The Bumble Bee's View of the Garden:
Opinions on Jazz and other topics
The bumblebee stops buzzing for a while to contemplate death and renewal.
The last few months have been sad ones for the Jazz community. Several great musicians have died and some of them were not terribly old. Most recent, as of this writing, was tenor saxophonist Harold Land, who was the original tenor player in the Max Roach - Clifford Brown Quintet. Land was from Los Angeles, and for most of his career he was a mainstay of the Jazz scene there. I just heard him play at the beginning of June at a very fine festival in Healdsburg, California, where we were celebrating the life of another recently departed hero, drummer Billy Higgins. Higgins had been on so many great recordings it would take the rest of this article just to list them. In between we lost the great saxophonist Joe Henderson, only 64 years old. While I was in California I had a chance to talk with bassist Ray Drummond, who was able to tell me, as of the end of May, that he had heard that Joe was very much alive, and was struggling to recover from the stroke that had silenced him three years ago, or so. His passing was quite a shock. We started off the year morning the loss of pianist John Lewis, one of the founders of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Shortly after that, pioneering bop trombonist and superb composer J. J. Johnson succumbed to cancer.
I do not wish to appear sentimental, and certainly not morose here, however. It is just that these and other recent deaths, give us cause to reflect. For my generation of musicians and fans (I am in my mid-fifties) these were life long heros, for younger jazzers they are legends, and for others they were contemporaries and colleagues. Jazz is an art from about a century old at this time and the passing of great masters is inevitable. At the same time that we want to remember the contributions of these great players, we can take some comfort in the fact that there are many current masters who should be with us for some time to come, and a couple of generations of exciting younger players coming up.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing, by any means, but I thought I would bring to your attention a few people whom I have heard lately, some local some internationally known. First, on the local scene there is the veteran pianist and singer Paul Broadnax. Now in his seventies, he continues to play and sing with such beauty and authority that I always learn something from him when I go to hear him perform. He has been playing, among other places, every Monday evening at Bullfinch's Restaurant, 730 Boston Post Rd. in Sudbury, MA (508-443-4094). He plays other places as well but publication schedules make listing those impractical. If you like good straight ahead swinging Jazz, and do not know Paul already, it is high time you checked him out.
Recently, as I mentioned, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with the master bassist Ray Drummond. When Ray is not engaged to accompany other great players, he leads his own group, usually a quartet or quintet, in music that is both adventurous and lyrical. He has several CDs out under his own name, and you will find him on many others. The festival circuit or the major clubs are the places to hear him. The group I heard him with out west had saxophonist Craig Handy, one of the best of the 30 - 40 year old players, pianist Rob Schneiderman, who is not only a fine player but a very serious mathematician, and Billy Hart, one of the most wonderful drummers on the entire planet. As I said in a report on the festival for All About Jazz (http://www.allaboutjazz.com), Drummond has, over the last several years, personalized the innovations of Charles Mingus in exploiting the expressive potential of the small jazz group to the fullest. Ray was, by the way, one of the few bassists Mingus would call upon when he got to be too sick to play himself.
Not to leave the younger generation of players out, I went to hear Tony Malaby, a tenor saxophonist making a name for himself in New York these days, in the company of bassist John Hebert and local hero, drummer Geroge Schuller. They played an evening of loosely structured, but very intelligent music at The Center for the Arts in Natick (TCAN), 31 Main Street, Natick, MA. I wrote a report on that concert too, for E Jazz News (http://www.ejazznews.com). TCAN continues to give a great deal of support to Jazz, with a weekly jam session and as many as three Jazz concerts a week. You can call them at 508-647-0097, or visit their site at http://www.natickarts.org.
One last thing, as a follow up to my last column, I have been really exploring the Web for sites of interest to Jazz fans. I have found so many more interesting sites in the last few weeks that I have established an extensive, but by no means exhaustive, listing at my own site. It is pretty well organized and the links are all annotated, so I invite you to use it as a starting point for your own Internet Jazz adventure. Just go to http://www.paulcombs.com, and click on the "links" button. You can also find the reports mentioned above under the heading "articles."