Following are many of the upcoming jazz concerts and jazz-related events in the Atlanta area. As you'll see, I focus primarily on straight-ahead jazz. Additional events may be found at Eventful.com's Atlanta Jazz listings. Also, if you'd like to see some of the best jazz musicians in Atlanta, I'd definitely visit the calendar page at Churchill Grounds' website. And if you really want to stay close to the jazz scene, you'll learn about many more gigs by "liking" some of the busiest Atlanta jazz musicians on Facebook. You can start with Joe Gransden, Mace Hibbard, Melvin Jones, Jacob Deaton, and Justin Chesarek.
In addition to the events shown below, one of Atlanta's best jazz pianists, Louis Heriveaux, has a nightly trio gig at Houston's Restaurant in Buckhead (2166 Peachtree Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30309). You can catch them Sunday-Thursday from 6:30pm to 9pm and Friday-Saturday from 7pm to 10pm.
As I mentioned a few months ago, I'm not a big fan of reading album reviews, nor do I wish to write any reviews myself. I broke my no-review policy for Melvin Jones' debut CD "Pivot," but I did so reluctantly. And frankly, I still haven't quite forgiven Melvin Jones and Mace Hibbard for playing so well on that album. On Melvin's next album, I'm hoping for a tune called "Cracked Notes," and it better be filled with them!
Anyway, here I am again, faced with another dilemma because Mace Hibbard and Melvin Jones recently joined forces on another tour de force (...must fight the urge to use reviewer lingo). This time the album features Atlanta-based saxophonist, Mace Hibbard, as the leader and trumpeter, Melvin Jones, riding shotgun (hey, I made up some new reviewer lingo), along with Louis Heriveaux on piano, Marc Miller on bass, and Justin Varnes on drums.
"Time Gone By" is Mace Hibbard's second album as a leader, and the followup to his debut album, "When We Last Met," which is also definitely worth checking out. And like Melvin Jones' "Pivot" album, "Time Gone By" is another great jazz recording that I can't help but recommend.
Rather than go track by track, describing each tune, I thought I'd share some videos that I've taken over the past couple of years that feature some of the tunes that you'll hear on "Time Gone By." These are from various performances and lineups so you'll definitely hear a more polished version of things on the actual album, which you can conveniently purchase at iTunes and CD Baby.
The curiously titled, "Rude On Purpose," by Mace Hibbard:
"Hallowed Ground," by Mace Hibbard:
"Remembrances of Things Past," music by Mace Hibbard, lyrics by Marcel Proust:
BUT DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT...
If you'd like to read some real reviews, by people who do this stuff for a living, visit Jazz Times or All About Jazz. But they'll pretty much tell you the album is great, only with a lot more words. Do yourself a favor, skip the reviews and head on over to iTunes or CD Baby to get a copy of the album for yourself!
Last year marked the first Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont park since 2007. While it was great to see the 2010 Atlanta Jazz Festival back in Piedmont Park, various sound issues and questionable lineups gave the impression that the festival's organizers hadn't quite recovered from the 2008 and 2009 jazz festivals. As you may recall, 2008 and 2009 were a bit of a low point for the Atlanta Jazz Festival due to budget constraints and the Georgia drought, which forced the festival to move away from Piedmont Park.
Well, I'm happy to report that this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival was my favorite in recent memory. It was still just a two-day festival (2007 and previous years were 3-day festivals), but the festival had a strong mix of artists, great sound, and excellent weather. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from this year's festival. I accidentally left my camera at home and didn't like any of the shots I got with my phone.
I attended the second day of the concert, which featured two of the best young trumpeters around, Sean Jones and Christian Scott. But as much as I enjoyed their performances, the real highlight was the Gerald Clayton Trio. I had seen Gerald Clayton a couple of years ago, but that was just a sideman gig. This time around he took center stage and as cliched as it sounds, I lost myself in his music. One minute I was looking around at the sea of festival goers, wondering if there were any better spots to sit, and the next thing I knew, I was off in a dream-like state. I was totally relaxed and at peace with the world. After a few tunes I turned to my wife, hoping she wasn't bored (these types of performances can go either way with her) and she too was off in her own little world. Afterward she said, "I'm not sure how jazzy that was, but it was beautiful."
Next year is the 35th year of the Atlanta Jazz Festival. More than once, festival organizers told the crowd that next year will be a milestone celebration, with several big-name artists. Let's hope I remember to bring my camera!
As in previous years at Piedmont Park, this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival had two stages of music. The main stage featured a few local Atlanta musicians and touring acts, while the second stage consisted entirely of local musicians. Here's the complete lineup:
Over the many years that I've run this jazz blog, I've had dozens of people write in from all over the world, asking me to review their latest jazz album. My answer has always been, "Sorry, but I don't do reviews."
There are a number of reasons for which I don't want to do jazz album reviews, but the main one is that I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. If you ask me to write a review, you are asking me to be honest about your music. And therein lies the problem. If I don't like what I hear, I'm forced to write a negative review, or I have to tell you that I have nothing positive to write. Either way, it's an unpleasant situation that I'd rather avoid altogether.
Another important reason for not writing reviews is the time investment it requires. As it is, I barely have enough time to write one blog article each month. Imagine how infrequent my postings would be if I also had a stack of albums that required my undivided attention. Writing album reviews would also eat into the time I have for practicing the trumpet. All of that lost time would most certainly delay my advancement from "not very good" to "so-so." I'm so close to finally becoming a "so-so" jazz trumpeter that I just can't take the risk!
And lastly, I don't like reading jazz album reviews. I do like to know if something's worth checking out, but a star rating and a sentence or two about the style of music is really all I need. The last thing I want to read is a track-by-track transcript of somebody's reaction to an album. "At the 1:20 mark, the saxophonist burst into a cacophony of pops and squeaks, reminding me of that time I dropped my iPhone and it tumbled down the rusty fire escape of my rent-controlled Village apartment..." Um, just tell me if it's good or not.
MELVIN JONES PIVOT - ALBUM REVIEW
Now that you know how I feel about writing reviews, you can imagine how utterly disappointed I was when I first listened to trumpeter Melvin Jones' debut album and thought, "this is so good, I have to write about it!"
I first heard Melvin Jones play the trumpet in 2005, at a Churchill Grounds jam session. At the time, he was the young director of bands at Morehouse College, where he led both the jazz and marching bands. I'm sure that was a demanding job, but even with limited time behind the horn, he always managed to sound better each time I heard him play. Things have really picked up over the past year or two, though, due to his recent gig touring with Tyler Perry's backing band. It sounds like he's been practicing and playing a lot more and the result is nothing short of astounding. Melvin Jones is no longer just one of the best trumpeters in Atlanta, he's one of the best trumpet players you'll find anywhere. As Melvin suggests in the liner notes to this album, it isn't a case where you say an album is long overdue. Instead, this is the perfect time for Melvin to introduce himself to the world.
Melvin Jones' debut album, "Pivot," also features Atlanta-based Mace Hibbard on saxophone. Mace Hibbard is one of my favorite jazz musicians, and his playing on "Pivot" is easily the best I've heard from him in any recording thus far. Melvin Jones and Mace Hibbard have performed many times together around Atlanta so they've spent years developing the chemistry that you'll hear on "Pivot." They complement each other perfectly both when playing a tune's melodies and when soloing together, as you'll hear toward the end of the gospel tune "Angels," the album's only non-original composition.
Rodney Jordon plays bass throughout the album, however the rest of the lineup changes a bit from tune to tune. You'll hear Louis Heriveaux and Brian Hogans on piano, Leon Anderson, Terreon Gully, and "Lil" John Roberts on drums, and a couple of tunes that include Jeff Bradshaw on trombone and Michael Burton on saxophone. All in all, it's a strong lineup of musicians who have known and/or performed with each other for quite some time.
What was it that I said about track-by-track reviews? Oh, ya, I don't like them. So here's my track-by-track analysis... just kidding. I will at least say that this album features a good mix of straight-ahead up-tempo tunes, ballads, and groove-oriented tracks. Don't me ask what groove-oriented means, I thought it sounded like something a real reviewer might say. Really, I couldn't think of a better way to say one song has an electric bass and a funky beat. To keep things honest, I will say that tune ("Philly Time Zone") might be the weakest on the album, but only because it sounds like the rhythm section and soloists drift apart a little in the solos. The original melody of the tune and initial groove sounds great, though.
Below you'll hear a performance of "Jug-Or-Not," the albums first track, from the band's CD release party at Churchill Grounds on April 9, 2011. This recording features Melvin Jones on trumpet, Mace Hibbard on saxophone, Louis Heriveaux on piano, Rodney Jordon on bass, and Marlon Patton on drums. Unfortunately, my camera shut off right as they were playing the head at the end of the solos. I guess this means you'll have to buy the album to hear how it ends!
The 33rd annual Atlanta Jazz Festival took place this Memorial Day weekend at Piedmont Park. If you've been following the Atlanta Jazz Festival saga, you know this is the first year that the festival has been back at Piedmont Park since 2007. Due to the Georgia drought and budget shortfalls, both the 2008 and 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festivals occurred at smaller venues and with scaled-back lineups. For those of us who look forward to the Atlanta Jazz Festival each year, it was great to see the festival back at Piedmont Park this year, complete with high-profile touring acts. Budget constraints still limited the festival to just two shortened days instead of three full days, but this year marked a big step in the right direction.
Following are some highlights and photos from the Festival.
Vocalist, trombone player, and trumpet player, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews has been on my radar ever since I saw YouTube clips of him playing in concert with Wynton Marsalis. I knew Trombone Shorty was a talented musician, but I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of that talent until I saw his performance at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. His trombone playing alone was impressive enough, but when he picked up the trumpet I just about fell over. The power and intensity behind every note was astounding. Nothing I had seen or heard of his playing prior to the festival even came close. In addition to his great tone and fantastic musical ideas, his precision on the trumpet, through all ranges was absolute perfection. Trombone Shorty was definitely my favorite performer at this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival.
ESPERANZA SPALDING & RAYDAR ELLIS
Jazz bassist, Esperanza Spalding, and DJ/MC Raydar Ellis brought a hip-hop infused performance to this year's festival. I enjoyed the music, but I would have liked to hear Esperanza Spalding featured more prominently throughout the concert. That might sound strange considering she was the bandleader, but for several of the tunes she only played a supporting role.
It wasn't until the end of their performance when I learned that Marcus Strickland was playing saxophone in the band. I might have recognized him earlier, but since his hair (or lack thereof) was different than I've seen in photos, and since I wasn't all that close to the stage, I couldn't identify him by his appearance. I've been a fan of Marcus Strickland for several years now, ever since I first heard him playing with Dave Douglas. It was cool to see Marcus Strickland at the festival, even if he did only have one solo.
MARCUS MILLER W/ CHRISTIAN SCOTT
Marcus Miller and Christian Scott have been touring the world with their "Tutu Revisited" show, which they brought to this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival. While "Tutu" and the later period of Miles Davis' career isn't exactly my favorite style of jazz, I was still looking forward to hearing the band, especially trumpeter Christian Scott. There's been a lot of buzz about him lately, including a recent Downbeat cover article. It was nice to finally hear Christian Scott in person, although it may have been an off night for him as he struggled to hit some of notes in the upper register. But frankly, after hearing Trombone Shorty's effortless command of the upper register (and every register above and below that!), it was comforting to know that trumpet playing doesn't always come easy to the best players.
I'd also like to mention how impressed I was by the young saxophonist, Alex Han. I hadn't heard of him before, but I've since learned that he's been playing in a variety of high-profile ensembles since his early teen years. I'm sure I'll hear a lot more from him in the future.
JOE GRANSDEN BIG BAND
Followers of the Atlanta jazz scene are certainly familiar with trumpeter Joe Gransden and his 16-piece big band. The band plays on the first and third Monday at Cafe 290 and it regularly features several of Atlanta's best jazz musicians. The big band's inclusion at the Atlanta Jazz Festival was actually the result of a contest held by festival organizers. For this particular time slot, the festival organizers accepted submissions from musicians all over the country and then held an online vote to determine which of the top three submissions would get to play at the festival. I'm happy to say Joe and his band won by a sizeable lead!
Overall, this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival was a great event. The festival was back at Piedmont Park, it featured big-name musicians, it included some of Atlanta's finest musicians on the main stage, it had a reasonably sized VIP area (it was too large in 2007), the festival was well-attended, and it even had decent weather considering the fact that rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast for the entire weekend. There were some problems with this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival, however, and they all seemed to revolve around sound. To begin, this was the loudest Atlanta Jazz Festival that I've attended. The high volume level would have been fine, but it seemed like every performance and/or intermission had at least one eardrum-piercing event where somebody's microphone was turned up too high and the sound guys were caught off guard. The sound guys also seemed slow to react when somebody's microphone level was too low. There were several instances where somebody belted out note after note and we couldn't hear anything. Oh, and why did the sound guys play loud (and bad) alterna-rock during some of the intermissions? Maybe they were practicing for Bonnaroo.
As in previous years at Piedmont Park, this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival had two stages of music. The main stage featured local Atlanta musicians and touring acts, while the second stage consisted entirely of local musicians. Here's the complete lineup:
I moved to Atlanta in 2001 and began attending local Atlanta jazz concerts a couple of years later, when I became serious about playing the trumpet again. During the years that I’ve followed the Atlanta jazz scene, I can think of no better time to be a jazz fan in Atlanta than right now! The musicians, the concerts, and even the sense of community, have reached a level beyond anything I’ve seen yet. To help spread the word, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the reasons that I’m so excited about today’s Atlanta jazz scene.
JAZZ ORCHESTRA ATLANTA & JOE GRANSDEN AT CAFE 290
Beginning in May 2009, trumpeter Joe Gransden and the Jazz Orchestra Atlanta big band have been performing on the first Monday of every month at Cafe 290. The first two concerts were so heavily attended that they now perform on the first AND third Monday of each month. You might be wondering why so many people would go to see jazz on a Monday night, and in Sandy Springs no less?! I think the explanation is simple. The big band represents the largest concentration of the best jazz musicians that you’ll see anywhere in Atlanta. Although, the Twain’s jam session comes close! I recently attended my first big band concert at Cafe 290 and was delighted to see so many of my favorite Atlanta jazz musicians, including Kevin Bales, Mace Hibbard, Brian Hogans, John Sandfort, Anton Harris, Justin Varnes, Melvin Jones, Lester Walker, Wes Funderburk, just to name a few. And of course, the real star of the night is Joe Gransden. His ability to charm the audience and keep everyone entertained is second to none. Don’t miss these concerts!
Here’s a tip... call ahead and reserve a table. These concerts are crowded and you probably don’t want to stand in the back of the room all night.
TWAIN’S JAM SESSION
The Tuesday night jazz jam session at Twain’s Billiards and Tap began a little over a year ago and continues to be one of the best jazz events in the Atlanta area. Joe Gransden leads the session, with Tyrone Jackson on piano, Craig Shaw on bass, and Chris Burroughs on drums. With those guys in the house band, you know you’re in for some great jazz even if nobody else shows up to play! But they certainly don’t have any problem getting other musicians to show up. On any given night you’ll see dozens of jazz musicians on the stage. In one set you might see college students playing in public for the first time, then right after that you’ll see a trumpet battle featuring some of the best players in the world (as captured in the video clip to the right). Adding to the success of these jam sessions is a strong sense of community among the audience and musicians. Each week you’ll see many familiar faces, some coming to perform, and some coming just to hang out and catch up with friends. I know some people think there’s too much talking at Twain’s and not enough listening, but I think the talking is important. It’s the bond that keeps people coming back each week.
Additional notes: The music starts around 9pm. Usually the house band will play one or two tunes by themselves and then the jam session begins. Things really pick up around 10 or 10:30pm, so if you’re there to play and you want to guarantee that you’ll make it onto the stage, get there early.
DAVID ELLINGTON ORGAN TRIO AT TWAIN’S
The David Ellington Organ Trio performs at Twain’s Billiards & Tap on the first Wednesday of every month. The band includes Mace Hibbard on saxophone and Chris Burroughs on drums. Often, John Bagnato will join the band on guitar and they’ll occasionally feature special guests as they did recently with vocalists Laura Coyle and Tommy Dean. The band performs mostly original material written by David Ellington and Mace Hibbard, drawing heavily from the soulful sounds of Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Eddie Harris. I’ve seen David Ellington’s band perform several times and I’m always amazed at how good they sound together. Mace Hibbard really shines in this group, as he plays some of the funkiest sax solos ever heard in Decatur, GA.
YOUNG GUNS AND NEW MUSICIANS
We’ve seen several new jazz musicians come to Atlanta in the past year, many of them falling into the "Young Guns" category. They’re fresh out of college, filled with talent, and eager to make a name for themselves. Aside from their musical talents, I think the best thing about these new musicians is the enthusiasm they bring to the Atlanta jazz scene. They’re not afraid to experiment with new material, new lineups, and new venues. Their audiences might be small on occasion, but they know it’s all part of their journey as jazz musicians. Guess what? You can be a part of that journey by attending some of their concerts!
The Highland Ballroom has seen several jazz concerts lately, by some of the younger players in town. Guitarist Jacob Deaton is a regular performer at Highland Ballroom and I know other musicians like Dan Dilormo and Justin Chesarek have played there as well. I’d encourage every college music student to go and support these guys. With enough support, you could have your own underground jazz scene - literally, since the Ballroom is in the basement! I would have loved to have something like this back when I was a college music student.
Studio 281 has been around for a while, but it’s seen some new interest lately thanks to some of the new players in town. Over the past couple of months at Studio 281, I’ve seen excellent concerts by saxophonist John Sandfort and two of my favorite "Young Guns," bassist Will Goble and drummer David Potter. Will Goble and David Potter just moved here after attending FSU and have brought a variety of guest musicians to their gigs at Studio 281. For example, last week they performed at Studio 281 with Marcus Printup and they’ll bring Jason Marsalis to Studio 281 for two nights in September (they recorded an album with Jason which received 4.5 out of 5 stars from Downbeat!). I’d also like to note that Nick Rosen, a gifted jazz pianist who also moved here from FSU in recent months, will be performing at Studio 281 in July. As you can see, good things are happening at Studio 281.
In addition to the musicians I just mentioned, I also want everyone to know about the ongoing Wednesday night performances by the Justin Chesarek Quintet at Churchill Grounds. Justin Chesarek is a talented young drummer and composer from Pittsburgh, and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in the Atlanta jazz scene. His band includes another newcomer, accomplished tenor saxophonist, Kurtis Adams. Rounding out the band you’ll also hear Akeem Marable on alto saxophone, Dan Gilormo on guitar, and the one and only Craig Shaw on bass. This is a great band that you shouldn’t miss.
Now you know what’s going on... get out there and support live jazz in Atlanta!
For the past few years I’ve been writing reviews of each Atlanta Jazz Festival. Normally, these are some of the easiest articles for me to write because there’s so much to share. Back in 2007, for example, the three-day 2007 Atlanta Jazz Festival had two stages with more than 30 bands, including performances by Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutchershon, Charles Tolliver, Vijay Iyer, and The Bad Plus. There were also some interesting panel discussions for me to write about, including one with Bobby Hutcherson and Charles Tolliver. It was also relatively easy for me to write about the 2008 Atlanta Jazz Festival. The smaller venue, the local-only focus, and the concert itself provided plenty of material. Unfortunately, writing about this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival isn't so easy.
2009 ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL REVIEW
If you follow the Atlanta jazz scene, or if you’re a regular reader of this jazz blog, you know that as of 6 months ago the 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festival was canceled due to budgetary shortfalls. As I wrote back then, the Atlanta Jazz Festival wasn’t the only jazz festival facing hard times. It also wasn’t the last. Recently, the New York, Chicago, and Miami jazz festivals have all been canceled.
Remarkably, and to the surprise of most people I know in the Atlanta jazz community, festival organizers managed to secure some last-minute corporate sponsors and the 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festival was resurrected as of a few months ago. I mention the surprise factor among the jazz community because it doesn’t seem like festival organizers involved the local jazz community during the planning of the festival, nor does it appear that the organizers gave the local community any consideration when choosing the lineup. I base this primarily on the many instances where local musicians asked me if I had any information on the festival. They didn’t know anything, it seems, because they weren’t asked to perform. Making matters worse, it appears that they weren't even allowed to request/audition for a slot at the festival since the official festival website strictly forbade direct submission by artists.
And this is where it gets hard for me to write about this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival...
The 2009 Atlanta Jazz Festival was shortened to two days, leaving eight slots for performers (not including two middle school bands that opened each day). Of the eight slots, only one featured straight ahead jazz (Freddy Cole). The other seven slots were a mix of fusion, rock, soul, funk, instrumental pop, R&B and other forms of music. To be clear, I’m not criticizing the talents of the (mostly) non-jazz bands. Some contained extremely talented musicians. I’m also not suggesting that none of them should have been at the festival. You can certainly add a fusion/funk/R&B band or two to the lineup for variety, but they shouldn't be the primary focus of a "jazz" festival. And that's the problem. This year, the overwhelming majority of performances were NOT representative of jazz music.
The puzzling lineup is doubly frustrating to me when you consider the absence of jazz performances by the local Atlanta jazz community. Joe Gransden’s big band, David Ellingon’s band with Mace Hibbard, Audrey Shakir, and Tyrone Jackson with Melvin Jones and Clarence Johnson are just a few local options that would have made excellent choices. Why weren't they considered for the festival?
I could go on and on about this year's Atlanta Jazz Festival, but I really don't want to be critical of an event like this. After all, the Atlanta Jazz Festival is free, it celebrates jazz (by name at least), and I know a lot of work goes into the production. It’s a great festival and I'm happy to have it here in Atlanta. I just know it could have been better this year.
As you can see below, they did at least have a good turnout in Grant Park, especially considering the unpredictable weather.
UPDATE: MAY 26, 2009
I recently received a comment on this article from another blogger named David J. Boutté. David sent an open letter to the festival organizers that discusses several of the issues I mentioned above. Hopefully, one way or another, festival organizers will get the message and we'll return to a more jazz-oriented festival in the future...
ATLANTA JAZZ FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
For reference purposes, here's the schedule for the 32nd (2009) Atlanta Jazz Festival:
SATURDAY, MAY 23, 2009
3pm - Rialto All Stars (middle school big band)
4pm - Madoca
5:30pm - Dionne Farris
7pm - Russell Gunn & Elektrik Butterfly
8:30pm - Freddy Cole
SUNDAY, MAY 24, 2009
3pm - J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble
4pm - VINX
5:30pm - Mausiki Scales and the Common Ground Collective
7pm - The Cindy Blackman Quartet (former Lenny Kravitz drummer)
8:30pm - Hiroshima
MARCUS PRINTUP & MULGREW MILLER
Incidentally, there was some truly outstanding jazz this weekend that occurred outside of the Atlanta Jazz Festival. A local Atlanta organization called the Southeastern Organization for Jazz Arts (SOJA) hosted a concert with legendary jazz pianist, Mulgrew Miller, and jazz trumpeter, Marcus Printup. In the photo below you’ll also see Craig Shaw on bass and Kinah Boto on drums. This was some of the best jazz I've heard all year!
This section focuses on Atlanta jazz musicians, jazz events in Atlanta, and Atlanta jazz clubs. While this is currently a work-in-progress, it's my hope that this section will eventually provide a decent introduction to the Atlanta jazz scene.