Category Archives: Musicians

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Nobody Does It Better Than Gretchen Parlato

Gretchen Parlato's "The Lost and Found"

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato is music personified — from her heart, through concept, composition and performance, all the way to your heart and mine.  All you have to do to experience this enchanting continuum is listen.

She’s not just a singer.  Gretchen Parlato is a consummate musician and collaborator whose primary instrument just happens to be her  ethereal, entrancing voice. The words she sings are important, especially so for the songs she’s written herself, but these words are just part of the way she expresses emotion with her instrument.  Listening to her is like being deeply moved by some master of some other instrument, maybe an alto sax, and realizing that, yeah, there are beautifully phrased WORDS in there, too, words with deep meaning in their own right.  Her impact as a musician transcends mere words, transcends categorization.

Check out the  hypnotic “Better Than,” from Gretchen Parlato’s latest stop on her musical journey, The Lost and Found (ObliqSound).  She’s one with her fellow musicians and her melody, with and without lyrics.  Give Gretchen Parlato a listen and you’ll become part of this beautiful fusion. As a music lover you can’t do better than that.


On “Better Than” from The Lost and Found:

Gretchen Parlato – vocals
Taylor Eigsti – piano, keyboards
Derrick Hodge – bass
Kendrick Scott – drums
Robert Glasper – producer

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Libor Šmoldas LIVE at Smalls Jazz Club

Libor Šmoldas Quartet

From Left: Libor Šmoldas, Josef Fečo, Tomáš Hobzek, Petr Beneš

It’s a real privilege to be able to listen to and watch quality live jazz from anywhere on the planet — like from my chair in front of my computer.  That’s the gift NYC’s  Smalls Jazz Club offers us with its  live streaming audio and video.

I had the pleasure of checking out guitarist Libor Šmoldas along with Josef Fečo on bass, Tomáš Hobzek on drums, and pianist Petr Beneš during their second set via Smalls’ streaming video this past Monday night.   Šmoldas’ quartet swung hard throughout a thoroughly entertaining set.  He’s a warm, inventive straight-ahead guitarist with some great ideas and the chops to express them.

Towards the end of the set Šmoldas invited legendary bassist George Mraz to sit in for a tune and Mraz clearly enjoyed his moment with the group, soloing beautifully and closing the piece by quoting that classic bass line from Miles’ “All Blues.”

I’m really glad Libor Šmoldas brought his quartet to America all the way from the Czech Republic and even happier to be able to see and hear them live, even from a distance.

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The Music of Billy Childs – Influences and Inspiration

“I’ve always gravitated towards music that tells a story.”


Billy Childs

Billy Childs

Billy Childs has played piano with some of the best in the business, from his beginnings as a working musician with J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard all the way to one of his current recurring gigs, touring and recording with renowned trumpet player Chris Botti.  His piano artistry is at the heart of the Billy Childs Ensemble, his core group of musicians on his Grammy Award-winning Lyric — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol 1 and his 2011 Grammy-nominated Autumn: In Moving Pictures — Jazz-Chamber Music Volume 2 ArtistShare CDs.

As important as Childs’ virtuosic musicianship is to his own success and that of his collaborators, it’s just one part of his identity as an artist. Billy Childs is very much in demand as a composer and arranger and his compositions form the heart of his jazz-chamber music albums. Billy talked with me about the influences and inspiration that go into his compositions, and their ultimate goal.

“I’ve always loved composing and I’ve pretty much always looked at myself as a composer as well as a pianist.  I composed my first real piece of music when I was 16 or 17 .  It was something that I just all of a sudden discovered, ‘Wow, I like doing this, and it makes sense to me, how to do this.’

“I guess that the music of the late 60’s and early 70’s was highly influential on my concept as a musical voice.  The fusion era – Return To Forever; Weather Report; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Gentle Giant.

“Allan Holdsworth was another icon who kind of had a profound influence on me.  I was intrigued by his harmonic sense, which is one of the most sophisticated systems I’ve ever checked out.

“It was an era where you had rock connecting with classical music, jazz merging with funk, Indian music combined with rock — an era of, perhaps, unprecedented inter-genre respect and tolerance. This informs my music to this day, and has inspired my desire to organically bring together classical music and jazz.”

“The compositional process that I use — and ultimately, what inspires me — depends on the composition, or rather, the intent of the composition.  Sometimes I find it necessary to look inward, in order to express some sort of inner darkness or deeply buried emotion.  Sometimes it’s the external world that inspires me — things in nature.  Trying to recreate a beautiful natural scenario in music, just as French Impressionism does.

“When it comes to melody — a component of the music that I feel is of the utmost importance — I wait for it to come to me.  A beautiful melody, like a beautifully constructed sentence, is something that I cannot manufacture or rush.  It has to come from the soul and, I believe, it makes itself evident.  To me, it is a skill that cannot be taught in a classroom; it’s definitely the most difficult aspect of composing.

“The main goal for me is always to make a dramatic statement with my music, one that will make the listener feel the drama and have it relate to his or her own experience.”

Next – from “Lunacy” to the Dorian Wind Quintet to The Calling, Billy Childs talks about his growth and movement towards his jazz-chamber music concept.

Previously – The Music of Billy Childs – Freddie Hubbard Shows the Way

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The Music of Billy Childs – Freddie Hubbard Shows the Way

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

Billy Childs is the Grammy Award-winning composer, arranger and pianist responsible for some of the most engaging and enjoyable music on the scene today.   Child’s most recent albums as a leader, Lyric — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 1 and Autumn: In Moving Pictures — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 2, both available through ArtistShare, give us deep and rewarding glimpses into his musical world — a place where melody, emotion and collaborative improvisation flourish without limits and beyond genre.

During his eclectic career Billy Childs has composed and arranged for and played and recorded with some of the greatest artists in music, including J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Clark Terry, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Art Farmer, Nat Adderly, Allan Holdsworth, Regina Carter, Don Byron, The Dorian Wind Quintet, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Brian Blade, The Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Kronos Quartet and many many others.

Recently I had the privilege of talking with Billy about his music and career, and I asked him to go back to the beginning of all these rewarding associations:  how he got his start as a professional musician.

“When I was young, there weren’t a lot of piano players and jazz musicians, really, it wasn’t an institutional academic organization like it is now, where you can get a doctorate in jazz.  There’s like a whole mess of jazz piano players that are really good, but you learn in a laboratory type of classroom environment.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to get gigs, and still under the apprentice-mentor type of scenario that I grew up with.

“My first real jazz gig was with J.J. Johnson. I did a two-week tour with J.J. in Japan. I was like 19, I think. I learned a hell of a lot from that.  J.J. figures importantly in my development as a jazz musician.

“But Freddie Hubbard without question is my main teacher. Freddie essentially taught me how to play jazz. Sometimes when I hear old recordings of me playing with Freddie, I understand the incredible patience that he must have exercised by simply withstanding the youthful comping decisions I made while he was trying to solo.  He taught me how to comp on a very high level, because his soloing was so melodically rich.

“Sometimes when he couldn’t stand it any more, he’d just simply say, ‘Lay out.’  But he was really paternal with me.  I love Freddie, I miss him terribly.”

Next — Billy Childs on composing, arranging, and his musical influences.

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