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An early highlight of the summer for jazz fans in the US Northeast is always the Freihoer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, held on the grounds of the lovely Saratoga Performing Arts Center ("SPAC"). This year's lineup should please almost any jazz fan, bringing ta wide ranging lineup to two stages on June 29 and 30. Want the inside scoop on the festival? …
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""In a world where it's easy to be cynical and bitter, what strikes me most about Nicola and his music is the pure joy and excitement that he brings and carries with him at all times. To be present in the euphoria of this art form is the most difficult skill the way I see it and many young artists seem to ignore that simple and powerful fact. Nicol…
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Zaccai Curtis continues to be one of the most engaging piano players of the past decade. Whether as a band leader (alone or with his brother Luques) or backing the likes of the late Ralph Peterson, Lakecia Benjamin and Cindy Blackman Santana, his strong sense of rhythm and deep knowledge of Latin and Afro-Cuban sounds and Bebop chords make him a co…
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Podcast 975 continues my conversation with the great Charles McPherson. A giant of the saxophone, Charles is a product of the rich jazz city of Detroit, where he was mentored by the late Barry Harris. His closest childhood friend was the future trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer; the two later played together with the iconic Charles Mingus, with whom McPhers…
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Reverence is Charles McPherson’s first release for Smoke Sessions Records, and a few listens reveal why he’s been held in such reverence for the last 64 years. The album captures a scintillating live performance from Smoke Jazz Club, where McPherson is joined by his remarkable current group featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Jeb Patton, b…
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You’ve probably seen Linda Purl act more often than you’ve heard her sing. Besides being Richie Cunningham’s girlfriend and Fonzie’s fiancée on Happy Days, Matlock’s daughter Charlene Matlock, and Pam’s Mom/Steve Carell’s girlfriend on The Office, she has had stints on Homeland, True Blood, and Hacks. She has starred in over 45 made-for-TV movies a…
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Since Yellowjackets’ eponymous 1981 debut album, the group has hewed its own creative path, influencing colleagues with enviable compositional craftsmanship and an ever-shifting blend of influences. In many ways Yellowjackets embody both continuity and renewal, with founding­ pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante providing the four-decade thread fir…
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Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s Bossa Nova-themed animated film They Shot the Piano Player will be in wide release nationwide from Sony Classic Pictures this week. Trueba and Mariscal are the duo behind the 2012 Academy Award nominated Chico and Rita, and their latest work features a who’s who of the best of Brazilian music, including João Gi…
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The legendary George Coleman’s latest project is a release from hard-bop supergroup One For All, an album appropriately called Big George on Smoke Sessions Records. One For All is composed of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. Col…
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New York’s premier hard-bop supergroup, One for All has evolved over the course of its quarter-century history from a sextet of young torchbearers to an assemblage of the music’s most revered traditionalists. Just how in-demand these six artists have become can be traced by the span of time that elapses between albums. 2016’s The Third Decade follo…
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Italy-born, Long Island, New York-based saxophonist and arranger Ada Rovatti’s seventh album as a leader, The Hidden World of Piloo is deeply personal, and stylistically varied. It features six improvisationally rich instrumentals that include blues grooves, samba vibes, straight-up lyricism, melancholic balladry and a comedic finale. Two songs inc…
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In Part One of our conversation, pianist and composer Sullivan Fortner talked about the creation of his latest release, the creative two-disc Solo Game. One disc is solo piano, the result of a curation in the studio with his mentor Fred Hersch, and the other electric keyboard and other musical toys to create both composed through and improvised sou…
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The latest release from the rising star Sullivan Fortner shows off two very different sides of his musical pallet – lyrical and moving solo piano, and electronic explorations. Both will leave you wanting more, and to hear what he has next up his sleeve. Frustrated by his lack of musical outlets during the pandemic, “Game,” the second of two discs t…
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Giorgi Mikadze (pronounced “Gih-ohr-gih Mih-kahd-zeh”) is a pianist who values his heritage and roots, having been born and raised in Georgia, at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. While his training and early carer arch may have seemed typical for an aspiring jazz musician – classical training, Berklee and Manhattan School of Music studies, time …
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Following in the footsteps of the giants of solo piano who have recorded for ECM Records, Call on the Old Wise is Nitai Hershkovits’ first record as a leader for the famous label, presenting his powerful pianistic ingenuity in a largely improvised solo setting. A veteran of Oded Tzur’s quartet (he appears on Isabela and Here Be Dragons), Nitai was …
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As 2023 comes to a close, Straight No Chaser posts a few conversations with artists who produced memorable albums this year. Today’s podcast features bassist Buster Williams, who released Unalome on the Smoke Sessions label this past winter. While the band on Unalome is familiar – drummer Lenny White, pianist George Colligan, alto saxophonist Bruce…
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Dominic Miller may be best known to the world as Sting’s “right-hand man on guitar” and co-writer of “Shape of My Heart,” among the ex-Police bassist's other pop hits. But the multi-faceted Miller has a completely different outlet for his improvisatory talents as well. Vagabond is the guitarist’s third recording for ECM, and might prove his most po…
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On Part Two of our conversation, guitarist Ralph Towner talks about his growth as a guitarist from his early days playing trumpet and piano, through his time with influential bands like the Paul Winter Consort and Oregon, and then his many solo, duo and trio recordings. We talk about his work with Wolfgang Muthspeil and Slava Grigoryan (From a Drea…
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At the age of 83, guitarist Ralph Towner continues to write, perform and improvise on the highest of musical levels. He has been an ECM artist for more than fifty years, appearing in many different contexts, one of the most important being a run of solo recordings which began with Diary in 1973. At First Light is the latest addition to the solo gui…
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One of the few positives of the horrid COVID pandemic that shook the music world to its core has been the release of musci composed during those uncertain days. Alton and soprano saxophonist Christine Jensen's lastest album, Day Moon (Justin Time Records) stands as a shining example of how a great musician turns struggle into art. Recorded with her…
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For the first time ever, the complete Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, the timeless 10th animated Peanuts special, from writer and creator Charles Schulz, director Bill Melendez and Phil Roman and producers Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Originally airing on November 20, 1973 on CBS-TV, the special has been broadcast or strea…
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Perennial DownBeat Critics Poll winner trombonist Michael Dease has embraced his role as a torchbearer for his mentors and the great jazz ancestors over his 15 deeply-swinging, state-of-the-art mainstream recordings. For The Other Shoe (Origin Records), Dease teams with the formidable composer Gregg Hill, expanding his rhythmic & harmonic palette w…
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Keyboardist Jon Cowherd has been on my list of interview subjects for a long time, and after an unconscionable delay, Podcast 956 features him and his latest release, a trio album on the Le Coq Records imprint called "Pride and Joy." And what a trio it is - Cowherd joined by long-time friend and musical running partner Brian Blade on drums, and the…
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As a fan of the Great American Songbook (and really, who isn't?) I'm always looking for new and different approaches to these storied songs. Enter the Nigerian born singer Douyé, whose latest release The Golden Sèkèrè, is a wonderful meld of polyrhythms, swing and soul. Having grwon up listening to American torch singers as well as Afrobeat, it was…
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Pianists Joe Alterman and Les McCann make something of an odd couple. The pair are separated in age by more than half a century; McCann is confined to a medical rehab facility in Los Angeles, while Alterman left New York City to return to his native Atlanta, Georgia six years ago. But since their paths first crossed back in 2012, according to Alter…
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Listeners to Straight No Chaser know I have great fondness for the music of the piano trio, an art I consider one of the highest forms of jazz in terms of improvisation and collaboration. The music these groups make grows richer over time, so those groups that stay together can often take their sound to another level as they mature. Pianist Omer Kl…
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"I'm freer than I've ever been in my personal life, and I'm freer than I've ever been in my music. I'm accepting who I am. I love who I am. And as I continue to evolve – my artistry, my sexuality, and my overall humanity – my music will continue to become more and more personal” - Eric Reed Pianist Eric Reed has been a key component in memorable ba…
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Wayne Escoffery was riding high the morning I spoke with him. And why not? Just that weekend he had become the first person of color to conduct a performance of Charles Mingus' epic "Epitaph.," a piece he had played before under the direction of Gunther Schuller. His latest album, Like Minds, ws just out on Smoke Sessions Records, and featured top …
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A new face on the New York jazz scene, 25-year-old guitarist-composer Tomer Cohen made his debut as a leader earlier this year with the release of Not the Same River, an album that shows how painting with sound and silence can create often striking musical moods. Accompanied by the highly interactive rhythm tandem of drummer Obed Calvaire (a ubiqui…
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If you think Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s remarkable, 1960 interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet, The Nutcracker, is the final jazz word on the popular orchestral work, think again. Performed by drummer/leader Joe McCarthy’s New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band, The Pan American Nutcracker Suite is a distinctly different t…
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If it’s June, then jazz festival season must be underway. As always, the early highlight for me is Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, held in lovely Saratoga Springs’ Performing Arts Center June 24-25. Impressario Danny Melnick has a strong lineup for the festival this year, with acts performing on two stages, along with juried crafts, food and dr…
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It’s been a while, but I’m pleased to say that Straight No Chaser is back in business! There is a lot of great content coming up, so please spread the word. We’ll kick things off with my conversation with singer/songwriter/arranger Ann Hampton Callaway. Ann has a new album out on Palmetto Records, and it’s her tribute to one of her earliest music h…
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Looking for some new Christmas jazz tunes to brighten your hoilday spirit? Our annual consumer guide gives you a chance to hear a track or two from recent releases of holiday music. This year features "new" releases from Norah Jones and Vince Guaraldi (deluxe versions of previous albums) and a comprehensive collection from Louis Armstrong. There ar…
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We heard from promising young jazz singer Samara Joy in Podcast 943 last week, and today it’s Tawanda’s turn. When she tied for first place with Gabrielle Cavassa in the 9th Annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, the feat was all the more impressive given that Tawanda had performed her first full show just a year before. Raised …
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On Straight No Chaser this week, we feature two promising young female vocalists and their most recent releases. Both Samara Joy McLendon and Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim have professionally dropped their last names. Both were winners of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition, in 2019 and 2021, respectively ( Tawanda’s competition was origi…
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Back in the early 70’s, drummer Mike Clark and bassist Paul Jackson were best friends, living in East Oakland, playing flatbed gigs at Black Panther rallies and generally raising hell. Cooking was not their forte, so the barbecue joint next door became a hangout. Mrs. Jones (of Everett and Jones) asked them to write a song to promote the spot, and …
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Bobby Watson continues to carry the Hard Bop torch well into the 21st century. And he sounds as vibrant as ever on his latest release, Back Home in Kansas City (Smoke Sessions Records), which was released last month. He’s joined by some familiar faces – his longtime rhythm section of bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Jones along with two star…
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Marshall Gilkes keeps one foot firmly in the world of jazz, and another in the classical world. On any given night in New York, you might find the trombonist playing with the New York Philharmonic, filling in a Big Band brass section, or soloing with a salsa band. He is in demand as part of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the WDR Big Band, as wel…
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I enjoyed having author Sammy Stein on the podcast so much (check out Podcast 810), when I learned she had a new book out, I had to have her back. The Wonder of Jazz: Music That Changed the World is slim in size but not in scope, as she takes both the jazz newbie and the aficinado on a tour of jazz past, present and future. Backed with a long liste…
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A pivotal member of New York's Jazz scene for 40 years, pianist Bruce Barth's inspired vision and generous accompaniment has always led to rich musical collaborations, none more so than with his working trio of many years with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Montez Coleman. Their collective voice found its perfect setting, which makes the releas…
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I must confess that any album that features Brazilian-born singer Luciana Souza is going to be on my radar immediately. A brilliant interpreter of both American and Brazilian pop and jazz classics, she collaborated brilliantly with Yellowjackets in 2018, and Vince Mendoza and the WDR Big Band Köln in 2020. Her latest collaboration is another smashi…
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“Musically, I have the very clear feeling that my stretching out and being creative has a much better chance of happening organically, avoiding alienation and stiffness, when done in energetic connection with my roots – with the sensuality and groundedness of the hymns and the spirituals and the lullabies.” – Tord Gustavsen Piano players who record…
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Following the success of his digital showcase series of solo guitar tributes to giants like Monk, Powell, and Ellington, Pasquale Grasso has cast his musical net a bit wider. His latst album, a trio recording from the Sony Music Masterworks release called Be-Bop!, is an often dazzling tribute to be-bop pioneers like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Park…
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Tomasz Stańko – one of Europe’s most original and beloved jazz musicians – was born on July 11, 1942, in Rzeszów, Poland, and he passed away in Warsaw on July 29, 2018. In many ways, his life traced the course of modern jazz in Europe, beginning with his tenure – when barely into his twenties – in the band of the great Polish composer-pianist Krzys…
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After several weeks of bad news in the jazz world, driven by the untimely deaths of Jaimie Branch and Joey DeFrancesco, a little sunshine has appeared. After two years were spent reorienting to the pandemic with modified operations including livestreams, sidewalk concerts, and outdoor dining, Smoke Jazz Club made a long-awaited return as a world-re…
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After an impressive foray on her debut album, Azalea, rising star vibraphonist Sasha Berliner has followed up with a vigorous, unabashedly avant-garde sophomore recording, Onyx on JMI Recording. Her band is packed with familiar names who happen to be fellow students and friends of Sasha’s, including Marcus Gilmore on drums, Burniss Travis II on upr…
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After the deaths earlier this week of legendary producer-record label impresario Creed Taylor and brilliant young trumpeter jaimie branch, the jazz world had another shock on Friday, when the news spread that legendary organist Joe DeFrancesco had died suddenly at the age of 51. No cause of death was immediately released. I had the pleasure to see …
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Brian Lynch is well known for his work in Latin, Afro-Carribean and other global sounds, as well as for a Hard Bop trumpet sound that never gets tired. His latest release, Songbook Vol. 2: Dance The Way U Want To finds him bringing new life to older Lynch compositions, backed by his crack band Spheres of Influence. Spheres of Influence represents s…
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A conversation with keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer crossed another name off my list of top-notch artists I have not had the pleasure to meet. His career began with roles in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and bands led by Ray Brown and Art Farmer, all before his 30th birthday. Since then, he has grown as a writer, performer, arranger and band leader, to…
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Over the years, the drummer-less trio of Steve Cardenas (guitar), Ben Allison (bass) and Ted Nash (reeds) has recorded wonderful interpretive albums to celebrate their favorite composers. First came Quiet Revolution (2016), drawing from the compositions of Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre and then Somewhere Else: West Side Story Songs reinterpreting the …
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