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Jazz greats share their quarantine playlists

Scott Haas
Jazz greats share their quarantine playlists
Marcus Roberts COURTESY PHOTO

Some jazz greats shared their favorite playlists for Banner readers, offering a soothing space to help with stress and depression from the ongoing quarantine and uncertain future.

“I posted a couple songs for all of you on my website (www.marcusroberts.com/music) from my own recordings with my trio,” said pianist Marcus Roberts. “First there’s our version of ‘Unforgettable’ — a song that really resonates with me during this very difficult time. My second pick is ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ — a live recording from a show when Wynton Marsalis joined my trio on stage for the evening. It’s also one of my mother’s favorites.”

Roberts also listed a few more tunes that he is listening to regularly and explained why they move him:

Sarah Vaughan: Live at Mr. Kelly’s
“This is a vocal masterpiece. It is for anyone who wants to know what a genius vocalist can do while making everything up on the spot. This will amaze you in the same way that a three-pointer at the buzzer of a NBA championship would.”

Count Basie and His Orchestra: April in Paris
“I first heard ‘April in Paris’ when I was 13 years old. To this day, it’s one of my favorite standards, and this version is as classic as it gets. Basie’s bands were known for being able to go from extremely soft to earth-shatteringly loud (and vice versa) in a millisecond. If you wonder what swing music sounds like, this is it. Swing should have been Basie’s middle name.”

Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin: Mack the Knife
“This recording showcases how great jazz musicians create their best music under pressure and with no time to consciously go through all the options that might solve a particular musical dilemma. Improvisation is actually a subconscious activity developed through hours of conscious practice in all categories of musical technique. Ella forgets the words on this song and demonstrates improvisation at is very best. It still amazes me.”

Fitzgerald and Vaughan also appear on the playlist suggested by Kandace Springs, renowned jazz vocalist. Her selections include Ella Fitzgerald’s “In a Mellow Tone,” Sarah Vaughan’s “Black Coffee,” Aretha Franklin’s “God Bless The Child,” Alicia Keys’ “Diary,” Roberta Flack’s “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”

Springs concluded her list by saying, “And that’s all there is!”

Pianist Orrin Evans of The Bad Plus said, “Recently, listening to music has been difficult for me. Practicing music has been difficult for me. Those things are like a girlfriend that broke my heart and it’s just hard to be around her.”

Orrin Evans COURTESY PHOTO

Orrin Evans COURTESY PHOTO

Here are some tunes that Evans is listening to lately, along with his commentary:

Captain Black Big Band: Tough Love
“When we let love in, we also usher peace, charity, and hope! Only they can get us through this rough time.”

Kevin Eubanks/Stanley Jordan Duets: A Child Is Born
“Every day a child is born during a pandemic is hope for the future. Bring them babies on … They make us work harder to fix this earth and the people that occupy it!”

The Bad Plus: People Like You
“Every time I’m out and about and I see foolish people without masks on, I think of this song. I change the title and say ‘It’s Fools Like You’ that will make us deal with this situation longer. Instead of being mad at you … I’ll listen to this beautiful ballad and pray for your evolution.”

Vibraphonist Warren Wolf, whose April show at Scullers was cancelled due to the pandemic, has a playlist that resonates with positive vibes, including:

Warren Wolf: Reincarnation
“This is my fourth recording for the Mack Ave label that is a hybrid of jazz and R&B music.”

Christian McBride: The Movement Revisited
“Great piece about four civil right icons — MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater spoke with the Banner from her home in New Orleans. Always effervescent and thoughtful, Bridgewater spoke of Malian music and noted the music that helps her sleep at night.

“I recorded a duet some years ago with Ray Charles, while in Paris,” she said, “and Kjetil Bjerkestrand, a pianist from Norway, arranged the music. I call his album, ‘Piano Poems,’ my lullaby music — I love it!”

To liven things up during the day, Bridgewater turns to music by Aretha Franklin (“when I want to dance”), James Brown and Catherine Russell.

“‘Alone Together’ by Catherine Russell is so beautiful. She’s my go-to,” said Bridgewater.

Finally, Terri Lyne Carrington, the enormously talented drummer who grew up in Boston, weighed in.

Carrington’s list included Sonny Rollins; the great duet between Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles on “Spirit in the Dark,” recorded live at Fillmore West in 1971; and “Whoza Mtwana,” by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.

“There’s a certain style of melody and harmony that comes out of the traditions of South Africa — incredibly simple and amazing at the same time,” she said. “Charles Mingus, composer and musician said it best: ‘Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.’”

“For me as an African American,” she continued, “the music carries with it a deep, ancestral history. Meaning that what we are going through, our ancestors have already gone through. Then you don’t feel alone. You feel guided. You feel a certain sense of peace. It’s a spiritual quest, and you’re hopefully finding a spiritual center.”

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