Just like every day really should be Mother's Day and Earth Day and National Doughnut Day, so too should every month be Jazz Appreciation Month. Maybe John Edward Hasse, Curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, picked it because there are so many jazz tunes with the word in their titles or maybe since jazz, like spring, is about rebirth. Whatever his reason, it all culminates with International Jazz Day on Apr. 30th, which, well, see above...
One of the great things about appreciating jazz—for a day, month, year or lifetime—is that it is, by extension, an opportunity to appreciate American history, warts and all, and how it created an environment for this art form to blossom. And it is a chance to appreciate the larger history of music and how myriad elements from numerous cultures and traditions have been folded into jazz through song forms, instruments and, of course, players. Think of jazz as a mosaic, each new influence a new tile contributing towards a picture that is constantly changing.
Our features this month reflect that progress, whether it be Zeena Parkins (On The Cover) redefining what the harp can do; David Ostwald (Interview) using his tuba as an archeological tool; Steph Richards (Artist Feature) making her trumpet something more than a collection of tubes and valves; Calvin Keys (Encore) taking from and adding to the long history of the guitar; Aaron Bell (Lest We Forget), a significant thread in the distinguished tapestry of Ellington bassists; or Milford Graves (In Memoriam), whose influence as a drummer and philosopher is remembered by his peers and students.
On the Cover: ZEENA PARKINS
By Tyran Grillo; photos by Peter Gannushkin
It's tempting to draw a connection between ancient meanings and modern practice. In the case of LACE, an ongoing project from harpist Zeena Parkins, such connections become more tangible than any etymology ever could be. Parkins live-streams Apr. 8th at Roulette.
Interview: DAVID OSTWALD
By Marilyn Lester; photo Kate Delacorte / courtesy of the artist
David Ostwald began studying piano at 7, taking up the tuba at 11, headed, he thought, for a career in classical music. But then, in his junior year at the University of Chicago, the jazz bug bit. Ostwald was already primed, having discovered the joys of Louis Armstrong while still in high school. He formed his first jazz band at that time and after moving to New York, the Swarthmore, PA native created the Gully Low Jazz Band, which in 2000 morphed into the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band with a weekly gig at Birdland. Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Eternity Band live-streams Apr. 30th at Flushing Town Hall.
Artist Feature: STEPH RICHARDS
By Robert Bush; photo Chris Weiss / courtesy of the artist
Trumpeter Steph Richards has been quietly taking the world of improvised music by storm. The classically-trained Alberta, Canada native didn't exactly plan her career in terms of becoming a free jazz MVP, but what else would one call a person who has shared the stage with iconic saxophonist/composers like Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and John Zorn? Richards live-streams Thursdays in April at Facebook Live.
Encore: CALVIN KEYS
By Anders Griffen
Guitarist Calvin Keys hit his stride as a teenager in the late '50s and has enjoyed a career filled with decades of performance. He has worked with Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Sonny Fortune, Pharoah Sanders, Blue Mitchell, Bobby Hutcherson and just about all of the great organ players, including Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith. In the early '70s he recorded with Gene Russell and Doug Carn for the Black Jazz label while leading his own, now classic, sessions Shaw-Neeq and Proceed with Caution. Both titles have been reissued perennially; the former received a new treatment in January 2021 (by Real Gone Music) and the latter will be reissued later this year.
Lest We Forget: AARON BELL
By George Kanzler
By 1960, when he was 39, Aaron Bell had been playing bass professionally since 1946, after serving four years in a U.S. Navy band during World War II. He played with Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Stan Kenton, Cab Calloway, Carmen McRae and Dick Haymes. Along the way he acquired an M.A. in Social Work from NYU and was raising a family with four children in Mt. Vernon, NY. But that year became the most important of his musical life: he became an Ellingtonian. Jazzmobile's "Keep The Music Playing" celebrates Bell's centennial on International Jazz Day, Apr. 30th, on JZMTV.
Record Label Spotlight: OUT OF YOUR HEAD
By John Sharpe
Starting a label as a self-help mechanism has become a well-trodden route, particularly in the wilds of avant garde jazz. But not all such ventures take off like Out Of Your Head Records (OOYH). Uncertain of being able to find a suitable outlet, bassist Adam Hopkins launched the imprint in 2018 to release his leadership debut Crickets. Live-streaming events this month are Nick Mazzarella/Hamid Drake on Apr. 4th at Constellation Chicago; Anna Webber with Simon Jermyn, Devin Gray/Simon Jermyn with Nick Dunston, Cansu Tanrikulu, Jim Black on Apr. 6th at A-Trane; and NEA Jazz Masters Presents: Henry Threadgill with Christopher Hoffman, David Virelles and Román Filiú on Apr. 22nd at NEA Jazz Masters.
In Memoriam: MILFORD GRAVES
photo by Robert I. Sutherland-Cohen
Remembrances of the recently departed drummer Milford Graves by Peter Brötzmann, Mark Christman, Andrew Cyrille, Whit Dickey, William Hooker, Susie Ibarra, Bill Laswell, Francisco Mela, Famoudou Don Moye, David Murray, Evan Parker, William Parker, Scott Robinson and Toshi Tsuchitori.
(this month's performance/streaming venues in parentheses):