Russ Davis

From SayWhatiPedia, the free MOJA/VOA encyclopedia

Background information
Born10 September 1951
Selma, Alabama USA
Occupation(s)Broadcaster, programmer, writer, performer

Russell Alvin Davis is best known as an international jazz radio programmer and broadcaster since 1978 in various markets in the USA and internationally with syndicated programs in England and Japan as well as programming and presenting the program JAZZ AMERICA on the Voice of America since 1999. His activities have also included writing, performing and recording his original music with various groups and individuals as well as writing the scripts and performing television skit-comedy for Atlanta television. He has also written a large volume of poetry and short stories as well as jazz-oriented journalistic pieces that have been published on his personal online sites as well as the website of publications such as JazzTimes Magazine.


1 Youth

2 Jazz VItae

3 External links

Youth & Early Artistic Activities 

Born in Selma, Alabama but raised in Birmingham, Davis began his musical activities working with his first band known as Pleasure’s Fare with guitarists Terry Davis (no relation) and Jimmy Kincaid. In High School he elected to take Speech classes that also led to acting in onstage plays. He attended 2 colleges in the state, Jacksonville State University for one year, where he met his first original music collaborator Jimmy Dunlap, before transferring to The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he majored in English with a double minor in Speech and Broadcast/Film Communication.  It is there that Davis  was hired for his first radio job as an on-air personality for the local Tuscaloosa Broadcasting Corporation station WTBC-AM, which also owned an affiliated FM station WUOA. The FM station featured on-air presenter Gaylon Horton, who was also a musician. Davis and Horton became musical collaborators and with Jimmy Dunlap, who had left his work in the recording studio center in Muscle Shoals, formed the band CAR. The group worked together for over two decades writing, performing and recording hundreds of songs until the death of Gaylon Horton. The band had re-located to Birmingham where Davis had been hired to work at local FM radio station WERC. It was in Birmingham that he continued his work with CAR but made the acquaintance of the members of the band NOD, later to be known as THE RAVES, the Yoakum brothers Chuck, John & Jimmy and guitarist Ken Kennedy. He collaborated with the group on a number of live performances and recordings, continuing their work after moving to Atlanta where Davis had been offered an on-air presenter position at radio station WQXI-FM.  Finding a thriving music scene in Atlanta, began writing and recording his own solo music and collaborating with a number of local luminary musicians such as guitarist and award-winning producer Brendan O’Brien, guitarist, writer and vocalist of the band The Georgia Satellites, Rick Richards and many more. It was in Atlanta that the television program EH, WOT’S THIS? was created and produced by Davis and the member of The Raves, winning local cable television awards. It was also in Atlanta that the most important aspect of his life’s work began…his work in Jazz Radio.

Jazz Vitae

Davis began his career in jazz radio by creating a special program called “Jazz Flavours” in 1978 at WQXI-FM in Atlanta.† The Program was a combination of acoustic and electric jazz with modern jazzy vocals. The format later morphed into a softer form that became known as the NAC (New Adult Contemporary) format which became popular on radio stations all around the world.

In 1988, the Coca Cola Company contracted Davis to create a three-hour version of the program “Jazz Flavours” for syndication to be sponsored by their brand Fresca.  The show aired for over two years in 13 markets including New York, Boston, Atlanta and Houston.  Davis also created another syndicated product, which was offered at the same time, titled “Conversations,” a one-hour interview show with various jazz artists.  

The popularity of “Jazz Flavours” allowed me to move to New York in 1988 to work as music director and on air presenter for the start up of contemporary jazz station WQCD-FM (CD 101.9). Davis  worked there until 1998. From 1989 to 1991, Davis programmed and voiced a nightly jazz program for WSTR-FM in Atlanta, shipping all materials from New York City.

Davis’s work with international jazz programming began in the 1990’s and continues today. In 1990, the Tokyo radio station BAY-FM 78 contracted him to program, produce and ship a customized version of the weekly program “Cool Cuts” for them, which aired for over three years. In addition to the “Cool Cuts” program for Japan’s BAY-FM 78 Davis also voiced programs for J-WAVE and INTER-FM in Tokyo in the late 1990’s.

From October 1996 to April 1997 he programmed, produced and shipped a five-hour weekly original jazz show to WJZF-FM in Atlanta.

In May 1997 Davis began programming, producing and shipping a one-hour weekly show titled “New York Jazz Week” to JAZZ-FM in London, England which aired all over England on the JAZZ-FM Network of stations.  During his two plus years of involvement with JAZZ-FM he also created special holiday programs such as “Christmas In New York” and via ISDN from his personal studio performed the Breakfast Show (Morning drive show) for a month until their new Morning personality could be hired.

Through the New York-based Global Interface Organization, a Japanese company that provided radio programs for Japan, Davis was contracted in 1999 to create, produce and present the weekly jazz program “Smooth Style” for the 14-station Japanese FM Network (JFN).  These shows were delivered via ISDN from his personal studio.  This program was produced for one year.

In 1998 Davis was employed by the American radio syndication company MediaAmerica to write the scripts and conduct interviews with jazz artists for the weekly show “Personal Notes” hosted by contemporary jazz artist Boney James.  He did this for over a year.

In addition to the programs for Japan and England, Davis have gained further international experience by attending the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, The Barcelona Jazz Festival in Spain, The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal in Canada and the Aruba Jazz Festival in the Caribbean.  Davis has created numerous special programs featuring interviews with artists from these festivals.

From early 1998 through 2008 Davis worked in satellite radio as a programmer and presenter for both U.S.-based satellite radio companies, Sirius and XM Satellite Radio, creating various channels including the world’s only complete modern jazz channel, XM 72 Beyond Jazz, covering all aspects of jazz from the Fusion era of the 1960’s through all its evolutionary phases up to today.

In early 2009 Davis established his own company and website, MOJA Radio (, an online version of the modern jazz channel and accompanying modern jazz community site he had developed on American satellite radio. This syndicated service lasted for a decade, finally shutting down in January 2019.

The crowning achievement of Davis’s jazz radio career is the weekly program “Jazz America” for the U.S. Government’s Voice of America service. Jazz America began on July 4th, 1999 and is heard world wide each weekend by millions of listeners who tune in online or via their local radio stations. As Davis’s first superior John Stevenson instructed him, the listeners were to hear the best of what America has to offer. Davis has been quoted as saying “In my humble opinion there’s nothing better than what we offer…The best of Jazz, past and present, and conversation with the music makers!” The program can be heard on demand at any time at the  Radio website.

Some other recent additional activities include…

  1. Writing a regular column for the online edition of JazzTimes Magazine. 
  2. Conducting live, on-site interviews as special presentations for the Detroit Jazz Festivals from 2009 on.
  3. Commissioned by American Pianist’s Association to be Master of Ceremonies at 2011 APA awards ceremony in Indianapolis, IN.
  4. Commissioned by NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) to be moderator of “Grammy Winners Panels” at 2012 & 2013 Detroit Jazz Festivals.
  5. Emcee and guest presenter for 2012, 2013, 2016 & 2017 Newport Jazz Festivals.

MEMBER: Jazz Journalists Association


“Internet Radio Jazz Programmer of the Year” 2011

Awarded by JazzWeek*

“Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Service for Jazz Education,”                                               

(Awarded by International Association for Jazz Education 2006)

“European Radio Awards,” Nominee 1997

“Jazz Person Of The Year,” Gavin Report, Nominee 1991

“Jazz Person Of The Year,“ Gavin Report, Winner 1990

“Radio Personality Of The Year,” Billboard Nominee 1990

*JazzWeek, celebrated its 20th anniversary in August 2021, is the weekly online publication dedicated to jazz and jazz radio programming. Nominees are selected by JazzWeek subscribers, including: jazz radio programmers, jazz record company executives and independent jazz radio record promoters around the world.

External Links

Posted by: russdavis | January 29, 2018



Once again NARAS (The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences), has passed out the Grammy Awards for another year, this time it’s the 60th edition of the awards. You’ll find some of MOJA’s greatest artists in this list and the winners are listed after an X and in bold type. Let’s celebrate them now!!!!Grammy Award


Jeff Lorber Fusion 2013 CompressedJeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip & Andy Snitzer share a Grammy as THE JEFF LORBER FUSION!

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
What If – The Jerry Douglas Band
Spirit – Alex Han
Mount Royal – Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge
X – Prototype – Jeff Lorber Fusion
Bad Hombre – Antonio Sanchez



John McLaughlin CD Now Here This

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
“Can’t Remember Why” — Sara Caswell, soloist
“Dance Of Shiva” — Billy Childs, soloist
“Whisper Not” — Fred Hersch, soloist
X – “Miles Beyond” — John McLaughlin, soloist
“Ilimba” — Chris Potter, soloist

Best Jazz Vocal Album
The Journey — The Baylor Project
A Social Call — Jazzmeia Horn
Bad Ass And Blind — Raul Midón
Porter Plays Porter — Randy Porter Trio With Nancy King
X – Dreams And Daggers — Cécile McLorin Salvant

Billy Childs & Amina Figarova at the piano (APA-15)Grammy winner Billy Childs at the piano with another MOJA great Amina Figarova!

Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Uptown, Downtown — Bill Charlap Trio
X – Rebirth — Billy Childs
Project Freedom –Joey DeFrancesco & The People
Open Book — Fred Hersch
The Dreamer Is The Dream — Chris Potter

Christian McBride & Russ (Closeup)

The great Christian McBride (with MOJA’s Russ Davis) wins a grammy in 2018!

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
MONK’estra Vol. 2 — John Beasley
Jigsaw — Alan Ferber Big Band
X – Bringin’ It — Christian McBride Big Band
Homecoming — Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne
Whispers On The Wind — Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge

Best Latin Jazz Album
Hybrido – From Rio To Wayne Shorter — Antonio Adolfo
Oddara — Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
Outra Coisa – The Music Of Moacir Santos — Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves
Típico — Miguel Zenón
X – Jazz Tango — Pablo Ziegler Trio


Arturo O'Farrill (NYC-11 May 14) CompressedArturo O’Farril celebrates a grammy with MOJA’s Russ Davis

Best Instrumental Composition
“Alkaline” — Pascal Le Boeuf, composer (Le Boeuf Brothers & JACK Quartet)
“Choros #3” — Vince Mendoza, composer (Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne)
“Home Free (For Peter Joe)” — Nate Smith, composer (Nate Smith)
X – “Three Revolutions” — Arturo O’Farrill, composer (Arturo O’Farrill & Chucho Valdés)
“Warped Cowboy” — Chuck Owen, composer (Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge)


ron-carter-russ-det-2016Ron Carter, Detroit’s own & “Artist In Residence” at this years DJF with Russ Davis

The 37th edition of the event that’s been called “The World’s Biggest Free Jazz Festival” took place this year from Friday September 2nd through Monday, Labor Day, September 5th in Detroit. After the hard-working people of the Motor City finished the work week they, along with tens of thousands of their fellow jazz lovers from around the world, gathered on Friday evening for three grand performances on the Chase Main Stage in the inviting setting of the Campus Martius in the city center surround by the beautiful old buildings of downtown Detroit. The celebration began with a performance by this year’s “Artist In Residence,” Ron Carter, NEA Jazz Master, legendary bassist and Detroit native, who perform with his nonet for the first of four performances over the run of the festival. Following that, the fine and funky aggregation from New Orleans, The Soul Rebels, gave the crowd a brief taste of what they’d be offering in a full performance on the following day. It was the perfect warm up for the final show of the first day by legendary guitarist and vocalist and one of the most popular artists in jazz history, George Benson. I think I may have finally figured out Mr. Benson’s secret to success after all these years…”If you keep the ladies happy, smiling, dancing and singing along the rest of the audience will follow!” The 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival was off and running!


The Chase Main Stage was the site of the festival’s beginning and the daily lineup there would probably be enough to thrill the organizer of most any jazz festival in the world but, to get the complete picture, one must take the time to cross Jefferson Street and enter Hart Plaza where three more stages are filled with the stars of jazz for the Labor Day Weekend. One of my favorite places ever to see a show is the sunken concrete amphitheatre called the Pyramid Stage. Next to the Detroit River and down some steep steps lies a stage that puts the artist and the audience literally face to face in an intimate setting. Then there’s the beautiful setting of the Water Front Stage that faces the magnificent scene of the Detroit River with Windsor, Ontario on the other side. The fans take seats in the shade of the cluster of riverside trees that sway beautifully in the breeze. Lastly there’s the massive Carhartt Amphitheater Stage with a space for the crowd to bathe in the sunshine and take in the music from the largest stage at the festival, which is a perfect setting for the larger presentations like big bands and jazz orchestras. This stage was the site for the first show I’d take in on Saturday, the second day of DJF 2016.


A feature of jazz at this point in the history of the music, and a definite emphasis in the lineup of this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival, is the infusion of “World Music” into the mix. I heard this in a number of projects presented at the festival this year including another legend that performed on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage, pianist Randy Weston, whose connection to Africa is as legendary as he is as a pianist, composer, bandleader and musical visionary. After spending an hour in conversation with Mr. Weston and his fellow nonagenarian Jimmy Heath as moderator of an interview with these two masters under the DJF “Jazz Talk Tent” I’d learned much from the mouths of these deep and delightful gentlemen and was ready to hear what they had to say from the stage. Mr. Heath would join Randy Weston as a guest during the set with Mr. Weston’s African Rhythms Band and the Wayne State University Big Band. The sound was certainly traditional and in the big band vein but with some African spice as part of the mix.


Saturday continued for me as I took in more performances with a “World Jazz” flavor. The great Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza and an all-star, international band with players from various continents including Benin’s Lionel Loueke and Swiss harmonica star Gregoire Maret thrilled the crowd with music from her latest work Speaking In Tongues. Cuba was well represented with the work of two brilliant pianists, Omar Sosa and Alfredo Rodriguez while Japanese trio Trisonique featuring pianist Hakuei Kim played in the first of two appearances at the festival. More jazz greats doing extra duty were featured on the Saturday lineup as “Artist In Residence” Ron Carter played the second of four shows, this time with his quartet. New Orleans funk sensations The Soul Rebels played their second show on the Main Stage while trumpet master Roy Hargrove filled the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage with his first of two festival shows, this time with his quintet joined by a string section. Chris Potter and Robert Hurst played twice on Saturday with shows earlier in the day topped off with jam sessions into the early morning at the Detroit Marriott. Saturday was certainly a sensational all day affair!

cyrille-aimee-russ-det-2016-2See Cyrille Aimee in concert and you’ll fall in love!

If there is a not-so-good side to the Detroit Jazz Festival experience it is the fact that as close as the four stages are to one another you still can’t be in all the places you want to be at the same time. Plus, for me, the festival is a work/play situation as I strive to get the comments of the artists acting as a “sideline reporter” so that a listener to my radio programs can get the feeling of being right there with the artists and understanding what they are experiencing. Before her performance on the Chase Main Stage I caught up with the newest vocal sensation in jazz, French-born and now Brooklyn-based singer Cyrille Aimee who wins the award for the most charming and talented singer to come along in some time. I had a chance to see her perform at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival and we were not able to connect for a scheduled interview because of her tight schedule. We made time in Detroit and I look forward to sharing her unique story along with her music with the audience around the world. She has a French father and mother from the Dominican Republic. She was born in the part of France from which Django Rheinhardt hails and hung out with the gypsy musicians, soaking up that influence. As a young girl she was given a collection of Ella Fitzgerald music and now scats in the most unique way you will have ever heard with a classic yet modern sensibility that is uniquely hers as well. See her live and prepare to fall in love!


Ms. Aimee’s performance was just one on Sunday by a wonderful group of jazz greats including her fellow “rising star” vocalist Charenee Wade and the legendary Freddie Cole who charmed the crowd with his salute to his family members, brother Nat and niece Natalie Cole. Ron Carter’s trio, featuring the great guitarist Russell Malone who gave us some choice and spirited comments off stage, was another treat on the Sunday lineup. I was able to catch a bit of the “world jazz” offerings of harmonica master Gregoire Maret, right after taking in the set that may have been my favorite of the entire festival. Though trumpeter Roy Hargrove has been around for quite awhile I still get the feeling that he’s under-rated. You could not prove my statement by judging the response to his second performance of the festival, this time featuring the hard driving, all out funk and groove of his RH Factor band. Roy and company had the crowd howling and dancing through the entire set and me hoping for a new RH Factor recording in the future. It was a fitting way to bring down the curtain on the Sunday lineup in Detroit.

roy-hargrove-rh-factor-live-in-detroit-2016Roy Hargove & RH Factor!

Labor Day in Detroit turned out to be quite a work day for me as the festival asked me to be the emcee for the entire day at the Chase Main Stage in the middle of the beautiful buildings of downtown Detroit. Though I would have to miss Freddie Cole’s appearance in the Jazz Talk Tent and performances by Jason Moran & Bandwagon, Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project, Cuban piano sensation Harold Lopez-Nussa and others you won’t get any complaints from me. The lineup I was asked to introduce produced some of the best performances of the entire festival! First on stage was a meeting of two worlds as a collection of Detroit’s all-star players led by Chris Collins, the president and artistic director of the festival who also blows a mean saxophone, collaborated with the Japanese trio Trisonique. It was a spirited cultural exchange featuring energetic renditions of jazz classics to the delight of the crowd.


The next show was a special treat as the brilliant Italian-born singer with the flawless voice and irresistible charm, Roberta Gambarini, collaborated with the legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath in what was billed as a celebration of his 90th birthday. Mr. Heath was reluctant to join in the “birthday celebration” part of the activities as he slyly reminded everyone that he was still 89 and would be until October 25th. The performance was a celebration itself with the musical compatibility and friendship between the two principal artists more than obvious. The last set of the day was one that I had looked forward to since the moment I first read the lineup. It featured guitar master John Scofield, keyboard wiz Brad Mehldau and one of the most versatile percussionists in jazz today, Mark Guiliana in a trio that could go in many different directions.

scofield-mehldau-guliana-det-2016Scofield, Mehldau & Guilana!

I’d seen the versatile Mr. Scofield just weeks before in a quartet with his old friend and Berklee classmate Joe Lovano with a mostly swinging set. Of course he’s been known to groove hard in Detroit with his Uberjam band and various other aggregations, plus his new release, Country For Old Men, is a collection of country and folk classics. Brad Mehldau has done everything from solo piano and all-acoustic trio work to techno-jazz electronic projects, some of which he’s created with Mark Guiliana, who’s gone about the business of re-defining what percussion can be for jazz in its second century. Honestly I expected something very electric, chunky and funky and instead got mostly dreamy grooves of a decidedly spacial nature that majored on sound and mood as opposed to electricity and force. This was a most inventive and surprising set that leads me to hope that this trio will venture into the studio sometime in the future to put down some of this one-of-a-kind modern jazz!


The 37th Detroit Jazz Festival was a completely enjoyable four days, as always, marked by a collection of fantastic performances, many with a decidedly Detroit-centric theme. The festival setting is beautiful and the atmosphere inviting with the spirit created by the friendly and welcoming nature of a city filled with people who obviously love their hometown. Plus the festival grounds feature kiosks with fun arts and crafts and festival merchandise plus terrific culinary choices that are second to no festival I’ve ever attended. All things considered the Detroit Jazz Festival is a tasty smorgasbord of treats for any palate no matter what style of jazz activates your appetite. One thing is for sure. No one goes home hungry from Detroit and this is one time over-indulgence is encouraged!

Russ Davis

Russ Davis programs, produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio at You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting

Posted by: russdavis | August 15, 2016

Sunny Saturday in Newport!

Newport Jazz Festival LogoThe 62nd edition of “The Grandfather of All Jazz Festivals” in Newport, Rhode Island took place Friday through Sunday, 29-31 July 2016. Because of my schedule I was only able to attend Saturday’s events but all my efforts to get to Newport from New York City were rewarded with some brilliant performances and beautiful memories. The first day had brought cloudy skies that had delivered occasional torrential rain. Sunday was also a partly rainy day so I felt myself blessed to have such a perfect summer day in THE place on the planet for a jazz fan to be at this time of year. The incredible lineup of artists were more than capable of delivering what all festival-goers came for…jazz with great variety performed at the highest level.

Each day brought shows from 11 AM to 7 PM at the Fort Adams State Park with the added attraction of Friday night’s performances in town at the International Tennis Hall Of Fame by Chick Corea’s Trio with Christian McBride and Brian Blade and Gregory Porter. No rain was going to dampen the spirits of the festival attendees or the performers. Friday had brought shows featuring the likes of The Heath Brothers, the New Orleans band Galactic, saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Steve Coleman, the great vocalist Tierney Sutton, who hung out an extra day for an impromptu appearance with the band The Hot Sardines on Saturday, and one of the current sensations of modern jazz, Kamasi Washington who’d also perform a second time on Sunday.

Bad Plus: Ethan Iverson-Piano, Reid Anderson-Bass, Dave King-Drums

THE BAD PLUS doing their unique thing on stage!

There were many more filling the four stages in this beautiful setting on Sunday, the final day. Scheduled to perform were NEA Jazz Masters Kenny Barron and Charles Lloyd. There are always wonderful vocalists and on Sunday the lineup included Lizz Wright and Jose James. From the international side of things came Angelique Kidjo, Anat Cohen and Toshiko Akiyoshi. There were a number of representatives from the current generation of jazz stars including Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, Nels Cline and Ben Williams. And a feature of every Newport Jazz Festival is all-star bands, oftentimes put together for a one-off performance. This year the Sunday crowd was treated to a set by newly-named NEA Jazz Master Dave Holland alongside Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. You can’t go wrong by attending any one day of this 3-day event and I wasn’t happy about missing some of these shows but my Saturday would be filled with more than enough to fill my plate!

There is one thing I must warn you about should you decide to attend this festival…Newport is haunted! Sure, may run into one of the friends of The Great Gatsby from time to time but only if you’re touring the mansions on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. At Fort Adams State Park you only have to worry about running into the spirits of Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you, only serve to charge the atmosphere with great history and inspire each and every musician who plays here. I was invited by the festival to take the stages to introduce 5 of the artists/bands who’d perform on this grand, sunny Saturday and I have my own personal ghost to tend with.

Russ Intros Bad Plus & Frisell @Newport Jazz Festival (4-5 August 2012) 039

VOA & MOJA’s Russ Davis bringing on the bands @ the Newport Jazz Festival!

I have produced and presented Jazz America, the only full-time jazz program heard on the U.S. Government service The Voice of America, since 1999. The may who preceded me, Willis Conover, produced jazz on VOA for 40 years, and in the beginning of the Newport Jazz Festival, which began in 1954, the performances were broadcast around the world via shortwave on VOA. Willis was on stage introducing many of the artists in his deliberate, thoughtful, historical manner in that deep, slow, resonant voice that taught many around the world to not only love jazz but to speak English. I certainly feel his presence each time I stand in front of the Newport crowds to bring on another brilliant artist or group. I considered myself a jazz presenter but a long distance runner on this day as I landed in Newport in the morning, got my credentials and marching orders from Carolyn McClair, the brilliant woman who takes care of all things press related for the festival and never stops working, and began a non-stop trek from stage to stage to do my job and take in as much music as I possibly could. Can you say Nirvana?

My first stop was to the largest stage at the festival, The Fort Stage, facing the ocean and the beautiful bridge to Newport off in the distance. There I took in some of the set by the brilliant 19-piece ensemble Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society led by the award-winning Canadian-born composer, arranger and conductor Darcy James Argue and including a cast of brilliant musicians including his fellow Canadian, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Darcy had been working for years on the piece titled Real Enemies, which they performed on this day, and he was obviously extremely proud of it. It is not only brilliant music but a commentary on politics and society in general that incorporates recorded spoken word pieces by famous figures of the past. Darcy is one of those artists who has redefined what “big band jazz” is for this century.

Edmar Castenada & Gregorie Maret (Newport 16)

Edmar Castaneda & Gregoire Maret backstage at Newport 2016!

I hurried to the Quad Stage, the mid-sized stage set in the middle of the fort structures, to catch the last half of the performance by Venezuelan-born harpist Edmar Castaneda and his cast of international artists from places like Israel, Cuba, The USA and featuring the brilliant Swiss-born master of the harmonica, Gregorie Maret. I’d seen Edmar playing solo during this festival season at the Montreal Jazz Festival and he filled a huge hall with musical magic all by himself. This unique international blend was nothing short of astounding and a perfect example of how artists who play Newport go out of their way to present something extra special for the always, knowledgeable audience and with those aforementioned ghostly predecessors in mind. The rare blending of the harp and harmonica was especially appealing.

I remained at the Quad Stage as my first duty was to introduce the quartet led by two modern masters, guitarist John Scofield and saxophonist Joe Lovano. I’d run into Joe and his talented wife, vocalist Judi Silvano, earlier in the day and spoke with Joe about his new release Classic, which was recorded live at Newport in 2005 with a band that included legendary pianist Hank Jones. Judi, who has a new recording coming soon that features a two-guitar lineup, is also a painter. She created the cover for Joe’s newest work inspired by the sights surrounding Newport. Joe and John, old friends since their college days at Berklee in Boston, swung and grooved in their unique way to the delight of the audience.

Joe Lovano & John Scofield

Old school chums Joe Lovano & John Scofield getting together again to play Newport 2016!

I could only stay for a portion of their set as my next job called, to introduce another one-of-a-kind performance by that one-of-a-kind piano trio of Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King, AKA The Bad Plus, on the Fort Stage. They chose to perform Ornette Coleman’s classic work Science Fiction with the help of a trio of horn players including saxophonist Tim Berne and Ron Miles on cornet. I spoke with Reid and Dave after the performance and they told me how this album had inspired them to begin to play jazz. They played an inspired set, without a doubt, and the portion of the audience who were able to take in and process this deep, free and intricate piece were maybe not dancing and screaming on the outside but instead exuberant on the inside.

I’d seen the Chick Corea Trio with Christian McBride and Brian Blade play a beautiful set of mostly jazz standards, including a couple of Chick’s classics, at the Montreal Jazz Festival a month before and caught up with Chick before this Newport performance to see what we’d hear on this day. He told me he didn’t remember what they’d played in Montreal and we’d all be surprised with what this set would bring. Talk about an artist with abundant of riches from which to choose! This group would once again thrill the crowd with every note as the yearlong celebration of Chick’s 75th birthday continued in Newport. He had just announced the reformation of his Electric Band and we should all stay tuned to discover what else this brilliant master has to offer. The band was brought on stage by an official of the Newport Jazz Festival Board to announce that Christian McBride had just been chosen as the new director of the festival. They could not have chosen a more able and appropriate man to follow in the footsteps of the great George Wein.

Stefon Harris & Russ MTL 12

Stefon Harris still looking like a kid and playing like a master at Newport 2016!

I had three more stops to make on my marathon journey of stage introductions with the next stop being back at the Quad Stage to bring on another wonderful fusion of various styles blended in a unique way just for the Newport audience, this time by New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler, New York trumpet master Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob fame and their Hot 9. This band had thrilled jazz followers with their modern take on music by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller with the project Viper’s Drag. They started the set with a bit of that just to get the party started but followed with a 21st century treatment of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, which was inspired by Duke’s tour of middle eastern countries like Iran and Iraq in the 1960’s. This was a set that you could only hear if you were at the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival on this wonderful Saturday!

I made the short walk in the direction of the Newport Harbor to the Harbor Stage to introduce an uplifting performance by the brilliant Stefon Harris, one of the reigning kings of vibes in modern jazz. This ageless wonder always seems to be a kid with his youthful exuberance and ever-changing style. He may be in his 40’s now but he’s got two young boys, who cheered on their father from the front row. Stefon told me before the show that he’d be leading his new band of young bloods that perform under the name of Sonic Creed. He chose these young players to “kick his butt” but I know for certain that these young cats felt a boost from playing with him as well. It was another wonderful set of new material by Mr. Harris with a new project that will no doubt continue the development of his legend and an already marvelous career.

My final stop was back at the Quad Stage to bring on the man from Kingston, Jamaica, the brilliant pianist Monty Alexander once again leading his Harlem-Kingston Express band through a set that perfectly blends the traditions of jazz that Monty has embraced since coming to New York years ago, and the rhythm and spirit of the music of his native land where he is rightly considered a national treasure. If the music of Monty Alexander and friends don’t make you smile, bring a nod to your head and a tap to your foot then I suggest you have someone check your pulse. I saw no medical personnel in the audience and nothing but smiling, nodding and tapping going on so Monty’s mission was certainly accomplished with a grand display of what many these days call “World Jazz!”

I sadly made my way to transportation to leave the festival grounds and on to New York City, taking with me wonderful impressions of the great music and rare and wonderful atmosphere of this unique and magical place on this sunny, summer Saturday in Newport. The two other days of this year’s festival may have been marked by some inclement weather but I know that neither rain, nor whatever may come, will dampen the strong spirit of this marvelous event and the fans of this timeless music. See you next year!

Russ Davis

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show, by visiting, MOJA Radio’s website.

Posted by: russdavis | July 9, 2016

The Ladies Take Over @ the 2016 Montreal Jazz Fest!

Montreal_logo_2011While the audience roared with delight, one of the members of the all-female band, the Latin Grammy-nominated Mariachi Flor de Toloache, raised her fist and shouted “GIRL POWER!” The entire audience, female and male, young and old, joined in the exultation with total approval. It was just another example of how the women of jazz are making their names like never before in the history of the music. During my last two days at the 37th Montreal Jazz Festival I made it a large part of my business to check out what they had to offer on the stages of the festival. The history of jazz is most certainly dominated by the names of famous, talented, important men. There are a number of important women vocalists and instrumentalists in the annals of jazz greats and may I just say that as the history continues to be written be ready for more of their names to join the great men. Some of them played this year in Montreal!

I’d already seen the dynamic pianist, composer and one of the great bandleaders in jazz today, Hiromi Uehara, performing to a packed house of screaming fans. I invite you to read my report on that show and add her name to the list of women I’ll focus on. My day began with a visit to one of the newest and most comfortable outdoor venues, the beautiful, wooded setting called the Montreal Casino. Under the band shell on this simply perfect summer afternoon, appeared the trio led by inventive Canadian pianist Marianne Trudel and her special guest, fellow Canadian and one of the premier trumpeters in jazz today, Ingrid Jensen. Ingrid had been featured earlier in the festival with her sister Christine, so the crowd was being treated to a real Canadian girl-fest.

Ingrid Jensen & Russ at Blue Note 2015Ms. Trudel put together a set filled with ever-changing dynamics, inventive and uplifting melody followed by adventurous passages of free jazz. The music was primarily taken from her latest release titled Life Begins Here, a musical investigation of mindfulness and living in the present moment. One might call this “chamber jazz” with the all-acoustic instrumentation and song structure, but it fits into a genre that I seem to be noticing more and more these days. There is a movement of acoustic jazz that sounds like it comes from electronica patterns and rhythms. Ingrid Jensen’s contribution fits perfectly with this style as she shifts from full sound to muted and changes rhythms with equal facility. The sun was setting on the row of tall trees in the background that seemed to be applauding as the wind caused their leaves to constantly rustle. Coupled with the magnificent music coming from the stage, it created a scene that made for a show that was difficult to see come to an end. I was off to take in my next set of music dominated by the ladies of the Montreal Jazz Festival 2016.

Another of the free, outdoor concerts at the festival featured the afore-mentioned, New York-based Mariachi Flor De Toloache, named for the Mexican flower used to create an aphrodisiac. The ladies created an intoxicating mix of traditional Mariachi with high-level jazz improvisation, beautiful vocalizing and even a little rock to craft an enticing Latin fusion. The group did not bring their full complement of musicians as they were lacking their percussionist, Jacquelene Acevedo, and more horns but the sound was full enough to thrill the audience, many of whom were probably greatly surprised at how much they enjoyed this style of music. I’m betting that some walked away thinking of the set by Mariachi Flor De Toloache as one of the major surprises of the festival. You can always count on that kind of surprise happening at least once at every Montreal Jazz Fest!

Cyrille AimeeIt’s always exciting to see a performance by an artist that is absolutely exploding. Such is the case with the dynamic and mesmerizing vocalist Cyrille Aimee, whose performance on Saturday, July 2nd at the Club L’Astral was nothing short of delightful! With her quartet of talented men Ms. Aimee captured the audience with one unique song after another. I try to avoid using the word unique in describing a musical performance but in the case of Cyrille Aimee it most certainly applies and to a major degree because of her interesting background. She was born in France to a French father and a Dominican mother. The story goes that she would sneak away to hang out with the musicians at the Django Reinhardt music festival and fell in love with gypsy jazz. There’s still much of that influence in her style along with occasional Latin tinges, pop and rock influence, scat singing that would make Ella Fitzgerald nod with approval, electronica and a heavy reliance on some of the most famous standards that she absolutely crafts to be her own.

From the moment Cyrille Aimee took the stage the crowd belonged to her. She sings like a veteran but is only 31 and has an inviting, girlish voice that is authentic and both powerful and gentle at the same time. Since setting up shop in Brooklyn, NY, her current base of operations, she’s acquired a singing and speaking style that belongs to only her. She seems to be moving at all times and also seems to be having the time of her life on stage. One can’t help but be caught up in the feeling of wanting to join in on the party she’s having! When the band took a break she employed the service of an electronic device that allowed her to loop tracks of her own voice and improvise with the loops. Cyrille Aimee is charming and enormously talented. She’s off to tour Europe for most of the next few months but will be back in North America from time to time. Check her schedule, catch her show and prepare to be a fan for life!

My final day at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival began with a very entertaining duo show featuring NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron and the versatile guitar sensation Lionel Loueke. Before the show at the Gesu Theatre, festival director Andre Menard presented Mr. Barron with the festivals “Miles Davis Award”. Kenny Barron’s contribution to jazz is an important one and any award he receives is most certainly deserved. The blending of his piano and the unique guitar style of Mr. Loueke in a set of mostly standards was remarkable and most enjoyable. Both gentlemen had been involved in multiple shows at the festival and this performance had the air of two old friends being very spontaneous and having fun. After this pleasant experience I was off to take in my last show featuring another of the great ladies of the 2016 Montreal Jazz Fest.

Stacey KentIf there ever was an artist that is truly international it is “citizen of the world” vocalist Stacey Kent. She was born and educated in the USA then moved to London, England to further her education. She married British saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and began her career by playing London clubs like the legendary Ronnie Scott’s and making her name in Europe. Here is a lady with a tremendously compelling voice who has been nominated for Grammy awards in her native United States, and received various awards for her contribution to the arts in both England and France. She addressed the crowd in the Montreal concert in both French and English and sang in various languages. Can you say “International?”

I actually first believed Ms. Kent was British until I heard her whole story, and after seeing her performance in the beautiful Theatre Maisonneuve I am even more confused, in a good way that is, as she presented a set of Brazilian flavored pieces taken from her latest release Tenderly. The concert was a dreamy visit to Brazil with timeless standards from the great American songbook turned into bossa nova magic. Her husband Jim Tomlinson was along for the fun and played Stan Getz to Stacey’s Astrid Gilberto to perfection. A gentle, tender, loving atmosphere was conjured in the hall and I kept thinking that in the crazy world we seem to be living in these days we could all use more moments like this one to soothe the nerves and calm the soul. I send a large and heartfelt thank you to Stacey Kent and her fellow musicians for giving me this great gift on my last day at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival.

There would be many more great ladies, such as Roberta Gambarini, Ranee Lee and Lauryn Hill, that would take to the stages at the festival, which ended this year on July 9th. There would also be any number of major shows featuring some of the greats of jazz representing the male of the species too such as the reunion of Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House featuring Randy Brecker, Marcus Miller, Roy Hargrove, Erik Truffaz, Vijay Iyer, Joey DeFrancesco, newly named NEA Jazz Master Dr. Lonnie Smith, Fred Hersch and dozens more. It’s always tough to choose what days to attend the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal as you know you’ll be missing some magical moments. I’ll take what I got this year and look forward to the 38th edition in 2017 as the men AND the WOMEN of jazz gather to thrill the crowds again in the beautiful, magical city!

Russ Davis

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website…

Posted by: russdavis | July 3, 2016

Remembering 1941 @ The 2016 Montreal Jazz Fest!

Montreal_logo_2011In a slightly “out of left field” kind of way the year 1941 became an important one at the 37th Montreal Jazz Festival on day three, 1 July 2016 which also just happened to be Canada Day. During my daily walk up to the top of Mount Royal I ran into the Canada Day parade downtown. So a festive air was already established in a city abuzz with the national holiday as well as one of the world’s greatest jazz festivals. I set out to investigate this connection between these two years in two different centuries and here’s my report.

What was happening in 1941? Well, the United States had just been forced into involvement in the terrible 2nd World War and in the time of this horribly negative event there were some positive things to note. A baby boy was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts named Armando Anthony Corea. His Aunt Millie would pinch his cheeks and say something that sounded like “chicky, chicky, chicky!” He immediately became known as Chick. You may remember that this youngster went on to become an NEA Jazz Master and this June 12th turned 75 years old!

There was another birth in 1939 that was pretty important and it also involved jazz music. The term “Bebop” was being used to describe a new style that was now in full swing, bringing some creativity and positivity to a world in turmoil. A gentleman named Alfred Lion, who had founded a recording label he named Blue Note in 1939, was drafted into the army in 1941. He would leave for military service but he would not let the jazz community down as he kept Blue Note going and left it in the hands of his associates. In 2016 the world celebrates 75 years of great jazz releases that have thrilled fans for these many decades. Both Chick Corea’s 75th birthday and the celebration of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary became big events here in Montreal.

Chick Corea at 75I began the night with another visit to the beautiful, new home of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Maison Symphonique, which on this night would be the home of the Chick Corea Trio featuring two old friends and long time associates, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This would be an all acoustic set with Chick on acoustic piano so with all the stylistic directions the trio could have gone in, considering the variety in Chick’s musical approach over the decades, this one would be limited to what could be achieved without electric instrumentation.

With the obviously immense talent on stage there was much that could be achieved, and in this case it became kind of a “Greatest Jazz Hits of the 20th Century!” Those hits included two of Chick’s classics as he began the show with “500 Miles High” and also included “Awakening” in the set list. We were treated to classics like Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit,” two Thelonious Monk classics back to back and more standards. It all featured Chick’s always-masterful touch on the piano and his entertaining commentary between tunes. Plus, if you are a fan of extended acoustic bass and drum solos then with Mr. McBride and Mr. Blade you were treated to lots of that at it’s highest level. It was a great pleasure to join in the celebration of Chick Corea’s 75th birthday that features Chick and his various compatriots touring the world to give all of us a treasured gift!

Robert Glasper & Russ (MTL-'10)Compressed

Robert Glasper hanging with Russ Davis in Montreal!

I was again off to the Theatre Maisonneuve to take in a performance that had me guessing as to what I might hear. There are over 75 years of recorded work for the “Blue Note 75 Band” to choose from, so I wondered if they would play only songs from the massive recorded history of this legendary, and still very active, jazz record label. I entered the show already in progress and heard an hour by six of the current young stars of the Blue Note label…Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Ambrose Akinmusire, Marcus Strickland, Derrick Hodge and Kendrick Scott.

What I heard was not a collection of updated oldies from the Blue Note catalog but instead the new sound of Blue Note in the form of the compositions from these six young gentlemen who are pushing jazz music and the legacy of Blue Note Records itself forward in a most creative way. There was no particular reliance on electronic music, though Mr. Glasper certainly used electric keys effectively and Lionel Loueke played his electric guitar though some devices that gave it an otherworldly sound from time to time. There was also not much reflection of what is happening in modern music, establishing rifts and repeating them with simple beats a al dance and hip hop. Instead what the gentlemen offered was a full sounding production of new, creative, sometimes free jazz with expert playing and an exhibition of compositional skill at a high level. Blue Note appears to be in good hands as it begins its next 75 years.

Charlie Hunter & Russ (MTL 13) 001I had one last stop on my way to the end of the night and this would be a visit to the friendly confines of one of my favorite and most intimate of venues, the converted church called the Gesu. The terraced seats leading down to the sunken stage give you the feeling of being face to face with the performers, not to mention up close and personal. It was the perfect setting to see a trio and in this case it was the latest Charlie Hunter Trio featuring Bobby Previte on drums and Alan Ferber on trombone with Charlie playing bass, rhythm and lead simultaneously on his 7-string guitar.

Much of the set was taken from the 2015 self-produced and released recording titled Let The Bells Ring On, a collection of Charlie Hunter compositions featuring Mr. Previte and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, that did not receive wide distribution or promotion. I was lucky to pick up a copy in Archambault, one of the large Montreal record stores (yes, they do still exist and Montreal has some great ones) so I was ready for what I would hear. What I heard was the coolest of groove marked by Charlie’s one-of-a-kind guitar work, the masterful beats of the master drummer Bobby Previte and sometimes full sounding and sometimes muted trombone by Alan Ferber. The vibe was great, the groove relentless, the playing superb and a special feature was the marriage of Charlie’s guitar with the trombone as they played in unison and harmony with delightful results. A splendid time was had by all, and it was a fitting end to another marvelous day of music at the Montreal Jazz Fest!

Russ Davis

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website…

Montreal_logo_2011According to the mythology I was taught as a young lad, angels had wings that allowed them to fly anywhere and their instrument of choice was the harp. It seems a couple of them flew into Quebec for the 37th edition of this grand Festival International de Jazz de Montreal and were accompanied by some of their fellow celestial musicians who created some heavenly sounds on my first day at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Fest. Let me explain.

On June 30th I arrived in Montreal to cover what I believe is my 11th festival in a row. Time does indeed fly when one is having fun, and it’s all a delightful blur at this point. After checking in and making my way to the city’s cultural center, the Place des Arts, where all the indoor and outdoor events for the festival happen, I was greeted by the sound of the dreamy blending of trumpet and harp coming from the largest of the many outdoor stages for free performances, The Scene TD, where the audience was being mesmerized by the Manchester, England based trumpeter Matthew Halsall & his Gondwana Orchestra, featuring the otherworldly harp work of Rachel Gladwin. This group of inventive improvisers blended horns, reeds and woodwinds, with keyboards and the harp for an inviting mix that just wouldn’t let me go. I imagined Alice Coltrane turning her ears to listen and nodding with deep approval. I was on my way to the next show and venue but the magic of this groups sound was most enticing. I will certainly investigate them some more in the future, to be sure.

Wynton & Russ 2011My next stop was the beautiful Maison Symphonique, the newest of the venues in the Place des Arts, where Wynton Marsalis and his legendary Jazz @ Lincoln Center Orchestra would hold court in front of a packed house. As I took my seat I noticed that the audience was decidedly on the “older” side, shall we say. I thought of the statement one hears quite often that jazz has seen its best days and that it may have become a museum piece if the music does not move forward in some way. There are many ways to look at that and knowing how, as even Wynton himself would explain from the stage, that the Orchestra was established to celebrate and carry on the tradition of Duke Ellington, one might think you’d be hearing a nostalgic performance. Well, yes, and no.

Wynton, who “leads” the band from the back row of the orchestra and shines a large light on each and every one of the members of his incredible group of players as they take their leads or offer their own compositions and/or arrangements to the set, most certainly loves the traditions he exhibits, but obviously loves the music far to much to let it be stale. He and the band most certainly played Ellington as well as Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea compositions but also new work from members of the orchestra and each piece was played with supreme virtuosity and emotion. Everything seemed fresh and new, as if it was music being played for the first time. No museum piece on exhibition in this show!

I was off to the next venue after hearing the first set by Wynton and company. That’s the joy and the problem with great festivals like Montreal…the embarrassment of riches that is the fully packed lineup of overlapping shows. I made my way to the Theatre Maisonneuve via the underground passageway that links most of the venues. You may know how wicked the winters are in this lovely city and there are miles of underground walkways to help on cold nights. This was a warm summer evening but it’s still a welcome and quick passageway from place to place. I settled in to hear the brilliant pianist from Japan, Hiromi Uehara, and her great trio featuring bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. But first, the audience was to be treated to an opening set by another of the musical angels of the harp, the wonder that is the man from Bogota, Colombia, Edmar Castaneda.

220px-Edmar_Castañeda_at_Marcus_plus_2011Mr. Castaneda was born in Bogota and is the son of a Colombian harp player so he grew up with the perfect teacher. He soaked up the influence of this traditional instrument and the styles of Colombian, Venezuelan and other South American music as well as that of Africa. He moved to New York City in 1994 and began to make friends and musical associates in high places and made his name in the NYC scene, working with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, Joe Locke and many more. During his astounding set he seemed to be making more music than one person with two hands and a single instrument can produce. He played everything from music with those original influences to songs dedicated to Jaco Pastorius and Jesus of Nazareth, the latter displaying his deeply religious side, which came out in his music as well as his on stage comments. He understood his place as a lead-on act and put in his 45 minutes with great style. The standing ovation and roar of approval he received brought on an encore and a satisfied audience settled in for Hiromi and company.

Hiromi Uehara is a wonder of nature. This kind of talent doesn’t come along that often in history. There are a number of wonderfully talented keyboardists in jazz today but, in my humble opinion, none with talent, virtuosity, spirit, uniqueness and creativity greater than hers. Every fiber of her being is engaged when she plays be it during a gentle interlude that might lead to a rousing, roof-blowing passage. She is engaged with her instrument, her fellow musicians and the audience in equal measure. As the work of brain-mapping develops I would certainly like to witness what goes on inside this young woman’s mind while she creates. It might be like existing inside a tornado. She attacks the piano like a tiger, sometimes standing while she plays but always moving. She sounds like two or three players at once as she manipulates the left and right hands to play bass, chords and single notes at seemingly the same time in such a rapid pace. Luckily she has two veterans like Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips who can keep up and enhance what she does. She certainly shows her appreciation for their support and talent each chance she gets and one knows how much they must appreciate working with such a rare, unique and enormous talent like Hiromi.

HiromiThe set is all her original material and the output has been prodigious over the years of her career that began when she was a teenager. She was in a way “discovered” in Tokyo by Chick Corea, who invited her to join him in a concert that became a kind of “coming out party” for Hiromi. She made her way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied with Ahmad Jamal then struck out on her own as a solo recording artist in 2003. Her set included every form of jazz you might expect from a brilliant talent with such a deep and powerful mind as Hiromi possesses. At times you might hear a taste of the blues followed by a hint of pure swing, then jazz-rock-fusion that would make Chick Corea or Joe Zawinul applaud. There might be a modern, repeating pattern established and embellished with electric keys that would morph into some good, old Harlem stride style followed by nouveau-classical a la Beethoven…and all in one piece. After being treated to over an hour of this breathtaking music including a rousing encore the buzzing crowd made its way into the warm Montreal night. What a beginning to my four days at the 37th Festival International de Jazz de Montreal!

Russ Davis

<I>Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting <A HREF=>MOJA Radio’s website</a>.</I>

Detroit Jazz Fest Logo

Pat Metheny on stage at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

Pat Metheny on stage at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

It’s always hard to leave Detroit after the 4 days of this glorious event that runs each year over the Labor Day Holiday weekend, this year Friday through Monday, September 4th through the 7th. The music is great, the people are knowledgeable music fans, friendly, welcoming, proud of their city and in a festive mood. The festival occurs in the splendid downtown area with multiple venues all within short walking distance of one another and in a spectacular setting that includes the classically beautiful buildings of old Detroit juxtaposed with the modern, almost space age, look of the Renaissance Center and other new structures and the expansive Hart Plaza next to the Detroit River with Windsor, Ontario sparkling in the distance.

As for the music, I certainly won’t take the time and space to list all the performances that took place, you can go to the festival website at and get all the details, but the 36th edition of the festival billed as “The World’s Biggest Free Jazz Festival,” was once again nothing short of a non-stop jazz party. Under the direction of the festival’s artistic director Chris Collins, the lineup was varied in scope with an obvious focus on Detroit and its musical heritage, jazz history in general, the sound of the big band and large ensemble in jazz, an exhibition of artists from various generations and a special spotlight on the work of the 2015 “Artist In Residence,” Pat Metheny. The lineup may seem a bit short on the funky side of things as well as the more modern, electric, hip-hop flavored, techno-influenced jazz, but as more than one person said to me, “it’s great to come to a ‘REAL’ jazz festival.” That seems to be by design without a doubt.

Out of the almost 100 shows in the festival at least 10 were listed as part of what is called “The Homecoming Series” featuring performances by native Detroit musicians like Ron Carter, Kenny Garrett, James Carter, J.C. Heard and many more. In fact the first day, Friday, September 4th, featured Detroiters in the spotlight right from the beginning. A limited, 2-performance schedule kicked off the festivities as Chris Collins welcomed the Grammy-winning Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band joined by 4 master clarinetists, Anat Cohen, Paquito D’Rivera, Ken Peplowski and Eddie Daniels, and a trio of Detroit musicians, including piano legend Barry Harris, with a unique presentation in honor of Benny Goodman titled Benny’s Threads. The performance was complete with mannequins on stage dressed in 4 of Mr. Goodman’s actual suits and historical commentary by a gentleman who acquired those suits from the swing legend who just happened to be his former New York City neighbor. The next show on Friday featured the first of four performances by Pat Metheny and his trio of drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley. The trio was joined on the last few tunes by Detroiter and current saxophone star Kenny Garrett. The set include everything from unique versions of Metheny’s “So May It Secretly Begin” to Garrett’s “Sing A Song Of Song” each given a new twist. The first day’s lineup was short but sweet and the Detroit Jazz Festival was off and running with a bang!

The toughest part of attending an event like the Detroit Jazz Festival is seeing the shows you want to see but knowing that you’ll be missing some performances that you’d also like to hear. On day 2, Saturday, September 5th, after the performances in the early afternoon featuring mostly local youth, high school and college big bands, the lineup included shows by Paquito D’Rivera, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Kenny Garrett, Brian Blade, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Stanley Jordan, Manuel Valera, James “Blood” Ulmer, Rene Marie, the all-star Mack Avenue Superband and Steve Turre in a celebration of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s birthday with special guest James Carter. And those were the shows I was NOT able to attend. I had been asked to emcee performances at the Apsopure Waterfront Stage next to the Detroit River and there I spent the day in the company of and listening to the clarinetist from Israel, Anat Cohen, followed by Detroit guitarist Perry Hughes and his organ ensemble, alto saxophone sensation Rudresh Mahanthappa performing his latest work Bird Calls, and the second of 4 performances featuring Pat Metheny, this one being the reunion of the Gary Burton-Pat Metheny quartet. During this hot, steamy day I spent my time under the trees next to the river and when I was not listening to the performances I enjoyed my conversations with the artists who were all in a fantastic mood. It seemed like I had been invited to the family reunion of the music community, a continuing theme of the rest of the festival.

MOJA's Russ Davis interviewed jazz legend Oliver Lake at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

MOJA’s Russ Davis interviewed jazz legend Oliver Lake at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

MOJA's Russ Davis caught up with his old friend, the legendary JOHN SCOFIELD backstage at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

MOJA’s Russ Davis caught up with his old friend, the legendary JOHN SCOFIELD backstage at the 2015 Detroit Jazz Fest!

One of the features that sets Detroit apart from most any other festival is a series of conversations and presentations that occur under what they call the “Jazz Talk Tent” which is positioned right on Woodward Avenue in the middle of the festival grounds. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, if you’d spent your time only in the tent, you might have learned more about the history of Detroit jazz, or the life and careers of Benny Goodman or Dizzy Gillespie with commentary by expert musicologists. Or you could have gotten up close and personal with artists like Monty Alexander, Eddie Daniels, Anat Cohen, Rene Marie, Steve Turre, James Carter, Joanne Bracken and Gordon Goodwin. I had the honor of conducting an interview and multi-media presentation with the great saxophonist, artist, poet, educator and general Renaissance man Oliver Lake. This occurred on Sunday afternoon and precluded me from hearing some of the great performances on this, the third day of the festival. I’ll place that in the category of “There’s a price to pay for every good thing!”

Sunday featured some interesting presentations that one would imagine artistic director Chris Collins, an educator, composer, player and arranger, was instrumental in putting together. Mr. Collins either led, condoned or commissioned various large ensemble, orchestra and/or big band presentations including one that fused Celtic music and Jazz under his direction, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra honoring the late great bassist and led by his old friends Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, Eddie Daniels with a jazz version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the Detroit String Orchestra and Danilo Perez, who performed his Panama 500 at the festival in recent years, presenting his newly-commissioned Detroit World Suite.

As for small group shows, Pat Metheny, in his third of four festival presentations, performed in a duo setting with Detroit legend Ron Carter, emerging piano star Aaron Diehl led his trio, Ken Peplowski led his quartet, Richard Bona brought “World Jazz” to the festival with his ensemble presentation of what he called Mandekan Cubano and trumpeter Dave Douglas led his quintet. I was pleased to hear some of Mr. Douglas and his band pushing the musical envelope after I’d taken in another trio featuring drummer Will Calhoun, bassist Doug Wimbush and vocalist/percussionist Vinx doing some “envelope pushing” themselves as the trio Jungle Funk. Then I was off to hear Oliver Lake take the saxophone-organ combo to a new, inventive place with his Oliver Lake Organ Quartet. The man who may be best known for his work with his fellow musical adventurers in the World Saxophone Quartet, never wants to leave a musical stone unturned if there’s something rare and uniquely his own underneath. The open-minded jazz fans of Detroit “got it” with his new take on organ combo, as they seemed to with another performance that featured jazz of a more free nature by Rudresh Mahanthapa. I ended the day enjoying the high level give and take between two old friends that revisited their musical union that began when they were Berklee College of Music classmates in the 1970’s. Guitar master John Scofield and one of the reigning tenor sax giants Joe Lovano thrilled a packed Carhartt Amphitheater crowd with their performance and the third day of the festival was in the books on a high note!

With the day after Monday, Labor Day, being a work/school day, the Detroit Jazz Festival presents a slightly shorter schedule but that does not mean it’s short on quality or variety. This just might have been my favorite day of the festival, as near impossible as that is to imagine. The day included the Cuban-born legendary trumpeter Arturo Sandoval followed on the Chase Main Stage by Jamaica’s national treasure Monty Alexander with his Harlem-Kingston Express. Mr. Alexander’s performance brought even more heat to a 90+ degree day under a blazing sun that made things feel more like Kingston than Detroit. For lovers of great singers there was the perfect voice of the charming Carmen Lundy, followed on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage by the dashing Ron Carter and his trio featuring equally dashing Russell Malone on guitar. I say dashing in that these gentlemen were immaculately dressed in matching, dark three piece suits and never seemed to break a sweat while they cranked out one cool jazz classic after another for an adoring audience. Youngblood trumpeter from New Orleans, Christian Scott, returned to the festival again this year and played at the same time as the legendary Joanne Brackeen who was joined by special guest Rudresh Mahanthapa who stayed overtime at the festival just to hang and have fun sitting in.

My two favorite shows of the day, and possibly the performances that had the greatest impact on me personally, both occurred on Sunday and featured drummer Will Calhoun in the second of two shows by groups led by him and the final performance by “Artist In Residence” Pat Metheny. I’d seen Will Calhoun the previous day with the Jungle Funk trio playing in a stripped down setting that featured his drum kit and various percussion devices with electronic embellishments, along with his long time associate Doug Wimbish on bass and some electronic toys of his own. Vocalist Vinx, who could probably sing opera or on the Broadway stage, also added percussion elements to the mix. It was jazz and funk, yes, but there was more than just that exhibited in the performance and I knew that when Mr. Calhoun took the stage on Sunday with his quartet, featuring rising keyboard star Marc Carey and saxophone master Greg Osby, that more modern innovation would be revealed. Truly there was as we heard everything from the standard “Afro Blue” to Will Calhoun originals, to rock and funk reminiscent of the sound of his band Living Color, and world music inspired by his travels all over Africa to investigate the source of American music. Marc Carey was brilliant on both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes while Greg Osby’s contribution of his signature alto sound serving up his free, improvisational soul was the icing on a delicious cake. Will Calhoun’s pounding drum style together with his use of rare electronic percussion instruments made for a brilliant and unique performance.

To top off the festival and bring things full circle, Pat Metheny took the stage of the huge Carhartt Amphitheater with a massive ensemble, The Detroit Jazz Festival Big Band directed by Alan Broadbent along with Gary Burton on vibes, Scott Colley on bass and Pat’s old friend, drummer Danny Gottlieb, with whom he explained he had not played for 31 years. The set began with a big sounding piece of swinging jazz to loosen up the players and the audience. Then Mr. Metheny explained what would come next…the 35 minute piece that he had been commissioned to create by the German nation to salute one of their honored artists and a personal friend and associate of his and Gary Burton’s, German bassist Eberhard Weber, with whom Pat and Gary had recorded with in the 1970’s & ‘80’s on various projects on the ECM label. Mr. Weber had recently suffered a stroke that took away his ability to play music, so it was important to Pat to “include” him in some way on the creation of this work. His did this in a brilliant way as Metheny remembered having seen a German television special featuring a live performance by the master bassist playing his unique bass that he’d had made just for him and his own style. Not only did Pat lift the audio from those performances and weave them into the audio tracks for this new work but he also projected the image of Eberhard Weber actually playing live from the television special totally in sync with the live performance. It was nothing short of astounding! Seeing the performance as it blended with the live playing of this marvelous piece had brought Mr. Weber to the festival. Pat Metheny has certainly become a master of the long form in modern jazz and this work, soon to be released as Hommage A Eberhard Weber on ECM Records, is a brilliant addition to his long list of long-form masterpieces. The set ended as the full big band was replaced by the Detroit Jazz Festival String Orchestra backing up Mr. Metheny on some of his famous compositions like “Last Train Home” arranged by Alan Broadbent. The last song was a touching and personal rendition of Charlie Haden’s “First Song,” dedicated to Pat Metheny’s close friend who just recently passed away. On that gentle note the 36th Detroit Jazz Festival came to an end. I only hope that my mental faculties will allow my memory to remain active for years to come because once again a number of wonderful memories were created at this marvelous event!

Russ Davis

<I>Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting

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The great Christian McBride (with MOJA's Russ Davis) returns to Newport again in 2015!

The great Christian McBride (with MOJA’s Russ Davis) returns to Newport again in 2015!

Michel Camilo (at Newport 2014 with Russ Davis) returns again this year for multiple shows!

Michel Camilo (at Newport 2014 with Russ Davis) returns again this year for multiple shows!

Kenny Garrett (with MOJA's Russ Davis) plays Newport 2015!

Kenny Garrett (with MOJA’s Russ Davis) plays Newport 2015!

The Mike Stern-Bill Evans Band (with MOJA's Russ Davis) play Newport 2015!

The Mike Stern-Bill Evans Band (with MOJA’s Russ Davis) play Newport 2015!

Snarky Puppy returns to Newport for the second year in a row!

Snarky Puppy returns to Newport for the second year in a row!

Over six decades ago when George Wein and his associates were cruising around the lovely seaside village of Newport, Rhode Island and deciding that this would be a perfect place to stage a grand celebration of jazz I wonder if they ran into F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda and their friend Jay Gatsby on the rolling lawn of an expansive mansion atop the Newport cliffs overlooking the ocean? Gatsby would have liked what he saw and heard and he’d be there this year, along with thousands more jazz fans from everywhere, to enjoy 3 days of performances by jazz royalty from generations new and old from Friday, July 31st through Sunday, August 2nd at Fort Adams State Park.

As I take a look at the 60+ performances on the lineup I can’t help but notice a “changing of the guard” that is always inevitable in jazz history but is certainly pronounced this year as I see very few artists who’ll present music directly from bebop and more styles that spring from newer influences. That isn’t to say there won’t be any of the traditions of jazz history on display as artists from the Jazz Birthplace of New Orleans like Dr. John, Herlin Riley, Jon Batiste and Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra are all over the four stages at the fort. Plus there’s Lucky Peterson singing the blues, James Carter with a salute to Don Byas and special presentations celebrating the many historic performances by Miles Davis over the years at Newport. There will be great veterans bringing on the tradition when recently-named NEA Jazz Master Lou Donaldson plays the Harbor Stage on the last day, or when Pat Martino returns to his early days with his latest organ trio. There’s Jack DeJohnette presenting his “Made In Chicago” show, Tom Harrell and Jon Faddis joined by a host of young-bloods for sure to be great performances filled with tradition. There will be various big bands and jazz orchestras, including the award-winning Maria Schneider Orchestra and John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, sure to draw at least a bit from that same traditional well.

The “World of Jazz” is on display too as Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra welcomes special guest Rudresh Mahantappa. Michel Camilo plays a duet performance with the brilliant Japanese-born pianist Hiromi after he performs the day before as a guest at Conrad Herwig’s “Latin Side of Horace Silver” show. One of the most highly anticipated shows features the teenage pianist Joey Alexander (born Joey Alexander Sila in Denpasar, Bali) who turned 12 on June 25th. He possesses incredible chops and has played jazz standards at a high level and by ear since his age was in single digits. He’s one of the current sensations of jazz without a doubt and I’m sure lots of folks will show up to see what everyone is talking about while they wonder if he might have the goods to be more than just a current curiosity. Speaking of international, Cuba sends the master trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Canada sends Bria Skonberg and England’s popular pianist and vocalist Jamie Cullum actually plays the very last show of the festival on Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of vocalists, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned, the popular Jose James brings his blend of jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul to the festival. Plus three of the finest and most popular female voices in jazz, and from different generations, are set to play Newport 2015. The great Cassandra Wilson celebrates Billie Holiday, Lisa Fischer leads the band Grand Baton and young Ms. Cecile McLorin Salvant adds her soulful vocal style to her performance with the Aaron Diehl Trio possibly singing some standards as she does on her newest release For One To Love.

And the ladies of modern jazz are well represented. In addition to those I’ve noted previously there are bands led by Helen Sung, the aforementioned pianist Hiromi, who’s become quite the Newport favorite, leading her own trio in addition to playing in a duo with Michel Camilo. And from the experimental side of things comes Chicago-born saxophonist Ms. Matana Roberts pushing the musical envelope, as those members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) are known to do.

Speaking of music coming from the left side of things, i.e. experimental, funky or new fusion, there’s plenty to enjoy at Newport this year including the brilliant, fun, up and funky collaboration between guitarist Mike Stern and saxophonist Bill Evans. The current darlings of modern jazz, Snarky Puppy, return for the second year in a row to get both the younger and older generations of jazz fans revved up and then there’s Kneebody, another band who, like Snarky Puppy, were born out of the educational experience having been classmates at the Eastman School of Music. This eclectic quintet blends jazz, funk, hip-hop, electro pop, rock and who-knows-what for a pleasing and uplifting mix. No one pushes the envelope more than saxman/composer Steve Lehman, who plays one of the first sets of the festival on Friday. Staid, stale and predictable this Newport Jazz Festival is not.

Back to that “Changing of the Guard” element of this years festival, there are established greats like Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, Jason Lindner, Billy Childs, James Carter, Frank Kimbrough, Bill Frisell and others playing alongside those from the younger generation reaching to find a similar level of recognition and success. Some of those in that group playing this year in Newport include pianist Gerald Clayton, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianists Aaron Diehl and Christian Sands

Now, lastly, something I feel needs to be said about the “Grandfather of all Jazz Festivals” and that Great Gatsby reference I made in the beginning of this piece. Jay Gatsby wasn’t hurting for cash, so he’s not going to have any problems hanging out at Fort Adams State Park for the three great days by the sea. He’s got lots of money in the bank, someone to drive him to and from the event and a VERY nice place to stay. What I’m getting at is that you need to REALLY want to attend this event, as it isn’t exactly easy to get to or cheap. Unless you live fairly close and can drive there yourself, there’s no mass transit directly to Newport so you’re looking at trains or planes to Boston or Providence followed by a bus trip. Newport isn’t a large city, it is in essence a quaint seaside village, so there aren’t ample accommodations with special deals so you may have to make a B&B reservation, stay in someone’s home via AirBNB or pay pretty high rates at the local hotels. There are deals on tickets for students and other discounts but it isn’t a free festival like Detroit where anyone from anywhere can just show up and enjoy jazz at the highest level for nothing. I’m not saying this as a put-down of the festival just a warning to be prepared.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is a one-of-a-kind event that has been around for over 6 decades for a reason. The scene is beautiful and the atmosphere is electric while also being relaxing. A festivalgoer feels as if he or she is witnessing history and that something special is going on, which it is. The artists that play there, veteran or up-and-coming, feel privileged and excited to be on the bill and they give inspired performances because of it. Newport itself is one of the most charming villages one is ever likely to set foot in. The people are bright and friendly and the shopping and restaurants, as well as the historical sites, will keep you busy and happy during the time you aren’t taking in the music. I’ve had any number of folks say to me…”Somewhere down the line I’ve got to make it to the Newport Jazz Festival!” I know the feeling and that’s why once again I’ll say “See you in NEWPORT!”

Russ Davis

<I>Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting <A HREF=>MOJA Radio’s website</a>.</I>

Snarky Puppy Poster (MTL 2015)Jaga Jazzist Poster (MTL 2015)Michael League of Snarky Puppy with Russ (MTL 2015)2015 Montreal Jazz Mid-Festival Review: Part Three! Attack From Norway and Mexico…Some Very Aggressive Puppies…it’s a wrap! ;>(

My final report of the experiences I enjoyed at the 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal begins and ends with performances that were nothing short of spectacles instead of simply musical performances. And there was some very cool stuff in between. I remind you to go to the festival website at and get all the details of the wonderful array of events that are what has to be the greatest jazz festival in the world. I’ve had five wonderful days here and I am departing with a heavy heart as I would love to stay for the next five days which will include shows by artists like Vijay Iyer, John Pizzarelli, Marc Cary, Madeleine Peryoux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, John Medeski, Ron Carter, Patricia Barber, Russell Malone, Abdullah Ibrahim, Oliver Jones and dozens more. Don’t get me started…I’ll begin to cry! ;>(

My first stop is to Saint Laurent Street and the familiar confines of Club Soda to hear the 8-piece wonder that is Norway’s Jaga Jazzist. Question…have you ever been in the path of a rampaging bull elephant coming right towards you that had no desire to get out of your way? That was the beginning, middle and end of the performance by these folks (seven men and one woman) who came from Oslo to serve up their unique blend of electric and acoustic instrumentation, rock-jazz-classical-electronica-who knows what, designed to assault and thrill the raving crowd that hung on every note. Standing on a stage among a field of 5-foot high blinking neon trees (you had to be there) the band exploded from the first note with joyous sound and spirit that was nothing short of astounding. There wasn’t much subtlety in this presentation, though there certainly are dynamics in the music, but the volume and performance was full throttle from the beginning to the end. Jaga Jazzist has been around since they were in their teens and now, almost 20 years later, their music has arrived at a point where their fully formed style is totally their own. With electric keyboards, guitar and bass, the versatile horns and woodwinds players who double as percussionists and vocalists, all driven by the pounding drums of Martin Horntveth, Jaga Jazzist served up music from their newest release Starfire and selected cuts from previous releases. There are almost no words to fully describe the style that is Jaga Jazzist music. When I imagine what people from say 150 years ago thought “the music of the future” would sound like, this is that music and these are the people who make it! It could qualify as many things stylistically. Though the band seems to play as a single unit moving through all the progressions and musical changes, there are occasional moments for the guitarist, saxophonist, flutist or keyboardist to take a brief lead before the single cell organism that is the band as a whole explodes and takes off again to soar to another exuberant peak. Just go see this band should you have the chance, but bring an open mind and be ready for VOLUME!!

I think my ears were still ringing after my night in Club Soda with Jaga Jazzist when I arrived for an interview/conversation I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Bassist, composer and bandleader of Snarky Puppy, Michael League, was taking the time to speak to press at the festival and I wanted to get the story behind the band that is a certified phenomenon and current darlings of modern jazz. I heard the story from this intelligent and personable young guy and discovered that the band, a bunch of college buddies who got together at that Denton, Texas music factory that is North Texas State University, boldly took off on their musical journey that’s taken them to Grammy awards and world travels, serving up their unique blend of various styles that have gathered a rabid following. I’d witness the group and those fans in action later in the day at a packed Metropolis. More to come on that…

I’d also been looking forward to witnessing firsthand another worldwide phenomenon, the duo from Mexico that call themselves Rodrigo Y Gabriela. What a story is this one, guitar-playing members of a Mexico City heavy metal band who decided to take off as a duo to busk on the streets of Europe. Before long they’d found a unique style, an audience, representation that booked them on the European festival circuit and as they played to stunned and thrilled audiences their style developed further. They’ve recorded with accompanying musicians like a 13-piece orchestra from Cuba, sitar great Anoushka Shankar and others, but their bread and butter is playing as a duo and most of their releases are live recordings from around the world. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero could not remember if they’d played Montreal before until an audience member told them it was their second time. Hey, give them a break. They are living out of suitcases, and guitar cases, and they’re all over the place all the time. This was the end of a short North American tour and they’d be leaving again for Europe the next day. In the meantime they had one more powerful set to unleash on a packed house in the beautiful Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier that knew every song and hung on every note. They know how to get friendly with an audience and even invited about 30 or 40 of them to join them onstage to dance along with them while they played.

The message in the performance by Rodrigo Y Gabriela is “simple” and that means musically and emotionally. They mentioned that they didn’t usually play to seated audiences, thus the invitation to join them on stage and to rise to your feet if you are sitting while they play. I’ll call the performance “The Beautiful People Play Heavy-Metal Flamenco.” These two are, shall we say, easy to look at! They can certainly play but back to the term simple. There is plenty of improvisation by each of them but the music is mostly about the rhythm as they kick into simple chord progressions, repeat them and kick up their heels while they invite the audience to do the same. It’s a party! They use their guitars like congas so they need no percussionists and the audience keeps the beat with constant clapping. If you don’t want to get up and have fun you have probably come to the wrong show. Flamenco purists might want to stay home too and if you’re looking for intricate compositions this ain’t your show either. Sometimes I felt like they were playing the song they’d just played, but who cares? It’s fun and sometimes that’s exactly what you need!

The final chapter of my Montreal 2015 journey came inside the cavernous club/edifice/cave that is Metropolis. To fill this place you’ve got to bring a big crowd with big energy and create a big sound. All of the above occurred with the Snarky Puppy show on Tuesday night, June 30th, my last in Montreal this year. In the conversation with Michael League that I mentioned earlier I discovered that though jazz is certainly a big part of the musical message of the band it’s only a portion of what they have to offer stylistically and they feel no major obligation to carry jazz on their backs further into the 21st century. I’d seen them perform at the 2014 Newport Jazz Festival and they gave a very “jazzy” show that had baby boomers and teenagers in the crowd both bobbing their heads and tapping their feet together. On this night in Montreal they knew they had a rabid, loud, young crowd that was mostly standing and ready to rock. Michael League had told me that gospel and soul music had been original, major influences along with rock and jazz and the set began with a soulful groove that quickly exploded into full-blown rock. There have been 30 musicians who’ve been part of the band at one time or another and I learned that they still come and go from time to time. On this evening there were 8 Puppies on stage, two drummer/percussionists, two keyboardists/trumpeter/percussionists, 2 multi horn/woodwinds players, bass and guitar. The sound was big and electric and it needed to be! There was the occasionally horn lead to give the set some jazz element along with some familiar Snarky Puppy funk and hip hop passages and even a guest vocalist, from Montreal no less, who joined in with a very soulful presentation and a spirited rap to complete the mix. It was another spectacular show at this marvelous festival and I can’t wait until the 37th edition in 2016!

Russ Davis

<I>Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting <A HREF=>MOJA Radio’s website</a>.</I>

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