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Posts by Kevin Laskey

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Starting this Tuesday, May 23rd, and continuing through the month of June, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present tap dancer Savion Glover in an improvisational dialogue with jazz instrumentalists. It’s not an overstatement to call Glover the world’s most famous tap dancer. From his regular appearances on Sesame Street, to his scintillating performance in the Tony-winning Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, to his motion-capture work in the Happy Feet films, Glover has brought the tradition of tap dancing to every corner of the world.

Always looking to expand his art in new directions as a performer and choreographer, Glover will explore the relationship of tap to the rich rhythmic tapestry of jazz by improvising with a series of rhythm section players at The Jazz Gallery. This Tuesday, May 23rd, Glover will be joined by drummer Marcus Gilmore, one of the most adept and influential rhythmic thinkers today. To get a sense of the rhythmic fireworks these two performers can unleash on the Gallery stage, check out some extended improvised solos below the fold, and imagine what will happen when these rhythmic wizards come together. (more…)

Photos courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, May 19th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome a diverse collective of musicians dubbing themselves Music Quartet to our stage. Featuring Shai Maestro on piano, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Rick Rosato on bass, and Nate Wood on drums, this quartet stretches across musical communities and generations to create a distinctive sound greater than the sum of its formidable parts.

To get a sense of what these players can do in pickup situations, check out Maestro and Rosato putting the Gershwin classic “Embraceable You” through its paces with drummer Ari Hoenig.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Already a MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winner and a multiple Grammy-nominee, drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto is still not done pushing his art in new directions. This summer, Prieto will head to the studio to record his first big band album, Tribute, featuring all original compositions and guest appearances from the likes of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, and more.

This week at The Jazz Gallery, Prieto will convene his long-running Si o Si Quartet for two nights of performances, including a special reception on Thursday evening where you can get a chance to meet Dafnis and help bring this exciting new album to fruition. We at Jazz Speaks caught up with Dafnis by phone to talk about the challenges of writing for this new medium and the importance of the big band sound to the Cuban jazz tradition.

The Jazz Gallery: This is a blunt question to start with, but why put together a big band and why now?

Dafnis Prieto: It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s that I’ve had the experience of playing with a few big bands in the past—I did a recording with the Bebo Valdes big band, for one—and I’ve always been curious about how my music and my ideas would sound in a larger format. I’ve also written a few pieces for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and I liked the way they came out. After that, I got a call from my co-producer Eric Oberstein, who became a great friend and partner on this big band project. I’m really excited to have the guys play my music and to have the experience of my music done in this way.

TJG: Were those pieces for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra the first time you had written for big band?

DP: Yes, they were. At that time, they were working with Jazz at Lincoln Center and they commissioned me to write something for their concert. The resulting piece was called “Song for Chico,” which was dedicated to Chico O’Farrill. That was my first experience writing.

TJG: What did you learn from the Afro-Latin Orchestra commission about writing for big band, or how your compositional voice transferred to this new medium?

DP: I really learned a lot about the possibilities that the instrumentation provided, especially in terms of textures and voicings. I had new ways of manipulating how a musical idea comes out, making it sound as rich as possible with all the various timbres of the orchestra. There is of course a lot of richness in terms of pure sound, but I also sought to have a richness of rhythmic ideas between all of the parts.

TJG: When you were translating some of your preexisting music for smaller ensembles to the big band, how did the instrumental forces change the impact of the piece?

DP: Actually, I felt that many of the pieces that I adapted from other bands were the most challenging to work with. I already had a sense of completeness with these pieces, whether they were for a quartet or sextet. I hit a wall a few times trying to figure out what else to do with them. At those points, I had to let myself go, open myself to new possibilities, and let my imagination come through, and I eventually figured out what else I could do with those songs. A few of the older songs that I re-did for this project have completely new introductions, for example, and then some of the original material for smaller ensembles are embedded within the arrangement.

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Design by The Jazz Gallery

Our ongoing series on the 2017 Jazz Gallery Gala honorees continues today with legendary Cuban pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés.

Valdés grew up in a very musical family in Cuba—his father Bebo led the orchestra at the famed Tropicana Club in Havana. Chucho’s talent was clear from a young age, and he recorded his first record, Jazz Nocturno, in 1964 at the age of 23.

In the early 1970s, Valdés formed a band called Irakere featuring some of Cuba’s top musicians, including Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. The group sought to create an organic blend of traditional Afro-Cuban forms with progressive jazz and the results were scintillating. Drummer and Gallery-regular Dafnis Prieto grew up watching Irakere on television. In a feature on Mr. Valdés in the New York Times, Prieto offered the following reminiscence:

I remember hearing and looking at so many different sounds and instruments. The batá drums from our Afro-Cuban tradition plus the American drum set, the electric bass and the guitar, the singer, the horns. Everything sounded so unique and fresh.

Despite the political divisions between Cuba and the United States, word of Irakere’s intoxicating blend of Latin dance music and virtuosic improvisation spread quickly overseas. In 1978, Irakere was signed to Columbia Records by Bruce Lundvall and performed at a special Newport Jazz Festival Concert at Carnegie Hall. The group’s debut record on Columbia, featuring recordings from that concert, won a Grammy the next year. Check out the group’s live show from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey in 1979 so get a sense of their infectious energy.

Over the ensuing years, Irakere became a finishing school for Cuba’s finest young musicians, much like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Valdés continued to record and tour regularly, stretching his music in new directions. In 1993, Valdés released a record of solo piano music for Blue Note, and a few years later, would perform solo in New York for the first time at the nascent Jazz Gallery through the work of co-founder Dale Fitzgerald. This began a long-running relationship with the Gallery, which became a sort of home-away-from-home for Valdés in New York. In summer 2003, Valdés was supposed to play a week at The Village Vanguard, but ran into visa issues. When Valdés was eventually able to enter the United States a couple of weeks later, he made up the shows at the Gallery.

Now 75 years old, Valdés shows no sign of slowing down, still bringing his distinct brand of Afro-Latin jazz to concert halls and festivals all over the world. Check out Valdés playing a spirited duo version of “Blue Monk” with fellow countryman Gonzalo Rubalcaba at this year’s International Jazz Day celebrations in Valdés’s hometown of Havana.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Valdés and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/

Design by The Jazz Gallery

Today, Jazz Speaks continues its series on the 2017 Jazz Gallery gala honorees with a feature on writer and producer Michael Cuscuna.

From working as progressive rock DJ to producing albums from artists as diverse as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Bonnie Raitt, Cuscuna has quite the wide-angle perspective on American music. It is this perspective that has made Cuscuna such a vital voice in the curation and preservation of jazz as a producer of reissues for Blue Note and his own Mosaic Records. In the interview below, Cuscuna describes his approach to putting together a strong reissue collection.

Cuscuna has three Grammy awards to his name—two for producing reissues of work by Nat King Cole and Billie Holliday, and a third for his liner notes in the complete set of the Miles Davis Quintet’s Columbia albums, 1965-1968. Todd Barkan, a producer-colleague of Cuscuna’s and former director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, offers the following recollection:

From his earliest years as a Philadelphia disc jockey through his world class production and a&r work for Atlantic, Impulse, Arista, Blue Note, Columbia, Sony, and his own Mosaic label, Michael has for over five decades provided an unfailing standard of excellence, taste, and integrity for all of us who work for and with this music.

When I first moved from San Francisco to New York in 1983, it was my longtime friend and colleague Michael Cuscuna who graciously and generously provided me a place to live for my first year of working here in the City. Michael has likewise created a vital and essential home for the best jazz music and musicians in the world during his entire distinguished career.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Cuscuna and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/