I love all kinds of music, but there is something about smooth jazz and especially Dave Koz’s music. They brings me such joy, and whenever I see him live it always brings me to tears. If you have not had the chance, please do. He is the benchmark of how concerts should be, especially the Christmas concert.
I've had the pleasure of meeting him and quite a few of our smooth jazz superstars many times. Peter White to Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun and Euge Groove--just to name a few. Not name dropping, but they truly are as glad to see us as we are to see them. So many incredibly talented, and incredibly humble people. After giving 110% to us at a show, they always seem to find a little more time and energy to stick around and meet their fans. They are grounded enough to know enough to acknowledge the fans who appreciate them.
To me, that speaks volumes about their character. You don’t find that in most music types at this level of success.
Dave and Friends will be here on the 12th. Get your tickets and don't miss 'em!
Our Smooth Video of the Day: One of the highlights of every Dave Koz Christmas show is his song about Hanukah.
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?
This is the birthday of our nation. There are hundreds of folks telling you what this means in word and deed and song and fury. Some of us are relaxing, some of us are working, some of us are serving, but we are all seeking a common goal. We are here--born in or immigrated to-- this country to seek the dream of Freedom. Not just freedom from the rule of a monarch, not just freedom to worship as we want, not just the freedom to say what we want when we want, not just the freedom to be who we want to be, but all those freedoms combined.
America is the land of liberty, a place where the streets are paved not with gold but with opportunity. America is the place where you can become. America is a land of music.
America is like jazz. We have every kind that you can think of and some that haven’t yet crossed your mind. We are the land of infinite possibilities, myriad selections, improvisation and vast horizons. We as a people can head everywhere all at once and arrive at our destination all together as planned. We are strong and determined, sad and lonely, happy and joyful.
If you want to understand America, listen to jazz. It is the quintessential American-made music and it says it all. Happy Birthday, America!
Mindi Abair would be a centerpiece of one heck of a fantasy band
In the days of the Big Bands, some of the organizations had virtual revolving doors when it came to the people who played together. Creative minds and bold personalities often clashed, sometimes mixing into a soup of anger and resentment. People walked away, sulked and then found other venues for their talents. Today, we don’t have jazz bands of such size and scale, but if we did, I have a secret weapon to bring such an organization together in harmony, on stage and off.
I’d start with the vibrant Chick Corea on keyboards, paired up with Lionel Richie and Brian McKnight. Lionel would write the songs and share the vocalist spot with two incomparable ladies, Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight. Brian could play any of the eight instruments that he has mastered, but I think I would ask him to be the drummer when he wasn’t collaborating with Chick and Lionel. The sax section would be Kenny G and Mindi Abair. The guitars would be Marc Antoine and Ken Navarro with Christian McBride on bass. I’d finish off my band with Walter Beasley on clarinet and Ramsey Lewis on the Steinway grand piano.
And why would I put all these folks together? Because they are all Geminis, with birthdays starting on the 23rd of May and running to the 20th of June.
According to the traits ascribed to Geminis, it would work perfectly because they are adaptable and versatile, have a strong sense of self, are lifelong learners, great communicators and team players, up for anything. They thrive in social situations. They are big picture folks who don’t get sidetracked, and they are excellent multi-taskers.
So, as soon as I can get their agents and promoters out of the way (and after I win a few million in a lottery) I’m going to hit the road with my experiment, the Gemini Jazz Band. Tickets anyone?
To me every day is Jazz Day, but according to the UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, April 30 is International Jazz Day. Being a few days late and many dollars short, I still think that we can learn about our history and celebrate the day.
The official celebration was in Paris this year, complete with Herbie Hancock and many other greats, but if like me, you missed it, the article includes a list of places to go to get the groove. Of the six, one is here in Chicago, and may I say that I am not surprised.
The WNUA CD Sampler is numbered 14 and "Hyde Park" is the headline Track #1. His sax is crisp and clear with an upbeat tempo that’s delightful. A choir flows in and out so beautifully that the alternate title to the song is the "Ahh Ooh Song." The style is so familiar, comfortable, I decide to trace it back to its origin. Plus, I wanted to know if it was about our Hyde Park or some other place.
First, I found that Jeff Kashiwa was and still is part of the Rippingtons, hence the very familiar sound. Then I saw that he is a Seattle native, so the connection to the Chicago neighborhood is tenuous at best.
Second, I found out that when he ventured out on his own solo career in 1995, many were surprised. He has since produced ten albums under his own name, the latest being “Let it Ride” in 2012.
Third, I found that in 2004 he hit upon an idea for a band after seeing a movie about the legendary Sinatra Rat Pack. He got together with fellow sax players Steve Cole and Kim Waters and they co-founded The Sax Pack. They tour regularly and are poised to release their third album this spring.
Last, he has another band which came to be called Coastal Access because they were playing so much in Florida and California that they were considering themselves bi-coastal. When Jeff’s wife saw signs on the California highways saying Coastal Access, she suggested it as the name and Jeff agreed. Talking about the group, Jeff says:
“. . .there is always a strong connection and camaraderie through humor and music which enrich all of our lives. I look forward to many more journeys, both musical and geographical, with these friends that have all become part of my family.”
Sounds like a great philosophy to me Jeff. I look forward to many more Ahhs and Oohs while listening to you, in all of your musical facets. And, someday you'll have to tell me about the exact origin of the title "Hyde Park."
A grandfatherly man told me that when I was young. He was emphatic, and as I have moved through life, I’ve learned what he meant.
It is my biggest beef with the singers who try out for American Idol. Many of the contestants show they have very little musical background by the song choices they make. In the auditions, I know hundreds of singers fail to make the cut, because how many times can you hear a song done badly and not call it torture? I tip my hat to the people who are the initial screeners. I’m sure they earn every penny for every bad note they hear.
Speaking of pennies, look at how much money Williams, Thicke and TI would have saved if they had first gotten permission from the family of Marvin Gaye. Let me say I really love Pharrell Williams and I like Robin Thicke and rapper TI. But they prove the point that I try to address with my some of my blog entries: history matters.
They have been ordered by the court to pay nearly half the proceeds that their song has made or a dollar for each copy of song that was sold. And let’s not even speculate as to what the lawyers have cost them.
Myself, I would have done like Sam Smith and Tom Petty and settled out of court. When you listen to "Got to Give It Up," you hear a ten minute cut consisting of a fifty-one second repeating melody done with soft singing in the background. The repeating bass lick is rounded out by piano, drum and cowbell, recorded as if at a party. Ditto for "Blurred Lines." Even the subject matter is the same, getting rid of shyness and getting down to the business of sex. Written decades apart and from a different point of view, when you boil it down lyrically, Marvin is trying to convince himself to be bold, whereas Robin and Company are trying to convince a girl she should be.
So, when I reach back a few decades and get inspired for a blog post, bear with me. I didn’t know that I was a frustrated jazz historian until they started handing out all this money for copying songs from their previous owners. Budding artists take note, I’m available for hire.
The old saying about the weather is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I’ve spent a few days thinking, in jazz, who is the lion and who is the lamb?
I went to Google to find out. I put in Jazz Lion. I got back Gregory Porter’s song "Be Good (Lion's Song)." That was not what I was expecting. I thought I would get something by Sun Ra, the Last Poets, Osibisa, Earth, Wind and Fire or the group War. I was positive that Bob Marley had done something about the Lion of Judah, Haile Selassie. But nothing like that came up.
And just as well. I dug a little deeper, perusing Sun Ra. His record label was called Black Lion, and on it he had a song called "When There is No Sun." Since that has been what we have been living through most of January and February, I gave it a listen. It’s a wonderful jazz piece, but after what we have lived through, it only prolonged the agony.
So I went to Gregory Porter’s video. His butterscotch voice sings about being a lion in a cage who watches a lady named Be Good dance around him. It’s enchanting. The jazzy waltz has nonsense lyrics, but it has everything to make your day better. Thanks Gregory, for making the lion of March a gentle creature that I could get used to dancing around.
Born John Roger Stephens in 1978, John Legend he began playing piano at age three. Although he was home schooled until high school, he graduated Salutatorian and opted to attend University of Pennsylvania instead of Harvard. There he was introduced to Lauren Hill. She hired him to play piano for her on her album, The Miseducation of Lauren Hill. It was the beginning of his collaboration with many artists. He has worked with Kanye West, Sade, Brittany Spears, Sergio Mendes, Black Eye Peas, Mary J. Blige and others.
His stage name was given to him by poet J. Ivy. Saying “I heard your music and it reminds me of that music from the old school. You sound like one of the legends. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm going to call you from now on! I'm going to call you John Legend." The name stuck.
John is an activist too. Whether working with Will.i.am on the "Yes I Can" video for the Barrack O’Bama campaign or doing Public Service Announcements to increase awareness of the problems caused by Hurricane Katrina or in the Tide Detergent “Clean Start” mobile laundromat in St. Bernard Parish in the aftermath of that storm, John has lent his voice and his hands to many tasks.
It’s no wonder that with his history and talent, he was asked to work with rapper Common to compose and perform the music for the movie Selma. In the theme song "Glory," he starts at the piano, singing the lyrics:
One day when the Glory comes/It will be ours, it will be ours/One day when the war is won/We will be sure, we will be sure
Then with an orchestra behind him, Common, who also stars in the movie, raps about the struggle for equality, past and present. The effect is powerful. The song takes you back to the sixties and then forward to today in a split second.
Since the release in 2014, it has won best music from the African-American Film Critics Association, the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, the Georgia Film Critics Association and the Golden Globe Awards. It was the runner up at the Iowa Film Critics awards. It has been nominated for Best Song at the Houston Film Critics Society Awards and for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.
When you think of jazz artists, you think of cool cats and laid back ladies. You don’t think of civil rights activists and protest song singers. But you should.
We were blown away in 1971 when Marvin Gaye hit the airwaves singing "Abraham, Martin and John." After the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, the song laments losing the leaders who were working for equality and justice. When Marvin sang "What’s Going On?" we felt the frustrations of many a returning Vietnam Vet, asking for peace, equality and mercy.
But did you know that Roberta Cleopatra Flack originally sang songs of protest? And she did it two years before Marvin? The lead song on Roberta’s debut album First Take, which was released in the summer of 1969 was "Compared to What?"
Written by Gene McDaniels, the song talks about lies, war, abortion, doubt, treason and anti-social behaviors. Roberta very cleverly modified the lyrics by the alternately dropping one word from the originally written curse. First she omitted God from in front of damn in the second the stanza and then the damn from behind God in the forth stanza, to make it playable on the airwaves, yet keep its lyrical impact.
Of the nine songs on this album, two of them are about love and one of them was Roberta’s breakout hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Heard in the Clint Eastwood movie, Play Misty for Me, it brought Roberta a wider audience and allowed people to think of her as a pop and R&B artist, but she still sings jazz and protest with the best of them. Check out her militant side in the video below.
And after you listen to it, and you want more, let me suggest Roberta’s "I Told Jesus." It’s about changing your name, which harkens back to the 1960s, when people were discovering their African origins and shaking off the traditional names their parents gave them. And with the middle name of Cleopatra, Roberta understands.
Happy Birthday, Roberta Flack, born February 10, 1939.