New Orleans “Jazz” Fest proves my point.

By putting Lady Gaga and Elton John as headliners.

You know, after Lady Gaga worked with Tony Bennett, I could see it working. The girl can sing any-damn-thing, and if you hear her and Tony do Anything Goes, you’re likely to agree.

But that’s a minority of her repertoire.

Elton John’s booking elicited a mighty, “Are you fucking kidding me?!“, and I will confess myself an Elton John fan. I also think he has no business headlining a jazz festival, and while Lady Gaga can definitely pull off jazz, I’d like to see her to at least another full-jazz album before I’d see her at an event.

But wait! Keith Urban? No Doubt? Chicago? WTF is this?!  Okay, I’d buy Chicago, but No Doubt at a jazz festival?

OH. HELL NO.

I’ve said it before with the Jazz Fest West cancellation. I said it recently in my call for promoters to book new artists. I have no idea how much plainer my language has to be.

BOOK JAZZ ARTISTS AT A JAZZ EVENT, OR STOP CALLING IT A JAZZ FESTIVAL.

It’s really not fucking rocket science.

It’s really not that difficult to book jazz artists who are young and who appeal to a younger audience. Apparently, the promoters of NOJF have no idea who or what Postmodern Jukebox is, because likely, if they knew, they would see them as a great solution to the problem of seasoning up their aging demographic. Because PMJ has been turning young people on to old-school jazz and soul since they emerged, and if Dave Koz, Ariana Savalas, and Michael Lington see it fitting to collaborate with them – a dual benefit, where the partnership gives them PMJ’s younger fan base and in turn grants PMJ additional pedigree – then you know what? It wouldn’t kill a promoter or two to put them on a damn stage. Really.

Trombone Shorty is on the lineup – great – but what slot is he going to get? He’s a New Orleans native, FFS, and if you’ve seen him live, then you know what I mean when I say that he needs a headliner/evening slot. Not only is he a hell of a showman, but he’s under 40. Meaning he appeals to that age group.

Jazz has been very badly mislabeled and maligned as “easy listening” music. Don’t lie, you and I both know it. We’ve seen what Broadcast Architecture has done to contemporary (aka smooth) jazz radio stations, and it took me a good year or so to tolerate a soprano sax again after Kenny G. My 27-year-old poet/journalist best friend asked me about it this week and was hugely surprised when I showed her, a la Steve Cole, Nick Colionne, and some choice Youtube clips, that it’s absolutely, completely, the opposite of what she’s been led to believe. I told her, “you and the whole country have been misled like that”. And you know something? Elton John being booked at the New Orleans Jazz Fest is a direct confirmation that the promoters, namely those in charge of the festival, really did buy into that maligned image of jazz as “easy listening”, and are tossing in Elton John for everyone whom they really think will buy tix for that festival: the 55+ crowd, baby boomers, retirees, etc.

And Lady Gaga is their attempt to “draw younger people into jazz”? Like Christina Aguilera last year? That’s what it looks like.

This is the same thing as diluting a jazz festival with R&B without sequestering the genres on separate stages, just a much bigger slap in the face. At least R&B and jazz musicians can blend and work around each other; I’ve been to many a jam sesh aboard Capital Jazz Supercruise to see it, and again, Cap sequesters their genres and makes it possible for both sets of fans to enjoy it. But this particular headline booking is little more than an insult to the thousands of jazz artists worldwide who would’ve ripped it apart on that stage. It marks jazz as “easy listening” (when it’s fucking not) with Elton John’s performance – and come on, which stations play EJ’s music anymore? – and it makes it blatantly clear that the promoters have no idea how to draw in a younger crowd apart from booking someone who’s been on every chart and headline but jazz in her own right.

They think that if the young people stay for Lady Gaga, they’d hear everything else and grow to like jazz that way. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Just like if someone is a fan of Boyz II Men and New Edition, putting them into a jazz festival lineup would encourage them to check out Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, or Boney James because they share an event.

THIS DOES NOT WORK.

Just like with the R&B dilution, this move only serves to infuriate long-standing jazz fans who were counting on seeing an all-jazz event. This will piss off the non-jazz fans of the non-jazz headliners, who don’t want to wade through a day of music they are very likely to not like in order to see their chosen artist, because they’re coming for that artist, not the genre their artist shares a stage with. And moreover, the jazz fans who feel disenfranchised by a diluted lineup will not come to the festival in the first place, nor would they come back. And the reviews of the fest from those longtime jazz fans will be scathing

This is exactly why I, and many other fellow ‘smoothies’ stopped going to Newport Beach Jazz Fest. If I want to see the current Newport Beach lineup artists, I’d stay closer to home, because most of them play NYC and surrounding areas with a much cheaper cost of travel. This is exactly why those of us who love the music enough to fly for it are now staying put. And no young person got into jazz or has gone to a jazz fest because hey, while Lady Gaga is on stage, I’ll check out these people I never heard of! –no. It never, ever works that way.

If you want to get a new audience, you go to the new audience. Go to colleges, schools, put on a festival or series on a campus. Ask them how they get into music. Ask them how they discovered their next favorite artists. It’s basic market research 101. Know what happened when I got into Postmodern Jukebox? I got a college survey asking me how and where and why I like retro/jazz music.

I have no idea when common sense stopped being common, but really…come on now.

Capital Jazz has always been up front about their dual-genre lineup, and guess what: both genres get equal billing on the cruise, each has a separate stage, and neither is put over the other. The jazz stage was just as packed for Generation Next at the fest as the soul stage was packed for Algebra Blessett. Not difficult, and why? The genres. were. presented. separately. Every cruise, I get a survey that asks me whom I want to see, and more than once, I’ve seen direct results of my input presented live on a stage. They run an event the way I would run an event: sensibly.

And that is precisely why Capital Jazz will remain as my go-to event to attend: they give their separate genres equal billing, they never disappoint me with their jazz segment, their special performances have consistently been stellar, and both the cruise and the fest have been a bargain for my money.

If you’re going to insist on having a non-jazz headliner, then please counter them with someone who is solidly of the jazz world. Surely, the Brubeck Brothers would not have been a difficult choice? Randy Brecker? Stanley Clarke? A Return to Forever reunion? There are a million possibilities to counter Elton John.  Not one of them were considered. And No Doubt?! What year is this, anyway? There’s a time and a place for Gwen Stefani, but New Orleans Jazz Fest is not it.

It’s a slap in the face to all the artists I know, and to all the jazz fans who expect – gee, shock! – a jazz lineup at a jazz festival, and what’s worse, it’s a city that has overwhelming jazz history that’s delivering that slap.

New Orleans has been on my list of events to attend, but not anymore. I think I’d rather go to Mallorca or Jakarta for the jazz events there. Their lineups are 1. all jazz and 2. amazing.

Really. It’s not that fucking difficult. Good gods, if only to have a wealthy sponsor…I’d put on a fucking jazz event myself, no matter how much lost sleep and/or BS I’d have to put up with.

K.G.

CD Review: Marqueal R. Jordan’s Catalyst

CatalystI will preface this review by saying that while yes, Marqueal is a longtime friend thanks to Capital Jazz Cruises, you guys should know by now that knowing me doesn’t give anyone any special perks. In fact, if I know someone, then they’ll have double the pressure to prove their moxie and merit. I do not do favors for folks I know; I double down on them more than I would on complete strangers.  If they’re friends of mine, they know they need to stand to merit.

That said…

Marqueal Jordan’s debut album is interesting, and titled quite aptly. The definition of the term is agent of change, and if you’ve ever taken chemistry, then you can apply this to music. Indeed, Catalyst is an album that will change the way you see a person.

Chicago local sax slinger and vocalist Marqueal Jordan is no stranger to changes, and nor is he a stranger to versatility. You see him on the tenor sax, and you hear him sing, and usually you catch him on tour with Brian Culbertson. But pop this CD into your audio device of choice and you suddenly see him in a new light. The tenor sax takes on a whole variety of flavors between 2am and Maracas Beach, which push at a more straight-ahead flavor, and Chillin’ with MJ, in which Jordan calls on Chris “Big Dog” Davis and stews the same tenor sax in a sauceful of R&B. Between the Sheets is an immediate introduction to Marqueal as a vocalist independent of anyone else’s show, and while I know his voice well, something about the way he sounds is interesting. Engaging, easygoing. Somewhat reminiscent of Dwele. Featuring Brian Culbertson on When You Smile, Jordan firmly crosses into the R&B boundary, and does so in such a way in conjunction with the rest of the tracks on the album that you will not only not notice the shift but want more of it.

Whether or not the listener gets that, I won’t tell you. You just have to find out on your own.

A catalyst indeed: a catalyst for mixing genres, lyrical style on both vocals and tenor saxophone, a catalyst for propelling Marqueal Jordan out of the sidelines and firmly into a spotlight all his own  – any way you slice it this album is something you need to hear if . If you like your Euge Groove, if you like your Dwele, if you like Brian Culbertson, and don’t mind a Stanley Turrentine-gone-modern flavor to your instrumentals, then you need to pick up a copy of Catalyst  by Marqueal Jordan. Right away, if not yesterday.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1bx4SAW

Also on iTunes and CD Baby.

Chasing Music 2013

You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve written about music.

In part because the political matters in this country had gotten to be intense enough to become distracting, and in part because I’ve gotten way busy – long story! – I’ve almost forgotten all the things I’ve had the chance to see this year, so far. But how can I forget? I have all the photos I’ve taken, thousands of them, that commemorate the shows I’ve seen, and that bring back some of the finest memories of the year.

Of course, I write this in the ramp-up towards another photo jaunt, this one planned well in advance. What’s absolutely most important about this jaunt is that there’s a buzz to see what I will turn out. Not just my own as an adventure-loving photographer, but turns out that my audience has been wider than I originally anticipated. My photos were seen, actually seen, and they are an anticipated thing. It’s a heady, exhilarating sort of feeling, to know that your venture is gathering buzz and success. And this upcoming adventure…well. :) We’re going to see what that’ll turn out.

This has been an interesting year for music so far, and I’m glad to say that there have been new experiences. I’ve had to sit out Newport Beach Jazz Festival – the lineup didn’t strike my fancy – but I had the chance to go to the Capital Jazz Festival in Maryland in June, and that was certainly an experience. My first time in MD, my first time at the Cap Fest, and my first time having people whom, for the life of me, I can’t recall by name, asking me about the pictures. But the hallmark of that fest, who else but Dave Koz?

Dave Koz and Summer Horns, a tour and a force to be reckoned with. Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, and the Koz himself – with a handpicked backing band – didn’t just take over the festival. They dominated the stage. And not just with music out of their catalogs, no; they took all the classic horn-section-powerhouse artists – Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Tower of Power – and reimagined it. Four powerful saxophones, all the music close to your heart, and an energy that defies description. If you have never seen a pavilionful of people up on their feet, having a grand ol’ party within the first five minutes of a song, then you have not attended a Summer Horns show. And, considering that that tour is coming back next year, I say that it’s imperative you see it.

Even at the gig that I went to later on, the Ridgefield Playhouse, back in August, the entire theater was up and partying within moments of Got to Get You Into My Life. But the show-stoppers were, hands down, Gerald Albright breaking out his inner James Brown, and Richard Elliot taking front and center on Reasons. I’m definitely a EW&F fan, even though I wasn’t even a concept in the universe when most of that music has been released – well, most of the good music has been around well before I was born, anyway – but Richard on that particular tune… Blazing sax doesn’t quite cover it. Explosive doesn’t do it justice. The way that Reasons rolls off the bell of Richard Elliot’s tenor sax is something that has to be seen and heard to be experienced; it floods every nerve in your system, well after the initial Good Music Goosebumps. You know what I mean. Even if you have never heard the song in its original variation, when Richard Elliot will get into it, you will remember it very, very firmly. You just don’t hear a rendition like that every day, and right now, looking through the Ridgefield shots, I feel the same heady thrill that I felt when I heard it strike up and the roar of the crowd as they remembered their favorite old-school song.

No school like the old school, eh?

And of course, there’s Dave, turning the last bit of the show into Dave Koz & the Sunshine Band. Yes, I’m going there, and everyone in the audience at both Cap Fest and Ridgefield can relate to what I mean.

You know, guys, this is a huge part of why I love to photograph live music. These things will grab you by your heart and soul and not let go.

One of the other pivotal moments in this year of music photography and music listening was the Long Beach Jazz Festival – Long Island’s Long Beach, that is – and it’s all the more crucial considering that Long Beach was never quite the same after Hurricane Sandy. I’ve not been able to – mentally, mostly – set foot there much prior to the fest. Just couldn’t put myself up to seeing the storm-ravaged town that, prior thereto, has been a home away from home, a place that I’d go out to just to while away a long weekend, see some music friends, and hang out on the boardwalk. Sandy, of course, wiped the original boardwalk out of existence.

But the new one has been finished up in time to open the first sections well before the festival. And of course, I had to go. The LBJF has been a staple of my life since 2007, and I wasn’t about to miss it. It was a sweet, lovely festival, complete with not your everyday swing band – Uppercut – and old known favorites: Special EFX, Edmar Castaneda, Steve Adelson, who put this entire thing together time and again… It’s always the place where I can have a lovely reunion with friends, as well as crank up my photo mojo.

Another new thing on the musical radar was my first foray into the Lyman Center series, that is to say the concerts at the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. Every year, they have a great music series, and every year, the music series sells out like nobody’s business. I see why: the lineup is stellar! I got my season tickets early and right now, in retrospect, am I glad I did. The lineup is all the people I enjoy seeing, and all the people whom I enjoy photographing too: Marion Meadows & Cindy Bradley as a double bill, Boney James just two days ago, Acoustic Alchemy… I won’t be seeing Najee and Alex Bugnon, though. Can’t be in two places at once…whoops.

Yeah, there have been a lot of places for me this time around. Rochester, NY and West Point Academy’s Ike Hall (no photos from either of those – drat), Ridgefield, CT, Baltimore… and very soon, I’ll be embarking on yet another photo adventure; very very soon, I’ll be on a ship headed to many a beautiful island, where the music and the landscapes both await only one thing: my camera shutter.

And to think: all of this started with someone I know convincing me, back in May of 2008, to take a trip aboard a ship departing Miami in January of 2009. My very first Caribbean trip was, by all accounts, a life-changing experience, and it continues to pay itself off in more than just any money I earn through photography: it pays off in memories, experiences, and connections. And that, in and of itself, is what makes this life of mine colorful.

But this year also, there’s something else that’s very different. Since the trip is in November, not October like the usual, I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo while aboard. So I get to back-to-back photography and novel-writing. To say that it’ll be a busy trip is an understatement, and I’m sure I’ll need to set aside a few days for just sleeping everything off. Won’t happen, though; I know my life.

Photos:

Summer Horns at the Capital Jazz Festival: http://kgilrainejazz.smugmug.com/Music/Jazz/Summerhornscapjazz

Summer Horns at Ridgefield Playhouse: http://kgilrainejazz.smugmug.com/Music/Jazz/Summer-Horns-at-Ridgefield

 

Until the next adventure…

K.G.

Reflections on Smooth Jazz for Scholars 2012

Once in a while, I would go out of my way for a show, knowing that I’m in for a treat, and this show right here has to be one of the highlights of this year’s jazz season. And it occurred to me that I’ve dug so deep into my photography that I forget to write about the music that I love.

Here’s to hoping I get back into the routine with this write-up.

So! Smooth Jazz for Scholars, held annually in Milford, CT. A train ride and a small schlep away, but it’s a balm for the music lover’s soul.

A brainchild of keyboardist Jay Rowe, the SJFS show is a fundraiser for music education in Milford public schools. Considering the slashes at extracurricular activity funding, events like these are a must, and when you look at the lineup, you are bound to see great artists. Jay will not tell you, though, that the show is absolutely electrifying, and you do not know what to expect on stage.

Among the highlights were Paul Taylor and Nelson Rangell, both on saxes, a visit from Shilts, and Nick Colionne on guitar. Fantastic lineup indeed, and each and every one of them has stellar stage presence.

Nick Colionne is someone you will recognize immediately if you’re into jazz, and if you’re not, then I recommend you have a solid listen. His guitar is Wes Montgomery/Chicago cool; strong and melodic enough to catch your attention, but you won’t catch him sticking to a script of any kind. He gets onstage and makes sure that he has your attention from the first few minutes. And if you don’t recognize the guitar, then know this: to date, Nick is the only person I know to pull off a full-scale, sharp, bold Zoot suit.  I will certainly not be the first to say that he gets an A+ for stage presence, and that has nothing to do with the suit. I promise you: he will make you laugh. More than that, he will make you take notice of his sound; he does not pull punches on the strings, and his music is as strong as his presence.

And right alongside Nick, who on the sax but the one, the only Shilts, formetly of Down to the Bone. If you want funk, this is your man right here. If you like a strong tenor, he’s got one. If need any further convincing, download Back on the Hudson. That, ladies and gentlemen, is funk. Shilts also brought a new CD with him, and new and old songs alike to the stage, including my personal favorite, the more sedate, contemplative Good Evans.

After Shilts – Paul Taylor. NY doesn’t see Paul often; come to think of it, nor does the East Coast with any sort of regularity. Some people may even call Paul commercial. However, when he kicks out something as entrancing as On The Move, you stop and listen. And when he’s on stage, he is fun; he is fun and he makes sure you have it too. Paul Taylor thrives on that stage; he gets the audience into his music, he gets everyone on stage with him into the show, and whether or not he plays the more recognizable material like Ladies’ Choice, or gets into  Prime Time material, which is a lot bolder, you’re right there with him. Together with Chieli Minucci on both Special EFX music and his own, he left me smiling.

And then, there was Nelson Rangell.

I took notice of Nelson accidentally, and comparatively recently (a couple years ago!) when Pandora kicked out Starting Now. By no means a new track, but one that didn’t really leave my head since…still in there, really. Since then, I made a point of browsing through Pandora’s stash of Rangell music, and found that his style is to my liking. Simple, lyrical, straightforward, and very melodic. Starting Now probably won’t pull you in at first, but it will make you take notice. It’ll wrap itself around you and warm your nerves. And Nelson has a unique ability: he whistles in perfect pitch.

If you don’t believe me? Mosey on over to Youtube and look up Sonora. I am telling you, I didn’t take a single photo of when he had whistled Sonora at SJFS because my jaw was busy resting on the floor. How often do you hear someone whistle note-perfect as part of a jazz show? This was a first, and a very intriguing first at that. When Nelson would come back through NY, I hope to be there. That was brilliant.

The closing was something that I can only describe as outrageous. Nick Brown/James Colionne. That is all I can say, and it was brilliant. Outstandingly rousing, delightfully over the top, and perfect.

Major props to the Foran High School jazz band and chorus alike; those kids have talent.

Also, props times two to Dolly, Estella, and Kelly. Love my ladies.

Facebook album can be found here. It contains only a tiny percentage of the photos from that night, and if you’d like to see more, I will upload them to SmugMug soon…yes, I’m getting an account.

K.G.