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James on Jazz
By Robin James

(l-r) Delfeayo Marsalis, Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis performed at the NEA Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert held in New York Jan. 11. Their father Ellis (left photo) accepted a Jazz Master Award granted to the entire family.
-Photos by Charles Skye courtesy of the Associated Press

Hello, 2011. Welcome. So much to do, so much to see.

Good news: Bobby Commodore, drummer and Dakota sound expert, recently announced via email an early notice about a new show on cable channel TVOne that will feature Mint Condition as the house band (with son Brandon Commodore playing some drums and some keyboards…yes, keyboards). More details will follow as they become available (first show is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31).

Much love for Lady Tee

Although we’ve turned the page on 2010, let’s flip back for a moment. Teena Marie (Mary Christine Brockert) may not have been a jazz singer, but she sure did know how to improvise like one. As you may know by now, on Sunday, December 26, Teena Marie died in her sleep at her home in Pasadena, California.

When I was 13 years old, I saw Rick James and Teena Marie getting out of their stretch black limo. I remember Rick’s braids with colorful beads. And the petite Marie. They both appeared on my mother’s vinyl record album covers. You see, back in the day, on Saturday afternoons my mother and I would take my sister and go record shopping at The Electric Fetus. To me, the store still smells the way it did back in the ’70s and ’80s.

Some of my favorite Lady Tee songs are “Out On A Limb,” “Tune in Tomorrow,” “Dear Mr. Gaye” and, of course, “Square Biz” in which she rapped, “You know I love spirituals and rock/Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach/Shakespeare, Maya Angelou/And Nikki Giovanni just to name a few/Well, I’m wild and peaceful Lady Tee/I got to keep my irons in the fire, you see/I got the point, the scam, the low, the deal/What you feel, say what…”
Back in 1982, Marie got into a legal fight with her then-record label, Motown. Berry Gordy signed her to the label when she was 19. As a result of Marie’s case, it became illegal for a record label to lock artists into their contracts without releasing new material; the new law is known as “The Brockert Initiative.” Her most recent album was 2009’s Congo Square (Stax Records).

More honors for Marsalis family

More good news: America’s first family of jazz, patriarch Ellis Marsalis and his four sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason were presented the nation’s highest jazz honor Tuesday night, January 11, at the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony. It marked the first time the NEA had ever presented a group award since the launch of its Jazz Masters program in 1982. Other 2011 Jazz Masters honored at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater were saxophonist and educator David Liebman, flutist Hubert Laws, record producer and author Orrin Keepnews, and composer-arranger Johnny Mandel.

The Marsalis family played Jason’s composition “At the House, In Da Pocket.” Plus, Wynton played Mandel’s Oscar-winning song “The Shadow of Your Smile” with the composer conducting the JALC Orchestra. Ever heard Lou Rawls’ rendition? Saxophone great Benny Golson, a fellow Jazz Master, said that Mandel was a man who writes not only with his pen but also with his heart.

The awards ceremony, broadcast live by WBGO radio, NPR Music, and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, brought this year’s concert its biggest audience to date, according to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. Also, he announced a $250,000 grant to 15 arts organizations, which will present concerts featuring Jazz Masters (each also receives a one-time $25,000 fellowship). For more information on NEA Jazz Masters, visit neajazzmasters.org.

Latest book by Michael Eric Dyson

By the time this column runs, Martin Luther King’s birthday and national holiday will have passed, but still, let me direct your attention to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s book April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America.

Dyson has written several outstanding books, including Mercy, Mercy, Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of What’s Going On (the single and album) this year, I highly recommend it. The book offers many layers of depth and shines a bright light on the album’s many jazz influences, which challenge assumptions surrounding the true popularity of jazz music today. Believe it or not, the trombone, saxophone, trumpet and even scatting have been relevant in modern music since the 1950s.

Jazz standouts among Grammy nominees

The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards happen in Los Angeles at Staples Center on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, and will air live on CBS. Here are some nominees/Grammy contenders:

In the Best New Artist category, surprise: Esperanza Spalding. Justin Bieber is the favorite to win. But, hey it’s always an honor just to be nominated, right?

For Best Contemporary Jazz Album, The Stanley Clarke Band, The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up International); Never Can Say Goodbye, Joey DeFrancesco (HighNote Records); Now Is the Time, Jeff Lorber Fusion (Heads Up International); To the One, John McLaughlin (Abstract Logix); and Backatown, Trombone Shorty (Verve Forecast). I predict a win for DeFrancesco.

In the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Emarcy); Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, Freddy Cole (HighNote Records); When Lights Are Low, Denise Donatelli (Savant Records); Ages, Lorraine Feather (Jazzed Media); and Water, Gregory Porter (Motéma Music). I’ve heard music from both Cole and Donatelli. I dig Bridgewater, but it’s Cole for the win.

As for Best Improvised Jazz Solo, it’s “Solar,” Alan Broadbent, soloist, track from Live At Giannelli Square: Volume 1 (Chilly Bin Records); “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Herbie Hancock, soloist, track from The Imagine Project (Hancock Records); “Body and Soul,” Keith Jarrett, soloist, track from Jasmine (ECM); “Lonely Woman,” Hank Jones, soloist, track from Pleased to Meet You (Justin Time Records); and “Van Gogh,” Wynton Marsalis, soloist, track from Portrait in Seven Shades (Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) (Jazz at Lincoln Center). “Van Gogh” ought to win. That whole album is tremendous.

In the Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group, Positootly!, John Beasley (Resonance Records); The New Song And Dance, Clayton Brothers (ArtistShare); Historicity, Vijay Iyer Trio (ACT Music + Vision); Moody 4B, James Moody (IPO Recordings); and Providencia, Danilo Perez (Mack Avenue Records). Positootly! it is, although everyone listed comes to play.

For Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Infernal Machines, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam Records); Autumn: In Moving Pictures Jazz — Chamber Music Vol. 2, Billy Childs Ensemble featuring The Ying String Quartet (ArtistShare); Pathways, Dave Holland Octet (Dare2 Records); 54, Metropole Orkest, John Scofield & Vince Mendoza (Emarcy/Universal); and Mingus Big Band Live At Jazz Standard, Mingus Big Band (Jazz Workshop, Inc./Jazz Standard). Childs is a favorite here.

In the Best Latin Jazz Album category, Vocal or Instrumental, Tango Grill, Pablo Aslan (Zoho); Second Chance, Hector Martignon (Zoho); Psychedelic Blues, Poncho Sanchez (Concord Picante); Chucho’s Steps, Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Four Quarters Entertainment); and ¡Bien Bien!, Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet (Patois Records). I love me some Valdés.

He dominates Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart. Now Michael Bublé is a nominee for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (for a solo vocal performance, singles or tracks only): “Haven’t Met You Yet,” a track from Bublé’s Crazy Love (143/Reprise).

For Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, it’s Crazy Love, Michael Bublé (143/Reprise), in legendary company with The Greatest Love Songs of All Time, Barry Manilow (Arista Records); Let It Be Me: Mathis In Nashville, Johnny Mathis (Columbia Records); Fly Me to the Moon…The Great American Songbook: Volume V, Rod Stewart (J Records); and Love Is the Answer, Barbra Streisand (Columbia Records). Wow.

Here’s a winner for the Best Instrumental Arrangement category: “Monet,” Ted Nash, arranger (Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra), track from Portrait in Seven Shades (Jazz at Lincoln Center).

Among the picks for Best Album Notes, Side Steps (John Coltrane), Ashley Kahn, album notes writer (Prestige Records). Go Ashley!

Robin James welcomes reader responses to [email protected]

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