoners.
The current album is called Dig It. It was done by the UK band members and released here in April of 2014. Two cuts from it, "The Sweetness" and ""The Bounce," are part of the Smooth Jazz Chicago playlist. Thank you Stuart. Keep that Dictaphone working.
It was announced this week that Vanessa Williams is not only going to be a judge for this year’s pageant, but also the Chief Judge. Now there is a controversy hinging on who will apologize to whom before Vanessa is welcomed back to the organization.
Rewind to 1984, when Vanessa won the contest. She was the first African-American woman to become Miss America. In her bow embellished, one shoulder lavender gown and appropriate '80s big hair, she walked the runway thrilled. She did eleven months of her reign before some nude photographs taken years earlier surfaced in Penthouse magazine. She relinquished the crown to avoid dragging herself and the pageant through the mud. We were shocked and amazed. She had done an outstanding job as Miss America, doing more appearances that normal.
But the loss of a crown was a gain for smooth jazz lovers. Vanessa used her music to heal. With the yoke of Miss America’s responsibilities behind her, she went into the studio and put out the aptly titled album in 1988, "The Right Stuff." The song "Dreamin’" hit number one on the pop charts. She went on to give us "Save the Best For Last" in 1991. However, as her music career flourished, calls for her to take on acting roles soared too. She’s been busy on stage and screen, so we haven’t had a CD from her since 2009.
So, if there is an agreement between her and the pageant officials, we will get to see her in a new role, that of judge. I hope everyone will be able to let bygones be bygones. But if not, could there be a new CD?
Jazz happens every day. Some days it takes me from the present moment to other moments in my life. Listening to the stream, a song caught my attention, so I went to see what the title and artist were by way of TuneGenie. That was when the fun started. Seeing that it was a song by David Foster called "Flight of the Snowbirds," it made me giggle.
The title took me back to the summer of 1988, when I was working in a riverside high rise. The rehearsals for the Chicago Air and Water Show began on a clear Wednesday afternoon. We could hear the planes as they flew high above us, getting their bearings over the lakefront. Someone found that there was an empty upper floor facing east. It was a great observation deck.
We oohd and ahhd our way through our afternoon coffee break, sipping lemonade and swapping trivia about airplanes. The blue jets soared and flashed in the sunlight. We got glimpses of them between the buildings and in the clear space that the river afforded us. We debated whom we were getting a peek at, the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, vowing to grab a newspaper or a brochure on the way home to look up who was gracing our skies. (Remember, this is pre-Google, so info access was not as instantaneous as it is today).
On the schedule was a visiting team called the Canadian Snowbirds. Described as a precision team of the Canadian Air Force, it wasn’t clear if they were prop planes or jets. As there was no picture of the planes, I filed them away in my brain as a side note.
The next day, while I sat in our 20th Floor lunchroom with floor to ceiling windows facing east down the Chicago River, we heard the telltale rumble of jets beginning their maneuvers. Before we could abandon our table and head for our impromptu viewing station, I spotted a dot in the sky above the river. In seconds, it became a formation of bright red fighter jets flying down the river at the same level as our lunchroom. When they streaked past us, my heart leapt. Being a child of the Cold War atomic bomb drills in grammar school, I uttered an explative while I dove under the table in full belief that we were under attack by the Soviets!
My co-workers coaxed me from my duck-and-cover posture under the table by assuring me that there was no attack on Chicago. Actually, I was waiting for the second wave and when it didn’t arrive, I decided to dust off my pride and emerge.
I was teased unmercifully by my co-workers. In my defense, all I could say was "who knew that snowbirds were RED!"
Chicago loves its jazz. We celebrate it over the Labor Day weekend every year with a public festival on the lakefront. And we have Duke Ellington to thank for it.
The Duke’s death in the summer of 1974 sparked several Chicago musicians to stage a festival to honor his legacy. They held it at the southern end of Grant Park near the museums in the old band shell. The crowd was ten thousand strong. It became an annual event, but by 1978 there were three different August jazz events being planned. When confronted with the dilemma of issuing overlapping permits, a solution was proposed by the city to combine them all into a full week festival. Starting with two days called Jazz Panorama, a tribute day for Ellington, one for John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, the 29th celebrating Charlie Parker’s Birthday, followed by a day for Blues and Swing and ending with a day without a title that featured Benny Goodman and Mel Torme, the Chicago Jazz Festival was born.
The Petrillo Music Shell was new and over 125,000 people attended the first Jazz Fest. Putting it on Labor Day weekend and broadcasting portions of it on WBEZ and WDCB have helped it become a worldwide draw for fans of jazz.
Grab your sunscreen and head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for this year’s edition of the Jazz Fest, now held in Millennium Park. It’s some of the best free music around. Hope to see you there!
They call this part of the year the "dog days." When I was a kid, I thought it was because of the heat, when the only things dogs would do was find a shady spot, stick out their tongues and pant. But that’s not the case. It’s because of the influence of Sirius, the brightest object in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for the big dog). Rising and setting with the sun and visible to the naked eye, Sirius was believed by ancients to have added its heat to that of the sun to make the days sultry.
Here are some stars who have added their heat to the constellation of Jazz with birthdays in August.
I want to start on Saturday, the Ides of August (the 15th), but if I do I miss Karen Briggs on the 12th. She is the wonderful violinist who played with Yanni in the 1980s. So we will cut cake in honor of her, Bobby Caldwell’s great vocals, Everette Harp’s sexy saxophone, David Benoit’s twinkling keyboards and Nick Colionne’s grand guitar.
Or we could ask birthday boys Branford Marsalis and Gerald Albright to play a new arrangement of "Happy Birthday" that we will ask Wayne Shorter to write for the flumpet, a trumpet–flugelhorn combination that was specially designed for the late Art Farmer, between bites of cake and spoons of ice cream.
Then, we need to get some pretty flowers for the late Oscar Peterson, Isaac Hayes, Count Bassie, Art Farmer, Diana Washington, Charlie Parker and Michael Jackson, the August born musicians who have left behind their music for us to enjoy.
Then, just like that, the month is over. The dog-star has trotted off to play in the sky for another twelve months and we have to look ahead to September.
~Lydia Barnes (email@example.com)
The Smooth Video of the Day: August 18 birthday boy David Benoit teams up with veteran vocalist Jane Monheit on a new track.
We think about them frequently, even write songs about them. Just ask Andreas Vollenweider while he’s "Dancing with the Lion" or Gregory Porter when he sings "Be Good," which is subtitled "Lion’s Song." You can stretch the point with Warren Berhardt’s "Felinicity," because a lion is a really big cat. I can even argue that an entire form of music is named for one. Reggae music come from the Rastafarian religion of Jamaica, which worships his highness Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, who was known as the Lion of Judah. Bob Marley, one of the most famous proponents of both Rastafari and Reggae wrote him a song called "Iron Lion Zion."
And why is this important to jazz fans? Because August 10th is World Lion Day. It’s getting a lot of publicity this year because of the Cecil the Lion tragedy, and that is a good and bad thing. Bad because Cecil is dead and the remaining lions in the wild are endangered, good because it is raising our consciousness. The range of the Lion was once this entire planet. He was absolutely the King of the Beasts. Today, they are confined to a small patch of Asia and several places in Africa. Sad legacy for such a magnificent creature.
And what is contributing to the endangerment of the Lion, the Tigers and the Bears? Sad to say, it’s the growing population of man. We tipped the scale in our favor decades ago without providing large enough places for the wild things to live. Now we are lamenting their demise. There are over thirty organizations fighting to turn the tide for all the big cats, especially the Lion.
Hopefully, we will be able to continue to sing to them (from a safe distance) and not to their memory.
I missed the birthdays of some very influential people (jazz and otherwise) who were born in the early days of the month of August.
On the 1st of August, we needed to acknowledge Francis Scott Key. Not jazz, I know, but you have to admit that "The Star Spangled Banner" is one of the best songs to hear. It reminds us that we are living in the land of freedom, the place where jazz was born, raised and perfected. Without his song, we wouldn’t be talking about our songs.
Then, on the 3rd, Tony Bennett celebrated his 89th birthday, crooning his way into our hearts. Keep singing Tony, we love you.
These days the 4th of August is newsworthy because it is the birthday of our Commander in Chief – President Barack Obama. But if he were alive today, I am sure that it wouldn’t edge out the fact that this day is shared by the great Louis Armstrong (1910 – 1971). If he were still around, I'm pretty sure Louis and his golden horn would be blowing out a chorus of Happy Birthday to the President while POTUS did the same thing to the candles on a big White House cake.
Luckily, there isn’t another birthday to mention until the 9th, when Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012) shares the date with Jack DeJohnette, a Chicago jazz man who switched from piano to drums and played with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollings and Pat Metheny. Or the 10th of the month Patti Austin shares the date with Leo Fender, the inventor of the solid body Fender guitar, but I have done a blog piece on her, so that gives me some wiggle room. Looking at my Jazz Birthday Calendar, it means I have between six and sixteen days to catch up with the other August artists that I want you to know about.
So, here are my best wishes to them all and my sincere apology for being late. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I’m off to do my research because I’m late!
No, she wasn’t a smooth jazz artist, but her father was a member of a boy band that was dominant in the '80s and '90s, and her mother was powerful songstress who crossed genres (including Smooth Jazz) with stunning ease. When Whitney Houston sang, we all held our breath and got goose bumps from the high notes.
We’ve watched Bobbi Kristina her entire all-too-short life. I remember Whitney bringing her onstage as a toddler, getting her a chair and singing the rest of the performance to little Bobbi Kristina. Then there was the inside look at the entire family, the reality show called Being Bobbie Brown. To me it ended up being more about Bobbi Kristina and Whitney than about Mr. Brown.
Her mother died a tragic death, very similar to the one she experienced. Almost three years to the date of Whitney’s accidental drowning in her bathtub in the Beverly Hills Hilton on Grammy weekend, Bobbi Kristina’s sad accident is even more tragic.
She never got to show us what she could do with her voice or her life, but I believe that now she is in the arms of her mother. Peace be with them both.
On stage he’s the tall, thin one on the electric bass, his long hair and magic fingers flying in passionate fury. Verdine’s musical career started back in high school. His father, Dr. Verdine White Sr., was encouraging him to follow in his footsteps and take up medicine, but it was not to be. Verdine tells his musical origin story on his website as follows:
"The instrument (string bass) was standing alone in the corner of the orchestra class....tall, mysterious and majestic, so different from all the others, it called me and the love affair began."
It didn’t stop there. He was so good that he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several years while hitting jazz clubs all over the area, perfecting his style on Fender electric guitars. When his brother Maurice, the drummer for Ramsey Lewis’s Trio, decided to start a band in 1969, Verdine joined him. Earth, Wind and Fire was born.
Now, after thirty five years, six Grammy Awards and seventeen nominations, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, he’s still going strong, playing solo and with many others. And through it all, he’s been married to a former Ikette, Shelly (Michelle) Clark.
Still on the road with his band and the band Chicago, Verdine will be in the neighborhood in late August, playing in Aurora at their Riveredge Park. Welcome home and happy birthday, Verdine.
Once upon a time in Chicago, there was a woman who loved music. At an early age she was given various musical instruments by her father in an attempt to see which one would sing out the songs that he knew were in her heart.
Like Stevie Wonder, she was given a harmonica, but it hurt her lips and the only notes she could coax out of it sounded like the squeaks of dying rodents. Neighborhood cats would gather to peek into the basement windows when she practiced.
She was given a wooden chantor from a bagpipe, but it tasted funny and her fingers were too small to cover the holes. Her grandmother replaced it one night with a large peppermint stick and said the fairies needed it.
There were the two green leather octagons with a cloth covered Slinky holding them together. It was called a concertina. It made better sounds when it was rolled down the stairs than when she attempted to play it.
When she held her dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar on her lap, she was so small that she couldn’t see over it to strum the strings, so he bought her a ukulele. After lots of plucking and plinking, she bashed it over the neighbor boy’s head because he said her version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" sounded stupid.
Weekly piano lessons lasted for years and years. She knew that she was no Liberace because her family didn’t own a candelabra or fancy sequined clothes. Hearing Ramsey Lewis play "The In Crowd," she ran out and bought the sheet music. She quit lessons shortly thereafter because her version was more out-takes than "In Crowd."
Trying to build on that success she had found with four strings, she moved to the violin and played in the High School orchestra. But like many high school musicians, she was told that maybe she should find another hobby. The college she went to did not have a music program. Her instrument was put aside.
She tried to make music her day job. She worked for Lyon and Healy Music Company, renting pianos and later Carl Fischer selling sheet music, but to no avail. She went into the corporate world and spent many years drowning out the office Muzak by listening to smooth jazz on large Sony headphones, long before Dr. Dre made them stylish.
She even worked for a public radio station, thinking it would be nirvana, but they were in the process of changing their format to all talk. The next blow to her love of music was when her favorite smooth jazz station got changed to mariachi music. Then, just as her music life seemed bleakest, a perfect niche was found. Instead of notes, she uses words.
On July 24, 2014, Rick O’Dell gave me the opportunity to blog for Smooth Jazz Chicago!
Thanks Rick, for giving me a place to use my real music voice.
To all my readers, Happy Anniversary! Never hesitate to contact me about stories – pro or con - I promise that I don’t bash folks with Ukuleles anymore!