Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective. Originally founded and led by drummer Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers knew many changes. “Stability can be elusive for even the most successful jazz ensembles,” author Bob Blumenthal wrote. In 1959, Hank Mobley, an alumnus of the band, replaced Benny Golson’s tenor saxophone in the band and he joined Lee Morgan (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), and Art Blakey (drums) for a brief period.
The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.
Just Coolin’ features six songs including two unissued tracks: Quick Trick composed by Bobby Timmons (who also composed the jazz standard Moanin‘), and the uncredited composition Jimerick. Hank Mobley left the group already in July 1959 but, his contributions to the album were paramount. Half of the songs on the album are from his hand, including the almost nine minutes long title track, Just Coolin’.
John Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, turned sixty in 2020 and this was celebrated with an anniversary deluxe edition LP. Let’s have a brief look at how the album came to life and how Coltrane developed, personally and musically, before being able to compose one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.
John Coltrane went through a lot before he was ready to create his masterpiece Giant Steps. Starting his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker, and later Dizzy Gillespie, he felt dissatisfied, even dejected. In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions.
Coltrane had a drug addiction and was dismissed from the band (together with drummer Philly Joe Jones) in 1957. Being sacked by the number one musical influencer, Miles Davis, was a wake-up call. With the help of friends and family, Coltrane took steps to get his life back in order. He started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk and this not only helped him recover from his addiction but also helped him develop artistically.
“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order”
John Coltrane in an interview with DownBeat (1960)
Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ band in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue (1959). Giant Steps, consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions, was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal.
Working with Thelonious Monk, and recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, were both giant steps John Coltrane took before he mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.
The second half of the nineteen-fifties defined John Coltrane’s career and helped him come into prominence as a musician and arranger. Underlined is the time as a member in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet and … Continue reading John Coltrane’s Soultrane
In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert got recorded and now, more than 50 years later, the music was released. Palo Alto is a live recorded concert featuring Charlie Rouse on the tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on the bass, Ben Riley behind the drums, and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk on the piano.
When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.
T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.
In an interview with Brad Baker from jazz.fm91, T.S. Monk highlights that his father was mainly known as a live artist. Especially before being placed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964, and the wider public was introduced to his music, Monk’s recording career was unstable. Unlike Miles Davis or John Coltrane who spent their careers with major labels, Monk didn’t rely on his recordings, the people who remember Monk will refer to his live sessions instead.
T.S. Monk claims that the recording at the Palo Alto high school is the best recording made during his father’s career. “The way he plays, not knowing he was being recorded, was very rare,” he explains.
All of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording.
T.S. Monk (Thelonious Monk’s son)
“Danny Scher caught him on an exceptionally good day, and all of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording”, T.S. Monk said, “his ability to work with time and shift and displace various phrases, the swing that all of his bands always had, the unique harmonics and melodic figures that he played… it’s just all there. It’s pure Monk, and it’s wonderful.“
You can listen to the full interview with T.S. Monk here:
The quality of the recording is exceptionally good for its age, but it has limitations. It does, however, capture astonishing details you rarely receive when listening to a studio recording. During Monk’s original composition “Well, You Needn’t” you can hear Larry Gale singing along during his bass solo. In piano-exclusive parts, you can hear Monk tapping his foot.You hear the audience react to every interaction of the musicians. These minor details bring out the jazz and feeling of presence when listening to this dusty 50-year old recording.
The album on vinyl comes with a gatefold sleeve, a copy of the original program, a replica of the event poster, and a booklet including rare images of Monk and the band.
1972 / Worthy Records 1020 / photo uncredited / Matt Thame (design)
The Father of Ethio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke, brings a fantastic arrangement of Ethiopian fine tone scale mixed with Afro-American soul and jazz. The album is called Mulatu Of Ethiopia.
The cover photo and design remain uncredited but it’s a true eye-catcher. It features the title, a photograph of Mulatu Astatke posing in front of his vibraphone, and in the bottom left corner the logo of his sponsor, Ethiopian Airlines.
The copy I own is a reissue that I purchased at a concert in Prague. The outside design is identical to the original but inside the album, we find additional photography including a picture of a much older Mulatu Astatke holding his original record from 1972.
Chris Dave And The Drumhedz
2018 / Blue Note B002705401 / c. BARR @n8tivalien(artwork)
Blue Note Records describes this album as a place without genre, where elements of funk, soul, gospel, hip-hop, and jazz mix until they’re an indistinguishable surging mass of solid groove.
The artwork was created by creative artist c. BARR.
People Of The Sun – Marcus Strickland Twi-Life
2018 / Blue Note B002898301 / Stan Squirewell (artwork) / Leon Williams (photo)
This is saxophonist Marcus Strickland’s second studio album for Blue Note Records but, this is the first time he released his work on vinyl. People Of The Sun is a contemporary jazz album influenced by hip-hop and modern r&b.
You can see that they wanted to do something special for his first vinyl release. For the artwork, they hired the painter Stan Squirewell. Squirewell’s work is described as multilayered and explores identity and heritage. The photo is from the Brooklyn based photographer Leon Williams.
1990 / Smekkleysa SM 27 / Óskar Jónasson (artwork)
I’m not sure if I can pronounce the name of this band correctly but, this is a jazz album with the 24 years old Björk on vocals. Several songs are covers of jazz standards but sung in Icelandic. The music is as charming as the left-field pop she would later record.
The artwork is from the Icelandic film director and screenwriter Óskar Jónasson who was Björk’s boyfriend at the time.
The copy in my collection is a reissue on One Little Indian. The album was repressed on a 45 rpm double-12-inch vinyl to improve the sound quality and several songs were added. The sleeve design was kept the same and the tracklist was not revised. On the reissue sleeve you still see only 2 sides while in reality, we have 4. Be aware to play the reissue at 45rpm! There is no indication on the sleeve nor on the label about this.
A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
1965 / Impulse! A-77 / George Grey (design) / Bob Thiele (photo) / Victor Kalin (sketch)
An album that needs no introduction. Coltrane called this album his gift to God.
This gatefold sleeve features the same picture of Coltrane on the back as on the front. The picture was taken by record producer Bob Thiele who was at the time the head of the Impulse! record company. When folding open the record sleeve, a sketch of Trane playing the saxophone appears. The sketch was made by artist Victor Kalin who is best known for his illustrations for magazines, paperback books, and record albums. He, for example, also illustrated the albums: Rockin’ In Rhythm by Duke Ellington (DL 79247), Mingus Plays Piano by Charles Mingus (A-60), and again Coltrane for the album Expression (AS-9120).
Would there be afrobeat without Tony Allen? Tony Allen’s beats and rhythms were, to say it modest, genre-defining. He will always be remembered as the pioneer and co-founder of afrobeat. He was a curious musician and left his mark on various collaborative projects that would shift and blend music genres.
Tony Allen passed away in April 2020, one month after the master drummer released the collaborative work Rejoice. For this project, the Nigerian drummer worked together with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Hugh Masekela, who had a major influence on jazz in South Africa, would add melodies to the drum beats of Tony Allen. The two met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ’70).
In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter. The recording remained unfinished and was stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekela’s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London.
‘Rejoice’ can be seen as the long overdue confluence of two mighty African musical rivers – a union of two free-flowing souls for whom borders, whether physical or stylistic, are things to pass through or ignore completely.
According to Allen, the album deals in “a kind of south African-Nigerian swing-jazz afrobeat stew.”
World Circuit – text featuring on the album’s cover
Robbers, Thugs And Muggers (O’Galajani), the opening song of the album, starts with a vocal intro by Hugh Masekela. Fifteen seconds in, Tony Allen sets the rhythm on the drums and after finishing the vocal intro, Hugh Masekela picks up the drums with melodies on his flugelhorn. The opening track defines the rest of the album, a unique fusion of afrobeat and jazz where drum beats, vocals, and trumpet melodies are fundamental elements.
It’s not an easy task to capture the life of jazz titans like John Coltrane or Miles Davis into a ninety minutes cut. There is a lot of ground to cover before you’re able to give the audience a peek into their minds. Some directors and screenwriters managed to provide us with the best possible overview. They captured the essentials that contribute to their legacy.
Here are five biographical documentaries of true jazz titans where they successfully documented the story of the artists.
Chasing Trane is an epic portrait of the legendary forward-thinking saxophonist who innovated and influenced jazz music in many ways. This story explores the impact of Coltrane’s life on the music he made.
It’s a classic, well-made biographical movie built on personal interviews with his children and grandchildren, friends, and fellow musicians. It creates honest insights into the life of the jazz titan.
John Scheinfeld’s documentary includes footage of Coltrane’s performances and uses the musician’s own words, read by Denzel Washington. At times, it analysis Coltrane’s compositions and his unique way of playing.
This documentary is a reflection on the musical career of Miles Davis and the birth of cool jazz. It captures the story of the talented trumpet player who introduced the world to a new style of jazz by blending it with modern classical ideas. An approach that would shape bebop into something everybody can listen to, a sub-genre not limited to jazz fans alone.
It is not an easy task to capture the story of Miles Davis on film. Davis was actively shaping jazz music for six full decades. The documentary attempts this via interviews with family members, friends, and musicians such as Quincy Jones.
“I called him Morgan” are the words of Helen Morgan in an interview she gave two decades after she shot and killed her common-law husband, Lee Morgan.
The documentary is not a study into the life of hard bob trumpeter Lee Morgan. Instead, It’s a drama narrating the relationship between him and Helen. Via interviews with former band members and friends, we get a picture of what caused the fatal shooting of this celebrated musician who featured in bands with Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey.
Lee Morgan’s story is spellbinding. A young talented musician who struggled with a drug addiction and got murdered. This is the story of a musician who obtained his place in history next to Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, as one of the greatest trumpet players in history.
This project took nine years to complete and is the first comprehensive documentary about the life of jazz musician Charles Mingus.
Charles Mingus is known for being a great bass player, bandleader, and composer. The documentary highlights Mingus as a composer. A musical genius with many ideas and innovative ways to use music. Mingus created unusual complexity in writing by using different layers and combining multiple rhythms. His high-sounding music feels chaotic, and yet, its structure has many similarities with classical music.
The story is told from the perspective of people who were close to him and features many video recordings of Charles Mingus where he is talking about his music.
2018 / Alan Hicks & Rashida Jones (directors & writers)
The documentary plays in two different worlds. One is the present-day world of Quincy Jones as a composer and producer who accomplished everything and is loved by everyone. It shows an intimate setting where he is surrounded by family and friends. The second revisits Mr. Jones’ career as a jazz arranger and multi-instrumentalist. We peek into the different stages of his life via flashbacks and discover details about his friendship with Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.
The documentary features people impacted by Mr. Jones. He was a mentor for Micheal Jackson, launched the career of Will Smith, and discovered Oprah Winfrey.
Pixar’s new animated movie Soul, directed by Pete Docter (Up) and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami), is a unique collaboration between filmmakers and musicians. Pixar Animation Studios has delivered a long list of outstanding movies. They stand out when it comes to building authentic characters, something they have been doing since the release of their first full-length movie, Toy Story, in 1995.
Twenty-five years later, they set the bar to a new standard of quality. For the first time, they will feature a protagonist with African American heritage. Jazz music is a central element in the plot and this creates additional expectations as many jazz musicians will surely examine the work.
In this article, I will explore how and why jazz music, or black improvisational music, was used in the plot as a metaphor for real life.
The Plot (Spoiler Alert)
The movie tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-aged music teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he’d expected. Joe’s true passion is playing jazz music and he believes he is born to perform. When his time finally arrived, and he was offered to perform with the A-listed saxophonist DorotheaWilliams, Joe has an accident and he ends up queueing the line into what is described as The Great Beyond. Joe panics as he feels to have unfinished business in his life (playing jazz) and manages to escape. Instead of going back to earth, he ends up in The Great Before, a place where souls are giving personalities before being born.
To avoid being sent back to the afterlife, he pretends to be a mentor and he is being assigned to a precocious soul, named 22 (Twenty-two). 22 has spent hundreds of years at The You Seminar, an institution where new souls must meet several requirements before going to earth. 22 refuses to be born as she (?) does not see the joy of life.
When 22 finds out that Joe is not a real mentor, they agree that if Joe manages to fulfill the requirements, he will be granted the earth-pass instead of 22 and so, he can fulfill his purpose in life. Joe fails but, he and 22 find an alternative. However, when on earth, 22 finds herself in the body of Joe, and Joe finds himself in the body of a cat.
While looking for a solution to their body-swop, 22 starts enjoying life, and she finds her will to be born. After a series of events, they find themselves back in The Great Before and 22 was granted her ticket to be born. As agreed with Joe, she offered the pass to him and so, Joe returned to earth while 22 stays behind.
Joe fulfilled his long-life dream by playing the concert with DorotheaWilliams but soon realizes that his choices, his pursuit of one single goal, has cost him other great joys in life.
The Authenticity of the Characters
Pixar always exceeded in making their characters feel authentic. In animation, filmmakers often have to use caricatures to accomplish this. Think about the squared face and big glasses of Carl Fredricksen in the movie Up.
For the physical creation of African American characters in the movie Soul, Pixar was challenged to bring out the true African American heritage without using racist stereotypes from old cartoons. Joe Gardner, as a human, is an African-American. He has a black mustache, a hat, and big black glasses that remind us of other great jazz legends (Dave Brubeck & Toots Thielemans). The physical appearance of Joe was kept classic and avoids stereotypes. The biggest contribution to his character is, according to me, the way he relates to music.
Pixar consulted with many jazz musicians, including Herbie Hancock, during the process. They also did extensive research in jazz clubs where they interviewed musicians about their life. This research was used for Joe’s character. For the compositions and recordings, they worked with pianist and bandleader, Jon Batiste (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).
Usually, Pixar would add music as one of the final steps in the creative process but for this movie, they followed another approach as they felt the music is a central and important piece. Joe’s authenticity was brought to life in two ways. The first one being the voicing by Jamie Foxx, who is a trained pianist himself. The second element is Jon Batiste’s compositions, recording, and physical movement. The recording was digitally filmed and reverse-programmed into animation. This means that when you see Joe play, you can see him play the notes that you are hearing. The way Jon Batiste sits behind the piano, and the way he moves his fingers across the keys, are adding to the genuineness of Joe.
“My hands are central to my life, I was in tears when I saw my essence come to life in Joe. To have this as a part of my creative legacy is an honor.”
Jon Batiste (interview with The New York Times)
Black improvisational Music as a Metaphor for Real Life
Journalist and music critic Giovanni Russonello wrote the following for The New York Times:
“In the past few years, jazz has shown up onscreen most prominently in the work of Damien Chazelle. His “Whiplash” (2014) and “La La Land” (2016) tell the stories of young white men who are torturously committed to playing jazz and the feeling of excellence it gives them. In these movies, jazz is a challenge and an albatross. But in “Soul”, the music is more a salve: a river of possibility running through a hostile country, and — as Rainey says in Wilson’s script — simply the language of life.“
Take for example Andrew in Whiplash (Miles Teller) whose purpose is to become a master drummer by studying at Juilliard and by practicing night and day but, he has little focus on the spirituality of jazz. Or take Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in La La Land, who sees himself as the conservator of jazz and has the sole purpose to open a jazz club. They relate to jazz in a very different way compared to how Joe Gardner relates to the music. Jazz is part of African-American history and this is an important element in the movie.
Yes, Joe starts with a purpose as well. His life goal is to become a professional jazz musician. He is fixated on the idea that if he does not accomplish this, his life won’t have meaning. He says that he only exists to play and that nothing else matters. But the character is built around the idea that above purpose, there are more aspects in life. During the movie, Joe becomes aware of this when he sees the joys he missed after accomplishing his goal. Joe’s character is built around this epiphany and not around accomplishing one single goal. He understands that people, including himself, can become disconnected from life because they are fixating on one thing instead of all aspects of life.
In this movie, jazz music, or black improvisational music, is a metaphor for real life and its unexpected situations that force us to adapt. Director, Pete Docter, said in an interview that he was inspired by a story Herbie Hancock told. While touring Europe in the 1960s with Miles Davis there was one concert where Hancock played a piano chord so bad that he thought the whole concert was ruined. But, Miles Davis reacted to the chord by playing a series of improvised notes, and by doing this, he made Hancock’s chord look right. Miles Davis did this by not judging the mistake but by interpreting it as something new that happened. It was an unexpected situation where the musician was inspired to improvise. Miles turned something that others considered as bad, into something of value. Pete Docter said that this story contributed to the theme of the movie and that the idea of improvisation is a great metaphor for what we are doing in our daily life.
In the podcast Soul Stories the movie’s co-director, Kemp Powers, invites cast, creators, and consultants to share their experiences working on the project. Soul Stories exists out of six episodes and all of them are available on Spotify. Below you can find the episode featuring the composer, Jon Batiste.
Prague-based musician and songwriter Ricky LA is kicking off his music career with the release of his debut EP called Island Boy. I was eager to learn more about his music and creative process, so I invited him for a chat. We met at Naplavka, a popular hangout along the river in Prague.
It was a classic autumn day and, you could feel winter slowly taking over. The sun was shining bright, and this created the perfect setting for an outdoor interview. We grabbed a coffee, found a quiet spot, and started our conversation.
I can see that you are passionate about what you do. Also, your music reflects your positive view on life. I’m curious, what got you into music and who or what influenced and inspired you?
It was my parents who introduced me to music. My dad was playing bass guitar in a band. He taught me how to play the guitar when I was young, and everything started from there. My mum was really into listening to music, mainly American music, and that shaped my interest. When I was given the guitar, I tried to play some chords, and I didn’t like it to be honest. It was part of the education for me. But over the years, I became to love to play the guitar. I mainly enjoyed playing together with other people. Then I said, okay, let’s try to go a bit further and so I did. So yeah, it was my parents who had an important influence on me.
You grew up in quite an isolated place, Réunion Island. I trust there was an interesting local music scene. Were there any specific musicians you were listening to back then, or any music genres that stand out for you?
I listen to a lot of music, and weirdly, I rarely listened to famous or commercial artists. I investigate a lot in finding new artists, mainly music available on YouTube that was posted by the artists themselves. Most of them have around 100 views but, I can feel they have good vibes. The genre can include everything. My roots are connected with soul and jazz music, and with a focus on vocals. The music I listen to today is depending on the moment, like for example in this season, autumn, I’m listening to a lot of jazz music.
It’s important to know that I’m from Réunion Island which is a French department and there we listen a lot to reggae and dancehall. The music there is exotic, tropical, and dynamic. I am influenced by a lot of different music and I try to put all this in my sound and in my projects.
Are there still elements in your music that are directly related to your birthplace, Réunion Island?
I want the music I make to be different. Music in Réunion Island, for example jazz, is often combined with the traditional music called Maloya. A tradition that has been passed on for generations. The music is absolutely in my blood, but I want to be the guy doing something different. I want people to think “where is this guy from?” with the answer to be “he is from here, but singing in English and making a new kind of music”. Traditionally, I should be singing in French or in Creole but I don’t. I hope in one of my future projects I can use my native language but for the start of my music career, I just want to be different.
You said earlier you have a connection with soul music. In your song “You” I feel a bit the Motown sounds from the 1980s, especially in the background beat of the refrain. Does the soul music from Detroit inspire you?
What is interesting in the song “You” is this funky vibe. The best part of the song is the baseline. The baseline can be considered old fashion. If I have to describe my music, it is a new wave of soul. We took the basics in the old fashion way, and then we added something new to it which creates an interesting vibe.
You are now living and making music in Prague, Czech Republic. I’m curious about how the city has an impact on your music. What are the benefits of living in Prague, and what is holding you back?
I am new to singing, I started about 3 years ago, and Prague is a great place to start when you are new to the music scene.
Prague is also slightly cheaper to launch a music career compared to other capital cities in Europe. If I would compare this to cities such as Berlin or London, I can say that Prague offers more possibilities for musicians who finance their careers themselves. Just so you understand, the cost of making and producing one song is high and it’s an investment you must make if you aspire to be a musician. Once the song is ready to be recorded and released, you must hire a sound engineer, rent the recording studio, pay supporting musicians, and in my case cover the costs of a music video production. This all adds up and the total sum can be considered less here. I’m also investing a lot in developing my vocal skills, I’m taking lessons with a singing coach to better support the needs of my music and so, bring it to the next level.
For the future, especially when I’ll start performing again, I can see a challenge. Perhaps Prague can be challenging when looking for opportunities to promote my music and to perform it live. There is a great scene with open-minded people that will appreciate my music, however, the scene is not so big compared to for example London. Performing at a different club every week might not be possible here but nevertheless, I’m going to take every opportunity that comes my way.
Could you describe your creative process? How do you start writing a new song, and how long does the process take?
I mentioned, I’m new and still learning. I don’t know all the techniques of how to create a song. But this creates creativity and I learn while doing it.
I always start with finding the musical idea, or hook, because it is something repetitive and it can define the vibe of the songs. I do this by looking for chord progressions on the guitar. Once I have the basic idea, I keep repeating it, keep experimenting, and keep improvising until I find the catchy riff for the song. Then I continue working on the verse and bridge. I also work with producers and together we create the beats and right bpm for the songs.
For the song “Holidays” I spent at least a month to have the track fully done.
What’s next for you in 2021? Anything you are looking forward to or any goals you set for yourself?
I want to further develop and make the music I’ve already created even better. 2020 was not an easy year, we could not record the way we wanted, and a lot of live performances were canceled. We were in a hurry to record my songs because the reserved studio time was being canceled as a result of the restrictions around the coronavirus. Also, my vocal lessons were canceled what limits me. I was not fully satisfied with the result, I can be honest about this.
In 2021, I will take my time, I’m currently writing some new songs that will be released during the year, and hopefully, for these songs, we will not be restricted. I also hope for more opportunities to connect with my fans as they expect me to perform. They want to know how I am behaving on stage as well. Live concerts are important to me, not only for promotional reasons, but they will help me become a better musician as I don’t have a lot of experience in it. It even scares me to be in front of people and sing my lines.
I released 3 tracks, and personally, I am the most pleased with “Holidays” (video). I want to do something even better with my next songs.
All music by Ricky LA is available on Spotify and you can follow him on social media:
2020 wasn’t a great year for culture. Luckily, we still had jazz music and its ability to adapt to any situation. A new generation of musicians emerged and they are blending jazz traditions with spoken word and contemporary sounds. It looks like jazz music has started to reinvent itself once again.
In this article, you can find my five favorite jazz albums that were released in 2020.
Rejoice is the result of a collaboration between Nigerian drummer and co-founder of afrobeat Tony Allen, and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The album is a unique fusion of afrobeat and jazz where drums and trumpet are the central elements.
The album was recorded in 2010 at the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The recordings of the unfinished sessions were archived and never released. When Hugh Masekela passed away in 2018, Tony Allen and producer Nick Allen decided to finish the album. Additional recordings took place in the summer of 2019. The album was released in March 2020. A month after the release, also Tony Allen passed away, he was 79 years old.
Tony Allen described the album as “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew”. The album was received very well by jazz critics worldwide.
We Are Sent Here by History – Shabaka And The Ancestors
March 2020 / Impulse! 00602508645631 / EU & US
Four years following the debut album ‘Wisdom Of Elders‘, British-Barbadian saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings recorded and released his second album with the band Shabaka And The Ancestors.
The ensemble, Shabaka And The Ancestors, is a partnership between Shabaka Hutchings (who plays in several other bands) and a group of talented South-African musicians. The result is a futuristic fusion of beats, Hutchings’ tenor sax, and South-African vocal harmonics.
New York Times wrote: “If jazz is looking to reinvent itself, the music of Shabaka And The Ancestors might be a good place to start. Shabaka And The Ancestors are making their own jazz history”.
Source – Nubya Garcia
August 2020 / Concord Jazz 00888072175594 / EU
The British tenor saxophonist, Nubya Nyasha Garcia, released her debut studio album in August 2020. During the past few years, Garcia built her music career and public interest with EP releases and live concerts. This album, which is a reflection of her Afro-Caribbean heritage, was long overdue but has finally arrived.
Nubya Nyasha Garcia represents a part of a new generation of London-based jazz musicians that are making jazz history. She is reinventing the genre with a blend of modern jazz, neo-soul, afrobeat, and reggae.
On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment – Ambrose Akinmusire
June 2020 / Blue Note 00602508926198 / EU & US
Music arranger and trumpet player, Ambrose Akinmusire, released his fifth studio album with Blue Note Records last June. This album isn’t as easy to listen to as the other albums from this list.On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment is an abstract fusion of instruments and sounds that lean towards the blues. Yet every song of the album is a unique visionary manifesto of contemporary jazz.
“Ambrose Akinmusire follows his acclaimed, genre-busting best-of-2018 manifesto “Origami Harvest” with another visionary statement on his new album “on the tender spot of every calloused moment,” which finds the trumpeter examining blackness on an uncompromising set of modern jazz laced with a heavy feeling of the blues. The album presents 11 new compositions by Akinmusire and features his quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown with guest vocals from Genevieve Artadi and Jesus Diaz.” – Blue Note
Mama, You Can Bet – Jyoti
August 2020 / SomeOthaShip Connect / US & Canada
Jyoti, which means divine light in the Indian language, is the musical alias for the solo jazz project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. Muldrow previously released R&B/contemporary soul, such as the album Overload (2018), but her work under the name Jyoti takes her creativity to another level.
The music contains elements of jazz, funk, and soul. All blended in the abstract work called Mama, You Can Bet. The album is a compilation of ideas filled with unseen musical experimentation. Georgia Anne Muldrow plays, sings, records, and produces everything herself under her own label, SomeOthaShip Connect, and this is what gives her the creative freedom in music.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and the home of many of its pioneers. New Orleans jazz is a forerunner of the many forms of jazz music we know today.
In this article, we will look back at the birth of jazz music in New Orleans. Who were the pioneers and ambassadors of the genre? And how did ethnicity play a role during the turn of the century?
Before we dig into the history of jazz music, we need to be aware of New Orleans’ history. The State Louisiana was bought from France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase resulted in a lift of the trade restrictions and, the arrival of the steamboat enhanced commerce as New Orleans became an important hub for cargo. This economic boost made the city more popular what caused its population to grow exponentially.
The success of New Orleans did not last. The American Civil War, political corruption, and the arrival of the railroad had their impact on the city. Trading hubs in America start growing elsewhere and, it did not take long before New Orleans was in debt. By the time jazz music emerged, the city was in recession. The population, which was exponentially growing, started to decline. Tropical storms and hurricanes were frequent, and New Orleans began to flood. The city had no sewer system what caused an unpleasant and excessive number of insects. It was so bad that musicians reported they had to wear masks during performances. New Orleans’ problems caused its death rate to be 60% higher compared with other major American cities.
The neighborhood that is claimed to be the birthplace of jazz is Storyville, a red-light district in New Orleans. Although, not all music historians agree to this and studies have shown that jazz music emerged and developed all over New Orleans. There are records of the music being played at dancehalls, on boats, in parks, and on the street. Some claim that it would have even been more complex for the music to be played in Storyville as, according to reports, police raids happened there more frequently, and it were the African American musicians who were arrested first. Donald Marquis’ study of Buddy Bolden, an important and decisive figure in jazz music, shows that he and many other jazz musicians drew their inspiration from the church and not from the nightlife in New Orleans. Pastors who sang in Baptist Churches had a similar rhythm to the jazz rhythm of that time.
In New Orleans, concerts “on-the-move” happened frequently, for example, at funerals. Because of the high death rate, there was a high demand for these parading brass bands. Marching brass bands, such as Excelsior Brass Band or Onward Brass Band, were active during the 1880s. Their formation started with trombones in the front, followed by the bass, tubas, and baritones. In the next row, you find the alto horns and the clarinets followed by the trumpets. At the end of the parade, we find percussion instruments. These marching brass bands would play a variation of music genres including quadrille, polka, 2-step, mazurka, etc. Parades were common in America but what makes these New Orleans brass bands unique is that their performance was an invitation to dance. They would call it second-line parades, where the dance audience is the second line and the brass band the first. You became part of the community, a tradition that flew out of circle dancing at Congo Square.
At the turn of the century, ragtime music was popular in New Orleans, mainly thanks to the contributions of Scott Joplin. Ragtime is a form of piano music that uses syncopation of the weaker beats. Syncopation is a small interruption in the rhythmical flow by making some accents fall off-beat. In short, syncopation is created by the beats between the beats, and they are fundamental for the musical structure of ragtime (and boogie-woogie that emerged simultaneously in Texas). A result of ragtime’s popularity was that musicians start using syncopation in traditional compositions to play them in a more “ragged” fashion.
Who played a key role in the birth of New Orleans jazz, and is considered the first jazz musician, is Buddy Bolden (born Charles Joseph Bolden). Buddy Bolden was an American cornetist who learned to play music at school and in church. Unique is that, unlike many other musicians, Bolden didn’t start his career by joining a brass band. Instead, he joined a string ensemble and earned money by playing at dancehalls.
At the end of the century, his band got noticed thanks to Bolden’s use of syncopation, his ability to improvise, and his use of blues structures. I like to think that Bolden’s focus on blues was the biggest contribution to jazz until Louis Armstrong changed the course of the genre. Bolden was an example for many other musicians and one by one all of them start experimenting with syncopation and improvisation. The growing pool of musicians doing this is described as the birth of jazz in New Orleans. This practice of using syncopation in melodies from different music genres caused styles to blur and blend. The music would get more similarities in rhythm and structure what was another important milestone in the creation of jazz.
Buddy Bolden was known for playing loud. He played so loud that he was not allowed to practice inside the house so instead, he practiced on his porch. Neighborhood children would gather around them to listen and start calling him “The King“. Hence the nickname Buddy ‘King’ Bolden. He would often play at a concert hall in New Orleans called Odd Fellows and Masonic Dance Hall (or Eagle Saloon). Before the concert, Bolden would stick out his cornet and do what he called “calling his children home”. He played so loud and, his reach was so far that people from the surrounding streets gather at the building to listen. This became his trademark and, the habit got also described in the lyrics of Buddy Bolden’s Blues (also called Funky Butt):
“Thought I heard, buddy bolden shout, Open up that window, and let that bad air out, Open up that window, and let that stinky air out. Thought I heard buddy bolden say”
Lyrics to Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Buddy Bolden’s career was short. He had a drinking problem and struggled with his mental health. He was arrested multiple times and was placed in an asylum after he was declared mentally insane. Unfortunately, there are no recordings in existence. There are some rumors that Bolden made some phonograph cylinder recordings. So far, none surfaced. Thirty years after his death, his music appeared in print and, musicians started to record his work. However, the sound of jazz evolved and, the question is if these later recordings correctly represent how Buddy Bolden’s music originally sounded.
If Buddy Bolden was the inventor or creator of jazz music is up for discussion but, we can conclude that he was an important and decisive figure in the transformation.
Buddy Bolden’s transformation was further built out by many musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, Joe ‘King’ Oliver, Willie Gary ‘Bunk’ Johnson, Edward ‘Kid’ Ory, and later Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong.
Jelly Roll Morton (born in New Orleans as Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe) was an American ragtime and jazz pianist, composer, and producer. He is considered one of the greatest jazz arrangers and many claim his contributions exceed Buddy Bolden’s. Morton’s jazz gave it a sense of itself via his melodic constructions using improvisation and musical breaks. His first income was as a producer but, in the 1920s he started to focus more on his own music. Jelly Roll Morton’s career peak around the time the jazz age began. He brought together musicians, including Kid Ory, and they called themselves Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers. They made several well-rehearsed recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1924, he recorded his composition titled King Porter(A Stomp). The song was recorded together with the iconic New Orleans musician King Oliver and features a duet between King Oliver’s cornet, and Jelly Roll Morton‘s piano.
Other recordings he made during that decade were in partnership with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, an influential jazz band featuring white musicians. Their recordings are of historical importance as they countered segregation of African American and white musicians in the recording studio.
Jelly Roll Morton’s career declined during The Great Depression in the 1930s but grew again in 1938 thanks to a letter he wrote to Downbeat Magazine (an American magazine devoted to jazz and blues). The letter they published opened with Morton’s words: “It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, the New Orleans is the cradle of jazz, and I myself happened to be the creator”. He continued the letter by listing his contribution and emphasis on how challenging it was to record his compositions. He would mention that after him, many imitated his music. If his statements are true, is up for discussion. However, it is a fact that his legacy lies in his unique compositions, recordings, and commerce. He earned his place as one of the most influential pioneers for the New Orleans jazz style.
As recording technologies progressed, it became easier and more popular to record music in the 1920s. Not everyone from the early generation of jazz musicians had the luxury to record their music. The first band to record jazz music in 1917 was, surprisingly, an all-white ensemble called the Original Dixieland Jass Band (later revised to Original Dixieland Jazz band). The group attracted a global and wider audience by playing at dance halls in Chicago and New York City. The American recording industry was fundamentally positioned in the northeast, and mainly in New York City. They were offered a recording contract by label RCA Victor (Victor Talking Machine Company) and recorded “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step” in 1917. We can ask ourselves if the band are key contributors and if their importance was based on merits. Critics called out that the band is playing stiff and unconvincing, some even claim they are not playing jazz. It’s my opinion that, although they were not the best jazz musicians of their generation, they did play an important role in the commercialization of the music. They did not shape or help create the music as pioneers but instead, spread it like ambassadors.
Despite the fact that the music originated in New Orleans, and that most musicians were born there or elsewhere in Louisiana, a lot of its further development took place in Chicago and other Northern cities. Louisiana-born musicians, with strong musical roots in New Orleans such as Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong, would all move to the north at some point in their lives. The reason was not directly related to musical opportunities but to the fact that northern cities were more tolerant of African American communities. Over almost 7 decades, starting in 1916, millions of African Americans moved from the south to the north in search of a better life. This event is known in history as The Great Migration (also called The Great Northward Migration or The Black Migration). Another example of musicians that moved north are the Thomas Brothers, they moved to Chicago where they influenced a whole new generation of boogie-woogie pianists. Also, “white” jazz bands from New Orleans moved or traveled to the northern cities. Their intentions have nothing to do with tolerance of African American communities but, are based on commerce. Record companies in northern states were more interested in the music genre and provided more recording opportunities.
The Great Migration had without a doubt influence on the distribution, development, and importance of African American music.
Who had the biggest impact on the development of jazz music is without a doubt, Louis Armstrong.
Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 in New Orleans. As a young boy, he was good at two things, singing and getting into trouble. This last one had to do with his background, he was born into a troubled family. A life-changing incident in Armstrong’s life was his arrest in 1913. He was arrested on New Year’s Eve for firing a gun in the air to celebrate. His punishment, what would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, was 18 months in the Colored Waif’sHomefor boys, a reform school in New Orleans. Armstrong would not look back to his time there as a bad experience, on the contrary, he credits this time for turning him into a musician. Before his arrest, Armstrong already played the cornet but the school offered structure and discipline. He joined the school’s brass band and toward the end of his stay, became its leader.
By the time he was released, The Great Migration caused many New Orleans-born musicians to leave the city. The lack of musicians created opportunities for Armstrong to earn money as a musician. He joined several celebrated bands, including Kid Ory’s group where he replaced Joe ‘King’ Oliver who moved to Chicago. Armstrong grew as a musician and started to make a name for himself. King Oliver took an interest in him and in 1922, he invited Armstrong to join his band in Chicago. Armstrong joined King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and Oliver became a mentor for the young Louis Armstrong.
Armstrong was the second cornet in the band, Oliver was first. His job was to provide supporting harmonics for Oliver. A job where perhaps Armstrong was not the best choice. It became clear that his powerful tone and rhythmic sensibility would unwillingly overpower Oliver’s cornet. Oliver did not allow for instruments to dominate the collective ensemble. This couldn’t be an easy task for a young cornetist who would later become the greatest soloist in jazz music.
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band made several recordings and although these recordings have poor sounds quality (because of recording technology limitations), they are representing a perfect example of the New Orleans Jazz style.
Louis Armstrong would later close the book on the traditional New Orleans Jazz style when he transformed and changed the course of jazz music.