Monday, August 24, 2009

AccuJazz News: Radio

I'm pleased and proud to announce a new joint venture from AccuJazz and Radio. It's an unprecedented radio application that anyone with any bit of interest in Chicago's jazz scene will find useful and interesting.

The "Radio Station" features 10 subchannels, including "Chicago Vocalists," "Chicago Veterans," "Chicago Avant-Garde Jazz," and, probably the coolest, "Chicago Jazz Fest 2009," playing music by the many great artists, local and national, scheduled to perform at this year's fest. Access it by going to, scrolling down just a bit, and clicking on the banner that says "Listen Now to Radio." You can get to the subchannels by clicking on the "Other Channels" tab in the player.

Why shine the spotlight on Chicago? Why not New York, New Orleans, or Rolla? The answer is pretty simple: we're from Chicago. Right now I'm sitting in the AccuRadio offices downtown, a few dozen feet away from one of America's most iconic buildings, I play in Chicago's music venues, I frequent the city's jazz clubs, and, truth be told, artists from Chicago have produced an enormous amount of great jazz over the years.

Another question: what's It's a pretty coveted URL, for one. It's also the web arm of Chicago Jazz Magazine, a bi-monthly newsprint magazine distributed for free at restaurants, bars, and libraries around Chicago. The website features local jazz news and a huge amount of local musicians' personal websites, like a localized MySpace. It's a great starting place for anyone looking to get familiar with the Chicago scene, and now there's the perfect soundtrack to browsing the site.

You can read my appreciation of the past and present of Chicago Jazz here, in my post about AccuJazz's Regions: Chicago channel. From Louis Armstrong to Johnny Griffin, Joseph Jarman to Kurt Elling, Chicago has incubated its fair share of jazz creativity.

While the AccuJazz channel has already been out for a little while, Radio will hopefully expose AccuJazz programming to a new audience, and it lets listeners go deeper into the different strands of Chicago Jazz. For example: there are definitely plenty of Avant-Garde tracks that are on their dedicated channel that didn't quite make the cut for the main Chicago channel. Same goes for the other subchannels. Plus, for those of you in to that sort of thing, there's even a "Chicago Smooth Jazz" channel. It's alright, you can listen. I won't tell anyone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

AccuJazz News: Roll-Out Continues With "Decade: '90s"

The pace is slowing a bit, but we're still rolling out new channels pretty frequently. This week, with "Decade: '90s", we come one channel closer to finishing our roll-out of decades channels.

As is the case with the '80s, the jazz scene in the '90s is impossible to tether to any single style, concept, or trend. There were a lot of excellent jazz musicians, young and old, continuing to make passionate music in an extremely diverse range of styles, including the ever-more popular practice of eschewing style and tradition altogether.

A shortlist of major jazz talents who started their recording careers in the '90s includes Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Douglas, Stefon Harris, Brian Blade, Avishai Cohen, Jason Moran, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Whoa.

Plus, there were a lot of great jazz veterans still making records: Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, Ray Brown, Bobby Hutcherson, Benny Golson, Paul Motian, Roscoe Mitchell and Billy Taylor, to name a few. The '90s, while not considered a golden age for jazz, like the '50s or '60s, definitely saw its fair share of good music.

Go ahead and hear it all, now, on AccuJazz's "Decade: '90s" channel. Then, as always, let me know what you think!

Thanks for the few comments I've been getting lately, BTW. I appreciate it, and I'm sorry if I don't respond immediately; I'm simply not used to getting comments on the blog and kind of stopped looking for them for a while there.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

R.I.P. Rashied Ali and Les Paul

Wow, what a day. Two legendary musicians have died: guitarist/inventor Les Paul and jazz drummer Rashied Ali. I was shocked to first hear the news about Rashied via the Secret Society blog, only to read somewhere on Twitter a few minutes later that Les Paul had passed, too. Dark day, as blogger/critic Nate Chinen puts it.

Rashied Ali (1935-2009)

Mostly known for his groundbreaking work with John Coltrane, Rashied Ali is in the pantheon of jazz drummers. He grew up a few doors down from Coltrane and says he used to stand outside Coltrane's house to listen to him practice. On Coltrane's Meditations, Ali played alongside Elvin Jones, one of the two or three most important jazz drummers of all time. After that, Jones left Coltrane, leaving all drumming duties to Ali.

Ali continued playing until his death, often playing the freely improvised music he was famous for, but just as often playing in more conventional hard bop idioms. He was scheduled to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival just this past Sunday, but reports said his brother Muhammad subbed for him. Now we know why.

From a drummer's standpoint, I never studied Ali's playing too in-depth, but I did appreciate his undeniable power on John Coltrane's Interstellar Space (Ali's most famous recorded performance). I also remember thinking to myself a number of times in my drumming education something along the lines of "man, I should really get deeper into Rashied Ali." Hopefully I'll be checking that off the to-do list soon.

Watching and listening to Ali's playing today, I really realize what an incredible impact he's had on jazz and how truly incredible his propulsive playing is. The fact that he could play a 55-minute duo version of "Impressions" and continue to create new ideas the whole time is beyond impressive. Check out Howard Mandel's extensive 1990 interview with Ali here. NYTimes ArtsBeat has a proper Obit up here, and Doug Ramsey's Rifftides has a remembrance and an excellent video interview in which Ali discusses his relationship with Coltrane.

Les Paul (1915-2009)

Then there's Les Paul, who will be remembered as both a great guitarist and the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar, which pretty much changed the course of music history. He led a long, long career doing everything from hosting TV shows to pioneering recording practices, playing jazz clubs and topping the pop charts.

Listening back to his early jazz recordings, it's startling the kind of technical facility Paul possessed. I guess my brain put him in the inventor box and assumed that must mean he didn't have much time to get pro chops on the guitar. But Les Paul was a musician first. He never set out to be a great inventor, but rather invented the electric guitar out of necessity. Hopefully he will be remembered as both an important inventor and a phenomenal guitarist.

It's interesting to note that Paul probably had about as big an impact on Rock and Roll as anyone, yet spent a huge portion of his life playing in jazz clubs. So, next time you feel like shaking your fist at Rock and Roll for killing jazz, think about how we're all interconnected: While Les Paul was tearing through some Ellington tune at Iridium, Ace Frehley was entertaining thousands with Paul's namesake guitar.

Nice Washington Post obit here, and a gem of a video.

The next AccuJazz playlist update will turn a spotlight on both Paul and Ali. The Guitar Jazz channel will feature a lot of Paul's early trio recordings, and the Avant-Garde Jazz channel will highlight three Coltrane/Ali collaborations: Interstellar Space, Stellar Regions, and Medidations. Watch the blog for an update on when this goes in to effect.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AccuJazz News: Roll-Out Continues With "Mellow Jazz"

This week's new channel, Mellow Jazz, celebrates the softer side of jazz. It's not just about mood music, though it probably would make a pretty tasteful soundtrack to your next dinner party. It's about showcasing the sometimes-overlooked art of the jazz ballad.

A little perspective: throughout jazz history, jazz has mainly been defined by explosive, infectious rhythms. It wasn't any sort of new harmonic concept or innovative instrumentation that was so exciting about the early New Orleans jazz bands; it was their syncopated, "hot" rhythms that set them apart. Even most of the subsequent innovations in jazz had rhythmic experiments at their core: Latin jazz with its imported Cuban and Brazilian beats, bebop with its faster tempos and super-syncopated melodies, free jazz with its abstraction of rhythm, and fusion with its brazen back beats and odd time signatures.

BUT: there's a flip side to all this rhythm-centric development in jazz: the soul-searching, romantic jazz ballad. Now, of course rhythm still plays a role in ballads, but it's usually not the main event (There are some exceptions: when the Oscar Peterson would play ballads, they were effectively saying: "Hey, we can play at half your tempo and still swing twice as hard!").

With the slowing down of tempos and stretching out of harmonic and melodic motion, there is more room for nuance and less chances to hide behind empty technique. The performer is challenged to use the open rhythmic space to tell a story, not just play notes.

Early masters of the lyrical ballad include Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and virtually all jazz musicians include ballads as a portion of their repertoire. Even Ornette Coleman did "Embraceable You" on his classic LP, "This is Our Music." With so many jazz musicians to choose from, the Mellow Jazz playlist end up being much less monotonous than you'd think: there's the sensous bossa nova of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, the ornate pianism of Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal, big band ballads by Basie and Ellington, and romantic vocals from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves and more. Some of the expansive modern music often labeled as "ECM jazz" even makes the cut, making for an often relaxing, but always interesting listening experience.

Go ahead and give it a listen, then let me know what you think. Also, let me know how it works as the soundtrack to your next dinner party or makeout session.

Next week: Decade: '90s.