Since his initial rise to prominence on the national music scene, Les McCann has been a vessel overflowing with creative expression. First recognized for his soulful and dynamic piano playing in the early 60s, Les grew his audience with two hit tunes (“With These Hands”, “Compared to What”) in the latter part of the decade featuring his distinctive vocals. All along the way, he always kept a high quality camera nearby. Whether in a new city, hanging after a festival set or just heading out with friends, insiders welcomed Les into various circles and he often captured the mood of the moment with a candid image. Now in 2015, several of these prime images are collected for the first time in Les’ book, “Invitation to Openness,” a collection bearing the same title as his 1972 masterwork for Atlantic Records. As I spoke with Mr. McCann, he shared memories about many of the now legendary stars that are photographed in this book, some memories about the classic LP/CD, “Invitation,” and the sharpest wit and wisdom that you’re ever likely to hear. Enjoy.
Gerald Clayton has earned a unique place among the current generation of pianists and composers. He’s equally versed in the rich tradition of jazz as well as its modern sounds and explorations. Not only has Clayton been called upon to perform with father John and uncle Jeff Clayton in their award-winning ensembles, he’s also been featured with a diverse array of A-list bandleaders such as vocalist Gretchen Parlato, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Clayton’s trio and expanded ensembles have been featured over three acclaimed releases (Two-Shade, Bond and Life Force) and he has enjoyed leading these ensembles in tours across the U.S. and abroad. He spoke with us about his growth and development in the music while imparting some wisdom about sharing improvisational music with new listeners.
Pianist and composer Matthew Shipp is an original voice on the modern improvisational music scene. Having been in the ensembles of noted improvisers such as Roscoe Mitchell, William Parker and David S. Ware, Shipp has enhanced his musical legacy primarily through assembling a string of his own intense and diverse musical ensembles. Recent recordings, “One”, “Un Piano,” 4D,” “Piano Sutras,” “Root of Things,” and, “To Duke,” are direct examples of Shipp’s tireless dedication to the art of improvising. It’s honest and direct music that commands attention. Shipp speaks about his origins, many of his lasting musical associations and the need for continually presenting diverse programming at festivals and concert series.
Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s recording “Bird Calls” isn’t a tribute, but rather a “devotion” to the energy and spirit of Charlie Parker. His incredibly energetic quintet featuring pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, drummer Rudy Royston, and 20-year old trumpet prodigy Adam O’Farrill executes the project’s vision expertly— to play distinct, original compositions directly based on a Parker solo or composition that are never imitative. It seems as though it’s almost the perfect setting for Mahanthapa’s sound and conception. He’s blazing here. As “Bird Calls” is already earning critical praise, it should prove to be a landmark in Mahanthappa’s evolving catalog and career as he continues to earn diverse distinctions and acclaim from groups such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Downbeat Magazine, Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music of America.
Acclaimed drummer and composer Jack DeJohnette is a true master of rhythm. As one of the last distinct voices to emerge from the golden era of improvisational music, DeJohnette is perhaps at the peak of his powers in 2015. His career has spanned through the ensembles of Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, Bill Evans, Jackie McLean, Jon Patton and Keith Jarrett in addition to his unique ensembles as a leader. Following his 2012 NEA Jazz Master Award, DeJohnette was contacted by the Chicago Jazz Festival and asked to headline one of the evenings the following year with any ensemble of his choosing. Armed with reed-men Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Larry Gray and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, DeJohnette orchestrated one of his most adventurous live performances in recent years. This reunion of old friends was recorded, edited, mastered, and as is now available on the ECM release, “Made In Chicago.” In this chat, DeJohnette speaks about his origins in Chicago and many of the names and places that helped to develop his conception of music.
Jazzwatch is happy to present our extended conversation with drummer Damion Reid. His unique blend of traditional and contemporary elements of rhythm has been well-represented on recordings and in live performances around the world with an amazing cast of artists such as Robert Hurst, Steve Coleman, Rudresh Mahanthapa, Greg Osby and Robert Glasper. In this conversation, Reid shares wisdom from the late drum master Billy Higgins – an early mentor and advocate. He also reflects and provides insight on his role in the recently re-formed Robert Glasper Trio – a sound that continues to engage and inspire the current generation of musicians and listeners. As amazing as Reid is at recording, he is certainly one to experience live. Keep informed on his latest happenings and upcoming performances at www.damionreid.com.
Most noted for his work with the groups Lettuce and Soulive, guitarist Eric Krasno has been touring the world since 1999 with his grooving blend of agility, grit and spirit. With Soulive, Krasno has released over fifteen CDs and collaborated with an extensive variety of artists including Dave Matthews, Chaka Khan, George Porter, John Scofield, Melvin Sparks, Charlie Hunter and Derek Trucks. Krasno just formed a new label, Feel Music Group, and launched a new signature series instrument with Ibanez Guitars. In this conversation, he shares some great stories about the beginning of Soulive, the influence and mentorship of the late Yusef Lateef as well as a preview of this year’s annual Bowlive concert residency in New York’s Brooklyn Bowl.