Bigger is not always better. No one needs a 72-ounce soda or stretch limo. But when it comes to jazz, there is nothing like a large ensemble. The impact of big bands has been a part of jazz history since almost the beginning and the flavors are as varied as the personalities of those leading the charge: big bands can swing, or not; they can be made up of traditional sections or bold new tonal combinations; they can play intricate charts or improvise in real time like a pulsing, living organism. And since jazz is always in a recession, no one told today's pioneering big band/large ensemble leaders that they cannot do what they do so well.
In our first ever "Large Ensemble Issue", we cover the gamut of possibilities, from the Mingus Big Band (On The Cover), in residence at Jazz Standard; Lionel Hampton Orchestra featuring Jason Marsalis (Interview), appearing at Birdland; Miho Hazama's m_unit (Artist Feature), playing Jazz Standard; Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber (Encore), performing a live score to Shaft at the Apollo Theater; big band legend Jimmie Lunceford (Lest We Forget); and a special front-loaded CD Review section (pgs. 14-19) of big bands and large ensembles from around the world and of all stripes.
On the Cover: MINGUS BIG BAND
By Jim Motavalli; photos by Adrien H. Tillmann
41 years after his death from a heart attack on Jan. 5th, 1979, Charles Mingus is acknowledged as one of the greatest composers of his time, on a pedestal alongside his idol Duke Ellington...Mingus never slipped into obscurity, but his music wasn't heard much on bandstands after his passing. Sue Mingus—despite having been only peripherally involved in her husband's music while he was alive—decided to change that. Mingus Big Band is Jazz Standard most Mondays and Feb. 14th-16th.
Interview: JASON MARSALIS
By Kyle Oleksiuk; photo courtesy of the artist
Jason Marsalis is both an extremely versatile drummer and vibraphonist who has played as a bandleader and sideman in groups ranging from jazz, fusion and funk to Celtic and Brazilian. With Bill Summers and Irvin Mayfield, he formed the New Orleans jazz group Los Hombres Calientes in 1998. Since March 2015, Marsalis has been playing with the Lionel Hampton Big Band as a vibraphonist. He discussed the Big Band's recently released album, Live at Rossmoor, and Hampton's legacy. Lionel Hampton Big Band with Jason Marsalis is at Birdland Feb. 4th-8th.
Artist Feature: MIHO HAZAMA
By Mike Cobb; photo courtesy of the artist
Born in 1986 in Tokyo, Miho Hazama grew up studying classical piano and earned a degree from Kunitachi College of Music in classical composition. She received a scholarship to attend the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) and moved to New York in 2010, graduating with a Master's degree in jazz composition...In 2011, she won the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award and in 2012 recorded Journey to Journey (Universal Music Japan), which blended big band and jazz sounds and featured vibraphonist Stefon Harris. The album established her as a composer and leader and helped her win the Jazz JAPAN rising star award. She received the 24th Idemitsu Music Award in 2014, and the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize in 2015. Also in 2015, Hazama issued her big band's sophomore album, Time River (Universal Music Japan). And the accolades and awards keep coming her way. Hazama and m_unit are at Jazz Standard Feb. 25th-26th.
Encore: GREG TATE
By Alex Henderson
Guitarist/journalist Greg Tate has a long history of writing about music as well as playing it. The Dayton, Ohio native, who has lived in New York City for 38 years, spent 18 of them as staff writer at Village Voice, where he covered music ranging from R&B to jazz to hip-hop to rock. As the leader of Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, an experimental ensemble, which will pay homage to late soul icon Isaac Hayes and the 1971 movie Shaft this month at the Apollo Theater, Tate has been in the role of music creator. Burnt Sugar is at Apollo Theater Feb. 29th.
Lest We Forget: JIMMIE LUNCEFORD
By George Kanzler
Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, club date (weddings, balls etc.) bands. They all owe a debt to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Enormously popular during the Swing Era—more so than many other more well-known African-American big bands of the era today—Lunceford's big band was also the originator and purveyor of a unique rhythm: two-beat swing.
Record Label Spotlight: NEW AMSTERDAM
By Kurt Gottschalk
For musicians creating work that falls between the usual boundaries, finding an audience isn't the only worry. Getting their music recorded and distributed can also be a challenge when so many labels hold fast to long-established borders between predetermined and marketable categories. There are exceptions, of course, but few labels inhabit that buffer zone so avowedly as Brooklyn's New Amsterdam Records. Artists performing this month include Caroline Davis at The Owl Music Parlor Feb. 9th; Mary Halvorson at The Stone at The New School Feb. 6th; and Sam Sadigursky at Town & Village Synagogue Feb. 13th.
(this month's performance venues in parentheses):
Brian Lynch Big Band—The Omni-American Book Club (My Journey Through Literature in Music) Hollistic Music Works