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Matt Wilson Releases ‘Honey & Salt’ – Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg

‘Honey & Salt’

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey & Salt…

Doug Hall

It’s not often that a musician can find inspiration in his favorite poet, compose a moving palette of jazz interpretations, while also sharing a distant relationship on the very same family tree. Jazz musician, drummer, composer and band leader Matt Wilson can make just that claim, with feeling and love for the American “poet of the people” Carl Sandburg, on his latest release ‘Honey and Salt – (Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg).’ Both Wilson and Sandburg were born in Knoxville County, Illinois, sharing Midwestern roots but during remarkably different times. Sandburg, born a decade after the American Civil War and witnessing the impact of the industrial age, then WWI, the Great Depression, WWII and onward to the tumultuous 1960’s – supporting the civil rights movement in his 80’s and becoming the first white man to be honored by the NAACP – had witnessed an extraordinary period of history.

An acclaimed jazz drummer and Grammy nominee, Wilson’s musical background has also included many roles as both band leader (the Matt Wilson Quartet, Arts & Crafts, Christmas Tree-O, Topsy Turvy and Big Happy Family), composer and performer. Wilson’s 13th recording as leader for Palmetto Records, ‘Honey and Salt’, received a 5-star review from DownBeat magazine which called it “irresistible.” Wilson points out that this creative thought process has been “germinating since 2001” with other projects and life taking up time. “Keeping it on the back-burner”, he finally settled to complete the music composition process in the spring of 2016, also coinciding with the 50th year anniversary of Sandburg’s death.

Wilson’s Midwestern association with his rural regional surroundings lent itself to reflect on Sandburg’s musings as a poet, and an interconnection to music. Wilson articulates the influence, “as you get older you start to appreciate regional connections a lot more, but I was always fascinated because it (Sandburg’s poetry) didn’t rhyme. That aligned with my taste in music at that time, when I was exploring all different kinds of music.”

Hand picking a selection of poems from Sandburg’s 1963 collection of poetry, ‘Honey and Salt’, Wilson brings to attention Sandburg’s poetry with a small, beautiful and poignant sampling, putting verse to song and musical expression in a jazz context. Importantly as well, listeners may follow this ‘string’ as an attachment to the wider range of contributions by this esteemed man of words. Sandburg won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Grammy Award, wrote the definitive biography of Abraham Lincoln, won the distinguished Robert Frost Medal for poetry, created an anthology of American folk songs, American Songbag, published an endearing and hugely popular ‘American tales’ children’s book, Rootabaga Stories, and performed and travelled the country collecting traditional folk songs. In Wilson’s words, “Sandburg was a renaissance man and poet of the people. I feel sometimes that of all the celebrated American poets, he doesn’t really get his due. Hopefully we can help his work get more recognition in some small way.”

Wilson succeeds wonderfully, bringing Sandburg’s voice alive with each interpretation on ‘Honey and Salt’. The creative result is a stirring, at times gritty, heart-felt reflection in jazz tones, voice, rhythm and beat – that puts the plain-speaking words of the populist poet in front of the listener, (read by guest speakers and sung), evoking a powerful dignity and putting Sandburg in the room with you.

When the band of musicians was forming for this recording, Wilson had already started a musical connection with the powerful and soulful recording artist, vocalist and gritty, rhythmic jazz guitarist Dawn Thomson, who also has loved the verse and poetry of Sandburg (listen to her own “Sleep Impressions” inspired by Sandburg’s poetry). Similarly, an extraordinary multi-reedist, Jeff Lederer, was in the mix as well, and then came bassist, NYU faculty instructor and cultural award winner from Germany, Martin Wind, and prominent jazz faculty member and high-demand trumpeter and cornetist Ron Miles from Denver. Wilson was ecstatic and humbled by the chemistry and talent assembled, “I was overwhelmed by the artistry and passion of the music on this album (Honey and Salt) – and blessed to have them.”

Similar enthusiasm and accolades come from Wilson for the collaboration of guests including household names in jazz (Christian McBride, Bill Frisell, Joe Lavano, John Scofield and others) adding their own voice and inflection as they read aloud verses of Sandburg’s poetry to the accompaniment of paired jazz beat, rhythm and improvisation, as Wilson observed,
“They all brought their own ways of interpretation.”

Some stand-out selections include ‘Soup’ about a celebrity just eating his soup from an observer’s point of view, seen as just ordinary “folk” with a driving beat and sultry ‘talking’ jazz voice from Thomson, with bass and then overlay of horns – and additional gritty guitar from Thomson’s hand. ‘Anywhere and Everywhere People’ remains contemporary in its message of self-adulation – as our leading political figures or other “wanna be famous” social media figures continue to feeding on narcissism. With funky backbeat driven by bass and drums, and competing eclectic trumpet and cornet chorus, a baritone voice delivered by Christian McBride (Grammy award-winning bassist, international jazz performer, educator, and artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival) adds weight to the feeling. And then with the forlorn refrain in the poem “As Wave Follows Wave”, Sandburg spells out the futility of destiny, “man’s life is a candle in the wind… as wave follows wave… so new men take old men’s places.” With a beautiful dream-like serene trumpet introduction setting the tone, and acoustic guitar accompaniment, we, the listener, contemplate the journey.

Each song arrangement is a balance of interplay between the musicians and Sandburg’s ‘voice’, setting a tone for the listener to experience the poetry as more than lyrics overlaying instrumental accompaniment. Instead, the musicianship and featured instrument or solos don’t interfere with the sparse verse but punctuate the line breaks, with a driving drum beat or soft coronate solo – and when they mix together – both word and note – the impact of the weight and meaning of each verse is never lost. Delivering these lines with diverse and distinctive voices, the relevance of the poetic words from ‘Honey and Salt’ forces you to process an ‘Americana’ of Sandburg’s generation that is still a reflection of who we are today.

Besides poetry, as Wilson points out, Sandburg loved jazz (played guitar and sang) –, and above all ‘appreciated the moment’ – which is exactly where Wilson’s ‘Honey and Salt’ takes us.

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Doug Hall
My lifelong passion for writing and literature (which are wed to each other) continues to stay active, with art and cultural freelance writing assignments for on-line entertainment web sites. Home has been New England, Rocky Mountains, and London and lots of places travelled through books and points of view. “Creativity is a continual surprise.” ― Ray Bradbury

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Where Gifted Musicians Grow

Danilo Perez with BGJI students – Photo by Dave Green

Where do gifted musicians go to become student leaders of a world community and affect positive social change?

by
Doug Hall

The Berklee Global Jazz Institute in Boston, founded by Grammy-award winning jazz pianist, composer, professor and educator Danilo Pérez, through a curriculum that includes world-music exploration from roots up, to arrangements and performances of original composition, to internships and projects in remote under-represented communities around the globe, students develop into ambassadors for humanity. This is not an ethereal concept or group meditation on a “better world” but a hands-on curriculum that directs these young extra-ordinary musicians to park the “self” for a greater good. Pérez speaks to this part and emphasis in the program, “ When somebody has a gift, I believe he/she has a responsibility…you must have the desire to be a role model in society – and step away from your instrument.” BGJI offers a unique alternative approach to a discipline that has often focused more on developing self-achievement and acceptance based primarily on talent. Pérez keeps his mission and integrity close to the selection process, “you have to have the desire to experience the process of human development…fame is a four letter word.”

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Danilo Perez at piano – Photo by Kelly Davidson

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Jazz ‘At Home’ On The Hudson – Jazz in the Valley

Credit Juliette Hemingway, Jazz in the Valley, Artist in Residence 

Jazz “at home” on the Hudson
Jazz in the Valley
Wayras Park, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
August Summer of 2016

Imagine a weekend picnic with family and friends, with the setting of a sprawling lawn at an historic state park, with the backdrop of a famous New England river, filled with the flow of sailboats and sea breeze with seagulls overhead, while you listened to the sounds of live jazz coming off the stage from top talent nationally and internationally – both established jazz legends and emerging cutting-edge musicianship – Where would you be?

There’s a community of jazz listeners that finds its way to the banks of the Hudson River every summer, for the past 5 years running – a celebration of sound, culture and gathering that goes back 16 years thanks to dedicated community leaders. Jazz in the Valley returned to eager listeners again this year to offer new and seasoned talent, diversity with a wide range of this unique, experimental and – above all – expressive art form of music.

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Photo Credit Rudy Lu Photos

In one afternoon, at the edge of the fast moving Hudson River, under a big white tent, you find a gathering of tones in color and sound; people mingling, talking, moving and strolling, clapping their hands together to the communal beat – becoming a neighborhood on this late summer Sunday. Small is beautiful.

The audience was treated to two stages of music – The Main Stage tent and the smaller cozier Mike Torsone Memorial Stage. All acts received the attention and applause of an educated and appreciative cultural-mix of jazz listeners. The intimate relationship between musician and audience in this small seating outdoor venue transcended any barrier to getting “the vibe” or direction the instrument or artist was taking you. When the temperature of the solo or rhythm rose-up or mellowed down, you could feel the difference – nothing was lost.

Featured artists included:

The Randy Weston African Rhythms Trio, performing at the Annual Jazz in the Valley Festival, in Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. Photo by Jim Peppler. Copyright Jim Peppler 2016 all rights reserved.

  Photo Credit Jim Peppler 2016

Randy Weston African Rhythms Trio

Randy Weston, awarded recognition as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master (01’), has been a restless and tireless jazz interpreter throughout a career that followed African and Caribbean rhythm and roots with a piano style that ranges from bebop to boogie-woogie. At 90, on this stage, still actively improvising and stretching-out his stellar accompanying musicians: Alex Blake – an extraordinary virtuoso on stand-up bass – strumming, slapping, tapping and climbing over the neck of his instrument while Neil Clarke, international Congo and all hand-drum percussionist showed-off his reputation with remarkable dexterity and complicated rhythm beats. Weston then brought it all back to the piano for some stride piano runs and Monk-like chord statements. Wow – they were in the moment.

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Jazz By 5

 The group’s name doesn’t begin to describe the mix of historic, legendary jazz musicians and session players setting-off steaming solo work that afternoon as they moved through a cut or two by Miles Davis from “Kind of Blue” and other stepped-up versions of complicated standards. The line up: Randy Brecker, on trumpet, with a resume that spans all contemporary bebop to avant-garde circles – with recordings that include Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren to Frank Zappa, and of course his own funky signature horn sound of the Brecker Brothers Band. Enter George Cables, whose dense piano construction and bebop sound hails from work with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the legendary Dexter Gordon quartet, also a favorite of Art Pepper’s later recording period. Javon Jackson, accomplished saxophonist influenced by Joe Henderson, graduate of Berklee, and another alumni of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers,

formed his own quartet and continues to star as a featured player with jazz recording labels Criss Cross & Blue Note. Eddie Gomez, 2-time Grammy Award winning jazz bassist who has brilliantly accentuated so many performers and recordings as the standard sessions bassist on the liner notes of hundreds of jazz albums, including Miles Davis, the Bill Evans Trio, Chick Corea and et al. Finally rounding-out the “Jazz By 5” group is Jimmy Cobb, actually having performed on the historic largest selling jazz album, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. There was no letting down your guard amongst a “friendly” competition on this stage.

Charenee Wade

 Singer, composer, arranger and educator, Charenee Wade has wide reach in the jazz arena also garnishing awards and accolades for her vocal talent. As the opening act on the Main Stage tent that afternoon, you could begin to appreciate her range and rich tone with the warm-up, ever smiling and spirited, she effortlessly reached the high and low scale with a soulful voice. Her performance was mainly dedicated to the influences of the no-nonsense politically urban street poet and pre-rap musician Gil-Scot Heron and collaborator and soul-mate pianist Brian Jackson (her related release is entitled, “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson”). Coupled with her was the extraordinary powerful leading sax solo performances by Lakecia Benjamin, who owned the stage at times with blistering range and searing riffs on the saxophone matched with intensity and mood by Stefan Harris on vibes. Wade left the audience wanting more and in particular – more of Lakecia Benjamin – who practically received a separate ovation.

Craig Harris, playing Trombone, at the Annual Jazz in the Valley Festival, in Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. Photo by Jim Peppler. Copyright Jim Peppler 2016 all rights reserved.

Photo Credit Jim Peppler 2016

 Craig Harris & Tailgaters Tails

A major force in avant-garde jazz directions, Craig Harris has used his reputation with Sun Ra and trombone to forge his own frontiers. Taking the stage at Jazz in the Valley that afternoon, with trombone in hand and exceptional ensemble musicians, including versatile talents on vocals (Carla Cook), keyboards (Adam Klipple) bass (Calvin Jones), and Drums (Tony Lewis) – it was clear that an energy and statement was to be made. With an eclectic inter-play between Harris and vocalist, with soloing contributions from piano, bass and drums, orchestral shades of a larger band were accomplished with these few musicians. Mr. Harris introduced pieces that were part of a larger compositional group but nonetheless potent with a 5-piece band. A jazz overture of experimental sounds, scat singing and melody found its audience along with the trombone mastery of Craig Harris.

Stephanie Hancock, singing at the Annual Jazz in the Valley Festival, in Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. Photo by Jim Peppler. Copyright Jim Peppler 2016 all rights reserved.

       Photo Credit Jim Peppler 2016 

Many additional offerings showcasing the richness and diversity of Jazz were on the Mike Torsone Memorial Stage – which featured Chicago blues influence and James Cotton Blues Band member Slam Allen, also in the New York Blues Hall of Fame, and the local-born Duchess Community College Jazz Ensemble got to show off their “chops” – just in high school but showing incredible promise – under the solid direction of Dr. Christopher Brellochs at DDC, and Stephanie Hancock, an experimenter of styles (latest release “This Happy Madness” 2011 ) – seek-out her web site for the latest tracks & projects which find elements of Jazz, Reggae, World Music, R&B – and more. Finally – Matt Jordan, Trumpeter – at nine years old playing classical scores under bandleader father – exceptional sessions player with credits that include Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Taylor, John Faddis and Dionne Warwick.

Live jazz, particularly at these smaller venues, reflect back the remarkable array of talent – up-close – not necessarily found on the air-waves or current CD releases, but nonetheless the quality of musicianship and style and interpretation (or re-interpretation of standards) – found its way under the Main Stage tent and Mike Torso Memorial stage that afternoon at Jazz in the Valley. Again, small is beautiful.

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The best part of what we do is meeting inspiring people like writer Doug Hall. His contributions are a blessing and bright light to Fresh Independence.
Meet Doug…
My lifelong passion for writing and literature (which are wed to each other) continues to stay active, with art and cultural freelance writing assignments for on-line entertainment web sites. Home has been New England, Rocky Mountains, and London and lots of places travelled through books and points of view. (publishing in lazysundaymag.com and bubbobar.com )
“Creativity is a continual surprise.” 
― Ray Bradbury

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The Launch of a New Jazz Label: A Conversation with Legendary Carl Griffin

What’s it like to launch a new jazz recording label?
A conversation with
Legendary three-time Grammy award winning record producer Carl Griffin
By
Doug Hall

In the Brave New World of digital music, streaming radio stations and instant access, Carl Griffin has some tried and true lessons in a music recording industry in which he has signed and produced new talent for years. A resume that includes 15 years as Senior VP of A&R Records and the promotion & marketing of GRP Records, a standard-setting quality output of contemporary jazz music and artists who remain household names today (Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, David Sanborn, Arturo Sandoval, Joe Sample, The Crusaders, The Rippingtons and more). Enter ALFi Records, where Mr. Griffin is now Senior VP, teamed with founder Albare (Albert Dadon) virtuoso jazz guitarist, songwriter, producer and music promoter from Australia. Together they’ve launched their new jazz label, like “taking a plunge in a pool where you know the water is cool” Albare reflects, “Eventually you just jump in.”

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