Monday, April 12, 2010

Meet Two Of My New Friends, Ruslan Sirota and Giovanni Russonello

I've been chatting with piano player Ruslan Sirota, one of the nicest musicians ever, whose debut CD is being released this summer. Ruslan has been playing with Stanley Clarke (who produced the CD) for 4 years, and Clarke as well as Chick Corea guest on it.

My computer is currently a hot mess, and I can't watch videos on it. So I asked another new friend (and soon-to-be-partner on DCJazzShows) jazz writer Giovanni Russonello, to watch the video — a duet with Ruslan and Chick Corea, and share his thoughts. Here's Gio's response:
Yo Maryam,

So this video is pretty great. It's a simple acoustic piano duet between Ruslan and Chick Corea, and they definitely complement each other beautifully. Ruslan is a beautiful pianist, his playing not quite as intense as Chick's. He has the ability to imitate and echo Chick's signature style -- crackling and popping with excitement, notes like beads of water flying off a saucepan. But he calms things down too, sometimes even guiding Chick into a lower, more undulating pulse. All around, it's great shit -- you'd definitely know this was a Chick performance, even without the video, but Ruslan showcases his own abilities in both supporting and leading roles.

Here's the video:

Follow Ruslan Sirota on Twitter: @ruslanpiano

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Updates from Christian McBride

You probably already know about Christian McBride's new show on Sirius XM, which debuted April 3rd. From All About Jazz:
The Lowdown: Conversations with Christian, which will premiere on Saturday, April 3 at 1 pm ET as part of SIRIUS XM's celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, will be recorded in front of a live audience at various jazz clubs across the country and will feature onstage dialogues and musical duets between McBride and his special guest artists. The first episode, featuring legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea, was recorded at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.
Today, Christian told me that later this year he'll be releasing a CD of duets, and that of the 15 tracks on the CD, 13 have been recorded. The last two are top secret ;-)

This CD will feature duets with George Duke, Sting, Regina Carter, Chick Corea, Angelique Kidjo, Eddie Palmieri, Roy Hargrove and many others. Christian also told me he'll be releasing a recording of his big band, due out next year. Listening to Kind of Brown has me fiending for more music from Christian, and I'm so looking forward to these recordings.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

City Paper's Michael West on Christian Scott's "Yesterday You Said Tomorrow"

Washington City Paper's Michael West, in the comments section on Lerterland, David Adler's blog:
But yeah, I prefer to focus on YYST, which I believe to be the first great album of 2010.
» Full blog post here

Rapper Nas' father is jazz coronetist Olu Dara

Who knew? From Wikipedia:
Olu Dara Jones (born Charles Jones III in Natchez, Mississippi on 12 January 1941) is an American cornetist, guitarist and singer. He first became known as a jazz musician, playing alongside avant-garde musicians such as David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and Art Blakey.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DC's Club Bali

Club Bali at 14th & T in DC is one of the places Keter Betts talked about a lot in the conversations we had in 2005, when we were set to work on a project together. He said Club Bali was the spot for a time, where everyone played and everyone went. He told me he played there with Ella, and it seemed as if he really enjoyed the time he spent there.

It's crazy to think that in the early 1980s when I worked at Charlie's Georgetown, a jazz club where Keter often played, it never occurred to me that he was someone who had actually played at Club Bali. But that's probably true of many of the artists who performed at Charlie's.

Here's some cool historical information about Club Bali, and some amazing photos.

How artists and tweeps can work together (or Atane's piece on Regina Carter's new album, Reverse Thread)

The Twitterverse moves at breakneck speed and sometimes events take shape and move forward before you've even had a chance to process what's going on.

That's what happened when Regina Carter's team contacted me with show information for Regina's March performance at Black Rock Center for the Arts, to post on my DC Jazz Shows blog.

I told them about our network of jazz lovers and jazz supporters on Twitter, and how we tweet and retweet information about the music, the musicians, performances, releases, etc. I pressed my case to receive a copy of the new CD in order to have a review written. They were in short supply of physical copies, so I was not able to get one, but I was able to get access to the songs online. Because of Atane Ofiaja's love for African music (it's what he and I bonded over), and because of his wealth of knowledge of hidden African musical history, I knew I wanted him to write the review. Thankfully, he graciously agreed to write it.

It's good. I hope you'll read it — Album Spotlight: Regina Carter – Reverse Thread

Atane posted the review on his own blog The Sophisticated Audiophile; I wrote about and linked to his review from the DC Jazz Shows; and I'm writing about it once again here. Atane tweeted a link to his review. I retweeted it. Others in our network will also retweet it. I'll also be submitting Atane's review to, where jazz tweeps have met up to promote jazz-related content. And through all of this, we, the real fans of this music, get to participate in getting it the exposure it deserves.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Persistence of Dreams

I stumbled into a dream when I was a kid. 14 years old, playing percussions, got to audition for Duke Ellington School for the Arts. I got in. First girl drummer. Wallace Roney was in my band class. Debbie Allen was teaching dance there. Totally creative environment. I loved it.

But I and many other students were turned away from our dreams by unscrupulous people. I was suckered into walking away from the one thing I cherished.

1990, motherhood, my son is born. I never pushed him towards music, just tried to expose him. But since the age of 14 he's pursued it with such amazing intensity, I'd swear those unfulfilled musical dreams were birthed into him.

By 6th grade (his 2nd year of playing) he could read more music than I ever could. And by 7th grade, it was obvious something was up with that kid. He had the goods. He really had potential. He had a couple of odd traits — memorizing pieces of music after he saw them a couple of times, and also a strong interest in what was going on around him musically. He would come home going on about what the flutes were doing in a particular song, or about the clarinet parts. And, this was classical music. He's never had a strong interest in classical. But he put himself into it completely, even though he was dying to play jazz in those days.

That told me the kid was really a musician. He could have done what I did in band class at those ages — tune out. He didn't. And today at 20, he's still the same way. Puts himself into every piece he plays.

And the dream that I walked away from at 14, continues.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bad Brains - from Jazz to Punk

One of the best jazz bands I've ever seen, went on to become one of the greatest punk bands in history, according to many fans of punk music — particularly fans of DC Hardcore.

Bad Brains were called Mind Power when they were a fusion band, and they played music similar to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. I hung out with them for a bit when Bad Brains were just starting out, and I visited their house and heard them play jazz — amazing jazz. And while part of the ethos of the punk movement said that anyone could start a band, even without musical skills, Bad Brains stood out among punk bands as guys who could really play their instruments.

Darryl Jennifer (bass), Earl Hudson (drums), and Dr. Know (guitar — he more recently worked with Mos Def), were phenomenal young musicians — some of the best in the DC area at the time. They grew up in the Landover area of PG County (Maryland), at that time a very white county. Among the black kids who lived there, there seemed to be a universal love for fusion — people like Tommy Bolin, Billy Cobham, and Lenny White. The DC area had been known for such beastly musicians as guitarist Wilbur Harris and drummer TC Tolliver, and kids knew that if they were going to pick up an instrument, they'd better practice and get good. This is the environment that Bad Brains grew up in, so it's not surprising that while they embraced the sounds of punk music, they rejected the idea that being a good musician didn't matter.

» More on Bad Brains

Remembering Keter Betts, Bass Player for Ella Fitzgerald for 24 Years

Keter played at Charlie's Georgetown often — the jazz club I worked at in the early 80s. But I never actually met him back then, and it wasn't until shortly before he passed away that I finally had the chance to get to know him.

We were set to work on a project together, but he passed away 2 days before our first meeting. I did get to talk to him by phone a number of times in preparation for our meeting. Those phone calls weren't very productive — I was worried about organizing a very difficult project, but after Keter found out about our Charlie's Georgtown connection, all he wanted to do was tell me stories. And I was very eager to hear them.

Jazz stories, all of them. Keter talked about Ella, about the shows they played, places they'd been, and about the rich musical history of Washington, DC. Once he got started, I couldn't get a word in. And I didn't care. I loved listening to Keter's stories, and hearing the delight in his voice from re-membering so many great events in his life. And about how he got his name — people called him Sketer ('mosquito') when he was young, and at some point Sketer became Keter.

One of the last times I saw him, we were both attending a garden performance by a traditional African group from Rwanda — a group that I later became manager of, Samputu Ingeli. Keter loved the group, and was fixated on and fascinated by the drummers, and at one point I heard him say "now see, he's not just PLAYING the drums, he's BECOMING the drums."

Here's a shot of Angela Bassett, me, and Samputu Ingeli (from Memphis, Tennessee, at the 2004 Freedom Awards.)

» About Keter Betts

Visits from Webster Young

There are many ways in which I took for granted the presence of jazz in my life as I was growing up. Like when Webster Young used to visit my family, and I had no idea that this man had played with John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, and Bud Powell, and that he was friends with Miles Davis.

Webster likely met and became friends with my step-father at the Howard Theater, where Webster first met and got tips from Louis Armstrong, and where he later played, and where my step-father worked.

When I recently saw some of the old family photos from Webster's visits, I was blown away by how blessed I've been, to have the opportunity to know him and the many other great artists I met in my youth.

» About Webster Young

Band Class with Wallace Roney

I played percussions in middle school and in 7th grade, I stumbled into an opportunity — auditioning for the then-new Duke Ellington School for the Arts in DC, which had opened the year prior. I passed the audition and got in, and I became Duke Ellington's first female drummer. I sat in band class with Wallace Roney. Not long ago Wallace's brother Antoine told me that Roy Hargrove was also at Ellington at that time. But crazy as it sounds, I have no memory of him.

But I remember Wallace clearly. He was a very nice, really quiet and unassuming, and very serious about music. He was very humble — didn't at all act like he was a hotshot, even though several lesser musicians at the school did.

Back in those days (early 70s) Duke Ellington had a very liberal environment. But Wallace seemed to have no interest in being with the 'cool' kids, or getting involved with anything that didn't support his musical pursuits.

I didn't finish my high school years at Duke Ellington, and the next time I saw Wallace was when he performed where I worked, at a jazz club in DC, the now-defunct Charlie's Georgetown (named after part-owner Charlie Byrd.) It was amazing to see what he had worked so hard for, and I then understood why he had no interest in the shenanigans going on around him in high school — he was on a mission, and he wasn't going to let anything distract him.