Improvisation is the magic of jazz. It takes instrumental ability, blues foundation and classic rigor, identity of the individual and strength of the group and binds all these aspects together into something that Eric Dolphy described as, once played, having gone into the air, is never to be heard again yet existing for time immemorial in our collective memory.
All the musicians featured in this sweltering August issue found themselves as players in improvisation and continue that process with every note they play. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (On The Cover) is a scion of one of the greatest improvising families but is far from just "And Son". This month he is at SummerStage's Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and The Stone at The New School. Saxophonist Bobby Watson (Interview) realized at a young age his predilection for improvising would lead to a jazz career. He is part of a celebration for Charlie Parker this month at Smoke. Cornet player Kirk Knuffke (Artist Feature) continues the tradition, and pushes it forward. Hear him this month at The Stone at The New School and InterContinental New York Barclay. And clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio (Encore) and pianist Horace Silver (Lest We Forget) offer the myriad possibilities of where composition and improvisation intersect.
On the Cover: RAVI COLTRANE
By Russ Musto; photos by Enid Farber
"When I first got to New York in 1991 I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to play with some great musicians," Ravi Coltrane says with characteristic humility..."There were a lot of people who had their arms kind of wide open towards me when I got here and that was one of the great benefits of not only being the son of John, but Alice as well." Coltrane is at The Stone at The New School Aug. 16th and Marcus Garvey Park Aug. 24th as part of Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.
Interview: BOBBY WATSON
By Ken Dryden; photo courtesy of the artist
Art Blakey, through his Jazz Messengers, groomed many musicians to lead their own bands. Bobby Watson saw his star rise during his tenure with Blakey and later developed into a prominent alto saxophonist and prolific composer. Since then Watson has recorded over 30 albums as a leader or co-leader, in addition to his long service as a jazz educator. Watson is at Smoke Aug. 29th-31st as part of a Charlie Parker celebration.
Artist Feature: KIRK KNUNFFKE
By John Sharpe; photo by Peter Gannushkin
Since moving to New York City in 2005, cornet player Kirk Knuffke has forged a reputation as one of the most melodic of free improvisers and daring of interpreters of the tradition. It's a combination that has proven immensely popular. Knuffke is at The Stone at The New School Aug. 15th and InterContinental New York Barclay's Penthouse Suite Aug. 20th.
Encore: GUILLERMO GREGORIO
By Steven Loewy
There are many ways to describe Argentinian-born clarinetist and saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio. You might call him a musician's musician or an astonishingly focused and disciplined artist and composer. Or, perhaps, reviewing the long list of recordings on which he appears in a life that has spanned more than three-quarters of a century, you could simply think of him as a remarkably prolific performer, whose non-assuming, yet detailed and varied performances with many highly talented players cross boundaries of genre and explore the edges of modern music. Gregorio is at Bushwick Public House Aug. 5th.
Lest We Forget: HORACE SILVER
By Scott Yanow
In the early '50s when Horace Silver began to emerge in the jazz world, nearly all young jazz pianists were under the influence of Bud Powell. Silver developed a very different style, influenced by gospel music. He utilized funkier rhythms (freeing the bass from its metronomic role), catchy melodies, bluesy chords and an inventive use of repetition. A tribute to Silver with Milton Suggs is at Dizzy's Club Aug. 26th.
Record Label Spotlight: ALEGRE RECORDS
By Jim Motavalli
Spanish Harlem-born Al Santiago borrowed $1,800 from his family in 1951 and started the Casa Latina del Bronx record store, later enlarging it in a new location in 1955 as Casalegre. That too was in the family, as his uncle had quit the band to start another record store, Casa Latina, in Spanish Harlem. The next logical step for Santiago the musical entrepreneur was founding Alegre Records, known as "the Blue Note of Latin music" in 1956. "Bronx Rising!—The Hidden Legacy of Alegre Records" with Oreste "Kidd Ore" Abrantes y Su Orquesta is at Bronx Music Heritage Center Aug. 17th.