Tag Archives: Jane Monheit

PEARLS OF SOUND: MICHAEL KANAN at CARNEGIE HALL (March 30, 2016)

MICHAEL KANAN concert

When I first heard the pianist Michael Kanan play, I was astonished by his quiet lyricism, his gentle wit, his ability to construct something orchestral and memorable out of the simplest materials.  Like his heroes Jimmy Rowles and Hank Jones, he is a poetic player.  That doesn’t mean, in Michael’s case, that prettiness outweighs substance.  His playing has a stealthy power, an impressive integrity. But it does mean that he is one of the questers in search of beauty, believing that beauty can transform the world, making its sharp edges smooth, its harsh contours welcoming.

Michael and very eminent friends will be appearing at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, March 30 (8-10 PM).  The friends are singer Jane Monheit, guitarist Greg Ruggiero, string bassist Neal Miner.  For those who like to have the route mapped out before they get in the car,  the format of the concert will be solo piano for several songs, then a duo set with Jane, intermission, a trio set with Neal and Greg, and at the end Jane will join the trio.

And the concert is another in a noble tradition, as Michael explained to me, “My teacher of 16 years, Sophia Rosoff, began the Abby Whiteside Foundation as a means of keeping alive the work of her teacher Abby Whiteside. Every year the foundation presents four concerts of pianists who have worked with Ms. Rosoff. This year’s series features two classical pianists and two jazz pianists (myself and Jacob Sacks). All four of us have studied extensively with Sophia and have taken her work in completely different directions. Past performers in the Whiteside Piano Series include Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson, and Pete Malinverni.”

Here’s some captivating musical evidence: Michael, Greg, and Neal, performing Michael’s THE PEARL (recorded at Mezzrow on March 23, 2015):

and Ellington’s THE MOOCHE:

Again, the necessary details.  Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street at 7th Avenue.  Wednesday, March 30, 8-10 PM.  Tickets: $35 ($15 for  students / seniors) — on sale now at Carnegie Hall box office, (212) 247-7800.  More information at www.abbywhiteside.org and www.carnegiehall.org.

I will be there, but obviously without a camera: so I’d encourage those who love subtle music to make a pilgrimage to Weill Recital Hall for that evening.

May your happiness increase!

ABIGAIL RICCARDS: HER HEART IS IN HER SONG

Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago.  I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value.  I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.

Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.

I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.

abigailriccard_everylittlestar_cmb

Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight.  Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums.  Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).

But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways.  You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s.  Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.

The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush.  Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .

My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time.  I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet.  And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.

On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.

Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit.  But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here.  All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.  

May your happiness increase!

BICOASTAL BLISS: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH — TWICE! (July 28 and 29, 2012)

Bicoastal musical pleasure is coming to two locations in Northern California this summer.  New Yorkers Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Nicki Parrott (string bass, vocals) will happily play with Stephanie Trick (piano) and Hal Smith (drums) in two concerts on consecutive days.  And for those of us who no longer stay up into the early morning hours easily, both concert performances begin before 6 PM.

First, on Saturday, July 28, there’s “An Evening of Swing,” a concert beginning at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael — that’s in Angelico Hall, and the street address is 50 Acacia Avenue.  Tickets are $30 apiece, and can be purchased here.  Or you can call 1-800-838-3006, extension 1.  Although July 28 seems a long way away, don’t wait — Angelico Hall is not huge and the event is expected to sell out.  All proceeds from this concert will go to the Dominican College’s piano fund . . . they’ve bought a nine-foot Bosendoerfer, which is always a great event.  I can hear it now!  (Look for us and say hello!)

The Sunday, July 29, “An Afternoon of Swing” sits in the middle of Filoli’s six-concert series.  The bad news is that this concert has been sold out for weeks.  The good news is that tickets are available for others in the series.  The Beloved and I will be there for Rossano and Co. and hope to return for Jane Monheit — featuring our friends Michael Kanan and Neal Miner.  Here’s the schedule: June 24 – Pat Martino Trio (tickets still available) / July 8 – Arturo Sandoval  (sold out)  July 29 – “An Afternoon of Swing,” Rossano Sportiello with Nicki Parrott, Hal Smith, and Stephanie Trick / August 12 – Jane Monheit / August 26 – Cyrus Chestnut Quartet / September 23 – Catherine Russell.  To purchase tickets for any other Jazz at Filoli concerts, click here.  And for more information or to purchase tickets by phone, call Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 4:00pm at 650–364–8300, ext. 508.  Filoli is famous worldwide as a magnificent house with an extensive formal garden: click history     to see astonishing photos.

If you were among the prudent people who bought tickets in advance for the July 29 event at Filoli, the Beloved and I will be there . . . she exploring the gardens in advance of the concert, me staking out seats in front of the music.

But tickets are still available for the July 28 concert at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael. Don’t miss your chance to hear four delightful improvisers who play well with others show how it’s done . . . at the highest level.

May your happiness increase.

SWEET TOOTH / HAPPY HOUR: NEAL MINER’S MUSICAL WORLDS

Neal Miner doesn’t look anything like Oscar Pettiford, but the connections between the two men, jazz bassists and composers, are profound.  Like Pettiford, Neal is instantly recognizable — his large yet focused woody sound, his heartbeat pulse, his way of playing both in and around the beat, his innate musicality in the simplest melodic statement.  As an ensemble player, he is the person who always instinctively knows the right thing to say — as well as knowing when to keep still.  And he shares with Pettiford an instinctive ability to make friends with Time: Neal’s music seems comfortable, spacious, each composition or performance its own large room where a listener take a deep easy breath. 

It’s no surprise that Neal is the first-choice bassist for artists as diverse as Jane Monheit, Warren Vache, Jr., Annie Ross, Chris Byars, Ehud Asherie, and two dozen others.

He also thinks beyond playing four supportive beats to the bar and creating arching solos.  Neal isn’t waiting impatiently for his solo; he doesn’t ache for the limelight.  But he has large visions.  Many improvising artists imagine themselves composers as well, but their work seems self-conscious or derivative.  Neal’s originals have the startling flavor of great melodic writing: they surprise us but seem just right.  He also assembles neat small bands of people who like one another — a sweet respect that comes out in the music.

Here’s a sample of Neal’s musical and cinematic worlds on the same path.  Oh, yes, he’s an inspiring videographer.  That, too!  Here’s SWEET TOOTH, from his most recent CD, with Peter Bernstein, guitar; Chris Byars, sax; Joe Strasser, drums:

and I REMEMBER YOU, with Michael Kanan, piano; Rick Montalbano, drums:

I knew and admired Neal from his work with Michael Kanan and his appearances at The Ear Inn and Smalls, but I first got the opportunity to hear him in different ways through his recordings — most notably the trio of Neal, Michael, and Joe Strasser on HAPPY HOUR, which quickly became one of my favorite discs — with standards and originals treated respectfully but with animation and wit.  Now, Neal has issued SWEET TOOTH (he has a knack for allying his music to titles that sound appealing!) on his own Gut String Records — a session of six originals that stick in the mind when the disc is through. 

Neal’s also released a slice-of-life DVD documentary — beautifully photographed and revealing — about the making of SWEET TOOTH.  Here’s a sample:

I know that some of my readers can’t get to The Ear Inn or Smalls to hear Neal live (although they might very well get to enjoy his work as a member of Jane Monheit’s group) . . . but all is not lost.  Neal’s website is a delight: with information about his recordings and videos — well worth a visit.  He is, as they used to say back in the last century, someone to watch.  And listen to.  And be inspired by.

http://nealminer.com/recordings/

SUBLIME ASTRONOMIES

Perhaps because they often feel that they are no longer invited to the party, jazz fans (and some musicians) are experts at lamentation. 

“Oh, jazz as we know it is dying.”

“Our kind of music is impossible to find.”

“No one knows how to swing these days.”

The next time you hear one of these laments, I propose a video-curative.  Place the despondent speaker in front of the monitor and start this video.  Here are bassist and videographer Neal Miner and pianist Michael Kanan exploring Artie Shaw’s MOON RAY:

It’s not repertory music.  It’s taking place, subtly and vividly, in this century.  It’s a masterpiece of solo improvisation and intuitive teamwork, of lightness and emotional depths.  Playfulness and gravitas, honoring Rowles and red Mitchell, Basie and Walter Page, Ellington and Blanton. 

Feel better? I certainly did and do.

If you live in New York City, there are opportunities to hear Neal and Michael together (I’ve posted some performances on the blog) — and they travel far and wide in support of Jane Monheit.  Another way is through Neal’s 2009 CD release on his own label, Gutstring Records, HAPPY HOUR, which adds drummer Joe Strasser to form an engaging trio:

You can find out more about it and Neal’s other projects at http://www.nealminer.com., and the CD is available in all the old familiar places as well.

“SUPPORTING THE MUSIC” IS MORE THAN COLLECTING RECORDS.  CLICK HERE TO CELEBRATE THE LIVING:

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PAY ATTENTION: TED BROWN RETURNS! (Jan. 12, 2011)

Mark your calendars: saxophonist Ted Brown will be playing his first official New York gig in thirty years this coming January 12th at the Kitano Hotel — with a congenial rhythm section of Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, bass, and Taro Okamoto, drums.  

In the late 1940s, Ted Brown, Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz were among the first students of jazz innovator Lennie Tristano.  And Brown continues to evoke the spirit of Lester Young — as he did when I saw him play alongside Joel Press and Michael Kanan at the end of June 2010.  Here are Ted, Joel, Michael, Neal Kanan, and Joe Hunt exploring ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE at Sofia’s Ristorante (Ted is wearing the red shirt, if you don’t know him by sight or sound):

Brown has performed and recorded with Tristano, Marsh, Konitz, Art Pepper, Kenny Clarke, Art Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, Jimmy Raney, and many others.  His best-known recordings are probably JAZZ OF TWO CITIES with Marsh and FIGURE AND SPIRIT with Konitz.  (Both also feature Brown’s own compositions.)

Brown’s more recent years have often been lean: he has worked as a computer programmer.  But even when not performing regularly, he continued to practice at home and play private jam sessions.  His sound has retained its purity, warmth, and intimacy.  Perhaps he’s even grown as artist; certainly he is playing just as strong as on his classic recordings.

Supporting Brown at the Kitano are players connected to both the Tristano universe and serious swing:

Michael Kanan (piano) studied with Tristano-disciples Harvey Diamond and Sal Mosca.  He was a member of the International Hashva Orchestra (Mark Turner, Nat Su, Jorge Rossy) which explored original Tristano/Marsh/Konitz repertoire.  Kanan appears on Kurt Rosenwinkel’s INTUIT and has had long term associations with Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit.

Murray Wall (bass) has performed Clark Terry, Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Ken Peplowski, Jon Hendricks, Marty Grosz, Annie Ross, Billy Eckstine, the EarRegulars, Michael Bank, and Mel Torme.  And upon arriving in New York from Australia in the 1970ss, he also  studied with Tristano.

Taro Okamoto (drums) has performed with Sal Mosca, Warne Marsh, Hank Jones and Sadik Hakim.  He was also an assistant to Elvin Jones. Most importantly for this gig, Wall and Okamoto have been playing together for 30 years!

The Kitano Hotel: 66 Park Avenue at 38th Street, NYC.  Sets at 8:00 and 10:00.  No cover charge, $15 minimum good for food or drink.  Reservations recommended: 212-885-7119.  http://www.kitano.com.

P.S.  I saw Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen at the Kitano this summer.  There’s a first-rate piano and they make a fine mojito!  Look for me — in between sets, of course: I’ll be the person intently looking through a viewfinder.