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Friday, May 18, 2007

Jazz month

The merry - yet melancholy - month of May
by Michael 'Jazzofonik' Edwards

The above is extrapolated from a book (and, if memory serves, a film) by James Jones (not the Jim Jones of Guyana infamy) recounting the student riots in Paris in the late '60s, titled The Merry Month of May.

Indeed, over the years, the fifth month has seen its share of tumult and 'bittersweetness', especially for jazz enthusiasts, indeed for music lovers in general. Bob Marley left us on May 11, 1981, and in 2004, we bade final farewell to drumming great Elvin Jones (May 18) and our own Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd (May 5) within weeks of each other.

From left: Kathy Brown, Dennis Rushton and Sonny Bradshaw in a light moment from the launch of the 17th Jamaica International Jazz festival, at the Acropolis gaming lounge.
It's also the month in which trombonist/composer Don Drummond breathed his last (May 6). Elsewhere in this section, we learn from cultural historian and contributor Herbie Miller that Drummond recorded over 300 of his own compositions, while appearances on sessions backing others exceeds this count. Considering his relatively short recording career, one lasting just about five years during which it was interrupted by frequent bouts of mental illness (he died in the Bellevue Hospital under circumstances that remain a mystery), this is a remarkable achievement.

We also remember the passing one year ago of the great jazz pianist, John Hicks. And though he passed on April 20 this year, the loss of pianist Andrew Hill is still reverberating in the minds and hearts of those, like this writer, who had come to appreciate his highly idiosyncratic yet richly shaded style of playing.

But May is also a merry month, not least because it prepares us for June and the rich musical harvest that is Jazz Month. First up (not chronologically), the 17th Jamaica Ocho Rios International Jazz festival, which was launched this past Thursday at the Acropolis.

The line-up is bookended by two giants of modern saxophone: Tenor man (and a real gentle man) Houston Person headlines the closing concert on Father's Day at Shaw Park Beach Hotel, while on the opening Sunday at Morgan's Harbour, altoist Frank Morgan (fittingly) closes the show. Morgan, who came up in the mid-50s in the wake of Charlie Parker's death, sadly imitated his predecessor's penchant for heroin and thus spent many years either in prison or in recovery programmes. He has managed to overcome that addiction at long last and his last three CDs, Raising The Standard, Reflections and this year's Night In The Life have been well received.

Customarily, there's also the free concert in Kingston (venue as yet unnamed but last year's was in Emancipation Park) the South Coast Jazz festival, in Treasure Beach, as well as the renewal of the Jazz & Coffee in the Mountains showcase at Mavis Bank (June 9), and a number of satellite events at various venues.

Not a part of the Ocho Rios Jazz programme but definitely worth catching are the Griot Music/Hope United Church fund-raiser Jazz For Hope (June 2) and the Dennis Rushton/Swallowfield Chapel presentation Christ In Art and Jazz (June 8) at the Swallowfield worship centre. The latter show especially is not to be missed.

Closing out the Jazz Month on June 24 will be Jazz in the Gardens, which hardly needs any explanation. Watch this space for line-up details.

Riffin' Rundown (Week of May 14)
MON: The Riffin' week starts with strings. Guitarists, Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, pianist Brad Mehldau, make beautiful music that contrasts with the Latin fire of Michael Simon and Paquito D Riviera.

TUES: Ace singer, Kurt Elling takes us through some of his "Nightmoves", his latest album of great songs which demonstrate why he's one of the best male vocalists today.
WED: Female singers, Ann Hampton Callaway and Veronica Nunn, take on classics from the American songbook.

THURS: Jobim Jazz. Brazilian musicians led by Mario Adnet present a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim. Some of the legendary composer's songs are given a Brazilian jazz treatment.

FRID: Riffin' with Andy Palacio and the Garrifuna Collective, as well as Dub Syndicate.

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