Playing jazz through apartheid

THE CRYPT, CAPE TOWN — Jazz musicians say you must suffer to truly play jazz. Few can say they’ve suffered like any older, non-white jazz musician in South Africa. “We were not allowed to play because of the color of our skin,” Spencer Mbadu told me. “During apartheid days, it was difficult for black musicians,…

Berlin big band blows folks out of their seats

B-FLAT JAZZ CLUB, BERLIN — When you can hear a band playing from a block away, you know you’re in for body-shaking evening. And this band was playing in a basement! In the winter. The Open Source Orchestra blows listeners away not only with their big sound but also with their joie de vivre — they…

Can Italians play the blues? You bet!

LONDON — Blindfolded listeners might swear they were listening to vintage American blues. Opening their eyes, they’d see Emanuele “Manny” Fizzotti, an exquisite Italian blues guitarist wowing blues-loving crowds all around London. The only thing that might have given Manny away as Italian at the Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues Bar in London May 9 would have…

Bobby Bryan’s prison days, blues nights

TERRA BLUES, NYC —  Bobby Bryan counsels convicted teenage felons at the Rikers Island prison during the day. At night, he sings the blues. Makes sense, right? But Bobby’s blues have a decided upbeat vibe because Bobby’s outlook on life, despite what he deals with every day, is decidedly upbeat. And it’s clear he’s having a…

Prince Lengoasa’s ‘soul shower’

THE ORBIT, Johannesburg — Performing exquisitely is one thing; performing exquisitely while also inspiring is another, very special thing altogether. Many jazz musicians are magnificently talented “technically” and amaze audiences with their dexterity and the mastery of their instrument. But jazz artists who possess that technical skill AND leave the audience feeling as if they’ve…

Stunning, soaring solos from Ant Law

THE VORTEX, London — We’re talking solos that leave the audience slack-jawed in amazement, only to quickly recover and roar with applause. The Ant Law Quintet is awesome together and but monstrously mind-boggling in their solos. When I got to the Vortex, one of Downbeat magazine’s top 150 jazz venues in the world, a flea could not…

Matt Pavolka’s super intense Horn Band

SMALLS JAZZ CLUB, NYC — For a very mild-mannered guy, Matt Pavolka writes some pretty intense music. And his band members, also very easy-going between sets, play with  equal intensity and passion, producing sounds that provoked lots of audible “wows” in the audience. When these guys play, they command the complete attention of their audience.   Matt’s…

Quintessential blues guitarist SaRon Crenshaw

TERRA BLUES, NYC — Half of the crowd at Terra Blues usually listens to the musicians, and half the crowd, the chatty folks around the bar, don’t. Not for SaRon Crenshaw. When SaRon played, everyone listened. The man is a genius. He is the quintessential blues guitarist: deep, soulful voice; exquisite guitar-picking skills; insightful, often funny…

Misha Piatigorsky’s kinetic jazz piano

ZINC BAR, NYC —  When the pianist explodes off his bench, punctuating the air with his fist, rocks back and forth, tosses his head, rockets over the keyboard, and grins from ear to ear at his band members, it’s a safe bet you’re in for a visual and musical treat. And  all that happened during the…

Chris Norton’s shtick is sizzling horn & swiveling body

ROXY BAR, NYC — I’ve rarely seen anyone who puts his entire body into the performance of jazz the way Chris Norton does. Beyond his exquisite and expressive horn play, Chris swings and twists his body to emphasize every word and bring the joy of musical expression alive. He clearly enjoys entertaining and feels every…

Indian slum, or Gaana, music is as intense as the setting

CHENNAI, INDIA — Nothing can possibly prepare a Westerner for the sights, sounds, smells, and citizens of the slums of Chennai. It is all a completely overwhelming, fascinating, intense, absorbing, totally out-of-our-background experience in every possible way. First of all, the people of Chennai are among the most welcoming in the world. They start with…

Stan Rubin’s Tigertown 5 w/Barry Bryson rock Dixieland

ZINC BAR, NYC — The New York City music scene really can be a small place. When I walked into the Zinc Bar, the band leader and I looked at each other as if we knew each other. And we did! Barry Bryson, the electrifying trumpet player and Louis Armstrong “channeler” extraordinaire, had welcomed me to…