On February 7th, 1926, Carter G. Woodson (American author, historian, scholar and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) inaugurated Negro History Week, a week-long study and celebration of African American history. That week would turn into a month in some parts of the U.S. as early as the ‘40s, but it wasn’t until decades later in 1976 when Black History Month became officially recognized. Though February is the shortest month of the year, Black contributions to America cannot be underestimated or undervalued. Along with other overlooked accomplishments by the Black community, jazz —what many rightfully consider “America’s Classical Music”— should be celebrated all year, as we have made a point of doing in this gazette since its inception almost 21 years ago.
In this month’s issue we tip our hats and pay respect to many past and present Black contributors who have shaped and help continue to shape this music, from our features to the special front-loaded Black History Month-related album review section (pgs. 12-17). The jazz lineage of vocalist Catherine Russell (Cover) is undeniable: her parents Luis Russell and Carline Ray are each legendary figures. Russell returns to Birdland for what has become a Valentine’s week tradition. Veteran tenor saxophonist Bill Saxton (Interview) honors his forebears every weekend at his Harlem brownstone venue Bill’s Place, the very same location where Willie “The Lion” Smith and a young Billie Holiday performed; this month he also ventures to another borough, Brooklyn’s Sistas’ Place, where he pays tribute to former mentor, the late Pharoah Sanders. Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins (Artist Feature) has taken the jazz world by storm in a matter of a few years with an acclaimed debut and follow-up (both on Blue Note Records) and curates and plays a week at The Stone at New School featuring special guests. Some other features to pique your interest: the late pianist Cedar Walton (Lest We Forget), an Art Blakey-alumnus and NEA Jazz Master, will be fêted at Tribeca Performing Arts Center; and in anticipation of becoming an octogenarian, we caught up with former Horace Silver drummer Roger Humphries (Encore).
On the Cover: CATHERINE RUSSELL
By Jim Motavalli; photos by Sandrine Lee
Is there a guarantee that a daughter of jazz royalty would go into the music business? Of course not… But for vocalist Catherine Russell, who specializes in vintage jazz and blues, the music was on both sides of the family. Dad was Luis Russell, the Panamanian bandleader who also worked as music director for Louis Armstrong. Mom was Carline Ray, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who has credits with Mary Lou Williams and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Russell is at Birdland Valentine’s week, Feb. 14th-18th.
Interview: BILL SAXTON
By Mike Cobb; photo by Alan Nahigian
Harlem-born Bill Saxton’s jazz career spans the late-’60s to present day and beyond. He has appeared and/or recorded with Roy Haynes, Jackie McLean, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, Frank Foster’s Loud Minority, Carmen McRae, Mongo Santamaria, Roy Ayers, Barry Harris, Tito Puente, Charles Tolliver, Bobby Watson, Hilton Ruiz, John Hicks and many others. He opened Bill’s Place in Harlem over 15 years ago on 133rd Street, which in its original location was actually a speakeasy, home to Willie “The Lion” Smith and other luminaries, including an as-yet undiscovered Billie Holiday. Saxton continues its tradition at the same address, hosting and playing at the weekend jazz salons at Bill’s Place, including Fridays and Saturdays next month; he is also at Sistas’ Place Feb. 4th.
Artist Feature: IMMANUEL WILKINS
By Matty Bannond; photo Rog Walker
Very few parents willingly press a violin into the sticky hands of their three-year-old child. But just over two decades ago, one Philadelphia family took this bold and potentially excruciating step. Today, that bow-wielding toddler is the award-winning alto saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins. And the 25-year-old is now gathering a powerful reputation as one of the most insightful and emotionally communicative improvisers on the modern scene. Wilkins is at The Stone at New School Feb. 8th-11th with special guests.
Encore: ROGER HUMPHRIES
By George Grella
Sometime in 1947, three-year-old Pittsburgh-born Roger Humphries sat himself down at a drum set and started making music. A year later he sat in with theTab Smith Big Band. And thus, at that tender age, Humphries began the journey that would lead, over seven decades, to his place now as a certified, beloved jazz legend. His awards, accolades, history and discography leave no doubt about that status. In less than a year, he hits the milestone age of 80.
Lest We Forget: CEDAR WALTON
By Sylvia Levine; photo by Alan Nahigian
By 1958, Walton was a sought-after pianist on the scene; he made his recording debut that year with trumpeter Kenny Dorham…. and worked with a host of major jazz artists from that time forward, including stints with J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a career-defining period (1961-’64). A Cedar Walton tribute featuring Helen Sung takes place at Tribeca Performing Arts Center Feb. 19th.
Album, In Print, On Screen Reviews, etc.:
Dexter Gordon - Soul Sister
Kahil El'Zabar - A Time For Healing
Tyshawn Sorey +1 (with Greg Osby) - The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism
Buddy Tate & White Label -Tate's Delight (Groovin; at the JASS Festival)
Pharoah Sanders - Live…
Nduduzo Makhathini -In the Spirit of Ntu
Tarbaby (feat. Oliver Lake) - Dance of the Evil Toys
Horace Tapscott Quintet - The Quintet
Horace Tapscott Quintet - Legacies For Our Grandchildren
Lauren Henderson - La Bruja
Rodney Whitaker - Oasis, The Music of Gregg Hill
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - In Concert
Jesse Davis - Live at Smalls Jazz Club
(Cellar Music Group/smallsLIVE)
The Cricket: Black Music in Evolution (1968-69) by A.B. Spellman, Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka
Ain't But A Few Of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story by Willard Jenkins
(Duke University Press)
Jacob Garchik - Assembly
Art Hirahara - Verdant Alley
Carl Stone - We Jazz Reworks, Vol.2
Iiro Rantala - Potsdam
Dave Douglas Quintet - Songs of Ascent: Book 1 - Degrees
Nicki Adams/Michael Eaton - Paraphrase
Michael Blake - Combobulate
Vicki Burns - Lotus Blossom Days
Noah Garabedian - Consider The Stars Beneath Us
(Outside In Music)
Simona Premazzi - Wave In Gravity (Solo Piano)
Frank Carlberg Trio - Reflections 1952
George Dumitriu - Monk on Viola
Maggie Nicols - Are You Ready?
Maggie Nicols/Mark Wastell - And John
Rachel Therrien - Mi Hogar
(Outside In Music)
Noah Preminger - Sky Continuous
(Criss Cross Jazz)
Jeong Lim Yang - Zodiac Suite: Reassured
(Fresh Sound New Talent)
Lajos Dudas - Greetings from…
John Zorn - Perchance to Dream
Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio - Boiling Point
Gordon Grdina/Mark Helias/Matthew Shipp - Pathways
John Patitucci Trio - Live in Italy
Antonio Adolfo - Octet and Originals
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Berlin Baritone
Sonic Elements: Matrices, Cosmograms & Ostinatos of Circularity by Adam Rudolph
Ben Wolfe - Unjust
Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva - Grow
Kaja Draksler - In Otherness Oneself
Simon Moullier - Isla
Mike LeDonne, Eric Alexander, Jeremy Pelt, Vincent Herring, Kenny Washington, Peter Washington - The Heavy Hitters
Matt Wilson - Leap Day Trio
(Giant Step Arts)
Disorder at the Border Plus Tobias Delius - Kataklisma
Pogum pogumnih - Bravery of the brave
...and Plenty More!
Look for other sections like NY@Night, Label Spotlight, VOXNews, In Memoriam, Recommended New Releases and our invaluable Event Calendar.
Thanks so much for reading The New York City Jazz Record, the city's only homegrown gazette devoted to the music.