Archives for posts with tag: Celebrating Elvin Jones

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Words by Hank Williams. Photos by Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | MAIN PHOTO: (L-R) Antoine Roney, Gerald Cannon, and Ravi Coltrane. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun’s musical journey made its latest stop last week at the famed Blue Note club in Greenwich Village for a 3-night midweek run of music focused on the late drum legend Elvin Jones. I caught the early sets on Tuesday and Thursday.

“Celebrating Elvin Jones” as the dates were called was billed as the release event for the CD of the same name, although it has been available since late summer 2017 and has garnered deserved praise from critics – and fans alike, depending how much stake one puts on Amazon’s customer reviews.

The logistics of arranging club dates (and syncing them with Calhoun’s ambitious travel schedule) pushed the event to the current period.

The material has been performed live several times already, though. Calhoun had a set at the 2016 Winter Jazz Festival with much of the current ensemble. This was followed by an August Jazzmobile event in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, a 3-night September run at Tokyo’s Cotton Club, and fall dates at Scullers in Boston and the San Jose Jazz Festival.

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Will Calhoun

For these Blue Note dates, Calhoun fortified his ensemble with some of the musicians on the CD – saxophonist Antoine Roney and pianist Carlos McKinney – while calling up veteran bassist Gerald Cannon to provide the heartbeat and adding a special guest each night: saxophonist Ravi Coltrane on Tuesday, trumpeter Randy Brecker on Wednesday, and guitarist Russell Malone on Thursday, respectively. The connecting thread is that they have all played with Jones. Calhoun, ironically, is the only one who hasn’t since the two share the same instrument.

Calhoun, however, may be the perfect person to approach the project. “With Will I felt the [same] spirit and looseness that Elvin had,” Cannon said. “It’s a very rare thing in another drummer.” Cannon would know: he held the bass chair in the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine until Jones’s death in 2004. While Cannon had been following Calhoun’s meteoric career with the popular rock band Living Colour, he wasn’t aware of the drummer’s range–and interest in Jazz—until a series of Blue Note dates after Jones’s death. The decision was made to honor the Jazz Machine’s pre-arranged run with someone different in the drum chair each night. Cannon persuaded the drummer’s widow Keiko to allow Calhoun to have a night and he made an impression. “This cat can swing, man,” Cannon thought after the sets.

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Gerald Cannon (left) and Ravi Coltrane

Additionally, Cannon’s the musical director for pianist McCoy Tyner, who he’s played with for 11 years. As such, his insight is even more valuable since John Coltrane’s alumni seem to take many common indelible lessons with them from their time with the band although they’ve followed varied musical paths. “What I’ve learned by playing with McCoy and Elvin is the spiritual aspect of the music,” he told me. “When you play with them, you just feel enlightenment.”

Gerald Cannon: What I’ve learned by playing with McCoy and Elvin is the spiritual aspect of the music

Calhoun, echoing Cannon’s point, described his approach to the music and choice of lineup as “a sacred thing,” carefully choosing musicians who could see the spiritual side of the project and join him on the journey. The investment paid off, as the assembled ensemble treated the work with incredible respect as they worked to form intimacy on the bandstand.

The more one sits with Calhoun’s Elvin Jones project (both the performances and CD), the more one realizes that a lot of thought goes into just about every detail. Hence, the choice of an ensemble was far from simple, though understandably somewhat dictated by logistics and availability.

“I thought about [the lineup] for quite some time and wanted to stick with the guys on the recording for obvious reasons,” Calhoun related over the telephone. “Also, [the musicians] understood my vision and the guys know me personally outside the music.”

Given that, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane was a natural addition. Calhoun wanted him to be a part of the original recording, but it didn’t work out scheduling-wise. “Having Ravi up there is a sonic value and spiritual vibration,” Calhoun said. “There’s another kind of meaning to having Ravi there as well,” as he sees working with Coltrane’s son, (who’s now carved out his own unique voice on the instrument mastered by his famous father) as being the natural closing of the circle.

Similarly, Calhoun had sought out trumpeter Randy Brecker for his earlier Life in this World and Native Lands releases, but clashing schedules scuttled the efforts. Brecker’s commitment to the set was so great that he passed up a tribute to his brother to be at the show.

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Gerald Cannon (left) and Russell Malone

Finally, adding a guitarist to the rotation was a natural move for Calhoun, hence the presence of Russell Malone. “I just like the instrument and freedom of the [guitar as an] instrument,” he revealed. “Elvin played guitar and played with [guitarists] John Paul Bourelly and Jim Hall.” Calhoun plays the 12 string acoustic guitar on “Sarmastah,” one of his own compositions that appears on the release, though wasn’t part of the Blue Note sets.

Not surprisingly, the same reverence and obsessive attention to detail also went into the choice of songs to be played.

The setlist was identical both dates: “EJ Blues,” followed by “Harmonique,” then “Doll of the Bride,” and an electrified version of “A Love Supreme” to close the set. The choice of music wasn’t an easy one, Calhoun confessed. While he wanted to showcase music from the CD (indeed, the first three songs are on the release), not everything from the release could make the cut for the live performance: a necessary concession to the reality of time limits when dealing with club sets, especially when dealing with longer pieces that allow artists to fully stretch out and explore the music, which was the case.

The result, however, was a holistic approach to Jones, going beyond mere replication of his music and performances, but a real attempt to present as full an account of his essence as possible. The choices make sense in that context. “EJ Blues” is a Jones composition; “Harmonique” and, of course, “A Love Supreme” hail from John Coltrane; “Doll of the Bride” is adapted from a traditional Japanese folk song and was a staple of Jones’s own setlists while he helmed the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.

The rotating guests also served to give the music a distinctly different feel each night as the rest of the ensemble worked around the unique instrumental sound, colors, and approach of each one. Guests, Calhoun said, “take you a little bit out of the norm.”

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Antoine Roney

In “EJ Blues,” for instance, Coltrane and Roney traded sax solos on Tuesday night, with the former opting for soprano saxophone. On Thursday, guitarist Russell Malone’s approach allowed Roney more space to shine while adding subtle colors to the main melody.

“Harmonique” highlighted the different approaches the different guests brought. While the general structure of the song remained the same, subtle changes were pronounced between the nights. Cannon’s bass solo led off each time, though Tuesday’s rendition saw Coltrane and Roney collaborating and smoothing out the edges of the angular melody. On Thursday, Malone subtly added color while Roney more purposefully hit the slightly atonal notes in the intro.

A seemingly simple question to Calhoun about his arrangement of “Doll of the Bride”–which began with an extended drum and percussion solo each time–led to a patient, unexpectedly detailed explanation that can only be highlighted here.

The key characters in the story, however, are the late Senegalese master percussionist Doudou N’Diaye Rose (who appears on the album as a guest on the song) and and Moussa D’Gyue, who owned a shop in Harlem that Calhoun frequented as a teenager. “He was like my uncle,” Calhoun says of D’Gyue, who shared many lessons on Africa, recommended books, and generally fed his intellectual curiousity.

After hours, D’Gyue and a group of West African men would gather in the back around a communal plate of food for a wide-ranging discussion of politics, culture, and whatever else they decided to engage. Eventually they invited him into the fold. “It was my first time witnessing that type of interaction,” Calhoun says.

D’Gyue became a crucial contact much later in Calhoun’s career when he took his mentor along for a series of shows he had booked in Senegal. Calhoun had been trying to get introduced to Rose for years without success and it turned out that D’Gyue knew the master percussionist and was able to arrange a meeting.

Calhoun: The world is my library

All of this leads back to the goal of Calhoun’s “Doll of the Bride” intro, as he sought “to create this almost drive by view of African rhythms:” a broad outline of what one might see, were they fortunate enough to have gone on Calhoun’s journey. Calhoun summed up the inspiration for the song’s arrangement much more succinctly in his on-stage intros, simply saying, “the world is my library.”

Calhoun began both nights on the Senegalese bongo drum, eventually moving to the drum kit while Cannon kept time with a heartbeat-like bass rhythm. Cannon, who’s also an accomplished visual artist, compared working Calhoun’s rhythm section to “doing a collaborative painting.”

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Calhoun

Calhoun wanted to “start out with a more traditional approach,” hence the use of his hands. As the solo built, Calhoun eventually enlisted nearly every form of input possible, working the sticks, mallets, brushes, and even his bare hands on different drum surfaces in an attempt to replicate what he’d listened to and learned: a deceptively difficult task. “The Senegalese rhythms are quite difficult to play on the drum kit,” Calhoun explained to me later.

But it all came back to Jones even before the solo ended. “Elvin’s drumming has a bit of Congolese and West African style,” he pointed out, hence Calhoun’s meshing of different approaches and specific rhythmic patterns.

On Thursday night, McKinney’s melodic solo on “Doll of the Bride” slowed the song’s intensity before building to a fierce percussive assault of his own on the piano, which gave way to Malone’s solo on the guitar. Calhoun said that Malone’s “tone is a bit darker than the pop tone and works great with the melodies” they were playing.

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Carlos McKinney

As with the other songs, each musician was given plenty of space to solo and collaboratively build the piece. Malone’s shift from improvisation back to the song’s melody signaled Roney to return to the stage for his turn in the spotlight and Cannon’s solo built off his delicately plucking out the melody on the strings as the rest of the bandstand and audience quieted to listen to one of the more contemplative and intimate moments in a night often filled with the type of explosive fire Jones himself is usually associated with. Cannon told me that one thing he’s learned from extensive work with Elvin Jones and now McCoy Tyner “is how important [his] role is as a bass player in order to be flexible and solid at the same time.”

Time was running short on both nights, which left space for only a very abbreviated rendition of “A Love Supreme” as a finale, which Calhoun playfully (and accurately) described onstage as “an uptown, electronic, Bronx version.”

The Senegalese bongo was again Calhoun’s chosen tool to start the song, which seamlessly morphed into Cannon’s delivery of the famous bass line, which invited Roney and McKinney into the mixture and the piece ended with a shimmery piano flourish.

And that was it.

The end of Thursday’s set had a slightly bittersweet feel as it was the final night and there was only one more set to go before the end of the short run.

Gerald Cannon: I haven’t played these tunes since Elvin died

“It was a little emotional for me,” Cannon confided. “I haven’t played these tunes since Elvin died.”

The intimacy and familiarity with the material developed over several sets on successive nights seemed to really bring the ensemble together. Cannon mentioned several times how much fun it was, pointing out that the comfort level had reached the point where he felt as if he could really explore, adding that “Will’s a great bandleader.” That’s high praise from someone with Cannon’s experience.

The next steps of this project are unclear since it’s just one of many projects all of the musicians juggle. Cannon has several scattered spring dates at the Blue Note with McCoy Tyner along with other gigs. Coltrane has his own work as a leader, including a week in February at the Jazz Standard. Brecker, Roney, and McKinney have commitments as well.

Calhoun heads out for another global tour to support the release of Living Colour’s new Synesthesia release and will somehow squeeze in time for work on film scores, his visual art collaboration, and (one of my favorite projects) a live recording date with guitarist Melvin Gibbs and bassist Vernon Reid for the Zig Zag power trio that performed at the 2017 Winter Jazz Fest and has had a few other dates over the past two years.

Calhoun’s committed to continuing work on the Elvin Jones project and more dates, but admits that “it’s been a little challenging,” pointing out that “there’s not a lot of money involved,” a constant refrain and reality of working in jazz now.

Calhoun: I want to honor the music and play it in an arena where it’s respected

Not surprisingly, it’s more than just the logistics of finances. ”I want to honor the music and play it in an arena where it’s respected,” Calhoun said. “Being an artist, you have a few important decisions to make” and one is artistic integrity and honoring the work. Fans will just have to keep their eyes on Calhoun’s tour schedule for more dates. Calhoun says that there’s one guaranteed stop, though.

“Of course, I have to play in Detroit because that’s where the Jones brothers are from.”
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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.

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bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests. We’re online weekly and on the air on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM -1 AM. Keep up with us via Facebook, the blog here, or our main website, or Twitter and we’ll keep track of the schedule for you.

This week’s guest is bassist Melvin Gibbs. You can catch him at at Brooklyn’s Shapeshifter Lab on February 16 or The Stone on February 18 with with drummer JT Lewis and Harriet Tubman. Now let’s get to our music listings.

Bassist Mimi Jones hosts a jam session in the late set at Smoke on January 23rd and 30th. You can also catch her leading her own sextet at Monmouth University in New Jersey on February 4th.

Pianist Harold Mabern leads a trio at Smalls on the 18th.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun has a CD release event for his Elvin Jones tribute at the Blue Note from the 24-26. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joins Calhoun as special guest on the 24th.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille is at the Whitney Museum on January 27th for the Sound and Colors studio session.

Master drummer Michael Carvin is at St. Peter’s Church as part of a musical tribute to the late vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson on the 28th.

Tubist Howard Johnson is at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem for a 75th birthday performance on January 29th.

Bassist Christian McBride is also at the Jazz Museum to talk about his recording career for part 1 of the Session Stories on January 31st.

Vocalist Carmen Lundy is at Birdland from January 31-February 4 2017.
Organist

John Medeski has a residency at The Stone from January 31-February 5 2017.

Vocalist Catherine Russell is at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre on February 4 as part of the Family Concert series: Who is Louis Armstrong?

Guitarist Marc Ribot is at Sunny’s in Red Hook Brooklyn on February 9th.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun’s gallery exhibit of his visual art collaboration Aza is on view at the Bronx Music Heritage Center through February 11. We reviewed the show earlier this year.

That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl is scheduled to be back on WBAI‘s airwaves on February 5th. We’ll also have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests. We’re online weekly and on the air on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM -1 AM. Keep up with us via Facebook, the blog here, or our main website, or Twitter and we’ll keep track of the schedule for you.

We’re off this week, but head on over to our archives for last week’s show with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra with Ruth Cameron Haden and tuba player and long time Liberation Music Orchestra member Joseph Daley and nearly 7 years of archived shows.

Bassist Mimi Jones hosts a jam session in the late set at Smoke on January 16th, 23rd, 30th.

Bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake team up on the 16 and 18 at the Clemente Soto Velez Center as part of Arts for Art’s Justice is Compassion series.

Joseph Daley will be at Terra Blues with Hazmat Modine on the 21st.

Bassist Christian McBride has a 2-week run at the Village Vanguard, leading a quartet from the 17-22nd.

Pianist Harold Mabern leads a trio at Smalls on the 18th.

Drummer/ percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett leads AfroHORN at Clemente Soto Velez Center on the 19th.

Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts leads a quintet with Ravi Coltrane on saxophone at the Jazz Standard from the 19th-22nd.

Guitarist Pat Metheny leads a quartet with drummer Antonio Sanchez at the Ridgefield Playhouse in CT on January 20th and at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ on the 22nd.

Vocalist Kurt Elling is with saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on the 20-21st.

Drummer and percussionist Bobby Sanabria is at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in The Bronx with Larry Harlow on the 21st.

Guitarist Marc Ribot is at The Stone on January 22nd with fellow guitarist James Moore.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun has a CD release event for his Elvin Jones tribute at the Blue Note from the 24-26. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane joins Calhoun as special guest on the 24th.

Howard Johnson will be at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem as part of an extended 75th birthday celebration on January 29.

Vocalist Carmen Lundy is at Birdland from January 31-February 4 2017.
Organist

John Medeski has a residency at The Stone from January 31-February 5 2017.

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Vision Fest promoters Arts for Art is again sponsoring a nearly month-long series from January 2-22nd of music, poetry, dance, and visual art titled “Justice is Compassion/
Not a Police State” at the Clemente Soto Velez Center on the Lower East Side. Poet
Jesus Papoleto Melendez, bassist William Parker, drummer Hamid Drake, drummer/percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett’s AfroHORN, and dancer Patricia Nicholson Parker are just a few of the many involved. See the full schedule of 65 performances at their website.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun’s gallery exhibit of his visual art collaboration Aza is on view at the Bronx Music Heritage Center through February 11. We reviewed the show earlier this year.

That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl is scheduled to be back on WBAI‘s airwaves on January 22nd. We’ll also have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests. We’re online weekly and on the air on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM -1 AM. Keep up with us via Facebook, the blog here, or our main website, or Twitter and we’ll keep track of the schedule for you.
 

Will_Calhoun_Celebrating_Elvin_Jones_150px Autographed copies of Will Calhoun’s brand new CD Celebrating Elvin Jones are available for a pledge of only $25

 
This week’s guest is drummer/percussionist Will Calhoun who gives us the inside scoop on his new release in honor of Elvin Jones! You can catch him in a free outdoor show on Friday the 12th at Marcus Garvey Park as part of the Jazzmobile series or with Living Colour on the 17th in a special acoustic set at City Winery or, at the Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn on the 28th. We have several premiums for you in this pledge drive edition. Autographed copies of Will Calhoun’s brand new CD Celebrating Elvin Jones are available for a pledge of only $25. We only have a few so call 516 620 3602 or make a pledge online. We still have a few copies left of the Perfection CD by the MAC Power Trio of David Murray, Geri Allen, and drummer Teri Lynne Carrington for a $25 pledge. Finally, autographed copies of Quincy Troupe’s book Miles and Me about his relationship with Miles Davis are available for pledges of $35. All premiums include a year’s membership to WBAI and all proceeds go to supporting listener-supported free speech community radio in NYC. Many thanks to Motema Records for their donation of the CDs! And we have music listings for you!
 
Harpist Brandee Younger has weekly Sunday brunch sets at Minton’s in Harlem.
 
Pianist Marc Cary hosts The Harlem Sessions at Ginny’s Supper Club on Thursdays in August.
 
Organist John Medeski is at the Village Vanguard with pianist Uri Caine on August 9.
 
Drummer Cindy Blackman Santana is at the Jazz Standard on August 9-10th.
 
Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts leads a quartet at Jazz Standard from August 11-14th.
 
Drummer Will Calhoun is at Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park for a free outdoor performance as part of the Jazzmobile series on the 12th.
 
Vocalist Thana Alexa is at Club Bonafide with Michael Olatuja on the 13th.
 
Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and bassist Christian McBride both lead bands at the Montclair Jazz Festival on the 13th.
 
Bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake are at The Stone from the 17-20 with guitarist Joe Morris.
 
Pianist Randy Weston leads the African Rhythms ensemble with bassist Alex Blake at the Jazz in the Valley Festival in Poughkeepsie NY on August 21st. If you miss them there, they’ll be at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park on the 27th.
 
Trombonist Craig Harris is also at Jazz in the Valley Festival on August 21st.
 
Drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria leads the Multiverse Big Band at Grant’s Tomb for a free outdoor performance as part of the Jazzmobile series on the 24th.
 
Percussionist Steve Kroon is at the Louis Armstrong House and Museum in Queens for a free outdoor performance as part of the Jazzmobile series on the 25th.
 
Finally, Guitarist Julian Lage is at The Stone with fellow guitarist Nels Cline on the 25th.
 
That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl is back on WBAI‘s airwaves on August 21. We’ll also have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.
 
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Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.

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