Jazz & Other Music

Kickstarter Project: The Beauty and Burden Behind Carnaval in Pernambuco

Posted in Camera, Jazz & Other Music, Travel on December 12th, 2012 by ndb – Be the first to comment

imageA few years ago, I published a short post featuring Brooklyn-based photographer Jason Gardner and his work on the Recife Carnaval. Since then, Jason has continued his travels to the northeast of Brazil and his explorations of the region’s unique music and cultural tradition.


Not sure all you have heard of Kickstarter, but in case you haven’t, it’s an online platform where artists, writers, game developers, and other creative people can seek funding for their projects. In a nutshell, creators set a goal: for example, I’m a documentary maker with a great script and footage, but I need $10,000 to complete my documentary and send it to festivals. I create a short presentation video (this is a must) and describe my project, which will be posted on the Kickstarter website. I set a financial goal ($10,000) and a deadline to reach that goal. If visitors find my pitch compelling, they can pledge money towards my project, in exchange for gifts related to the final work (a signed DVD, a ticket to the premiere night, etc.). If I manage to raise $10,000 within my deadline, the backers’ credit cards are charged and I can complete my project. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee. If I don’t successfully fund my project, nothing happens. Kickstarter claims that “44% of projects have reached their funding goals” to date, for a total of “over $350 million … pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding more than 30,000 creative projects” since launch in April 2009. Pretty impressive. Here is more from the Kickstarter website, and there is plenty of interesting media coverage about it.

But to get back to Jason Gardner.

Jason recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to complete a self-published book of photographs and text showing the rich cultural heritage of Pernambuco–a work that he defines of “visual anthropology”. As I’m posting this, 139 backers pledged $10,918, just over 50% of the goal, with 17 more days to go (deadline is December 29, 2012). You can read more about the project, view the presentation video, and pledge here.

The Brazilian Trio @ the Jazz Cat Club

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on January 25th, 2011 by ndb – Be the first to comment

From the left: Helio Alves, Nicolas Gilliet, Nilson Matta, Marco Decarli, Duduka Da Fonseca (www.fotopedrazzini.ch)

From the left: Helio Alves, Nicolas Gilliet, Nilson Matta, Marco Decarli, Duduka Da Fonseca (www.fotopedrazzini.ch)

Three Brazilian musicians transplanted in New York, performing as a trio for the first time in Europe, was a perfect way to kick off the 2011 Jazz Cat Club program. The Brazilian Trio, whose album Forests was nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award in the “Best Latin Jazz Album” category, is made up of Helio Alves on piano, Nilson Matta on bass, and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. All three are extremely accomplished musicians, having contributed to several Grammy Award-winning records and having performed with the likes of João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joe Henderson, Yo-Yo Ma, Paquito D’Rivera, and Gato Barbieri, to name a few.

I wondered, what is it like for three musicians with strong individual careers to play together? “It’s a lot of fun!” Nilson Matta told me when we spoke in Ascona yesterday. Nilson met Duduka in New York, after he moved there in 1985. In 1992 they met Helio and have become great friends. Their collaborations led them to record each other’s first CD. During yesterday’s concert I was struck by how dominant all three instruments were, perhaps a testament to their own individual careers and to the friendship that binds them.

What distinguishes the group is a rather unique mix of the great Brazilian bossanova & samba tradition and the American tradition of improvised jazz. “Nilson and myself,” Duduka told me, “were exposed to bossanova and samba back in Brazil at the height of the bossanova movement. It was a god-sent gift. Helio is younger and studied jazz and improvisation at the Berklee College of Music, bringing something altogether different to the music. Together we make a very strong group.” Indeed, they performed some powerful pieces, culminating in the final crescendo of Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz”.

At a press conference that took place earlier, I had the pleasure of hearing an improvised performance of “Baden”, written by Nilson Matta in honor of the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell. The last part of the piece incorporated a prelude by Bach, which I thought was extremely cool. “Bossanova and jazz are our natural influences,” Duduka told me, “so why not combine them? And sometimes we like to mix in other genres as well. We like to surprise our audience, and we like to surprise ourselves!” A similar dexterity was seen at the concert last night.

Despite the appeal of the more vigorous pieces, I think my favorite tunes were the softer and more delicate ones, such as “Portrait in Black and White” and “Wave”. For the encore, the trio chose to play “Montreux”, which Hermeto Pascoal first performed at the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival here in Switzerland, and which I later discovered is a hard-to-find and rarely recorded piece.

The Best & Worst of 2010

Posted in Film, Jazz & Other Music, Literature & Libri, Travel on December 28th, 2010 by ndb – 1 Comment

futuresounds.comAs the end of the year approaches, the “Top of 2010″ lists proliferate. I will compile some of my own this year: The top 10 places I visited in 2010; The best surprises of 2010; The top 10 books I read this year; Best achievements of the year. But for the purpose of this blog, following are some more renowned lists, featuring the best & worst of the year and the decade–because lets not forget, we are at the end of a decade.


Top 50 songs of 2010 – Rolling Stone
The 30 best albums of 2010 – Rolling Stone
The best music of 2010 – A.V. Club
The top 10 jazz albums of 2010 – NPR


The 10 Best Books of 2010 – The New York Times
The best books of 2010 – The Economist
The best books of the year – The Guardian
I libri più belli del 2010 – La Repubblica (italiano)


The best films of the ’00s – A.V. Club
The 10 worst movies of 2010 – Rolling Stone


The best travel books of 2010 – WorldHum
The 2010 best travel apps for the iPhone – TNW
The 2010 dirtiest hotels – Tripadvisor

And for those already looking ahead, here are some of the top destinations for 2011:

Top 10 places to visit in 2011 – Rough Guide
Top 10 countries for 2011 – Lonely Planet
Top 10 backpacking travel destinations for 2011 – Off Track Planet

Interview with Trombonist
Wycliffe Gordon

Posted in Jazz & Other Music on September 17th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment



Since 2001, Georgia-born Wycliffe Gordon has been named five times Trombonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Known for his inventiveness, Mr. Gordon enjoys an extraordinary career as a performer, conductor, composer, arranger, and educator. A former veteran member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet and of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Mr. Gordon performs at concerts and festivals worldwide, both with his own quartet and as a guest musician alongside renowned artists. He is also the youngest member of the Statesmen of Jazz. French-journalist Anne Legrand and myself had a chance to talk to him during JazzAscona 2010, where he performed with vocalist and companion Niki Haris.

This year’s JazzAscona theme is New Standards. What is your favorite standard?
Wow, that’s a hard question! I don’t really have one favorite standard, because there are standards in jazz, in gospel, in early music. I grew up in church, so the music that is really closest to me is gospel. I only came to jazz later. One of the songs I do all the time is “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, but I also love ballads, like “Stars Fell On Alabama” or “Georgia On My Mind”. I like to play standards that will challenge my ability to execute technique and velocity on my instrument, like “Cherokee” or “Impressions”. One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace”. So it’s hard to give one answer.

You also compose. Where do you get your inspiration from?
It depends on what I’m composing. I’ve done large works for film, and if I was composing for a bar scene, it would be mostly stride piano, but if the scene was set in church, then it would sound more like gospel music. Many different things influence a composition. Sometimes I just sit down at the piano and play. If I hear something I like, I notate it and see if something comes of it. There’s no one formula. Sometimes the rhythm comes to me first, like one of my compositions states: “I have this rhythm on my mind/ To create sweet melodies”. When the rhythm is clear, I write the melody down and add the harmony and then the words. “This Rhythm On My Mind”, for example, tells the story of how I wrote that particular song.

What is it like to play with Niki Haris, who sings jazz, but also has a strong pop background, having been a back-up singer for Madonna, Whitney Houston, Kylie Minogue, and Mick Jagger?
She’s a great performer and everything Niki does, she does well, whether it’s gospel, jazz, or pop! I’d met her once before, but then I was performing in her hometown with a friend, and five or six really good singers came up to sing. I was truly impressed, but when Niki took the stage, she completely blew everyone away. I’ve seen her do it in church, on the pop stage, in jazz settings, and even though she says she’s a baby when it comes to jazz, she knows how to tell a story with her songs and her singing. She knows how to utilize the lyrics to tell a story, which is something that even the most studied musicians have a difficult time figuring out.

Last night on the piazza everyone was teary-eyed during your performance. Was there something special about JazzAscona or does this happen often?
There was something special about last night, but it was also Niki. She sung “Throw It Away” by Abby Lincoln and also “The Very Thought Of You” and she moved everyone. I’ve seen her do it so many times!

How did you come to work together?
I wanted to do a pop CD with her, because in addition to playing jazz and gospel, I also have a pop band in my home town, although I hardly ever get to perform with them. But Niki wanted to do a jazz album, so we recorded I’m Glad It’s You. I still want to do a pop album, and we’re talking about doing a gospel project, but I don’t want to record a bunch of standards: I want to be part of the next group of musicians who are creating the standards of tomorrow! I’d also worked mostly with men, and I wanted to work with a woman and bring the ying-yang on stage. I’d worked with many women in the past, but no one who so consistently brought that kind of energy the way Niki does.

You played with the Wynton Marsalis Septet for many years. How did you meet Wynton Marsalis?
He came to my university my second year of college, in 1987, at the Florida ANM University. I had a chance to play for him and meet him. Two years later he sent for me to come play with his band. I wasn’t prepared and he sent me back home. I was playing electric base in a funk band at the time and I wasn’t really serious about jazz. But after he sent me home, I had a chance to hear them play, and I thought “Wow, not only is jazz being played out here, but it’s being played at a high level.” So I started to practice and get myself prepared for another opportunity. And I got that opportunity ten months later, when he called me again. This time I played well enough that he asked me to record a CD, Crescent City Christmas Card. I recorded that in February or March of 1989 and normally I would have gone to summer school, but my scholarship did not cover summer school, so I went on the road with him temporarily—my first gig was June 6, 1989—and what started out as a temporary summer job turned into my career. I stayed on the road with him until the end of 1995 with the Septet. Then I was in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra until the summer of 2000.

You were also a teacher at the Julliard School, right?
Yes. I taught at Michigan State University first for two years, and then I taught at Julliard for six years. I don’t want to teach in the classroom anymore, for now at least. I might take a few private students, but I want to have the freedom to be able to leave whenever I want.

What are music students today like?
Well, as in the past, there are many good technicians, but there are also a few who ‘get it’ and who are good storytellers. But that’s always been the case and I don’t think it’s any different now.

Who influenced you the most on the trombone?
Louis Armstrong. Even though he was a trumpet player, there was no separation between the way he sang and the way he played. I love a lot of the trombone players that played with him, from Jack Teagarden to Trummy Young to Kid Ory, and there are many other trombonists that I love, but my greatest musical influence was Louis Armstrong. The same way that he sang, was exactly how he played—and that is something that I teach as an educator: if you can learn to improvise, you can learn to work on every aspect of your technique. If you can sing it first, you can do better—and Louis Armstrong was a great example of that.

Il segreto è saper baciar bene, dicono

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Switzerland, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on August 30th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment

ndb alle prese con il corno delle alpi

ndb alle prese con il corno delle alpi

Quando vivevo a New York e raccontavo che ero svizzera, mi facevano sempre due domande: “Ma allora hai un Swiss bank account?” e “Ma allora suoni il corno delle alpi?”. Da ticinese, questa seconda domanda mi risultava molto estranea e, fra l’altro, il mio primo corno delle alpi l’ho sentito suonare a New York! Eppure da qualche anno anche in Ticino questo strumento sta prendendo piede. Ci sono infatti tre gruppi che lo suonano: i Grutica (Gruppo Ticinese Corno delle Alpi), con nove elementi provenienti da tutto il cantone , che tre settimane fa hanno suonato al matrimonio di Kubilay Türkyılmaz; gli Amici Corno delle Alpi , provenienti dal Sottoceneri; e il gruppo Quartieri Alti di Mendrisio. Alle origini il corno delle alpi, lungo solo 1.20 m, veniva suonato in Svizzera interna dai pastori per richiamare gli animali all’alpe oppure per comunicare da un alpe all’altro. Da noi in Ticino, invece, per comunicare fra alpigiani si usavano le lenzuola: un lenzuolo significava una cosa, due lenzuola significavano un’altra, e via dicendo. Così raccontavano i miei nonni. Poi forse qualche pastore innamorato di una pastorella su un alpe vicino ha scoperto che il corno poteva essere utilizzato anche come strumento musicale e da lì è nata una tradizione di fama internazionale. Nel frattempo lo strumento si è allungato per permettere una maggiore variazione di note, 15 in tutto. I corni moderni sono costruiti in legno di abete lunghi diversi metri, a dipendenza della tonalità (il corno in sol bemolle, ad esempio, è lungo 3.42 m), e pesano circa 4 kg. In Svizzera vi sono quattro costruttori di corni alpini. Un corno delle alpi standard costa attorno ai 3′000 franchi e ci sono due scuole in Svizzera che offrono corsi: la Swiss Alphorn School nelle alpi bernesi e l’Academie suisse de cor des alpes in Vallese. Il fine settimana scorso mi trovavo in montagna e ho avuto occasione di provare a suonarne uno. Dopo aver soffiato il più possibile è uscito un singolo suono. Quasi decente, direi, ma let me tell you, ci vuole molto fiato!

Per un uso pop anni ’70 del corno alpino, guardate e ascoltate questa divertentissima canzone di Pepe Lienhard: “Swiss Lady”.

Cultura di livello mondiale a Locarno

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on August 27th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment

Yuja Wang e la Royal Philharmonic Orchestra London

Yuja Wang e la Royal Philharmonic Orchestra London

Ieri sera, al palazzetto FEVI di Locarno, si sono aperte le Settimane Musicali di Ascona con un concerto della Royal Philharmonic Orchestra di Londra, una delle migliori al mondo. Assieme all’orchestra ha suonato un brano la straordinaria pianista 23enne Yuja Wang. Cinese d’origine, Yuja Wang è richiestissima in tutto il mondo e suona – fra l’altro – con le orchestre sinfoniche di Chicago, Boston e San Francisco. A Locarno ha eseguito un concerto per pianoforte e orchestra di Rachmaninov, dimostrando enorme sensibilità, forza, e uno spessore straordinario per i suoi 23 anni. Ho notato le sue braccia forti, le lunghe dita e l’incredibile passione con cui suonava, riuscendo sempre ad imporsi con forza e delicatezza su un’orchestra di un centinaio di elementi. Un’offerta culturale di altissimo livello per una cittadina di 15′000 abitanti! Peccato che la sala mancava di ambiente, nonostante lo sforzo abbastanza riuscito per migliorare l’acustica.

Ecco un video in cui Yuja Wang suona un brano di Nikolaï Rimski-Korsakov.

A Jazz Take on Woody Allen’s
Sweet and Lowdown

Posted in Film, Jazz & Other Music on July 18th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment

Sweet and LowdownI recently had a chance to hear California-born jazz guitarist Howard Alden being interviewed live on Judy Carmichael’s radio talk show “Jazz Inspired”, which will be broadcast by NPR in a few months. Howard Alden is featured on the soundtrack to the 1999 Woody Allen movie Sweet and Lowdown, about a 1930s fictional jazz guitarist called Emmet Ray, who idolizes Django Reinhardt. The movie stars Sean Penn, and Howard Alden not only played all the guitar solos on the soundtrack, but he also coached Mr. Penn on playing the guitar for his role in the film. “Sean Penn was serious, easy-going, and very down to earth,” says Howard Alden. “He had never played guitar before and he took it very earnestly and learned quickly. For a few weeks, I coached him a couple of days a week in San Francisco, and then I followed him to Italy, where he was filming another movie. One night he learned how to do a short sequence, which was a great accomplishment for someone who had never played before. I called him the following day to set up a time for us to practice, and he told me his fingers were sore because he had spent 6 hours, after I had left, doing that same sequence over and over. That was the kind of dedication he had!” After a very short time, he had all the body and finger movements down right. As to Woody Allen, he was very secretive about what the movie was about. “Even Dick Hayman, who was the musical director, was only told it was a movie about Django Reinhardt, which it wasn’t, really. He only ever spoke to Dick, never to the musicians. He was painfully shy.”

NOTE: The radio show will be available in a few months as a free iTune download and it will also be posted on www.jazzinspired.com, in addition to being broadcast on NPR.

Il grandissimo Biréli Lagrène in questi giorni a JazzAscona

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on July 2nd, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment

(Foto di Francis Vernhet)

(Foto di Francis Vernhet)

di Anne Legrand

JazzAscona rende omaggio venerdì e sabato 2-3 luglio al grande Django Reinhardt nel centenario della sua nascita, proponendo per la prima volta uno dei suoi più degni eredi, il chitarrista francese Biréli Lagrène.

Nato in Alsazia nel 1966 in una famiglia di musicisti manouche (comunità zingara della Germania e dell’est della Francia), Biréli impara a suonare la chitarra dal padre Fiso, appassionandosi subito alla musica di Django, di cui impara a memoria gli assoli a soli 7 anni. La musica di Django è presente fin dall’inizio nella vita di Biréli e rappresenta una fonte di gioia costante: “Sono cresciuto con la sua musica. Quando ero in tournée a 11 anni, lontano dalla mia famiglia, ascoltavo Django col walkman e mi sentivo subito a casa. Vedevo i volti dei miei cari e immediatamente provavo una grande pace interiore. Ancora oggi, quando sono lontano, ascolto la sua musica e di colpo ho il sorriso fino alle orecchie e sento aria di festa. La sua musica trasmette gioia.”

Con il suo genio creativo, considerato pari a quello dei grandi del passato, Biréli è diventato una guida per i giovani chitarristi, che lo considerano un vero e proprio mago. “Django era un inventore. Il suono della sua chitarra non assomigliava a quello di nessun altro, né alle chitarre acustiche degli anni ‘30, né alle chitarre elettriche dei primi anni ‘50. Ha completamente rivoluzionato il modo di suonare la chitarra. Dopo la sua morte, abbiamo dovuto aspettare fino agli anni ‘60 prima che Jimi Hendrix a sua volta portasse qualcosa di nuovo”.

Biréli Lagrène è presente a JazzAscona con un trio atipico, composto dal sassofonista Frank Wolf e dal contrabbassista Jürgen Attig, una formazione molto diversa da quella del Quintette du Hot Club de France di Django Reinhardt, che gli permette però di affinare la sua visione personale della musica di Django. All’inizio del nuovo millennio, infatti, Biréli lancia il suo Gypsy Project, un quintetto che riprende gli stessi strumenti del Hot Club de France: tre chitarre, un violino e un contrabbasso. Gypsy Project guadagna subito fama internazionale, lanciando la moda di quello che in Francia è oggi chiamato jazz manouche, cioè “jazz gitano”. “Non amo questo termine, ma nel contempo ha contribuito a ridare popolarità alla musica di Django e del suo quintetto. Non dobbiamo dimenticare che negli anni ‘30 la gente ballava al ritmo di questa musica nei club e durante i balli. Il Quintette du Hot Club de France ha introdotto un suono nuovo, con una facilità d’accesso al ritmo senza precedenti. Questo grazie alla cosiddetta pompe manouche , ossia l’accentuazione da parte della chitarra del secondo e del quarto tempo, che aiutava moltissimo il pubblico a tenere il ritmo con i piedi. Gli zigani erano forse particolarmente sensibili alla formazione di Django perché il violino aveva molta importanza nella loro musica. La musica dei Gypsy Project è stato un bel omaggio a Django Reinhardt e all’eleganza musicale del violinista e co-fondatore del celebre quintetto, Stéphane Grappelli, ma è anche un tributo alla comunità manouche”.

Durante i festeggiamenti, quest’anno, attorno al centenario della nascita di Django, Biréli è stato molto richiesto, soprattutto con il trio composto dal fisarmonicista Richard Galliano e dal violinista Didier Lockwood. Biréli Lagrène, come Lockwood e Galliano, ha inciso con la prestigiosa etichetta francese Dreyfus Jazz, lamentando la morte del fondatore Francis Dreyfus, avvenuta il 24 giugno: “Lo conoscevo dal 1992 e ho un bellissimo ricordo di lui. Non si perdeva mai una sessione di registrazione. Per me è stata una fortuna poter lavorare con lui. Amava tutte le proposte che gli facevo, e poi mi consigliava molto bene. Ha firmato contratti con diversi musicisti che hanno poi fatto carriera. Era una brava persona e faceva di tutto per far vivere il jazz.”

La presenza di Biréli Lagrène ad Ascona è un’occasione da non perdere e il concerto di sabato sera, alle 22.30 nella tenda principale in Piazza Torre, sarà sicuramente uno dei migliori omaggi che si possano fare a Django Reinhardt!

Anne Legrand è una giornalista e storica del jazz francese. Ha recentemente pubblicato Charles Delaunay et le jazz en France dans les années 30 et 40 e scrive regolamente per Jazz magazine. Scrive inoltre un blog dove parla di jazz. Vive a Parigi e ama nuotare, “avec swing”.

Interview with Top-of-the-Charts American Jazz Vocalist Catherine Russell

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on June 29th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment


Her father, Luis Russell, was the pioneering pianist and bandleader and long-time musical director for Louis Armstrong and her mother, Carline Ray, is a renowned bassist, vocalist, and an icon for women in jazz. So it isn’t surprising that New Yorker Catherine “Cat” Russell’s newest record, Inside This Heart Of Mine, has topped a number of jazz charts, since its release in April 2010. But what is interesting is that Russell, in her 50s, has earned her place in jazz after a long, diverse, and eclectic career in music that featured a long-term gig with David Bowie’s band, collaborations with Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon, and a longstanding love of classic rock bands like The Grateful Dead and The Band. I sat down with her for an interview during JazzAscona, before she started her daily routine of yoga, vocal practice, and band rehearsal.

This is your first time at JazzAscona. Have you been enjoying the festival so far?
Oh, yes! We’ve been here two nights and it’s been wonderful so far. I’ve been to Switzerland many times in the past 20 years, but I’d never been to Ascona and it’s a beautiful place. Also, I’m with my bigger band, this time. Usually I travel with my trio, made up of Mark Shane on piano, Lee Hudson on bass, and Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo, but this time I also have Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Dan Block on tenor saxophone and clarinet, and James Wormworth on drums. I’ve done many gigs with James over 20 years, but he recently moved to Los Angeles because he’s part of the band that plays on the new Conan O’Brien TV show. People here are very receptive to the music, snapping their fingers and getting up to dance. That’s a great compliment to me! A wonderful thing about festivals is that you get to hear other great musicians, and you get to jam together and make beautiful connections. Yesterday, for example, I heard George Washingmachine from Australia, and he’s fantastic! We walked around the piazza and sat to have an espresso and heard so much great music. People in Europe enjoy their jazz a lot. In the U.S. there might be more of a modern jazz inclination, whereas here I think there is a larger traditional jazz audience.

Could you tell us more about your latest CD, Inside This Heart Of Mine, which features songs from the 1920s to the present?
“Inside This Heart Of Mine” is a Fats Waller song that nobody else outside of him, I believe, recorded. That song was in a compilation that was only released recently, as was “We The People”. We also have some Duke Ellington material from the 1930s, a Willie Dixon blues piece, and a few songs from The American Songbook, such as “As Long As I Live”, which is a Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler tune from 1934. “Close Your Eyes” is another tune I heard from an Arthur Prysock recording with the Count Basie Orchestra from the 1950s, and then we do a song called “Just Because You Can”, which is a new song written by a great contemporary composer and lyricist, called Rachelle Garniez, who writes in the old style. When I’m looking for material, I look for material that sounds like it was written in the 20s, 30s or 40s but is actually new. This tune she wrote with me in mind, which is a great compliment.

How did you choose these thirteen songs, with so many great standards out there?
I listen to music in my car, I listen at home in the kitchen while washing dishes, I borrow albums from friends, and that’s how I find material—washing dishes after dinner at night [she laughs]. “Close Your Eyes”, for example, was a tune my brother had recorded from the radio when we were growing up. My musicians suggest songs to me, too. I generally look for pieces that haven’t been recorded much recently, and also important is how a lyric hits me: if I like the story, I’m attracted to the tune and I want to learn it. “You go to my head/ And you linger like a haunting refrain”, from “You Go To My Head”, is almost like getting intoxicated by a person. The imagery of that lyric is beautiful and the story in that song is that the person is not in love with you… The person singing is infatuated, but the bridge is: “The thrill of the thought/ That you might give a thought/ To my plea/ Casts a spell over me/ Though I say to myself/ Get a hold of yourself/ Can’t you see that it never can be”. That’s what I like about this, that’s it’s just like real life: you don’t always get what you want! [she laughs]

I read you used to be a big Grateful Dead fan, and you also worked with pop and rock stars such as David Bowie, Cindy Lauper, Steely Dan, and Paul Simon. How does this fit in with what you’ve been doing lately?
I was a fan of the Grateful Dead music for many years and was friends with people who worked with them. I was actually asked to tour with them this year, but because of my own shows I wasn’t able to join them. I like many types of music and all of them inform the way I sing. Right now I’m a jazz singer, but I also love blues and rock ‘n’ roll, both of which sometimes find their way into my singing.

What is it like to find the kind of success you’re having?
Well, it’s a surprise! I’m very grateful that people love the music that I love to sing and record, but like many things in life, you never know.

You mentioned in a recent interview with JazzAscona artistic director Nicolas Gilliet that you’ve been a freelance for so long, you can’t stop doing different things. Is your success as a soloist pushing you more in one direction?
It is because I’m really having a great time doing early jazz and swing and travelling to different places, such as Ascona, and meeting different people. My freelance career was very important to me and still is, and I don’t think I’d be having so much fun doing my own thing had I not been freelancing for so many years and travelling and learning about touring. That prepared me to do this. But freelancing and being a back-up singer is a completely different life and completely different set of skills than being a band leader and lead singer. It’s a different style of music, you have to know different things, wear different clothing, and perform differently. Both of these lifestyles are very valuable to me in terms of what I learn and how I get to express myself. Freelancing led me to work with many people I’m a fan of and admire—and that, too, is a great career.

What are your future plans?
I would like to continue freelancing where the time allows, even though scheduling is an issue. As a soloist, my mission is to make a new record at least every two years, so I’m already gathering material for the next one. I don’t know what it will be yet. Usually I gather material and add it to the show. If we enjoy it and the audience enjoys it, I include it in the record. I like to do things that people respond to. Playing live is very important and the direct connection with the audience is a crucial sounding-board.

Catherine Russell will be playing at JazzAscona again tonight at 11 p.m. on stage Seven and tomorrow, Wednesday, June 30, at 8.30 p.m. on stage Chiesa.

(La traduzione in italiano di questo articolo è stata pubblicata sul Corriere del Ticino, il 30 giugno 2010.)

Interview with New Orleans Drummers Shannon Powell and Herlin Riley

Posted in Jazz & Other Music, Ticino (non-Vallemaggia) on June 24th, 2010 by ndb – Be the first to comment


This year, the JazzAscona festival will give the Ascona Jazz Award to New Orleans drummers Shannon Powell and Herlin Riley, as “perfect expressions of the rich rhythms and musical soul of the Crescent City, at the crossroad of traditional and contemporary.” Both musicians will be playing in Ascona starting tonight until June 28 (Powell) and June 30 (Riley). On Saturday, June 26, they will perform together at 11 p.m. in the Piazza Torre tent. Following is a cross-interview that took place a few days ago.

What is so special about the rhythms of New Orleans?

SP: In New Orleans we play a variety of musical styles, from R&B to traditional jazz, but second line beat is original to New Orleans and shares similarities with other African rhythms, such as samba, rumba, mambo, habanera, and Brazilian rhythms. Sometimes people think that because we’re from New Orleans we play New Orleans traditional music only, but that’s not accurate: a true New Orleans musician plays everything.

HR: New Orleans rhythms have a very powerful spiritual element. At the bottom of the music is the sound of the bass drum, which is similar to that of the heart beat.

What distinguishes you musically?

SP: Herlin Riley is a drummer, I’m an entertainer [he laughs].

HR: Shannon and I are very close, we’re like brothers. We have the same experiences and the same influences, but we play with very different artists. Occasionally we get together in our homes and improvise a jam session, sometimes sitting at the table, with silver spoons and butter knives.

What is the situation, musical and in general, in New Orleans five years after Katrina?

SP: The city made a great come-back, but it takes citizens to make a city and lots of people have not returned and they may never return. On the other hand there are lots of musicians coming from outside who are becoming overnight stars. We like people to come to New Orleans, don’t get me wrong, but they are being promoted as New Orleans musicians and they are being paid more and considered more just because they come from out of town. It isn’t cool and it’s an insult to local musicians. The same is happening in the school system: the whole jazz department is being operated by people from out of town. How can you teach children New Orleans traditional music if you’re not from here? It’s not the real New Orleans anymore. And people who come to visit want the real New Orleans.

HR: Fortunately I never depended on New Orleans for a living, but it’s still a very important part of my roots, even though I don’t live and work there anymore. The city is a very vital part of American culture and even though Katrina damaged the lifestyle, it did not break the spirit of the city, nor the sense of community.

What are your next projects?

SP: I am writing a book called Say Goodbye to Old Tremé, and in the fall I’m releasing a new CD. After Ascona I’m travelling to Denmark and Greece to play at festivals there. When I return to New Orleans I’ve been asked to take part in the HBO series filmed in Tremé. Nowadays I mainly work as a leader and, among other gigs, I play at Preservation Hall every Tuesday with my band.

HR: At present I’m in Japan playing with Cassandra Wilson, then I’ll be in Ascona and Montreal. I am also writing original compositions for my new CD. I already have two out in my name and this will be my third.

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