JazzWatch #51 | Orrin Evans

As one of the most prolific pianists today, Orrin Evans remains constant in his documentation of his growth and musical wisdom. His latest CD, “The Evolution of Oneself” places him in a premier trio context with drummer Kareem Riggins and bassist Christian McBride. The music swings, grooves and floats but always with a pulse. This album further captivates with a few surprises.  Evans’ youngest son produces a very captivating three-part interlude, “Genesis,” that is broken up over the course of the CD, while the surprising appearance of the Americana tune, “Wildwood Flower,” and Grover Washington Jr.’s, “A Secret Place” further demonstrates Evans’ ability to consistently shine through among the diversity of material and influences.

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JazzWatch #48 | Benny Golson

Composer, bandleader, saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson has established a legacy built on the pursuit of excellence. That excellence has also contributed to the legacy and careers of peers such as Art Farmer, Art Blakey & Lee Morgan while raising the bar among improvisers and composers for all generations that followed. His reputation as a true gentleman is equally renowned. Mr. Golson is a leading clinician and his current group featuring the rhythm section of drummer Carl Allen, bassist Buster Williams and pianist Mike LeDonne is a leading ensemble churning out the truest swing.  You wont find a more honest and pleasant soul as Mr. Golson, and it was a treasure to have a conversation with him for Jazzwatch. If you have not seen him in concert, please do so, and be on the lookout for a new CD from Mr. Golson in 2016.

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JazzWatch #47 | René Marie

Over the last fifteen years, vocalist and songwriter Rene Marie has risen to international and popular acclaim by sticking to her guns. As you’ll hear, Rene has fought hard to be where she is and it’s paying off. She was nominated for the 2014 “Best Jazz Vocal Album” Grammy award for “I Wanna Be Evil” – her trbute to the late Eartha Kitt. These days Rene is traveling the world with her group and is preparing to record a brand new CD of all original compositions. She advocates for vocalists and musicians to be themselves and to take their craft as seriously as possible. We hope that you enjoy our chat with Rene Marie.

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JazzWatch #42 | Nicholas Payton

Multi-instrumentalist and trumpet master Nicholas Payton continues to spread the Black American Music tradition to audiences across the globe. His forthcoming double CD, “Letters” is a diverse representation of this tradition and he plans to have the project out this summer. As has become customary in concert, the forthcoming release features Payton on trumpet, piano and Rhodes piano, along with Vicente Archer’s bass and the drums of Bill Stewart. You’ll also hear Payton covering organ and vocal duties on “Letters.” In our interview, Payton speaks about his new process for composing, the recent BAM Festival held in his honor in Italy, his affinity for his home city of New Orleans and reflections on music masters and mentors such as Ray Brown and Elvin Jones. Hear samples of the forthcoming “Letters” project at soundcloud.com/NicholasPayton and find out more information at nicholaspayton.com.

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JazzWatch #41 | Cassandra Wilson

Grammy Award Winning vocalist Cassandra Wilson continues to inspire audiences in live performance and on her latest CD, “Coming Forth By Day.” Wilson’s distinctive aura,  the synergy of her band and producer Nick Launay guide listeners through a moving devotion to the great Billie Holiday. The genre-less approach to noted Great American Songbook (GAS) classics that Holiday favored is firmly in the tradition of Wilson’s conception. She’s broken numerous barriers for the current generation of artists with regard to the types of tunes that can be covered beyond the standards, but when the material steers toward the classics found on “Coming Forth”, Wilson and company shape the arrangements in the moment and keep their ears in the present with an eye toward the future. In our conversation, Cassandra shares some insight into the making of the record, reflects on key members of her touring band and shares some wisdom with us that she gained along the way.

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JazzWatch #38 | Harold Mabern

Pianist Harold Mabern is one of the true treasures of improvisational music. Born in Memphis, Tennessee and self taught as a pianist, he and his peers (George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Booker Little) developed rapidly. As he discusses in our chat, Mr. Mabern’s move to the city of Chicago after high school graduation further enhanced his pedigree. As the pianist for the MJT +3, his harmonic and rhythmic ideas were the ideal compliment to Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw. In this interview, Mabern speaks about these beginnings and his move to New York where he has remained a first call pianist for the last 50 years holding the piano chair with fellow luminaries such as Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman. He began recording as a leader for Prestige Records in 1968, and his newest recording, “Afro Blue,” on the Smoke Sessions Label pairs his group with all-star vocalists Gregory Porter, Alexis Cole, Kurt Elling, Norah Jones and Jane Monheit. This CD promises to be a unique addition to his body of work and will help to further introduce him to a greater addition of listeners. Play on, Mr. Mabern!

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JazzWatch #37 | Les McCann

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.

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