Jazz Notes From NYC: Everything You Need to Swing

Filling our notebook with great performances by Steven Bernstein, Louis Hayes, Lee Konitz, and plenty more.

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Jazz Notes From NYC: Everything You Need to Swing

MTO IS BACK ON TRACK: Trumpeter-composer-arranger Steven Bernstein (above) put his Millennial Territory Orchestra on the shelf these past couple years while he toured with his New Orleans-flavored Steven Bernstein-Henry Butler Hot 9 and his edgy Sex Mob quartet (which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year). But on Sept. 6, Bernstein broke out the old MTO songbook for a rare one-night engagement at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola with that nine-piece band he formed in 1999. They opened with an impressionistic take on W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” that swerved into Count Basie’s “Rusty Dusty,” with Bernstein conducting his crew in an spontaneous manner that recalled Sun Ra leading his Arkestra, before returning to Handy’s familiar theme. Next up was an authentic reading of the bawdy 1920s number “The Boy in the Boat,” which featured the leader on some plunger trumpet call-and-response with swinging violinist Charles Burnham. The versatile group revealed its eclectic nature with highly stylized renditions of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” and The Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry,” featuring Ron Blake (subbing for Erik Lawrence) on a potent baritone sax solo, before tackling Duke Ellington’s “Flirtibird” from the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s Anatomy of a Murder. Only Bernstein, who doesn’t discriminate at all when it comes to musical styles, would lump the Dead, the Beatles and Duke as a triumverate.

OCTOGENARIANS REIGN AT BIRDFEST: Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington brought a thoughtful sociopolitical message to the Marcus Garvey Park bandstand in Harlem on Aug. 26 with her Social Science project, and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman energized the Tompkins Square Park crowd the following day with his killer quartet (featuring drummer Marcus Gilmore, pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist Reuben Rogers), but it was two octogenarians and one nonagenarian who almost stole the show at the 25th annual Charlie Parker Parker Jazz Festival.

Eighty-year-old drummer Louis Hayes, whose main associations were with the Horace Silver Quintet in the 1950s and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in the ‘60s, led a potent small group through swinging numbers from his recent Silver tribute album, Serenade for Horace, on the Blue Note label. With the fiery saxophonist Abraham Burton, trumpeter Josh Evans, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist David Bryant and bassist Dezron Douglas, Hayes delivered an insistent ride-cymbal pulse on the uptempo swinger “Cookin’ at the Continental” and followed with a buoyant reading of the Cedar Walton classic, “Bolivia.” Nelson was featured on the Hayes original “Hastings Street,” named for the street in Detroit where the drummer grew up. At age 80, Hayes still has pep in his step and swings with youthful enthusiasm.

Lee Konitz. (Schorle)

Lee Konitz, the 89-year-old alto sax legend, followed Hayes with essentially the same set of standards that he’s been playing for decades, and every time he finds different avenues to take within those familiar vehicles. Still possessing a golden tone, a fertile imagination and a wry sense of humor, Konitz imbued standards like “All the Things You Are,” “Body and Soul,” “Alone Together,” “Stella By Starlight” and “Subconcious-Lee” (his contrafact on “What Is This Thing Called Love?)” with a playful sense of adventure. At times, as on “Body and Soul” and a rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight,” he took the horn out of his mouth and improvised vocalese lines around the chords. His singing sounded oddly similar to his alto improvisations.

Then on Sunday, 91-year-old Lou Donaldson, an alto player who imbues his jazz with a healthy dose of blues, was backed by the burning Hammond B-3 organ player Akiko Tsuruga, the Grant Green-inspired guitarist Eric Johnson, and swinging drummer Joe Farnsworth. Sweet Papa Lou immediately won over the Tompkins Square crowd with his funky “Blues Walk,” an instrumental hit for him in 1958. He followed with a pungent reading of Gershwin’s “Summertime” that had him quoting from “Wade in the Water” and Fats Domino’s “Please Don’t Leave Me.” Before tackling Bird’s chops-busting “Wee,” Donaldson addressed the crowd: “Today we are celebrating the music of Charlie Parker. No fusion, no confusion. No Kenny G, no Najee. No 50 Cent, who’s not worth a quarter.” He followed with a rousing rendition of “Fine and Dandy,” dropping in a quote from Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” along the way, and dug into Bird’s bluesy “Parker’s Mood” with earthy gusto, quoting from “Blues in the Night” during his solo.

After telling a barrage of viagra jokes, the nasty nonagenarian sang his signature blues, “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman,” then told the crowd, “I’m glad to see that you appreciate classical singing.” He closed out his good-time set with his funky 1970 anthem, “Alligator Boogaloo,” which had many in the crowd up out of their seats to strut their stuff. The two-day festival, always held right around Bird’s birthday (Aug. 29), drew huge crowds to the Marcus Garvey Park bandshell in Harlem and to Tompkins Square Park, just across the street from Parker’s former East Village residence on 10th Street and Avenue B.

HERE COMES THE DRUM KING: Another nonagenarian, 92-year-old drummer Roy Haynes (left), showed that he is still very much on top of his game in an early September appearance at the Blue Note. Sporting a paisley jacket, black bolero pants with buttons up the side and some slick shoes, Hayes made his entrance to wild applause and immediately busted out his finest tap-dancing moves. Leading his Fountain of Youth band (alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, upright bassist David Wong, pianist Martin Bejerano), Haynes launched into Pat Metheny’s sprightly “James,” making all the intricate hits and quick-wristed fills while swinging and syncopating with authority. He played the melody to Charlie Parker’s “Segment” on the kit before digging into an insistent ride-cymbal beat while dropping those signature, unpredictable ‘bombs’ on his snare drum. His brush playing on the ballad “Everything Happens to Me” was sublime, perfectly underscoring Shaw’s lyrical, buttery-toned alto work. And Haynes’ signature snap-crackle-pop was very much in evidence on Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.” They closed their set with the ebullient “Summer Nights,” which featured an extended solo by the ageless drum master. At 92, the only living drummer who played with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Pat Metheny has indeed found his fountain of youth.

END OF AN ERA AT AVATAR: A storied recording studio in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen has been acquired by the Berklee College of Music, which plans to continue the facility as a commercial operation as well as an educational component under the rebranded BerkleeNYC. The historic 33,000-square-foot recording studio, which opened in 1977 as the Power Station and re-opened in 1996 as Avatar, had been for sale for two years before being purchased for $20 million by hedge-fund manager Pete Muller, who in turn will lease the property to the Boston-based performing-arts school. Berklee plans to update the main recording studio and convert some of the building into rehearsal space, practice rooms and classrooms. “We want to preserve and re-imagine the recording studio,” said Berklee president Roger Brown said. “We know a lot of students will be taking off from Boston and heading to New York. This will give them a smooth transition to New York and increase the odds of success.”

During its incarnation as the Power Station, the studio hosted recording sessions by Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Bon Jovi. As Avatar, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Bruno Mars, Sting and Esperanza Spalding recorded there. “I hope this becomes the first building of a BerkleeNYC campus,” Muller added. “Berklee has already become one of the preeminent music institutions in the world. To not have a footprint in New York is wrong.”

DAFNIS PRIETO’S BIG IDEA: Cuban-born drummer and longtime New York resident Dafnis Prieto (left) unveiled his dynamic big band for a three-night August engagement at The Jazz Standard, premiering material from his upcoming album, Tribute. The sprawling, 16-piece ensemble spilled off the stage and into the audience to accommodate the five trumpets, four trombones and four saxes on percolating jams like “Out of the Bone” and “Una Vez Mas,” the latter dedicated to Prieto’s former employer, Eddie Palmieri, and featuring guest trumpeter Brian Lynch. Conguero Roberto Quintero heated up the proceedings on the explosive “Two for One,” which sounded like it could’ve been an outtake from Billy Cobham’s Crosswinds. Featured soloists throughout the set included alto-sax burner Roman Filiu, tenor saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Joel Frahm, trumpeters Alex Sipiagin and Mike Rodriguez, trombonist Alan Ferber and the leader himself, who turned in a dazzling polyrhythmic gem of a solo on “Two for One.” Watch for this one. It’s Grammy-bound.

SEEN ON THE SCENE: Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel played two weeks at the Village Vanguard, first with a trio featuring the sensational Italian bassist Dario Fromit (whose electric bass sounds more woody and upright than any other electric bass I’ve ever heard) and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, then in a new quartet featuring Fromit on bass, Mark Turner on tenor sax, Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits and drumming phenom Marcus Gilmore (Roy Haynes’s grandson); Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts performed an Elvin Jones 90th birthday celebration at the Jazz Standard with his Electric Elvin Band featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks and bassist Charnett Moffett; Herbie Hancock revisited his funky electric fusion from the ‘70s (“Actual Proof,” “Chameleon,” “Canteloupe Island”) at the Beacon Theatre with guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist James Genus, saxophonist Terrace Martin and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta; Saxophonist Joe Lovano dipped into the Tadd Dameron songbook (“Hot House,” “Soultrane,” “Whatever Possess’d Me”) with his celebrated nonet featuring also saxophonist Steve Slagle, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Otis Brown III in a week-long engagement at the hallowed Village Vanguard.