After celebrating the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald this year, 2019 promises a raft of similar festivities around the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nat King Cole. Jazz at Lincoln Center and Smoke are getting the party started early with events in tribute to the pianist-vocalist and we are pleased to take that opportunity not only to put Cole on the cover but also dedicate this issue to vocal jazz. There are features on Shelley Hirsch (Interview, performing at Areté Gallery and Issue Project Room), Champian Fulton (Artist Feature, appearing at Birdland Theater, Blue Note and Mezzrow), Lauren Newton (Encore) and Leon Thomas (Lest We Forget), plus a front-loaded CD Review section (pgs. 14-19). And since it is December, we present our jazzy gift guide, full of books, DVDs, boxed sets, novelty items and holiday CDs.
There is another, more personal milestone we are celebrating with this issue. We close 2018 with our 200th issue. Since 2002 we have presented nearly 1,000 profiles, over 250 festival reports and 1,500 concert reviews and approaching 11,000 album reviews. Whether you have been with us since the beginning or just picking us up for the first time, we greatly appreciate the support of you, our dear reader, and wish you and yours a happy holiday season.
On the Cover: NAT KING COLE
By Ori Dagan; photos by William P. Gottlieb.Collection of Library of Congress
When on my last recording I decided to pay tribute to Nat King Cole, I was asked "Why Nat?", prompting me to reflect on all my sentimental reasons. Too young. His output unforgettable but really bordering on unbelievable. Genius jazz pianist turned chart-topping pop star? Like his sound, this legacy was all his own and he made it all look and sound easy. In less than a quarter of a century, Cole recorded over 100 songs that became hits on the pop charts, on paper a nearly impossible feat for an African-American in the '40s-50s. Tributes to Cole are at Smoke Dec. 7th-9th with Allan Harris and The Appel Room Dec. 14th-15th with Sachal Vasandani.
Interview: SHELLEY HIRSCH
By John Pietaro; photo by William Wolfgang Daniel
Shelley Hirsch is a Downtown original. The vocalist was one of the framers, conjuring and creating with the renegades of New York's '70s-90s arts underground. Though still centered in NYC, her career has consistently extended well beyond Houston Street through collaborations with John Zorn, Butch Morris, Elliott Sharp, Fred Frith, David Moss, Ikue Mori, Jin Hi Kim, Phill Niblock, David Weinstein and an expansive array of others. Hirsch is at Areté Gallery Dec. 11th in duo with Anthony Coleman and Issue Project Room Dec. 15th in duo with Marcia Bassett.
Artist Feature: CHAMPIAN FULTON
By Marilyn Lester; photo courtesy of the artist
Pianist/vocalist Champian Fulton has, in her own words, reached a milestone in her career. She's just released a new album, The Stylings of Champian, her 10th in a dozen years. That kind of output would be remarkable for any artist, but for this 33-year-old it's tremendous; consider that she embarked on this path at 21, playing with the same band since age 19. Fulton is at Blue Note Dec. 9th, Birdland Theater Dec. 23rd and Mezzrow Dec. 30th. See Calendar.
Encore: LAUREN NEWTON
By George Grella
Singer Lauren Newton has been living and making music in Europe for so long she speaks English with a pronounced German accent. Born and raised in Oregon, she studied as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon in the mid '70s, where a "program offered students [a chance] to go to Europe and live with local families and soak up local culture," she explained on a recent phone call. "The year I went I was fortunate to go to Stuttgart." There, in 1977, she earned a degree in Vocal Performance from the Stuttgart School of Music. Then she "started performing jazz, new music, liturgical music" as part of church services, "and local 'rock-jazz' as they called it. I became known as the crazy singer who doesn't know any words."
Lest We Forget: LEON THOMAS
By Mark Keresman
Every jazz era has its singers, closely identified with musical styles and trends, representing and sometimes transcending the times. During the postbop, avant garde and fusion periods (circa 1966-80) were vocalists who utilized their voices in the manner of instrumentalists—these include Andy Bey, Sheila Jordan, Flora Purim and Leon Thomas. The latter (1937-1999) could vocalize in a massive, masculine tone like blues shouter Big Joe Turner; make with yodels, glottal-stops and glissandos; intone syllables, vowels and primal sounds; and be mellow and suave, meditative and comforting. Whichever approach, Thomas was always distinctive and memorable.
Record Label Spotlight: PM RECORDS
By Jim Motavalli
The genesis of bassist Gene Perla's PM record label, which has released many groundbreaking postbop and fusion records (with a special concentration on the music of drummer Elvin Jones and Stone Alliance) goes back to the early '70s. Artists performing this month include Gene Perla at Bard Graduate Center Gallery Dec. 5th and Dave Liebman at Smalls Dec. 6th with Michael Feinberg.
Special Feature: HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
Jazz suggestions for boxed sets, books, DVDs, CDs and miscellaneous gifts.
(this month's performance venues in parentheses):
Karrin Allyson -- Some of that Sunshine Kasrecords (54 Below)
Helen Sung -- Sung with Words (A Collaboration with Dana Gioia) Stricker Street (Jazz Standard)
Cécile McLorin Salvant -- The Window Mack Avenue (Jazz Standard)
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams -- Vanished Gardens Blue Note (Rose Theater)