NEW JAZZLEGENDS.COM COLUMN
I like Kenny G. Consider it a guilty pleasure. In our home, the moment the Christmas decorations come out, three seasonal CDs are immediately played. Two are pianist Ramsey Lewis’ famed albums recorded for the Argo label in the late 1950s. The other is Kenny G’s Christmas CD. To me, it evokes the season. No, it isn’t jazz, and Kenny has never really professed to be hard core jazz player. Sure, he’s a “lick” player–aren’t we all?–but Kenny’s licks are his own. The critics, such as they are, have done the same thing to Kenny G. as they did to the late and great trumpeter, Al Hirt. Critics have judged these players by way of their own expectations. In other words, Al Hirt and Kenny G. have sold a zillion records, so in their judgement, if Al didn’t play as well as Dizzy and if Kenny G. doesn’t play as well as Coltrane or Steve Lacy, then they must be shams. I remember a Down Beat magazine cover story from the mid-1960s that focused on Al Hirt who admitted that he indeed was no Miles or Dizzy and that he never said he was.
Still, business is business, and after 25 years and 26 albums with Arista Records–an association that yielded 75 million in record sales–Kenny G. and Arista are separating. Kenny G. will be going to the Concord/Starbucks label because, as he told the Associated Press, Arista wanted another album of standards, while the saxophonist wanted to do his first album of originals since 2002. “Rhythm and Romance,” not to be confused with the legendary Krupa film, “Rhythm Romance,” is the title of the new effort for Concord, which will also feature some Latin tunes.
Truth be told, one doesn’t end an unbelievably lucrative, 25-year association purely because of “artistic differences.” I’d bet the farm that Kenny G.’s sales for Arista have not been what they used to be, which is likely one of the main reasons behind the parting. But don’t worry. I understand that Kenny G. will be doing just fine without Arista, or without anyone, for that matter. Someday, however, I would really love to hear this guy in a straight-ahead quartet setting, swinging the blues, standards and “rhythm” changes. Anthony Braxton did it. Why not Kenny G.?
My main man, Frank Sinatra, Jr., has finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is long, long overdue. Before Harry Connick, Michael Buble, Michael Feinstein, Rod Stewart and rest–long, long before, by the way–Sinatra was out there working and singing the finest of songs backed by the finest of arrangements. “This has been quite a sentimental journey,” Sinatra said. “My brother deserves the honor because he is practically, single-handedly, keeping the American songbook alive,” said sister Nancy. And all good wishes go out to “big Nancy,” Nancy Sinatra, Sr., who is said to be recovering quickly from a heart attack.
“Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland,” the live recording from 1960 that featured–in solo and in battle–Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones and Charli Persip–is now available from JazzLegends.com on CD. This has not been available, to the best of our knowledge, since the early 1990s. It is a must-have for drummers of all ages and styles. The story of this drum battle and all the others throughout drum history will be featured in a cover story in “Traps” magazine, said to be on news stands on or about April 21st. Another recent and rather startling discovery is the fondly-remembered Harry James band television broadcast of 1965 that featured a certain world’s greatest drummer. Our good detectives have found–get this–a full color version of this fabulous show. Stay tuned.
The jazz scene here in Naples, Florida, keeps on cooking and shows no signs of slowing down even as the season draws to an end. Trumpeter Bob Zottola’s Expandable Jazz Band is now working an unprecedented seven nights per week. This fabulous group was recently augmented for a short time by one of Duke Ellington’s greatest bassists, Philadelphia’s own John Lamb. Get your reservations now for The Joy Adams/Bruce Klauber show upcoming at Remy’s in Naples. The last one was sold out–inside and outside–so get your tables now by calling 239-403-9222. We will be joined by pianist Jean Packard, bassist Frank Begonia and tenor saxophonist Lou Califano.
Readers of this space have probably become familiar with the name of “Jebry,” a.k.a. Judy Branch, the ex-Harry James singer who virtually started the jazz scene in Naples years ago. Jebry is fortunate, and deservedly so, to work the same spots, year after year, so “opening nights” at new venues are rarities. The following is the story of a recent one, which will appear in the “Marco Island Eagle” newspaper. Incidentally, I’m happy to announce that I am now contributing semi-regular reviews and features for the “Naples Daily News,” including an interview with Frank SInatra, Jr. that is set to appear March 28th. You can access this fine newspaper from anywhere by logging on to NaplesNews.com. Herewith is the feature on Jebry:
OPENING NIGHT WITH JEBRY
Jazz singer Jebry, a.k.a. Judy Branch, the one-time Harry James Big Band singer who was among the first to bring jazz to Naples when she came here 22 years ago, doesn’t have to look for work. Work comes looking for her. The owners of a relatively new Naples restaurant, Capri: A Taste of Italy, heard about Jebry’s great band and devoted following, came out to hear the group, and hired them immediately.
Jebry doesn’t have many opening nights, in that the majority of her club work, at places like Norm’s and The Island Pub, has been ongoing for many seasons. So last Thursday at Capri: A Taste of Italy was indeed a special evening, and befitting such a singular event, Naples jazz fans and jazz players filled the place to capacity.
Long time Naples music aficionados, who have been following the singer since her appearances at The Witches Brew (a famed, Naples nightspot that was torn down about five years ago), know that an evening with Jebry is not run-of-the-mill entertainment, jazz or otherwise. Actually, “Jebry and Friends,” as it is billed, revives the lost art of the jazz jam session. There’s nothing new about the concept of a jam session, where singers and instrumentalists of all ages and styles guest, or “sit-in” as they say in the vernacular, with the rhythm section (in this case, the bassist, drummer and pianist accompanying Jebry). Jam sessions, in one form or another, have been around since the birth of jazz itself, and there have been some legendary ones throughout jazz history. One that stands out in memory, if only because it was recorded, was an early 1950s meeting of three of the greatest alto saxophonists in jazz, be-bop master Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, multi-instrumentalist/composer Benny Carter, and Duke Ellington star soloist, Johnny Hodges.
Jebry’s sessions through the years have featured just about every player and singer of quality in and around the Naples and Marco Island area, to say nothing of those horn players and vocalists visiting from New York, Philadelphia and points north, south, east and west. On an instrumental basis, just about every pianist and horn player of note in the area has either passed through Jebry’s bands, or has guested with her groups at one time or another. The late, legendary and beloved bop pianist, Kookie Norwood, was one. Others who immediately come to mind are the sublimely lyrical trumpeter Bill Papineau, who was with Jebry for years, and pianist Stu Shelton, a technically astounding artist who leads his own groups and appears often with leader and trumpeter Bob Zottola. Zottola, by the way, appears at Capri with his fine group every Monday night.
The jazz historians will decide whether the Thursday night get-together at Capri: A Taste of Italy belongs in the next book written about jazz history, but it was, without doubt, tremendously entertaining, and that’s what these things are supposed to be. As another great jazz singer, Joy Adams, is fond of saying: “That’s why they call it playing.”
Jebry’s accompanists, who also back all the guests, are as talented as any national or international “name,” past and present. Pianist Jean Packard, a superb player who knows just about every song ever written, and in any key, has for years been a favorite of famed mainstreamers like Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Ruby Braff and Harry Allen. Bassist Richard Lytton is a great swinger with a wonderful ear, whose inventive solos are always a joy to hear. Drummer Bobby Phillips, Jebry’s husband, can–and does–play in any style, with great taste, and with unparalleled technique. No drummer is better at backing up Jebry.
As a vocalist, the star herself is surprisingly versatile, and really transcends categorization as a “jazz” or any other type of singer. She shouts the blues with the best of them and her country singing is as authentic as any singer on the country charts. Obviously, she shines at jazz, with influences that range from Ella Fitzgerald to Anita O’Day. What makes every night with Jebry so special is her generosity with the stage and with the spotlight. That is, of course, what makes a jam session.
And among the great jammers in attendance and on the stage last week were singers Betsy Guy (who always shines in her duets with Jebry), the Billy Eckstine-like stylings of Frank Michota (one fine drummer as well), the always-from the heart singing of Al Reddington, and my colleague of long-standing — which is why I can describe her as “astounding”– Joy Adams. Joining the group instrumentally though the night were that master of traditional jazz, cornetist Dick Cashman, master trumpet bopster Marty Krebs, clarinetist and saxophonist Karl Zihtilla (whose clarinet work startingly echoed that of the clarinet giant Buddy DeFranco), Naples’ pianistic answer to Dave Brubeck, Mel Rosen; and even yours truly, who got in some hot licks on drums and vocals.
It was quite an event, quite a night, quite an opening, and quite a jam session. Right now, the powers-that-be at Capri: A Taste of Italy have wisely booked Jebry and the group every Thursday for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to see why. As for next Thursday? Who knows what jazz star might show up?
Jebry and Friends perform at Capri: A Taste of Italy, every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. The restaurant is located in the Riverchase Plaza shopping center at the corner of Immokalee Rd. and Route 41. Call 239-594-3500 for information.
Eddie Shu was among the most under-rated and under-appreciated of jazzmen. He may now get the recognition he deserved, though not for his playing. His widow, Carol Shulman, has filed a Civil Suit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that the film, “The Lost City,” directed by and starring Andy Garcia, is actually based on the life of Eddie Shu. The film focuses on, among other things, how entertainers and the entertainment business were affected by the Castro takeover in Cuba circa 1959. One of the central characters in the film, an entertainer, is exiled for freedom of expression from Cuba when Castro came in…as was Eddie Shu. To view the actual lawsuit, log on to JusticeNotBlind.com.
In many of the early JazzLegends.com CD releases, we tended to group various sessions together on one CD. A number of sessions, therefore, have tended to get lost in the shuffle.
I bring your attention this month to “Gene Krupa: 1964 to 1971,” which contains three, very significant sessions. First is a very, very rare session featuring Gene with the Balaban and Cats dixieland crew, recorded in Milford, CT in 1971. Part two is a 1964 radio interview, with William B. Williams speaking to Gene, Hamp, Benny and Teddy, celebrating the release of “Together Again.” Finally, from 1970, just about when Gene came out of retirement, we have GK’s third and final appearance on “Dial M For Music,” with Eddie Shu, Marty Napoleon and Knobby Totah…incredible.
Finally, reports have reached my desk confirming that writer Burt Korall is still dead. I will call his home telephone number just to make sure.
Keep swingin, Bruce Klauber, March, 2008