Tag Archives: jazz

Harry Connick Jr. – Your Songs

I’m a pretty big fan of Harry Connick Jr. I listen to his Christmas album year-round. And look at the picture above! He’s totally man-crush material. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to give his latest album, “Your Songs,” a bad review.

HC Jr. is best when he’s singing jazz standards, or songs that have been creatively arranged as jazz standards, like his Christmas songs and his really cool album, “Songs I Heard,” which consists of a bunch of songs from kid’s movies. I really like Songs I Heard because it takes familiar songs and transforms them into something unique that Connick can work with.

Your Songs pretty much seems like a cash-in album. Harry C basically loaded a bunch of popular songs into this album so that people would buy it. “Oh, it has ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ on it! It even has a Beatles song!” The problem with the album, and I’m not sure how the producers didn’t catch this very early in the process, is that the arrangements are so dull that Harry sounds like he’s in pain throughout the album. The arrangements don’t fit his singing style because they’re popular songs, and Harry Connick Jr. is not a pop singer. The thing that bothers me most is that this is a completely safe album. There were no risks taken in the vanilla arrangements. So what we get is a really sub-standard pop album from a really good jazz vocalist.

These may be my songs, but Harry: you can keep them!

(Yeah, so what if my only reason for writing this review was the cheesy last line? I’ve done worse on this blog!)

Kurt Elling and Ernie Watts at The Michigan Theater 04/16/09


I saw Kurt Elling w/ Ernie Watts at the Michigan Theater last Thursday. The program was billed as “Dedicated to You,” in which Kurt re-envisions songs from Coltrane/Hartman’s ballad album. I really like this album, so I approached the concert with some enthusiasm and also some apprehension.

The instrumentation was kinda interesting. There was a combo as a base: Piano, Bass, Drums, Sax. Then there was a string quartet called ENRON or something (err, it was ETHEL) included in the instrumentation. This made the music seem a bit more fancy, but also more… orchestrated. I thought it took away from the jazziness of the performance. Like a real jazz performance will be a bit impromptu. The strings can’t really improvise along with the rest of the band (at least not in 4 part harmony) so everything is a little more rigid.

Anyway, I think the set included all the songs on the aforementioned cd, but in different arrangements. Some were converted into non-ballads and I think one was played at ballad speed but in a double-time feel. Can’t really remember everything because I wasn’t taking notes. I do recall that I didn’t really like the arrangement for “My One and Only Love.” I thought it should’ve been given a real ballad treatment instead of the uptempo version that wasn’t very long.

I mean, the concert wasn’t bad or anything. Not at all. Elling was a pretty good singer. Even though he kind of overdid the loungey moving away from the mic and then getting closer to it to change dynamics thing. You know what I mean? He also had some funny movements. He has a good voice, but he also seemed to mess around with the vocals a little too much. That’s okay for people who are familiar with the subject matter but for people hearing a standard ballad for the first time it makes it harder to listen to.

I wonder if listening to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (a definitely old-school group) is making me kind of snotty. LCJO gets criticized for not being more modern. But I like the old school sound! There were times when the Elling group really got in the groove (or as we jazz musicians like to call it, “in the pocket”), which was great. I really like the straightahead jazz sound. I guess I really shouldn’t complain though. I was happy with the concert for the most part.

Towards the end Elling brought out some old jazz singer dude. I didn’t know who he was at the time but I just looked it up and it was Jon Hendricks. He came on for the last two songs and scatted. The first was Bessie’s Blues, a Coltrane tune that wasn’t on the ballad cd. I think this was one of the times the group really jelled. Then they played Bye Bye Blackbird. Kurt sang the Miles Davis solo of it using some made up lyrics. It was kind of cool because I think a lot of people recognized that it was the Miles Davis solo and appreciated it. It’s also kind of cool because it requires secret jazz knowledge to pick up on it!!! Oh, and after I looked it up I learned that Jon Hendricks actually did this in 1986. So I guess Kurt was doing a tribute to Jon, while Jon was standing there.

During Bye Bye Blackbird, Jon was taking a solo. It looked like he was taking a longer solo than everyone had anticipated, so I think Kurt was trying to figure out how to signal to him that the song needed to end. I mean, they were probably cool having him take the solo. But he most likely didn’t do a rehearsal with the guys. So it was pretty entertaining watching the guys figuring out how to end the song while the guy was taking a long ass solo. That’s how jazz people roll.

The closers were definitely the right choice because they had high crowd-pleasing potential (blues and a well known standard). I think everyone left happy, including me. While I think the source material for the concert is timeless, and perhaps shouldn’t be messed with, they did an okay job and the concert as a standalone event was good. It’s kind of hard to please and live up to standards when you leave yourself open to comparison with Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane…

ALSO: After doing even more research (lookin’ on Youtube) it seems as though Kurt sang with Bob Mintzer, one of my favorite mustached modern composers. Though apparently he didn’t sing “My Foolish Heart” on the album which I really, really like, he did sing it live with Bob. Neat-o.

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in Ann Arbor 3/10/09

Last year I was lucky enough to see the LCJO with Wynton Marsalis. This year I was also just as lucky, and I was able to go with some friends, too!

For the first half of the show, they played stuff from the Thelonious Monk book. Thelonious Monk is typically kind of hard to listen to, but the arrangements that they played were pretty listenable. The only one whose name I remember is Criss Cross.

The second half, they played songs out of the Blue Note label. When Wynton announced that they were gonna play “Blues Walk,” I expected a pretty uptempo major straightahead bebop blues. But apparently there is a difference between Blues Walk and The Blues Walk.

Wynton is pretty good at telling random stories. Like he talked about Lee Morgan and his funny-named albums: “Delightfulee,” “Cornbread,” “The Rumproller.” One of the band members mentioned “The Gigolo” and then Wynton Marsalis made a quip about how that’s why Lee Morgan isn’t here with us today (he was cheating on his girlfriend and she shot him).  Sometimes, though, I really think that Wynton is making shit up! Okay, not really. He just knows a lot about Jazz and Jazz history. And classical music. He’s pretty much a genius.

The musical aptitude of the whole group was pretty damn good. Seeing guys play this well makes me wish I played Piano, Drums, Saxophone, etc. And it makes me want to practice my trumpet some more. Maybe I can work on my chops after graduation…

Are You Smart?

[flashvideo file=video/My%20Funny%20Valentine%2009.flv height=272 width=496 /]

I felt like trying out my new Yamaha Silent Brass and Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones from the Facebook contest, and since I haven’t recorded anything lately I figured I’d play some My Funny Valentine. The Aebersold track is fun and all, but playing with it makes me feel as though I’m playing as the accompaniment, rather than with the accompaniment. So here’s a sans-backing version of My Funny Valentine.

The sound quality came out okay, though the silent brass makes it sounds a bit stuffy and adds a lot of backpressure to the horn. But I guess it’s still better than playing without a mute and pissing off my neighbors. It works great for practicing; recording not so much. The headphones are also pretty sweet. I haven’t used them that much. I mainly use them for listening to This American Life while doing dishes. They block outside sound pretty well.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I stole stuff from Miles and Wynton. I hope they don’t mind.

Previously: Each Day is Valentine’s Day. (I’d like to think I’m more mature in my trumpet playing since 2 years ago)

Hung’s Jazz Mix “Tape” 2008!

A few weeks ago I made a trip with a bunch of colleagues/friends to go see some Jazz in Detroit. We went to a place called “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge,” which is apparently the oldest jazz club, ever. That night, a group played which I would describe as a “mixed bag.” The rhythm section was outstanding, but the sax player was okay and the trumpet player (who was, sadly, also the bandleader) was in serious need of some lessons in improvisation.

Most of the people I went with weren’t Jazz connoisseurs. I sort of think of myself as an intermediate one since I’ve been involved with Jazz (playing and listening) since middle school. Anyway, I promised I’d make a Jazz primer for those interested, and I kind of let it get onto the backburner for a while. I could’ve just grabbed some tracks but I wanted to comment on what to listen to or what I liked about each track so it would be more accessible (Jazz is hard to get into if you don’t know what to look for).

Basically I went through my music collection looking for tracks that I thought were representative of something. Either of a standard tune or an artist or a genre. I tried not to duplicate songs or artists. It was kinda hard. I found what tracks I could that were available on AmazonMP3. So if you wanted, you could download almost the whole mix legally! The MP3 widget and my liner notes follow:

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