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Jazz of the past, present and future.

Jazz of the past, present and future.
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Westfield, MA


Jazz of the past, present and future.




(413) 585-5100


Podcast 698: A Conversation with Jay Lawrence

Living in the Northeast US, it is easy to forget that there is a big, wonderful world of jazz musicians outside the orbit of New York, Boston and the DC area. Prime example – drummer/composer Jay Lawrence, a resident of Utah who put out a CD recently that went under my radar. Thankfully, Sonic Paragon has come to the top of a large pile of releases, and the rewards are many. Begin with a murders’ row of jazz greats backing Jay: bassist John Patitucci, pianist Renee Rosnes, saxophonist...


Podcast 697: The Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition

This coming weekend, August 25-27, the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, Israel, will host the semifinals and finals of the first Michael Brecker International Saxophone Competition. Eight selected aspiring talented musicians will arrive in Eilat to participate in the semi-final round on the morning of the second day of the festival. Only three will continue to the final round performance to be held on the main stage as part of the festival program. The three finalists will appear in front...


Podcast 696: "Bitches Brew" at 50 with Ashley Kahn

In Podcast 665 in February, Ashley Kahn joined me to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the recording of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way. Considered the start of Miles’ “Electric Period”, the album was a progenitor of fusion, jazz-rock and ambient music. Our conversation then shifted to the making of Bitches Brew, the highly divisive and innovative double album he would record 6 months later. Having returned from performing with some of his new band members in Antibes, he recorded in...


Podcast 695: Jazz for the Dog Days 2019

It's past the midpoint in summer in New England, so why not some summer themed music for these lazy, hot days? Today is August 16th, the feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of Dogs, so why not celebrate the "Dog Days"? The Romans associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the "Dog Star" because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), as well as the brightest star in the night sky. The term "Dog Days" was used earlier...


Podcast 694: A Conversation with Veronica Swift

One of the most memorable performances at the 2019 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival was given by singer Veronica Swift. Backed by pianist Emmet Cohen’s trio, she transported the crowd with songs that recalled the thirties and forties, but were thoroughly modern in her approach and style. With charisma to spare, she gave notice that she was someone to watch for. This week Mack Avenue Records releases Veronica’s latest CD, Confessions. At the age of 25, she has recorded a handful of...


Podcast 693: A Conversation with Vince Mendoza

Way back in 2011, my year end podcast picked Nights on Earth, Vince Mendoza’s dazzling, sweeping work as one of the most Notable Releases of that year. Since then, the six-time Grammy winner left his position as conductor of the Metropole Orchestra and has arranged, scored, or conducted more than thirty pop, classical and jazz albums. His latest release is a collaboration with the Temple University Studio Orchestra, aided by soloists Terell Stafford on trumpet and Dick Oatts on alto...


Podcast 692: A Conversation with TIm Ries

If you think you haven’t heard the music of saxophonist Tim Ries, think again. Besides his years of touring with Maynard Ferguson and other stalwarts, plus eight CDs as leader or co-leader, he has held down the saxophone and keyboard chairs with the Rolling Stones for the past 21 years. Currently on tour with the Stones across America, he plays the lead on classics like “Miss You” to stadiums full of classic rock fans every night. Given how busy he can be, it might not be a surprise...


Podcast 690: A Conversation with Steve Cole

Steve Cole has just released a new CD on Mack Avenue Records, entitled Gratitude. It is an extremely enjoyable and positive collection of tunes, inspired by the saxophonist’s recent realization of the goodness of others, stemming from health issues in his family. Co-produced with longtime collaborator and fellow saxophonist David Mann, Gratitude shows Cole’s musical growth, moving beyond the sound that made him successful as a solo artist, and and with the super-group trio The Sax...


Podcast 689: Independence Day 2019: Red State, Blue State

America’s Independence Day – July 4 – has been marked on Straight No Chaser by an annual recitation of the Declaration of Independence and a playing of Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful.” But as I prepared the same post this year, I realized that it was inappropriate. It was inappropriate because this is a year when America is more divided, more bitterly turned against one another than ever before in my lifetime, often a shadow of its former self. I never dreamed that the...


Podcast 688: A Conversation with Dr. Joel Harrison on the APA

The American Pianists Association nurtures the artistic growth of America's top young pianists by focusing on creative expression and career development. Its largest and most prestigious support is given through a biennial competition known as the American Pianists Awards to discover the best aspiring young American jazz or classical pianists. The unique and innovative competitions span 13 months and provide a platform to deeply engage musical artists in a variety of creative formats and...


Podcast 687: A Conversation with Alex Sill

California native Alex Sill began playing guitar and piano at age 12 and progressed quickly, eventually earning a top spot in Lee Ritenour’s international Six String Theory Competition. Inspired by the likes of Larry Koonse, who suggested Sill enroll at CalArts, and shredder Steve Vai, who has said that “Alex Sill is one of those rare talented individuals that has all the elements in place,” he continues to grow and improve. Sill’s debut album, Experiences: Real and Imaginary not only...


Podcast 686: A Conversation with Johnathan Blake

About 18 months ago, I had a conversation with photographer Jimmy Katz, about his new non-profit project Giant Step Arts. Katz, along with his wife Dena, planned to select artists for whom they wish to stage and record premiere performances, then provide them with CDs and digital downloads of the gigs and ownership of the masters. Click here to listen to that Podcast. The initial project came to fruition, and Trion, drummer Johnathan Blake’s 2-CD set with Linda May Han Oh on bass, and...


Podcast 685: Previewing the Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival with Danny Melnick

For this jazz fan, the official start of summer comes on June 29-30 in Saratoga Springs, when the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival takes place in the vernal confines of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It’s a weekend of music on two stages, plus great food, a curated art show, and some of the best vibes of the season. Danny Melnick of Absolutely Live has been curating the Festival for years, and once again has done a masterful job of bringing jazz, blues, R&B and World music to the...


Podcast 684: A Conversation with Catherine Russell

It’s always a pleasure to hear a new release from Catherine Russell. One of our most versatile and consistently interesting vocalists, Ms. Russell has become the standard bearer for a particular type of jazz, carrying the torch for the songs of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties that might have slipped away without her stewardship. A student of songs, she comes by her interest in 20th century tunes naturally: her father, the late Luis Russell, was a legendary...


Podcast 683: A Conversation with Herlin Riley

Herlin Riley was more than satisfied with his career as one of the top drummers in jazz. Having worked with the likes of Ahmad Jamal in the mid-Eighties, he achieved recognition as Wynton Marsalis’ drummer in the second iteration of the trumpeter’s great groups in the Eighties and Nineties. It’s Riley you hear on the Pulitzer Prize winning Blood on the Fields, and he is the core of the group playing on the epic Live at the Village Vanguard mega-set. He followed Marsalis to Jazz at Lincoln...


Podcast 682: Dr. John (1941-2019)

I first caught a glimpse of Dr. John on ABC's "In Concert" TV Series in the early 1970's. Cat Stevens had an episode entitled "Moon & Star" and featured Linda Ronstadt and Dr. John as guests. Was there ever a greater opposite than the Night Tripper than the laid-back Cat? Decked out in feathers and spangles, throwing glitter as he worked his way through the audience, this guy was a SIGHT. And then he opened his mouth to sing a cover of Stevens' "Pop Star", and what came out was gravely,...


Podcast 681: A Conversation with Todd Barkan

Thirty-six years have passed since Todd Barkan’s historic San Francisco jazz club Keystone Korner closed its doors. From 1972 to 1983, greats like Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hutcherson, Stan Getz and Max Roach, among countless others, played there. The venue continues to live on in written history and through a series of seminal albums recorded live in the Vallejo Street nightclub. In the nearly four decades since, Barkan has further cemented his legacy in jazz as a record producer...


Podcast 680: A Conversation with Lisa Maxwell

If you listened to my podcast interview with Randy Brecker last month, you heard him praise the work of arranger/composer Lisa Maxwell, and got an early listen to a track from her upcoming CD Shiny!. That release, an All-Star Big Band recording under the name of Lisa Maxwell’s Jazz Orchestra, available on May 17th. Shiny! is dedicated to the memory of Lisa’s long-time friend and mentor, trumpet ace Lew Soloff, who made important recordings with Carla Bley, Gil Evans, and most profitably, as...


Podcast 679: A Conversation with Avery Sharpe

2019 will mark 400 years since Africans were first brought to the Jamestown, VA settlement in 1619 by the Dutch as slaves. They were brought to the Americas to aid in the very profitable agricultural industry during the 17th through 19th centuries, continuing in bondage until an estimated 4 million slaves were freed after the Civil War. The effects of slavery reverberated from the Reconstruction period (1865-1877), through the Civil rights apex a century later (1960s, and some – myself...


Podcast 678: International Jazz Day 2019

International Jazz Day is celebrated in Sydney, Australia this year, although there will be events around the World. Since the first International Jazz Day concerts in Paris, New Orleans and the floor of the United Nations in New York in 2012. I had the pleasure of attending the show in New York, and it was spectacular. This year's listed artists performing "Down Under" will include: Cieavash Arian (Iran), William Barton (Australia), Dee Dee Bridgewater (USA), Till Brönner (Germany), A Bu...