Doctor Scat – Jazz Master

15th Copenhagen Jazz Festival

by on Aug.23, 2012, under Gigs

COPENHAGEN JAZZ FESTIVAL 2012 BLOG

Mark Weiss  (Dr. Scat)

Here we are once again in the blogosphere, reporting on my adventures at and in the fabulous 2012 Copenhagen Jazz Festival.  This is my 15th year attending this intimate, surprising and engaging potpourri of up-close and hugely elegant musical venues.   Over ten days I can hear every genre of interesting and well-performed jazz and jazz-related world music. It should be noted that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (www.jazz.dk) is the largest Jazz Festival in the world and has the bright and musically aware audience to prove it.   Shall we start?

Friday July 6    First, a much-needed massage to help recover from an eighteen hour flight.  Refreshed and optimistic, I met my Danish friend Tina, whom I befriended last year at the festival, and who came to visit me in Memphis for a few weeks in the interim.  We attended the opening concert on Friday at 3pm:

 

The Vijay Iyer Trio at Statens Museum for Kunst (art).  This was a hard start.  I had heard Vijay Iyer interviewed on NPR and found him to be humane and interesting.  His latest CD was selected number one for the year.  After a lengthy intro (in Danish, of course) the trio began to play what seemed to Tina and me to be minimalist, mechanical, harsh, repetitive and percussive.  There were moments of intellectual interest, but nothing that allowed me to connect emotionally.  [And now, true confessions:]  After the second piece, we left.  A part of me felt jazz aficionado shame, i.e., I SHOULD have loved it or even liked it.  I thought I might be losing ‘hipness’ points or, at least, showing my age, God forbid.  At this moment of jazz angst, my friend Lisbeth reminded me of the Emperor’s New Clothes; that is; all that matters is that it wasn’t my cup of tea. The rest of the day and evening are devoted to jet lag recovery.

Saturday July 7

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4pm  Tina and I go to see three of my favorite Danish musicians: Soren Kjeargaard (piano), Hugo Rassmusen (bass) and Carsten Dahl (playing drums but also a famous and talented pianist).  They are performing at an intimate venue; a book  store, Tranquebar Rejsboghandel og Verdensmusikcafe.  We are immersed in the warmth and attention to detail one would expect from a chamber music concert full of humor and loving awareness.  The theme of the program is a send-up of familiar and obscure Ellington and Billy Strayhorn compositions.  We are entranced by the almost tactile relationship with the audience and the fluid ease of connection between the musicians.  Hugo, in his early seventies can joke with Soren and Carsten and with the audience, conveying ease and sly, subtle jokes.  The audience creates an adoring, attentive container.  Soren, who was once Carsten’s student, reaches deeply into the bag of signature Ellington piano lines, warm and rich like morning coffee.

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After farewells and hugs with the musicians, we float into the cool, sunny Copenhagen afternoon.

6:30 pm   Dinner with six long-time Copenhagen friends at Vesuvio, a traditional Italian restaurant right off the town center. Lots of catching up and reminiscing and a short walk to our next performance.

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Mark, Tobi, Ejvind, Zaneta and Tina

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Mark and Ejvind in Tina’s Garden

8:30  Milton Nascimento;  world famous Brazilian singer, songwriter at Pressen, PolitikensHus.  I  had heard Milton Nascimento in the subdued context of some Brazilian superstar recordings including Toots Thielmans, Antonio Carlos Jobim and others.  Tonight’s performance was much louder and not so sweet. The rhythms, as is usual with Brazilian music, were compelling and elevating.  Milton is now an elder statesman of the bossa nova genre and has a cool and easy mastery of his band.  The intensity and volume of the music tended to blunt the inherent sweetness and subtlety I had expected from the group.

Sunday July 8

4:30  Niels Jorgen Steen’s A-Team at Kongens Have, a giant free concert in a beautiful park near the town center; easily a thousand rapt devotees of jazz standards played by some of the best players in the city.  My friend Lisbeth and I relax on a blanket near the stage.  Once again in danger of showing my age, I found myself loving this music the way food addicts love comfort food.  It was a twelve piece nearly big band that knew how to ‘kick it’ and then settle down with some lush ballads.  Their vocalist, Bobo Moreno, improves every year I have attended the festival.  He has been increasing his range and power and engages the listeners with a tone that matches their energy.  He is clearly having a good time, as is everyone present.

9pm Tao Hojgaard, Thomas Frank,, Kristor Bradsgaard, Avi Solomon at Café Blagards Apotek, a small bar I’ve sung at many times.   It’s wonderful to play with my friend Tao (pronounced tāo).  I performed my first paying gig (job) with him fourteen years ago.  His technical skill and sensitivity to the players in his band are always increasing.  He invited me on stage for a couple of tunes.

My father, who had been a well-known jazz bass player with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw had always talked about the special delight to be found in performing  jazz in front of a European audience.  They are far more knowledgable about jazz, its performers and its rich history than most Americans.  When I perform in Copenhagen, I feel ‘heard’, comprehended in a unique way that is very satisfying.  So it was on this Sunday night. Monday July 9

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6:00  The Hugo Rassmusen Quartet at Oesterfaelled Torv.  When Hugo Rassmusen, master bass player invites you to sit in with him, you drop everything and go.  The quartet turned out to be a pickup band; guitar, bass, drums, two saxophones, trombone and me. The band opened with some jazz standards led by two wonderful Sax players and a trombonist.  One of the Sax players was introduced as the ‘sax man’, a gentle soul from Thailand with incredible facility and passion in his playing.

I sang Stella by Starlight and Joy Spring. Hugo was a gracious host and a joyful and talented playmate.  It’s hard to tell which is more satisfying;  the smiling faces of people in the audience or the happily surprised faces of my fellow band members.  I’ll take both with gratitude.

9pm The Monday Night Big Band at Huset Magstraede, paradise jazz ToneArt.  Led by Niels Jorgen Steen (from the A-Team), this is a full-scale 17-piece big band of master musicians.  As an illustration of their mastery, I once brought one of a number of big band arrangements to Niels, the director of the band.  The song was Joy Spring, arranged by Carl Wolfe, a wonderful saxophonist and writer from Memphis.  It is written in three keys with a surprise four-bar section in the bridge that shifts into three quarter time.  As I handed out the parts, I started to explain, “watch out for the time change at number…” Niels put his hand on my arm and stopped me.  In a very authoritative voice he said, “These people can read anything in print!” And they did!  The great Rahsan Roland Kirk, an incredibly brilliant blind saxophonist wrote a tune called ‘Bright Moments’ in which he described outrageous, often imaginary visions, i.e., ‘making love with Barbara Walters in the snow.  I consider myself lucky to have experienced many bright moments.  For example, I bumped into Niels Jorgen Steen last year.  I told him I had a new chart to perform with the big band.  He paused for a moment; put is hand on my arm and said

And they did. “Now you are a tradition…Bright Moment!!!

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This Monday night I brought a wonderful arrangement of Stella by Starlight, also by Carl Wolfe.  Just as I started the song, Niels realized he was on the wrong side of the stage and as he walked in front of me, he turned to face me and we began to dance.  Then he walked off the stage.  The whole thing was seamless and utterly charming.  The band loved the arrangement, as did the audience.  It was midnight and the second performance of the day for me.  Back at m friend Ejvind’s house, I slept like a baby.

Tuesday July 10

8pm  Concha Buika Kulturhuset Islands Brugge (outdoors)  Wow! Neither Lisbeth, Tina nor myself had ever heard of Concha Buika, but it was Tina’s call and we went for it.  Born in Africa and raised in Spain, now living in Miami, Concha Buika shot onto the stage, five feet two inches of black, beautiful, long haired volcanic energy.  She grabbed the audience from that moment and never let go.

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Everything she sang was in Spanish, but she spoke to us in English.  She spoke  clearly from the heart…”I feel safe here.  My innocence doesn’t offend you.”  A marvelous pianist, steady electric bassist and a percussionist playing an electrified box capable of bass drum sounds, tambourine and

more, backed her.  Her songs were about love and persona growth.  She sings, “So we were in love and you dropped me and now you want to come back…don’t bother!”  Her message is “I’ve come through a lot of pain and struggle and I’m here and fully present.” She bursts out with “I’m fucked, but I’m happy.”  Her range went from sweet and light to raw animal screams.  She and the band had us up and dancing. A wonderful surprise.

Wednesday July 11

6pm  Duke Ellington tribute Ernie Wilkins almost big band (outdoors) Carlsberg  Lisbeth, Tina, Nette and I went with the expectation of the warm , lush and swinging Ellington that reaches right in and grabs your heart.  Instead, we heard a rare performance of The Ellington / Strayhorn rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.  The trombonist in the fourteen-piece band had gone to the Smithsonian to photocopy the original arrangements.  The performance was well-done but really lacked the swinging quality we were looking for.  It was a great novelty piece, but…

8pm  Bela Fleck/Oumou Sangaré

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Hanging out at the Bela Fleck Concert

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Kulturhuset Viften  Bela Fleck is arguably the greatest banjo player in jazz or in a bunch of other genres.  He opened the show with a 45 minute performance that showcased his banjo skills, but not much in the way of jazz pieces.  He played a poignant tribute medley of the late Earl Scruggs’ music.

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The second portion was dominated by Oumu Sangaré, a singer from Mali with a band (including Bela Fleck) to kill for.  She and her back-up singer spoke and sang in French.  Her voce dominated and at times pushed us to our feet to dance.  Her bass player from Senegal stayed in the background until the last quarter of the concert and then he came on strong with power and amazing technique.  Another man played an instrument called a core, a predecessor of the banjo, shaped like a gourd with a long neck.  He was very skilled and able to produce a wide range of sounds.  The percussionist was steady and highly complex in his integration of African rhythms.  It was a powerful evening of swinging world  music.

Thursday July 12

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7:30 Lee Konitz 84 year old master saxophonist, composer.  I was lucky enough to perform with  Lee Konitz at a jam session in Memphis 25 years ago.  He is even more fluid and interesting…dry humor, lyrical and sweet.  Konitz has the ability to penetrate a tune to its core, cut away the extraneous and offer up the essential guiding tones that move you from one set of chord changes to another.  He can start playing in the middle of another musician’s solo as if he were a subtle sweetener…as if that were exactly where he was meant to be and the soloist immediately recognize and appreciate it.  Sometimes he would start playing as if from a ‘nowhere’ point and after the band would react to him, gradually, a well-known jazz standard would emerge and be artfully embellished in moments.  It was a sweet, charming and enriching concert.

 

Friday July 13

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3pm  The long-awaited Kong Arthur Hotel Jazz Brunch.  For many years Kong Arthur was the hotel of choice for the international jazz festival performers.  As a sign of appreciation for the music and the musicians, the Kong Arthur presents a colorful, delicious and sophisticated gumbo brunch for the performers along with a top flight jam session featuring some  jazz greats and young jazz turks..  This year the bunch was preceded by a birthday party for Svenn Assmusen, a famous Danish jazz violinist.  At 3pm, the brunch and the jam session took off.  I got to sing a few times.

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Lisbeth at the Kong Arthur jazz brunch My favorite performance was with a wonderful

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At the Kong Arthur Jazz Gumbo Brunch

jazz steel drum player doing ‘There’ll Never Be Another You.” The brunch is a great place where local jazz greats who never get to see each other get to connect.

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7pm  Marilyn Mazur, a fantastic, multidimensial percussionist playing a traditional trap set surrounded by gongs, bells, bowls, shakers and more.  Bass, tenor sax and guitar provided a mixture of jazz, middle eastern and fluid free form music.  Very engaging, occasionally challenging and very satisfying.

9pm John Scofield Hollowbody Band  at Det Kongelige Teater Gamle Scene  Well, there we are, sitting in the elegant Royal Theater only to be told that  John Scofield and a bunch of fabulous musicians are two ad a half hours from landing at the airport.  We get our money back and as a bonus, we hear an interesting  young band of men called Girls in Airports…interesting mixture of two saxophonists, a drummer, keyboardist and a percussionist.  The sax players use very interesting, reedy tones and have mastered the rare art of listening to one another.  I have a taste for harmonic diversity that I found missing in the group’s repertoire.  By the third tune we were ready to get our refund and split.

Saturday July 14

5:00 pm  A relaxed and delicious meal at Tina’s house near the center of town.  My friend Ejvind, his wife Zaneta, Tina and myself.  We are surrounded by a delightful and colorful fruit and flower garden.  Tina and I are dropped off at Politiken Hus for our next concert.

8:30  Eliane Elias   Famous Brazilian pianist, songwriter and singer performing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Her authenticity was enhanced by her touring with Jobim and  his lyricist for three years. Her voice is husky and sensual and her playing is both intimate and commanding.   Side note: even with the best of musical performances, the body grows weary.  Eiane Elias was impressive and moving…we were tired and left half way through the concert.  Ah well.

 

Sunday July 15

16:00 Hugo Rasmussen Allstarz at Christians Kirke.  I am more rested and really looking forward to this concert.  I sang here last year and was well received by an audience of four hundred.

Outside a huge church, on a large lawn, once again an audience of four hundred.  Bass, drums, trombone, tenor sax and piano.  Under Hugo’s leadership they played sweet ballads, swinging standards and clever, interesting be-bop melodies interspersed with clever repartee.  In the second set, I was preceded by a young woman named Sue Jin.  She was  born in Korea and raised in Norway.  She is recording with Hugo.  She sang ”Just a Closer Walk With Thee” with an amazing purity.

Then it was my turn.  Hugo called a blues and I started by getting the audience to sing various blues lines. This is already up on Facebook.

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During the break of New Jungle Orchestra

James ‘Blood’ Ulmer

8:30pm James Blood Ulmer & New Jungle Orchestra; the last but certainly not the least concert of the festival.  A triple WOW!!!  The New Jungle Orchestra is an institution in Copenhagen.  Five horns, percussion, keyboards, drums, bass and guitar.  I have never seen a more devoted audience to such an avant-garde band.  The set opened with an outrageous ten-minute guitar solo that connected Jimi Hendrix to the most outside, psychedelic wildness…and then the band jumped in and took it even farther out.  I was dumbfounded and then I noticed that the audience wasn’t dumbfounded and then pretty much everything I thought I knew about performance and presentation of music began to melt.  During the break, the bass player said ‘This is dangerous music.” At one point, the lead guitarist began yelling nonsense words and the audience (including me) without hesitation yelled them back.  The aliveness and improvisational energy made the room rock.  Some of the lines played by the band were scary in their complexity, atonality and outright humor.

As if that weren’t enough, in the second set, they introduced James ‘Blood’ Ulmer. Ulmer looked to be about 75 or 80ears old, dressed in a dashiki with an African cap.  He shuffled up onto the stage and was greeted by pure reverence.  I had never even heard of him and here I was, surrounded by devotees. Ulmer tuned up ad began to play a heavily reverberated guitar in a purposeful atonal rhythm pulse, announcing “This is called TV Blues…imagine that.”  And then he chuckled and disappeared into the music.  Within minutes the whole band was rolling with it, reading extremely complex high tempo lines that seemed to make sense but perhaps on another planet…an interesting planet at that..

After two tunes that were definitely from outer space, the leader asked James ‘Blood’ Ulmer to play a solo.  Out of the rapt silence came the most down-home authentic Mississippi blues version of “My Little Red Rooster” I have ever heard.  I was stunned. Then he played anther blues and the band slid right in.

I felt like I had just been fed a nine course meal.  As a matter of fact, I felt full to the brim from the whole 10 days of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

 

Architectural side note:  Before I left for the festival, my neighbor Karen asked “Does Copenhagen look like a European city?”  I think she wanted to know if it had lots of old, interesting buildings like Budapest.  Upon reflection, I must say that Copenhagen has it all.  You can find plenty of castles and churches and old museums.  You can also find some of the most dazzling modern buildings in glass and steel, a modern metro and train system and a wonderful modern sense of Danish interior space.  The Danes have beautiful, well-manicured parks and gardens as well.  If I can take my mind off my beloved jazz for a while, next year I will go on an architectural tour all over Copenhagen.

Dr. Scat – aka Mark Weiss

 

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Jeff Guy

    Looks like I missed one Great time once again! Must make this a “Bucket List” item !!!

  2. Steve Breeskin

    Cousin Scat:

    A real nice adventure. And you and Tina look good together.

    Steve

  3. Storm

    Mark,

    Great to hear from you…and simply wonderful seeing you enjoy the festival each year!!

    Be sure to check out the blog-site http://www.stormdanceempowerment.blogspot.com

    Much love`

    Storm

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