On July 14, 2018, John Lamkin, III's quartet appeared at the Caton Castle, with John Lamkin, III on drums, Grant Langford on tenor sax, Herman Burney on acoustic bass, and Dave Manley on electric guitar. This show was high octane.
John is the beneficiary of two generations of refinements in jazz drumming. Big band drummers like "Chick" Webb, "Big Sid" Catlett and "Papa" Jo Jones had already embellished the drums' time-keeping function with solo pyrotechnics before the post-World War II generation-- Max Roach, "Philly" Joe Jones, Art Blakey, and others-- moved the drums to the forefront of bebop ensembles. In addition to improvisation, what distinguishes jazz in its various incarnations from other musical forms is its drum-driven rhythm, a stylized pulse that sustains a structural force against which the other musicians continuously react. You could say that in a shifting sort of way the drums are to jazz what the net and boundary lines are to tennis.
Indeed, John was the leading light on "Duke" Ellington's "Caravan," an uptempo vehicle for a barrage of cymbal strokes amidst snare drum eruptions-- mesmerizing solo interjected-- that set the pace for Grant's even-toned tenor work, exploring the contours of a familiar melody in adventurous ways, rising to John's challenge. Herman's steady hand on bass and Dave's extended guitar riffs, his powerful strumming, rounded out a solid performance.
The unannounced appearance of Grant (a Charlie Parker look-alike) and Dave was a pleasant surprise. Last minute additions/substitutions are not uncommon in the jazz world. In fact, "sit-in" performances involving visiting musicians from the audience are a common occurrence at the Caton Castle. It has always amazed me how jazz musicians who play together for the first time are able to produce a collective sound that is cohesive and spontaneous as if it were the product of prolonged mutual acquaintance. Of course, top-notch players practice their craft relentlessly-- saxophonists "Sonny" Rollins and John Coltrane are legendary in this regard. However, it appears that the possibility of a "first take" blending of musicians of varying talent levels and styles derives from the existence of a common musical language, the embracing of which is the key to the jazz kingdom.
Some light on the mystery was shed in a jazz insider's memoir by saxophonist Richard Terrill-- "Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz" (2000). Talking out of school, the author describes the written technical prop-- the "fakebook"-- as "a collection of melodies or 'heads' with the chord changes, so that musicians can read the tunes and changes instead of having to play solely by ear and memory." Terrill continued, "The name 'fakebook' comes from the old coinage that a musician who is improvising over a set of chord changes is 'faking,' making up his or her own melody."
The term "fakebook" is apparently used ironically, in that Terrill calls it "a place to start, the structure upon which music is composed;" thus providing the basis for very real improvisation by putting all of the players on the same page. Even so, experience from the Caton Castle and elsewhere teaches listeners that given their common musical language, playing jazz by ear and memory suffices for many, even without the "fakebook." Indeed, there are noteworthy examples of extraordinary jazz musicians who could not read music at all; pianist Erroll Garner comes to mind.
Reading is not a prerequisite for singing. Clearly, Grant's lyrical tenor sax serenade on "My Foolish Heart," a brooding ballad memorably recorded by saxophonist Stan Getz, came straight from the heart and found an echo in Herman's soulful bass solo.
As is its nature, art imitates life. Just as a common language enables musical harmony, the lack of a common language is always attendant to social disharmony. When the same word means different things depending upon your perspective, strife follows. There is a story in the Bible about two clans of brothers (more precisely, cousins, the grandchildren of brothers) who came to blows about some perceived affront to group dignity. Problem was, they all resembled each other so much that it was hard to identify the enemy. The only telltale distinction was a difference in speech patterns whereby one group could not pronounce the word "Shibboleth" without spitting.
In their internecine warfare (something similar to Rwanda in 1994), a slight variation in language sufficed to determine who lived and who died: "Then they took him [who mispronounced], and slew him at the passage of the Jordan; and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand" (Judges 12:1-6).
Surely, nothing of the sort could happen in red state/blue state 21st century America-- right?
According to the poet, music has charms to sooth a savage beast. Perhaps. Whereas serious music involves a deliberate balance of contrasts, a person in a rage-- a savage beast-- loses all sense of proportion. Consider the yarn about the scorned wife who determined to kill her husband; so she poisoned him, strangled him, stabbed him, shot him, held him under water, then squatted down and urinated in the river. When asked why she felt the need to pee in the water, the forlorn lady responded: "Every little bit helps."
Nonetheless, music can be a tonic for the civilized. Dave's delicate guitar solo on "Peace," pianist/composer Horace Silver's pensive ballad, created a certain tension with Herman's bass line (so much more pronounced in the absence of a piano) and John's sensuous brush strokes, before a melodic resolution released the small but attentive audience from the collective grip of this solid rhythm section, playing in the pocket.
In music and life, not every discordant note is unwelcome. "Shibboleths" appeal to the snob in us all. For example, devotees of classical music cannot utter the word "jazz" without contempt; that is to say, without figuratively spitting. And jazz fans return the favor whenever they deign to mumble something about "classical" music.
Of course, we jazz snobs are justified. John Lamkin, III's spirited quartet was proof of that.
June 23, 2018
On June 23, 2018, vocalist Gabrielle Goodman appeared at the Caton Castle, along with Warren Wolf on vibraphone, Greg Hatza on piano, Reginald Payne on bass guitar, Robert Dupree on Conga drums and percussion, and Robert Shahid on drums. Stylistically, this show was a mixed bag.
As a frequent performer at the Caton Castle, the versatility of Warren's vibraphone is well-known, whether setting the pace as the leader or setting the mood from behind. No matter the style, there's a commanding aspect to the orchestral quality of the vibraphone, its multiplicity of sounds. To open the show, the instrumentalists played vibraphonist Milt "Bags" Jackson's signature bebop blues standard, "Bags' Groove," with Warren's melodic statement and rhythmic variations provoking a spirited response from Greg's piano (not his customary organ), including some boogie-woogie riffs.
The next tune, "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," showed Robert Shahid's drums in excellent form, maintaining an intricate time stamp before soloing with pizzazz. And, on a couple of other tunes, Robert Dupree's conga drums added percussive spice.
With the nearly full house warmed up, a hearty Caton Castle greeting was provided for Baltimore native Gabrielle Goodman, a veteran performer and music teacher, but a newcomer to this venue. Incorporating much from the rich tradition of jazz vocalists, Gabrielle's sound is both familiar and fresh, scatting like Ella Fitzgerald on "Route 66" and moaning from deep down, like Sarah Vaughan, on "Summertime." Moreover, Gabrielle's distinctive treatment of "Don't Explain" in a duet with Reginald's lively bass guitar proved that Billie Holiday doesn't own that tune, exclusively.
Gabrielle credited a long association with R&B diva Roberta Flack as a decisive influence on her career. In tribute, she sang Roberta's "Feel Like Makin' Love," a pop chart hit, and other songs in that vein, like Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and Patti Labelle's pop treatment of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." To be sure, Gabrielle has both R&B and jazz chops: she rendered a lyrical version of Matt Dennis' melancholy jazz ballad, "Angel Eyes," to a funk beat.
"Feel Like Makin' Love," in fact, put me in mind of younger days, when I often pondered with songwriter Cole Porter: "What is This Thing Called Love?" The ancient Greeks had it figured out, sort of. In Plato's "Symposium" it is reported by Socrates on the oracular authority of the prophetess Diotima that Love was conceived at a birthday feast in honor of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, when an inebriated Poros, the God of Plenty, was finagled by Penia (Poverty), a "Plain Jane" mortal, into a tryst that resulted in the birth of the demigod Eros, the source of erotic Love. This divine/human Love is a composite of contrasts, by turns mortal and immortal, elegant and plain, rich and poor, wise and foolish. "But Beautiful," songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen has added.
However that may be, pianist Greg Hatza could take the Greeks to school on the related subject of the blues, whether on piano or in the way that he usually rolls, on electric organ and vocals.
Indeed, the blues stands in close proximity to Plato's mythological Love, having grown out of a particular historical circumstance of enforced poverty amidst plenty. The blues is a compound of the human with the inhuman-- not the divine. American slave songs that communicated a bitter experience on many levels evolved into emancipated musical patterns of worship, art, and entertainment. The blues as a musical genre seemed to arrive in full stride with the 20th century, like the Goddess Athena of Greek mythology springing fully grown from the head of Zeus. In fact, the first generation of blues stars-- the likes of Bessie Smith, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey and James P. Johnson-- showed up before the technology to commercially record them.
To this day, the basic blues musical pattern has remained unchanged since its gestation in antebellum America. However, I'm sure that the spirit of the blues-- like the spirit of Love-- is as old as the memory of humankind. Though the pattern of his recitation was undoubtedly different, biblical Moses arguably sang the blues when he lamented the wrath of God occasioned by the faithlessness of men: "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath; we spend our years as a tale that is told" (Psalm 90:8-9).
As a vehicle for both love songs and the blues, jazz, pop, and R&B serve the musical Muse. Gabrielle Goodman's eclectic repertoire dished it all out, tastefully.
THE ELIJAH BALBED QUINTET
May 26, 2018
On May 26, 2018, the Elijah Balbed Quintet appeared at the Caton Castle, with Elijah Balbed on soprano/tenor sax/bass, Allyn Johnson on piano, Eliot Seppa on bass, Warren Wolf on vibraphone, and Lee Pearson on drums. This show was billed as a "Baltimore/Washington Jazz Collusion," with the latter two artists making up the Baltimore contingent, and proving beyond a doubt that when it doesn't involve the Russians, "collusion" with Washington is a good thing.
The up-and-coming players in this all-star band are all familiar faces at the Caton Castle. On the Cole Porter standard, "Just One of Those Things," Elijah flexed his tenor sax muscles in the brisk, edgy, improvisational style of classic "bebop" exemplars of the tenor sax like Hank Mobley or Joe Henderson, shifting the shape of the melody based on a fluid harmonic approach. Meanwhile, this solid rhythm section maintained parameters of time and space with Eliot's sprinting bass line mediating between Allyn's rhythmic piano refrains and Lee's wall of percussive sound, his persistent and encircling drumbeats-- cymbals leading.
The band performed several original compositions by Elijah, including the title tune from his latest CD, "Lessons from the Streets," a bluesy ballad that featured a meditative bass solo by Eliot that was answered in kind by Warren's engaging vibes, with a restrained fury that was subsequently unleashed on Allyn's original tune, "Rise."
In addition to the original compositions, the band's playlist consisted of songs that fall within the well-worn boundaries of "straight-ahead" jazz, the heir to the "bebop" throne. Jazz standards performed like Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" and Gigi Gryce's "Minority" are of ritual significance to some fans, constituting a figurative tattoo of authenticity. You could call such fans "straight-ahead" jazz purists.
It goes without saying that not everybody bows to this "standards" reverence. It can lead to stagnation. In music and otherwise, growth is necessary for survival. However, the form of that growth-- the shape of things to come-- is bound to generate controversy because the subject of jazz is both nuanced and passionate.
I thought of this when perusing the promotional videos for this show on the Caton Castle website. In one offering, Lee Pearson performed a bravura 8-minute drum solo, a spell-binding array of sound and motion. The caption indicated that Lee's performance occurred with a group led by Chris Botti, a veteran trumpeter identified with the musical genre known as "smooth" jazz. So clearly contrary to the sound typical of "smooth" jazz-- Lee's too loud, for starters-- it's possible to enjoy Lee's solo without embracing Chris Botti's variety of "smooth" jazz. And it does come in different flavors. Obviously, to reflexively dismiss, for example, the funky "smooth" jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. along with his saxophone-lite fellow-traveler, Kenny G, is to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Let us backtrack: What is "smooth" jazz? It is moderated tempo instrumental music resembling jazz, but without improvisation. I got this understanding straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. In 2006, I attended a performance at the Lyric Theater (seating capacity: 2,500) featuring a quintet headed by two stars of "smooth" jazz, saxophonist David Sanborn, and the aforesaid Chris Botti. The house was sold out (pun intended); as a latecomer, I had to buy an obstructed view ticket. The musicians were talented and professional, but midway through the show, David Sanborn apologized to the audience (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) because he was about to play something different from what they were accustomed to hearing by him on the radio. Explaining that he had a need to return from time to time to his improvisational roots, the band played a spirited take on "All Blues," from Miles Davis' album, "Kind of Blue." After which, the audience politely applauded and the band returned to playing "smooth" jazz from the radio, note for packaged note.
As an aside, it should be observed that trumpet icon Miles Davis was himself a jazz innovator, second to none. "Kind of Blue" (1959) represented a phase in Miles' development known as "modal," where he de-emphasized or, dare I say, "smoothed out" the complex chordal progressions characteristic of his prior styles-- "bebop" then "cool" jazz-- and "modal" jazz anticipated Miles' "post-bop" exploration of "fusion" or "jazz rock." At its best, jazz has never been static. But, for what it's worth, Miles lost me at "Bitches Brew" (1970), a best-selling album by his electrified "jazz rock" ensemble. Whereas "smooth" jazz (except for the likes of Grover Washington, Jr.) suffers from monotonous predictability, "jazz rock" goes to the opposite extreme: it's disorienting, except for, say, "Weather Report."
Anyway, despite a superficial popularity, "smooth" jazz is not a serious contender for the future of jazz. Indeed, the only remaining local radio station devoted to "smooth" jazz is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (WTTZ, 93.5 FM)-- with frequent traffic updates. More to the point, without the spontaneity of improvisation, jazz is not authentic jazz, say the "straight-ahead" purists. I agree.
"Minority," the tune that closed the second set, is illustrative. The band was joined by three musicians from the audience: Todd Marcus on bass clarinet, Eprahim Dorsey on tenor sax, and Ebban Dorsey on alto sax, who traded extended solos with Elijah, now on soprano sax. Like an old-fashioned jam session, each musician interpreted the up-tempo melodic phrasing according to his (her) creative lights-- commendably, all around. Indeed, jam sessions are a peculiar jazz custom that tends to separate the improvisational wheat from the chaff, a process that necessarily excludes "smooth" jazz entirely because it doesn't involve improvisation.
Authentic jazz or not, there's no accounting for taste. We each get the deciding vote. My Grandma's maxim was, "Remember what the old lady said when they asked her why she kissed the cow: 'Everybody to their notion.'"
On this night, the spirit of jazz was in the house. For the sake of the unpersuaded, I would love to hear an encore performance of Elijah Balbed's Quintet (videotaped) with a back-to-back "smooth" jazz set by Chris Botti's band in the cabaret intimacy of the Caton Castle (not the Lyric theater); and let the music speak for itself.
In jazz, a battle of the bands is nothing new.
THE ELIJAH BALBED QUINTET
THE ELIJAH BALBED QUINTET AND GUEST PERFORMERS (Note: Guest Drummer Nick Costas is not in this photo)
On May 12, 2018, the Houston Person Quartet appeared at the Caton Castle, with Houston Person on tenor sax, Lafayette Harris on piano, Vince Ector on drums, and Matthew Parrish on bass. This performance provoked a nostalgic mood, reminding me of the words that novelist William Faulkner put into the mouth of a fictional character: "The past isn't dead," said Gavin Stevens. "It isn't even past."
Of the generation of unhurried big-tone tenor saxophonist influenced by the Master, Ben Webster (1909-1973), the ageless Houston Person (actually, he's 84) is nearly the last man standing. The band's performance of "Everything Happens to Me" showed Houston to be in fine form, sugar-coating the chords of this slow ballad in a halting embrace that quivered around the beat of his solid rhythm section. Houston's subtle intonation conjured up songwriter Tom Adair's poignant lyrics: "...I've telegraphed and phoned/ I sent an airmail special too/ Your answer was goodbye/ and there was even postage due/ I fell in love just once/ and then it had to be with you/ Everything happens to me." Indeed, Houston has the sound of a young octogenarian.
"Duke" Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" spotlighted Baltimore native Lafayette Harris, a talented pianist who embellished the melody with an economy of notes. And Lafayette is versatile, as evidenced by his sure-footed solo rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose" in the stride piano style (two-handed counterpoint with rhythmic runs) of its celebrated composer, Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943).
Unlike many in this seasoned audience, I'm not old enough to remember when that number was a hit for "Fats." However, Houston's sentimental rendering of a sweet pop tune, "Our Day Will Come," to a Latin beat that featured a nimble bass solo (Matthew rocks!) did remind me of what's missing from Houston's sound since the last time that I caught him in town, in the late 1990s. Of course, I'm talking about his longtime musical partner, the late jazz vocalist extraordinaire, Etta Jones (1928-2001).
Houston Person and Etta Jones were a delightful combination: the peanut butter and jelly of jazz. This class act-- shades of Ben Webster and Billie Holiday-- played for Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society's Sunday shows at the old Famous Ballroom so often in the 1970s that it's hard for old-timers to think of one without thinking of the other. In fact, the frequency of those performances was documented in a book I stumbled across, which published the Left Bank's schedule of shows along with a lot of other local jazz memorabilia-- "Music at the Crossroads: Lives & Legacies of Baltimore Jazz" (edited by Mark Osteen & Frank J. Graziano, 2010).
According to the book, between June 30, 1976, and December 31, 1978, Houston and Etta performed for the Left Bank on five occasions. To get a feel for the times, notice that their first show was followed the next week by the "Elvin Jones Quartet." Their second show was sandwiched between "Thad Jones & The Mel Lewis Orchestra" and the "Phil Woods Quintet." Their third show followed the "Chet Baker Quartet" and preceded "Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers." Their fourth appearance came between "Sir Roland Hanna And The New York Jazz Quartet" and the "Sonny Stitt Quartet." And their final 1978 Left Bank appearance was followed by the "Dexter Gordon Quartet."
From the foregoing itemization, three conclusions leap out. First, the current state of the local jazz scene appears so low because it once rode so high. Second, insofar as legends are irreplaceable, attrition is a major cause of our fall from jazz grace. And third, Houston Person walked among the giants of jazz.
Leaning on the "Duke" Ellington songbook in this warmly received performance, Houston's booming tenor sax still swings with gusto to the rhythm of "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me," with Vince's compact and bracing drum solo thrown into the mix. At the Caton Castle, Houston was preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, there were lots of empty seats.
The "Crossroads" book depicts the diminishing local jazz scene as a problem without a solution. In search of lost passion, the book's editors looked high and low, even quoting Caton Castle proprietor Ron Scott and our own Miss Eleanor Janey. It's a curious problem. At a time when technology allows for widespread and affordable access to top quality jazz (for instance, patrons with smartphones sometimes live-stream Caton Castle performances to Facebook), it is ironic that interest in jazz appears to be on the decline. How could that be?
Perhaps the wisdom of the noted "Pogo" comic strip applies: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Think about it. Since the advent of recording technology over a century ago, jazz has been the sound of dissent, an individual cry (improvisation) against a stifling orthodoxy, both musically and socially. It's not just a coincidence that big bands flourished during the era of "Prohibition" or that the jazz reformation known as "Bebop" erupted in the era of "Civil Rights." However, the present "Computer Era," as exemplified by social media like Facebook, represents a different kind of oppressive challenge. Now, individual autonomy itself is at stake, having been devalued by many people from priority status ("me") to the middling rank of a choice shared by others ("me too"). That's the price of admission to Facebook's virtual reality; if the whole world is a stage, then Facebook is a show about a show. There, jazz (and much else) can be "Liked," but not loved. In the current slang, jazz suffers from fake fans.
Houston, we have a problem. But the predicament is not hopeless; the spread of smartphone addiction might subside. I suspect that the relative vitality of the jazz scene may be our societal "canary in the coal mine," the advance warning indicator for when the air is becoming too toxic to breathe freely. Music matters. Discerningly, there is no jazz at all in "1984," George Orwell's fictional nightmare vision of a future society where "run amok" technology is in the saddle, riding men.
But we're not there yet. Houston Person and his excellent quartet thrilled a good-sized Caton Castle crowd, even without Etta Jones.
The Houston Person Quartet
THE HOUSTON PERSON QUARTET
THE PAUL CARR QUARTET
May 5, 2018
THE WINARD HARPER SEXTET
April 21, 2018
On April 21, 2018, Winard Harper's Sextet appeared at the Caton Castle, with Winard Harper on drums, Anthony Ware on alto and tenor saxophone, Charlie Sigler on guitar, Vince DuPont on bass, Norman Simmons on piano, and Ted Chubb on trumpet. This group brought rhythm to spare.
As if to underline that point, the show opened with pianist/composer Horace Silver's "Strollin'," a trio selection by the rhythm section, with 88-year-old piano master Norman Simmons showing the way. Even so, Winard's dynamic solo left the impression of a volcano about to erupt.
This show represents a homecoming for Winard, a Baltimore native. Come to think of it, this town has lately produced a lot of talented drummers, including Lee Pearson, John Lamkin, III, Quincy Phillips and Eric Kennedy. By words and deed, Winard was as glad to see us as the sold-out audience was to see him.
After a prolonged absence, Baltimore must give the appearance of an old acquaintance who's down on his luck, out at the elbows and worn over at the heels. Last year, this city proportionately led the nation in murders, and deaths from drug abuse far outstripped the number of homicides. On many city blocks, boarded-up houses exceed occupied ones. With a shrunken job base, public buses lack riders, except for students transported from broken homes to broken schools, and "recovering" addicts en route to and from drug treatment programs. Yes, the return to Baltimore of an accomplished and highly acclaimed native son like Winard was a sight for sore eyes.
On trumpet icon Lee Morgan's "Ceora," Winard showed what the fuss is all about, displaying a style reminiscent of his acknowledged guide, Max Roach, the prototypical "modern" jazz drummer, with a sophisticated approach that busily establishes creative space by manipulating rhythmic time, to which Vince's steady bass fiddle was thoroughly adapted. Winard's deft use of cymbals creates a cascading effect that frames the sound, on this tune simultaneously supplying content and a context for Charlie's gliding guitar licks and Norman's elegantly spare piano notes, teasing the melody.
And Winard has a flair for the sensational. If this were basketball, some of his time changing transitions would be ankle-breaking crossover dribbles. On "Ceora," the horns were also outstanding, particularly Ted's elongated trumpet notes in the fashion of Lee Morgan, as well as the majestic tone of Anthony's soaring tenor sax solo, shades of Yusef Lateef.
"Moanin'," pianist Bobby Timmons' swinging standard in march time, caught me by surprise because Anthony's alto sax introduction employed the melody of "Amazing Grace," the Gospel hymn. Previously, the abrupt ending on Horace Silver's "God is the Greatest" (I think I heard that title correctly) had created the sensation of a trap door opening. Also, sassy and affecting vocal selections by Winard's 16-year-old daughter, Kameelah Harper, brought more unexpected pleasure. Improvisational jazz is, according to a book title by the late music critic Whitney Balliett, "the sound of surprise."
In music and life, we sometimes unwisely limit ourselves by fixating on external regularities at the expense of the spontaneous, inner meaning of things. Exalting form over substance, so to speak. I've heard this expressed humorously in a story about the olden days when a country bumpkin on his annual city visit got tipsy and bought new pants and shoes before taking a boozy nap on the side of the road. A horse-drawn wagon comes along, and the driver shouts to the sleeper, "Move your legs out of the road before I run over them!" Awakened, the bumpkin looks at his new pants and shoes without recognizing them and responds, "Drive on, those are not my legs."
Poor fellow, he didn't understand that the clothes do not make the man.
Anyway, this band was both woke and sober on "Coexist," Winard's original composition that's the up-tempo musical expression of an alternative hope for our modern day confusion of tongues. Indeed, Winard opined that listening to such bracing jazz is a cure for what ails us. Alas, there are too few listeners. Anthony and Ted chimed in, trading riveting riffs before Winard soloed, his frenetic yet measured balance of beats emphasizing the propulsive power of a solid rhythm section that, all night long, led from behind.
I particularly enjoyed The band's performance of the Horace Silver compositions because I am a fan from way back. One of the first jazz albums I ever bought was Horace Silver's "Song for My Father." Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" were also in my start-up record collection. These recordings all featured excellent drummers: Roger Humphries, Jimmy Cobb, and Elvin Jones, respectively. Indeed, in African musical tradition, the drum has pride of place.
On this night, Winard Harper's rousing sextet brought some real charm to Charm City.
Last night (Saturday, April 21, 2018), Caton Castle was honored to have the Winard Harper Sextex event. The musicians were Norman Simmons(Piano), Ted CHubb(Trumpet), Anthony Ware(Saxophones), Charlie Sigler(Guitar), Vince Dupont(Bass), Winard Harper(Drums). Additionally, we had the pleasure of welcoming vocalist Kameelah Harper, Winard Harper's beautiful and talented daughter. The groups performed jazz classics, and original compositions. Check out some of the event videos below and on YouTube.
THE JOHN LAMKIN "Favorites" JAZZ QUINTET
April 7, 2018
On April 7, 2018, the John Lamkin "Favorites" Jazz Quintet appeared at the Caton Castle, with John Lamkin, II, on trumpet and flugelhorn, Michael Hairston on tenor saxophone, Bob Butta on piano, Michael Graham on bass, and Jesse Moody on drums. Smooth as aged bourbon, this band's vintage vibe packed a punch.
A longtime music educator (University of Maryland Eastern Shore) and a transgenerational presence on the local jazz scene, John Lamkin, II, stirred recollections of past masters of the trumpet (for example, Miles Davis on "Seven Steps to Heaven") and of the flugelhorn, with a style similar to Art Farmer on John's original composition, "Transitions." Note: John is not to be confused with his namesake son, John Lamkin, III, an outstanding drummer who frequently performs at the Caton Castle.
But the jazz master whose presence loomed large in this show was pianist/composer Horace Silver, whom John credits as a major influence. On Horace Silver's "That Healin' Feelin'," the band played a swinging brass chorus behind a quirky Latin beat, offset by a rhythmic piano that searchingly soloed: Quintessential Horace Silver. The groove seemed to inspire Bob Butta, another local jazz fixture, who wandered his keyboard for licks to match Jesse's explosive drums, with subtle cymbals timed to a beat that kept pace with Michael's shifting bass lines, fitfully.
Horace Silver was one of those musical pioneers responsible for "bebop," the jazz phenomenon that emerged in the 1950s. Along with trumpeter "Dizzie" Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker and others, innovators deconstructed the big band sound into its constituent elements, then re-packaged it in small group arrangements that emphasized individual improvisation, foremost. This coincided with advances in recording technology which improved the quality, format and distribution potential of the music.
Beebop introduced an element of individual self-consciousness and assertiveness that corresponded to a distinct mood in post-World War II urban culture, as evidenced by the audience it attracted. The new attitude was summed up in the title of a 1964 album released by a tough Philadelphia tenor saxophonist, Hank Mobley: "No Room for Squares."
Beebop and its alternately cheerful and brooding progeny still resonate because the individual alienation--estrangement from a larger whole-- that it speaks to is still prevalent. The lyrical beauty of John's eccentrically titled composition, "All The Steps You Take While Walking Through Your Brain," with Michael's hard-tone tenor sax out front, reminds us of the power of jazz to change the subject; to force us to look away from the mirror. Engaging music imposes order on the mind, if not the world. That's no small thing. Order, someone has said, is a tightrope over the abyss of disorder.
But jazz speaks only to those with ears to hear. There's an insightful comic strip in the Sunpapers (does anybody else still read the Sunpapers?) about adolescent absurdity called "Zits," which bears upon the subject of waxy ears. In one episode, the juvenile protagonist, Jeremy, was frustrated about his inability to write blues lyrics for his teenaged garage band because he had no experience of suffering. Then inspiration struck: He determined to write a blues song about the suffering of never having suffered-- fake blues.
Like the biblical "Prodigal Son," the Jeremys of the world may yet "come to themselves" and realize that as to the blues, lyrics are optional. Then they might experience the exhilaration of a bluesy jazz composition like saxophonist Houston Person's "Why Not," as admirably performed by John Lamkin's "Favorites," or John's original jazzy blues number entitled, "Clear Choice." Without a doubt, jazz has the power to enrich the lives of those with ears to hear.
The late Robert "Kaki" McQueen is a case in point. A well-known street character who added spice to his West Baltimore community, "Kaki" was a painter and graphic artist. He sported Rastafarian dreadlocks and could always be found among the afro-centric drummers on Sundays at Druid Hill Park. At most any public celebration of the black community, "Kaki" would offer his art products (for example, originally designed calendars that highlighted the birthdays of black notables) for sale on the most generous of terms; as in, "Pay me when you get it."
And "Kaki" loved jazz, particularly John Coltrane and Miles Davis. So it was fitting that among the soft music I heard playing in the background during the "family hour" at his recent funeral (age 71, I think) was "So What," from Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" (1959), the best selling jazz album of all times.
So what, indeed!
THE TIM GREEN QUARTET
March 24, 2018
Tim Green's quartet appeared at the Caton Castle on March 24,2018, with Tim Green on alto sax, Allyn Johnson on piano, HamiltonPrice on bass, and Quincy Phillips on drums. With advance sale ticketspriced at $15.00, the half-filled house got way more jazz than we paidfor, including sit-in performances by vibraphonist Warren Wolf ondrums and the teenaged Dorsey siblings, Ebban and Ephraim, on altoand tenor sax, respectively.
Hamilton Price, an outstanding bassist, is a newcomer, but theother band members are fan favorites at the Caton Castle. With aplaylist devoted to the music of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, I probablywasn't the only one with "Footprints," a signature composition, on my mind. The band did not disappoint. Hamilton's crisp bass line defined the pulse of this tune-- "Dum-Dum-Dee- Dum," "Dum-Dum-Dee-Dum"-- andthe Dorsey siblings played an opening chorus wherein each made amature solo statement before Tim displayed the customary brilliance ofhis alto sax, especially on high notes. All the while, Allyn's piano rhythmically shifted the melody in response to (or propelling) Quincy's insistent drumbeats. Tim even got the audience involved, gesturing with a microphone for us to repeat after him: "Dum-Dum-Dee-Dum."
Likewise, Tim showed his familiarity with Wayne Shorter's wide-ranging songbook on "Penelope," a slow tempo tune that could becalled a ballad, with Allyn vamping a shadowy refrain behind Tim'ssensuous riffs. And again, Hamilton's bass line was pronounced.
I've heard Tim Green perform at the Caton Castle on many occasions over the years, and I never tire of hearing his distinctivesound. In an exaggerated way, jazz improvisation separates the singerfrom the song, giving free reign to creative impulses. Though his repertoire changes, it is Tim's individual stamp that essentiallymakes every performance fresh. When not eloquent, he's glib. Musically and otherwise, a strong personality is never boring.
So, it is welcomed news that Tim will soon be imparting hismethodology to music students in the Peabody Conservatory's jazzcurriculum as a newly minted faculty member. Hats off to Tim, and totwo other Caton Castle regulars who will be joining Tim in those lofty ranks: bassist Kris Funn and vibraphonist Warren Wolf (drummer/composer Nasar Abadey was already there), all under thedirection of trumpeter Sean Jones.
Talk about an all star quintet!
While these lucrative and prestigious day jobs are an unmixedblessing for the recipients ("Nice work if you can get it," sangBillie Holiday), I can't help but wonder what it says about the stateof jazz as a performing art when the best talent is preoccupied withteaching theory while live audiences dwindle to a relative trickle atthe few remaining jazz venues, like the Caton Castle. Let us hope thatthe post-bebop musical quest for beauty via academia does not follow the same pattern as the phony philosophers' ivory tower quest for truth, which resulted in lots of professors of philosophy, but fewactual philosophers in the Greek sense. Socrates' famous dictum--"Theunexamined life is not worth living"-- has nothing to do with mid-term and final exams.
Jazz is a spiritual eruption in the midst of Western culture, anadmixture of sounds and constructs from the Eastern and Southernhemispheres. The music of "Satchmo," "Duke," "Bird" and "Trane" sprang from a marriage of convenience between a written and an oraltradition. It was no love match, with the ear and the eye always onthe verge of aesthetic divorce.
Jazz has never had a popular following in the manner of, say,rock and roll music; but now its enthusiastic niche audience seems tobe waning. It is telling that the Caton Castle is the last classicjazz club in town. But this musical stagnation is not peculiar tojazz. It reflects a more general trend. For instance, sold out arenasfor a geriatric Mick Jagger (age 74) and the "Rolling Stones," wheezing lyrics that parody erstwhile hits, like "Time Is On My Side,"show that rock and roll, too, has become stagnant, if not fossilized.Indeed, is the rock and roll museum in Cleveland, Ohio really atribute to that genre of music, or an epitaph on it?
Like rock and roll, jazz is the product of a youthful spirit, andmust be recreated in every generation if it is to thrive. As someonewho has served my time (student daze) in academia, it's still an openquestion for me as to whether "higher education" fosters or frustrates creativity. But I was there long ago, back when there were only two genders, before "fair" speech trumped free speech. The current collegiate mania for "safe space" leaves me wondering: Safe space for what?
For better or worse, the future course of the form/content ofjazz and academia's role in it will have a lot to do with the commitments of thoughtful young artists/teachers like Tim, Kris andWarren. While live jazz performances may not proliferate as before,some permutation of the art form will no doubt persist. The digitalcommunication revolution will see to that. Imagine a future where your self-driving car transports you and your significant other robot("Keisha") to a virtual Miles Davis 2.0 concert. Can you envisionthat? #MeToo.
Some years ago, a local group of jazz enthusiasts sponsored aseries of concerts-- "Jazz in Cool Places"-- using architecturallysignificant church buildings as venues. I caught pianist JoannBrackeen at a Lutheran church on St. Paul Street and saxophonist Bobby Watson at another Lutheran church near city hall. As a born-againChristian, I felt a certain unease at the use of Christian symbols as a backdrop for secular entertainment. "Sacrilegious" is too strong a word, but the feeling tended in that direction. From today'sperspective, I'm not sure whether my uneasiness was primarily aboutthe Spirit of God or the spirit of jazz. Clearly, it is the latter that is in mortal peril.
But hope springs eternal. In the introduction to his book, "Atthe Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene" (2010), the latejazz chronicler nonpareil Nat Hentoff contradicts those pessimists who doubt that there will be enough committed listeners to sustain a jazz future because, he says, "New listeners, and the emerging players among them, are being nurtured in schools, including elementary and middle schools, and, most important, in colleges and music schools, where an increasing number of jazz elders are teaching eyewitness jazz history."
Indeed, a case could be made that the jazz cup is really halffull, not half empty. On this night, Tim Green's sizzling quartetwould be Exhibit A.
THE WARREN WOLF QUARTET
February 3, 2018
The WARREN WOLF QUARTET featuring Warren Wolf (Vibes), Allyn Johnson (Piano), Eliot Seppa (Bass), Quincy Phillips (Drums) introduced the Caton Castle Jazz audience to the remarkable vocalist Imani Grace Cooper (February 3, 2018).
Check out the videos clips from this great musical event!