By now we’ve all heard of the movie “Keep On Keepin’ On” starring CLARK TERRY and a piano phenom named JUSTIN KAUFLIN.  Advisement:  Bring tissues, lots of ‘em.  Herewith a few others.

There’s one about overlooked bebop pianist JOE ALBANY entitled “Low Down,” a loving portrait by his daughter Amy.  And there’s another which features jazz called “Whiplash.”

There’s a further jazz connection in that “Low Down” is directed by Jeff Preiss who is the brother of jazz deejay (WKCR) and journalist Cliff.

On the small screen there was HBO’s just ended “Boardwalk Empire,” which featured music from the twenties and thirties some of it “new” all of it iconic.  And a PBS Brit “defective” –detective with flaws– import “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” which soundtrack presents music by Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller in full renditions of tunes by the bands and vocalists, Calloway, Ivie Anderson and Waller.  All, of course, are muses of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn,” Benny Carter’s “M Squad,” Earle Hagen’s “Richard Diamond,” and Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible.”  [Feel free to insert your own faves.]

And in a Bill Nigh two-part mini Brit spy series whose protagonist is a stone jazz fan at one point describing the Billie Holiday-Lester Young reunion encounter in 1959′s “The Sound of Jazz” to a new initiate in detail including filmed references.  At another point someone asks the love interest if she can “put up with his jazz.”  Guess it is a universal problem for us: life with a female, or the music.

In the Quincy Jones produced “Keep On…” we find Kauflin, the progeny of a German-Jewish father and an Asian mother who looks neither and wears a cross, shows the game but failing Terry tutoring the young and blind Kauflin.  [At this writing CT is still teaching.]  Together they get Kauflin to the finals of a Thelonious Monk Competition –no Hollywood ending; he doesn’t win– while CT goes through diabetes trauma of lost eyesight and both lower limbs.  You’ll use those hankies, trust me.  Save for the built-in pathos no flaws for such a deserving human being.  BTW, he turned 94 late in ’14 with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra at his bedside to “Happy Birthday” him.  More tissues, please.



Still digging in the “found” bin we find new tomes by Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Sheila Jordan.  The trio of books have been reviewed all over the planet so nothing to add here.  The Hancock –”Possibilities”–must have been hard for him to expose some of the things contained therein.  That said, Hancock has led a multifarious musical life.  That in itself makes the book important.

We got close as we both chanted as Nishrin Shoshu Buddhists.  At that same gathering I got closer to Buster Williams, Onaje Allen Gumbs and my good friend percussionist and photographer Nobu Urushiyama, who introduced me to chanting.  As Hancock intimates in “Possibilities” it was at a low point of my life.  Nobu now lives near UNLV where I lecture twice a year.

Hancock was honored alongside Quincy Jones at 2014′s Jazz Foundation fundraiser at the Apollo Theatre.

“Benson: The Autobiography” has been told by him and others, myself included, as to how as a child he played on the streets of Pittsburgh –there’s that city again– against his families wishes.  How his uncle made him a “ukulele” out of a cigar box, a broomstick and twine.  How he played and danced and sang for the folks who threw money at him.

During interviews with such as Tavis Smiley Benson acknowledged, for the first time in my recollection, that among his principal mentors was CTI Records owner and producer Creed Taylor, who probably saved his career along with others on the label such as Wes Montgomery.  [see my liner notes to "Benson Burner" his first recordings.  (Columbia reissue)]

The Jordan –”Jazz Child”– follows the singer’s well-worn career from dirt-poor orphan from coalmine country Pa. lying about her age to get in to hear her hero Charlie Parker.  The ruse failed but the kindhearted owner told Bird she was at the stage door listening in so he came out to greet her leaving the door ajar.  “I loved Bird so much I married his piano player [Duke Jordan],” she was fond of telling anyone who would listen.

“I share a birthday with none other than Mickey Mouse,” she is proud to announce.  Sheila and I still celebrate our birthdays together; her’s one day, and ten years prior to mine.



The Manhattan School of Music’s 2014-15 programs continued with October’s “Melba Liston Remembered.”  Subtitled “Celebrating the Collaboration of Melba Liston and Randy Weston” the evening, co-produced by the Wilbur Ware Institute and MSM Jazz Arts, this timeless program consisted of Liston’s music and arrangements as recognized and often played by her deep friendship with the pianist Randy Weston.  The conductor, as always, was Justin DiCioccio.

Melba Liston’s music is timeless and ubiquitous.  Part 1, the small group sessions, featured saxophonist Fostina Dixon leading a septet in a trio of selections: “Insomnia,” “All Deliberate Speed,” and “Elvin Elpus.”

Liston was as blues-laden a writer as they come.  The first, an old-fashioned country blues, featured some extensive group riffing.  The middle, some really hot front line of flute, alto sax and trombone.  The final selection was in 5/4 and added trumpet back into the mix.  This time the alto sax sat out and the flute took over the soprano sax spot.  Are you getting all this?  Melba Liston was one heavyweight  arranger.

During the interval I took the opportunity to check out the packed Borden Auditorium.  There were stars from movies and other artistic disciplines juxtaposed with insiders and fans.

The music in the second half was all familiar, but never redundant, Weston as arranged by Liston: the waltz “Blues To Africa,” a slow and intense “The Healer,” and the full length “African Sunrise,” with long codas from two MSM trumpeters.  One was Adam O’Farrill.  Sitting in on guitar in the opener –with no glove on– was Bernie Williams, who is studying at MSM.

Playing solos and in a concerto-grosso role were the Weston group as always featuring Weston, piano, saxophonist T.K. Blue, bassist Santi Debriano and percussionist Neil Clarke.



Two more uptown happenings highlighted the last quarter if 2014.  Jazzmobile celebrated its first half-century, and a plaque honoring Louis Armstrong was finally placed in the Apollo’s Walk of Fame.

The 50th Anny was as Jazzmobile does: jam sessions with multiple performers around cohesive leadership.  Much too many to list here the program was put together under the titular leadership of Patience Higgins.

The “First Set” sound was not together.  How could it be in the absence of their engineer emeritus and coordinator Johnny Garry.  Conspicuous by that absence even in naming him as the person most responsible for the sound coordination all these years on the trailer in the street.

From the beginning then: Jazzmobile was formed by a grant from the NEA to pianist, et al, Dr. Billy Taylor and Daphne Arnstein as a way of keeping The Apple cool during the tense summers of the mid 1960′s.  Under the aegis of Dr. Taylor what began as jazz-on-trailers on the streets of New York blossomed into a full-fledged Harlem-based teaching institution.  For the full story

[Dr. Taylor's surrogate was drummer S. David Bailey, also in absentia.  One day Bailey will give me permission to use all the inside info he has generously endowed me over the years.  This report is based solely on the 50th Anny presentation.]

Held at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem (see NY Times Dec. 12 article) it was a sold-out gala affair.  Each set featured different players with the stalwart pianists Danny Mixon or Lafayette Harris as the glue.  They all came out to celebrate: Drummers Louis Hayes, Bobby Sanabria, Jimmy Cobb, Napoleon Revels-Bey; bassists Michael Max Fleming, Danell Jay Starkes, Lisle Atkinson, Alex Hernandez; trumpeters Jeremy Pelt, James Zollar; saxophonists Higgins, T.K. Blue; guitarists Rick Stone, Solomon Hicks, Russell Malone; percussionists Sanabria and Ray Mantilla; trombonist Kiane Zawadi; vocalists Cynthia Scott, Melba Joyce, Antoinette Montague, Ghanniyya Green, Lynette Washington, Whitney Marchelle, Camille Thurman, who doubled on sax.

The tunes, standards all, were not overdrawn, no extended soli.  Just the right amount of space to get everyone over.  The entire evening was hosted by WBGO radio’s Rhonda Hamilton and Jazzmobile’s Robin Bell Stevens.



It’s about time don’t you think!?  In front of the Apollo Theatre on W. 125th St. there is a fairly recent sidewalk installation.  In place of stone implants there are tiles set aside for the great artists who played the theatre.  This fall it was Louis Armstrong’s turn.  It was an outdoor affair with a New Orleans-type street band drawing crowds as they marched down 125th.   Speeches and an indoor reception followed.



As our ranks continue to be thinned they are hitting closer to home.   Herewith a few friends not in any particular order:

Bunny Briggs, dancer and singer who “danced before the lord with all his might” from Ellington’s First Concert of Sacred Music.  The Maestro had a long sobriquet for Briggs’ talent: “A most superleviathonic tapsarhymanaticianist.”  (I think.)  I was there on a bitterly cold night after Christmas 1965.  Lena Horne made a surprise appearance accompanied by Billy Strayhorn.

Jackie Cain, female vocalist half of Jackie & Roy.  A more gentle soul would be hard to find.  A more angelic voice ditto.  We shared many moments together at their beautifully appointed home in Montclair, NJ.

Leigh Kamman, disc jockey from Minnesota.  He longed to be in NYC so I became his eyes.  He helped my (publicity) clients get airplay.  Leigh (pronounced “Lay”) was knowledgeable about every aspect of the music.  I learned from our many conversations.

David Redfern, photographer.  See previous post.

Chris White, bassist.  Here was one happy guy.  He always smiled when he played.  He danced with the bass.  At one point during a Highlights In Jazz concert host Jack Kleinsinger turned to him and asked facetiously “why don’t you have some fun?”  Pianist Mike Longo with whom Chris played in a Dizzy Gillespie Quartet remembered their fun on the road.  “The guy never stopped.”  I met Chris with a Dizzy group on a cruise.

© arnold jay smith December 2014









Comments are closed.

Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | Copyright Notice | Anti Spam Policy | Earnings Disclaimer | Health Disclaimers | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy