Patti Bown – Overcoming In Triplicate

International Women's Day was March 8 and three days later I played an evening of songs with lyrics by the great Dorothy Fields, the first woman to break into the all-male world of big-time songwriting. Both got me to thinking about the subject of women in jazz and the struggles they've faced over the years establishing careers in the music, other than as singers.  Being a jazz musician is tough: this is not a complaint, but a statement of fact. The music itself presents challenges which never seem to end, and then there's the attendant "lifestyle": not much money or security, erratic work, and the constant uphill battle of playing music that is often misunderstood and/or ignored. I've experienced all of this and more firsthand, but I've had it relatively easy because I'm a white male. Black American musicians have had to face the above challenges of a jazz career while also waging daily battle with the institutionalized racism that has been a fact of life in American society, and continues to be to some extent. Considerable progress has been made on this front and jazz likely has had a good deal to do with that, but there's still work to be done. But imagine, if you will, facing the difficulties of being a jazz musician as a black woman: dealing not just with the challenges of the music and racism, but sexism too. It's a case of 'we shall overcome, someday', but in triplicate.  At any rate, this is not intended as a sociopolitical lecture.....but rather to say that all more [...]

Great Irish Pianists, Redux

I’ve expanded on yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day post with a few small improvements and the addition of two more modern Irish jazz pianists I’d overlooked, McCoy Tyner, and Joanne Brackeen, suggested by one of the many enjoyable comments left. I’ve also included a joke which demonstrates the difference between “lace-curtain” and “thatched-roof” Irish, so readers may want to revisit yesterday’s post. Or not.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Great Irish Pianists

OH MY GOD!! Here it is St. Paddy's already and I've completely forgotten to prepare a post for the green day, as I've done for the last two years. And me of Irish descent.....I should be ashamed of myself (and trust me, I am, I am......). I blame Trumpomania, the Adventures of Dolt 45 for my forgetfulness. It's so distracting and lazy-making - why bother to dream up something imaginative when you can just turn on the TV? Anyway, enough of that............. having left myself short on time, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the day with a wee look at some of the great Irish jazz pianists, starting with a big favourite of mine, Tommy Flanagan. Flanagan hailed from the County Monaghan city Moughtown, which proved to be a fertile jazz breeding ground. He was very "lace-curtain", there never was an Irish pianist who played with more grace and lilt. Here he is on his first album with mates Wilbur Little on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, playing "Relaxin' at Camarillo", written by Charles Byrd for the famous botanical gardens of Clare. Note the green cover: And here with a later trio, which for ages accompanied the great Irish can belto singer, Ella Fitzgerald. Miss Fitzgerald is not present on this track, but we'll come to her later. Here, Flanagan abandons his Fenian roots by playing a medley of two songs associated with that noted English villain, the Duke of Wellington: the first written by his associate William Strahorne, and the second by the Duke himself. Ah more [...]

The Shorter Porter

Since the beginning of January, singer John Alcorn has been presenting a weekly songbook series on Saturday nights at the 120 Diner. The relatively new venue is so-named because it's located at 120 Church Street, just below Richmond and immediately south of McVeigh's Irish Pub, a fixture on that corner for as long as I'd care to remember, and maybe even longer than that. As the name and outward appearance would suggest, 120 Diner is a casual venue, but nevertheless a successful one from the standpoint of presenting music, particularly cabaret. Alcorn's approach is somewhere between cabaret and jazz: there's a lot of respect for the songs as originally written, but also a high dosage of improvisation, both in solos and accompaniment.  The diner is intimate, seating only about 60 people, with a small raised stage ideal for a trio, and good natural sound. Alcorn booked Reg Schwager and me - his regular band - for the residency, which was to run through the end of February. Reg and I have had to miss a few nights owing to prior commitments, but the three of us have thoroughly enjoyed playing the room and Alcorn has typically done a nice job of music programming. He began with an evening of Cole Porter on January 7, and continued with the other five major Broadway songwriters - Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern, rounding out the eight weeks with evenings devoted to songs associated with Chet Baker and Billie Holiday. Toward the end of more [...]

Horace Parlan, R.I.P.

"Whatever you think can't be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself." - Thelonious Monk The unique and wonderful jazz pianist Horace Parlan died in his sleep on February 23 in the Danish nursing home he had been living in for several years; he was 86 and had been in poor health for some time. Perhaps it's just as well he went this way, as much that he loved had been taken from him in recent years: his devoted wife Norma, his eyesight, his ability to go out and play; seemingly he didn't have much left to live for. He might have disagreed though: as we shall see, he was no stranger to adversity. Whether a blessing or not, when someone as special as Horace Parlan passes, it's a blow, one felt by many. Certainly veteran and hard-core jazz fans treasured him, but more recent or casual converts to the music may barely know of him; he'd been tucked away in Denmark since the mid-70s and hadn't been very active of late. Parlan was born on January 19, 1931 in Pittsburgh, and was adopted as an infant. Pittsburgh produced not only steel, but important jazz pianists. The city's rich piano legacy spanned several generations and styles, and included (in more or less chronological order) Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn, Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa, Sonny Clark, Ahmad Jamal, and Parlan. All of them are gone now but Jamal, who was born about six months before Parlan and still seems to be going fairly strong. Along with Django more [...]