Reviewing Ken Burns’s JAZZ part X

January 2nd, 2014

Happy New Year! This week, our blogger Tegan is finishing up a project she started in 2013 – reviewing all ten episodes of the Ken Burns series JAZZ.

It’s hard to write about the tenth and final episode of JAZZ because it shares so many flaws with the ninth episode: it covers too long a period too quickly, and feels disjointed because it describes too many ideas, music styles, and lives without a palpable overarching theme. Episode 10 asks the question of whether jazz is dead or dying, but it seems to confuse popularity for importance or worth. Jazz was more popular and influential during the 1920s through 40s, and yes, it would be great if jazz saw a resurgence in popularity, popularity or became the popular music of the future, but even if it never does, that doesn’t make it dead. Jazz is alive as long as it moves people, as long as it touches people. Come see Yoko Miwa perform if you’re unconvinced. Ironically, the same episode gives us moments that show ways in which jazz is very much alive. Record producer Michael Cuscuna describes the unique challenge of performance, and especially improvisation: “Unlike other art forms, you don’t have private time to tinker with your creation. You are out there and you are creating of the moment. And there’s no net, there is no safety valve at all. You are out there for all to see, to fail or to succeed.”

YMScullers11.20-57

Overall, JAZZ has a number of good episodes, but as a series it is flawed. The pacing is poor and the tone and amount of information are inconsistent. While the series tells some great stories, it passes off some controversial opinions as fact, such as emphasizing blues and swing over other styles of jazz, even for decades when other styles were more influential, and causing some controversies of its own. If you plan to watch, read, and listen to a wide variety of retrospectives of jazz, then this series might be a good place to start, but many viewers may find isn’t worth watching all ten episodes if you just want an introduction to jazz history. You may prefer to watch the best episodes, the ones that stand on their own, such as the first, sixth and seventh episodes.

We hope you stay warm as the days get longer and brighter!

December 26th, 2013

Yoko Miwa Trio at Scullers

2013 — A Year in Photos

December 19th, 2013
The Trio at Regattabar

Three days after the tragic events at the Boston Marathon, people came together around music and packed the house for our show at Regattabar. We are glad we could all be together that night.

Yoko Miwa and Scott Goulding

Here’s a black and white shot after the show at Regattabar.

Yoko Miwa at Regattabar

Every pianist’s favorite place to pose is at the piano, of course!

Yoko Miwa with her signature drink

Our friends at Thelonious Monkfish named a drink after Yoko — here she is enjoying a “Yoko Miwa’s Blue Tear.”

Highfield Hall

The Trio had the privilege of kicking off JazzFest Falmouth this year, at the beautiful Highfield Hall!

Recording

Yoko had the pleasure of writing and recording the score for the Greg Travis film Midlife.

Yoko Miwa Trio with Rebecca Parris

We had a very special guest making music with us at the Scullers show — singer Rebecca Parris.

Signing CDs at Scullers

Talking with fans is always one of the most heartwarming parts of a show.

In the Groove

Yoko was in the groove at Scullers.

Piano Cookies

December 12th, 2013
When our blogger Tegan isn’t listening to the Yoko Miwa Trio or writing the blog, she’s a graduate student, and this close to the end of the semester, it’s important to blow off some steam. Here’s her recipe for Two-Bowl Piano Cookies. If you want to make them but aren’t taking a study break, make them for a holiday party!

Two-Bowl Piano Cookies

Prep time: 15 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour
Bake time: 15 minutes
wet ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla
dry ingredients:
1 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
plus:
2 tbs molasses
1-2 tbs flour, as needed
dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to taste
In a small bowl, combine sugar and butter, then mix in egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir. Add 1 tablespoon warm water and stir until mixture forms a smooth ball. Towards the end, you may want to work the dough with your hands.
Separate the ball of dough into three equal parts. Place two of the balls in one bowl. Cover and refrigerate. In the other bowl, combine the third ball of dough with the molasses and spices. Use a fork to mix them well. Add enough flour to work the dough into a smooth ball. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out each ball of dough into a thin sheet and cut into rectangles: the pale dough becomes white keys, and the molasses dough becomes black keys. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.
To serve, arrange the “keys” on a platter and layer them like a piano!
Tip: The more evenly the dough is rolled out, the more the cookies will stay in their rectangular shapes as you bake them. If you’re not too busy with final papers to find your rolling pin, they will turn out even better than the picture below!
Piano Cookies

Going Deeper

December 5th, 2013

Do you ever get the urge to go deeper, and learn more about music? There are lots of great resources out there, but one of the simplest ways to get started is to log on to the Boston Public Library’s website to access their electronic resources. You’ll need a library card, but anyone who lives or goes to school in Massachusetts can get one online. If you are outside the state, investigate the nearest high-quality library near you.

If you just want to listen, Music Online: Jazz Music Library has the largest collection of jazz streaming available online. It’s mostly public domain works from 1924 to the present and labels that have a special arrangement with the publisher, so no, you won’t find Yoko Miwa or the Trio on there, but with over 10,000 albums, we’re willing to be you will find something to listen to.

Alternatively, from a mobile device you can use Overdrive Music, which lets you check out certain albums and collections electronically (they have audiobooks and ebooks too!). After the lending period is up, they will expire on your device, but if you check them out again, most books will “remember” where you were in your listening.

If you play, Music Online: Classical Scores Library is not just for classical music. It features all kinds of gems in all kinds of genres. For example, here’s a book of simple Christmas music done as jazz duets for clarinet and piano.

For general music reference or for deeper music research, you’ll want your first stop to be Oxford Music Online, which contains Grove Music Online, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Oxford Companion to Music.

Happy exploring.

Boston’s Jazz Anchor

November 14th, 2013

In a year in review article at the end of 1989, the Boston Globe’s Fernando Gonzalez said that the then brand-new Scullers Jazz Club “looks like it’s here to stay.” Also in 1989, the Globe’s Steve Morse wrote, “Need a retreat to hear some of the best jazz in town? You can’t go wrong with Scullers, a superb new club with a panoramic view of the Charles River and Boston skyline. The atmosphere is warm, the ambiance low-key and the bookings a breath of fresh air. The intimate, 110-capacity club [has] marble tables, deep-cushioned chairs, Honduran mahogany walls and an upscale but not uppity feel… This club’s a welcome addition — and long overdue in the local jazz world. ”

YMT@Scullers-55

When Scullers was founded, it filled a hole in the local music scene – while Cambridge and Somerville had several lively jazz spots, Boston had not had a major jazz venue since the Starlight Roof in Kenmore Square closed in 1986. Several other important venues, such as Jonathan Swift’s and Charlie’s Tap, had closed earlier in the decade. Boston needed something like Scullers.

Since the now iconic club will be celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday next year, it’s safe to say that Fernando Gonzalez was right when he said Scullers is here to stay. But why wait until a big anniversary to celebrate Scullers? The Yoko Miwa Trio’s annual Scullers show is next week, November 20, at 8 pm, so get your tickets now.

Great News About the Scullers Show

November 7th, 2013

Singer Rebecca Parris is known by some as “The First Lady of Jazz.” That title was first given to pianist Mary Lou Williams, but more famously, Ella Fitzgerald. Parris is more often called “Boston’s First Lady of Jazz, but Marblehead also claims her as their own first lady of jazz. They may have the right — she has been a headliner at the Marblehead Summer Jazz festival for all 29 seasons it has been running.

It’s always a delight to share the stage with a living legend, and the Yoko Miwa Trio has had the pleasure of working with Rebecca Parris on several shows in the past. However, we have never had a guest for our Scullers show, which will make November 20a first. Perhaps Rebecca should be dubbed “The Charles River’s First Lady of Jazz” as well!

… Does this make the Yoko Miwa Trio the cabinet of jazz? The peerage?

In any case, it’s going to be an evening to remember. There are still tickets available for the November 20 show,  but it has been known to sell out in the past, so make sure to get yours!

Happy Halloween from the Yoko Miwa Trio!

October 31st, 2013
Happy Halloween from the Yoko Miwa Trio

If ghosts were real, we imagine that anyone who has performed at a top-quality jazz club would choose to return after death. Here’s a partial list of people who would have haunted Scullers Jazz Club for a few years or more:

  • Singer and songwriter Lou Rawls
  • Singer and pianist Bobby Short
  • Pianist George Shearing
  • Singer and Pianist Shirley Horn
It sounds like it would be quite a party!
Image by donata ramonaite on flickr .

Image by donata ramonaite on flickr .

Until the day when we can hear ghosts jam, come listen to live music instead! (No pun intended… maybe).

Do you have your tickets yet for the Yoko Miwa Trio show on November 20?

Jazz With Friends

October 24th, 2013
In the past two weeks, this blog has covered introducing your young kids and your teens to jazz. What if the people you want to enjoy jazz with — who don’t yet know that they love jazz — are your adult children, your partner, or your friends?
Yoko Miwa signing CDs
  • Take a short class or workshop together. If your friend enjoys expanding their horizons and learning new things, but has been hesitant to go to a concert with you, it may be because they think they won’t understand jazz. A short class at a local community education center will introduce them to some music principles while showing them that there’s no need to be intimidated by jazz!
  • Just like with teens, enjoying a movie with jazz in it can be a great way to increase a friend’s exposure to jazz. Stay tuned for more news on the independent film Midlife, which Yoko Miwa herself composed the score for!
  • Think about their tastes and choose a venue where your friend will be sure to have a good time. Think about their tastes. You can see the Yoko Miwa Trio at the upscale Les Zygomates and relax with fine French cuisine and wine, or at a laidback American-style brunch at Ryles Jazz Club, or in a funky Asian fusion environment for some sushi or tempura at Thelonious Monkfish.

Introducing a friend to jazz isn’t about evangelism, it’s just about sharing joy, so you don’t want anyone to feel pushed. For more thoughts on sharing joy through music, see our earlier blog post “When “Listen to This!” is a Gift.”

Jazz with Teens

October 17th, 2013

Since last week’s blog was about listening to jazz with your young kids, this week is about older kids and teens. By middle and high school, kids have their own taste in music – and typically, there’s some overlap in taste with their parents, and some musical interests that do not overlap at all! If you want to share your love of jazz with your teens, here are some ideas for getting started.

  • Listen to what they have to say about music. Propose a trade, and go to a concert they are interested in together, then take them to a concert of music you like.
  • Make sure they don’t feel left out at the venue you go to. Choose a venue in which not everyone will be drinking, or one in which the bartender will make the teens an elegant virgin cocktail.
  • Watch movies with jazz in them together, such as Chicago, All Night Long, Sweet and Low, and the many great movies out there profiling individual musicians, like Bird (Charlie Parker) or Lady Sings the Blues (Billie Holiday).
  • Invite your kid to bring a friend when going with you to jazz shows. They’ll have more fun, and who knows, maybe you’ll inspire more than one teen to get interested in jazz.
Yoko Miwa and a Berklee student

Yoko Miwa and a Berklee student


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