Current Projects

I am in the organizing stages of a book of jazz profiles, working title “Up Close, Sometimes Personal: Encounters with Jazz Musicians.” This book will be part memoir, part reportage, part opinion, and will touch on such notables as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, and Dexter Gordon. I will updates on this page as times goes on.


When schedule allows, Zan offers one-on-one tutorials on basic writing skills, English composition, feature writing, college entrance essays, and improving SAT skills. He is a patient, understanding educator who can help you get through any writing difficulties, and can assist you in that all-important skill: learning how to teach yourself so that you always write well — and clearly. Zan is also available for small classes for any of the above subjects in his Berkeley home studio or any other location if the need presents itself.

Writing Services

For all writing services, please contact Zan.

Liner notes/Press Releases/Bios

Zan is intermittently available for liner note projects.


Zan is also intermittently available as an editor of all manner of non-fiction material.

Samples of work

This is the final piece I wrote for the Newark Star-Ledger, a sort of career summing-up, published July 26, 2010.

When I was about 15 and went to see the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins — my main musical inspiration, my idol — for the first time, at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood, I fell asleep, which upset me. The first time I interviewed Sonny, around the mid-1980s, when he was touring and had a Los Angeles stop, he told me it was okay to fall asleep at a performance, that means you are relaxed.

And when we finished, Sonny was so kind, saying our two-hour chat was “almost like hanging out.”

I have been very fortunate to have had encounters like this with many musicians in my around 35 years as a jazz journalist. Actually, I like jazz advocate better — one who advocates for jazz. I also sometimes call myself a jazz writer and a jazz journalist, but never a jazz critic, an appellation I never liked.

Writing about jazz is an unusual vocation, with scant practitioners worldwide. In this regard, I have again had extremely good fortune, writing mainly, from 1980-2000, for the Los Angeles Times, my hometown paper, and here at the Star-Ledger since 2002.

I’ve also contributed to the L.A. Weekly and Down Beat Magazine, written over 200 sets of liners notes for single albums and box sets, and have earned one major award: the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Excellence in Music Journalism.

Now, after all these years, I’m calling it quits and seeking new vistas. More on that later.

I got into jazz writing primarily through my passion a music I discovered as a teenager growing up Ojai, a rural Southern California hamlet whose police log used to be occasionally offered in short humorous bits in The New Yorker.

Through all these years — I’m now 66 — that passion has not abated. I love jazz, enjoy listening to it, reading about it, playing it on the tenor saxophone. (I’m a lifelong musician, starting on clarinet from age six.)

Though I had an interest in writing early on, working for my high school newspaper as a sports writer and contributing a handful of pieces on jazz to a local jazz publication, my main interest in jazz remained musical until 1975. Then, in a serendipitous happenstance, I started writing for a free weekly publication called the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News and Review.

For two years or so, I wrote about area musicians as well as traveling notables like keyboardist Chick Corea and trumpeter-flugelhornist Chuck Mangione. I sold a revamped Mangione piece to the magazine Musical America — which later became Musician Magazine — for $75, my first sale.

My life in jazz really kicked in when I moved to Los Angeles in 1977. First I worked at the jazz radio station KBCA-FM, and practiced my horn. Then in 1979, yet another friend I had known from Santa Barbara got me aboard the L.A. Weekly, where I did mainly listings at first and then some stories.

That post led to a freelance position at the Times, where I worked under famed jazz writer Leonard Feather. At first I did live reviews, including my first road job — covering the Kool Jazz Festival New York in 1981. Then gradually, I started doing profiles, record reviews and other stuff; at my peak, I was writing about five major pieces a week, including a weekly column.

When you call someone and say you’re from the L.A. Times, they generally listen, and are open. So I got to interview many fascinating artists.

These included: the aforementioned Rollins; drum master Elvin Jones, who told me he had an interest in anthropology and read historical novels; bassist Charlie Haden, famed for his breakthrough playing with free-jazz innovator Ornette Coleman and who at the time lived in tony Brentwood right next door to where Marilyn Monroe had died; and the music’s major movers pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard — who one time looked at me and snarled, “Zan Stewart, what do you know about jazz?” (Later, we became warm acquaintances.)

Mostly, I covered the Los Angeles musicians, from the esteemed bandleader and composer Gerald Wilson (still active at 91), to rising upstarts like pianist Cecilia Coleman (now part-time in New York).

And as with most people involved in jazz, I found New York to be a draw — particularly after I traveled there in 1977 to take photographs and ultimately write liner notes for three dates for Catalyst Records.

The pull of the East was further encouraged by Wilbur Brown, an unheralded tenor saxophone ace that I sat in with; while ensconced in my writing career, I never stopped practicing and playing, though both often in limited amounts. Wilbur felt that all jazz musicians, especially those from the West Coast, should live in New York for a spell, just to see what it’s like. He had done just that from 1962-1972, playing with such names as Ray Charles, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, and pianist Red Garland.

So in 2001, in the aftermath of a major illness and a downsizing at the Times, I got a major break when the Ledger’s renowned jazz writer George Kanzler retired and I was selected by then editor Jim Willse as his part-time, staff replacement.

How lucky was that? My guess is that I landed one of the few openings – perhaps the only one — for a staff writer jazz gig on a major newspaper anywhere.

Moving here and digging into the scene that’s centered in Manhattan but spreads well beyond — with many of the music’s top artists residing in the Garden State — was quite something. I was doing weekly Ticket stories — one of the first was on the bass master Earl May, whose humility always struck me – and reviews, plus brief items and occasional longer works.

Then Jim came up with a grand idea: a special section he dubbed Great Day in Jersey Jazz that ran in September, 2003. It included a photograph by the formidable Jerry McCrea that included over 150 jazz musicians living here, all of whom were briefly profiled. There were also other stories — including one on Clark Terry, the famed Ellington trumpeter then a Haworth resident. It was decided a picture of a horn was needed for the cover page, and mine served the purpose.

The Star-Ledger gig has been a bounty. I have interviewed so many musicians whom I have deeply admired: again Rollins, who played in Newark as a youth; tenorman and flutist James Moody, who was raised in that city; the jazz-loving singer Tony Bennett; pianist Keith Jarrett, a resident of Northwestern N.J.; Shorter, another Newark-ite, trombonist Slide Hampton, an East Oranger; and the superlative bebop-bent pianist Barry Harris, who lives in the famed jazz “Cat House” in Weehawken, owned by the descendents of the jazz baroness Pannonica von Koenigswarter.

But the real joy of the job has been covering the folks who live here and are world-class artists but perhaps not marquee names. This is another long, long list that includes these stalwarts: West Orange guitar dynamos Bob DeVos, Vic Juris, and Dave Stryker; the late and wonderful reedman and flutist Gerry Niewood; the open-minded drum wiz Billy Drummond; Montclair bandleader and composer Diane Moser; the excellent Madison pianist and piano technician Jerry Vezza; the rollicking Union City jazz singer Frank Noviello; the South Orange electric bassist, bandleader and now record producer (his line is Jazz Legacy Productions) John Lee; the remarkably deft Teaneck drummer Tim Horner, and his area colleague, bassist Bill Moring; Jersey City piano monster David Kikoski; Montclair bass master Christian McBride; and the stellar West Orange pianist Bill Charlap.

And there have been a multitude of live reviews. Among the group, I’ll pick a few favorites: Rollins’ — I told you he was my idol — magnificent show at the McCarter Center at Princeton, with a killing 15-minute version of his stomper, “Sonny, Please”; Bennett’s remarkable outing at the Wellmont in Montclair, where at 82 he sang with the power and pitch of his youth; Stryker’s wailing guitar with his horn band, Blue to the Bone, at the OSPAC Jazz Festival in West Orange; Jarrett’s stunning trio concert at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette; Hancock’s Directions in Music at the same hall, with knock-you-flat stuff from the leader, saxman Michael Brecker, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove; the Lee-Hampton led Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at the Blue Note in New York; and McBride’s trio at Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange with Kikoski, and that room’s exceptional, wailing Monday night big band directed by Mike Lee.

At this point I have to say that a key role in the Ledger’s superb jazz coverage has been played by the Star-Ledger photo team. People like McCrea, John Munson, Saed Hindash, Jennifer Brown, Aristide Economopoulos, Noah Murray, Noah Addis, Mia Song and Tim Farrell have given my stories that visual spark that makes for a great read. Thanks to you all.

An added plus to all these proceedings has been my occasional performances as a tenor saxophonist and, recently, singer. One might wonder how I could write about people, some of whom I performed with, or would at some point, without a conflict. The bottom line is that I wrote about people whose music I dug, that’s always been my approach, so I would have written about them regardless. I stand by that.

As time has passed, things have changed in jazz, particularly in my field. When I began at the Times in 1980, many major newspapers in the U.S., and around the globe, had staff jazz writers. These days, that number has shrunk drastically, with only a handful of such positions existing; Ben Ratliff at the New York Times and Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune are two of the few.

In place of print, there is a lot of coverage on the Net, with sites such as allaboutjazz.com and allmusic.com keeping up on the latest recordings and artists.

Alongside the diminished coverage, there has been a sizable increase in the number of jazz musicians — there are scores of schools that offer jazz programs — and a decreasing number of performance opportunities. I salute any and all who strive to make a living primarily as a performing jazz musician.

So, especially in a tough economy with a lot of unemployment everywhere, a serious question arises: Why am I leaving a solid- paying, often very gratifying career now? Well, after a lot of thought, I feel that more than 30 years of advocating for others is enough. It’s time for me to find out what else I might have to offer. And with the advantage of Social Security and a small Ledger pension, I have a bit of income. And, I admit, I miss my home state of California. So I’m heading back there, not to Los Angeles, where I’m from, but to the Bay Area, see if I can make my way as a teacher, performer, who knows what, maybe an author. It will no doubt be an adventure.

As for what I have done as a writer over the years, I hope the work speaks for itself.

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Feature Writing

Article on Sonny Rollins that ran April 4, 2007 in the Newark Star-Ledger:

Sonny Rollins has some past.

The now-tenor saxophone legend was just 19 when he made his first recordings in 1949 with Newark bop singer Babs Gonzales, and bop dynamos trombonist J. J. Johnson and pianist Bud Powell.

A few years later, he was recording with two other eventual jazz giants — trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist and composer Thelonious Monk — and leading his own bands. By 1956, he made his classic “Saxophone Colossus” (Prestige).

Rollins appears Friday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall in Newark. Later accomplishments include making over 30 albums as a leader, winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Swedish Polar Music Prize, and being named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.

Frankly, all these feats, lauds, accomplishments over the years, while certainly appreciated, are not really important to New York City native Rollins, 76, who lives in rural Upstate New York.

“I don’t like to think back on things,” he said in a recent phone interview from his home. “It’s kind-of hard to deal with the past. There’s nothing you can do about it. I just keep honing straight ahead.”

That basically means practicing and performing. “My pleasure is playing my horn, that’s the beginning and end,” he said. “In between you have stuff. Music is it.”

Friday’s concert will be his second — the first was on Good Friday in Boston — since taking his annual break in November. And he will be very glad to be back on stage, where he really lives.

“The winter break, there’s no alternative, with the weather being problematic,” he said. “And we don’t get a chance to rehearse in New York, because not all the guys live there. So there’s a period of adjustment when we come back. In Boston, there will be some rough things to be wrinkled out. I practice every day, well, as often as I can, mostly every day, but it’s still not like playing a gig. On stage, that’s the ultimate practice.”

Performing is also the ultimate responsibility. Rollins — a hard-blowing, hard-swinging tradition-rooted-yet-free-wheeling jazzman who loves blues, ballads, and Calypsos — knows he must deliver.

“When people come to see me, spend their hard-earned money, I do feel obligated to send them home in a more positive frame of mind,” he said. “I do feel a responsibility to have good performance, a performance would leave people in better mood than when they came, more able to face life.”

Rollins’ audiences, at least some witnessed over the course of the last 50 years, seem to emit that positive buzz. But the musician usually feels he himself falls far short, “like about 95% of the time,” he said, then laughed.

“I’ve learned to live with it. I think this is partly because I’m a Virgo (Rollins was born August 7, 1930), and it characteristic of Virgo people, from what I’ve read, that they want to get the best, want to accomplish, make the world better. I was reading this not too long ago, and it's me to a tee. I always want to make myself a better person, I’m never satisfied with my own work, constantly trying. I feel life is short, the space of time we have, and I don’t want to waste time doing indulgent things that don’t help me.”

So it’s shedding (a jazz musician’s shortening of “out to the woodshed”) for Rollins. He used to practice in a self-contained studio in the rear of his property, but since his wife of 48 years, Lucille, died in 2005, he plays in his home.

“I can practice any time, it might be 1 a.m., I have that luxury,” he said. “Whenever it fits in with what I’m doing.”

Rollins has what he calls “Sonny’s Rudiments,” basic things that he feels he must get in each day. These boil down to long tones — single notes held out, say, for 20 seconds, or more — and scales.

“As long as we’re playing 12-tone music, the scales are really the backbone of the whole thing,” he said. “To be able to hear in all 12 keys is just basic. The long tones just build up the chops (the muscles around the mouth for a firm embrouchure, the breath capacity). The chops have to be strong enough so that what you’re doing comes out. Have to have strong chops, have to do your practicing. Then you put yourself in a position to play better.”

“These days I practice as long as I can, about two hours minimum, more if I can,” he continued. “That’s tiny compared to the old days, when I practiced 10-12 hours a day. I can’t compete with my past self. Hopefully what I do is productive. You can’t fight life. But if I don’t practice, I wouldn’t be happy. I’d get physically out of sorts. I just have to do it.”

Rollins also maintains a lifelong practice of hatha yoga and weight lifting to keep himself in good shape. He eats wisely, describing a typical meal as some canned salmon, a handful of raw cashews, and a plate of watermelon. He doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee, or smoke.

Joining the tenor star at NJPAC will be a familiar crew save drummer Kobie Watkins, a new arrival. “He’s from Chicago, and more like old jazz drummers, that’s how he might be categorized,” said Rollins. The tenorman noted that his previous drummer, Steve Jordan, was “very busy,” and presented “scheduling problems.”

Guitarist Bobby Broom played and recorded with Rollins in the early 1980s, then rejoined his former boss for 2006’s “Sonny, Please” (Doxy). “I always thought Bobby was a sensitive accompanist, and doing the kind of work that I do, I need a good accompanist,” he said.

In the trombone chair is Clifton Anderson, Rollins’ nephew and frontline cohort for almost 25 years. “I’m very proud of Clifton’s (musical) accomplishments since he first started working with me,” said his uncle. “He’s without a doubt one of the best people out there, and he’s really grown.”

On bass, usually electric but also sometimes acoustic, is Rollins’ longtime colleague Bob Cranshaw, who began working with the saxophonist in 1957. Rollins, while noting the bassist’s reliable, steady bass lines, would like him to open up a bit more as an improviser.

“Bob can play, and I’d like him more (in his solos) than he does,” said Rollins. “A steady guy — that’s how he wants to be. And I like a steady bass player (when I’m playing). That allows me to play freely, go anywhere, do anything. Now I want Bob to get into that other aspect, open up more.”

Rollins has employed percussionists off-and-on for years, and he’s used Kimati Dinizulu in that regard for around five years. “With the introduction of so much world music into jazz, the palette has deepened a little bit, these colors are now part and parcel of so much of what we hear,” he said. “In the case of someone like Kimati, he brings much more than color, but a great rhythmic feeling as well.”

The saxophonist has a huge repertoire, and he picks tunes for concerts as he gets ready to go on stage. “It depends on how I’m playing,” he said. “I bring a set list on stage. I might open with a ballad, or a fast number. It depends on how I feel.”

Once the performance ensues, Rollins does everything he can to stop thinking, and just play, let the music flow through him.

“Improvisation is such an art,” he declared. “You can’t artificialize it. In the end, you can’t think and play at same. Which is beautiful. It’s got to go beyond, to another level. That’s the spiritual aspect. You have to realize that you’re engaged in something that’s not worldly, that you’re trying to get to someplace else. That spiritual aspect plays a big part in life.”

Rollins, traditional in matters electronic as well as musical – he only watches C-SPAN, lets the radio catch whatever station it can bring in, has no computer — last year debuted his Web site, www.sonnyrollins.com. It was built for him, and is maintained by, Bret Primack. One of Primack’s duties is to forwards fans’ emails to Rollins via snail mail, some of which he replies to. It’s nice to get fan mail, he said.

“It’s very encouraging to know that you have contributed to some ease of getting through life, that’s a nice feeling,” he said. “Music is about giving. People tell me, ‘Oh, gee, you’ve helped me go to work, do this, that.’ I feel better when I hear things like that. It’s like I’m paying my rent here on earth.”

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Examples of liner notes:

Excerpt from the biographical essay, “Out There: The Angelic Passion of Eric Dolphy," included in Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings, for which Zan won a 1996 ASCAP-Deems Taylor award:

…Eric Dolphy brought a unique musical sensibility when he decided to settle in New York in the winter of 1959, after leaving drummer Chico Hamilton's quintet. Standing about 5'9" and weighing about 150 pounds, he was a virtuosic, passionate player of the alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet whose tone on each instrument could be either pure or adventurous and whose execution could be stunning. A classically trained musician who had discovered the joys of jazz early in life, the then 31-year-old Dolphy based his provocative approach upon a foundation in tonal-based jazz while still embracing freer forms of composition and  improvisation.

Of his concept, Eric said, "I think of my playing as tonal. I play note that would not ordinarily be said to be in a given key, but I hear them as proper. I don't think I ‘leave the changes' as the expression goes; every note I play has some reference to the chords of the piece."

With this approach, Dolphy found the scene in Manhattan quite to his liking. He quickly established himself as one of the avant garde's leading figures, a position that was not without its drawbacks. Naturally, practitioners of the new music were regaled by some and vilified by others, and Dolphy was spared none of this.

Throughout his brief time in the spotlight–he died suddenly of complications of diabetes in June, 1964–he received many glowing accolades.

Acclaimed critic Ira Gitler was "bowled over" on hearing Dolphy at an early-morning jam session at the Lorillard mansion in Newport, R.I., which took place after an appearance by Hamilton's band at the Newport Jazz Festival. Gitler wrote: "Eric's big wide sound filled up the room like the sun that was streaming through the windows. His drive came from inner batteries recharged rather than extinguished by the bright morning. It was evident he had his Charlie Parker together, but little did I realize that he would be one of the groundbreakers of the new music of the Sixties."

On the other hand, when famed bebop saxophonist Sonny Stitt heard Eric's recording, "Far Cry," he said  "No, I don't like that record. I don't even want to hear it. That ain't pleasant to my ears, man!" Freddie Hubbard, who hired Dolphy when he could, said that some club owners would tell him, "Don't ever bring that man here again."
   Dolphy, sadly, and quite humanly, tended to downgrade the praise  and gave undue credence to the negative reactions. In turn, he  suffered greatly from an irregular work schedule–he often struggled financially–and from low self-esteem. "He would tell me that he felt that nobody liked his playing," says bassist Art Davis, one of Eric's closest friends and confidants.

Whether one reveres Dolphy, or rejects him, it's impossible to discount the man's influence on jazz. From the time he was active until today, we arguably see Dolphy's mark on such players as David Murray, James Newton, John Carter, John Stubblefield, Evan Parker, Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and Herbie Hancock.

Hancock, in an interview from 1974, describes the impact playing with Dolphy had on him a decade earlier, when he was part of the reedman's group.

"That was the first time that I had worked in what was considered and avant garde group," Hancock said. "I remember when Eric hired me to play with his group, I had no idea what he was doing. So I was surprised to find that when we rehearsed, that he had music, music with chord symbols and everything, the kind of thing I was used to. But I knew the musicians weren't playing it as written, playing the chords the way I would be accustomed. So I asked Eric, "'What do you want me to play?' and he said, 'Oh, play anything that you want to play.' I thought about and said to myself, 'Maybe if I break some of the rules that I have about playing, I can get a little farther out.'  And that worked. I started breaking the rules with melody, harmony and rhythm. I kept my normal thing as a foundation, in my head, so what people would hear was mostly the breaking of the rules, well, stretching them. After that, I was able to incorporate what learned with Eric with other engagements with other bands, including Miles."

Thankfully, Dolphy was recorded extensively during his lifetime, and many of his prime moments are contained on the Prestige label recordings that make up this collection. These recordings, both under his name and those of Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter, Ken McIntyre, Mal Waldron and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, were made in the seventeen months between from April 1, 1960 (the date his debut Outward Bound) to September 8, 1961 (the last of three appearances recorded in Denmark). A scant period, but one of extremely high creativity.

Dolphy went on to record other albums as a leader–Music Matador for Douglas, Out to Lunch for Blue Note, and Last Date (released posthumously on Limelight)–and also took part in sessions with Hamilton, Nelson, Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and many others. It is an oeuvre of which any artist could be proud.

But beyond his artistic gifts, there was Dolphy the man. It seems that anyone who met him, even those who didn't embrace his music, discovered a person who exuded warmth and generosity.

"Eric had a heart of gold," said saxophonist Teddy Edwards, who knew Eric in Los Angeles. "You couldn't find a better human being walking the earth. And whatever shortcomings, musically, he had in my eyes, I overlooked them because his other qualities were so wonderful."

"He was a sweetheart of a guy," said his friend, the bassist Richard Davis. "Whatever money he had, he'd divide it up with musicians that didn't have any. He'd give a job of his away to a musician who didn't have one."

It's this blend of, as Richard Davis called it, "an angelic passion for life itself" and an almost unstoppable urgency to create and explore that makes Dolphy's music so compelling.

Eric Allan Dolphy, Jr. was born in Los Angeles on June 20, 1928. His parents, Eric and Sadie Dolphy, were from Panama, but his father was of West Indian ancestry. His father was a chauffeur for Earl C. Anthony, who owned a Studebaker/Packard dealership when Dolphy, Sr. was first employed, and later owned KFI-AM, the NBC radio affiliate in Los Angeles. The family, not particularly well to do, moved at least once, ending up near downtown at 1593 West 36th Street, where Eric spent his youth.

Eric showed an early interest in music–he delighted in attending rehearsals of the choir at the People's Independent Church of Christ, where his mother was a congregant–and at age six or seven, he began to play clarinet. His parents, who died in the late 1980s, reported that he was always an ardent practicer, and this fact is borne out by musicians that knew him until the end of his life.

"He practiced because he loved it. It was like eating a bowl of ice cream to him," said reed artist Buddy Collette, an early mentor. "He would smile when he played or practiced, just enjoying it." Bassist Ron Carter first met Eric when they performed with Chico Hamilton in 1959, and recalled that when they were traveling, by car, if Eric wasn't driving, "He'd be in the back, playing his flute, always working on something." Mingus remembered seeing Dolphy at a party in Germany in 1964, and while most of the people talked convivially, Eric stood next to the stereo, playing along with a Charlie Parker recording.

At 13, Dolphy participated in the Los Angeles City School Orchestra, and while attending Foshay Jr. High School, received a two-year scholarship to study at the University of Southern California School of Music.

It was during this period that Eric first discovered jazz, via recordings by Fats Waller, then Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins. He told critic Martin Williams, "I used to ask myself, 'What is that?' at the things they played. I wanted to know how they did all of them."

In his mid-teens, while he was attending Dorsey High School, Dolphy took up the alto sax and began playing some of his first jobs. It was in this time frame that Eric's father either remodeled a garage on the back of his property into a practice studio for his son, or built it from scratch–reports are contradictory. In any event, Dolphy now had a place he could go and play any hour of the day or night, and soon this became a hang-out for musicians, who would hold jam sessions there. Later, in 1954, it would be at Dolphy's that saxophonist Harold Land would meet Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and be invited to join their quintet.

Dolphy formed one of his first bands in 1944, when he was 16, and renowned bandleader-composer-trumpeter Gerald Wilson remembered it as "a band that would have been considered modern today."

By 1946, Dolphy was attending Los Angeles City College, and was studying with Lloyd Reese, a renowned instructor who also taught Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster (when he lived in Los Angeles in the late ‘40s), Mingus, Collette, Wilbur Brown, Horace Tapscott and others. Brown, one of Los Angeles' most underrated musicians who has recorded with pianist Frank Strazzeri and played with the big bands of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and Lionel Hampton, remembers Eric as a man who was deeply into the music of Bird.

"Eric was a very inside saxophone player then, playing Charlie Parker kind of stuff, very normal sounding stuff," said Brown. "We both used to study with Reese, so I used to see Eric every Saturday for a while. We both worked for our lessons, doing chores at Lloyd's, like painting his house, or cutting the grass."

Lessons with Reese, a originally a saxophonist but a man who also played trumpet and piano, were strong building blocks for any musician, said Collette. "It was like, give me a year and you'll be out there doing it," he said. "And if you weren't practicing, he'd say, 'Well, are you going to be a musician or not?'"

Again, there was no question that Dolphy would. "Eric was a young man with a lot of energy, a lot of ideas, very creative," said Collette. "Music was his whole life. He spent time listening, and drew from many different people in his life, not just the music people. He was a very good listener and he seemed to appreciate most things, picking up a lot."

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Joe Magnarelli’s My Old Flame: Joe Magnarelli With Strings, Aug., 2010:

There’s good reason why Joe Magnarelli is one of the most in-demand bebop-and-beyond trumpeters of the day: he’s a profound artist who mixes deep lyricism, hard swing and a far-reaching musical aesthetic into a scintillating whole.

A Syracuse, N.Y. native, Magnarelli — widely known as Mags — came to New York in 1986 and caught on right away with his passionate musicality, mature work ethic, strong stage presence, and upbeat personal attitude.

Magnarelli’s A-1 debut CD Why Not (1994, Criss Cross) — with its gorgeous title track, among other gems — earned him deserved attention. So did performances with tenor master Charles Davis, and gigs as a leader.

Along the way, Joe has also played with aces like organ dynamo Brother Jack McDuff, conga maestro Ray Barretto — with whom he recorded the Grammy-nominated Time Was, Time Is (O+ Music) — and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Besides steady hits in New York, he’s also made numerous trips to Europe as a headliner.

Mags — whose other CDs include 2008’s Persistence (Reservoir) –takes another giant step forward with My Old Flame: Joe Magnarelli With Strings, a nine-track, deftly-varied collection brimming with enticing performances.

Six tracks feature a sumptuous, 16-voice string section plus jazz combo. These tracks are arranged and conducted by the sterling Marty Sheller, who has composed and/or arranged for Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, and George Benson, among many others, and in whose octet Joe plays and has recorded – 2007’s Why Deny (PV2).

The mix between Joe and Marty is dynamic. Mags is a huge fan of Sheller’s writing, and has studied harmony with him. Marty is big on Joe’s playing and composing talents, and the fact that “he has lot of the tradition in him,” he says. “I was able to match the right kinds of harmonies with his beautiful sound.”

“Recording with strings has been a lifelong ambition of mine,” Joe adds, noting that he was inspired by classic string projects done by Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Donald Byrd.

Rounding out the album are three vibrant quintet tracks featuring alto saxophonist Dick Oatts, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist David Wong, and drummer Jimmy Wormworth.

“All these cats are my friends as well as being some of best musicians in the world,” Mags states, talking about Sheller and the performers — the date also includes drummer Vince Cherico on four tracks, all with strings, conga drummers Daniel Sadownick and Chembo Corniel on a track apiece, and guitarist Peter Bernstein on a pair. “I wanted more of a family vibe here.”

The CD kicks off with the title track, that timeless ballad of which Bird made a definitive recording for Dial. Here, Mags plays with his signature modern, melodic style over beautifully-crafted Sheller strings.

The subsequent “I’ll Be Seeing You” is done at medium clip, clearly demonstrating that Joe’s didn’t want all ballads with the strings. Besides Mags’ swinging improv packed with the best notes, there’s a like-minded one from Bernstein. The strings blow for a few bars, too.

“Highbridge,” Mags’ original for his Bronx, N.Y. neighborhood, gets a hip Latin groove, set perfectly for the strings by Marty.

Then there’s Joe’s tasty waltz, “Eracism,” for the quintet. The word is recently coined, and is defined by urbandictionary.com as “the removal from existence of the belief that one race is superior to another.” Now you’re talking.

Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke” — known to many from Miles Davis’ famed version with Gil Evans on Miles Davis + 19 (Columbia) — is here done as a perky cha-cha-cha with vital Sheller strings. “That’s a tune I have always wanted to play,” states Mags, who solos with spark.

The leader’s “Blues For Skee” — Skee is the nickname of late bass great Dennis Irwin — is a surging blues variant built on a Coltrane-esque rhythm pattern. All quintet hands wail on this one.

“When Your Lover Has Gone,” which also appeared on Why Not, is the album’s second string ballad. Mags’ emotive theme statement is backed by song-like string underpinning and sweet asides from Oatts.

The hearty “Bilbao” was written in that Spanish city last year when Mags was working there and had a few days off. “I was walking along the street and it came into my head,” he says.

The dapper closer, “McChesney Park,” is a quiet funk tune with muted trumpet and guitar sharing the frontline with the strings. Like the rest of the tracks, it cooks from beginning to end.

My Old Flame: Joe Magnarelli With Strings is choice stuff. I hope you’ll give the album, of which Mags is justifiably proud, numerous listens. There are sounds here that can move you, give you a lift. We can all use that — especially in times like these.

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Dave Hazeltine’s The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander (Sharp Nine), 2005

It sometimes happens that musicians who know each other but don't have any real history get together and make a very good record. Then there are the occasions when artists who have played together in numerous situations go into the studio, and because of their deeper connections, the music reaches another level. The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander, which pairs the formidable team of pianist-leader David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Hayes with the acclaimed tenor saxophonist, happily follows the latter scenario.

The story behind this auspicious recording begins in Hazeltine's halcyon days in Milwaukee. Early on, Dave, an astute listener with superb taste, discovered such greats as Art Tatum, Cedar Walton, Buddy Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Barry Harris, who eventually became his favorites.

On a Harris album which Dave loved, At The Jazz Workshop (OJC), Louis Hayes played drums. "I became a big fan," notes our pianist of the drummer renowned for his work with Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson and the vital quintet he co-led with Woody Shaw.

Later, in 1987, Hazeltine, who had lived in New York in the early '80s, was back in Milwaukee. His sometime drummer, George Fludas, often brought a friend, Eric Alexander, to sit in. "Eric sounded like Dexter [Gordon] then," Dave recalls of the saxophonist who is currently one of jazz's most recorded artists.

About this time, Hazeltine returned to New York to play a date with a fellow-Milwaukean, trumpeter Brian Lynch, whom he'd known for years. Who played drums?: Lou Hayes. "It was unbelievable," Dave says, delighted at the memory. "Here I was with one of my idols. It was like a dream."

Then, in December, 1989, Dave met Peter Washington when they played on Lynch's Back Room Blues (Criss Cross). "He sounded terrific," declares the pianist of the bassist whose work has enhanced bands led by Art Blakey and Tommy Flanagan.

Hazeltine moved back to New York in 1992 and began to perform with his colleagues here more frequently. He played some gigs with Alexander in 1993-94, and not long after, that duo plus Washington, drummer Joe Farnsworth, trombonist Steve Davis and trumpeter Jim Rotondi formed the superlative cooperative sextet, One For All. (The highly-touted band has made six albums, including Too Soon To Tell and Optimism for Marc Edelman's Sharp Nine.)

In 1995, the trio of Dave, Peter and Louis played together for the first time, accompanying Lynch on Keep Your Circle Small, the inaugural Sharp Nine album.

That was wonderful," says the pianist, now one of the finest bebop-based-yet-forward-looking pianists in jazz. "Then about six months later, the same band had a gig at [the now-defunct Greenwich Village jazz room] Visiones. The trio played a set and Marc and [Japanese producer] Kazunori Sugiyama felt that we should record." And on August 22, 1996, they did. Edelman named the group, and titled the album, The Classic Trio. In January, 2000, Sharp Nine recorded The Classic Trio, Volume II.

Between the albums, the seeds for The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander were planted. Sometime in 1997, the trio had a gig at Metronome, another long-gone Manhattan jazz room. "Eric sat in and we all felt we had to record," says Dave. "It had a vibe like those sides with Clifford Jordan and Cedar Walton's trio [for Muse and Steeplechase]. So it's been on our minds for a while."

For this album, the pianist and the saxophonist came up with eight solid, deftly-arranged vehicles where they usually both play the melody.

For starters, there's Dave's "On the Boulevard," dedicated to his new digs in Long Island City. Given plenty of punch by the rhythm section, Alexander exploits his unique blend of Dexter, Sonnys Stitt and Rollins and George Coleman. Then the leader reveals his warm yet glowing tone, his sure-footed sense of time, his supple line construction, his juicy choice of notes.

Antonio Carlos Jobim's flowing "O Grande Amor" gets considerable rhythmic heat from Hayes's propulsive drum work; that's the way he plays throughout. Both Eric, whose sound is bold, succulent and personal, and Dave deliver richly melodic offerings. Then there's Washington with a tunefully inventive, hard swinging solo.

The pianist's medium-tempo original, "Jessica's Night" is as he intended: lyrical and gentle "like the sweet lady and sweet friend of mine that I wrote it for." Alexander's solo showcases his ability to play long phrases that keep turning direction, never losing their melodic core. The composer's subsequent improv is like-minded.

Eric's buoyant waltz, "Hayes' Phase," moves from a mellifluous yet driving Hazeltine effort and a powerhouse Alexander segment to a richly-textured, decidedly musical Hayes solo spot.

To give Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet " more jazz thrust, Dave revamped the harmony and Louis added a subtle 12/8 groove. It's a perfect set-up for the subsequent uptempo wailer, "East of the Sun."

Dave's desire to record Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We" comes from Buddy Montgomery's version of the song on his This Rather Than That (Impulse!) album. "He did such interesting things with it," the pianist offers. Here, Dave's solo has a singing quality.

The closer is Tadd Dameron's bebop evergreen, "Our Delight." "Louis recorded this with Cannonball and I've always loved that version," says Dave. This one is also a burner.

Hazeltine had a ball making The Classic Trio Meets Eric Alexander. "I always have a good time playing with Louis and Peter because Lewis is such a swinging drummer and Peter not only has an incredible beat, he knows how to fit in with different drummers," says Dave. "And Eric, who's an amazing technician who's also a sensitive musician, plays with extreme clarity. The date was quick–a lot of the tracks are first takes and we rarely did more than two–and it was so comfortable, too, because we're all coming from the same place. And when I'm really comfortable, it's easier for me to dig down and say something that's meaningful, that has finesse and sophistication. It allows me the freedom of ultimate self-expression."

To reiterate, the music on this album reaches that special level. And it accomplishes Dave Hazeltine's primary goal, which is to play as Charlie Parker did, with such panache, style and grace that musicians and listeners alike feel good. If you agree, I hope you'll tell a friend.

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Liners for Duduka Da Fonseca’s ZoHo CD, Samba Jazz in Black and White:

If you ever have a chance to hang out with Duduka Da Fonseca, you’ll have an idea why he’s one of the world’s great drummers, and one great human being beyond that. He has warmth, spirit, curiosity, vitality, sensitivity, he has joie de vivre. And his music embodies those qualities. Samba Jazz in Black and White is Da Fonseca’s second solo project, a superlative follow-up to his 2002 Grammy-nominated Samba Jazz Fantasia (Malandro). The new CD focuses on the drummer’s quintet, with a handful of guests, among them Duduka’s wife of 18 years, the marvelous singer, Maucha Adnet.

Da Fonseca’s goal is blending samba with jazz. “I’ve been doing that, developing that all my life,” he says. “That’s my work.” Duduka, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1951, was raised on music. “Since I was a kid, I was exposed to Nat ‘King Cole, Gerry Mulligan, Sinatra, Jobim, Luis Bonfa,” he says, naming a handful. “So it’s always been my dream to mix the jazz with the samba. Many people think that jazz has only been mixed with bossa nova. But while that was happening in Brazil, a lot of people were playing samba with a Blue Note vibe, like (trombonist) Raul de Souza, and drummers Edison Machado, Milton Banana, and Dom um Romao, and pianists Dom Salvador and Tenorio, Jr.” And today, that special kind of music is played by Da Fonseca, a brilliant drummer who has had no formal musical training — “I learned in the streets, not bragging, but it’s important.”

As a teenager, Duduka hung out with de Souza, Machado and others, soaking up the jazz of Horace Silver, Miles Davis, and countless others. He and his bass-playing brother, Miguel, were part of a popular trio in Brazil. He moved to New York in 1975, where he’s led bands, and performed with such notables as Joe Henderson and Tom Harrell. He’s also appeared on over 200 CDs by Harrell, John Scofield, Mulligan, Claudio Roditi, and so many more. He formed the outstanding Brazilian jazz group Trio da Paz with guitarist Romero Lubambo and bassist Nilson Matta. He married Adnet, and together they have a daughter, Isabella, age 7.

Now comes Samba Jazz in Black and White. Duduka explains the title: “There are two meanings. One is having the music be simple and truthful. The other is that my music is a blend of black African origins influenced by white Western European classical music.”The drummer — who cites such favorite trapsmen as Machado, Elvin Jones, Paul Motian, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes, and Art Blakey — talks about his colleagues:

Duduka’s been friends with Sao Paulo-born pianist Helio Alves for ages. They both played with Henderson, and Da Fonseca is on Alves’ Reservoir CD, Trios. “We have a lot in common, we work so much together. He’s a special piano player,” he says. Of the Brazilian bassist Leonardo Cioglia, a native of Brasilia who studied and taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to New York City a few years ago, Duduka states, “I really like his time, it feels very comfortable with him.”

Tenor and soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen hails from Tel Aviv, Israel, but plays like a Brazilian. “She studied with Leonardo at Berklee, and has been to Brazil several times, studying Brazilian music,” Duduka notes. “She really understands the rhythm, the syncopation. And she’s a very lyrical player.” Guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, who has recorded with singer Luciana Souza and tenorman Harry Allen, among many others, “really understands bebop, like Helio,” says Da Fonseca. “And he knows how to apply that when he mixes samba with jazz. That’s what I need in my group.”

The collection starts with the saucy Mestre Bimba by Luiz Eça, Bebeto, and Helcio Milito, for which Duduka devised the drum pattern. “It’s a mix of samba, afoxé, marcha, with maybe a little New Orleans touch in there,” as he puts it. “I came up with this rhythmic pattern 20 years ago, first time I’ve recorded it.” The song features wordless vocals on the theme by Maucha and Alana Da Fonseca, his daughter from a previous marriage. Alana is a graduate of the music program at State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase whose debut CD is Bars and Beats (Art Music). She sang two songs in the recent Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie film, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’. “She’s super talented, and I’m really proud of her,” says her dad.

The subsequent Janeiro is by Ion Muniz, “an old friend of mine from childhood,” says the leader. “I’ve been playing this song, which I love, for over 30 years. It’s very groovy, the way things move around, a happy, high energy tune.”

The dulcet Bye Bye Brasil by Roberto Menescal and Chico Buarque, was originally a Brazilian hit in the ’80s. “It’s usually played with a fast beat, but I wanted to play it as a jazz ballad with my old friend, (trumpeter) Claudio Roditi,” says Duduka. “He’s been a great musical inspiration in my life, and otherwise. My brother-in-law, Chico Adnet, made a beautiful arrangement.” Hermeto Pascoal’s Chorinho Pra Ele spotlights the buoyant clarinet of Anat Cohen. “I used to play this in my New York Samba Band in the ’80s,” Da Fonseca states. “It’s a lovely but very difficult song, and Anat did a fantastic job.”

One of the most rhythmically compelling numbers here is Toninho Horta’s Viver De Amor. It’s another long-time favorite of Duduka’s, who played it with a band he had in the ’80s that featured Bob Mintzer and Randy Brecker, and now with his quintet. Guesting are tenorman Paulo Levi and guitarist Vic Juris. “They took memorable solos,” says Duduka. “I’m glad they were part of this project, because they often played with the quintet, filling in for Anat and Guilherme.”

Up next is the emotive Medo De Amar (“Afraid to Love”) by Vinicius De Moraes, and arranged by Muniz. Maucha, who sang with Antonio Carlos Jobim for 10 years, delivers the sublime vocal. It’s one of the few songs where De Moraes (known for his lyrics to such Jobim classics as “Girl From Ipanema” and “A Felicidade”) wrote both lyrics and music. “Ion wrote the arrangement that features Paulo on four flutes, and there’s a beautiful guitar solo,” notes Duduka. “Maucha sings with so much emotion, so heartfelt. I just love the way it comes out.”

Egberto Gismonti’s Palhaço showcases Cohen’s warm and moving soprano saxophone. “There’s a kind of gospel mood, and the lyrical melody is heartwarming,” says the leader, who next drops in a meaty solo to begin Haroldo Mauro Jr.’s Terra De Angara. “My old friend Haroldo composed this 40 years ago, when he was 16,” Da Fonseca states. “It was his first composition. He’s a great pianist and highly respected; I learned a lot from him. I used to play with him in the ‘60s, and I just recorded with him in Rio.”

Jobim is represented by O Grande Amor with Cohen’s evocative tenor saxophone. Duduka: “A Brazilian and jazz album without a Jobim song is not complete. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid and had the honor to play and record with him in Portugal in 1992. A DVD of that performance is scheduled to be released soon.” Sambetinho is by Alves, another of Duduka’s favorite composers. “I love the way he phrases the composition, which induces you to have a loose rhythmic approach,” he says. “It’s more in the air, it flows more, that’s what I love.”

The CD closes with Dry Land by Marcos Silva, a Rio-born pianist and composer who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. “We played together in New York in the late ‘70s,” says Da Fonseca. “I just love the groove of this tune, which is very Brazilian but goes to blues changes for the solos.”
   Duduka is thrilled with the results on Samba in Black and White. “The musicians were committed to the music, to the band, and they did a wonderful job. I’m proud, and happy.”

Happy is a fitting word to describe the kind of feeling you get listening to this vibrant CD.

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Zan Stewart

“Thank you so much for telling my story and putting it in such a beautiful, interesting and supporting way.”

– Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen, 2005

“Thanks again Zan. It's always nice to have notes with the same degree of integrity as the music. Let's do this again soon!”

– Pianist David Hazeltine on the liner notes to The Classic Trio meets Eric Alexander (Sharp Nine), 2002.

“Zan Stewart’s knowledge of, and passion for, the saxophone informed the great essay on Sonny Stitt found in this 28-page booklet...”

– Mosaic Records brochure on ZS’s notes for The Complete Sonny Stitt Roost Recordings (Mosaic).

“Thank you so much for your support, kind words, and for being such a positive force in this music.”

– Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, 2005

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