Recently, I watched the Jazz Journalist Association Awards—an annual, highly anticipated awards show that honors the top musicians of the year as well as the top journalists of the year. Included in this awards ceremony were concerts from some of the leading jazz artists. Of these artists were Gregory Porter, a strong powerful jazz vocalist whose vocal abilities include a mastery in many different unique styles. This pushed me to further look into Porter’s music.
Later, Donna M., a Grammy.com blogger and author of Elements of Jazz, asked me to do a review on Gregory Porter’s latest debut, Grammy nominated album, Water. After my first impressions of Gregory Porter at the JJA Awards, I was excited to listen to Porter’s CD. This album features a timeline of Porter’s influences ranging from Gospel to R&B, Ballad to Bebop, etc. Bridging a gap between the old and the new, Gregory Porter brings in jazz notables like James Spaulding (who has performed with Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Max Roach, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra) and upcoming artists like powerhouse alto saxophonist Yoske Sato. Check out my review of Gregory Porter’s Water on Elements of Jazz.
photo courtesy of Stephanie Berger
A powerhouse on the saxophone and a pioneer in jazz describes Sonny Rollins, a musician who has played with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Dorham, and many other monumental jazz artists. This acclaimed musician, still playing at the age of 81, has recorded over 65 albums, many of which have been tagged as one of the most influential albums in jazz. Of these musically respected albums, is the famous Saxophone Colossus, with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Max Roach on drums. Now, Saxophone Colossus is widely known for the song “St. Thomas” a calypsos-inspired standard that was named after a Virgin Island. Yet, the Saxophone Colossus delivers more than just this famous tune. After listening to the whole album again, I discovered “Strode Rode”, an up-tempo tune that features a duet between Sonny Rollins and bassist Doug Watkins.
Now, before I share what I learned from this song along with the album as a whole, I wanted to share some history leading up to this album. Sonny Rollins was born in Harlem, New York where he started playing the alto saxophone, later switching to tenor in order to follow after Coleman Hawkins, Rollins musical idol at the time. He was soon captured by the musical revolution called “bebop”. Intrigued by Charlie Parker’s playing, Rollins soon found himself working with Thelonious Monk, a leading pianist known for his dissonant melodies and unique harmonic sound, and Miles Davis, a young trumpeter who strove to experiment with the traditional ideals of jazz. This experience kick-started his career and developed a reputation as a young, fresh saxophonist god.
photo courtesy of Michael Wilson
Trying to strive to become a better true musician has always been my goal as a jazz artist. I am continuously searching to how I can approach jazz and improvisation whether it be through looking at it from a different perspective or trying to view it from a more abstract understanding. The question that seems to question many musicians is how do we develop our own perspective and own style. As a musician who does not focus solely on the technical aspect of my playing, I find developing my own style and approach to jazz has been influenced by studying how other people perceive music. Two months ago, Joshua Redman, the 2011 artist-in-residence for the Monterey Jazz Festival, gave a clinic at the annual Next Generation Jazz Festival—a jazz festival that gathers the top junior high school, high school, and college big band, combos, and vocal ensembles from around the world to play and compete. Since 2004, this festival has brought musicians like Dianna Reeves, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra, Christian Mcbride, Terence Blanchard, Kurt Elling, Branford Marsalis, and Regina Carter. As an artist-in-residence, Redman will act as a clinician, mentor, and featured performer at the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival. He will also perform with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra—an auditioned ensemble consisting of the top high school musicians—in September.
A Love Supreme is simply beautiful—a work of art that causes one to examine oneself and dig deeper into ones emotional existence. When I first heard this album two years ago, I was confused by the different sound that Coltrane explores in this four-part orchestration. It was unclear to me how John Coltrane, a hard-bop “bebop” musician that I grew up listening to, was playing tonal music and compositions that focused on the purity of the melody. In A Love Supreme, Coltrane is searching for the core of his sound. He explores the spirituality of his music and is accepting how his talents come from a higher being. In a sense, Coltrane was showing gratitude.
Now, A Love Supreme is one of those albums that involve a broader historical context before truly understanding the intent behind this monumental album.