-Title of an old Clifford Brown tune
It has arrived, and for Buffalo's jazz audience it's a deliverance we may not even deserve. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut played at the Calumet Arts Cafe last night while, at the same time, funk-dripping pianist Gene Harris began a three-day Buffalo residency with a gig at Canisius College.
And that's only the beginning. In the next 12 weeks, Buffalo will see some of the most impressive younger players in jazz, courtesy of Mark Goldman and the Calumet, and some of the most challenging, venerated and important musicians in jazz's vanguard, courtesy of Don Metz, who left his job as music curator of Hallwalls to be administrative director of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, but left behind him the incredible Hallwalls 20th anniversary music series. Some of jazz's most exciting musicians will be making their first visits to Western New York.
Currently on the schedule at the Calumet Arts Cafe are:
April 28 -- Singer Giacomo Gates.
May 12-13 -- Singer Mark Murphy, who has been one of Buffalo's favorite visiting jazz artists for the past 15 years.
May 19-20 -- Mose Allison, the world's greatest jazz blues singer and authentic wise man. His Buffalo gig was originally sponsored by Artpark until the Pataki budget set in.
June 3 -- The most exciting Calumet booking of them all -- young saxophonist James Carter, whose first LP as a leader, last year's "JC on the Set," was on everyone's year-end best lists and who has been roundly acclaimed the saxophone player of his generation. He plays just about all possible saxophones with the roaring energy of an avant-gardist and the romantic melodism of a great swing-era player.
June 16-17 -- Brilliant trumpet player Terence Blanchard, who composed the music for Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and is, along with Roy Hargrove, probably the most important trumpet player to follow Wynton Marsalis.
June 18-19 -- Phenomenal young bassist Christian McBride, who has played here before but never as a leader of his own band.
On the amazing schedule of the Hallwalls 20th anniversary series:
April 7, 8 p.m. at Hallwalls -- Trio 3, composed of three of the greatest veteran figures in jazz's perennial vanguard -- alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Among other things, Lake is a stalwart of the World Saxophone Quartet and managed to fuse jazz and reggae brilliantly with his Jump Up band. No matter what Lake plays, he shares with Ornette Coleman an ability to communicate on a raw, fundamental and blues-saturated level.
April 19 at 8 p.m. in the Calumet Arts Cafe -- Arguably the rarest jazz booking of the spring, the first Buffalo visit by the great soprano saxophonist and jazz spirit Steve Lacy. Lacy is the man who turned John Coltrane on to the soprano saxophone and thereby opened the floodgate of soprano saxophonists in jazz (and elsewhere. God help us, that includes Kenny G.). Unlike most of them, Lacy plays the instrument with a big, meaty tone, an inimitable command of phrasing and the presence of a stomping tenor player. He will perform in an unusual duo with vocalist/violinist Irene Aebi.
Lacy's appearance was engineered in part by Buffalo resident poet Robert Creeley, who received a letter from his friend Lacy in Paris telling Creeley that his mother lives in Rochester and, therefore, that he'd like to arrange some bookings in Western New York. They met more than a decade ago when Lacy set some of Creeley's poetry to music. "We like each other very much," says Creeley. "He's an old, old friend."
April 29, 8 p.m. at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery -- The piano-bass duo of Eric Watson and John Lindberg, whose amalgam of jazz and contemporary classical music is more common in Europe. That's where their partnership began in 1982. Watson, on his own, frequently performs the ferocious and tendon-bruising piano music of Charles Ives.
"SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST
They met a little over two weeks ago -- representatives from Western New York's most important annual jazz event and those of Buffalo's crucial NPR/jazz radio station. It should have been a gemuetlich confab of people who share an important common cause -- jazz. It wasn't. Courtesy of the slash/fund world of the Newties and the Patakis, tempers got ugly and words were mean. Real resentments surfaced.
At the end of the meeting of officials of the Artpark Jazz Festival and WBFO-FM, hard feelings remained. The station will no longer be listed as a prime sponsor for all Artpark area jazz events.
And yet, this year's Artpark Jazz Festival will bring in such jazz behemoths as Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson and Gerry Mulligan, such brilliant and infrequent area visitors as John Scofield, and such extraordinary young players as Jacky Terrasson and Leon Parker.
The possibility of severance be damned, any friction at all between the area's most important jazz broadcaster and the area's most important jazz booker is appalling. It shouldn't be -- not in the best of all possible worlds, or even the worst, for that matter.
But to the area's jazz observers, it's just a new chapter in an old and unpleasant story -- the degree to which, in serving radio and its own funding, WBFO is failing jazz.
To any knowledgeable and jazz-hungry listener, WBFO is as narrow, retrogressive and conservative as 97 Rock seems to most broad-minded rock fans. The same musical dissatisfaction that eventually led to the Planet on the FM dial now exists among the part of the jazz audience that wants to hear something more than music that's suitable accompaniment to browsing in bookstores (which is how WBFO is sometimes used).
It must be said that community financial support for WBFO-FM is crucial. NPR is one of the rare bastions of civilization in American broadcasting. And even a flourishing bad jazz radio station -- which WBFO usually is -- is better than none at all.
Egos are, of course, involved here. Among them is my own, which is admittedly sizable. (I could pretend that I haven't been the city's only newspaper writer to deal with jazz consistently for 25 years, but it would be foolish and disingenuous besides.) Big-name jazz in Buffalo can't exist without adequate information from two sources -- this newspaper and WBFO. All other sources of information help, but those two are crucial.
And at WBFO, a deep mediocrity has caused large fissures in its endeavors to tell Buffalo who's in town.
Joe Lovano, for instance, is almost unanimously considered one of the most exciting saxophonists in jazz. To the Artpark-in-the-Church series, he brought with him one of its in-demand pianists -- Mulgrew Miller. And yet no one at WBFO knew enough about the extraordinary variety of Lovano's work to be able to program it to educate jazz listeners who didn't know it. A jazz station has to do that for jazz to flourish, and yet it can't if its people don't know enough.
Said one baffled attendee at the Lovano concert: "Anybody who can't talk about Mulgrew Miller and Joe Lovano off the top of their head on a jazz station shouldn't be behind a mike."
There is fine jazz programming at WBFO -- notably the weekend shows of Bob Rossberg and Dick Judelsohn and the fill-in stints of Tom Krehbiel. But so many of its strongest programmers and most committed jazz advocates have left the station -- Bill Besecker, Pres Freeland.
And in what's left, there is, as one disgruntled former staffer put it, "a co-dependency of mediocrity" between WBFO Program Director David Benders and the station's most audible voice, John Werick.
Station Manager Jennifer Roth says vigorously: "I'd have to refute that with all my heart. In all my years of public radio I've never seen any two people more devoted to what they were doing."
Werick, who was once the station's music director and is still a constant during fund-raising drives, is an active Buffalo jazz bass player with deep and admirable ties to local jazz musicians. His commitment to both be-bop (and the show-offy technical facility it requires) and those musicians whom he knows personally has caused a bizarre situation: Werick's morning listeners have heard infinitely more music by Cleveland saxophonist Ernie Krivda than by former Cleveland saxophonist Lovano (or, for that matter, Sonny Rollins).
The station's current music director, Lydia Kulbida -- who has long been admired for her inclination to pour oil on any troubled waters -- says: "All of our announcers have free choice of what they play. I make a list of current jazz releases which should comprise 50 percent of their programming, but the rest is their choice. In our broadcast day, you'll hear everything from Acoustic Alchemy to Ornette Coleman. We do try to take into account what our listeners might be doing."
Benders, a folk music partisan, says, "My personal taste doesn't enter into my decisions in radio." He adds, "We look for creativity and knowledge of the subject as well as the ability to communicate." Lydia Kulbida is known to most jazz aficionados for doing her best to make up for deficiencies elsewhere, but no one pretends that her knowledge of jazz approaches that of, say, John Hunt, the man who took WBFO into wholesale jazz programming in the first place.
To those who know and love jazz best, there is no question that the music the station presents in crucial time periods is only the middle 30 percent of what's possible.
Says Don Metz, the programmer of the upcoming series from Hallwalls: "As a curator it wasn't a resource for me and as a musician it's not a resource for me. I don't think it addresses what jazz is today. I don't hear Hamiett Bluiett or John Zorn or the things I need to hear as a professional musician."
Says Bruce Eaton, the programmer of the Artpark Jazz Festival, "What's good for jazz is good for everybody." Because of budget cuts, he says, WBFO seems to be "in an all-cash mode these days."
Big-name jazz can progress in Buffalo without WBFO, but at a snail's pace if the station continues to act as a force for stasis and even retrogression.
What's good for jazz really is good for everybody. The trouble is that first everybody has to know it -- starting first at WBFO-FM.