Lisa Hilton’s ‘Escapism’ offers relief from worldly distractions

Lisa Hilton often settles in at her piano and riffs on everyone from Miles Davis and Horace Silver to The Black Keys and Green Day, until she can find peace within the notes, letting them fill the room and fall where they languish in this glow of calm with a touch of brooding blues. Then this past year, the world changed a bit and finding that calm seemed a little more elusive.

“Everything is charged with politics, a large portion of our world seems to be emigrating, and climate catastrophe seems constant,” Hilton says in a news release. “There’s been so much turmoil lately; we can’t find a sense of peace surfing the Internet or social networks — we need really positive sources to balance out this time of disruption in our lives.”

For her 20th album – Hilton has recorded an album a year since 1997- she wanted to provide uplift and relief, where listeners can be energized and feel rejuvenated. This became the theme for her latest release, the aptly titled Escapism. The album (available on December 1 on Ruby Slippers Productions) includes the Alan Lerner and Burton Lane standard, “On a Clear Day” and nine Hilton originals ranging from the high-voltage opener, “Hot Summer Samba” to the introspective and ethereal “Mojave Moon.” Each composition seems to generate, by albums end, a mental release or escape all its own.

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community – it is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained – we all need to “escape” from our challenges,” Hilton says. “I want our music to be a positive force whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

After working solo on last year’s Day & Night release, Hilton brought back saxophonist JD Allen, trumpet and flugelhornist Terell Stafford, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston into Avatar Studios for one of the last sessions at that revered and storied studio before it became property of Berklee College of Music on September 1.

“It was definitely nostalgic being at Avatar the last few days before it changed ownership since no one really knows what will happen to it – we hope good things,” she says. “I have recorded ten albums there and I love the rooms, they have a special sound and ambiance. I think the entire band knew this recording was a time to savor the sense of the place – there were excellent solos going on, and we had a great sound captured by our engineer, a true sound icon, James Farber. What tremendous musicians and all leaders in their own right – I feel so fortunate to continue to work again and again with them.”

Escapism is an audiophile’s delight from the team of top engineers that Hilton has worked with for years; besides recording engineer Farber, it was mixed by 23-time Grammy® Award-winning engineer Al Schmitt at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood and mastered by multi-Grammy® Award-winners Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen.

Guitarist Molly Miller strikes out on her own in new project

Dr. Molly Miller

Since she picked up a guitar at age seven, Dr. Molly Miller has been captivating audiences with performances that display a talent for entertaining and effortless musicianship seemingly well beyond her years. Now 28 – and the youngest Chair of a University Guitar department in the country – Miller has become one of Los Angeles’ most sought-after musicians, touring the world with superstars such as Jason Mraz and The Black Eyed Peas. In her debut album as a leader, The Shabby Road Recordings, due out this month, Miller heads a trio that includes the all-star rhythm section of Jay Bellerose (B.B. King, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt) and Jennifer Condos (Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks).

The album’s joyful, groove-based instrumentals bring a wealth of musical talent to reimagine popular songs spanning genres and eras, from “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino and “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” by Smokey Robinson, to “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits. The album’s repertoire was formed organically, over months at the trio’s weekly gig at L.A.’s Perch.

“It was thrilling and humbling to work alongside Jay and Jen – two legendary instrumentalists – to distill these timeless songs to their essence,” says Miller in a news release.

Miller – who received her doctorate in music from University of Southern California – became the youngest Guitar Chair in the country at the same time that she maintained a busy touring and recording schedule with top pop, indie, and jazz artists.

The Shabby Road Recordings came about in a rather spontaneous way – the three musicians would regularly get together to play and one day decided to record in the spur of the moment. The album’s opener “Gimme A Little Sign” (as popularized by Brenton Wood) stems from that first living room session and it captures a spirit that pervades the album – joyful, groove-based instrumental music that recalls a bygone era of such luminaries as Booker T and the MG’s, The Ventures, and Duane Eddy.

The emotional center of the album comes from their touching rendition of the Jackson Brown via Velvet Underground and Nico song “These Days.” Long regarded as a seminal track, “These Days” has been with Miller since she was in high school consuming a steady diet of Velvet Underground and Nico records.

‘Live from Jazz at the Bistro’ exhibits Sean Jones’ creative spark

The young jazz veteran trumpeter Sean Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey.
“I think the progression of the art form [jazz] comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he noted and added, “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in the most honest form.”
While he spoke these words a few years ago, they serve as a vivid manifesto for his new Mack Avenue Records album, Live from Jazz at the Bistro, his eighth for the label and arguably the most dynamic, playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. Indeed, the 38-year-old Jones brings to the sessions a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion. The album is now available for purchase.
“In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” he says in a news release. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”
Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet, as they “hover on the bandstand between sobriety and intoxication,” he says. The longstanding quartet, comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire has been together for 11  years.
“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.” The exception here is bringing in drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on four tunes as a replacement for Calvaire, due to a scheduling conflict. On the four quintet tracks, Jones showcases another old friend and collaborator, alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans.

New York City proclaims April 25 as “Ella Fitzgerald Day”

Ella Fitzgerald

On the 65th floor at the iconic Rainbow Room, with an expansive view of the city where Ella Fitzgerald got her first big break and performed her last public concert, the singer’s 100th birthday was celebrated. Verve Label Group, in partnership with the Mayor’s office, hosted a proclamation ceremony today to honor this beloved musical icon on her 100th birthday by naming it “Ella Fitzgerald Day,” in New York City. Grammy winner Tony Bennett joined to acknowledge his dear friend and colleague and closed the ceremony with a rendition of “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”  Vocal students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which Tony Bennett founded in his hometown of Astoria, Queens, opened the Rainbow Room event appropriately with “Blue Skies,” a favorite Ella recording.

Danny Bennett, CEO and president of Verve Label Group acknowledged Ella Fitzgerald’s unique relationship with New York City where she first received public acclaim by winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre in 1934 and performing her last public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991. Danny Bennett said in a news release, “A year ago, I was asked to take over at the helm of Verve which was founded by Ella’s longtime manager Norman Granz, who created Verve Records in 1955 to provide a nurturing and supportive home for Ella’s recording career but also to foster jazz artists and this great American-born musical genre. I am truly humbled to now be the keeper of the flame and contributing to shine a well-deserved light on artists of the magnitude of Ella Fitzgerald.”

Verve/UMe just released several re-issues of Ella’s most beloved recordings including a four-CD set of 100 Songs For A Centennial, and a six-LP vinyl reissue of Ella Sings The George & Ira Gerswhin Songbook.  Later in the year, Verve will release a new album featuring Fitzgerald’s classic vocal recordings accompanied by new orchestral arrangements by the London Symphony Orchestra. Order 100 Songs For A Centennial here: https://UMe.lnk.to/100SongsCent and Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Books here: https://UMe.lnk.to/GershwinSB6LP.

Commissioner Julie Menin from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment presented the official proclamation to Richard Rosman and Fran Morris-Rosman of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and reading from the Proclamation, said, “New York has a long and proud tradition of attracting talented performing artists from around the world, and a standout among them is Ella Fitzgerald, a legendary jazz vocalist who captivated audiences with her distinctive style and incredible talents. Ella has gone down in history as one of the greatest entertainers of all time, and her story and career have continued to inspire singers and performers across our city and far beyond. Together with the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and her legions of fans around the world, I am proud to join in celebrating Ella’s 100th birthday. Now therefore, I, Bill de Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in the city of New York as:  Ella Fitzgerald Day.”  Tony Bennett presented the Foundation with a framed print of his portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, the original of which is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, and was known as the “First Lady of Song.” She received 13 Grammy Awards, was a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of the Arts.

Pianist Bill Carrothers joins trio Red Planet for masterful collaboration

Red Planet with Bill Carrothers, available in stores on April 14, features 10 tracks, dancing between the trio’s typically electrified romps and folk-tinged ballads, while Carrothers’ impressionistic piano weaves through the nooks and crannies of the music, spinning an elegant web of lyricism and texture. In some ways, it acts as a homecoming of sorts for Carrothers, a Twin Cities native who has long since left for New York before moving to the upper peninsula of Michigan and a busy touring schedule in Europe.

Album release shows are scheduled for the Dunsmore Room in Minneapolis on April 18 and 19, with a European tour planned for the fall of 2017. 

 

 

‘Live from Jazz at the Bistro’ showcases Sean Jones’ creative arc

This album will be released on May 26 by Mack Avenue Records.

The young jazz veteran trumpeter Sean Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey. “I think the progression of the art form [jazz] comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he said in a recent news release. “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in the most honest form.”

While he spoke these words a few years ago, they serve as a vivid manifesto for his new Mack Avenue Records album, Live from Jazz at the Bistro, his eighth for the label and arguably the most dynamic, playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. Indeed, the 38-year-old Jones brings to the sessions a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion.

“In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” he says. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”

Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet, as they “hover on the bandstand between sobriety and intoxication,” he says. The longstanding quartet, comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire has been together for 11 years.

“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.” The exception here is bringing in drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on four tunes as a replacement for Calvaire, due to a scheduling conflict. On the four quintet tracks, Jones showcases another old friend and collaborator, alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans.

Live from Jazz at the Bistro represents one more triumph in a career that has been impressive in its expanse of accomplishments. A gospel-bred drummer who switched to trumpet when he was ten after hearing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Amandla, Jones found his jazz epiphany basking in John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which summed up the youngster’s desire to explore the spirituality of the music. He received his master’s at Rutgers University, and then quickly began his ascent into the upper echelons of the jazz world.

He served for six years as the first-chair trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, toured Europe with Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, and Wayne Shorter with a Miles Davis project, and is now in his fifth year as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective. Heavily involved in education, Jones has taught at Duquesne University, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and is now chair of the brass department at Berklee College of Music.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks merges musical landscape of East and West coasts

Since his 18-year tenure as guitarist and music director of TV’s “The Tonight Show” band ended in 2010, Philadelphia-born guitarist, composer Kevin Eubanks has been on a creative roll. On East West Time Line, Eubanks explores the chemistry he maintains with musicians on both coasts. And once again, his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument is in the service of tunes that run the stylist gamut from urgent swingers to introspective ballads to Latin-tinged numbers and some get-down Philly funk. The Mack Avenue Records project is set for release on April 7.
Joining Eubanks on this stellar outing are longtime collaborator and former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, who fuels the West Coast outfit alongside seasoned session bassist Rene Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu and saxophonist Bill Pierce. Smith’s East Coast counterpart on this bi-coastal session is the irrepressibly swinging Jeff “Tain” Watts, a force of nature on the kit who combines with bassist Dave Holland, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and New York trumpeter Nicholas Payton for a potent lineup. Together these great musicians bring out the best in Eubanks’ six-string prowess and ignite his searching instincts throughout the sessions in Los Angeles and New York.
“Of course, we all came up through New York,” says the Philly guitarist who broke in with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers during the early ’80s in a recent news release. “But we also got the benefits of seeing the East Coast down and dirty and Hollywood down and dirty, too. We combined both vibes on this recording-the kind of Latin vibe of Los Angeles and the straight-up swinging vibe of New York.”
Overall, Eubanks seems exceedingly pleased with the copacetic nature of his first bi-coastal recording. “I think because I’m so familiar with all the musicians and we played together over the years in different settings, on different tours, that it helped the music quite a bit. There’s something that goes with friendship, knowing everybody’s journey to a large extent, that really enhances the communication between the players on a session. It’s that thing where everybody’s pulling for each other to do well and trying to make each other sound better, and you keep your ego out of it. We all have egos, we’re human beings and everything, but through the love of the music and wanting the best, good things happen. It’s really such a wonderful kind of democracy that you don’t see in other things. I think jazz music is the most perfect example of democracy in action.”

‘VICTORIA’ comes to MASTERPIECE this month on PBS

Scripted by bestselling novelist Daisy Goodwin (The Fortune Hunter), Victoria airs in seven magnificent parts, fit for a queen, on MASTERPIECE, Jan. 15 on PBS.

Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) stars as the young Queen Victoria at the outset of her epic reign, which set the stage for an entire era that would be named in her honor. The stellar cast also includes Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle) as Lord Melbourne, the British prime minister who was Victoria’s father figure and intimate friend, and Tom Hughes (Dancing on the Edge) as the handsome, brilliant and awkward Prince Albert, who stole Victoria’s heart after a rocky start.

In Victoria, writer Daisy Goodwin imaginatively depicts what it was like for an ill-educated, emotionally deprived teenager to wake up one morning and find that she is the most powerful woman in the world. Victoria charts how the new ruler rose to the challenge and weathered a series of crises — some of her own making — without ever losing her youthful charm and innate sense of justice, which made her popular with her subjects.

Victoria is a coproduction of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE. It is created, written and executive produced by Goodwin. The director is Tom Vaughn (He Knew He Was Right). The directors are Sandra Goldbacher and Olly Blackburn. The producer is Paul Frift (Restless). The executive producers are Dan McCulloch and Damien Timmer for Mammoth Screen and Rebecca Eaton for MASTERPIECE, presented by WGBH Boston. It is distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Musical prodigy Emily Bear set to release ‘Into the Blue’

Photo Credit: Nick Suttle

Pianist/composer Emily Bear, 15, has achieved the kinds of accolades and triumphs that take many artists a lifetime to accomplish. She’s performed at the most prestigious venues across the country and around the world, received numerous awards and honors, composed for film and television, made six appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, garnered 30 million views on YouTube, played at the White House, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, been mentored by the legendary Quincy Jones – and that’s only a partial list.

Now, with the release of Into the Blue, Bear brings us new original jazz compositions performed with her trio. The album comprises five of her original compositions plus a warm, graceful take on “My Favorite Things” that hints at the immortal John Coltrane version before veering off into dazzling variations. Exuding Bear’s own exuberant passion for music, Into the Blue is both accessible and appealing for listeners of any age.

Bear follows the chart topping success of her first album, Diversity–produced by her long time mentor, Quincy Jones–with this inspiring collection of new melodies. Her agility on the piano is matched by her skill in creating stylistic compositions – catchy, intelligent, and sophisticated.

Bear has composed and arranged for orchestra, written for film and commercials.  And while she continues to expand her musical palette, jazz holds a special place in her heart. “What I love so much about jazz is that you have a lot more freedom than in classical music,” Bear says. “Jazz has a groove that doesn’t show up in any other kind of music and I enjoy using all my musical influences to create a unique sound, familiar yet new.”

Charles Jenkins celebrates Christmas on Bounce TV’s “Holiday Praise”

Charles Jenkins

Soul Train Award nominated and Stellar Gospel Music Award winning recording artist Charles Jenkins’ “Holiday Praise” yuletide musical program will air at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Dec. 25 and a repeat broadcast at 9 a.m. on Bounce TV. Check your local TV listings for this program.

The hour-long holiday celebration was filmed at the historic Fellowship Chicago church, featuring an all-star musical lineup. The exhilarating concert features performances by Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell singing “Come Let Us Adore Him” and Grammy Award nominated singer Brian Courtney Wilson reinventing Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas.” Deitrick Haddon delivers a passionate take on Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” Jonathan McReynolds does a resplendent acoustic cover of “Mary Don’t You Weep” while gospel legend Dorinda Clark Cole sings “Away in a Manger” to a circle of children. The show also features appearances by Tasha Page Lockhart, Isaac Carree, Donishia Ballard, and Dexter Walker & Zion Movement.

Jenkins, who is the pastor of the 8,000-member Fellowship Chicago, initially appeared on the national stage when the world-renowned song “Awesome” topped Billboard Magazine’s Hot Gospel Songs chart for 22 weeks in 2012.  The unforgettable “War” spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart and was cited by the magazine as the most played gospel song of 2015. Jenkins currently has a Top 10 hit with “Winning,” and his tune “Christmas Music” just made its Hot Gospel Songs chart debut at No. 21.