February 29, 2004

A Fantastic Line-up for the First Energy Berks Jazz Fest March 12-21 2004

by Val Vaccaro


This year’s 14th annual Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania will be an incredibly fantastic musical experience - the biggest and brightest yet, with over 120 super shows featuring a range of musical styles that range across the spectrum of jazz, blues and R & B!

Legendary guitarist/R&B pop vocalist George Benson will be there to perform such hits as “Give Me the Night,” “Turn Your Love Around” and “Breezin.” In addition, two terrific smooth-jazz crowd-pleasers - the highly popular trumpeter Rick Braun and engaging tenor saxophonist Richard Elliot will perform an exciting show together. A slew of other top saxophonists will be there including the renowned Joe Lovano and a dynamic bunch of smooth-jazz horn players including Michael Lington, Jimmy Sommers, Jeff Kashiwa, Najee and saxophonist/vocalist Walter Beasley. Guitar greats such as the creative and funky smooth jazz guitarist Jeff Golub and the multi-talented contemporary jazz guitarist Doc Powell (who toured with Luther Vandross in the 80’s and 90’s) will also be there. Russell Malone, the tasteful, melodic, swinging guitarist, who has recorded and toured with Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr. is part of a dynamic duo with Protege Prize-winning pianist Benny Green, who has performed with Betty Carter, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

In addition, an impressive list of pianists/keyboardists will be performing at the Fest. Legendary pianist/composer Marian McPartland, who hosts NPR’s award-winning program Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz will perform in concert. Also, 20-year old pianist, vocalist and composer Peter Cincotti, will demonstrate why he was dubbed by Vanity Fair magazine as “boy wonder…jazz wunderkind.” Smooth jazz darlings such as Brian Culbertson, and Bob Baldwin & Friends featuring vocalist Phil Perry will be there. Joe McBride, the super-talented pianist/vocalist who does everything from smooth to swing, and in-between, will perform during two acoustic dinner shows. Renowned pianist/vocalist Jim Brickman who crosses boundaries of jazz, new age and classical music will perform with the Reading Pops Orchestra (his CD “Peace” was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album).

A number of singers will be there including Jazz/R & B sensation Patti Austin whose show will pay tribute to American treasure Ella Fitzgerald in BeboperElla! Pop/R & B vocalist Roberta Flack will also perform (whose number one hits include “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Celebrated and beautiful jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton will be there with The Christian Jacob Trio featuring world-class pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker. Also gracing the stage will be the suave jazz vocalist Freddie Cole (brother of Nat “King” Cole). In addition, there will be a number of acclaimed blues singers and instrumentalists including: Mose Allison, Kenny Neal and band with Billy Branch, EG Kight, and Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women featuring Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye, as well as guitarist/vocalist John Mooney.

A diverse set of musical groups will be at the Fest. The Jaco Pastorius Big Band - a terrific tribute to the late bassist will perform which features a 14-piece band including special guests Gerald Veasley, Jeff Carswell and Victor Wooten. Another highlight of the Fest includes the annual Berks All-Star Jazz Jam, with this year’s musical director Chuck Loeb on guitar, Gerald Veasley on bass, Jimmy Sommers and Richard Elliot on saxophone, Rick Braun on trumpet, Rayford Griffin on drums, and Joe McBride and Freddie Ravel on piano. In another show, Joe McBride will also perform with guitarist Ed Hamilton and bassist Gerald Veasley. Gerald Veasley, recently named Best Electric Bassist in Jazziz magazine’s annual readers’ poll, will also conduct his educational Bass Boot Camp and Jam during the Berks Jazz Fest for the third straight year.

Other exciting musical groups at the Fest include: Hiroshima, the unique and pleasing blend of Japanese and American smooth jazz music from Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto’s group, as well as Special EFX, featuring guitarist Chieli Minucci. Grammy Award-winning producer and keyboardist Jason Miles will perform with his new group Maximum Grooves featuring Andy Snitzer on saxophone, Sherrod Barnes on guitar, James Genus on bass, Gene Lake on drums and special guest Cassandra Reed on vocals. The Grammy-award-winning Carribbean Jazz Project with Dave Samuels on vibraphone and his band will also be there; so will well-known jazz-fusion guitar group Acoustic Alchemy. There will also be appearances by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, and The Dixie Power Trio. The United States Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble plus the Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band will perform two free community concerts.

The grand finale for this year’s Fest will feature the exciting world premiere of the East Coast All-Stars featuring musical director and guitarist Chuck Loeb, bassist Will Lee, saxophonists Kim Waters and Bill Evans, trumpeter Randy Brecker (who won a Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his CD 34th N Lex), keyboardist Alex Bugnon, drummer Omar Hakim, percussionist Ralph McDonald, and guest vocalist Patti Austin. Overall, the 2004 First Energy Berks Jazz Fest promises to be a wonderful experience for thousands of jazz, R & B and blues fans. The fest continues to grow in popularity and attracts over 40,000 people from over 30 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, England and Europe!

A detailed schedule, ticket, hotel and other visitor information for this exciting Fest, produced by the Berks Arts Council, can be found at www.berksjazzfest.com.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.berksjazzfest.com, or by fax by visiting www.berksjazzfest.com and downloading the official order form. Then, fax it back, completed, to 610-898-7297. Tickets can also be obtained by phone at 610-898-7298, calling Ticketmaster at 215-336-2000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. The Berks Arts Council is the premier arts organization in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Its mission is to encourage and promote all the arts, to develop an appreciation of the arts and to enrich and enhance the quality of life in Berks County. Formally organized as a nonprofit organization in 1971, the Berks Arts Council’s offices are located in the Pagoda, Reading’s most visible landmark and tourist attraction.

The Berks Jazz Fest has a superb management team, which includes Connie Leinbach - Executive Director, Katharine Marshall - President of the board and Chairperson of the event, John Ernesto – Festival General Manager & Talent coordination/booking manager, Gary Spencer – Production Manager, Mike Anderson – Marketing Director, Mike Zielinski – Publicity Director, Catharine Catanach and Jim Connors – Sponsorship Development, Transportation Coordinator – John Graff, Merchandise: Kathy Aregood, Workshops/Youth Activities team: Tom Brown, Mike Eben, Doc Mulligan, Al Seifarth, John Rozum and Carl Zeplin, and Ticketing by SMG.

The Berks Arts Council includes: Connie Leinbach, Kathy Aregood, Gary Spencer, Bob Coleman, Catherine Catanach, Brenda Hartman and David Edgar Guest. There are also hundreds o of volunteers for the Berks Arts Council and throughout the Berks County community and surrounding Philadelphia area that make the Berks Jazz Fest one of the most successful and enjoyable festivals in the world!

Posted by Peter Böhi at 4:42 PM

February 11, 2004

The Look Of Love - Ashanti Style

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

The Secret Garden has always followed with interest the cross over between smooth jazz and classic soul and the use of sampling to embed familiar riffs into new music. So, here in the month of February 2004, with this years Grammy awards replete with tributes to the world of soul and r&b it seems fitting to comment on an r&b star of today who is having chart success and critical acclaim with a hit single that not only samples heavily from a piece of soul history but also features the original artist on it.

The artist is urban sensation Ashanti and the recording is ‘Rain On Me’, surely destined in time for classic status.

coverAshanti has literally been an overnight sensation who blasted into the urban music scene in 2002 and topped the charts with multiple singles. Directed by hit maker Irv Gotti she rapidly built her reputation with some notable duets, first with popular rapper Ja Rule, on a the Secret Garden favorite ‘Always On Time’ and also with Fat Joe and The Notorious Big on ‘What Luv’ and ‘Unfoolish’ respectively.

New York producer, Gotti, took notice of Ashanti initially because of her beauty, dancing, and acting. She trained as a dancer at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, learning a number of dance styles and appearing in a number of big name music videos. As an actress, she made a name for herself working on several Spike Lee projects.

Often compared with Alicia Keys and more latterly Beyonce Knowles her huge selling debut album, Ashanti, sold an astounding 500,000-plus copies in its first week and she returned in 2003 with Chapter II, the album that features ‘Rain On Me’.

The fact that the track is actually credited to Bacharach/David/Douglas/Lorenzo/Parker is the giveaway that at its foundation is their classic composition ‘The Look Of Love’ that was done to such sensational effect by Isaac Hayes, the artist selected to partner with her on this latest recording.

coverA massively covered recording in its own right Hayes featured an eleven minute version of it on his album To Be Continued that was released in late 1970 on the heals of two chart-topping albums, Hot Buttered Soul, in 1969 and The Isaac Hayes Movement earlier in 1970. To Be Continued proved to be another number one album and, typical of Hayes at that time, featuring four songs that extended far beyond traditional radio-friendly length mainly due to important mood-establishing instrumental segments. Notable among these moments were his treatment of ‘Walk on By’ and ‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin’. Elsewhere on the album, ‘Our Day Will Come’ featured a nice concluding instrumental segment driven by a proto-hip-hop beat that proved just how ahead of his time Hayes was in those early-'70s days. It’s commonly considered that To Be Continued was better than any of his recordings that came after 1971. Indeed, although both 1975's Chocolate Chip and 1976's Groov–a–Thon went gold, his records of that period attracted considerably less attention than prior efforts. This combined with poor management and business associations left Hayes with no choice but to file for bankruptcy in 1976. However, To Be Continued did not top the charts for eleven straight weeks by accident and that alone marks it out as one of the truly classic soul albums.

coverSince then Isaac Hayes has been fighting back. Despite retiring from the business for five years in the mid eighties he is now recognized as an icon that helped translate the smooth luscious soul of the seventies into nearly everything that has followed. He is a successful restaurateur and a television personality. He is again in demand. In 2001 he supported Alicia Keys as a musician and arranger on her acclaimed debut Songs In A Minor. This latest collaboration with Ashanti is another step along that road and when listeners hear the haunting orchestra laden riff that permeates the number they should thank god not just for the modern day recording techniques that make it sound so good but also to the genius of Hayes for bringing it to us in the first place.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden? Do you have a favorite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 4:34 PM

February 2, 2004

Contempo February 2004

When the word came down that February was a special Miles Davis Tribute Issue, I had to chuckle. Its kind of like an oldies station declaring an All Elvis weekend when are oldies stations not in Elvis worship mode? And has there ever been an issue of Jazziz without at least one reverential mention of Miles? Like his fellow one name only icons Bird, Dizzy and Trane, Miles spirit and influence is as pervasive in jazz circles as the wind, even among smooth jazz artists. Not simply for his lyrical and romantic trumpet playing, but for his commitment to growth and innovation. Skeptics who get upset when artists do too many cover songs should realize the magic Miles brought to everything from "My Funny Valentine" to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" (which appears on over 20 Miles CDs and compilations!).

MilesDavis.jpgI had an immediate fantasy of setting up a great panel discussion to talk about the enduring meaning of Miles. First would be actor/sometimes trumpeter Peter Robocop Weller, who got to hang out and travel some with Mr. Davis in his last year of touring. Weller once told me about his first meeting, when he walked backstage and Miles turned around slowly to him and muttered in his inimitable rasp, Robo-COP? But I have no idea how to get in touch with him now. Rick Braun, whose dashing Euro-inspired album Esperanto is one of the genre hits of the year, always got a kick out of that story, so he would be ideal, too. But he was on vacation in Germany visiting his in-laws as I wrote this. And Mark Isham, the great trumpeting film scorer whose snazzy-jazzy score for The Cooler on Commotion/Koch Records stands brilliantly on its own, once did a project called Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project. Couldnt connect with him, either.

Fortunately, somewhere in between Dave Koz's Saxophonic and Christmas tours, Chris Botti was reachable for a moment at home in New York City. After world tours with Sting and Paul Simon, and a ten year strong career helping bring the trumpet into the mainstream of smooth jazz, the Oregon native finally got around to recording "My Funny Valentine" on his sultry as always new disc A Thousand Kisses Deep. The breezy first radio single "Indian Summer" is seducing listeners into the deeper treasures of the recording, but the spiritual heart is the tender, much space between the notes rendition of "Valentine", with only Billy Childs understated piano accompaniment.

Botti claims his musical life was changed as a kid when he first heard Miles 14 plus minute version of the song, played live in 1964 at the Avery Fisher Hall with George Coleman, future legend Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams.

Do I want to talk about Miles? Botti enthused. He's only the greatest musician who ever lived! That song just turned the key for me. What drew me in was his ability to soften the trumpet from its be-bop roots into something more beautiful, lyrical and haunting. He was much more sensual than my early heroes like Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown, and helped me appreciate the idea that melodies could be stronger if played with an economy of notes. As I developed my own playing style, listening to his recordings helped bring out a darker side of my playing, and I found the darkness to be quite beautiful. On a purely musical level, with anything that Ive done well in my career, I tip my cap to Miles.

Having told Botti that my fantasy panel didnt come together as planned, he happily obliged me with more quotables regarding his favorite subject. When he bought his first Manhattan apartment on 77th Street, he was floored that he shared a common wall with the building next door where his hero once lived. Not surprisingly, then, Botti sometimes referred to Miles in the present tense, as if his spirit has always been present even as the body has been absent for 12 years: Hes fearless and amazing, and no one has ever come close. Hes all about the way music could take you to a deep, emotional place, finding those real brooding emotions in the space between the notes. When people think of Miles, its never about high or low register or one particular song. Its his ability to communicate melodies and feelings. Romance was his driving force. His impact endures, and its a joy to turn my younger fans onto him when they ask who inspired me. I think hes the reason why I never played flugelhorn on any of my albums. From the first time I heard him, the trumpet was my sole obsession.

coverMEMORIES OF CATALINA: Several bright musical moments stand out from the second weekend of the 17th Annual Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival: what a fantastic live performer Mindi Abair has become (she performed there last year before the release of her hit debut It Just Happens That Way, and its success seems to have inspired a deeper confidence); what a soulful singer Hiroshima lead vocalist Terry Steele is; how much better the Lee Ritenour/Gerald Albright Twist of Motown tribute would have been had it been ALL Motown songs; how sad it is that the sizzling Denver ensemble Dotsero (featuring saxman Stephen Watts) has not achieved genre superstar status despite a sound this explosive; and how much more effective Dutch groovemaster and windplayer Praful's sexy beats and exotic melodies are in dance clubs (like the aftershow party at The Landing) than on center stage.

STOCKING STUFFERS: By the time you read this, youll be breaking your New Years resolution to lose that holiday weight, but why not trumpet the best new sounds of this past Christmas season? On Peace (Windham Hill), romantic piano sensation Jim Brickman did a sequel of sorts to 1997s classic The Gift, blending graceful piano renditions of carols and new songs with exciting, larger productions featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama, Kristy Starling and Collin Raye. The Yellowjackets get festive and moody on Peace Round (available only at their website www.yellowjackets.com). But its the surprises from lesser known artists that have best enduredthe sizzling and brassy pop-fusion energy of Florida-based funk-jazz ensemble Plan 9 tackling the classics on The 9 Days of Christmas (available via www.plan9theband.com); the jazzy-gospel flavored This Christmas by vocalist Clairdee (Declare Music); and Grammy nominated songstress Chris Bennett's subtle and sensuous mix of acoustic jazz and contemporary pop (including some emotional homespun originals), When I Think of Christmas (Rhombus).

coverMUSICAL VALENTINE: If your dance partner is a fan of Latin music, forget the Whitman Sampler hearts and embrace Armik's Romantic Dreams (Bolero Records). It's ironic that they released this disc to specially coincide with Valentine's Day 2004, as if it's presenting a different, more romantic side of the brilliant modern flamenco player's artistry. The truth is that while he's never gotten the attention of Ottmar Liebert, his music has been for ten years a vibrant and ultra sensuous part of the whole Nouveau Flamenco movement. The vibrant production colors help the guitarist keep grounded in a Latin setting, but the focus throughout is more on the picture perfect melodies and sweet atmospheres, which sometimes play like a film score to the listener's romantic daydreams.


1) Seal, Seal IV (Warner Bros.) Love is indeed divine when its sung about by this sensuous voiced modern soul giant with the retro-ambient edge. If your faith in life, love and spirituality is waning, hes the cure. 2) The Cooler (Commotion/Koch) Jazzy soundtrack fun with a Mark Isham Score and performances by Bobby Caldwell and Diana Krall 3) The Red West (Atlantic) cool, thoughtful modern rock from a dynamic new West Coast band 4) Steve Tyrell, This Guy's in Love (Columbia) Speaking of musical valentines 5) Nnenna Freelon, Live (Concord Records) If you cant see this dynamic diva live, at least you'll have this very listenable facsimile.

Posted by Jonathan Widran at 9:19 PM