World Premiere Of ‘The Jazz & Blues Art Box’

By Doug Hall

“As any jazz archivist can attest, filming records in the smoky nightclubs with dimly lit stages, where many jazz & blues musicians performed, were sometimes all that history had as a record. Housed in a modular cabinet, are 400 hours of music, 96 exclusive interviews and 20 yearbooks. Inside ‘The Jazz & Blues ART Box’ – it is this type of storytelling that brings alive the behind the scenes aspects of jazz history.” – Doug Hall

The roots of jazz, according to many sources (scholars, musicians and jazz aficionados) derives from a “union of African and European music”. Connecting the American origins of the birth of jazz music dates back to New Orleans about 100 years ago – and its most important originator Louis Armstrong. Fast forward to the present and we have a rich history of musicianship that has driven this particularly American-based genre of sound. And before jazz – the blues, an origin that dates back to, historically, and generally accepted as, evolving from “African spirituals, chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns and country dance music.”

But in the modern age of the 20th century, particularly post WWII, the “live” performance of both jazz and blues was the way to reach greater audiences and truly let the music and musician express themselves and “improvise” and “take it” to the audience, “at the moment.” We know the “big” names for premier festivals in the U.S. such as the Newport Jazz Festival, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival. But how about the International Jazz Festival Bern, Switzerland? For 40 plus years of “hard swinging”, the founder Hans Zurbrügg has been delivering a commitment to a purist form of jazz shared by icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn, Sonny Rollins and contemporary legends Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, Christian McBride and Diana Krall. Now – picture a collection of 20 years of impeccably recorded and on-stage filming (by Swiss Television) of seminal performances by these jazz greats followed-up with off-stage interviews – where these pioneers share thoughts about their life, their music and the expression of jazz music itself.

Hans Zurbrügg, George Wein, Wynton Marsalis at NYC Premiere  

Photo Credit Hank O’Neal

Hans Zurbrügg, Founder and producer of the International Jazz Festival Bern(Switzerland) has just announced release of ‘The Jazz & Blues ART Box’, a collection of 230 DVD’s, in a fully functional and accessible 3 drawer cabinet, that includes DVD’s, yearbooks and an art book. On-board with enthusiasm and helping to present and promote the uniqueness of this collection are other legendary members of the jazz community including George Wein (founder and artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival), Wynton Marsalis (trumpeter, composer, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Hank O’Neal (photographer, author and music producer). From 1983 to 2002, the International Jazz Festival Bern was televised and broadcast by Swiss Television, resulting in this remarkable record -both visually and auditory – archiving what Hank O’Neal calls the “most remarkable collection of jazz and blues performances on video ever assembled.”

Hank O’Neal, George Wein, Wynton Marsalis and Hans Zurbrügg

Mr. Zurbrügg’s – commitment as a musician (trumpeter) and passionate promoter, and noted entrepreneur would take his jazz festival along the steps, from a fledgling beginning in the 1960’s to what would become “one of Europe’s great jazz festivals.” Reflecting on his early days in Bern, Wynton Marsalis recalls, “This festival stood out as one of the few that embraced the integrity of Jazz when many others proudly and successfully expanded their festival audience by selling a watered-down roster of non-jazz.” By 1976, Mr. Zurbrügg would be the founder and producer of the Bern Festival, and creating a line-up year after year that would include the seminal names in jazz on stage including Oscar Peterson, The Modern Quartet, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Benny Carter, and Gerry Mulligan. This is just a taste of the full line-up of filmed recordings in this collection of stellar musicians at the height of their creative abilities – caught live for all future listeners and historians to enjoy and to serve as an educational history for this unique genre of music.

Legendary Jazz – Saxaphonist – Composer – Arranger – Jimmy Heath attending the NYC Premiere

Photo Credit Hank O’Neal

As any jazz archivist can attest, filming records in the smoky nightclubs with dimly lit stages, where many jazz & blues musicians performed, were sometimes all that history had as a record. Mr. Zurbrügg took this to heart and pursued an agreement with Swiss Television to record every performance at his festival. But most importantly, Mr. Zurbrügg ensured a standard excellence and caliber of recording, “It was determined that the concerts would be filmed with full production values, with the highest quality technological standards of the era.” As many of these legendary musicians have not only long since left the stage, but also have passed into history, “The Jazz & Blues Art Box” now remains a very critical record of performance and also interview.

At the World Premiere of “The Jazz & Blues Box”, (NYC, June 8, 2017), in just one example, in interview, I listened to Art Blakey (of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers) tell his story about his beginnings, moving from the piano to the drums in a Chicago club, operated (by his own admission) by the “mob”, and how he was un-ceremoniously told to vacate the piano seat and accept his next job as drummer. This, again, is an interview moment that would be lost without this vital collection. Blakey, of course, would go on to be an extraordinary performer and contributor as bandleader and mentor for many upcoming jazz leaders like Wynton Marsalis. It is this type of storytelling that brings alive the behind the scenes aspects of jazz history. In fact there are 96 individual un-released interviews in this collection, as stated by Wynton Marsalis, “Hans Zurbrügg went a step further and convinced Swiss television to record and broadcast interviews…the most important jazz legends provide an in-depth insight into the life and musical heritage of Jazz & Blues culture.”

The Jazz & Blues ART Box on display at the NYC Premiere

Housed in a modular cabinet, with three drawers, on caster wheels, designed exclusively by Swiss manufacturer, USM, are 400 hours of music, 96 exclusive interviews and 20 yearbooks (and one large format book). Touches of modern art affects are finished-off by legendary graphic artist Roger Pfund. This small footprint reveals a treasure of recordings, which Hans Zurbrügg refers to as a “collection of historical value.” At the World Premiere in New York (June 8, 2017), all attendees were given a numbered ticket that coincided with one of the DVD’s in the “The Jazz & Blues Box”. As I approached to receive mine, I felt, as certainly everyone else did in the audience that night, that this was a “lottery” ticket where every selection was a winner.

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 and )
“Creativity is a continual surprise.” 
― Ray Bradbury

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Brett Dennen: On Tour Now

Fresh Independence caught up with Brett Dennen after a day of skiing in Aspen, Colorado. Currently on Tour: You don’t want to miss this diamond in the rough.

Where did Tour kick off?

We kicked off tour in Phoenix, AZ and stop in Honolulu, HI. I wish I could tour Hawaii all the time. I don’t, but I need to.

You were in Vancouver last February right?

I was , I love Vancouver, I was there last summer as well. 

Brett Dennen 3

The number one thing people say to me when they meet me is, “I didn’t realize you were so tall!” I heard that at least 50 times a day last month on tour. Here I am backstage last night in Madrid, warming up before the show. In Holland, I fit in just fine.

What is your favorite thing about Vancouver?

I just love the scenery, the air, the red wood trees, the breeze, it has that water-ocean-air energy to it that is invigorating and it is just so blue and green. Those are the colors of life- very inspiring. 

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Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms – An Appreciation

The fifth studio album for Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms has a decorated history. It is the seventh best-selling album in UK charts history and won two Grammy Awards in 1985: Best Rock Performance by a Group with Vocal for ‘Money for Nothing’ and Best Engineered Recording, Non Classical for the full album. Sting also appears on the record as a guest artist.

Brothers In Arms – An Appreciation

Looked at now with 20/20 vision of hindsight, the image on the sleeve of Brothers In Arms seems uncannily prophetic: that National steel guitar heading up into the clouds – a shiny 6 stringed rocket devoid of any obvious means of propulsion – describes, better than any words can, what happened to Dire Straits after the release of their 5th studio album. Up till the summer of 1985 success had, for them, come as a by-product of the music making process. They had never courted celebrity, chased fads or played safe. Dire Straits had been loved and respected as one of the few bands to have maintained strong and credible links with the multifarious roots of rock and roll at time – remember all the desperate pop posing of the early 80’s? – when roots were emphatically not a fashionable place to be.

At first hearing, Brothers In Arms didn’t sound like an album which was going to storm the barricades of global popular taste, much less one which would establish itself as the UK’s biggest selling album of all time. And there lay the surprising beauty of it. Where others shouted this album talked. Having little in the way of front, it offered instead a world of interiors. It opened not with a bang but with a gently ticking hi-hat and it faded away, 9 tracks later, on a defiantly untriumphant wash of moody keyboards and achy, echoey guitar. Many of the songs in between were quiet, reflective, sombre even: the soldierly themes contained in the title track, or “The Man’s Too Strong” or again in “Ride Across The River” were tinged with regret and remorse. The love songs were apt to begin and end in disappointment, with Mark Knopfler grumbling down the phone in a lonely hotel room or disconsolately reviewing a late night encounter with someone he hardly met. Like the sleeve again, the album was predominantly blue in tone.

Life being what it is, Brothers In Arms soon became celebrated for its lighter moments, notably the big hits “Money For Nothing” and “Walk Of Life”. Both of these tracks have intriguing behind-the-scenes tales to tell. Knopfler’s ode to blue collar dreams, “Money for Nothing”, eventually ended up with Sting singing the catchy “I want my MTV” refrain. The then lead singer of The Police happened to be on holiday nearby and received an invitation to contribute, which he did to great effect. “Walk Of Life” nearly didn’t make it as an album track at all but co-producer Neil Dorfsman was out-voted by the band, thereby ensuring that an album etched with several varieties of sadness also contained one of the most uplifting tunes Knopfler has ever written. Now wonder the world found, and continues to find this such an irresistible package.

– Robert Sandell (from the liner notes for the 20th anniversary edition of Brothers In Arms)

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“To be or not to be”

Syd Barrett, photograph by Mick Rock

Things may appear at a standstill at Fresh Independence, but behind the scenes we are full steam ahead.

Securing cast for, ‘Love Yourself More’ has been an uphill climb as we establish contacts and connections in a world we are not always so closely linked to.

Additionally we are in the process of becoming an official production company and find ourselves knee deep in the development stages of a handful of key projects.

In the next couple weeks we begin our annual road trip to California where we will storyboard, film, and dry out our bones from the wet soils of Vancouver, Canada.

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