There was a palpable sense of anticipation before Milford Graves' set. The veteran drummer and educator hadn't played the Vision Festival for five years and doesn't have too many gigs in New York City, and this was to be the premiere of his new quartet, featuring pianist D.D. Jackson. Having studied with the great Don Pullen, Jackson's inclusion immediately brought to mind those classic early sides Graves recorded with Pullen on the long out of print Nommo (SRP, 1966). Anyone with an inkling of how they sounded would not have been disappointed with the wall of sound barrage which awaited.
Graves is something of a showman, even carrying band members around on his shoulders in previous performances. Tonight they all remained tied by the force of gravity, and the drummer's theatricality was restricted to his entrance. On a home-made talking drum, Graves began in the wings, before circling the stage as he played until concluding with a puckish "Good Evening." After positioning himself behind his customized kit he launched a tumultuous pounding, speaking in self-invented tongues in accompaniment. Jackson slipped onstage and began beating the hell out of his piano, with Graves looking delighted. Jackson rocked backwards and forwards as he assaulted the piano in a display of amazing high energy playing. Graves summoned first William Parker to leap into the fray, then tenor saxophonist Grant Langford for a veritable wall of sound.
Graves leavened his ferocious power with a distinctive timbral palette courtesy of his customized kit, but he also demonstrated an uncanny ability to maintain separate rhythms on different parts of his kit, so at times it sounded as if there were at least two drummers involved. Though the group generally operated at flat out intensity, it was like a spicy meal where you can still taste the full range of flavors once you get used to the heat, with shifting patterns revealing themselves to the discerning listener within the overall tumult. Parker's approach was similar to his tactic with Cecil Taylor, a flow of constantly changing propulsive patterns.
Graves took time out to talk about the three generations of musicians in the band, with Langford the youngest member, and how musicians from the 1950s and '60s could be a timely inspiration to the younger generation in showing that you can do it for yourselves. Langford held his own without overpowering, building with short gobbets of overblown sound, trading licks with Jackson and even finding space for more delicate whinnies. Jackson clearly relished the challenge to ensure he was heard, supplementing his strong runs with block chords, flats of hands and elbows as necessary to get his point over. A wonderful rousing set and yet another well-merited standing ovation.
Grant Langford: Press/Articles
...a raving version of Basie and Stardust featuring the outstanding alto playing of Grant Langford, who displayed that he, like his mentor, Charlie Parker, can play a straight melody and then take bebop to the next stage. Remember his name.
Alto saxophonist Grant Langford unspooled sublimely inspired, blues-drenched solos.
Saxophonist Grant Langford plays with reserved power and was a highlight of the evening.
GRANT LANGFORD VERMONT ARTICLE
From Attila to Basie
By JON POTTER, Reformer Staff
Thursday, October 26
BRATTLEBORO -- The first time Grant Langford was in Vermont, he got lost.
A sax player about 15 years old, Langford was the youngest person attending the Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Workshops back in the early 1990s and was on stage performing, when he veered off course.
"We were playing 'Have You Met Miss Jones,' and I got completely lost. I didn't know where I was. In my head, I was thinking, how can I get out of this? It was probably only 30 seconds or so, but it seemed like forever," he recalled, warmly.
Langford will have an easier time finding his way on his next trip to Vermont. He's gone from the youngest musician at the VJC's Summer Workshop to the newest member of the Count Basie Orchestra ... which just happens to be performing at the Latchis Theater on Saturday.
Langford's two summers at the VJC workshop were challenging. He was young, in the company of more polished musicians and often tested beyond his abilities. "I do remember Howard (Brofsky) taught a theory class, which was way over my head at the time," he recalled.
But for all the stories he tells about lost, Langford actually credits the Vermont Jazz Center for helping him find his way -- a road which will ultimately bring him back here for Saturday's concert.
"It was definitely one of the things that led me to music school and to pursue a career," Langford said.
Being in the company of Attila Zoller, Pete Yellin, Fred Haas, George Mraz, Nick Brignola and other accomplished musicians who were VJC summer faculty, taught him many things -- creativity, how to listen, how to find his voice -- but the biggest impression, he said, was to see the passion for playing all these musicians had.
He said he found the VJC to be an inclusive, nurturing place.
"I was the youngest person there, but it wasn't really a big issue," Langford said. "It was great. It was the first time I really got to play with other people."
Langford recalled riding in the back seat with Zoller at the wheel on their way to the faculty concert at the Mole's Eye. "It was just like a regular gig," he said.
The musicians at the workshop took their music seriously, but they always had fun playing, and that's something else Langford took away from his time in Vermont.
"Most of the time, you're very comfortable with what you're doing," Langford said. "That's something I've seen lately, playing with the Count Basie Orchestra."
Fueled by his experience at the VJC Summer Workshop, Langford went on to study at the New England Conservatory, graduating with a bachelor's in jazz studies in 1999. Since then he has performed with the Valery Ponomarev Sextet, George Glee, Cab Calloway and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestras. He was the first recipient of the 2003 Young Lion award by the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium. He has also performed as a sideman with the Ray Charles Orchestra. His most recent recording is the 2004 release by The Brooklyn Soul Organization, featuring saxophonist Bradford Leali, organist Radam Schwartz and drummer Jerome Jennings.
In 2005, he was approached to see if he would sit in with the Count Basie Orchestra, switching from tenor to alto sax. After a two-week trial, director Bill Hughes asked him if a spot in the band would suit the life of this young family man.
"It's pretty grueling, a lot of all-nighters and a lot of travel," Langford admitted. But there have been no regrets.
"You learn a lot. I tell everyone, this is my master's," he said.
One of only two musicians under 30 in the Basie Orchestra, Langford said it's a great experience for young players to hone their chops, to learn how to play within the group and also to develop his own voice.
"The innovators all came through the Big Band era, and you wonder why is that?" he said.
Langford is looking forward to playing at the Latchis and rekindling his connection to the VJC.
"That's going to be great. We haven't kept in touch, but when I e-mailed Howard (Brofsky), he was floored," Langford said.
For more information, visit www.langfordjazz.com.
BROOKLYN SOUL ORGANIZATION REVIEW
BROOKLYN SOUL ORGANIZATION—
M&N Records. www.grantlangford.com.
Www.bradleali.com www.cdbaby.com/cd/bso. Soul Interlude; Odd Man Out; I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon; Mr. Sneaky (Interlude); Mr. Sneaky; Victim of the Ruthless; Hangin’ with Leali; Trouble in the House; Lil’ Dre; Solomon’s Puzzle; When the Saints Go Marching In. PERSONNEL: Brad Leali, alto saxophone;
Grant Langford, tenor saxophone; Radam Schwartz, organ; Jerome Jennings, drums.
By Joe Knipes
Brooklyn Soul Organization is a soul-jazz quartet made up of a two-saxophone frontline, with the rhythm section of organ and drums. It is obvious these four are experienced and adept at carrying on the tradition begun by Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton, Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley. There are several high points to this recording, but as usual, I have a few minor com-plaints.
“Soul Interlude” reminds one of Cannonball Adderley’s soul ballad efforts. My first impres-sion leads me to ask: why start off an album of soulful swingers with this dreary ballad? One thing that I’ve never understood is why more care is not given to the sequencing of songs. It is immediately obvious that each of these musi-cians is blessed with the necessary skills, good intonation and tone, reverence for tradition, etc. Yet at just under four minutes this simply does not make a good first song.
Having said that, rest assured things turn around immediately with the first notes of “Odd Man Out.” Straight out of the gate, this up-tempo swinger grabs the ears and doesn’t let go. Although organist Radam Schwartz and drum-mer Jerome Jennings lock up well for a strong groove, I feel things could have been fleshed out a bit more with the addition of a guitarist. This is a minor point, but sometimes there is simply a need for more sonic glue.
This is an album comprised mostly of songs by each of the four players, but apart from “Saints,” the other non-original comes from the most unlikely of sources. Fans of the ground-breaking children’s television show Sesame Street know of Joe Raposo and the instant classic “It Isn’t Easy Being Green.” Few however may recognize the name of Jeffrey Moss. Moss com-posed just as many catchy and educationally informative ditties as Raposo and one such gem is heard here. “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” begins with Schwartz’s sustained chordal pads and Jennings’ gently rolling brushes. Grant Langford provides the melody on tenor and Brad Leali follows him nicely with a counter line. Leali takes the only solo and as I search for com-parisons in approach, Adderly, Stitt, Herring, and Crawford come to mind.
“Mr. Sneaky” gets a spoken introduction, seemingly as an address to a live audience—possibly Pumpkins, as the notes suggest. Lang-ford, Schwartz and Leali all turn in soulful solos on this short but sweet swinger—echoes of Horace Silver, and Adderleys, abound. “Victim of the Ruthless” is a plaintive bal-lad with Schwartz sustaining lush chords, swell-ing at times, behind Leali’s soulful, crying alto. “Hangin’ with Leali” is a toe-tapping call-and-response blues with a longer than usual form. Frankly, “Hangin’ with Leali” gets my vote for the lead off tune for this album. “Trouble in the House” evokes a 3 AM hang at the local smoky watering hole—that is, provided the locals are lucky enough to have such a soulful quartet as their house band. As with the previous selection, this is one of the more successful recordings on the album and deserves to be enjoyed. On the up-tempo “Lil’ Dre,” one draws immediately favorable com-parisons to Cannonball—right down to the phrasing. Here Langford has a rather short solo flight.
The tricky “Solomon’s Puzzle” seems to provide the soloists with rather meaty material as it calls the listener to follow them through each turn. “When the Saints Go Marching In” receives a slow, directed melody statement with rolling drums in the background before it all gets kicked up a notch with the funky backbeat. Leali paces himself nicely, wringing every note for all it’s worth, and gradually working in double-time phrases and provocative syncopation. Schwartz steps out on one of his few solo outings on “Saints” and has some terrifically grooving inter-play with drummer Jerome Jennings. This CD is a good first effort for the BSO. Judging by the good-natured communication and joyous vibes, subsequent releases from this band will provide some very enjoyable listening.
Featured Artist: Brooklyn Soul Organization
CD Title: Brooklyn Soul Organization
Record Label: M & N Records
Style: Contemporary Jazz
Musicians: Brad Leali, Grant Langford, Radam Schwartz, Jerome Jennings
The attempts of defining “Soul” comes from numerous lost journeys and countless never to return’s but one thing is so concrete of this art form, it bleeds life from any form. From the pool room where an unforgiving life many times comes full circle to the back alleyway off the street of nowhere special, soul and jazz meet, to tell the tales. Enclosed in this project are a select few of the most capable crusaders of cool to heat up a stage. The Brooklyn Soul Organization is a trip, a venture if you will, into the depths of emotion.
Radam Schwartz, Brad Leali, Jerome Jennings, and Grant Langford stimulate audiences and listeners alike with heated arrangements and multi-directional sounds. These four are a tribute to passionate originality. Released by M&N Records this anthology of music makes for a truly pleasurable and mesmerizing listen, capturing numerous sounds from all directions.
Note the organ tones in numerous cuts, the creative direction that sound is lead through speaks volumes for the composer. The industry lacks talent such as this and really need to embrace this approach.
“Mr. Sneaky” is smoking brass gun loaded with cool. The sounds creep out gingerly at the listener as the title denotes. Drops of organ and strong brass unite these techniques down so as to cement the effect warranted. Very persuasive.
A stellar cut is the intro piece “Soul Interlude” which brings faint memories of “Fast” Eddie in The Hustler. This is soul with an attitude, as ones life is based on his one shot at it. Dirty whiskey and tainted women filter toward the listener as the brass and percussion intertwine to pass that effect. Nearing the end of the arrangement it delivers a thunderous end to its epilogue with heavy skins. Extraordinary work.
Four men with very diverse musical talents. Combined they genuinely define ingenuity in musicianship. Their goals of music is to move, transform, uplift, and refuel. Ladies and gentleman, their mission is accomplished. Standing ovation from all who spin.
Karl Stober is a national freelance music journalist/interviewer. Any inquiries or requests should be directed via email to JazzTrenzz@bellsouth.net or contact his office at 802-380-6065.
Tracks: Soul Interlude, Odd Man Out, I Don't want to live on the Moon, Mr. Sneaky (interlude), Mr. Sneaky, Victim of the Ruthless, Hangin' with Leali, Trouble in the House, Lil' Dre, Solomon's Puzzle, When the Saints go Marching In
ARTICLE ABOUT GRANT LANGFORD EXPERIENCE WITH RAY CHARLES ORCHESTRA
Falmouth summer resident Grant M. Langford had the experience of a lifetime this summer, playing tenor saxophone for the world-renowned Ray Charles Orchestra.
Mr. Langford, who has lived in Brooklyn, New York, for three years after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, was asked to join the 17-piece ensemble and accompany Ray Charles on a week-long tour through Canada.
"It was a great experience, and meeting Ray Charles was a thrill," Mr. Langford said of his time with the orchestra.
Mr. Langford performed at the MBL Club in Woods Hole for several years with his brother George and other musicians.
Her is the son of Dr. George M. Langford and Sylvia Langford, longtime summer residents of Quissett Circle. Dr. Langford does biomedical research at MBL.
Mr. Langford said his invitation to play with the orchestra came as a surprise. "One of the saxophonists in the orchestra had to miss a week, and another saxophonist recommended me," Mr. Langford said. "In jazz, the way it works a lot of times is that your name gets around or someone who has seen you play recommends you."
As the 2003 recipient of the Brooklyn Jazz Consortium Young Lion award, Mr. Langford has created a name for himself in the jazz world. He was recommended to fill in for the Ray Charles Orchestra by fellow musician and friend Craig Bailey.
Mr. Langford gladly accepted the invitation to play with Ray Charles, who is known as on of the greatest jazz musicians, despite being blind since the age of seven. Mr. Langford traveled to Buffalo for two days of intense rehearsals before the tour. He rehearsed with only the four other saxophonists in the orchestra on his first day, and on the second day of rehearsals he was introduced to the whole band.
After the two days of rehearsals in Buffalo, Mr. Langford hopped on the tour bus for his first show with the Ray Charles Orchestra at the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada.
"On the first night, I felt partly excited and partly nervous," Mr. Langford said. "Ray picks his own set-lists for each show, and he arrived later than the rest of us. We didn't know until about 10 minutes before the show what we would have to play."
Mr. Langford recalls the second number of the night was especially difficult. "I think Mr. Charles likes to test the Orchestra, especcially when there is a new member," he explained. The second number was unfamiliar to Mr. Langford and featured the saxophone. "Getting through that song was hard. I was basically sight-reading," he said.
"After the first night, I really enjoyed myself. I began to feel more comfortable," he said.
After the Montreal Jazz Festival, the orchestra traveled to Toronto to perform at the Toronto Jazz Festival, and then went to London, Ontario, for a show. Five women, known as the Raelettes, who perform backround vocals, also accompany the orchestra.
"There were a lot of nice stories and nervous moments," said Mr. Langford, whose time with the Orchestra ended after the Canadien leg of the tour. After playing in Ontario, he returned to Brooklyn, while the rest of the band continued on for a week in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
"The highlight of my experience was just seeing the way Ray works. He's 73, and he has so much life in him," Mr. Langford said. "He really knows how to give the audience a great performance and how to work the crowd."
Mr. Langford said he had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Charles during the tour, and discovered they share the same birthday. "He was very approachable and very nice," he said.
Shortly after returning from the tour, Mr. Langford packed his bags and was off to Boulder, Colorado, where he teaches saxophone for the Mile High Jazz Camp and the University of Colorado. This is Mr. Langford's second year at the camp where he teaches a week-long program to teenagers and adults.
"Teaching is something I really enjoy doing," he said. He does give some private lessons in Brooklyn, but mostly he performs, he said, adding, "I look forward to my time in Colorado."
A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Mr. Langford received his Bachelors degree in Jazz Studies. He played at the MBL Club in Woods Hole for a number of years and said it would be a pleasure to play there again. "Unfortunately I won't have the chance to play in Woods Hole this summer. I have always enjoyed playinmg there, performing for friends and familiar faces."
Mr. Langford had performed around the United States, the Caribbean, and Canada. In New York, he has performed at the Showman's Lounge in Harlem, Pumpkins in Brooklyn, and at Medger Evans Colege's Jazzy Friday's Festival.
This past May, Mr. Langford performed in the Caribbean with the Sean Thomas Quartet at a festival called Jazz Artists on the Greens.
He has also performed with Eric Reed, Ben Dixon, Bradford Leali, the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Orchestra, the Brooklyn Big Band, and the Will Tirrell Quintet.
Mr. Langford's next project is performing throughout California with the Kent Glenn Quintet in September.
INTERVIEW WITH BILL HUGHES, LEADER OF THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA
Getting Up To Date
AAJ: These connections are just unbelievable. So now, let’s take it up to the present time. How did you come to take over as director after Frank Foster?
BH: Frank led the group for about ten years. There developed some differences of opinion and he chose to leave. I came to it after Grover Mitchell. He was the leader from about 1995 until he died in 2003. Grover was one of my best buddies and we more or less got together on the running of the band. He confided in me a lot and I did what I could to help him, but I was still playing the bass trombone chair. He had a very rough year in 2003. He had a cancer that finally took him out in August 2003. We floated around some names of people who could possibly take over and not jilt the public too much. We thought of Frank Wess and Benny Powell. They weren’t too keen on it, so the next logical person was me because of my connection with the ‘50s band.
AAJ: So what made you accept the position? I mean, you could do whatever you choose to. Why would you take on such responsibilities, road trips, etc?
BH: It took a lot of persuasion from family, from people calling me from everywhere, and the encouragement of the guys in the band, and I finally said, “Well, OK. I’ll give it a try.” It’s been a little over a year and half now. It’s different- you’re used to playing the horn on every tune, and all of a sudden you’re not.
AAJ: I noticed at the Kimmel concert that you picked up your axe only once or twice.
BH: Well, you’ve got to give the other guys their shot!
AAJ: Some of the arrangements at the concert were fabulous. Who’s doing your charts now?
BH: Well, Bob Ojeda has done a considerable amount of arranging for us, and Frank Foster and Sam Nestico still contribute.
AAJ: Where is Nestico these days?
BH: He lives in California. He does some great things with schools and universities, and every now and then he does a big band album. He’s still active.
AAJ: How do you recruit the new guys for the group?
BH: One of the guys is very new - he’s only been with the band about two weeks! Grant Langford.
AAJ: How do you find these guys?
BH: Mostly, as is true of the history of the band, somebody recommends someone they think can play the chair. Grant came to me because he was highly recommended by several musicians. Grant is a very well-balanced young man and he plays good saxophone, so I guess he’ll be here for a while.
AAJ: So you look for musicians with good character as well as ability to play?
BH: That’s right. Because you get a lot of great instrumentalists who wouldn’t fit into the band. That’s one thing that Basie was careful about, getting someone who melded into the band scene itself, because you’re close with these individuals traveling, sometimes you’re together three or four weeks at a time. If you have an individual who’s a bit off center he can cause problems. When you hire someone you have to look at them for a while to see if they’re gonna fit in on a personal level. Basie taught me that.
AAJ: Basie was evidently very mature as a person - very responsible, thoughtful.
BH: Basie was one of the most impressive men I’ve every met. To me, Basie was a psychologist in his own right - he seemed to know how to figure guys out.
AAJ: On another note, the musicians in the current Basie Orchestra, do they do other gigs too - make the scene, so to speak - or are they exclusively working for the Basie group?
BH: No, when we have some time off we’re playing elsewhere, doing our thing. That’s good. It keeps our chops together and lets us vent some steam in other ways.
AAJ: One of the wonderful things you’ve done with this group, with some of the newer musicians, you’ve blended the contemporary sounds with the traditional almost seamlessly.
BH: I’ll tell you what: when I’m leading and conducting rehearsals, I’m trying to hear what Basie would have heard, and trying to figure out whether I should change a phrase, maybe lay back a little bit, because sometimes the way the music is written is not the way you want it to sound. I think it’s important for the leader to step in and inject something into it.
AAJ: So the music is still evolving. In one tune, “Nature Boy,” which Lizz Wright sung with the band at the Kimmel, there was a beautiful antiphonal thing between the brass and woodwinds.
BH: We very rarely repeat in any show any particular line, because we keep trying to put up new stuff every night and put up new tunes every night, just to challenge the guys. We never do two shows in a row with the same tunes. We’ve got to keep the musicians interested. In his later years, Basie physically lost his ability to keep up with all the tunes and a lot of the time we were playing the same tunes every night. It started to tell. We lost interest. So that’s a lesson learned. We have a big repertoire, so why not use it?
AAJ: In terms of your audiences these days, are you playing mostly in concert halls, colleges?
BH: Mostly concert halls. We do a fair amount of schools. And now we’re doing a fair amount of work with symphony orchestras. We work with orchestras like the Dallas Symphony, The Malaysian Symphony in Kuala Lampur. Last month, we worked with the West Palm Beach Pops Orchestra for five nights and the reception was tremendous.
AAJ: What pieces do you play?
BH: Well, I tell you what, Frank Foster comes through again. He’s written some orchestral extensions to be played around his original arrangements. We have some as well from Sam Nestico. We’re trying to see if we can get some of it recorded.