Show cover of Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

The podcast taking you into the world of jazz. Interviews, music, and more! The Six time winner of the JazzTimes Readers' Poll for Best Podcast.

Tracks

Podcast 979: Previewing the Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival with Danny Melnick
An early highlight of the summer for jazz fans in the US Northeast is always the Freihoer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, held on the grounds of the lovely Saratoga Performing Arts Center ("SPAC"). This year's lineup should please almost any jazz fan, bringing ta wide ranging lineup to two stages on June 29 and 30. Want the inside scoop on the festival? listen to Podcast 979 as festival organizer Danny Melnick talks about the acts, the scene and the background on a great weekend of music. The Festival scehdule (subject to change) is: Saturday, June 29th Amphitheater Stage ·       12:00PM – The New Orleans Groove Masters featuring Herlin Riley, Jason Marsalis & Shannon Powell ·       1:45PM – Joey Alexander Trio with special guest Theo Croker ​ ·       3:30PM – The Yussef Dayes Experience ·       5:15PM – Samara Joy​ ·       7:00PM – Cimafunk with special guest Pedrito Martinez​ ·       8:55PM – Lake Street Dive​ Charles R. Wood Discovery Stage ·       11:00AM – Sara Caswell Quartet ·       12:20PM – Harold López-Nussa: Timba a la Americana​ ·       1:40PM – Tia Fuller​ ·       3:00PM – Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra​ ·       4:20PM – Theo Croker​ ·       5:40PM – Coco Montoya​ Sunday June 30th Amphitheater Stage ·       12:30PM – Terence Blanchard Sextet ·       2:00PM – Cory Henry ·       3:30PM – Laufey​ ·       5:15PM – Stanley Clarke N*4Ever​ ·       7:00PM – Norah Jones​ Charles R. Wood Discovery Stage ·       11:30AM – Skidmore Jazz Institute Faculty All-Stars Centennial Celebration of Max Roach, Bud Powell & J.J. Johnson featuring Clay Jenkins, Steve Wilson, Steve Davis, Mike Moreno, Bill Cunliffe, Todd Coolman & Dennis Mackrel ​ ·       12:55PM – Helen Sung: JazzPlasticity ·       2:20PM – Miguel Zenon Quartet​ ·       4:00PM – Olatuja ·       5:35PM – Pedrito Martinez Group    
28:51 6/5/24
Podcast 978: A Conversation with Edy Forey
Those who cover music love to categorize the music and musicians we focus on. I put myself all too often into this group. What should I call it? Is it Acid Jazz? Post Bop? Downtown Loft? But far too often muscians fall in between the cracks of these often arbitrary categories, and we are left looking for new descriptive words.  Often the words fail us. The UK-based duo Edy Forey are definitely in those cracks, even if they call their music “Urban Jazz.”  What does that sound like, and where does it come from? Listen to Podcast 978, my conversation with Edy Forey and find out,  Vocalist Edy Szewy and keyboardist Guilhem Forey believe music is sacred and musicians matter greatly. Szewy was born in Poland to an American father and a Polish mother. Her parents separated early, but her dad would send her CDs from America that you couldn’t find locally. By the time she moved to one of the cultural centers of Europe, Edinburgh Scotland, she had absorbed the very American grooves of TLC and En Vogue, enthralled with the songwriting and production skills of the likes of D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill, imagining that one day she could do it too. Conversely, Forey, born in Paris and raised in Nantes, France was a child musical prodigy. Bach spiritually and emotionally pulled him in at the age of three—so much so that this classical music was almost scary to his immature mind. But by the time his grandfather introduced him to American icon Ray Charles and British guitarist Eric Clapton, everyone who heard him play realized he was a gifted pianist. At age 11, his mom walked him into a rehearsal hall for his first jazz piano lessons. So taken was the teacher on this introductory audition, he flung his door open and quickly recruited a bassist and drummer to join in. It was the talented adolescent’s first jam session. By 16, Forey was leading a jazz trio. Culture Today, their debut album, sounds more like a project that has been germinating for years, rather than a coming-out party. Part of the reason is the presence of Bob Power behind the board, a man whose distinguished resume includes work by Me’Shell N’degéocello, The Roots, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu mixing and mastering the duo’s entire album. Then there is the sound of several guest artists who joined them on this record, including founding members of Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and saxophonist Bob Reynolds. Also, Sharay Reed, of the Funk Apostles, Femi Koleoso of the Ezra Collective and reed player Alex Hahn provided significant contributions. Both Edy and Foret=y joined me for our conversation as we dug into the roots of their sound, how they go about collaborating on material, and where they want to go with their music now that they have made that all-important first album. Musical selections include “Better Way,” with the two bassist sound of Luca Alemanno (double bass) and Dean Mark (electric bass) and their cover of the standard “Nature Boy,” with some revised harmony and additional lyrics by Edy.
27:54 6/4/24
Podcast 977: A Conversation with Nicola Caminiti
""In a world where it's easy to be cynical and bitter, what strikes me most about Nicola and his music is the pure joy and excitement that he brings and carries with him at all times. To be present in the euphoria of this art form is the most difficult skill the way I see it and many young artists seem to ignore that simple and powerful fact. Nicola, in addition to being an accomplished instrumentalist and composer, possesses  that ineffable quality that draws us to his music." - Rio Sakairi, the artistic director of The Jazz Gallery, NYC,  In one of the best debut recordings of the year so far, Italian-born, NYC-based saxophonist Nicola Caminiti has released Vivid Tales of a Blurry Self-Portrait on his own label.  Leading a quartet that includes pianist Lex Korten, bassist Ben Tiberio and drummer Miguel Russell, Nicola shows strong writing skills and plenty of chops to go with them. The band’s interplay shows that they’ve been honing this material for some time now, and the result is a terrific listen. Caminiti has racked up impressive accolades over the recent past, including being named a 2023 Herb Alpert ASCAP Young Composer, winning the North American Saxophone Alliance Jazz Competition, and a Jazz Gallery Artist Commission for 2023-2024. He's performed with Pedrito Martinez, Arturo O’Farrill & Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and his friend and mentor Dayna Stephens, among many others. Podcast 977 is my conversation with Nicola, as we discuss the band, how he goes about writing his tunes, and what musicians have inspired and driven him to be a jazz musician. Musical selections from Vivid Tales of a Blurry Self-Portrait include “Elliptical Biking,” written during the pandemic, and “Adam Arturo,” a tribute of sorts to jazz musician Adam O’Farrill.
32:46 6/3/24
Podcast 976: A Conversation with Zaccai Curtis
Zaccai Curtis continues to be one of the most engaging piano players of the past decade. Whether as a band leader (alone or with his brother Luques) or backing the likes of the late Ralph Peterson, Lakecia Benjamin and Cindy Blackman Santana, his strong sense of rhythm and deep knowledge of Latin and Afro-Cuban sounds and Bebop chords make him a cornerstone of those artist’s sounds. Cubop Lives! is an album that stands as the culmination of his work as a composer/arranger, performer, and educator steeped in the Afro-Cuban Jazz tradition. Backed by Willie Martinez (drums, voice, timbales), Camilo Molina (percussion), Reinaldo De Jesus (percussion, drums), and brother Luques Curtis (bass), he has delivered an album that creates a fusion of the Bebop and Latin jazz traditions. For example, one of the most notable ways he does this is through the “Noro Morales Suite,” a collection of four pieces by the great Puerto Rican pianist, Noro Morales, one of Zaccai’s musical heroes. And then with his take on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” he reinterprets a piano staple and turns it into something fresh and new. Since his days learning at the feet of masters like Jackie McLean in Hartford, Connecticut, Zaccai has absorbed innumerous influences. With the new album, he gets to turn that sound loose, on his original tunes and tasty covers. There is nary a week moment on the album, and I suspect it will find its way to many year-end “Best of” lists. Zaccai records on the Truth Revolution Recording Collective, a group he, Luques and likeminded musicians run to release and distribute their work.  We discuss his label, and how he came to be so versed in Latin Jazz in Podcast 976. Musical selections include “Maple Leaf Rag” and the Curits-penned blues “Black Rice.”
38:58 6/1/24
Podcast 975: A Conversation with Charles McPherson, Part Two
Podcast 975 continues my conversation with the great Charles McPherson. A giant of the saxophone, Charles is a product of the rich jazz city of Detroit, where he was mentored by the late Barry Harris. His closest childhood friend was the future trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer; the two later played together with the iconic Charles Mingus, with whom McPherson would tour and record for more than a decade. McPherson and Hillyer lived just blocks from the famed Blue Bird Inn, a renowned jazz club where the house band included Harris, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers, and Elvin Jones. His new album Reverence pays a tribute to the late Barry Harris, as well as showcasing his top notch band featuring Terell Stafford on trumpet. We discuss the band and the tunes that make up Reverence, as well as The Lost Album at Ronnie Scott's, a previously unreleased album showcasing McPherson, Charles Mingus, a very young Jon Faddis, Bobby Jones, John Foster and Roy Brooks. That recording form shows in August 1972 at the famed London jazz club, illustrates McPherson's approach to playing his saxophone. 
29:09 4/25/24
Podcast 974: A Conversation with Charles McPherson, Part One
Reverence is Charles McPherson’s first release for Smoke Sessions Records, and a few listens reveal why he’s been held in such reverence for the last 64 years. The album captures a scintillating live performance from Smoke Jazz Club, where McPherson is joined by his remarkable current group featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Jeb Patton, bassist David Wong, and drummer Billy Drummond. The set is a showcase for McPherson’s gifts as both composer and soloist and bridges his deep and far-reaching exploration of the full jazz spectrum.   Reverence kicks off a yearlong series of live recordings celebrating the 25th anniversary of Smoke Jazz Club and the tenth anniversary of its record label, Smoke Sessions. McPherson’s preference for recording live was a major factor in launching this series. After an inspiring, post-pandemic week performing at the recently renovated and reopened Smoke back in November 2022, McPherson knew he wanted to capture that same atmosphere and energy on his next recording, so the decision to skip the studio and record live was a relatively easy one.   Born in Joplin, Missouri, McPherson spent his formative years in the rich jazz city of Detroit, where he was mentored by the late Barry Harris. His closest childhood friend was the future trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer; the two later played together with the iconic Charles Mingus, with whom McPherson would tour and record for more than a decade. McPherson and Hillyer lived just blocks from the famed Blue Bird Inn, a renowned jazz club where the house band included Harris, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers, and Elvin Jones.   Reverence was born shortly after Barry Harris passed away in late 2021. Harris was a pivotal figure for McPherson, not just as a musician but as a person. In light of his recent passing, the album is particularly dedicated to his memory. The final track on Reverence, “Ode to Barry,” was penned in homage to the great pianist and educator. Beyond topnotch McPherson originals, the set is rounded out by a pair of familiar standards: “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the Harold Arlen classic, showcasing the warm tenderness of McPherson’s ballad playing in a quartet setting; and the yearning, nostalgic “Old Folks,” led by a wistful Stafford outing.  Podcast 974 is the first of a two part conversation with Charles McPherson, as he talks about his love of live performances and of bebop vocabulary, and tells the story of his time with Barry Harris. Podcast 975 will pick up the conversation with talk of his time with Charles Mingus and Art Farmer, and how he keeps busy in his home near San Diego, California.
37:26 4/23/24
Podcast 973: A Conversation with Linda Purl
You’ve probably seen Linda Purl act more often than you’ve heard her sing.  Besides being Richie Cunningham’s girlfriend and Fonzie’s fiancée on Happy Days, Matlock’s daughter Charlene Matlock, and Pam’s Mom/Steve Carell’s girlfriend on The Office, she has had stints on Homeland, True Blood, and Hacks. She has starred in over 45 made-for-TV movies and is currently recurring on The Bold and the Beautiful. She’s been on the Broadway stage and a number of Off-Broadway productions, performing roles from Shakespeare to the one-woman theatrical presentation of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. But she can sing. And This Could Be the Start (Reaching Records) shows off her talents in spades. Backed by a band composed off Tedd Firth (piano) David Finck (bass), Ray Marchica (drums & percussion) and Nelson Rangell (Reeds) the album is a tight collection of Standards, from Jimmy Van Heusen and Cole Porter to Cy Coleman and Stephen Sondheim. Add to that the vocal version of Carla Bley’s “Lawns” with lyrics by Sara Teasdale, and you have a constantly interesting listen. Born in Connecticut, Ms. Purl grew up in Japan, becoming the only foreigner to have trained at the Toho Geino Academy. Her studies continued at Neighborhood Playhouse and Lee Strasberg Institute. She was Founding Director of the California International Theatre Festival. She tours with her Music Director Tedd Firth, who she describes as her catalyst for recording the new album. Podcast 973 is my conversation with Linda Purl as discusses how she selects her tunes and prepared for This Could Be the Start. Musical selections include a dreamy “Let’s Get Lost,” the peppy “Live Alone and Like It” and “Two Hearts on Lawns.”
31:52 4/20/24
Podcast 972: A Conversation with Dane Alderson of Yellowjackets
Since Yellowjackets’ eponymous 1981 debut album, the group has hewed its own creative path, influencing colleagues with enviable compositional craftsmanship and an ever-shifting blend of influences. In many ways Yellowjackets embody both continuity and renewal, with founding­ pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante providing the four-decade thread first joined by Will Kennedy­, who took over the drum chair from 1987-99 and returned to the fold in 2010. Bob Mintzer, a Jacket since 1990, contributes on tenor and soprano saxophones and EWI.  The bass chair in Yellowjackets has been held by some mighty players over the years, beginning with the legendary Jimmy Haslip, and then Felix Pastorious. By the band’s standards Australian-born electric bass virtuoso Dane Alderson is still the new kid, though he’s already anchored the quartet at bass for almost ten years. A product of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Western Australian, his playing shows his great love of rock (“I was a total metalhead” he says in our conversation), R&B and funk.  The band’s last release was the Grammy nominated Parallel Motion. Every Jacket is well represented on the album with Alderson contributing two stand-out tracks. His slyly grooving “Early” grew out of a sketch that had been languishing on his laptop for more than a decade. “Onyx Manor” has a funk-infused drum and bass start, expanding to give everyone in the band a chance to shine.  Podcast 972 is my conversation with Dane Alderson, belatedly posted from our past conversation. We discuss how he came to join the Yellowjackets, his decision to play a 6 string bass, and his many influences as a player and a fan. Muscial selections include the Alderson-penned “Onyx Manor.”
28:51 3/30/24
Podcast 969: A Conversation with Fernando Trueba
Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s Bossa Nova-themed animated film They Shot the Piano Player will be in wide release nationwide from Sony Classic Pictures this week. Trueba and Mariscal are the duo behind the 2012 Academy Award nominated Chico and Rita, and their latest work features a who’s who of the best of Brazilian music, including João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Vinicius de Moraes, Milton Nascimento and Paulo Moura. The film follows a New York music journalist who goes on a quest to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of young Brazilian piano virtuoso FernandoTenorio Jr. in 1976. A celebratory origin story of the world-renowned Latino musical movement Bossa Nova, the film captures a fleeting time bursting with creative freedom at a turning point in Latin American history in the 60s and 70s, just before the continent was engulfed by totalitarian regimes. The film features the voice of actor Jeff Goldblum, who is no stranger to the world of jazz, performing and recording on piano. Trueba is also no stranger to music, having won two Grammy Awards and four Latin Grammy Awards.as a producer for the likes of Bebe and Chuco Valdes, and Michel Camillo, His 2000 documentary Calle 54 set the standard for examination of Latin Jazz. He spoke with me from Spain, and he related the arduous process that led to the creation of They Shot the Piano Player. Fernando shares his thoughts on the importance of the music of Brazil and what he hopes to accomplish with this film, and more particularly, this animated film.  Musical selections include Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Stone Flower" from the album Fernando says started his love of Brazilian music. 
20:52 3/26/24
Podcast 971: A Conversation with George Coleman, Part Two
The legendary George Coleman’s latest project is a release from hard-bop supergroup One For All, an album appropriately called Big George on Smoke Sessions Records. One For All is composed of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. Coleman joins the group on three tracks, the Rotondi original “Oscar Winner,” standard “My Foolish Heart,” and Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig of You.” Coleman is approaching his 89th birthday, and still plays with the classic sense of Memphis blues that is his birthright. Underrated as a leader for much of his career, he was in invaluable part of recordings and performing bands with all the greats, from Max Roach and Chet Baker to Elvin Jones and Charles Mingus to Horace Silver and Lee Morgan. He was a crucial part of some of the most important recordings in jazz history, holding the saxophone chair on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, and Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven, and the live albums My Funny Valentine and Four and More. Podcast 971 is Part Two of my two part conversation with George Coleman, as he talks about his past collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis and B.B. King. Musical selections include the title track from “Maiden Voyage” and the Coleman composition “5/4 Thing” from his collaboration with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware.
31:03 3/14/24
Podcast 970: A Conversation with George Coleman, Part One
New York’s premier hard-bop supergroup, One for All has evolved over the course of its quarter-century history from a sextet of young torchbearers to an assemblage of the music’s most revered traditionalists. Just how in-demand these six artists have become can be traced by the span of time that elapses between albums. 2016’s The Third Decade followed its predecessor by five years; seven years of that decade have now passed before the band’s long-awaited follow-up, Big George. Due out March 15, 2024 from Smoke Sessions Records, Big George features the unparalleled line-up of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. This time around the group has invited a very special guest for the proceedings – tenor sax legend George Coleman. While the title of Big George is a nod to Coleman, the session is not a “tribute album” in the traditional sense. The tip of the hat is more an acknowledgment of the giants who still walk among us – a list that has grown distressingly (if inevitably) shorter over the sextet’s 27-year lifetime. Coleman is a living legend with an emphasis on the “living,” and his vital presence on three of the album’s nine tracks is less about paying homage than an opportunity to breathe fire alongside one of the greatest to ever do it. Coleman is approaching his 89th birthday, and still plays with the classic sense of Memphis blues that is his birthright. Underrated as a leader for much of his career, he was an invaluable part of recordings and performing bands with all the greats, from Max Roach and Chet Baker to Elvin Jones and Charles Mingus to Horace Silver and Lee Morgan. He was a crucial part of some of the most important recordings in jazz history, holding the saxophone chair on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, and Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven, and the live albums My Funny Valentine and Four and More. Podcast 970 is Part One of my two part conversation with George Coleman, as he talks about his collaboration with One For All and looks back on his past with sharp and sometimes surprising detail. Musical selections from Big George include the Jim Rotondi composition “Oscar Winner.”
29:40 3/12/24
Podcast 968: A Conversation with Ada Rovatti
Italy-born, Long Island, New York-based saxophonist and arranger Ada Rovatti’s seventh album as a leader, The Hidden World of Piloo is deeply personal, and stylistically varied. It features six improvisationally rich instrumentals that include blues grooves, samba vibes, straight-up lyricism, melancholic balladry and a comedic finale. Two songs include strings; another features the dobro, a country instrument unlikely to be in a jazz song. In a change for Ada, several compositions showcase top-tier vocalists, including jazz-poll champion Kurt Elling, the Netherlands jazz singer Fay Claassen, German pop/jazz star Alma Naidu and fired-up R&B singer Niki Haris (the daughter of jazz great Gene Harris) who once served as a Madonna backing vocalist. These singers allow her band members—including her husband Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, organist Simon Oslender, bassist Claus Fischer, drummer Tim Dudek, percussionist Café Da Silva—to both support and augment the lyrics and melodies Ms. Rovatti has carefully created. Ms. Rovatti grew up in Italy playing classical piano before making the switch to saxophone which led her to the Berklee College of Music and later New York where she became active in the jazz community. Ada began recording as a leader with two albums in 2003: Ada Rovatti & The Elephunk Band’s For Rent and her quartet’s Under the Hat. Her discography continued with Airbop. Green Factor, Disguise and in 2019 her Brecker Plays Rovatti—Sacred Bond, with her husband Randy joining her in playing her compositions. Today Rovatti tours with her own band as well as serves as the tenor saxophonist in Brecker’s band. Podcast 968 is my conversation with Ada Rovatti, as we discuss the creation of The Hidden World of Piloo, her decision to write lyrics for her newest tunes, and how her background led to her carer playing sax. Musical selections include “Hey You (Scintilla Of Sonder)” featuring Fay Claassen on vocals, and “Make Up Girl,” a tune written about the entrance into adolescence of her daughter.
36:07 2/28/24
Podcast 967: A Conversation with Sullivan Fortner, Part Two
In Part One of our conversation, pianist and composer Sullivan Fortner talked about the creation of his latest release, the creative two-disc Solo Game. One disc is solo piano, the result of a curation in the studio with his mentor Fred Hersch, and the other electric keyboard and other musical toys to create both composed through and improvised soundscapes.  Part Two talks about future Fornter projects, like his coming performance with the National Symphony in `Washington DC to salute Duke Ellington and a choir-based recording to begin later in the year. We also talk about his work with  jazz singers, most botably Cécile McLorin Salvant and thoughtson legends like pianist Barry Harris and Roy Hargrove, with whom Sullivan shared a bandstand for years starting in 2010.  Musical selections for Podcast 967 include one of Sullivan's collaborations with Ms. Salvant from her Ghost Song album, "Until."
20:14 2/19/24
Podcast 966: A Conversation with Sullivan Fortner, Part One
The latest release from the rising star Sullivan Fortner shows off two very different sides of his musical pallet – lyrical and moving solo piano, and electronic explorations. Both will leave you wanting more, and to hear what he has next up his sleeve. Frustrated by his lack of musical outlets during the pandemic, “Game,” the second of two discs that make up Solo Game came first. Visiting a studio in Brooklyn to consider a project, Fortner began employing a range of instruments and effects — Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Moog, vocoder, celesta, chimes, drums, an immense variety of percussion (and a piano as well). The results are  shimmering soundscapes that feel as spontaneous as they are admirably constructed. Some are composed (“It’s a Game,” “Snakes and Ladders,” “Cross and Circles” and “The Minute Waltz” borrowed from Frédéric Chopin), others improvised on the piano then “orchestrated” by means of electronics – effects from Pro Tools, Melodyne and Auto-Tune were added afterward. “Solo” is more traditional, but still revelatory. Fortner called upon one of his mentors, Fred Hersch, to help him produce a solo piano program. Hersch asked Fortner to draw up a list of his favorite pieces, from the Great American Songbook and beyond, from which Hersch made choices over the course of four recording sessions, with no rehearsal or second takes allowed. From more than 200 songs on the initial list, 24 were recorded and Fortner selected nine for this album Fortner moves with consummate skill between classic standards (“I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” by Rodgers & Hart; Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday;” “This is Now” from Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin) to less well known jazz compositions (among them Randy Weston’s “Congolese Children”) and works by Stevie Wonder (“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”) and Antônio Carlos Jobim (“Once I Loved”), taking each into unexpected territory. His harmonic sense is sophisticated, his polyrhythmic concepts bold, his sound crystalline, and he makes of these performances something highly personal yet rooted in tradition, at once respectful and progressive. Now in his late thirties, he enrolled at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts at age 13, where he became Valedictorian of his high school graduating class. He continued his formal music studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in jazz performance, and at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned a Master’s degree in jazz performance. Fortner complemented that experience by studying under such jazz piano masters as Peter Martin, Fred Hersch, Jason Moran, and Phil Markowitz, and playing in bands led by Stefon Harris, Etienne Charles, Roy Hargrove, and Christian Scott.  In Part One of this two part conversation, we discuss the making and recording of Solo Game and hear one musical selection from each project, the reinterpretation of the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was,” and his composed experimental piece “Snakes and Ladders.” Part two will let us focus on Sullivan’s future projects, as well as discussion of his work with jazz singers, most notably Cécile McLorin Salvant. 
29:13 2/17/24
Podcast 965: A Conversation with Giorgi Mikadze
Giorgi Mikadze (pronounced “Gih-ohr-gih Mih-kahd-zeh”) is a pianist who values his heritage and roots, having been born and raised in Georgia, at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. While his training and early carer arch may have seemed typical for an aspiring jazz musician – classical training, Berklee and Manhattan School of Music studies, time on the road with his elders – his choice of music is not. Rather than concentrate on the Great American Songbook or record only his own compositions, Giorgi has adapted Georgia music, from folk songs to movie scores. This process comes to a new high with the release of Face to Face: The Georgian Songbook Vol. 1 on the French label PeeWee!.  The album features pieces by seven of the Caucasus country’s most revered composers, most of them originally penned for film, animation and theatrical soundtracks from the Sixties through the Nineties. Mikadze adds three of his own compositions to the mix, suggesting that much like the American model, this new Songbook is one that invites a continual expansion and evolution. Face To Face also marks Mikadze’s first venture on record into the traditional piano, bass and drums jazz trio. He’s joined by the stellar French rhythm section of bassist François Moutin and drummer Raphaël Pannier, the latter of whom was a Berklee classmate of Giorgi’s. The results are a wonderful mix of Georgian melodies with a jazz sensibility. Podcast 965 is my conversation with Giorgi as he discusses the microtonal roots of Georgian music, how his jazz playing brought him back to his native music, and where he plans to take it in the future. Musical selections include the rousing “Satchidao,” and the moving “Not Easy to Repeat.” Giorgi Mikadze performs on the Main Space at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City for a CD Release Party on Saturday February 3, 2024 at 8 pm. For more information, click here,
39:27 2/3/24
Podcast 964: A Conversation with Nitai Hershkovits
Following in the footsteps of the giants of solo piano who have recorded for ECM Records, Call on the Old Wise is Nitai Hershkovits’ first record as a leader for the famous label, presenting his powerful pianistic ingenuity in a largely improvised solo setting. A veteran of Oded Tzur’s quartet (he appears on Isabela and Here Be Dragons), Nitai was also a mainstay of Avishai Cohen’s trio from 2011 to 2016. The album is partially dedicated to Nitai’s former piano teacher Suzan Cohen, with whom he studied in Jerusalem and who according to Nitai is the mentor to whom the term ‘wise’ in the record’s title alludes. The pieces “The Old Wise,” “Of Mentorship” and “For Suzan” refer directly to her. But Nitai draws from wide-reaching influences, ranging from his work in jazz contexts and innovative contemporary explorations to his background in classical music. This immaculate balance of idioms gives rise to an abundance of colors and timbres, explored by a pianist, who has successfully forged his very own voice as improviser and shape-designer. Born to a Moroccan mother and a Polish father, Nitai originally started out his musical path on clarinet before switching to the piano at age 15. Jazz and improvised music were the focal point of his musical investigations throughout his teens, with a particularly strong interest for the idiosyncrasies of Sonny Rollins. In this period, Nitai won several jazz competitions in the Tel Aviv area, before his deepened interest in classical music took shape, leading to studies in both jazz and classical piano. He has recently moved back to Israel, where he is involved with a variety of musical projects, including collaborations with electronic musician Yuvi Havkin aka Rejoicer and drummer Amir Bresler, who can be heard on their joint venture Apifera. Musical selections from Call on the Old Wise include "Of Trust and Remorse" and "This You Mean to Me", both Nitali originals, and Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose."
31:12 12/31/23
Podcast 963: A Conversation with Buster Williams
As 2023 comes to a close, Straight No Chaser posts a few conversations with artists who produced memorable albums this year. Today’s podcast features bassist Buster Williams, who released Unalome on the Smoke Sessions label this past winter. While the band on Unalome is familiar – drummer Lenny White, pianist George Colligan, alto saxophonist Bruce Williams and Vibes master Stefon Harris are all long-time running partners – the album adds vocalist Jean Baylor for covers and Williams originals that take his music in a less familiar territory. One of the most revered bassists of the last half century, the Grammy-winning Williams has played, recorded, and collaborated with such jazz giants as Art Blakey, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Heath, Larry Coryell, Wynton, and Branford Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie, Errol Garner, Freddie Hubbard, and countless others. He was a charter member of Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking Mwandishi band and the all-star Thelonious Monk tribute ensemble Sphere. And at 80 years of age, Buster Williams shows no sign of slowing his climb along that ascending path.  Among the topics we disucss was the recent documentary about Buster's life, "From Bass to Ininity" directed by Adam Kahan.  Musical selections for Podcast 96_ include the Williams original “In the Middle of a Rainbow,” and a revamped take on the classic “42nd Street.” If you enjoyed this podcast, please check out Podcast 486 for another conversation with Buster from 2015.
26:02 12/29/23
Podcast 962: A Conversation with Dominic Miller
Dominic Miller may be best known to the world as Sting’s “right-hand man on guitar” and co-writer of “Shape of My Heart,” among the ex-Police bassist's other pop hits. But the multi-faceted Miller has a completely different outlet for his improvisatory talents as well. Vagabond is the guitarist’s third recording for ECM, and might prove his most poetic tale to date. After Dominic’s debut Silent Light (2017), which captured the guitarist in solo performances with occasional percussive injections by Miles Bould, Absinthe (2019) found him expand his subtle instrumental sketches in a quintet lineup. For Vagabond, the guitarist has come up with a quartet, and partnered up with Ziv Ravitz on drums and Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon, while long-time collaborator Nicolas Fiszman returns on bass. Most of the tunes come from solo sketches, several from the isolated period of the recent pandemic. Once he was in the south of France in April 2021 with producer Manfred Eicher, the tunes began to build, develop and become showcases for his sidemen to interject their musical skills.  The guitarist provides a framework for Ziv, Jakob and Nicolas to spread out in, whether the slow-burning groove of “Altea” or the mesmerizing balladry of “Lone Waltz,” with each player building dynamic momentum. Born in Argentina to an American father and Irish mother, Miller was raised in the U.S. from age 10 and then educated there and in England. The guitarist’s international mindset has only been deepened through decades touring the globe, working with the likes of Paul Simon, The Chieftains, Plácido Domingo and, most often, Sting. This quartet will be touring Europe between Sting jaunts in the Winter and Spring of 2024, so keep your eyes open for a date near you. Musical selections for Podcast 962 include “Lone Waltz” and the fiery “All Changes,” the latter inspired from Sting’s use of arpeggios in the Police classic “When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.”
30:16 12/28/23
Podcast 961: A Conversation with Ralph Towner, Part Two
On Part Two of our conversation, guitarist Ralph Towner talks about his growth as a guitarist from his early days playing trumpet and piano, through his time with influential bands like the Paul Winter Consort and Oregon, and then his many solo, duo and trio recordings. We talk about his work with Wolfgang Muthspeil and Slava Grigoryan (From a Dream and Travel Guide in 2008 and 2013) as well as his favorite duo recordings, especially those with bassist Gary Peacock. We also discuss some of his other collaborations, including his brief brush performing with Weather Report in 1972. At First Light is Ralph’s 25th ECM album as  leader or co-leader, and his latest solo guitar release. Besides those prior releases, he has guested on important ECM albums by Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, and Kenny Wheeler. Never one to be pigeon-holed as an interpreter and composer of a specific type of music, At First Light  features new and old Towner pieces, as well as tunes from Broadway musicals and the much-covered Irish traditional air “Danny Boy.” Ralph also looks back on older pieces he has revisited on the album, especially “Guitarra Picante,” a piece originally from the Oregon songbook.
17:49 12/27/23
Podcast 960: A Conversation with Ralph Towner, Part One
At the age of 83, guitarist Ralph Towner continues to write, perform and improvise on the highest of musical levels. He has been an ECM artist for more than fifty years, appearing in many different contexts, one of the most important being a run of solo recordings which began with Diary in 1973. At First Light is the latest addition to the solo guitar series. Never one to be pigeon-holed as an interpreter and composer of a specific type of music, this release features new and old Towner pieces, as well as tunes from Broadway musicals and the much-covered Irish traditional air “Danny Boy.” Born into a musical family in Washington in 1940, Towner grew up immersed in classical music, jazz and the popular music of the day. A trumpet player from the age of seven, he took up piano seriously in his teens, in parallel studying composition, then embraced the classical guitar at 22. What makes Towner’s sound unique is his desire to draw crucial inspirations from classical music, contemporary composition, Bill Evans’s conception of jazz and also from Brazilian music. At this time, his sound can only be called “Towner-esque.” At First Light was recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in February 2022, and produced by ECM maestro Manfred Eicher. Towner lives in Rome with his wife, the actress Mariello Lo Sardi, and we spoke by Zoom on an unseasonably hot morning a few months ago. In part one of our two-part conversation, we discussed the differences to Towner of recording solo versus a group, of using different strings and guitars to create the varying colors and sounds he hears in his head, and how as a young piano player he began his career improvising with the likes of John Abercrombie, Gary Peacock and Gary Burton. Musical selections from At First Light  includes “Make Someone Happy.”
32:30 12/26/23
Podcast 959: A Conversation with Christine Jensen
One of the few positives of the horrid COVID pandemic that shook the music world to its core has been the release of musci composed during those uncertain days. Alton and soprano saxophonist Christine Jensen's lastest album, Day Moon (Justin Time Records) stands as a shining example of how a great musician turns struggle into art.  Recorded with her quartet of pianist Steve Amirault and her long-time collaborators bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Jim Doxas, Day Moon is highlighted by the four-song suite Quiescence. Written for a commission from New York’s Jazz Coalition that had raised funds for composers. Jensen sketched compositions including the Brazilian clave-feel “Tolos d’Abril,” her April Fool’s birthday song. Ms. Jensen is the two-time winner of Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the Juno Awards, the Canadian version of the Grammys. She's released eleven albums as a leader, from her CODE Quartet to the large scale Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, She's collaborated with her sister, the noted trumper Ingrid Jensen, as well as Ben Monder, Donny McCaslin and Geoffrey Keezer.   Podcast 959 is my conversation with Christine, as she discusses how she writes music, how she plays to the strengths of her collaborators, and where she is headed musically. Musical selections include “Tolos d’Abril.”
32:18 11/20/23
Podcast 958: A Conversation with Sean Mendelson
For the first time ever, the complete Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, the timeless 10th animated Peanuts special, from writer and creator Charles Schulz, director Bill Melendez and Phil Roman and producers Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Originally airing on November 20, 1973 on CBS-TV, the special has been broadcast or streamed every year for the last 50 years. But the soundtrack album has remained elusively out of reach. Now we have the original recordings that comprise the thirteen song cues of the Special, plus another nine bonus or alternative tracks that have never been released or heard before. The recording features Guaraldi (piano, keyboards, guitar, vocals), Seward McCain (electric bass), future funk master Mike Clark (drums), Tom Harrell (trumpet and brass arrangements), and Chuck Bennett   (trombone). Guaraldi even contributes a rare vocal on “Little Birdie.” The soundtrack was produced by Sean and Jason Mendelson, re-mixed by Terry Carleton at Bones and Knives, and restored and mastered/re-mastered by Vinson Hudson.  Sean Mendelson is the son of the legendary Lee Mendelson, the man who coaxed Charles Schulz into taking his comic strip to television, and co-write the classic “Christmas Time is Here.” A fine musician in his own right, on Podcast 958, Sean takes us through the circuitous route this music has taken, and how it has been upgraded to meet current standards. Musical selections include a particualrly funky take on “Linus and Lucy” and “Little Birdie.”
30:02 11/20/23
Podcast 957: A Conversation with Michael Dease and Gregg Hill
Perennial DownBeat Critics Poll winner trombonist Michael Dease has embraced his role as a torchbearer for his mentors and the great jazz ancestors over his 15 deeply-swinging, state-of-the-art mainstream recordings. For The Other Shoe (Origin Records), Dease teams with the formidable composer Gregg Hill, expanding his rhythmic & harmonic palette with a flexible, in-the-moment perspective while remaining true to the sensibilities at his musical core. With the prodigiously talented pianist Geoffrey Keezer as a central foil, Dease brings along a wide-ranging collection of musicians, each specifically brought in for their unique outlooks and talents. Most notable is the inclusion of clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, along with the solid one-two punch of Liany Mateo on bass, and drummer Colleen Clark. Gregg Hill’s music has been the subject of tribute albums before, especially two releases by bassist Rodney Whitaker and another by guitarist Randy Napoleon. The compositions Dease chooses for The Other Shoe always call for careful listening. They dart with unusual; time signatures, play with chord progressions and key signatures that require the listener to pay attention. But these are hardly avant-garde tunes – they have strong melodies, accentuated by Dease’s strong sense of the songs. Michael Dease began his musical career playing saxophone, switching to trombone late in his teens. Three years later he was holding down a trombone chair with Illinois Jacquet’s Big Band. Since then, he has been a first call player for the large ensembles of Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath, Nicholas Payton and more. As a soloist and bandleader he has recorded 16 albums, many or the Posi-Tone Records label. Podcast 957 is my conversation with Michael Dease and Gregg Hill, as they discuss the elements of Hill’s music that attracts them, how Dease assembled his unusual lineup for the album, and what they most admire about one another. Musical selections include “The Goodbye Blues.”
26:45 11/18/23
Podcast 956: A Conversation with Jon Cowherd
Keyboardist Jon Cowherd has been on my list of interview subjects for a long time, and after an unconscionable delay, Podcast 956 features him and his latest release, a trio album on the Le Coq Records imprint called "Pride and Joy." And what a trio it is - Cowherd joined by long-time friend and musical running partner Brian Blade on drums, and the sensational John Patitucci on bass. Add guest spots by Chris Potter on saxophone and Alex Acuna on percussion, and you have a killer lineup for a sensational album. Cowherd has been at the center of some of the most interesting muscial projects of the past years, including The Brian Blade Fellowship, the Mercy Project, and albums by top singers such as Lizz Wright, Cassandra Wilson and Alyssa Graham. His work on the Joni Mitchell tribute concerts with Brandi Carlile have earned rave reviews.  Musically, the album draws some inspiration from Cowherd's new home in Colorado, a marked departure from his urban New York digs of the past thirty years. The music is expansive, with plenty of space for solos. The sense of roominess permeates the tunes. Along with Jon's six compositions, Patitucci contributes the topnotch "Chickmonk" and Blade the album closer "Quilt City Blues."  
31:48 11/17/23
Podcast 955: A Conversation with Douyé
As a fan of the Great American Songbook (and really, who isn't?) I'm always looking for new and different approaches to these storied songs. Enter the Nigerian born singer Douyé, whose latest release The Golden Sèkèrè, is a wonderful meld of polyrhythms, swing and soul.  Having grwon up listening to American torch singers as well as Afrobeat, it was inevitable that Douyé, would tackle tunes by Ray Noble, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers.  Her Nigerian-steeped support team features arrangers Bada Ken Okulolo, Tosin Aribisala and Zem Audu as well as guitarist Dokun Oke and percussionist Najite Agindotan. She also enlists an impressive guest list, including trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Lionel Loueke and especially bassist Buster Williams. Podcast 955 features my conversation with Douyé, as we dig into her approach to some of the classics, including the big band backed version of "I've Got You Under My Skin" and the bass-driven take on "Devil May Care."
22:27 10/10/23
Podcast 954: A Conversation with Joe Alterman about Les McCann
Pianists Joe Alterman and Les McCann make something of an odd couple. The pair are separated in age by more than half a century; McCann is confined to a medical rehab facility in Los Angeles, while Alterman left New York City to return to his native Atlanta, Georgia six years ago. But since their paths first crossed back in 2012, according to Alterman, “barely a day has passed that we haven't chatted.” So it's only natural that Alterman's trio would evenually tackle the McCann songbook, and now we have Joe Alterman Plays Les McCann: Big Mo & Little Joe. Bassist Kevin Smith and drummer Justin Chesarek add the necessary swing as Alterman reimagines and erharmonizes his friend's tunes, some of them more than sixty years old.  From the gospel roar of the opening "Gone On and Get That Church" through tender ballads like Dorene Don;t Cry" and the moving conclusion (co-written by McCann and Alterman) "Don't Forget to Love Yourself," Alterman leads us through tunes that perhaps should have gotten more notice over the years. If nothing else, Big Mo & Little Joe.gives the listener a peak into the compositions and craft of an underrated jazz master, Les McCann. Musical selections include "Gone On and Get That Church" and Don't Forget to Love Yourself."   
29:34 10/9/23
Podcast 953: A Conversation with Omer Klein
Listeners to Straight No Chaser know I have great fondness for the music of the piano trio, an art I consider one of the highest forms of jazz in terms of improvisation and collaboration. The music these groups make grows richer over time, so those groups that stay together can often take their sound to another level as they mature. Pianist Omer Klein has made some of the most intriguing piano trio music of the recent past. His latest album Life & Fire marks an anniversary – Klein and his trio partners bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo and drummer Amir Bresler have been together for ten years. Over this period, they have produced four albums and shared their common musical experience with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the group took both music from the past repertoire and new tunes, and recorded in a small studio with an audience of friends and family, making Life & Fire sound not just intimate, but celebratory. In our conversation Omer talks about how the group has grown together, how he individually continues to work outside of the trio – he has written scores for dance and performed with classical musicians – and the music scene in his hometown of Frankfurt, Germany. Musical selections are “Niggun” with a challenging 11/8 meter, and the melodic “Tzuri,” written for his late grandfather.
36:36 6/15/23
Podcast 952: A Conversation with Eric Reed
"I'm freer than I've ever been in my personal life, and I'm freer than I've ever been in my music. I'm accepting who I am. I love who I am. And as I continue to evolve – my artistry, my sexuality, and my overall humanity – my music will continue to become more and more personal” - Eric Reed  Pianist Eric Reed has been a key component in memorable bands led by Wynton Marsalis, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but I've founds the recordings he has made as a leader in his own right the most moving. Reed has been a strong advocate for rethinking what songs and songwriters should make up the American muscial canon, and he continues that trend on his latest release on Smoke Sessions Records. Black, Brown and Blue features music written by jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Horace Silver, Buddy Collette, and Buster Williams, along with jazz-conversant pop/R&B songwriters Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. In addition, Reed's new bandmates on this session – bassist Luca Alemanno and drummer Reggie Quinerly – each contribute a new piece of their own that works well in this setting.   Reed continues to bring his own gospel-tinged sound to these classics, and he and his bandmates shine when they mix and match the tunes into witty commentary on others (Horace Silver's "Peace" matched with McCoy Tyner's "Search for Peace" with a tasty quote from Ornette Coleman's "Peace" for good measure.  Reed shares his personal views on his music, on Thelonious Monk, his students at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his place in the jazz world as a member of the LBTQ+ community. Muscial selections for Podcast 952 include his cover of "Lean on Me' featuring a fiery vocal from  veteran minister and vocalist Calvin B. Rhone and Thelonious Monk's "Ugle Beauty." To hear the interview I reference in this podcast, go to WRTI.org.
33:15 6/13/23
Podcast 951: A Conversation with Wayne Escoffery
Wayne Escoffery was riding high the morning I spoke with him. And why not? Just that weekend he had become the first person of color to conduct a performance of Charles Mingus' epic "Epitaph.," a piece he had played before under the direction of Gunther Schuller. His latest album, Like Minds, ws just out on Smoke Sessions Records, and featured top notch guests like Gregory Porter, Tom Harrell, and Mike Moreno joining Escoffery’s quartet of David Kikoski, Ugonna Okegwo, and Mark Whitfield, Jr. Whitfield Jr is the new hand on board, as longtime drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. had passed away in March 2021.. This is a top notch group, and the selections are brilliantly assembled with Escoery tunes, most written during the lockdown days of the pandemic.   New for Wayne is the recording of tunes for which he has written lrics, and who better to sing them than Gregory Porter? Particualrly stunning is the group's talke on the reggae classic "Rivers of Babylon," which had been oft-heard in the Escoffery household during his youth.  Podcast 951 is my conversatioin with Wayne (an apology for some of the audio distortion from cellphones) as we talk about the importance of his longtime collaborators to his sound, and what they bring to the studio when they all get together. Musical slections include "Like Minds" and "Rivers of Babylon."
23:53 6/11/23
Podcast 950: A Conversation with Tomer Cohen
A new face on the New York jazz scene, 25-year-old guitarist-composer Tomer Cohen made his debut as a leader earlier this year with the release of Not the Same River, an album that shows how painting with sound and silence can create often striking musical moods.  Accompanied by the highly interactive rhythm tandem of drummer Obed Calvaire (a ubiquitous figure on the NYC scene and currently a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis) and stalwart bassist Matt Penman (formerly a linchpin of the SFJAZZ Collective and sideman on over 100 recordings), Cohen demonstrates his unique fingerstyle-and-pick technique on eight thoughtful compositions that reflect his pastoral upbringing, from age 4 to 21, on a kibbutz in Israel.  From the wistful title track to the odd-metered, Middle Eastern flavored “Connecting Dots,” the meditative “Hithadshut (Regeneration)” and the intricate, briskly moving “Empty?,” Cohen distinguishes himself as a fresh new voice through his affecting compositions and considerable six-string skills. Other tunes like “Pastures” and “Sunrise” show his unique ability to evoke a sense of place in a composition, while the energized groover “Probably More than Two” and the sublime ballad “First Laps” each harken back to more personal memories for the composer. The extraordinarily sensitive and complimentary playing of Calvaire and Penman throughout Not the Same River only serves to elevate the proceedings from track to track. Podcast 950 is my conversation with Tomer, as we dsicuss his writing techniques, his thematic choices for compositions, and his choice of gear to create the sonic landscapes of Not the Same River, Musical selections include “Connecting Dots.”
26:11 6/9/23

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