Tag Archives: Dennis Mackrel

FOR NANCY HARROW, THE SONGS ARE ALL

Looking back on my 2017, one of the memorable pleasures is the privilege of meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow (in the company of fellow-singers Daryl Sherman and Hilary Gardner, too).  You could call Nancy “a singer,” and then add “composer,” but she is more, an inspiring artist of great scope.  I imagine her as someone who realized, early on, what her paths were, what her purposes might be, and set off to fulfill them — as she continues to do, with warmth, perception, humor, lightness, and strength.

I’ve written about Nancy here, but I couldn’t let this year conclude without shining a light on her latest work, her 2016 CD, THE SONG IS ALL.  It’s not just that she’s recorded infrequently in this century — her preceding CD, recorded with Don Friedman in Japan, was in 2009, and even Tom Lord hasn’t noted it.  But THE SONG IS ALL shows off Nancy in all her facets and reflections.

Nat Hentoff wrote this about Nancy’s 1981 sessions with John Lewis (THE JOHN LEWIS ALBUM FOR NANCY HARROW, Finesse Records): Nancy’s style is Nancy.  There are no masks, no trickery–of sound or personality.  What impressed Buck [Clayton] and a good many others . . . was the absence of artificiality, the directness of her sound and emotion.  The presence, in sum, of someone real. . . . Nancy moves inside the lyrics, and as she tells each story there is that touch of autobiography that all lasting singers suggest.  Again, it’s real.  And that, I think, is why people who have heard her keep on wanting more.  Hearing that kind of probing of memory and imagination is infectious.  You start probing your own.

In the opening track of  THE SONG IS ALL, Nancy sings the lines, “When I was small, no friend called, I played all the parts by myself,” which beautifully characterizes what she’s been doing for years — creating literary / musical imaginings based on Willa Cather, Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and several “children’s books” with deep meanings for adults as well.  Nancy has written music and lyrics — songs that stand on their own as well as interludes in the plot — then performed them, an actress without artifice.  THE SONG IS ALL is thus the multi-colored, emotionally intense Nancy Harrow Repertory Company.

Here is IF I WANT TO, drawing on Nancy’s improvisations on Cather’s A LOST LADY, combining pride, tenderness, vulnerability, and self-knowledge:

Ordinarily, if you offered me a CD solely of one artist’s originals, I might look at it with skepticism, for not every musician is a successful composer, but I embrace THE SONG IS ALL because of its depth and variety of feeling — the toughtness of SELF-ESTEEM, the wry wit of PUTTING ON AIRS, the mournful recollections of MY LOST CITY, the quiet intensity of I AM TOO SHY, and more.  Many CDs pall after a half hour because of sameness, but this one moves from scene to scene with grace and power.

Although I take great pleasure in hearing Nancy with spare accompaniment, here she has assembled a thoroughly entrancing stock company of (mostly young) musicians: Chris Ziemba, George Delancey, Robert Edwards, Owen Broder, Alphonso Horne, Carrie Dowell, Monica Davis, Sarah Whitney, Eleanor Norton, Alex Claffy, Britton Smith, Carl Clemons Hopkins, David Linard, Nathan Bell, and veterans Dennis Mackrel and Rufus Reid.  (If I’ve made anyone improperly “young” out of my ignorance, I trust I can be forgiven.)

Another piece of music that has become part of my daily pleasure — I cannot share it with you here (it never became a CD in this country)– is Nancy’s 1981 performance of MY SHIP and her version of AS LONG AS IT’S ABOUT LOVE from the record with John Lewis, and I have had the strongest urge to get out of my chair and put my ear close to the speaker, to best hear her songful message.  I think of Whitman, “This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”

Her voice, so endearingly personal — vibrato-ed or vibrato-less, tender or fierce — conveys emotions and ideas that it seems only she can convey, even if the song is familiar, with many singers trying to make it their own.  And when she sings her own words and melodies, she quietly fills the room.

Here is an extraordinarily deep article on Nancy (with many of her own words and insights) by Wayne Zade, and here is Nancy’s website, a good place to read, listen, dream, and purchase CDs.

I close with the words by Chekhov — chosen by Nancy to be what someone sees having opened the cardboard sleeve of THE SONG IS ALL:

“Why are your songs so short?  Is it because you are short of breath?” the songbird was asked.  The bird replied: “I have a great many songs and I should like to sing them all.”

“When it’s true, I can move you,” Nancy sings, and she does:

Nancy Harrow and her songs are rare blessings.

May your happiness increase!

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SPORTIELLO HONORS SHEARING. WE SMILE.

George Shearing autograph

First, some free verse:

We smile when he plays the piano,

The Maestro who comes from Milano,

He thinks it endearing 

To honor George Shearing,

Go hear him as soon as you can.  Oh!

— Author unknown, 2013

Rossano Sportiello, one of the most brilliant pianists (and one of the most genial of men) has put together a tribute to one of his idols, the late George Shearing.  “The Smiling Piano” will take place at the Cafe Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, New York City — for a two-week run, June 11-15 and 18-24, 2013.  The trio features Frank Tate (bass, 11th-15th), Joel Forbes (bass, 18th-22nd) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), and the music begins at 8:45pm. For reservations: Tel. 212-744-1600.

If you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear the young Maestro play, let me remedy this immediately.  Here he is, recorded in 2012 at a concert at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, playing O SOLE MIO / A TIME FOR LOVE / CHOPIN IN JAZZ:

That would convince anyone.

Here’s what Rossano has to say about Maestro Shearing:

A Smiling Piano is what I think of as soon as I listen to any George Shearing recordings, when I hear the most beautiful piano playing that makes everybody smile.  His music is in tune with the way I felt since I became a professional performer at only 16. I felt I wanted to play music that could always be enjoyable and make people feel good.

When the possibility of performing at the Café Carlyle became real, I was asked to find a theme for the show, which would run for two weeks. Without any hesitation I came up with this idea.  A tribute to George Shearing means a tribute to jazz piano in general. Early in his career his style was first inspired by Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. But Shearing soon became one the masters of that revolutionary music, be-bop. When he moved to New York City in 1946, Hank Jones and Errol Garner became his mentors and good friends and he absorbed their styles as well. Later he formed the George Shearing Quintet and the “Shearing Sound” became one of the inspirational elements for generations of musicians, and it still is.

A Shearing tribute is also naturally a tribute to “The Great American Song Book,” because he was one of its greatest interpreters and one of the most remarkable improvisers of all time — as well as a very prolific composer. Once he chose a song, he could improvise endless variations in any style: he could play a popular song and make it sound like Bach or Rachmaninoff or many others. He might start playing the second movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto and use it as an introduction to a ballad or the reverse! In the sixties he used to tour the USA playing classical concertos with local symphony orchestras in the first set of the show and bringing on his jazz quintet for the second half.

So stride piano, swing, be-bop, the Great American Song Book and classical music are the leading ingredients that will shape my tribute to George Shearing, pianist, composer, interpreter, and improviser.

I’ll be appearing with Dennis Mackrel on drums, Frank Tate on bass (the first week), and Joel Forbes on bass (the second week).  In 1983, Count Basie personally selected Dennis Mackrel to join his band, known for having the finest rhythm section in jazz. Dennis has been a sideman of choice for scores of jazz greats. George Shearing himself said, “If I ever have a record date coming up that calls for a drummer and Dennis is not available, I’ll postpone the session. He’s that good.” Dennis is currently one of the greatest jazz drummers and arrangers as well as the Musical Director of The Count Basie Orchestra.  Since the late 60’s, Frank Tate has been the sought-after accompanist for legendary musicians. Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Hank Jones, Dave McKenna, Wild Bill Davison, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Milt Jackson, Zoot Sims, and dozens of other jazz greats all have turned to Frank for his brilliant bass lines. Frank worked at the Cafè Carlyle every night with Bobby Short for the last 9 years of Bobby’s career until 2004.  Joel Forbes, currently a member of the Harry Allen Quartet and the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, is one of New York best bass players, well known for is incredibly rich acoustic sound.

JAZZ LIVES suggests, quietly but fervently, “Go!”

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

SCOTT ROBINSON / DOC SAVAGE / “THE SECRET IN THE SKY” / VISIONARY MUSIC

In a world that sometimes seems populated by amiable sleepwalkers, Scott Robinson is vividly alive, his imagination a million-color Crayola box.  His music is fully illuminated; it pulsates with energies.

I’ve delighted in his playing — in person and on record — for more than a decade now.  He has a warm sensibility but is not at all afraid to go out to the edge and make friends with the New, the Sounds Never Heard Before.  What he writes and plays is assertive, surprising — but not angry, not pummeling the listener.

His new project is just extraordinary, and even an Old School Fellow like me finds it compelling.

BRONZE NEMESIS is a suite of original compositions devoted to and depicting the immense presence of Doc Savage, hero of pulp novels of the Thirties.  (Ruby Braff was a devoted fan, too.)  In case all of this is making the more traditionally-minded readers a little nervous, I would point out the players: Randy Sandke, Ted Rosenthal, Pat O’Leary, Dennis Mackrel, and (on one track only) the much-missed Dennis Irwin.  The titles of the twelve compositions may suggest to some that Dorothy Gale and Toto are certainly no longer in Kansas — MAN OF BRONZE / THE SECRET IN THE SKY / HE COULD STOP THE WORLD / FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE / MAD EYES / THE METAL MASTER / THE GOLDEN MAN / LAND OF ALWAYS-NIGHT / THE LIVING FIRE / THE MAN WHO SHOOK THE EARTH / WEIRD VALLEY / THE MENTAL WIZARD.  The music, ah, the music — I hear echoes of beautifully energized weird film soundtrack scoring on the highest level, a touch of Ellington here, a dash of Gil Evans, a sprinkle of Mingus — but these references are paltry, because Scott’s musical world is his own, where wondrously surprising Latin melodies share space with the theremin and the wind machine . . . the overall effect songful as well as avant-garde, always spacious and searching.  I initially felt, “Wow, this is strange . . . isn’t it wonderful?”  The CD shows off compositions and inventions from the musicians and the composer that are unusual but not cold; the suite is filled with a warm energy that takes the listener places he didn’t expect to go . . . without scaring him to death.

Scott’s whimsical legal notice (printed in a tiny rectangle — much the same way we are told to keep these plastic bags away from children) reads:

CAUTION: Contains perilous and daring musical adventures.  Do not attempt.

I’m very glad Scott Robinson exists and has the courage to attempt these adventures . . . so that we can come along on the journey.

Here’s a recent email from Scott: if his words (and the video) don’t woo, entice, and entrance, then something’s wrong.

Hello, fans of adventurous music!

Today, Oct. 12, is the birthday of Lester Dent, creator of the 1930s pulp adventure hero Doc Savage.  Therefore this is the day that Doc-Tone Records officially unleashes BRONZE NEMESIS, the new CD of original music inspired by the amazing worlds of Doc Savage, upon the world.  Performed by the Scott Robinson Doctette, these 12 compositions evoke the mystery and drama of twelve of the original Doc Savage stories, such as The Secret in the Sky, The Man Who Shook the Earth, and Mad Eyes.  Heard in this music are such amazing sounds as a 1954 Moog theremin, slide sax, wind machine, and the mammoth contrabass saxophone.  The CD is packaged in a lavish fold-out wallet with extensive notes, startling photographs and original artwork by Dan Fillipone, all protected by a resealable polybag.  It is endorsed by original Doc Savage paperback cover artist James Bama, whose striking portrait of Doc graces the front cover.

To celebrate the release, and Lester Dent’s birthday, whoever orders the CD TODAY, OCT. 12, from our website, will also receive a small gift. Please visit: www.sciensonic.net/doc-tone

This coming weekend, Oct. 19 and 20, Scott Robinson will be appearing at the 2012 Doc Con near Phoenix, AZ, to speak about the project and even play a little music. Whoever buys the CD there will also receive a gift. http://www.pulpcomingattractions.com/DocCon2012-Newsletter8.pdf

Then, on Wed. Oct. 24, the Doctette will appear live at the Jazz Standard, one of the major jazz venues in New York City.  We are mounting a full-out performance, with all the amazing instruments on hand.  Not to be missed! Shows at 7:30 & 9:30 PM. The Jazz Standard, 116 E 27 St., NYC, www.jazzstandard.com

For a sneak peek at the music, see our new video of The Secret in the Sky at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlINGKAoce0

Some notable critical comments:

“This is definitely one of the best recordings of the year regardless of category… must listening.” -Mark S. Tucker, Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange

“An abstractly hard-swinging funhouse-ride… with roots firmly planted in outer and inner space.” -Mark Keresman, Jazz Inside

“Without exaggeration… one of the best jazz concerts I have ever attended.” -Loren Schoenberg, Jazz UK

“An out-of-the-box triumph of imagination and musicality… inspired.” -Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen

“Thoroughly unique music from one of jazz’ most questingly eclectic and wide-ranging talents.” -George Kanzler, New York City Jazz Record

“Loved your music… great jazz. I was most flattered to have a musician of Scott Robinson’s stature compose wonderful jazz for my Doc Savage covers.” -James Bama, original cover artist for Doc Savage paperback editions.

Doc Savage is copyright and TM Conde Nast.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.

Sadly, I won’t be able to be at the October 24 performance — which pains me — because I will be at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  So . . . mark it down, make plans, get yourself there.  I have been fascinated and moved by the CD and am sure that the effects of the music / presentation in person will be even more deliciously powerful.

And there’s a resealable polybag too!  All our needs satisfied.

May your happiness increase. 

BIG BAND JAZZ — FREE! — IN NEW YORK CITY

(To my readers in the tristate area: there’s no JVC Jazz Festival this year, and free jazz events of this caliber don’t happen often, if at all . . . so consider this one!)

BIG BAND JAZZ CELEBRATED

AT ACCLAIMED BMI JAZZ COMPOSER WORKSHOP’S

21st ANNUAL SHOWCASE CONCERT

Darcy J. Argue, Dan Morgenstern, and Dennis Mackrel to Judge Tenth Annual Charlie Parker

Jazz Composition Prize

NEW YORK, June 2, 2009 — The BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, a noted creative forum for musical exploration and development, will highlight the best new jazz compositions created during the last year at its 21st Annual Summer Showcase Concert.  The concert is free to the public, and will be held on Friday, June 26 at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church (120 West 69th Street) at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece modern repertory ensemble made up of leading New York musicians.  Seating is first-come, first-served; doors open at 7:00 p.m.   The evening will also feature a competition to choose the winner of the BMI Foundation’s tenth annual Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, which will be given to the writer of the best new work composed in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.  This year’s judges include noted jazz authority Dan Morgenstern; Secret Society bandleader and composer Darcy J. Argue; and noted jazz drummer and composer Dennis Mackrel.

The winning composer will receive a cash award and a $3,000 commission to compose a new piece for the following year’s concert.  Named in memory of the Workshop’s co-founder and longtime musical director, last year’s “Manny Albam Commission” winner, Jeff Fairbanks, will premiere his commissioned work.  The BMI Jazz Composers Workshop is led by internationally renowned composers Jim McNeely and offers a unique collaborative environment for professional jazz musicians with an emphasis on composition for the large jazz (big band) ensemble.  The Workshop – a well-known forum for creative excellence – provides an environment where composers are free to explore new avenues in the creative process, while at the same time honing their skills.  McNeely has performed with and written for Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, among others; is a six-time Grammy Award nominee; and The New York Times has called his writing “exhilarating.”

About BMI

BMI’s impressive roster of jazz artists includes such legends as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton and Charles Mingus, as well as today’s new jazz stars like Herbie Hancock, Norah Jones, Kevin Eubanks, Joshua Redman, Mark Whitfield and Bobby Watson. Broadcast Music, Inc.® (BMI) is an American performing right organization that represents more than 375,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in all genres of music and more than 6.5 million works.

About the BMI Foundation, Inc.

The BMI Foundation, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1985 to support the creation, performance, and study of music through awards, scholarships, commissions and grants. Tax-deductible donations to the Foundation come primarily from songwriters, composers and publishers, BMI employees and members of the public with a special interest in music. Because both the Foundation staff and the distinguished members of the Advisory Panel serve without compensation, over 95% of all donations and income are used for charitable grants.