OK, things are relaxing a little bit as we get towards the holidays and I can catch up with y’all about the fall (if anyone cares at this point…).
Two recording projects took up much of October and November. The most recent date, in early November, was a project for the Japanese label Venus, which has become one of the most reliable outlets for jazz recording in today’s dynamic (read: uncertain) scene. Co-produced by myself and Todd Barkan, this project explores music associated with Billie Holiday in a Latin jazz format for a five horn ensemble, along with works by Charles Mingus, Mal Waldron, and myself. The ensemble for this date featured the great Phil Woods, along with Ivan Renta (alto); Alex Hoffman (tenor); Marshall Gilkes (trombone); Ron Blake (bari); Zaccai Curtis (piano); Boris Kozlov (bass); and percussionists Little Johnny Rivero and Marvin Diz. Recorded at NYC’s Clinton Studio (one of the best large rooms left) by Katherine Miller, the date turned out great and should be out in the spring as a Japanese import.
The other date represents the start of a new phase of recording endeavor, my own recording enterprise or label if you will. “Unsung Heroes” is the working title for a collection of tunes by under recognized masters of the jazz trumpet such as Louis Smith, Tommy Turrentine, Howard McGhee, and Idrees Sulieman among others, as well as original compositions celebrating other important but too little known players., “Unsung Heroes” joins together veterans Vincent Herring (alto) and Rob Schneiderman (piano) with talented newcomers Alex Hoffman (tenor), David Wong (bass), and Peter Van Nostrand (drums), with percussionist Little Johnny Rivero again guesting on two tracks. The music of “Unsung Heroes” is swinging and in the classic mode, but with distinction and presence, in my humble opinion. “Unsung Heroes” will incorporate some unique features in its presentation – I’ll be letting you know more about that as post-production goes along. I’m shooting for late spring or early summer for its release and the launch of my new enterprise – I’ll let everyone know more as I do.
Along with all of us in the jazz world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of master drummer Tony Reedus’s sudden passing late last month. Tony was a dear friend and colleague of mine. I hadn’t seen as much of Tony in the last few years as I had back in the day, and that was a situation I really wanted to remedy by renewing our friendship and seeing more of him again (not to mention experiencing more of his artistry and swing). Now, I won’t have that chance and I’m saddened that I didn’t reach out sooner. Tony was one of the greatest human beings I’ve had the privilege of knowing, in music or otherwise, He was a class act, played his ass off, and always made me smile – I always felt good around him. One of my favorite records as a leader is called “In Process”, recorded right after Art Blakey’s passing in October 1990. The insanely swinging rhythm section on that side are two undersung heroes indeed, Tony Reedus and Dennis Irwin – now both are gone.
Another untimely death in the family, of one not known to most but a important compatriot of my young years and a brilliant player. Pianist and keyboardist Marcus Robinson passed away in Dallas on November 17th. We were classmates at the Wisconsin Conservatory Of Music and shared many musical experiences together during the formative years of my musical life, as part of an award winning student group that also included drummer Mark Johnson and bassist Jeff Chambers, and in the clubs of Milwaukee. I wish I could explain to you what a monster Marcus was then, and what an impact he had on me. He could play it all, from the hippest jazz to the hardest funk, on piano and organ (later synth). Marcus and I had lost touch over the years, and I had eagerly anticipated a reunion with him last year in Milwaukee at a tribute to our former teacher Tony King in Milwaukee. Alas, Marcus didn’t show for the event. He was a tremendous talent and personality on his chosen instruments. I wish I could hear him and play one together again.