The Jazz Year that Was and Is

by Josef Woodard

LATE-BREAKING ICON UPDATE: Sometimes nervous-making, last-minute replacement scenarios yield gold. Trumpeter/funny man Jack Sheldon’s planned guest artist slot on Monday’s City College Jazz Ensemble concert was canceled on short notice. A well-placed call later, the spot was filled by none other than flugelhorn-trumpet master Clark Terry. All the better: Terry is one of those last-link legends through whom to connect historical dots. The humble and comedic jazz titan’s résumé traces back to Charlie Barnett and Count Basie in the swing era, sweeps through bebop, a ’50s stint with Duke Ellington, work with Miles Davis, and beyond. At a concert appearance at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho two years ago, Terry (1920-) played beautifully from his wheelchair and took the microphone to address the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen …” he paused for effect. “The golden years suck.” Maybe so, maybe not. But when Terry plays, life is beautiful.

JAZZ QUARTERLY REPORT: Santa Barbaran jazz fans are accustomed to tides of bliss and feelings of abandonment. Last Saturday’s Lobero concert by Eliane Elias, sadly, was one of the final official jazz shows of this concert season (John Pizzarelli closes Jazz at the Lobero on April 6).

Yet it has been an unusually strong “year” for jazz here, especially in the piano and vocal departments. On the piano front, Brad Mehldau’s trio, at the Lobero in January, showed why the 35-year-old is a champion of his generation, mixing adventurism with deep, classically tinged lyricism. His take on “She’s Leaving Home” is the most potent Beatles cover in recent memory. Chick Corea may have nearly twice Mehldau’s years, but his youthful spirit and creative curiosity are alive and kicking, as demonstrated through his flamenco-flavored group Touchstone, lighting Campbell Hall afire last month.

Also there, Dee Dee Bridgewater dazzled with chops, charisma, and lived-in wisdom and sexiness, dishing up her ripe tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with a fine L.A.-based big band. The part-time Parisian also snuck in a French chanson for good measure (from her luminous new album, J’ai Deux Amours). Everybody loves vocalist Tierney Sutton, returning to the Lobero Theatre in January, a year after first taking that house by storm. The jazz singer may be the finest around, in terms of digging into the hoary Great American Songbook and finding new, relevant life there.

TO-DOINGS: They’re called The Duhks and they proudly hail from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The big little city, smack-dab in the middle of North America, is best known in musical circles for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and for giving us Neil Young. (Young’s thoughts go back to that zone on his openly nostalgic/poetic album Prairie Wind, also celebrated via Jonathan Demme’s new Young concert film, shot at the Ryman in Nashville [see our Film Review]. But we digress.) The Duhks — four gifted twentysomething musicians with a flair for Americana, Canadiana, soul, bluegrass, and other ingredients — have already built up a considerable buzz on the so-called “new acoustic” scene.
When they make their Santa Barbara debut, in the beloved Sings Like Hell series at the Lobero this Saturday, the band is officially promoting their first U.S. release, a self-titled jewel co-produced by Bela Fleck for Sugar Hill records. It doesn’t get much more American than that. Basically, The Duhks are busy proving the fluid compatibility of musical strains from all over this continent, and then some.

FIDDLE NOTES: Two of the deliciously ear-tweaking surprises on Generation Nation, the fab new album by Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings (who stopped at SOhO last week), are fresh versions of Ornette Coleman’s classic “Ramblin’” — reborn as “The Ramblin’ Barber” — and Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird.” These are not novelty items, but testament to Anger’s amazingly organic eclecticism. Of the pack of enlightened new acoustic bands and albums to check out (including The Duhks), this is high on the short list. (Got e? Email

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