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Described as a “steadily rising talent” by the Los Angeles TimesBen Wendel is bringing a new group to The Jazz Gallery this weekend. The reedist will debut his SOMETIMES COVER PROJECT – which incorporates music by other artists that Ben has fallen in love with recently alongside original compositions – at our new home (1160 Broadway, 5th floor) this Friday and Saturday.

Ben was born in Vancouver, CA and raised in LA, and has collaborated with everyone from Ignacio Berroa to Snoop DoggDaedelus to Tigran. We’ve been watching Ben develop his own voice on the bandstand for some time now – he first appeared at The Gallery with the collectively-led outfit Kneebody in 2004, and first played here under his own name in 2009. Last year on our stage, he celebrated the release of his latest recording, Frame (Sunnyside) at The Gallery, and also debuted a co-led group with the trumpeter Ralph Alessi on our stage.

We caught up with Ben to talk about the SOMETIMES COVER PROJECT and what you can expect to hear this weekend:


Tell us about the material you’ll be performing with the SOMETIMES COVER PROJECT.
Two thirds of the material we’ll be performing consists of songs that I’ve discovered and fallen in love with over the last year or so. They all have something about them that resonates with me, whether it be the mood, lyrics or harmonic progression. I’ve taken my own writing aesthetic and applied it to these tunes – some of these arrangements will be quite different from the original material while others will stay fairly close. The remaining material will be mostly new, un-recorded originals that I’ll be trying for the first time, with the goal of recording them later this year.
What is your relationship to each of the musicians that are joining you this weekend, and what led to your decision to include each of them in the band?
I’m pretty good friends with most of the folks involved and have played with the majority of them in various settings; it goes without saying that I deeply respect the musicianship of all involved. Matt Brewer is someone I’ve known and admired for at least 10 years, but this will be the first time we will play together. I think half the battle when forming groups is understanding how the musicians will interact and sound together, and I feel very confident and excited about the two quartets that I’ve assembled.
List five albums you’re listening to these days.
Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2
Moby Dick – Opera by Jake Heggie
Elvis Costello with the Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters
The Best of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald
Anything else you’d like to add?
For those that are curious, we will be playing arrangements of the following tunes:
Elvis Costello:  “Poor Napolean” / “Shamed Into Love”
Fiona Apple:  “Jonathan” / “Regret”
Wye Oak:  “Doubt”
Michel Legrand:  “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life”
The Youngs:  “Choose You”

Photo via / Filter by Pixlr

Photo via / Filter by Pixlr

“My first memorable experience with performing came from my early days spent in the alto section of the young adult choir in my grandfather’s North Carolina church,” writes the vocalist Lezlie Harrison:

It was from there, in the front row directly behind the pulpit, that I witnessed the effect that the choir’s selections and the preacher’s sermon, had on the congregation. As an ensemble, we were able to stir souls, ease whatever troubles may lay heavy on the mind. As performers, we possessed the power to move the audience to “get happy”, do the “holy dance”, cry, shout and release. I loved that. That’s what I wanted to do.

Singers, like preachers, are storytellers. We are responsible for giving our audience, a true and deeply heartfelt experience in hopes of lifting someone’s spirit.

The vocalist also received early guidance from some of the idom’s most legendary practitioners: Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn and Betty Carter. Since returning to New York, Lezlie has been featured on stages alongside artists such as Roy Hargrove, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Grady Tate. She has also performed internationally with her own groups. Roy Hargrove declares, “Lezlie always brings such warmth to the bandstand whenever she sings; I always feel at home whenever I play with her. Her voice and her personality are large and strikingly dramatic. She is a true performer.”

Many of you have  known Lezlie as an integral part of The Jazz Gallery right from its beginning.  She was instrumental in getting us off the ground and helped carry us through for many years. Most importantly, she graced our stage at numerous special events – often with Roy Hargrove. We are delighted to have her warm our hearts with her voice and soul this Thursday for our very first Jazz Gallery Valentine’s Day in our new home! What could be better?

The tagline for the performance, according to Facebook, is, “It’s all about love, or lack thereof!”

Watch a video of Lezlie performing “Let Them Talk,” featuring Roy Hargrove, Saul “Zebulon” Rubin, and Ben Williams.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

UPDATE: This performance has been CANCELLED due to flight cancellations and transportation issues associated with Winter Storm Nemo. Artists from the group will not be able to return to New York in time to perform. All advance tickets sold for both of these events will be refunded in full. Please spread the word, and we hope to see you soon.

Writing about the guitarist Mike Moreno in JazzTimes magazine, Nate Chinen declares, “There are many other guitarists out there pushing towards a modern ideal, but none with the precise coordinates that Mike Moreno has charted.” In an interview for the same magazine, Pat Metheny recommends Mike as “a really talented guy who impressed me beyond the notes, for his general feeling, and what he’s going for.”

Since his arrival in New York, Mike has become one of the most in-demand guitarists on the scene, performing with Greg OsbyJeff “Tain” WattsJoshua RedmanWynton MarsalisNicholas PaytonKenny Garrett, and many others. He has also recorded with Bilal and Q-Tip, as well as peers such as Aaron ParksRobert Glasper, Jeremy Pelt, and Marcus Strickland, to name just a few. The guitarist has also released four albums as a leader: Between The Lines (World Culture), Third Wish (Criss Cross), First In Mind (Criss Cross), and Another Way (World Culture).

Mike grew up in Houston, TX, and attended the Houston School of the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), “a really inspirational, concentrated environment” that produced peers and contemporaries such as Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Chris Dave, and many others. Who are Mike’s main influences? According to an NPR interview from 2008, they include the trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and the pianist Herbie Hancock, as well as the guitarists Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. In the same interview, he took a crack at describing his own music:

The harmonic element in my music is pretty defined and pretty intricate, the melodies that I write are pretty simple…singable and memorable, but the harmonic structure is definitely the most complex part of it. And, really, I try to make sure the harmonic element has a melody of its own and a sound of its own without the horn playing the melody or the guitar playing the melody…it’s very heavy on the bottom part, the supporting structure of the songs.

We’ve been presenting Mike’s groups since 2003; on Saturday, we welcome his quartet, featuring the pianist Aaron Parks, the bassist Doug Weiss, and the drummer Jochen Rueckert, to our new home (1160 Broadway, 5th Floor).

Watch a different incarnation of Mike’s quartet (here with the bassist Matt Brewer and the drummer Ted Poor) performing “Airegin” live at Jazz Standard.

Photograph by Jimmy Katz //

Photograph by Jimmy Katz //

UPDATE: This performance has been CANCELLED due to flight cancellations and transportation issues associated with Winter Storm Nemo. Artists from the group will not be able to return to New York in time to perform. All advance tickets sold for both of these events will be refunded in full. Please spread the word, and we hope to see you soon.


NPR hails Johnathan Blake as “the ultimate modernist.” The drummer seldom has a moment to spare; his longstanding tenure in the bands of Tom HarrellDavid SanchezRussell Malone and Kenny Barron – not to mention sideman work with dozens of others – makes his time a limited and highly sought-after commodity.

Johnathan was born and raised in Philadelphia, and drew early inspiration from his father, the violinist John Blake, Jr. The drummer picked up his instrument at age ten, and began composing soon thereafter. These formative experiences imbued Johnathan with the Philadelphia sound, which was described in a JazzTimes review of his debut album, The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside), as “the vertiginous sensation of being both slightly behind the beat and hurtling into the next measure.” It wasn’t long until he found himself representing that sound the bandstand with Oliver Lake Big BandRoy Hargrove and David Sanchez, all while still a student at William Paterson University.

Yet Johnathan has made it a priority to carve out time to lead his own ensemble, and to develop it into an ensemble “with a sound.” We’ve presented Johnathan’s own projects over a dozen times since 2004, and the drummer recently celebrated the release of The Eleventh Hour, on our stage. This Friday, Johnathan makes his first appearance on our new stage (1160 Broadway, 5th Floor) with a quintet featuring the reedists Jaleel Shaw and Seamus Blake, the pianist Kevin Hays, and the bassist Boris Kozlov.

You can stream “Freefall,” a track from that recording, via a previous post from Jazz Speaks, and learn about the miscommunication that led to the tune’s name. Johnathan’s version of Robert Glasper‘s canvas, which features the pianist and original saxophonist Mark Turner, can also be streamed courtesy of NPR. We also recommend checking out this interview via WBGO’s The Checkout.

Watch a video of the Johnathan Blake Trio (featuring Jaleel Shaw and Boris Kozlov) performing John Coltrane’s “Straight Street” live at The Jazz Gallery.

Photo by Carlos Pericás //

Photo by Carlos Pericás //

According to Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Burnett is “a standout new voice on the saxophone.” In a very short time, the young musician has already lent his personal and unhindered approach to a breadth of bandleaders including Esperanza Spalding, Wynton Marsalis, Anti-Pop Consortium‘s HPRIZM, Weasel Walter and Kurt himself.

Aaron was born in Mykonos, Greece, and began his relationship with music after being exposed to classic 70’s soul music, Prince, and the pop music of the 80’s. A few months after his fifth birthday, Aaron moved with his mother and stepfather to the United States, settling first in Chicago. He began his formal training on the saxophone at age of eleven, as a middle school student in Chesapeake, VA. As a student at Berklee College of Music, Aaron co-founded Sistine Criminals, a drum and bass project rooted in his collaborative relationship with the drummer Greg Sgrulloni. During this period, he also met current collaborators including the pianist Carlos Homs, the drummer/multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey, the guitarist Andy Berman, and the bassist Nick Jozwiak around this time as well, who are all members of the group Aaron calls “The Big Machine.” Aaron speaks about the band’s name and purpose:

When we play, it feels as if the gears of an intricate, advanced machine are turning with precision…The band is also a statement to the jazz world that the young jazz musician does not need to only revive the past in which the greats created the path of the music, but we need to express what is happening in today’s society of corporate corruption, governmental corruption, and…our dependence on technology. To me, it is imperative that musicians search for our own voices in the music, and at least make attempts to innovate without being fearful of the risks of that journey.

This Thursday, Aaron will make his first appearance as a leader at The Gallery on our new stage (1160 Broadway, 5th Floor) with The Big Machine. What can you expect to hear? Music from the bands’ unreleased eponymous debut album, which is coming in March. The saxophonist stresses the importance of the range of stylistic influences at play in the band’s output; the ensemble incorporates elements of straight ahead and creative jazz, dubstep, hip hop, drum and bass, modern classical, post bop, fusion, and world music. He also hints at a certain mysticism: “We will be attuning ourselves to the higher vibrational forces of the creator when we perform this music.”

Here are five albums that Aaron has been listening to lately:

Vijay IyerAccelerando
Venetian SnaresMy So-Called Life
Big BoiVicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
Esperanza SpaldingRadio Music Society
Craig TabornLight Made Lighter