Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’


Paulette McWilliams Sings at the Jazz Journalists Association Awards Gala from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

I was at the Blue Note Jazz Club setting up my cameras to document the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, and so was in the room during sound check. With all the prep for the event going on, it was not particularly quiet, but even with all the distraction of my own devoir, I immediately noted that someone very fine indeed was getting her microphone level checked. I decided that I would make a special effort to capture Paulette McWilliams’ set.
I’m glad I did. Paulette, as you will hear, has a wonderfully rich, warm voice. And for all I know I may have heard it many times before without knowing who I was listening to, because she is a very in-demand session singer in LA. She’s worked and toured with the biggies, from Quincy Jones, to Bette Midler (as a Harlette) and sung for high profile commercials too numerous to list here. (And why should I give them a plug, right?)
“Don’t go to Strangers” is one of the songs off her CD “Telling Stories” on Reviver Records. It’s a bittersweet ballad, one that reminds you straight away that sometimes the right vehicle for a particular sentiment can only be Jazz, and Paulette sings it so comfortably it sounds like it was written for her. She’s backed up here by Nat Adderley Jr.on piano and Trifon Dimitrov on bass.

When I later asked Howard Mandel, the president of the JJA, how he had come to choose Paulette to be one of the acts for the awards gala, he made a good point, writing back “Paulette has had a long career of singing with others, mostly on the r&b side of the jazz spectrum, but just last year came out with that debut album. We (jazz journalists in general) are often being introduced to bright young singers, but I think it’s important to realize there are mid-career artists taking the challenge of expanding on their careers, trying something new, and Paulette embodied that successfully.”

I agree. Artistry is artistry, no matter the age. So if you’re feeling stressed and want to curl up with a bit of musical caressing from a woman who knows whereof she sings, enjoy this snapshot from the JJA awards.

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Although we associate Victor Jara with the protest songs of the  Nuevo Cancion movement that arose in Chile in the 1970’s, “Cigaritto” does not make any overt political statement. It is instead a gentle song that is simply sung from the vantage point of a field worker on a tobacco plantation.
Claudia Acuña is a jazz singer from Chile, and here she and her band have created a setting that not only preserves the spirit of the song, but enhances the melody with nuanced chord progressions and a different meter. It’s a sensitive, loving interpretation.

To compare renditions, see Jara’s here.

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Last year I attended the Dutch Jazz and World Meeting (DJWM) in Amsterdam. The event was beautifully organized, with a trade fair during the day, and performances at the clubs Melkweg, Sugar Factory and the imposing Bimhuis at night. Business interaction was lively throughout; at the fair, at the shows, at dinners and at after-hours jams, when players, promoters, presenters and press schmoozed till the wee hours. The music was top notch, I learned a lot, and I got several great vlogs out of it.*

The event was organized by the MCN (Muziek Centrum Nederland), and I was so impressed with how naturally they combined art with business, that I grabbed a Flip camera, walked past several canals and up icy streets to check the multi-level Centrum out myself. In my tour of the facility, I was again struck with the kind of pragmatic support the Centrum gives to musicians. Unlike here, it’s not just about grants: Want your band to tour in another country? The MCN will give you contact information. Want to write for the screen? The MCN gives courses. There is an extensive archive that houses recordings and memorabilia, and a music publishing arm. In its accessibility it is a far cry from the labyrinthine institutions here in the USA and I walked out of there thinking how much more enlightened the Dutch government was to maintain this wonderfully functional cultural bastion. I shot video of the people and the place, but wondered if I’d ever have a reason to use it.

Now, unfortunately, I do. Just the other day I got the news that the Centrum is in danger of losing all its funding, due to an new government that evidently does not consider culture to be worth supporting.  I’ve seen too many great cultural organizations and programs go down the tubes during economic hard times here and abroad. And I certainly know what it’s like to try to make any kind of art with no support system. The MCN is a beautiful institution that serves the people of the Netherlands well; both the artists and the audiences world wide and at home. It should continue to do so.  Think about all that will be lost when you watch the video. And if you feel like it, go to their website and sign the petition to support them. Do it right away, the deadline is June 20th, so this is truly the 11th hour. Don’t let the MCN be the tree that falls in the forest….let’s let them know we are there, listening.

Here in the USA parents dread their children becoming musicians or artists of any kind because the chances of “success” are so slim. That attitude persists because we don’t accept the legitimacy of the calling and respect it properly. But in Europe this attitude is nowhere near as pervasive.….yet.

Here’s my rant: Art enriches every aspect of our lives, particularly when we are going through hard times.   We are fundamentally poorer without it.  It’s a fact that it promotes creative thinking, and if anyone says we need the math and the science skills to stay competitive, I reply that a practical society encourages creative, artistic thought because that’s where the great breakthroughs come from. And these are the breakthroughs that ultimately lift a society up both intellectually and economically.

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.