Last night was the first performance of our three week US tour performing the Abyssinian Mass. We are definitely prepared. The 70 strong Chorale Le Chateau has been rehearsing for months and was in great form. Damien Sneed, our conductor, brought an energy, passion and an innovative way of improvising with every nuance of the vocal score that left even us grizzled veterans mesmerized.
Each day one of our members will give a short synopsis of their experience on this tour. We will hear today from the speaker of 4 languages, Mr. Walter Blanding:
Our tour started off with a 10 hour bus ride, which is not for the faint of heart. But, as always, when we got on that stage last night, it became very clear exactly why we do what we do. Every time the orchestra performs, we go for broke, no kidding, and no exceptions. But there was something about last night which was most definitely special and worth sharing.
Any time we do collaborations which integrate other styles of music or forms of art, something magical and unexpected always happens. I believe it’s the meeting of love, respect and improvisation that creates a recipe for something unique and divine. Last night when vocalist, Nicole Phifer, sang the movement, Prayer, I (and everyone else in the room) could feel her energy, her pain, and her commitment to strive. The passionate intensity of her sound hit me in the pit of my stomach.
I live for moments like this. This will be a great tour. I’m looking forward to seeing what tonight will bring.
Carolina Performing Arts, on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, is a long-time and valued partner of Jazz at Lincoln Center, having presented the JLCO every time the band has toured the South over the last decade.
They have done an incredible job of activating the academic and university community with pre-concert lectures featuring Dr. Genna Rae McNeil (UNC Department of History) who has an upcoming book about the history of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman (Duke University Divinity School) who recently served as an assistant minister at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and Anthony Kelly (Duke University Professor of Music), who will be discussing the creation of the “sacred jazz monument” in large-scale religious works by Wynton. They are extremely appreciative that this program has provided the opportunity to build relationships with community stakeholders that they couldn’t have connected with otherwise. Members of the White Rock Baptist Church Gospel Choir will be singing on the steps of Memorial Hall prior to the show tonight.
This past week we played “The Weary Blues” in the style of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in honor of Armstrong’s great mentor.
Even though Pops was architect of our soloing style, he was also a supreme innovator. Still, the fact of Armstrong’s greatness didn’t prevent him from acknowledging the greatness of others who taught and helped him.
Armstrong was a person who was a great respecter of tradition. He always talked about King Oliver. As a much older man, he said, “Every time I pick up my horn, I look up and I see Papa Joe.”
As a musician, Papa Joe Oliver played with a tremendous amount of dignity and intelligence. He brought versatility to the instrument in the way of playing. He taught us all how to make the horn sound like a chicken, cat or even a crying baby with the plunger mute. Oliver could also just take the mute out of his horn and play straight lead with so much feeling, power and pride. Once Oliver put that into the music, it was something Louis Armstrong always had — the ability to play the trumpet with that type of feeling. For real.
He could sing with angels and he could call out the demons too.
Tuesday night we celebrated the 30th annual NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert. It was a stellar night for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the NEA and for jazz. We had some of the finest, up and coming musicians in jazz including Kris Bowers, Ambrose Akinmusire and Grace Kelly. This was a night for the Masters, of course, and they were out in full force. Phil Woods, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Candido Camero, Dave Liebman, Sheila Jordan, Jimmy Owens, Jack DeJohnette and others all graced the Rose Hall stage.
Bobby Hutcherson and Kenny Barron earned a standing ovation for their rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”. To my surprise, the audience was keenly aware of the harmonic progression to the song and was treated to a solo by Mr. Hutcherson that was lyrical, inventive, sophisticated and sparkling. Kenny Barron, the great accompanist, was in his back pocket for the entirety of the beautiful standard.
Frank Wess, Benny Golson and Kris Bowers joined the JLCO for Mr. Wess’ “Magic”—a blues—and, as everyone present could attest; a whole pile of blues was played! Two saxophones were squeezed in a fashion befitting a music that should sound like people.
Of special note was the beautiful film produced by Sarah Rinaldi, on a jazz budget no less. The production team put on a 2.5-hour show with only a 3-hour rehearsal as preparation. It went off without even one glitch—that must be some sort of record.
The performance speaks for itself.
Steve Jobs was a man of absolute integrity. He pursued the deepest truths in his imagination with unabashed passion, uncompromising singularity of purpose, and unyielding urgency. Apple’s tenacious actualization of his transformative and lofty vision of integration brings us closer together.
He was a force of nature, a volcano, and a man who loves and misses his family. The world is much poorer today. And always.
And so we leave Italia by way of the A12 highway. Stuck in traffic entering Genoa at 8:30 on a Monday morning, we have plenty of time to savor the majestic mountainous splendor, the sweeping Mediterranean, and the hard-earned elegance of the Italian landscape with its diversity of hardy trees and shrubs punctuated with weather-worn houses of various rectangular shapes dressed in warm tones from olive to pink topped with triangular, terra cotta tiles glistening in the sun.
Today, Fernando and I have the pleasure of the Great Frank Stewart's company as this is an 8 hr drive and, though Fernando doesn't need a second, it's always good to be in Frank's company. Both men are not given to too much chatter, so there will be a lot of space for contemplation.
I'm glad Frank is on my last drive of these two months of touring because we silently acknowledge the grueling travel of the American tour and assess each other's state of health, sanity, and fitness as a barometer of toughness.
Questions of "How's your old ass holding up?" are met with a wry laugh that is musical in it's complexity of meanings from recognition to resignation to regeneration. We admit to fatigue while implying 'not as tired as you MF'. It's a very 'inside' type of inane masculine pride that is measured by the ability to sleep 3 or 4 hours a night in a car for 34 of 40 days and still execute your actual job as if walking the dog. (Fernando takes a vacation from running his travel company to enjoy weeks of sleepless night driving and carrying bags while conducting his everyday business all over the world). HaHa!
You have to love AND embody what you do (that's what he says), and Frank says it to with his omnipresent camera at his side. "You have to live this bruh." If this summer was about anything for us as a band, besides endurance and consistency.
It has been about Joe.
Joe Temperley is 80 something years old (he hates you mentioning it) and has dealt with every step of this onerous schedule without a single word of complaint or moment of irresolution on or off the bandstand. We all ask," You ok?" to which he grouchily responds, "Fine! I'm fine." We are acutely aware of his love for this music and for this band and the sacrifices he makes for both. Every time he plays his horn, it is with a depth of expression and dedication instructional to all of us. His legendary sound has taken on even more humanity, integrity and gravitas as these years progress. Last night, in Follonica, his solo on Victor's arrangement of Limbo Jazz was lengthy…and significant—aflame with urgency, inventiveness and pure joy. He had requested the rhythm section swing on his solo, and they laid it out for him. Meat and potatoes.
Marcus turned to the trumpet section after about the 3rd chorus and looked like he was getting full, "Damn! His playing always makes me happy." We all quietly 'Amenned' him. (Skysor doesn't allow too much overt demonstrating in his section). "Put it into the playing.". After the gig, we stood around in that unchoreographed circle that always forms, talking about Joe and how much he has taught us on this tour….. and in general.
We love and respect him in the deepest way AFTER 25 years of playing with him. He continues to show us that this road and this music demand everything you have; that there is a sacred dimension to playing that requires many layers of sacrifice; that quality time and meaningful times are not promised to any of us; that great situations for the actual playing of jazz are rare; and that you best be totally present when it's time to play.
Fernando and Irene had driven 11 straight hours without even stopping to eat.
We were headed to Manfredonia before going on to Ravello. High noon.
Luigi's mama cooked so much good food with such feeling and soul, I'm not going to dishonor the memory of it by trying to describe it— just going to quote the great Herlin Riley, "It tasted like some more."
Demo and Lucia came down and we talked about everything from the universal cultural ignorance of politicians to warm up routines on the trumpet.
We sang the Brandenburg Concerto no. 2, O Sole Mio, and Salty Dog, played Napoli, the Carnival of Venice, and St. James Infirmary, ruminated on him opening a school of music, laughed about really bad public critiques (reminded me of when I was growing up with brothers one-upping each other on whose parents administered the worst boodie whippin').
Mama Antonietta earned the Ryan Kisor award for fewest words with the most meaning. When asked to speak, she said, "No!" Prompting Fernando to refer back to the loquaciousness of action, "What she's saying is all in front of us brother." Amen. The volume, quality and diversity of food was astounding, surpassed only by the depth of feeling in each dish. She's still talking to us.
Demo gave me a Cat Anderson mouthpiece in a frame he made by hand. On the back is a picture of the great Italian trumpeter Oscar Valdambrini playing with Duke's band in Italy in 1967. It was inscribed: "This object returns home. It was given to Oscar Valdambrini by Cat Anderson 45 years ago. On Oscar's last TV show, he gave it to Demo who was performing for his first time on TV. God bless you and your family, love Demo and Lucia."
We enjoyed a great afternoon of each other's company talking 'bout aspirations and failures, and about what we could do to further the feeling of humanity in that picture of Oscar with Duke and them. We talked about how much we loved Maurice Andre and I told Demo that, at 13, I had never heard of a piccolo trumpet and was struggling to play along with Maurice's recording of the Leopold Mozart Concerto on the Bb trumpet. Some time later, I asked Prof Bill Fielder, "How does he get that sound?" He said, "That's a piccolo trumpet, man." Its something being country.
We started talking about Louis Armstrong, and Demo asked me to play Duke's "Potrait of Louis". We both started playing it and Luigi was so moved, he took his horn out and played the 'Joe Avery Second Line' with us in excellent harmony and time.
Then we listened to Bix Biederbecke's lyrical solo on Gershwin's Concerto in F w Paul Whiteman, as well as Jelly Roll playing his version of Maple Leaf Rag for Alan Lomax. We drank some good Italian espresso and everywhere there was Luigi's sister, Bernadette, luminously floating overhead with hospitality, grace and angelic sweetness.
Last night in Pescara, Italy on the Adriatic Sea. There was another real jazz musician sighting. We were treated to an opening performance by the great Cyrus Chestnut. His sound is warm and wise and his approach is Soul. He even played several songs on our set. It was like the first day of a family reunion.
The prodigy Francesco Cafiso played a small band set with us. We first heard him here at 13 yrs old. He still astonished with his reflexes and musicality but even more, the quality of his person—-still humble, full of joy and humor. Yeah.
My Italian brother Demo and his wife Lucia came down from Rome and we hung for a minute. We have known each other for 20 something years. He showed me a Cat Anderson mouthpiece (the smallest i've ever seen). The cats are playing through the roughest part of two months of touring. The bus was a couple of hours late picking them up from the airport ruining Sugar Rob's soundcheck (he has to set lights and sound). Every minute is important when you're in a place for 10 hours. Now, I'm on a 9 hr. drive and the cats have a 3 hr drive to a plane to a 2hr drive to the hotel in Aosta.
'De Road'. This is when i love someone saying, "it must be fun to travel." HaHa.
We are not traveling. Added to it: there is virtually no social component to our road lives outside of each other. No parties, receptions, very few jam sessions or hangs. You better want to be out here… or HAVE to be. Still…we swang once again off the Adriatic.
Highway of the Flowers from Nice to Genova (from the break of day) may be the most beautiful stretch of road in the world. It is an engineering marvel of tunnels, bridges and grainy asphalt slithering alongside the shimmering Mediterranean. We go straight up through the Pre-Alpine range in northern Italy. The sights are unsurpassed. Pastel towns and villages in various stages of undress emerge at all angles on every turn. Spires, a diversity of wild foliage interrupted by pristine farmlands, and ancient and modern structures side by side, testify to the fleeting permanence of life. This road drives well too. Viva L'Italia. Wynton
We stop in Pont De Molina Spain on the way to Barcelona. It's 11:30 and we're starving. Irene tells us to stop at Amiel & Molina, a local restaurant she's spotted from the road. Fernando doesnt want to. They aren't open.
Irene goes in…20 min. later they are rolling out an Epicurean feast for us. Tortilla de Patatas, Iberian Ham, Manchego Cheese, Gazpacho w Rum, Fried Pescadillas, Pa Amb Tomaquet, Have Mercy! it went on and on. We said,"we'd hate to see when you're open." Fernando tells Irene, "I was wrong." She says, "Let's record that."
Chef Gabriel Marin even brought out some Louisiana Tobasco (always a sign of civilization) with a portion of the Cocido that he had prepared for himself. I went to the kitchen and played some New Orleans blues for them. Brother Carlos, the sui chef, started clapping a syncopated groove. Everybody started vibing. Upon finishing, Carlos said, "flamenco."
As we walked out the door they told me, "remember us when you get famous."
Leaving Nice at 9 am.
Fernando, Irene and I stop by the airport to pick up Boss Murphy's late arriving bag as the band flies to the next destination. We play the jazz night of the festival with Ahmad Jamal and Roy Hargrove. It's good to see some actual jazz musicians at a jazz festival.
Some loud non- jazz blaring from the main stage has created the campy atmosphere of a bad casino throughout the city all day and is now bleeding into every song we play. We have to laugh. It's like a 'collateralized debt obligation'. What could possibly be better to sell than nothing, with the name collateral to describe it.
Jazz beat our financial systems to this level of fraudulence with the first generation of 'selling out as artistic statement' some 40 yrs ago. Now it's a way of life. The equation: many of our bankers and traders resell unscrupulous loans using THE LOAN ITSELF as collateral, wreck the world economy and keep their jobs and our money (actually are given more)= Non-Jazz stands in for actual jazz, is easier to sell because it's not, headlines jazz festivals and destroys not just the festival ambience and intimacy, but even the late-night jam sessions with a lot of loud, sad, non-playing assed bullshit.
This non-jazz is celebrated for being 'open' and 'of it's time' and sells more and is more pervasive than the actual music whose name it carries. HaHa. This is 'of it's time', because corruption is of all times. My great grandma Mama Rosie used to say, "A lie will go around the world twice 'fore the truth ever gets started."
She wasn't lying.