By Steve Monroe
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Appreciating Buck Hill
“… Some think it was an unfortunate comment on society’s view of art that Buck Hill had to take himself to New York City in early 1982 and surround himself with established players, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Billy Hart to burst onto the national scene as an artist worth noting in many jazz and music magazines and newspaper columns. But what of all the hours playing his ripping, driving riffs, gentle caressing tones that Hill played with talented players of D.C.’s and Baltimore’s past — players no one will ever hear of? Hill’s star was actually made then, not in New York City clubs, or New York City newspaper reviews in the ’80’s.” — From the original manuscript of “Violet Avenues: A Poetry of Jazz,” by Steve Monroe, copyright 1998, Washington, D.C.
Funeral services for Hill, who passed away last week at the age of 90, were held March 26 at Westminster Presbyterian Church with a sumptuous feast afterward and a celebration jam session. We appreciate you Buck Hill, who entertained us mightily many an April — Jazz Appreciation Month. And see more on Buck below, including a review of his 2013 tribute day.
Howard Univ. Jazz, Marcus, Hargrove, Cyntje on tap
as April rolls in for Jazz Appreciation Month
The Howard University Jazz Ensemble takes the stage at Westminster Presbyterian Church Friday March 31 to kick of the weekend at 6 p.m., with Todd Marcus, Roy Hargrove and Reginald Cyntje also among the highlights this weekend.
The Howard University Jazz Ensemble, which delivered another swinging session for its show last month at the campus that featured vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who received the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award that day, performs at Westminster tonight under the direction of the esteemed Fred Irby, followed by Jazz Night at the Movies, “Nat King Cole: A&E Biography.”
Reginald Cyntje appears at Twins Jazz March 31, April 1.
Saxophonist and composer Marcus brings a band to the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel Friday night, while trombonist Reginald Cyntje appears with his group at Twins Jazz tonight and Saturday and trumpeter Roy Hargrove finishes his week at Blues Alley with shows Friday through Sunday. Also Friday night, sax man Elijah Jamal Balbed is at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill. Tomorrow, Saturday, April 1, “Baltimore Rising” presented by George Spicka/Baltimore Jazz Works features a group with vocalist Charlene Cochran, Leo Brandenburg on reeds and Spicka at the piano, and a group led by virtuoso drummer John Lamkin III appears at Caton Castle in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Jazz Appreciation Month gets into gear Saturday April 1 when the exhibit “First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100” goes on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, in the Archives Center, 1 West. JAM daytime concerts are staged at the museum April 6 — beginning with the USAF Airmen of Note, and then on April 13, 20, 27, at 12, 1and 2 p.m. in Wallace Coulter Plaza 1 West. See http://americanhistory.si.edu/smithsonian-jazz/jazz-appreciation-month for complete JAM activities in April, including jazz objects and archives exhibits April 4, 11, 18 and 25.
Lena Seikaly performs at Westminster Presbyterian Church April 6.
The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra celebrates its 7th anniversary with a show Monday April 3 at Blues Alley. Also next week, the Twins Jazz Orchestra is at Twins Jazz April 6; “Lena Swings!” featuring vocalist Lena Seikaly with Chris Grasso, Marshall Keys, Zach Pride an C.V. Dashiell is at Westminster April 7.The SF Collective: The Music of Miles Davis & Original Compositions is at Blues Alley April 7-9. Saxophonist/bandleader Carl Grubbs’ Jazz/String Ensemble performs his Inner Harbor Suite Revisited: A Tribute to Baltimore April 8 at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in Baltimore, while saxophonist Tim Warfield is at Caton Castle April 8. And “United Shades of Artistry,” with Levon Mikaellan, Randy Brecker and Gary Thomas performs April 9 at Twins Jazz.
The Carl Grubbs Jazz/String Ensemble
performs at Eubie Blake Center April 8.
Other April Highlights: Paul Carr “All In” Quartet, April 9, Jazz and Cultural Society; UDC Small Jazz Ensembles, April 11, UDC Recital Hall (Bldg. 46-West); Tony Martucci Quintet/Ingrid Jensen, April 12, Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club; Twins Jazz Orchestra, April 13, Twins Jazz; Howard University Jazz Ensemble, April 13, Smithsonian National Museum of American History/Coulter Plaza; Allyn Johnson, April 14, Montpelier Arts Center/Laurel; Bowie State Jazz Ensemble, April 14, Westminster Presbyterian Church; Discovery Artist/Marquis Hill Blacktet, April 14, Kennedy Center ;Tim Whalen, April 14-15, Twins Jazz; DADA People, April 15, Atlas Performing Arts Center; Integriti Reeves/Ella Fitzgerald Tribute, April 16, DC Jazz Jam/The Brixton; Erena Terakubo Quartet, April 18, Blues Alley ; JAZZForum/”The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron, April 19, UDC Recital Hall; Bill Heid, April 19, Jazz and Cultural Society; Lenore Raphael Quartet/Oscar Peterson Tribute, April 19, Bethesda Blues & Jazz.
Integrit Reeves leads an Ella Tribute
April 16 a the DC Jazz Jam
Also: Todd Marcus Orchestra, April 20, Atlas; Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, April 20, Museum of American History; Roberta Gambarini, April 21-23, Blues Alley; Greg Hatza/CD Release Party, April 21, Westminster; Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th Birthday, April 22, Wesley United Methodist Church; Luis Faife Quartet, April 21-22, Twins Jazz; Jazz Talk/Allyn Johnson, April 23, Montpelier; Dante Pope, April 23, Jazz and Cultural Society; Dr. Lonnie Smith, April 23, Creative Alliance/Baltimore; Jessica Boykin-Settles/Ella Fitzgerald Tribute, April 23, DC Jazz Jam/The Brixton; Calvin Jones BIG BAND Festival, April 24, UDC University Auditorium; Afro Blue, April 24, Blues Alley; Jazz Piano in LeFrak Lobby, April 24, 25, 26, 28, Museum of American History; Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra w/Sharon Clark, April 25, Blues Alley; Cyrus Chestnut, April 26, Bethesda Blues & Jazz;
photo by Michael Wilderman
Andrew White’s 75th birthday bash
is April 26 at Blues Alley.
Andrew White’s 75th Birthday Celebration, April 26, Blues Alley; Jimmy Cobb/Four Generations of Miles, April 27-30, Blues Alley; George Washington University Latin Jazz Band, April 27, Museum of American History; Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald/Alison Crockett, April 28, Westminster; Thinking About Jazz/Ella Fitzgerald Celebrating 100 years, April 29, Westminster; Marty Nau, April 30, Twins Jazz; Imani Grace Cooper/Ella Fitzgerald Tribute, April 30, DC Jazz Jam/The Brixton; Jazz Lecture/Ella Fitzgerald, Stefon Harris Master Class, April 30, Levine School of Music.
Sharon Clark appears with the Smithsonian Jazz
Masterworks Orchestra April 25 at Blues Alley.
A Buck Hill Day – Revisited
photo by Michael Wilderman
The remarkable Mr. Roger Wendell “Buck” Hill was a leading force on the tenor saxophone, as well as a fine clarinet and flute player, and a formidable composer and bandleader as well during his years on this side of ancestry. After his funeral Sunday at Westminster, he was honored by a jam session featuring many of his former cohorts in the music and many who learned at his knee, including Davey Yarborough, Michael Thomas, Jerry Jones, William Knowles, Darius Scott, Kent Miller, Tracy Cutler, Antonio Parker, Cheyney Thomas, Roberta Washington, Nasar Abadey, Russell Carter Sr., Wes Biles, Fred Foss and others.
Here is a look back at “Giving Flowers …” while you are still around, a report in the Jazz Avenues BLOG, on the June 2013 Buck Hill tribute:
“Buck Hill Day a jamming tribute
“Speaking of special tributes, thanks again from all of us Buck Hill fans to those who made the Roger ”Buck” Hill tribute June 30 a star-studded event and a great day of music for the large crowd that gathered at Queen’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Beltsville, Md.
The Buck Hill Tribute Band — Davey Yarborough, sax, Michael Thomas, trumpet, Jon Ozment, piano, James “Tex” King, bass, Keith Killgo, drums — led the way with a jamming set featuring Hill originals, including “Jasing,” “The Sad Ones,” “Scope” and “Little Bossa.”
As King pointed out, Hill’s tune “The Sad Ones” is one of his tunes that ranks with any tune by anyone, and King played it lovingly, driving the haunting melody with his throbbing, lyrical lines. Known for his golden saxophone sound and witty and lyrically fascinating riffs and solos, it was appropriate that the tribute highlighted the complete musician Hill has been and remains.
From the top, Michael Thomas, Nasar Abadey,
James King and Fred Foss were among those
who attended Buck Hill event March 26 at Westminster.
Glowing, heartfelt tributes were made by many for Hill, seated in the front pew of the beautiful, two-year-old church, and dressed to the nines in a bright blue dress shirt, tie and black suspenders that had little silver saxophones on them on each side.
Tributes came from family members and from long distance from those like saxophone guru Andrew White, drummer Billy Hart, Lenny Cujoe, Bootsie Barnes and Ted Carter, all praising Hill’s humble nature and his willingness to mentor and help other musicians and his work ethic that helped him become an icon in the industry for his dynamic saxophone stylings.
Proclamations were read from Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and artists and others on site also honored Hill fondly, with remarks from those including King, Ozment, Killgo, Yarborough and Thomas, as well as W.A. “Bill” Brower, Nasar Abadey, Chad Carter and many others.
Chad Carter attended the Buck Hil Tribute
in June 2013 and the services last week at Westminster.
Other artists honored Hill with their playing in the jam session that lasted well into the evening, with a special heartfelt number done by vocalist Sharon Clark, “I’ll Remember April,” particularly capturing the essence of the day.
Clark’s stirring vocals, and those of Julian Hipkins and Selena McDay were supported well by other musicians who came for the jam session, like pianist Darius Scott, saxophonists Antonio Parker and Frankie Addison and Whit Williams, drummer Gary Jenkins, saxophone master Fred Foss and guitarist Mark Mosley, and bassists Herman Burney and David Jernigan, among others.
Thanks to Cheyney and Tonya Thomas, Undaunted Productions, Queen’s Chapel United Methodist Church and its Rev. B. Kevin Smalls, Rusty Hassan and Ellen Carter of WPFW Pacifica Radio, and everyone who had a hand in making the Roger ”Buck” Hill Tribute a warm and memorable day.”
From “Violet Avenues: A Poetry of Jazz”:
cafe au lait
tones chopping melodies
he gots rhythm
we gots rhythm
divided by webster
multiplied by gordon
he gots rhythm.
your golden horn
Clapping hands bow to you
brims golden melody.”
InPerson… Brad Mehldau’s “Three Pieces After Bach”
These engagements where artists cross over, so to speak, from the jazz world to play classical and jazz with classical motifs can be a unique treat for real patrons of music and art in general, as was the case when Washington Performing Arts presented pianist Brad Mehldau at Sixth & I in D.C. March 16. The event showcased Mehldau’s “Three Pieces After Bach,” a commissioned work he debuted two years ago and has since performed at selected venues. The real treat is when one forgets what one might have read in the program at the beginning of the show and just listens, and just enjoys, and then doesn’t really notice where the “classical’ ends and the “jazz” begins, and vice versa.
So on that mild late winter night, with signs of a recent snowfall still clinging to the busy streets and sidewalks as a crowd of patrons entered Sixth & I, an august, balconied chamber, to hear Mehldau, a celebrated figure in the jazz world with Grammy awards on his shelf, the luckiest one might have been one with no ties to any particular type of music, who just sat and listened when Mehldau entered, to solid applause, dressed in all dark attire, and smiling, and sat down in front of the gleaming Steinway, lowered his hands and began playing sprightly, light ripples of melodies, becoming more insistent but no less precise as he went along, his left hand chords driving the beat under the light ripples of melody, continuing to spiral his way through his journey, then segueing into more slightly jagged riffs, still driving the mood forward, having treated that lucky one to first Bach as laid down for centuries, then Mehldau innovations on tone and form.
The audience, a good crowd though not a packed house, was nonetheless at rapt attention throughout and applauded instantly when Mehldau would stop, before obviously then starting a new piece. For the record, the program had Mehldau start with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude No. 3 in C-sharp Major, BWV848” from The Well-Tempered Clavier, followed by Mehldau’s “After Bach 1: Rondo,” from his “Three Pieces of Bach” work and then J.S. Bach’s “Prelude No. 1 in C Major, BWV870,” then an “Improvisation on Bach I.” Then another J.S. Bach piece, Mehldau’s “After Bach 2: Ostinato and intermission. The second half featured a similar order of J.S. Bach, then Mehldau and so forth.
That first half then, following the sprightly, precision textured melodies of J.S. Bach — which to this listener seemed an appropriate call to spring, a prelude for us all waiting to be freed from cold and snow — with Mehldau’s first piece at first a meandering stroll, then stepping up to a methodical journey forward before taking off side to side with spirals upward, settling then into contemplative intensity, his head bending down occasionally in emphasis as chords delved deeper then lighter. His J.S. Bach passages seemed appropriately more ordered and straightforward for the most part, though Mehldau and Bach are an appropriate match since Bach himself was known for complex and multi-melody works as well as more ordered compositions.
The performance, enhanced by the Mehldau choreography of sometimes rippling along steadily, then gradually slowing and bending his head to the keys, then lifting his head, and his hands up gradually, before gently laying them back on the keys to softly weave a different tapestry of sound in another direction, took place in the center of the chamber bathed in spotlight, with, on each of side of him, giant golden candelabras with bright white bulbs for more illumination.
After the brief intermission, the second half of the program was highlighted by Mehldau’s “After Bach 3: Toccata, a jamming blend of flights of colors segueing into quiet respites before more ripples and further, higher intensity and more colors, all grounded by the left-hand chords, like a bass player grooving underneath him, seeming piano/bass duet soliloquies with more than a little blues here and there. Passages somewhat reminiscent of Mehldau’s “Ode,” an acclaimed piece of jazz that veers into classical motifs with its driving singlemindedness over the top, though with diverging colors.
At the close of the final “Improvisation on Bach” the applause was steady and resounding and there were some shouts as Mehldau stood, and gently bowed, smiling, to the audience. “Thanks very much,” he said, “it’s great to be here … thanks for going with me on my Bach journey.”
He ended the formal program with the “J.S. Bach Prelude and Fugue in F minor,” with an almost waltz-like dreamy delivery, then the improvisation afterward stepped up the cadence, the intensity, the colors, adding layers, different melodies, pausing for a time for deeper more somber notes, then taking off again, rippling higher notes in a joyful romp, echoing the opening passages of the evening, seeming to call to meadows and blue skies and greenery all around, with streams and brooks winding just over the rise, an insistent stream of rhythms and colors up and down the scale, then gently slowing, as the sun might be slowly setting in the far sky, as dusk approaches, then dimming to a quiet end.
The steady applause as he rose and bowed, and then walked off, called for an encore, and he came back and delivered a Mehldau favorite, a sweetly opening “And I Love Her,” the popular Beatles tune, careful and melodic and poetic then more forceful and propulsive taking off on the melody to enhance it with layers of ordered passages interwoven with jazzier riffs.
Steve Monroe is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com or @jazzavenues.