Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith and his trio will perform July 7 at the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. KCCK's Gordon Paulsen recently interviewed Smith about the show and his career.

You can hear Hunter’s music regularly on KCCK at Or, for a consistent dose of music from artists appearing at the Jazz Festival, check out the Iowa City Jazz Fest channel at It's a 24-7 music feed of jazz fest artists.

Interviews with Smith and the other headliners air regularly on the Jazz Fest Channel. Transcripts will also be posted here.

I’m Gordon Paulson and on the phone with me is one of America’s great Jazz organ players, one of the great organ players in the world, no doubt about it, Dr. Lonnie Smith. He will be returning to the Iowa City Jazz Festival this summer, and kind of a make-up concert, a make-good concert from his performance from the 2010 Iowa City Jazz Festival unfortunately was cancelled because of weather. There was an incredible rainstorm we had that evening. This time we are going to bring Dr. Lonnie Smith back to Iowa City and we’re one-hundred percent sure he will be able to perform with his fine band this time around. Dr. Lonnie Smith, thank you once again for speaking with me and welcome back to KCCK.

LONNIE: How you doing, Gordon? Nice talking to you.

We’re sure hoping the circumstances are a bit better this time. But I would just like to speak with you to what you’ve been up to here recently because you just got back from Europe. How was that?

LONNIE: It was fantastic. It was fantastic. They loved us so I enjoyed it. Once I got there I didn’t want to leave.

They really do appreciate and love their Jazz over in Europe. We’ve been enjoying all of those fine releases as of late on the Palmetto label. You’ve got a fairly new one out on Pilgrimage. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

LONNIE: Pilgrimage is a new label that I created and it’s doing quite well. I’m pretty proud of it during this time because I am able to still play the music and record the thing that I would like to do. So it’s going great.

And that’s called “The Healers” is that right?

LONNIE: Yeah, that’s correct.
Your bandmates from that recording, are they joining you in Iowa City for your performance?

LONNIE: Correct I have Jonathan Kreisberg and on that particular night I might have a different drummer. Every now and then I use a different drummer but they all play with me off and on throughout all this. It’s going to be great.

The trio setting still the one you prefer to perform and record with for the most part?

LONNIE: Sure. I love trio. I also love, and have done things with an orchestra and octet. I love different styles of music. When I play I feel this way, and sometimes when I feel this way I take the octet out. I’m working on a new CD, it’s called “In The Beginning” and it’s an octet on that particular CD. That’s not out yet. I’m basically playing some of the old music back from the blue note days, a lot of the original tunes that I’ve written that can’t be found. Young people haven’t gotten those, so that’s why I’m doing that. It’s called “In The Beginning” so you’ll be hearing some nice music done back in the blue note days. It will be out sometime, July or August.

We are looking forward to it. Thank you for your time and we will see you again in Iowa City.

LONNIE: Thank you Gordon it has been a pleasure.

Interview with Fred Hersch

Pianist Fred Hersch and his trio will perform July 7 at the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. KCCK's Gordon Paulsen interviewed Hunter about the show and his career.

You can hear Hersch’s music regularly on KCCK at Or, for a consistent dose of music from artists appearing at the Jazz Festival, check out the Iowa City Jazz Fest channel at It's a 24-7 music feed of jazz fest artists.

Interviews with Hersch and the other headliners air regularly on the Jazz Fest Channel. Transcripts will also be posted here.

I’m Gordon Paulson and on the phone with me from his home in New York is pianist and composer Fred Hersch who will be bringing his trio to the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. He will be performing on the mainstage at 6 pm on the final day of the festival on Sunday, July 7th. Fred, welcome.

FRED: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Your most recent recording “Alive at the Vanguard” on Palmetto Records. And speaking of the village Vanguard, you achieved a milestone. You were the first artist in the 75 year history of the village Vanguard to play a weeklong engagement as a solo artist. That’s quite the heritage there because we’re talking about people like Bill Evans and so many others along the way. How did that all happen?

FRED: It happened sort of as a fluke. I was playing with my trio there, I believe in 2005, and it was -might have been opening night, Tuesday-. Drew Gress was playing bass for me at the time and he was stuck in California and he couldn’t get back. His plane was delayed so I called John Hébert, who is now my current bassist, and he was also in California. So I said to the two of them, whoever can get back first should come down to the club and play the gig. But there was nobody there, no bassist for the first set. So just as the owner, Lorraine Gordon who just turned 91 I think, just as she was walking in the club with the manager- I kind of cornered the manager, Jed Eisenman to get up and play a solo set-. So I was walking onto the stage as she was coming into the club so she couldn’t say no. And I played a solo set and their reaction was really, really positive. And the following year I had a solo album coming out called “Fred Hersch in Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis” so I said how about we coordinate the release of that solo album with a week of solo piano at the Vanguard and she said yes. So it became quite a big event, it sold out and all that kind of stuff. And I’ve done it once since, and that became my solo record “Alone at the Vanguard”. So I’ve played there two solo weeks and numerable trio weeks, quintet weeks, and of course, in the old days as a side band with Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, and Sam Jones. In fact I have my picture on the wall of the club next to Mingo’s, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, and Coal Train. Not that I believe I’m in that esteemed company but it’s an incredible honor to feel like I’m really part of the history of, probably, the greatest Jazz club in the world.

Talk a little bit about what you are planning and what you have in store for the Jazz Festival, who will you be bringing with you, I assume these are people you play with on a fairly regular basis.

FRED: Yeah, I’m bringing the A-Team, my current trio which is John Héber on bass and Eric Mcpherson on drums. We have two CD’s out, one is the two CD set “Live at the Vanguard” and previous to that we did a solo, then we did a studio album called “Whirl”. I’ve been playing with these guys consistently for the last four or five years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I think it’s a very special trio. Typically we play some original music, of course, some reworkings of standards and things from the jazz repertoire; Monk, Ornette Coleman, and Wayne Shorter, people like that. It’s kind of a drawing from those three bodies of material; original, standards, and jazz compositions by others. We’ve played many festivals and numerous club engagements. I think it’s a very dynamic group and pretty unique. Sometimes when I get on the road I can’t always get both of them lined up so I still play with Drew Gress, who I’ve played with for many years as well as various other people who I have that can sub if I need to. But I always try to bring these guys wherever I go and hope that our schedules line up. I was attracted to both John and Eric by the way they approach their instrument in terms of sound. Also both of them are extremely experienced in playing all kinds of jazz, things that are tune based and tunes that are not tune based. Eric really approaches the drumset with a percussionist perspective and uses very interesting implements sometimes. John has a great ear for harmony but also has a looseness that is very refreshing. They both like the play a whole range of material that we’ve created as a band. I think, for me, I don’t really have to say much. I just pick the set everybody knows what to do. There’s a lot of surprise and a lot of really great feeling between the three of us that, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it somehow works. I’m far from a dictator, these guys make their own contributions. A lot of these pieces that we’ve played now for some time has taken on their own life. It’s always a good time on stage, it’s a great vibe, and I think they’re really supportive but also they really add to the mix in a lot of unexpected ways which is exactly what you want when you’re playing with people for a long period of time.

Fred Hersch will bring his A-Teram, the same trio that appears on his most recent recording “Live at the Vanguard” on Palmetto Records on Sunday, the final day of the 3 day Iowa City Jazz Festival, Sunday, July 7th at 6 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City.

FRED: Yeah, fantastic. I’m looking forward to that myself.

Interview with Sachal Vasandani

Sachal Vasandani will perform with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra on July 5, the first day of the 2013 Iowa City Jazz Festival. KCCK's Gordon Paulsen interviewed him about the show and his career.

You can hear Sachal's music regularly on KCCK at Or, for a consistent dose of music from artists appearing at the Jazz Festival, check out the Iowa City Jazz Fest channel at It's a 24-7 music feed of jazz fest artists. Interviews with Sachal and the other headliners air regularly on the Jazz Fest Channel, and transcripts will also be posted here.

I’m Gordon Paulson and on the phone with me is vocalist, song writer, composer, sometime arranger: Sachal Vasandani, who is performing on the opening night of the Iowa City Jazz Festival, on Friday, July 5th performing with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra at 8 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City. Let’s talk, about the way that you prepare for something like that as opposed to some of your studio and smaller venue performances. Do you do the big band thing very often?

SACHAL: Yeah, good question. Well, studio is always a different piece, but in terms of live experience, standing in front of a big band is a great thrill. I do do it, but I don’t do it as often as I would like to because I would like to be doing it all the time. It’s real fun. The challenges are many, but the joy is a lot. I mean, to be able to stand in front of a group and feel that sound propel you, it always makes me think of about what’s real important in the song what’s real important in my delivery. People who know my music and the way I perform with small groups know I’m into a philosophy of give-and-take and that allows for a lot of stretching. In a big band there’s no ton of pay, just eighteen people getting a great sound in an efficient way. As a singer I take part in that and I try to get inside that sound and make my voice soar on top of it. It’s a real cathartic type when you get it right.

How does the preparation for that work ahead of time? Because, you’re flying in probably the day of or the day before and there isn’t a lot of rehearsal time involved. So I assume that someone sent you the charts and are you providing any of your own arrangements?

SACHAL: Yeah, it’s funny, you’re catching us in the middle of the delivery right now. There’s going to be some more with the small group and that will be a nice break with the stuff from the big band. But the big band is doing, just what I said, finding the right songs or the best vehicle for me to really soar on. I think that with this particular big band, at their caliber, we can enjoy some of the repertoire that we’re familiar with and maybe even open it up in a really compelling way. I think we’re going to hear some good things. We’re still deciding on the final set list but in terms of the preparation, it’s getting inside that chart, feeling really comfortable with what my role is and then really just be as comfortable as possible because when you get on that stage you just want to be able to enjoy the ride. It is such as thrill to stand up with a big band behind you let them carry you to new heights. The more open I can be to that experience, the better.

That’s a very magical, musical experience.

SACHAL: You know it.

Briefly, about your discography, because we certainly have enjoyed the recordings that we have. Beginning with your debut with Mac Avenue from 2007, “Eyes Wide Open”. That must have been a real treat to have John Clayton, who is certainly one of the best, if not the best arranger out there right now.

SACHAL: Yeah, he is in my opinion. He hears music in a very advanced way. He can take really complex ideas and make them simple and he can take real simple ideas and make them meatier, give them some substance for a whole eighteen piece group to play and just add that richness. I think that is what makes him the best arranger, as a producer he is right up there, too. I think in addition to all that musicanship making a record sometimes is a sticky situation. Especially as a singer who maybe, wrote an old song, brought in his own arrangements, it’s his first debut record for a big bad label, and I’m a pretty down to earth guy but we have moments of confidence issues, or want to make sure that its right, and again, when you have someone on your side, who’s representing you on the other side of that booth, you want them to be a teammate, a real, true teammate in the most nurturing and collaborative way possible. John is like that, he’s a guy that I can trust as a mentor but he really puts on that teammate hat and treats me accordingly. That is something that is a special skill and not everybody has.

Wow, sounds like a real advocate for you, too.

SACHAL: Yeah, and I for him just because of that quality, first and foremost.

Then on to “We Move”, also from Mac Avenue, in 2009. And more recently “Hi-Fly” takes its title track from the great Randy Weston composition. Randy performed at the Iowa City Jazz Festival just a couple years back in 2011. That’s an interesting mix of selections on “Hi-Fly”, what was that selection process, was that all your own? How did that work?

SACHAL: Well, the Randy Weston thing, he’s a real terrific artist, Hi-Fly is a special song because of a lyric John wrote, I really wanted to include it because John Hendrix was going to be a participant on the record and so John and I sang that tune along with one more and I said, this is the spirit of the track, the spirit of performance as well as the likeness. It kind of lends itself to the title of the record.

I assume, that for your performance at the Iowa City Jazz Festival it will be a mixture of maybe tried and true standards that people may recognize and some newer material that, no doubt, you have composed. Is that right?

SACHAL: Yeah, it’s going to be a balance. Whittling down the repertoire to that which lends itself best to the big band. Some standards are definitely going to be included because that’s part of the repertoire for the big band, part of what makes big band seem so fun. But also some newer things that are representative of my records and honestly, if I can swing it, maybe something brand new. We shall see.

Okay. I think you anticipated my last question, if we would see something brand new at the festival. We’ll keep that open and maybe we’ll have a premiere here in Iowa City.

SACHAL: I hope so. We will see if we can get it together.

Sachal will be the headliner on the first day of the festival, Friday, July 5th, performing at 8 pm on the mainstage in downtown Iowa City. This will be your Iowa City Jazz Festival debut so we are certainly marking that occasion. That’s a bit of a milestone I suppose in your own career book, something to hang on to as well.

SACHAL: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a really warm and awesome experience.

It will be. Thank you so much for your time and we look forward to having you at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, again on Friday, July 5th, at 8 pm mainstage. And Sachal Vasandani with the Iowa Jazz Orchestra. Come on down to Iowa City and enjoy some music, and we hope you’ll have a lot of KCCK fans there enjoying your performance that night.

SACHAL: That would be great, thank you so much.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eliane Honors Chet; Blanchard's Magnetic - Bob Stewart

There's no question about it: pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias is amazingly versatile. Her new CD -- "I Thought About You: a Tribute to Chet Baker" -- offers her personalized spin on the work of a key American jazz artist while spotlighting her connection to the singer-instrumentalist tradition. Long known for her native feel of Brazilian music, the new disc demonstrates Eliane's expertise in yet another realm: an interpreter of American standards. By and large, she has turned to pieces from the Great American Songbook that have been associated with the trumpeter. "When selecting the repertoire, I chose songs that portrayed a wide spectrum of Chet's work," she says, "not only ballads for which he was best known, but also the mid-tempo and up-tempo pieces he performed with such fluidity and inventiveness throughout his career."
"Magnetic" is trumpeter Terence Blanchard's first release in four years and marks his return to Blue Note Records after six years away. The vast array of approaches undertaken by his ensemble throughout the disc is striking, from blistering bop to fragile ballads to psychedelic electronic haze. It marks yet another genre-defying chapter in this innovative musician and film composer's life-only to be followed in mid-June by the world premiere of "Champion: An Opera in Jazz," based on the story of the boxing champion Emile Griffith for which Blanchard combines forces with Opera Theater of St. Louis and Jazz St. Louis.