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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.

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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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Eva Cassidy – Up Above

If you are one to believe that gifts come from above then you might think of the late Eva Cassidy. Whenever I hear her, she makes my heart stop in reflection of all that is meant to be.
She was painfully shy, not at all glamorous and much to the frustration of record company executives, impossible to pigeon hole. Pop tunes, blues, jazz, gospel – she sang whatever moved her. In an era of brightly packaged stars, think Britney Spears – Eva Cassidy was the polar opposite. Indeed she never knew fame, that is coming only now years after she died in the prime of her life, and her version of ‘Over the Rainbow’ see if it doesn’t give you goose bumps.
Nightline corespondent and jazz and blues enthusiast Dave Marash said that putting together the Eva Cassidy story was definitely a ‘labour of love.’

A beautiful story.

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Rudy Lu – Albany NY

Conversations with Kim

A new segment at Fresh Independence as we bring you stories from the heart.

Our first is with Albany NY based photographer Rudy Lu who shares his passion for jazz music and capturing moments that live on forever.

I always say the best part of what I do is meeting good people like Rudy Lu.

I am a science major with my studies and so working in music and photography, brings another element to my life.

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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.

jazzinvalley-2016-2130

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.

a-jazz-by-5

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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