By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 30, 2016)
Every day should be Jazz Day...and not just for the music. Here’s why:
International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication. Each year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for promoting peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, and respect for human rights and human dignity; eradicating discrimination; promoting freedom of expression; fostering gender equality; and reinforcing the role of youth in enacting social change.
Sounds like a damn fine plan to me. In honor of this day, I’d like to share 10 of my favorites:
1. Pat Metheny & Anna Maria Jopek- “So It May Secretly Begin” – This has always been my favorite Metheny instrumental; but it got even better when I recently stumbled onto this breathtaking live version with added vocals, courtesy of the angel-voiced Jopek.
2. Gil Scott-Heron- “Lady Day and John Coltrane” – Gil’s poetic tribute to two greats.
3. Digable Planets- “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”– I caught these guys at a Seattle club in 1993; they were a unique mashup of hip-hop with traditional jazz instrumentation.
4. Gato Barbieri- “Mystica” – I missed the news about the passing of this Argentine jazz man earlier this month (sadly, we’ve lost so many musical greats in a row lately that it’s getting hard to keep up). To be honest, I’ve never been a big sax fan, yet something about Gato’s sound and expressiveness has always grabbed me (he won a Grammy for the Last Tango in Paris soundtrack). This lovely number riffs on a classic Eric Satie composition.
5. The Style Council- “The Whole Point of No Return” – Spare, beautiful, jazzy, and topped off with his most trenchant lyrics, I think this is Paul Weller’s greatest song, ever.
6. Barry Miles- “Hijack” – Memorable track from the keyboardist’s self-titled 1970 LP.
7. Takuya Kuroda- “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” – The Japan-born, NYC-based trumpet player’s hypnotic cover version of a Roy Ayers tune (with vocals by Jose James).
8. Brian Auger & Julie Tippetts– “Nothing Will Be As It Was” – I’ve been an Auger fan forever; it’s hard to believe “the godfather of acid jazz” is still gigging after 50 years. This cut is from Encore, the keyboardist’s excellent 1978 album with vocalist Tippetts.
9. The Mahavishnu Orchestra- “Open Country Joy”— What I like the most about jazz is that it’s the most amenable of musical genres. Put it next to anything else: rock, soul, hip-hop, whatever…and then just watch how quickly it absorbs, adopts, and then shapeshifts it into something else altogether. John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Rick Laird and Jerry Goodman understood this. Here’s a perfect example. As the title implies, it begins as a nice country stroll, then…it blows your fucking mind. From the whisper to the thunder.
10. George Duke & Feel – “Love”— The late keyboardist extraordinaire George Duke was a versatile player; in addition to the 40 or so albums in his own catalog, he was equally at home doing sessions with the likes of Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Third World, and most famously played with Frank Zappa for a number of years. This cut is from Duke’s 1974 album, Feel. Zappa (credited under the pseudonym “Obdwel’l X”) contributes the unmistakable lead guitar.