Wednesday, January 31, 2007

DiMartino-Osland Jazz Orchestra (DOJO) Swings Comedy Off Broadway

I enjoy going to Comedy Off Broadway on the last Monday evening of each month. That is when DOJO, Lexington's best big band, takes the stage and rattles the walls with their powerful sound and swinging charts. Jazz fans Kim Harrod and Tim "Hoochie Coochie Man" Preston joined me at DOJO's most recent performance.

Vince DiMartino

The band includes some of some of the area's finest musicians. I particularily enjoy listening to the tenor sax solos of Gordon Towell and Dave Anderson. Trumpeter Rick Cook also shines as an outstanding soloist. In addition, it is fun to hear the band play keyboardist Raleigh Dailey's great arrangements. The statospheric high notes and dazzling technique displayed by trumpet ace Vince DiMartino are always included in the highlights of the evening.

The audience was made up of members of the UK Jazz Ensemble, Morehead State Jazz Ensemble, and local jazz fans. It was good to see Andrew McGrannahan, Keith Rector, and Byron Romanowitz in the crowd.

As I walked to my car after the concert, a gentleman and his wife came up to thank me and shake my hand for recommending the concert to them. I didn't recognize them and was not sure who they were at first. Later I realized that I had met them at one of my breaks at Giuseppe's and had told them of the fabulous DOJO nights at Comedy Off Broadway. I hope others will spread the word of the great music being played in Lexington on the last Monday of each month.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Japan Jazz Fans Bid Farewell To Historic Cafe

I found the following news story written by Aiko Wakao to be sad:

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - 01/28/07 - Once a haven for Japan's earliest jazz fans, cafe Chigusa is packing up its thousands of vinyl records.

"These days, kids don't listen to jazz, and they walk down the street with iPods, which makes the whole idea of 'place' irrelevant," says Michael Molasky, author of "The Jazz Culture of Postwar Japan."

Seventy-three years after first opening its doors, Chigusa, among the oldest and the most cherished of Japan's jazz coffee shops, has become a victim of the electronic revolution.

For its patrons, mostly male and alone, the cafe was a place of learning and of comfort. The unspoken rules, which they followed faithfully, included listening to the music in silence and waiting in turn to make a request, jotting it down on a scrap of paper. And no alcohol or snapping fingers.

"Filled with sound, smoke, and hundreds of records, jazz coffee houses used to be a space for young people who came looking for a proper understanding of the music," says Molasky, professor of Asian languages and literature at the University of Minnesota.

Chigusa enjoyed a glorious epoch in the 1960s and early 70s, when students and musicians gathered to listen to imported albums that were otherwise beyond their means.

"Now we only have about 10 regulars, who've been coming for years," says Masatomi Kaneshige, a 65-year-old retiree who often helps out at the cafe.

"Young people hardly come here. This place must look so strange and dark to them, with old men sitting quietly, sipping coffee and listening to vibrant jazz."


But on its last Saturday in business, the small cafe was full from before its official opening at noon. Around the six tiny tables sat 10 customers, half familiar faces and the rest newcomers -- both young and old -- who came for their first and last Chigusa experience after hearing about its closure.

Kaneshige gazed at the 40 record covers pasted on Chigusa's walls and pointed at the signed copy of Bill Evans Trio's best-selling "Waltz for Debby," a favorite, he recalls, of the cafe's founder, Mamoru Yoshida, who passed away 13 years ago.

Chigusa, soon to be replaced by a new building complex, was opened in 1937 by 20-year-old Yoshida, who fell in love with jazz at public dance halls and began collecting imported records.

World War Two brought great troubles for Yoshida, who had to hide his 6,000 records in his basement at a time when many jazz coffee houses were raided and most dance halls closed.

A U.S. air raid in 1945 destroyed the cafe along with all the vinyl albums. Yoshida reopened his cafe soon after the war, creating a refuge for occupying American soldiers and musicians who played at nearby U.S. bases.

They also brought Yoshida many of the latest 12-inch records, valuable additions to his new collection.

Chigusa, located in an old nightclub district in the port city of Yokohama, also became a classroom for young Japanese talent, such as pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and trumpeter Terumasa Hino -- now world-class artists - where they listened to rare John Coltrane LPs and learned to write scores.

"There was a huge jazz boom triggered by the arrival of French new wave movies and Hollywood films that used modern jazz," Molasky said.

"Suddenly, jazz coffee shops sprung up everywhere."

In the 1970s, even popular writer Haruki Murakami, then a student, set up his own jazz cafe, where he began work on his first novel. His later works are peppered with jazz references.


But then, rock and punk came along, as did CDs and better personal audio systems. The fever for jazz began to fade. After founder Yoshino passed away, his younger sister Takako Yoshida took over Chigusa. Lately, though, Takako, now 77, found it difficult to run the place on her own.

For long-time regulars like Masayuki Isozaki, everything from the walls yellowed by cigarette smoke to the simple menu of 500 yen ($4) coffee, tea and soda were the reasons that drew him to Chigusa almost every week since the age of 20.

"Last week at work, the thought of saying goodbye to all this brought tears to my eyes," said Isozaki, 54.

But jazz coffee houses are not only about what went before.

"Yes, times are changing and many old cafes are closing," said 36-year old Yusuke Miyamoto, who grew up in the neighbourhood. "But there are some new ones opening up and many young people like jazz too, including me, who picked up the alto saxophone after I started going to these coffee shops."

Yukio Saito, 31, started an online community for jazz coffee shop owners and customers in 1997. There are now around 100 listed on the Web site, which posts events and reviews.

"I am sure there are people out there who would love to take on a place like this, or at least, carry on the tradition," said 29-year old Megumi Saito who stepped into the cafe for the first time. "It has such a wonderful atmosphere."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Too Cold To Play Outside

It was cold outside yesterday...VERY cold. The temperature was 19 degrees and a strong, chilling wind added to the frigid conditions. I enjoyed being inside next to the fireplace in the den and did not really want to go outside. As Matthew and I watched the UK basketball game on tv in wonderful high definition, he held his football under his arm and continuously reminded me that he wanted is to go outside at halftime to throw it around. He said he wanted to practice so that he could become a pro player someday. A minute before halftime was to arrive, I was able to redirect his attention by changing the channel to the broadcast of our favorite professional team, the Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash, our favorite player, was on fire and we got caught up in that game. About fifteen minutes later I switched back to the UK game channel, and Matthew realized that the halftime break was over. I had outsmarted him! Disgusted that the halftime break was over, he insisted that we were now going to go outside to throw football AFTER the game.

The UK game ended and Matthew was relentless in his begging to go outside. I looked at the thermometer and saw that the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees. Through the window I could see the snow flurries blowing in the strong wind. Matthew proclaimed that it would be great to go outside...that it would be like "playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay." I finally agreed to go out "for a short time only."

We went outside and Matthew ran a deep out pattern and caught a perfect laser-rocket pass from me. He then ran a button hook, followed by slant. It took about a minute to complete these three passes. Matthew then said that it was time to go back inside, that it was too cold to play outside and that he was going to play his pro ball for the Miami Dolphins.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Byron Romanowitz Book "Jazz In Lexington: A Personal View"

For fun and spending money during college, I played tenor sax for "The Bourbonaires", a five piece unit led by my father and for "The Men of Note", a swinging 16 piece big band. I met Phil Collier, the lead alto player for The Men of Note, while in the UK Jazz Ensemble in 1976. Phil was the sax section leader for both the Men of Note and for Vince DiMartino's UKJE. He brought me into the Men of Note as a regular member during my freshman year. A year or two later saxophonist/architect Byron Romanowitz joined us as a member of the group by replacing Dr. Jack Resinger.

Byron has written a memoir focusing on his perspective of the history of jazz in Lexington. He primarily writes about musicians and bands with whom he was associated. The book also includes many of his favorite photos. He writes about several of the prestigious Men of Note gigs we played. One of my personal favorites was the inauguration party for Governor Martha Layne Collins. He mentioned Dad in the book as one of the players in the Pete Conley Dixieland Band and Colonels Choice Dixieland Band. He writes that I am a successful single performer. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is where he describes in detail some of Lexington's past jazz venues. I have always been interested when Dad and other senior musicians of our community tell stories about the great old places that had good live music.

Other than internet blog entries, Byron's book is one of the few written personal accounts of jazz in Lexington. I think most local musicians, Byron's friends, and local jazz fans would find this book to be an interesting read and then enjoy the reminiscing it would conjure up. "Jazz In Lexington: A Personal View" is available now for $29.95 from the publisher, Lynn Imaging, 328 East Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40507.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Today is our wedding anniversary. Sharon and I have been married 22 years. Several years ago I had pianist Courtney Allen come to our house to play and sing for us to celebrate the event. That was a very special anniversary. I got up early this morning and went to the store to get her a big cup of her favorite coffee. She was surprised and thrilled. This, too, is a very special anniversary.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chalkboard at Giuseppe's

Tonight was a cool gig at Giuseppe's. At my first break, cook Kelly Goetz came up to me and suggested that I come out to the foyer to see the chalkboard display. In addition to being a great cook, Kelly is also a fine artist. She frequently does chalkboard sketches listing the daily specials and Giuseppe's news.

Click To Enlarge

I was surprised and felt honored by her work this evening. She is a talented lady. I sure wish I had the ability to draw. Unfortunately, I can barely draw stick people. I remember trying to draw a horse years ago at my daughter Michelle's request. When I had finished she said "I wanted a horse, not a cat!"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sax Great Michael Brecker Dead At 57

Every good saxophonist has listened to Michael Brecker. He was a fabulous player that influenced many musicians. Brecker's sax can be heard on numerous recordings, both under his name and as a sideman. I particularily liked his work with Steps Ahead, Michael Franks, Steely Dan, and The Brecker Brothers.

I found the following Brecker obituary written by Don Heckman of the LA Times to contain excellent information:

Michael Brecker, the jazz saxophonist who won 11 Grammy Awards and was considered by many the most influential tenor player of his generation, died Saturday at a hospital in New York City. He was 57.

The cause of death, according to his manager, Darryl Pitt, was leukemia, the result of Brecker's struggle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer in which the bone marrow produces abnormal as well as normal blood cells.

Influenced by John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, Brecker transformed what he had learned from the two jazz icons, added his fascination with the timbres of rock music (and rock guitar), and enhanced it with that most intimate of jazz elements, a unique, immediately recognizable sound. The combination was pure magic for young players eager to approach jazz from a perspective reflecting their time and their generation.

Over the last two decades, Brecker's playing has had a powerful impact on such established artists as Chris Potter and Bob Mintzer, as well as a growing wave of emerging players. Like many jazz artists, Brecker was an active studio musician. But the scale of his appearances as a sideman was remarkable — more than 900 recordings with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, James Brown and Simon & Garfunkel to Frank Zappa, Laura Nyro and Funkadelic.

His warm-toned, lyrical solo on James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" in 1972 was a breakthrough performance, introducing him to legions of fans unfamiliar with his early work with his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker, in the jazz-rock fusion band, Dream. (Brecker subsequently rerecorded "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" — again featuring Taylor's vocal in a drastically re-imagined version of the tune — on his double Grammy Award-winning 2001 CD "The Ballad Book.")

A-list studio gigs may have paid the rent, but Brecker was always solidly in touch with jazz. In the early '70s, he played hard bop with pianist Horace Silver and fusion with drummer Billy Cobham. The Brecker Brothers Band, formed with his brother in 1975, was a fusion pathfinder, searching out — and frequently finding — common ground among Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk and Sly Stone.

Remarkably, however, it wasn't until 1987 that Brecker — at the age of 38 — finally released his first album under his own name. The appropriately titled "Michael Brecker" won jazz album of the year awards in Down Beat and Jazziz magazines.

It was the first of a string of impressive CDs that ranged from the straight-ahead swing of his first two releases — "Michael Brecker" and "Don't Try This at Home" — with their all-star lineups (guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Herbie Hancock to name a few) — to the gutsy, in-the-pocket drive of "Two Blocks From the Edge" and the intimacy of "The Ballad Book."

On "Wide Angles," released in 2003, his inventive compositional imagination — generally in the background on his small ensemble outings — is given an opportunity to flourish via the instrumentation of his "Quindectet," a 15-piece ensemble.

The CD — which was awarded Grammys for best large jazz ensemble and best instrumental arrangement — is a poignant reminder of an aspect of Brecker's talent that will now remain unfulfilled.

Brecker's appearances in the Southland over the last few years affirmed the continuing growth and diversity of his playing that took place up until his illness intermittently began to shut down his music.

Performing at UCLA's Royce Hall in 2003, he displayed his characteristic blend of stunning virtuosity with a subtle use of time and space. Two years later, he appeared with Hancock and drummer Roy Hargrove at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in a program combining jazz and electronic sounds. His improvisations during the performance — on tenor saxophone as well as the electronic wind instrument — possessed that rarest of qualities: the capacity to engage the listener in every note he played.

Brecker was born March 29, 1949, in Philadelphia, and reared in a jazz-friendly environment with a father who was a piano-playing lawyer.

Like many saxophonists, Brecker started on clarinet at an early age, switched to alto saxophone as a teenager, finally choosing tenor in high school. Following in Randy's footsteps, he attended Indiana University — known since the early '60s for its strong jazz studies program. Brecker tried music, then pre-med, before taking the more typical musicians' route and heading for New York City.

By the time he turned 20, he was playing in the front line of Dream with his brother and picking up his first sideman jobs.

When Brecker's disease was diagnosed in 2005, a campaign immediately began to find a donor with a sufficient genetic match to provide a blood stem cell and bone marrow transplant. Despite a search that rallied much of the jazz community, none was found. An experimental partial stem cell transplant earlier this year from his daughter, Jessica, was unsuccessful.

Over the last year, Brecker continued to muster the strength for occasional performances. In June, he startled a delighted audience at Carnegie Hall by walking on stage to play an impressive, extended solo with Hancock on the pianist's "One Finger Snap."

His last studio outing, completed two weeks ago, will be released in June on Heads Up International. Not yet titled, it features Hancock, Metheny, DeJohnette, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist John Patitucci.

It was, according to Pitt, one of the things, along with the love of his family, "that helped keep him alive." Additionally, the awareness that his transplant search raised had allowed him, as Brecker told the Associated Press in 2005, "to be a conduit to attract attention for a cause that's much larger than me."

In addition to his daughter and brother, Brecker is survived by his wife, Susan; a son, Sam; and a sister, Emily Brecker Greenberg.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Matthew Hall Inducted Into The National Junior Beta Club

Last night was exciting for Matthew. In a formal ceremony at Glenn R. Marshall Elementary School he was honored by being inducted into The National Junior Beta Club. The beautiful certificate he received states that he was elected because of his outstanding character and achievement. Sharon and I are proud of our boy!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

EKU Basketball Fun

Last night I took Matthew, Michelle and friend Barry to the Eastern Kentucky University basketball game. The game was televised by ESPNU, so my kids wanted to sit on the front row so they would be caught on camera. I wanted to sit on the front row so I could get an up close view of the game action. Barry wanted to sit on the front row so he could check out the cheerleaders.

Barry used his new cell phone camera to take a number of photos. I couldn't help but notice that he kept aiming the phone toward the cheerleaders. The above photo, taken by Barry, shows the aforementioned cheerleaders and one of the ESPNU cameramen.

Going to EKU games is fun. We caught 7 souvenir mini basketballs, a pom pom, and a team t-shirt thrown up in the stands by the cheerleaders. We gave away some of the mini basketballs to kids that were attending the game. I noticed that Barry gave the balls to kids that were accompanied by single mothers. I am certain that Barry's sole intent was to make the youngsters happy. Yeah, right! As we left the arena I informed Barry that EKU had won the game. I figured that sooner or later he might like to know. There's nothing like action at the old ball game.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Remembering Drummer Norman Higgins

Norman Higgins Died Yesterday At Age 66

Norman Higgins was a fantastic drummer and a great person. I don't know anyone that didn't just love the guy and his playing. I am proud to have known him and to have had the opportunity of playing in various musical groups with him.

I remember hearing him play with sax legend Sonny Stitt at a concert in Lexington. When I met Rahsaan Roland Kirk in Lexington, Kirk spoke of the great time he had when Norman was drumming in his group. Norman also played drums for organ legend Brother Jack McDuff.

On the local scene Norman played with just about everyone. I enjoyed playing with him in the PJ Short Trio, the Kevin Moreland Trio, The Polytones, the circus, and with various trios and quartets. I contend that he had the best shuffle beat of any drummer around. Lexington has lost a fine musician and fine man.


From 01/07/07 Lexington Herald-Leader:

VERSAILLES - Norman Higgins, 66, widower of Jean Higgins, passed away Wed, Jan. 5, 2007, at Central Baptist Hospital after a brief illness. He was the son of the late Stanley "Jack" Higgins and Ollie B. Higgins. Survivors include daughters, Gwea and Denice Higgins, Atlanta, GA, son, Eric Higgins, Lexington, daughters, Princess Jenkins and Sherry Wilson, Lexington, two brothers, Bennett (Linda) Higgins and Jonathan (Jean) Higgins, Louisville, aunts, Daisy Buster and Marcella N. Bush, Lexington, Geneva McGee, Washington, DC, several grandchildren, nieces, nephews and his best friend, his dog, Jack. Visitation 6-9pm Mon, Wesley United Methodist Church, 1825 Russell Cave Rd. Funeral Tue, 2:30pm, at the church. Morgan Funeral Home, Versailles in charge of arrangements.