Allan Harris is a jazz singer who also plays guitar and likes to ride horses. His latest album, Cross That River (ArtistShare), is a work of historical reclamation and imagination, a group of songs celebrating the lives of African-American cowboys in the bygone days of the great cattle roundups and drives in the mid-19th Century.
If you've ever seen the HBO TV series "Deadwood," you've heard the kind of music Harris employs for his songs, especially that bittersweet fiddle with its mournfully sentimental tones. Besides fiddle and his own guitars, Harris also uses mandolin, dobro, slide guitar, banjo, bass and percussion, as well as backup singers, creating a bluegrass/country blend informed by his jazz voice and sensibility. In other words, don't try to pigeonhole Harris in a musical genre.
The title, and opening, song is the self-told story of Blue, a slave who knows "there's a free place/ Way across that river/ Where the wild ponies run and play/ One day I'm gonna get there/ If it takes me a lifetime/ A lifetime of being a slave." Female voices croon the title phrase behind that last verse as if encouraging Blue. A jump beat informs "Blue Was Angry," an ominously prophetic song about the coming Civil War, in which Blue steals his master's horse and crosses the Red River to become a cowboy in Texas. Harris captures a martial cadence for "Buffalo Soldiers," a song celebrating the black cavalry regiments that were posted on the Western frontier after the Civil War. "Mail Order Woman" is an affectionate portrait of the women who went west to become the wives of cowboys. Harris' lyrics nicely balance the romantic and realistic: ""Well she's not much to holler/ But fit as a dollar … She's a mail order woman/ And her beauty is sometimes unseen."
"Diamond Jimmy," propelled by a fast honky-tonk beat and a rhythmic chorus joined by a female voice, is in the murder ballad tradition. But this time it's the woman who does the shooting. Harris draws on the Spanish musical traditions of the Mexican border, and employs castanets, on "Dark Spanish Lady," a lovely ballad employing his most sensual, crooning voice. "Mule Skinner" is a song providing a tragic back-story for the anonymous wagon driver of the title, who lost his Native American wife to marauding cowboys. The song deftly juxtaposes two melodies and moods to contrast the man's current hard life with his more idyllic past.
"Black Seminoles" tells another little known story of the American South and West, that of runaway slaves who lived with Native Americans in the Everglades and later moved to the Southwest. And what album about cowboys would be complete without a song about a gunslinger? Harris' take on that traditional subject, "One More Notch," is melancholy, reflected by the mournful melody carried by fiddle and dobro, and the resigned tone of the singer/gunslinger's voice. The album ends on the upbeat, with a Bo Diddley-like rhythm buoying Harris' celebration of the itinerate "Dat Dere Preacher."
Like good bluegrass or country music, this album grows on you, becoming more likeable with each listen. Harris has created a fine album that also tells a story that needed telling.
Allan Harris performs at Jazziz on April 7 and at the Cocoa Beach Jazz Festival the 22nd.
ROYAL ROOM/APRIL 4-8 AND 11-15
New York Times writer Stephen Holden described this singer's approach as "swinging…sultry…sexy, with a sharp-edged hint of brass in her voice." Rex Reed terms her "a musical marvel." And another critic praises her for "torch singing at its apex." Ms. Kole has most recently won raves for her performance in "Singing Astaire," a revue (which she cowrote) that's been packing them in at Birdland. Early on, she was the youngest singer ever to perform at New York's Rainbow Room. She's done lots of network TV, too, along with special appearances at political fundraisers, award shows, cabaret showcases and the toniest of parties. PB
JAMES "SUPER CHIKAN" JOHNSON
SUSHI BLUES/APRIL 14
Not your typical Delta bluesman! This Mississippi native puts his own stamp on tradition, whether he's singing about his love for his home region, recounting hilarious stories from childhood or reporting on drug traffic that's transformed the area recently. The nephew of blues great Big Jack Johnson, Super Chikan started playing bass in his uncle's band. Later, working as a trucker, he began writing songs based on his experiences on the road. He's also renowned for his colorful home-built guitars made from gas cans. For these shows, he'll be backed by an all-female band that includes former South Floridian Heather Tackett on bass. BW
LYRIC THEATRE/APRIL 23
Pianist Palmieri has been prominent on the Latin jazz scene ever since his early recordings with Tito Rodriguez, the Fania All-Stars and his own La Perfecta ensemble. Like his older brother Charlie, Eddie started playing at an early age and studied the classics as well. One thing setting him apart from his peers is the strong influence that non-Latin pianists like Monk, Tyner and Hancock have had on his style. Thanks to a deal with the Concord label, he's now reaching a far wider audience with CDs like La Perfecta II, Ritmo Caliente, and last year's Listen Here. We can recommend them all highly. PB
LINCOLN CENTER JAZZ ORCHESTRA
KRAVIS CENTER/APRIL 23
Formed in 1988 and directed by Wynton Marsalis since 1991, this 15-piece ensemble spends half of each year touring and its remaining time on programs staged at J@LC's plush new premises in New York. Among its personnel, Wynton's name is the best known by far to most audiences. But these ranks are full of other talented young players and writers, among them, trumpeters Marcus Printup and Ryan Kisor; trombonists Vincent Gardner and Ron Westray; and reedmen Ted Nash, Victor Goines and Wess Anderson. The orchestra's concert repertoire is likely to include both newly commissioned pieces and chestnuts from across decades of jazz history. PB
VAN DYKE CAFÉ/APRIL 14 AND15
Wendy Pedersen is a singer whose mixture of sensual jazz and high energy blues has made her a South Florida favorite. She was awarded the Southern Bell Pace jazz artist of the year, as well as being named best female vocalist by the New Times. Wendy's album credits include Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. She also has her own cd called Me + Three Wendy has a Christmas music album full of great old traditional Christmas songs titled Ho Ho Ho. Wendy infuses her music, whether it be jazz, blues or funk with her own blend of earthy and raw, powerful vocals. MS
DAN HICKS & THE HOT LICKS
BAMBOO ROOM/APRIL 1
In the late 60s, rather than ply the amped and distorted sounds of the times, Hicks harked back to the Texas swing of Bob Wills and the hot jazz of Django Reinhardt. Wry delivery of tunes like "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" and "I Scare Myself" earned him critical acclaim plus a cult following. His Beatin' the Heat CD boasted guests like as Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits; while Selected Shorts had Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson sitting in. His live shows, replete with backup singers, excellent pickers and a steamer trunk full of humorous tunes, shouldn't be missed. BW
ARTURO SANDOVAL'S CLUB/APRIL 26 AND 27
Cuban-born Sosa blends Latin, Caribbean and modern jazz ingredients into a heady and mystical mixture. Rooted in the religious traditions of Santeria and more than familiar with the composers of his native region, Sosa remains thoroughly forward-looking. In fact, his most recent release features American and European DJs reworking tracks from his 2004 recording Mulatos, Grammy-nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album. A tall, striking figure, the bearded Sosa takes the stage in a flowing white robe, his power and charisma as riveting as as his animated performance at the piano. Joining him at the Deauville will be ex-James Brown saxist Pee Wee Ellis. BW
Clarinetist Christopher is one of the emerging bright lights in traditional jazz. After relocating from California to New Orleans - so as to be nearer the music's roots - he gigged with Al Hirt and plenty of other Crescent City notables. Ten years ago, he moved again to join the Jim Cullum Jazz Band based in San Antonio. After several years of work with that popular ensemble (featured on weekly NPR broadcasts), he's back in Louisiana and heavily involved in teaching, playing and archival research on Creole clarinet style. Happily, he's now recording for Arbors Records, so expect more top-flight Evan on disc soon. PB
BENNY GOLSON: NEVER JUST A POSER by Paul Blair
"When we posed for that photo, nobody thought it would ever become famous," recalls saxophonist Benny Golson. He's remembering the celebrated 1958 Art Kane shot taken on the steps of a Harlem brownstone for inclusion in an Esquire feature on jazz. Arguably the most significant single frame of film in jazz history, it shows 56 of New York's finest musicians, casually dressed and haphazardly posed, taking a moment to look into the camera lens before returning to animated catching-up conversations with one another. Poster-size reproductions of that group portrait are now hanging on walls around the world.
Golson was just 29 at the time. "When I got there that morning, I sort of wondered why I was there. The writer Nat Hentoff had asked me to come. But I was a nobody. I think I really only knew four of those people: Dizzy Gillespie, who I was playing with at the time, along with Art Farmer, Johnny Griffin, and Sonny Rollins. I hadn't yet met Art Blakey, who stands in front of me, even though I was soon going to play in his band."
How the photo came to be shot is wonderfully documented in Jean Bach's award-winning 1994 film, "A Great Day In Harlem," which has just been reissued on two DVDs containing four hours of additional material. Only about a half-dozen of those jazz notables are still one the scene today. But none of them have remained as active as Golson.
Philadelphia-reared, Golson broke into music with Bullmoose Jackson in 1951. There were later stints with groups led by Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges and Earl Bostic. He went on to become one of the better-known saxophonists of the 1950s and 1960s as a member of Blakey's Jazz Messengers group, prominent even at a time when Rollins and John Coltrane were winning most of the acclaim and polls. Along the way, he also became one of the most oft-covered composers in jazz, for tunes like "I Remember Clifford," "Blues March," "Stablemates, "Along Came Betty," and "Killer Joe" that have all become standards. Well-remembered, too, is the Jazztet, a six-member group he co-led with Farmer after leaving the Messengers.
He's also done impressive scoring for TV and film. In fact, he's even appeared in a Steven Spielberg movie - playing himself. The plot has an Eastern European tourist (played by Tom Hanks) flying into the United States to get the saxophonist's autograph. By the time he lands, though, a military coup back home has made his passport worthless, rendering him stateless. As a result, he's stuck in an airport for a whole year. You won't get a fuller understanding of this unlikely story by listening to Golson's 2004 Concord CD Terminal 1, but you will hear some superb improvising from a tenor man still at the peak of his powers.
Has a man who's seen so much of jazz history at first hand written his autobiography? "Yes," Golson responds. "I finished my memoirs about a year ago: over 1,000 pages, with inside stuff on everyone you can think of. Dizzy, Miles, Coltrane. But I don't know who's going to buy it."
Benny Golson, backed by pianist Eddie Higgins' trio, plays at the Broward Center on April 12 for the Gold Coast Jazz Society concert. Higgins’s trio also performs at the Riverwalk Sunday Jazz Brunch in Fort Lauderdale April 2.
hot flashes by PAUL BLAIR AND MARK SACHNOFF
COCOA BEACH jazZ FESTIVAL, APRIL 22-23
The weekend gala actually begins with a Friday evening kickoff party at Heidi's Jazz Club, offering festival-goers the chance to meet many of the artists who'll be performing on Saturday and Sunday at the Doubletree Hotel. Saturday's music begins with the Cook Trio playing the music of Django Reinhardt, followed by the Abraham Baldwin College Ensemble and Choir. That evening's sessions will feature the great South Florida saxophonist/flautist Jessie Jones who combines the hard-bop influence of Cannonball Adderley, the funk of Hank Crawford and the sweetness of Paul Desmond. That evening's bill of fare highlights the smooth vocals of Allen Harris. Starting off the show on Sunday will be young Miami pianist Antonio Madrugo, who appeared at the two previous Cocoa Beach festivals and proved to be a crowd-pleaser. The quartet led by vibraphonist Christian Tamburr will be followed by Bill Allred's Classic Jazz Band, a group whose repertoire includes favorites once played by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billy May, Bob Crosby, King Oliver, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock and Billy Maxted. Closing out the evening will be Michael Andrew & Swingerhead, an 18-member big band. Annie Sellick, quite the sensational vocalist, will also perform during the festival. Better be there! Check www.cocoabeachjazzfest.com or call 800-930-0089 for details.
NEW ORLEANS’ JAZZFEST RETURNS ON APRIL 28-30 AND MAY 5-7
After the major devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region, many assumed that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival would not take place in 2006. Not so! In many ways, this year's event is bigger and better than ever. Festivities run from Friday to Sunday on two consecutive weekends. The performers this year is a who's who list in the music business. Among the artists featured on April 28 are Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Keb' Mo', Ani DiFranco, Cowboy Mouth, Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Anders Osborne, Cynthia and Liggins Thomas. The April 29 lineup includes Juvenile, the Dave Matthews Band, Etta James, Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masekela, Galactic, Darius Brooks & SDM, Eddie Bo, the Subdudes, Terence Blanchard, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Snooks Eaglin, Luther Kent & Trickbag and The Iguanas. Closing the weekend on Sunday will be the Meters, Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band, Yolanda Adams, Allen Toussaint (with guest Elvis Costello), Dave Bartholomew, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters, Sonny Landreth and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. Go to www.nojazzfest.com for more information.
Waterside Jazz & Blues Festival IN Fort Pierce, april 1
Get ready for a day filled with Jazz and Blues, dancing in the streets, eating your favorite treats, non-stop music and fun! Guitarist award winning Chris Beard, 14 year old Blues Guitar Wizard, Reggie Sears, The Albert Castigilia Blues Band featuring the hard blowing saxophonist, Terry Hanck, The Jazzmen featuring Eugene Johnson, Jorge Garcia's Latin rhythm teaming up with the titan of the violin in The Frederico Britos & Jorge Garcia Ensemble, and the Fort Pierce Jazz & Blues Society Ensemble will all be performing live! For additional information go to www.jazzsociety.org or call 772-460-JAZZ.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE YOUTH
Through a generous bequest from the estate of Jeanette M. Russell, the Gold Coast Jazz Society grants scholarship awards to vocal and instrumental music students wishing to pursue an education in music with an emphasis in jazz studies. Awardees were selected through a competitive review and audition process. Finalists have now been selected and will perform in a live competition on March 18. Then those winners will appear at the Jazz Stars of Tomorrow show on March 30 at Artserve in Ft. Lauderdale. For contact and info go to: www.goldcoastjazz.org.
REACH FOR THE STARS/APRIL 29
In line with its commitment to assist community educators in developing young minds, the Kravis Center created the Student Arts Enrichment Programs. It includes: a Teen Cabaret, a Holiday Showcase, the Spotlight on Young Musicians program and a Reach for the Stars Commemorative Art Contest. An evening of gourmet food, premium wines and a silent auction to benefit the S*T*A*R* (Students and Teachers Arts Resource) Series and education programs will be held at Kravis on April 29 beginning at 7:00 PM.
jazz anecdote by Bill Crow
Jazz bassist Bill Crow's popular book "Jazz Anecdotes" has been released in a new edition, "Jazz Anecdotes, Second Time Around," with added stories. It, and his second book, "From Birdland to Broadway," can be found at your favorite bookseller, both published by Oxford University Press.
Saxophonist Larry McKenna, a Woody Herman veteran, was approached by a gentleman during a break on a gig. "How long does it take to learn how to play one of those things, anyway?" the man inquired. Larry modestly explained that he himself was still learning, and that it depended on how much time one was willing to put in on the instrument. "Oh, I don=t have a lot of time to devote to it," said the man, "but I'm not talking about anything complicated. You know... just bebop."
At a restaurant one night, Wayne Wright was on his way to the stage to do his show when a man at a table stopped him and said, "Wayne, do me a favor before you go on. Could I have your autograph…and some more butter?"
A foreign visitor was detained at a US airport when one of the customs agents thought he said one of his cases contained a neutron bomb. What he had said, with a heavy accent, was that it contained a new trombone.