As we move forward in the eye of this COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the world, we find ourselves constantly improvising on a daily basis to adapt to new moment-to-moment health rules that keep us homebound.
As we scurry to find alternative ways to be entertained, musicians are creating more definitive ways to entertain audiences. Since hanging out in jazz clubs is no longer an option, live streaming has become the new normal for seeing your favorite artists perform, now in the comfort of your own home with a glass of bourbon, wine, some guacamole, hummus or whatever you desire, all while maintaining your social-distancing obligation.
Over the coming weeks this column will present live streaming sources, brief conversations with musicians, and album reviews.
This past week, The Jazz Gallery started its first “Online Happy Hour Hangs” where viewers meet up with a TJG musician for a chat and some music. The Gallery will continue these online gatherings while they are unable to share music together in person. This is the new normal to support our musicians during these unprecedented times.
The cost is $15/free for members. These have been selling out and space is limited, so sign up asap! You will be sent a Zoom link ahead of the hang.
This week TJG will also begin its series “Live From The Jazz Gallery,” which will feature posted videos and audio from past live shows. This week kicks off aptly with the Roy Hargrove Big Band. “Donate” buttons will appear with each post, which is another way to support each artist directly during this period of drastic loss of income.
In response to these improvising times, WBGO-FM jazz radio has created The Livestream Hub, Your Guide to Online Concerts Big and Small. It’s a way to help musicians connect with audiences, through solo recitals from a Harlem apartment or broadcasts from an audience-less club.
Visit the website daily for live gigs at wbgo.org/livestreamhub.
Recently, vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant began her living room concert series with pianist Sullivan Fortner, her frequent accompanist. Currently, the live session is on her Facebook page.
If you are an artist or venue representative and would like your upcoming event listed, visit wbgo.org and select the category marked “Livestream Hub.”
Jazz on the Tube is also presenting a daily livestream. They will post their daily listings every day at noon (jazzonthetube.com).
These online live streams are important to both musicians and audiences. Like with any upcoming live jazz club performance, spread the word—and most importantly, contribute to the show and/or buy albums and other merchandise from their online sites. We are all in this together! These are extremely crucial times and musicians, whatever their genre, need our support. As Sly Stone said, “Stand! There is a cross for you to bear.”
The trumpeter, composer, arranger and big band leader Charles Tolliver recently shared with me how the iconic saxophonist and composer Jackie McLean catapulted his fledgling career in the 1950s into the jazz stratosphere.
Jim Harrison, the jazz promoter/publisher impresario, actually connected Tolliver with his good friend McLean (who he had formed a fan club for earlier on). During a jam session in Brooklyn at the then popular Blue Coronet, Harrison and his wife Fannie were sitting in the audience. At the end of the set, Harrison told the young 21-year-old trumpeter how much he liked his playing and suggested he connect with McLean, who was looking for a trumpeter. McLean, after briefly meeting Tolliver, suggested a meeting at his apartment on the Lower East Side. “When I went to Jackie’s apartment we played a few tunes and we even played a few of my tunes that he liked,” said Tolliver. “Man, you have to realize I’m just 21 right out of Howard and I’m in Jackie McLean’s place playing, just me and him, that was mind-boggling but I was trying to be very cool.”
Tolliver had just returned to Harlem from Howard University, where he majored in pharmacy for three years. “I came back home because I decided to try and make it with my horn,” said Tolliver. In 1963, the little jazz joint that would become NYC’s jazz shrine had yet to present live music. McLean was asked to inaugurate the club with its first live jazz group. His group included pianist Larry Willis, bassist John Orr, drummer Billy Higgins and the youngster on trumpet, Tolliver. “I was a little nervous on that gig since Jackie and I only practiced together, he never seen me in combat,” recalled Tolliver.
After signing with Blue Note Records in 1964, McLean asked Tolliver to join him on his first record date for the label; the album was titled “It’s Time.” The other musicians included pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Haynes. “I have to be honest, man my knees were shaking on that date,” noted Tolliver. “I was playing with the legends, all the cats I admired.” If you are familiar with “It’s Time,” the one thing you will not hear is the shaking of Tolliver’s knees. What listeners hear is a young trumpeter on the jazz launching pad, ready for take-off. It was his crisp definitive tone and McLean’s tutelage that propelled him into the jazz universe. McLean was so impressed with Tolliver’s compositions that out of the album’s six tunes, three were his: “Cancellation” (an uptempo hard bop tune blasting on all cylinders, the solos are outrageous), “Revillot” (Tolliver spelled backwards) jumps out blazing with McLean and Tolliver, and Haynes is killing in the background along with Hancock, McBee’s deep bellows, and trumpet accents that cascade into crazy riffs; and the ballad “Trust” is about more soul. Tolliver portrays a soulfulness that will warm your heart. He went on to record two more albums with McLean. That same year he appeared on the album “Action, Action, Action” and in 1965, McLean recorded “Jacknife” featuring Tolliver and trumpeter Lee Morgan, bassist Larry Ridley, pianist Larry Willis, and drummer Jack DeJohnett. The 10-track album included two Tolliver compositions, the title track and “Blue Nile.”
It was Tolliver who introduced DeJohnette and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson to McLean, who both went on to join his band. “I have to thank Jim Harrison for hooking me up with Jackie and thank Jackie for believing in me and giving me the confidence and support to reach my potential that I am still pursuing,” noted Tolliver. The three albums mentioned are essential. They fit these times swinging with hard bop fortitude for now— indeed, “It’s Time.”
The vibraphonist Warren Wolf can take it funky, straight ahead, classical, or soulful. For the 10-track “Reincarnation” (Mack Avenue Music 2020), he takes listeners on a soulful R&B journey dancing with jazzy rhythms. “The Struggle,” the longest track at 9:21, offers a slow to mid-range swing with pianist Brett Williams offering a variety of colorful melodies, as Warren goes hardcore filling the gaps on a higher plane. Vocalist Imani-Grace Cooper (you can hear the thread of gospel in her voice) offers a serene bluesy rendition of “For the Love of You,” that shines with the original by the Isley Brothers and later by Whitney Houston.
His compositions for this outing reflect R&B groups that touched him during his high school and college days such as D’Angelo, Mint Condition, and Prince. For such an album, Warren needed the right chemistry, from veterans like guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist/keyboards Brett Williams, to the rising star bassist Richie Goods, drummer Carroll “CV” Dashiell III, and young vocalist Imani-Grace Cooper who brings the soul of gospel and blues. “Reincarnation” swings with a soulful truth. Wolf knew Marcellus “Bassman” Shepard, through his role as a DJ on Baltimore’s WEAA 88.9. S Shepard’s baritone serves as emcee and Greek chorus throughout the album.
This fourth album from Wolf for Mack Avenue has a mellow hipness that will keep listeners in the pocket. In real time battling COVID-19 we are basically going through a reincarnation…listen up.
Everyone stay safe, be careful, wash those hands, stay in, connect with loved ones and remain vigilant.