Tag Archives: Mike LeDonne

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!

STRAYHORN AT 100: A CONCERT BY THE BILLY STRAYHORN ORCHESTRA (November 20, 2015)

Strayhorn

I hope that by now, in 2015, people know Billy Strayhorn as more than the composer of LUSH LIFE and of TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, more than half of a team with Duke Ellington out front.  This year is Strayhorn’s centenary (his birthday is November 29) and he is receiving some well-deserved attention, although perhaps there will never be enough compensation for the limited attention he received while on this planet.

The Billy Strayhorn Orchestra will be performing a concert of Strayhorn’s music — with, as always, some surprises — on November 20, 2015, at Baruch College Performing Arts Center in New York City.  The very creative and energetic saxophonist Michael Hashim leads the orchestra, which includes Kenny Washington, Mike LeDonne, Art Baron, Bill Easley, Lauren Sevian, Shawn Edmonds, Ed Pazant, David Gibson, Kelly Friesen, Joe Fiedler, Tad Shull, Marty Bound, Jordan Sandke, and Charlie Caranicas.

Here are extended samples from concerts given in 2013 and 2014 by the Orchestra:

PENTONSILIC:

STRAYHORN IN THE FOREGROUND:

The events page for the November 20 concert is here.  Beautiful and rare music awaits those who can attend.

May your happiness increase!

A FREE CONCERT FOR BILLY STRAYHORN (November 21, 2013)

Good news from the energetic and devoted Michael Hashim:

On Thursday, November 21st, The Billy Strayhorn Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Hashim, will present a free concert at the Miller Theater, 2960 Broadway at 116th Street, at 7:30 PM.

Simply RSVP to: ym189@columbia.edu and give your name and the number of tickets you need.

BILLY STRAYHORN

The fifteen piece orchestra will play some rare material by Mr. Strayhorn, including the New York premiere of a major work — and fully restored versions of classics like “Raincheck” and “Chelsea Bridge” as well as some surprises.

This band is so truly All-Star that I must list the full line-up below. If that isn’t enough, we will also have a presentation by the renowned author David Hajdu, Strayhorn’s biographer.

And remember: we DO NOT want your money. We really, sincerely, want YOU!! All of you!! Thanks and see you there.

THE BAND: Rhythm section – Kenny Washington, drums; Mike LeDonne, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass;

Saxophones- Michael Hashim, Ed Pazant, Scott Robinson, Tad Shull, Lauren Sevian;

Trumpets- Shawn Edmonds, Freddie Hendrix, Jordan Sandke, Marty Bound;

Trombones- Art Baron, Clarence Banks, David Gibson.

I can’t attend this, but I urge you to do so — it’s one of those heartfelt delights that New York offers to those who are able to savor them.  I don’t have any video of this Orchestra, but here are Michael Hashim and pianist Spike Wilner performing two Strayhorn compositions: one obscure, the second famous.

LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID:

LOTUS BLOSSOM:

May your happiness increase!

“OUR DELIGHT”: DAMERONIA CELEBRATES PHILLY JOE JONES’ 90th BIRTHDAY (July 16, 2013)

The composer / arranger / pianist Tadd Dameron wrote lovely, twisting melodies and arrangements, and his small groups have their own subtleties and depths.  He has been gone for some decades, sadly, but a very gratifying six-horn tribute group, DAMERONIA, will be creating a special reunion evening at New York’s Jazz Standard to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of drummer Philly Joe Jones.  Trumpeter Don Sickler will be leading an all-star band in a two-set event on July 16th.  Sets will be at 7:30 and 9:30.  Tickets are $20.

In the early 1980s legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones came up with the idea of forming a band, which he called “Dameronia,” to pay tribute to his good friend, composer/arranger Tadd Dameron. The distinctive sounds of Dameron’s melodies, harmonies and arrangements can be heard on recordings of Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie (among countless others).  Jones wanted to contine the legacy of Dameron’s works, which included jazz standards like “If You Could See Me Now,” “Good Bait” and “Our Delight.” Philly Joe also wanted to promote other compositions and arrangements Tadd conceived for the bands Jones played in.

Jones got Don Sickler working on putting together a book of arrangements modeled after Tadd’s 1953 nonet that Philly Joe had played in, alongside Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson and Cecil Payne, and “Dameronia” took shape. Dedicated to creating a historically accurate representation of Dameron’s music, the band recorded two albums (1982, 1983), including the well received “To Tadd With Love,” and played in numerous clubs, concert halls and festivals. “Dameronia” continued to perform even after Jones’ death in 1985, with the Kenny Washington on drums: in 1989 the band performed a special Paris Concert, documented on CD.

When trumpeter/music director Don Sickler asked drummer Kenny Washington how he wanted to celebrate Philly Joe’s 90th birthday, without any hesitation Kenny said “Dameronia!” Kenny then immediately told Don who he thought should be in the new group, and most of them will be playing that evening:

Jerry Dodgion – alto saxophone, flute (recorded with Tadd Dameron and Philly Joe on Tadd’s “Magic Touch” album); Grant Stewart – tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan – baritone saxophone; Don Sickler – trumpet; Jeremy Pelt – trumpet; Robin Eubanks – trombone; Mike LeDonne – piano; Peter Washington – bass; Kenny Washington – drums.  Tickets and more information here.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING EDDIE LOCKE (Nov. 22, 2009)

Eddie Locke 6 08

Photo by John Herr

Please Join the Family and Friends of Eddie Locke 

in a Celebration of his Life 

Sunday, November 22, 2009   7:30pm   Saint Peter’s Church

619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street), New York City

(212) 935-2200 

 

Musicians Scheduled to Perform:

Barry Harris, Musical Director

John Bunch, Lodi Carr, Bill Charlap, Ray Drummond, Bill Easley,

Jon Gordon, David Glasser, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, Louis Hayes,

Cathy Healy, Mike LeDonne, Adam Nussbaum, Rossano Sportiello,

Frank Tate, Warren Vache, Murray Wall, Frank Wess, Jackie Williams,

Leroy Williams, Richard Wyands

and I’m sure there will be others,  But don’t be late — Saint Peter’s isn’t big enough to hold all the people who admired Eddie, who rocked to his beat on and off the bandstand.