Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shola Emmanuel - Paris Recording Session

I awoke in the middle of the night to a rooster call from my fancy new hand phone, a call from an excited Shola Emmanuel announcing that he had just returned from a recording session in Paris. In the fog of sleep I couldn't catch too much detail, but in the morning I found a link to a professionally-produced YouTube video in my email. Here it is, kind of a chamber-jazz thing with a French rhythm section. I am promised that there is more to come; a new album is being mixed.

The musicians in the video are:

Shola Emmanuel : Alto Saxophone
Matteo Pastorino : Clarinet
Jean-Baptiste Pinet : Drums
Rafael Paseiro : Double Bass

Recorded at Bopcity Jazz-Studio, Paris, June 2014.
Other tunes were recorded at the same session with additional musicians and instruments:

Bertrand Beruard - Double Bass
Femi Paul - Alto Sax
Michèle-Anna Artiste - Vocals
Michael Williams - Drums
Johan Blanc - Trombone
Ruairidh - Bagpipe
Shola also played tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, trumpet, and piano.

In this day and age where every music school student has more recordings under his belt than some of the historic saxophone legends, I truly hope that Shola's European adventure gets  him some international exposure and leads to some gigs outside of Nigeria. He is one of the only contemporary Nigerian saxophonists playing original improvised music as well as music in the tradition of the Parker-Coltrane axis, swimming against the tide of crappy hip-hop and African MTV big-sunglass videos. I've known Shola for more than six years now and he was already introduced to me as "the best saxophonist in Abuja" on day one. I will update with more video and sound files as I get them.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tempus Fugit

“We know you've got talent, but do you have the natural ability?”
Soloing on Tenor with
Dalat's Concert Band

Jackie garnered three major all-school awards at Dalat International School’s end-of-year awards ceremony this morning – two in the performing arts plus an academic one – along with two course awards. Later in the evening she was awarded a scholarship for the performing arts, completing ten awards today overall. Talk about proud dad (and no doubt engendering some green glances...).

Jackie was honored with the Band Director’s Award as Dalat’s outstanding instrumentalist for her saxophone performances in both concert band and jazz band; she started on alto five years ago and progressed to learn both tenor and baritone, tenor being her instrument of choice these days. She then won the school’s Fine Arts Award for her triple – no quadruple – threat in singing, dancing, and acting on top of playing mean horn. She recently played and sang the lead in Dalat’s musical theatre production Boardwalk Melody, not only acting but also contributing to the original script and music. I actually think she is more talented as a vocalist. To cap off the day she was named the recipient of the school's Doug Brokaw Memorial Scholarship for further study in the performing arts, presented by one of her musical mentors, Valeri Brokaw. One of the course awards was in digital media which means she understands how to use technology as well as create quality content. Wow.

Out on a Gig on Alto
I started taking Jackie out on gigs when she was 14 and she just started to improvise on stage in performance situations. She never did have stage fright and has become a comfortable if self-critical performer. I've never had to force her to practice, she just likes to play. She already understands that the journey is its own reward.

Some heavy duty rites of passage happening at the moment as she graduates high school and moves on to university, probably in the UK. But I really believe it is onward and upward for this girl who has always been good at everything she does but humble and in-touch as a person.

It’s nice for her to be recognized so highly but I truly believe you ain't seen nothing yet, and I'm looking forward to watching her flourish in a wider, higher level environment with even more creative performance possibilities in both theatre and music. 

Bud Powell’s crazy tempo 1949 piano composition nails it: time flies. Just yesterday she was first picking up the instrument. I'm looking forward to jamming with her later today. Go girl!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Jazz in Transit - Zurich

May 12, 2014, 8:00am Central European Time. Getting most of my jazz in transit these days. On my way from Africa to Europe, transiting through Zurich this time. Like a different world in cleanliness, orderliness, efficiency and population density from the day-to-day world I inhabit. “Africa Rising” has a long way to go.

Stuck in an early morning change of planes, the only place to get a coffee was the “Montreux Jazz Café” in Terminal D. Only airport I have ever been to that has a 3-meter-high photo of Miles on the wall (granted, a near-death Miles in a track suit and big sunglasses caught eating a sandwich). I sat down and had a $25 latte and baguette. Am I really out of it or has money lost its value – particularly the dollar?

There was a wall-sized TV playing video from the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival. Most of the acts were far from my idea of “jazz”, but I did manage to catch one clip of Dave Liebman playing a Trane tribute with Swiss pianist George Gruntz. Liebman looked like Bad Grandpa on soprano but sure sounded sweet. Almost everything else I saw consisted of middle aged white men wearing black, lots of vocals, stuff I would call pop/lounge with little improvisation (other than the memorized kind of course), swing, or dissonance/blue notes.

Well what do I know? Picked up the program for the upcoming 48th Montreux Jazz Festival in July and Stevie Wonder is one of the headliners. A couple of decent acts – Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette with John Coltrane’s and Jimmy Garrison’s “kids” in his band (both now older than their fathers when they tore up the sky), Dr. John – great but not jazz. But about 50 other rock, pop, and lounge acts. Ugh.

Aha – a jump-suited Herbie Hancock now on the video playing Chameleon on some kind of toy-looking shoulder-slung electronic keyboard. I guess he knows what side his bread is buttered on because what I am watching is far from groundbreaking. Bar band music for a big paycheck. Borderline embarrassing. Herbie – Nooooo!

I am carrying my horn today for the first time in a while so somehow feel compelled to stand up for the music for its own sake. A ticket for Montreux this year? An All Music Pass “valid for standing room access during the entire festival”  is a mere CHF 2,000 – more than $2,200! Festival sponsors include SOCAR – the state oil company of Azerbaijan, a friendly family dictatorship (where is Rain Sultanov, then, Azerbaijan’s premier horn man?), and UBS, the bank famous for assisting money launderers worldwide that has paid huge sums to the US Government to settle tax evasion charges.

Has jazz just become another way the self-appointed elites of the world express their exclusiveness and erudition? Another form of classical music? So far from its roots in exactly the opposite – the cry of freedom. Where is the cry of freedom in jazz today? How do we purge the music of its conservatory-trained enfants terrible, doobie-doo vocalists and middle aged men cashing their checks? How can auditorium-loads of human beings sit through this pap – especially at ticket prices higher than the annual GDP per capita of most of the countries I work in? How did these acts get on the bill in the first place? And I just read that last year’s Montreux Jazz Festival attracted 250,000 visitors. George Clinton might ask, where is the funk?