Why Jazz Matters: Track 14

| June 1, 2015

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by Norman Provizer

They call Highway 61, which runs from New Orleans to Minnesota, the blues highway. Following the Mississippi River, the highway, metaphorically at least, transported the Delta blues to the outside world. If you check a map, of course, you quickly discover that Highway 61 doesn’t come anywhere near Colorado. And yet the Centennial State is home to one of the most important, creative bluesmen on the scene today – Otis Taylor who has a new CD out titled Hey Joe Opus Red Meat.

Though born in Chicago in 1948, Taylor’s family left the Windy City for Denver when Otis was young. Growing up here, he learned valuable lessons at the Denver Folklore Center and made his way into music before dropping out in 1977. For almost two decades, Taylor established himself as a dealer in antiques and as an enormously successful coach of a bicycling team – not quite your professions normally associated with the Mississippi Delta.

In the mid-1990s, Taylor put his toe back into music and before long began recording the first in a long list of striking discs that would come to be known as “trance blues,” Taylor’s unique contribution to the genre. While the idea that a great blues singer (and banjoist, and guitarist) lives in Boulder, Colorado sounds something like the set up for a punch line, it’s anything but a joke.

Taylor’s new disc, like several before it, features the jazz sound of Ron Miles on cornet. It’s a blend that works extremely well and one that indicates Taylor’s ear for jazz. On his 2009 CD Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, for example, the bluesman not only has Miles on hand, but also uses the talents of jazz pianist Jason Moran and, on some tracks, Moran’s entire trio. In fact, after Pentatonic Wars came out, Moran was in Denver to perform with Taylor at Dazzle.

Like fellow jazz pianists Robert Glasper and Helen Sung, Moran is a graduate of Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – and he has, for good reason, taken the jazz world by storm. On June 14, you can hear why when Moran appears at Baur’s Listening Lounge for two solo performances at 4 and 7 p.m.  The pianist, along with his playing, is the director of jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and his latest CD, All Rise, revisits the music of Fats Waller with singer Meshell Ndegeocello.

Of course, Moran’s visit to Baur’s isn’t the only significant jazz event during June. On June 13-14 at Dazzle, the great drummer Brian Blade comes back to town with his attractive Mama Rosa band that features Blade’s singing and guitar, not his drums. On June 18, the uberjaming guitarist John Scofield is at the Boulder Theater with guest keyboardist John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin and Wood). Twelve days later, on June 30, Medeski is back at the Fillmore with Medeski, Martin and Wood. The keyboardist is also part of the M&M’s (Medeski, Stanton Moore, Robert Mercurio and Papa Mali) playing at the Telluride Jazz Festival (August 2) and Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom (August 1).

Drummer Scott Amendola is also in town on June 12 at Dazzle with a quartet that features top clarinetist Ben Goldberg (originally from Denver), while crossover saxophonist Boney James is at the Soiled Dove Underground on June 18 and New York-based saxophonist Stan Killian is at Nocturne on June 18-19.

On the free side, the Estes Park Jazz Festival on June 6 and 7 has sounds from noon until 5 p.m. in Performance Park, including an appearance by the saxophonist Tia Fuller (who is from metro Denver) and her quartet (with sister Shamie Royston, brother-in-law and drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Mini Jones) saying thanks to her father and mother, bassist Fred Fuller and singer Elthopia Fuller. Also, starting on June 7 at 6 p.m., there’s the weekly City Park Jazz event outdoors at City Park. Singer Selina Albright kicks off the free sounds and the rest of the June lineup has pianist Annie Booth, followed by saxophonist Nelson Rangell and the Paa Kow Band. The series runs until August 9.

Additionally, this month is the 25th anniversary of Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The June jazz event runs June 26-28 and has singers Roberta Gambarini and Kurt Elling, the Count Basie Orchestra and saxophonist Maceo Parker (one of the notable jazz payers who were a key part of the James Brown band). Then on June 28, there’s an all-day affair (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) at Boulder’s Dairy Farm Center for the Arts focusing on Boulder’s jazz connection with free events during the daytime hours  and a ticketed concert at night.

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Category: Shop Talk

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