Keith Jarrett and the Power of Two Chords

Two chords, set in a continuous loop between tension and resolution, provide the foundation for this powerful solo improvisation by pianist and composer Keith Jarrett. It was the final encore from a concert in Tokyo in 1984. Jarrett (b. 1945) is an American pianist and composer who moves freely between the worlds of jazz and classical. (Listen to part of his recording of J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier here.) He talks about improvisation in …

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Marking the Tenth Anniversary of Katrina

As we mark the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, here are the soulfully defiant sounds of the New Orleans-based Treme Brass Band. This is music that proudly proclaims, “we’re still here!” It’s the same sense of spirit that emerges from the solemn jazz funeral procession that suddenly turns into an uplifting street celebration. I heard the Treme band when I was in New Orleans, earlier in the summer. Here is Jesus on …

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Three Musical Portraits of Cuba

Cuba is home to one of the world’s richest musical melting pots…the vibrant convergence of west African and European (especially Spanish) musical traditions over 500 years of history. From rumba and son cubano to Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa, this Latin musical stew often features dizzying rhythmic complexity while retaining a suave sense of “cool.” Clave rhythm, the source of this “cool” complexity, gives Latin music its unique sense of swing. It’s a rhythmic …

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Remembering Ornette Coleman, "Free Jazz" Pioneer

American jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman passed away yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 85. In the 1960s Coleman was at the forefront of free jazz, a movement which liberated jazz from its traditional harmonic and formal rules. This 1961 album and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning Sound Grammar will give you a sense of the adventurous nature and rhythmic sophistication of Coleman’s music. Traditional jazz was often built on melodies from the American …

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Clementine

The eclectic, Portland-based musical group, Pink Martini is the furthest you can get from the homogeneous mediocrity of slickly marketed corporate pop music. Founded in 1994, and dubbed the “little orchestra”, it’s a group where music takes precedence over category. According to their website, Pink Martini blends “genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop.” I remember performing with them when they appeared with the Richmond Symphony about seven years ago. The song Clementine comes from their 2004 album, Hang …

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Charlie Haden, Embracing the Moment

Charlie Haden, the legendary and influential jazz double bass player, passed away last Friday in Los Angeles at the age of 76. Haden enjoyed long associations with fellow jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett. His death comes a month after passing of another important figure in American jazz, pianist Horace Silver (listen here). This interview offers a glimpse at Charlie Haden’s extraordinary life and political activism. He believed that …

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