Hey! We wanted to say thanks for reading and contributing and having conversations with us over the last month or so. It’s been our privilege to get to know our community in a new way. Thanks!
This week, we have Phil Maneri celebrating the life and career of drummer, John Christensen, Zakk Jones gives us 3 new albums (wow!) to listen to (including his own! (wow wow!)), Fritz time-travels back to 2008 to review the Famous Jazz Orchestra, and a poem.
One more once:
If you are a musician (tell us about your life!), writer (write something!), reviewer (go to a show and tell us about it), graphic designer (you’ve seen what we have going on…), social media expert (jazz musicians are the worst at this!), web developer (we are also not good at this), artist (let’s collaborate on a show!), or listener (thank you! tell us what you like – or what you don’t!) who’s interested in helping us grow this site and our community, check out THIS post and think about what you might want to share! Our scene IS your scene.
As Phil Sees It // Phil Maneri
Taking a few column inches here to shine light on an under-appreciated drummer who passed away this week.
Jon Christensen (1943-2020) was a Norwegian drummer who, in the early 70’s, appeared on many of the very first ECM Records titles before anyone could imagine how big that record label would get in the coming years. His Wiki page doesn’t do justice to his legacy. He was the percussive voice of ECM, along with Jack DeJohnnette. Between them they covered the lion’s share of the improvised jazz releases on ECM for the first 30 years. They were very different players. DeJohnette is a legit schooled drummer with outstanding jazz chops who swings like mad and plays backbeat as good as anyone. He is steeped in the American Jazz tradition, having played with Miles Davis and a who’s who of Jazz in the last century.
By contrast, Christensen lived his whole life in Oslo Norway, never having taken a lesson or had any legit background, as far as I can tell, but there he is on stage with Keith Jarrett, George Russell, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, and Steve Kuhn. He made extensive recordings with Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber, Miroslav Vitous, Charles Loyd, and John Abercrombie. His work with Jan Garbarek cemented the ECM sound.
Christensen’s best skill was his dedication to being entirely himself. He played like a painter, accentuating musical undulations while applying sonic colors in support of-or in contrast to- his band mates. I’ve heard him swing and play backbeat and perform all kinds of legit drummer functions, but he rarely chooses to do that exclusively; not because he couldn’t or didn’t prefer to, but rather it just never occurred to him to do that. He did himself.
He plays in washes of sound. In waves. Many drummers paint with the top of the kit, the cymbals and percussives, but lay down clear time with the kick and snare. He paints with everything, having no distinction between the top or bottom of the kit. He doesn’t set aside any particular area of the kit for time but is likely to play it anywhere. Or nowhere.
Western players steeped in African traditions tend to lay down time in a grid. They define the subdivisions of time across the piece, delineating where they feel that time should be at any given moment. That creates a comfortable framework to play over, because it has some predictable and repetitive underpinning to the otherwise often random sounding chaos above it. Christensen could play time and did so quite often, but he was never bound by it. He had a great sense of time -it was implied in everything he did- he just didn’t feel the need to make sure everyone knew where he though it should be all the time. He played with the assumption that everyone shared time and that the grid wasn’t crucial to the work. It could be, but it wasn’t required. Indeed that grid may be musical comfort food, but it can also be a prison. He innately understood that everything in jazz could be flexible if you so choose.
Because of his flexibility with time and structure, he got call after call and played on hundreds of sessions. He was genteel and democratic. He drove the dynamics and emotive swirls of a piece quite clearly. He could play super busy and intensely, or hardly play at all, respecting the ultimate authority of silence and always serving the music. He never showed off, ever.
Christensen was the ultimate team player. In his time as a working musician he was content helping others find their vision and fully realize it on the bandstand and in recordings. His discography is huge over the last 50 years but only once did he actually have a leader session on an obscure label which ironically enough was called “No Time for Time”.
Maybe even more important than all of that, is that is that he rubbed off on his colleagues, influencing some real heavy hitters. This unschooled lovely human at the kit drove ECM records toward the sound paintings and the sonic collages that they became known for (for good or bad depending on how you feel about it). It’s my belief that his work influenced DeJohnnette and Paul Motian, both who grew up in traditional New York Jazz but ended up adding Christensen’s sonic washes and suspended timekeeping feel to their own tool kits as they moved along, so much so that the vibe often gets credited to them rather than where I think it belongs, with Jon Christensen. He was uniquely himself -unaffected by the rules and regulations of schooled musicians. His musical freedom was infectious to his band mates and colleagues.
His is a strong lifetime of playing that deserves recognition. Go check out his playing on Ralph Towner’s “Solstice”, or “Reflections” with Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin. Google him and dig into his early fusion work with Terje Rypdal, or the outside playing he did with SART. He had a fascinating run, and the musical world , players and listeners alike, is a lot better for it.
We are very excited to announce the creation of a JazzColumbus Spotify playlist! Right now it’s getting filled up with tons of local Jazz releases from our very own amazing musicians in the scene. Please let us know if you, or someone you love, has music to be included. We want to feature talented acts from our great city, but right now are not doing “reviews” so to speak, instead just focusing on getting pertinent information and links out there.
In addition there a few new releases from great emerging artists in Columbus that we want to share.
Drew Martin’s debut EP Modern + Art was released February 11th, available on all major streaming platforms.
Columbus based multi-instrumentalist Drew Martin is 24 years old and ready to round up a niche audience of new jazz fans. A graduate of Capital University, he spent his time there studying jazz greats like fellow vibraphonists Gary Burton, Lionel Hampton, and Roy Ayers, as well as other instrumentalists like Chick Corea and Grant Green. Largely inspired by the work of producers like J-Dilla, Robert Glasper, and Tom Misch, he seeks to combine his background of jazz performance with his love of hip-hop, rap, and fusion. 2020 will be a year to remember for Drew, with another album planned to drop later this year.
“Zayzafoon” is the first album for Lebanese based artist/composer/percussionist Ayman Abi Kheir
Ayman Abi Kheir is a Lebanese singer/songwriter from Dhoûr Ech Choueïr, Mont-Liban, Lebanon who is now working and playing in Columbus, Ohio, while pursuing his music degree at Capital University.
This song is inspired by the beauty and authenticity of Ayman’s Lebanese hometown, Dhour Shweir, and its magical pine forests.
The Lebanese name “Zayzafoon” refers to the linden tea plant which grows naturally in Lebanon. This plant has many antioxidants and health benefits the same way the album’s music is intended to influence the listener!
The music was recorded during the winter and spring of 2019 at the prestigious studios of Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
It features accomplished Columbus-based musicians whom Ayman met during his stay in Columbus:
Nathan Baker on saxophone
Christopher Dooley on guitar
Jacob Campbell on Keyboard
William Strickler on Upright and Electric Bass.
Ayman Abi Kheir on Drum Set and Percussion.
Our own Zakk Jones just put out a solo guitar recording as well which was one of his projects as he spends the month of February in Seaside, FL.
“With all this time on my hands I decided to record and release a solo guitar album. It’s far from perfect both musically and recording-wise. 6 cuts are DIY recordings from my bedroom down here in Seaside and then 4 selections from a live gig with pretty solid audio. There are new/unrecorded originals, arrangements and some old classics I’ve been playing for a long time. This is an honest documentation of myself in the solo guitar setting, which is so very difficult yet dear to my heart! It’s totally free for you, but of course you can pay a few bucks if you wish. I hope you enjoy”
HERE is the link for Zakk’s album.
What’re You Spinning // Zach Compston
A few months ago thanks to an Instagram post by our friend, musician and Columbus native (now NY-based) Cedric Easton, I discovered this album from 1966, Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis in Atlantic City (RCA Victor LSP-3706). To me, this isn’t one of those live albums that simply adds a frustrating amount crowd noise and a lack of sonic balance to a recording; from the first track, you are instantly transported to what was surely a feel-good evening of B3 organ along with one of the most iconic musical personalities of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Hodges’ lyrical, bluesy and always swinging playing blends incredibly well with the classic B3 trio sound – something that is a deep part of the Columbus jazz tradition. I like to imagine Hank Marr and Gene Walker sharing a date playing these very tunes at the 501 or one of the many organ clubs that helped define Columbus as a B3 city.
Dickie Thompson (guitar) and Bobby Durham (drums) round out the rhythm section, which is swinging from beginning to end. Fellow Ellington alum Lawrence Brown joins on trombone as well as Bob Brown on tenor saxophone and flute. No bebop here – this live date consists of blues and standards that clearly and audibly please the live audience. I’m struck by the way that Wild Bill’s organ sound blends with the sweet, expressive tone of Hodges’ alto, and the two are swinging together effortlessly. As a drummer, it’s a real treat to hear Bobby Durham driving the bus with fire and patience simultaneously – setting up the band when needed with clever and clean phrases. If this record doesn’t make you tap your toe or nod your head, I’m worried about you!
Find it on Apple Music and Spotify
This track, an original composition by Johnny Hodges entitled, “Taffy”, tells you everything you need to know about this record. Enjoy!
Vintage Record Reviews // Fritz the Nite Owl on Vaughn Wiester and the Famous Jazz Orchestra
Originally Published in the Short North Gazette // November 2008
FAMOUS JAZZ ORCHESTRA MAKES DREAMS COME TRUE FOR BIG BAND LOVERS! Master chef/Orchestra leader Vaughn Wiester cooks creatively on latest live recording
“Dreams Come True” is not only a great title for this rousing, recently released recording by the Famous Jazz Orchestra, it’s also an accurate three-word description of FJO leader, Vaughn Wiester’s, musical career which began while a high school student in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
There, thanks to his music teacher Bob Bechtel, Vaughn was introduced to the sounds of big, bold brass and innovative chords as created by Stan Kenton. He continued his musical journey as a trombonist in the Navy.
He returned to life as a landlubber in 1968 and enrolled as a music major at The Ohio State University. In addition to his studies, he played professional-paying gigs with the Dave Workman Blues Band and many other local and regional groups.
In 1972, he became a player-arranger for the Jazz Arts Group (now the Columbus Jazz Orchestra), then led by its founder, Ray Eubanks. This was followed by a two-year stay as a player and arranger for the Woody Herman Band in 1974. While with Herman, he performed on two internationally released albums and arranged other charts, which included a highly acclaimed arrangement of the Charles Mingus classic “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love.”
Returning to Columbus, he performed, taught, and arranged for the Dave Wheeler Contemporary Music Workshop. In 1977 he joined the faculty at Capital University, teaching courses in jazz arranging and jazz history. He also directed Capital’s award-winning Big Band Sound Big Band. This 17-year run was interspersed with playing and arranging for the world-renowned Terry Waldo Ragtime Orchestra.
Wiester was inducted as an Honorary Member of the national music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, in 1992, the same year he founded the Famous Jazz Orchestra, which was applauded by big band aficionados in countless appearances, the most notable being a continuous 11-year run (every Monday night) at the Columbus Music Hall, owned and directed by Becky Ogden. You’ll hear and feel the energy and excitement of these Music Hall performances, recorded live this year and last, on:
Dreams Come True: Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra: More Live Recordings! (CoJAZZ-CJ-1038)
Briefly, the CD’s title reflects Vaughn’s optimistic “Dreams-to-Reality” beliefs in that three of the tracks are arrangements-commissions specifically created for him and the FJO by Bill Holman (one of Wiester’s musical heroes/major influences), Bill Matthieu, and Roland Paolucci who co-commissioned to Holman a composition titled “Theme And Variations #3.” The complete “Dreams Come True” story is fully recounted in Wiester’s informative liner notes, which also include the 22-piece orchestra’s roster and the outstanding soloists on each of the 14 tracks.
The mood, tone, and thrust of the set opens with an industrial-strength swinger, “Boo Boo Be Doop.” This is a tune that Bill Holman wrote for Stan Kenton in 1952, which he restored exclusively for the FJO. Missing from the musical scene for nearly 50-years, it cooks on all burners, with great ensemble passages and individual solos.
The tempo mellows a bit for “Wailin’ In The Woodshed,” from the Woody Herman bandbook, but roars again on the straight-ahead Thad Jones compostition, “Interloper.”
Suffice it to say, every track is a winner, but special mention must be made about “Theme and Variations #3.” This unique composition features varying tempos and moods and is full orchestra throughout, with no solos whatever. It had its premier performance in Columbus, with the iconic Bill Holman himself leading the orchestra.
For the big band fanatic on any of your gift lists, birthday, anniversary, holiday, whatever, this is the perfect present.
***A̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶f̶i̶n̶a̶l̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶e̶,̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶F̶a̶m̶o̶u̶s̶ ̶J̶a̶z̶z̶ ̶O̶r̶c̶h̶e̶s̶t̶r̶a̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶s̶e̶e̶n̶,̶ ̶h̶e̶a̶r̶d̶,̶ ̶e̶n̶j̶o̶y̶e̶d̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶M̶o̶n̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶n̶i̶g̶h̶t̶,̶ ̶7̶:̶3̶0̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶1̶1̶ ̶p̶.̶m̶.̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶C̶o̶l̶u̶m̶b̶u̶s̶ ̶M̶a̶e̶n̶n̶e̶r̶c̶h̶o̶r̶,̶ ̶9̶6̶6̶ ̶S̶o̶u̶t̶h̶ ̶H̶i̶g̶h̶ ̶S̶t̶.̶,̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶G̶e̶r̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶V̶i̶l̶l̶a̶g̶e̶.̶
***THE FAMOUS JAZZ ORCHESTRA’S CURRENT HOME IS:
Clintonville Woman’s Club // 3951 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43214
They can still be seen, heard, enjoyed live every Monday night, 7:30-10:00PM.
Here Is A Poem // Felicia Chernesky
Jazz In Winter
There is no warming balm
like a lush and tawny riff.
The soothing halcyon psalm
and slows the booted rush,
lingering as it drifts
through freezing city slush
and turned-up collar chill
and taxi blast, to hush
all cold harsh noise until,
between each icy blow,
with melody and trill
and dulcet honey glow,
like February streetlight,
it melts an evening snow.