SWINGING OUTTA SUMMER: Summer is waning. This we know partly because the annual jazz moratorium is lifting, and 2010-2011 jazz concert series have gone public. Apart from the left-end/left-coast jazz shows in the Santa Barbara New Music Series at Muddy Waters and occasional gigs—e.g., Tyler Blanton at SOhO and Blue Cranes at Mercury Lounge—jazz took its usual summer siesta. One day, someone will figure out how to bring jazz, beyond Diana Krall (much as we love her), to the Santa Barbara Bowl. Perchance to dream.
Mark those calendars and refrigerator sticky notes now. “Jazz at the Lobero” boasts Charles Lloyd (Sept. 24), Omara Portuondo (Nov. 1), a hot double bill of Bill Frisell and John Scofield (Feb. 12, 2011), and McCoy Tyner (Mar. 8). UCSB’s jazz radar, at Campbell Hall, includes Béla Fleck (Dec. 17) and bass wunderkind Esperanza Spalding (Feb. 27, 2011).
Most importantly, this is the season we finally get a return visit from the iconoclastic fact-of-American-cultural-life Ornette Coleman (Campbell Hall, Nov. 5). Ornette is one of a small handful of hugely significant jazz heroes still living who broke molds and created new ones starting in the late ’50s. We last caught him locally in the late ’80s at the Anaconda (a ripe, short-lived showcase club in the old, infamously incendiary Isla Vista Bank of America) as part of a tour following his Columbia album Virgin Beauty. Ornette remains, to quote his album title of a half-century ago, the shape of jazz to come.
PASSINGS IN THE BEBOP BUSINESS: Jazz has lost some of its luster with the recent passing of important veterans who, perhaps coincidentally, were paragons of subtlety. Avant-garde trumpeter Bill Dixon (b. 1925), who worked with Cecil Taylor and many others, conjured up beguilement of the abstract, vaporous kind. Though well-known as a musician’s musician, the great, cool, wise, and uncompromising vocalist Abbey Lincoln (b. 1930) never got her general-public popularity due, partly because she refused to sing standards for her supper. Instead, Lincoln leaves a legacy of original thinking and styling, and classics like her work with then-husband Max Roach on Freedom Now Suite.
And what to say of Hank Jones (b. 1918!), the brilliant pianist born in the Detroit area, who virtually represented economy, spiritual virtuosity, and grace? The older brother of Elvin and Thad, who passed before him, Hank worked on the sidelines and as a coveted sideman for many years, only stepping out as a solo artist in the last phase of his remarkable, steady-Eddie life in music. He was the last of the humble spotlight-shirkers. I heard Jones at festivals where he was the featured artist—at the Lionel Hampton Festival in Idaho and at the Montreal Jazz Festival just two years ago—and he was ever ready to deflect attention and play solos shorter than we might have wanted, although each solo was a model of touch, taste, and measured doses of adventure.
At the time of an interview with Jones in 1999, he was riding high on the release of Steal Away, the wondrous duet project of spirituals with Charlie Haden, now one of the jewels in the Hank Jones discography. “That was a very enjoyable experience for me,” he told me, “because, you see, my background was all religious, gospel, what-have-you, and so was his. So it was a natural thing that we should get together and have a meeting of the minds.”
I asked if the key to great jazz is a happy marriage of the mind and soul. “That’s really what it is. You combine what you would naturally say is part of your heritage with what you’ve learned along the way. Hopefully, something good will come out of it, something that is not contrived. If it doesn’t feel natural, it’s not going to sound right. It has to be genuine. Your sound really has to come from your soul and you really have to mean it.” Hank Jones really meant it.