Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Larry Smith Tribute: Chicago Jazz Memorial 2006
by Lofton A. Emenari, III

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 proved to be a celebrated day in the annals of Chicago jazz history. It was an equally momentous occasion of note for long time radio personality Larry Smith, a man who’d indelibly stamp his imprint in the vaunted halls of Chicago’s jazz lore.

Several months after being unceremoniously ‘retired’ from his decades long tenure at Chicago’s public radio beacon, WBEZ Smith was now being feted by peers in the field. The place - the ‘East of The Ryan’ club/motel brimmed with well wishers, friends and musicians. Among them two famed Chicago jazz hallmarks, Geraldine deHaas, of Jazz Unites and Ezell Cooper, of Coop’s Records. In the crowd were DJ ‘Still Bill’ of the College of Du Page’s WDCB-FM and the well versed guitarist Toby Wallace coming out to pay respect. The Master saxophonist/teacher Jimmy Ellis’s band held down the jam session. Accompanying him were pianist Carl Johnson; the great bassist Eddie deHaas and drummer Walter Kindred. And adoring fans came as far away as Iowa to pay tribute to a true Chicago legend.

The Chicago Jazz Memorial was initiated that night. The brainchild of veteran media/promoter Al Carter-Bey the herald event was to recognize contributions of Chicago jazz pioneers - living and dead. In light of the recent passing of Malachi Thompson; John Watson; Clarence Wheeler and several others Carter-Bey’s vision was to acknowledge them accordingly. Along with a coordinating effort from the Jazz staff of radio station WHPK-FM, Larry Smith was at long last publiclically honored for his invaluable commitment and dedication to the furtherance of Jazz in Chicago.

Larry Smith launched his calling in radio after putting aside what would have been a lucrative career in music as an aspiring trumpeter. “The owner of WSBC thought I had a good pitch for selling things so he gave me a job”. This was after six months of doing gospel shows on a station out of Evanston, WEAW said Smith in an interview with the late drummer Charles Walton.

“I started out just doing announcements and spots and he gave me 15 minutes. This gave me time to play 4 records and if I sold products well on the radio program he would enlarge the time. Pretty soon I had one ½ hour program. After a while, I had so many sponsors, taverns, beauty shops etc., that I had to fade the records down and do the spots over them to get all of them in. From that, I moved into an hour slot. With that amount of time, I did 2 shows, one on AM and one on FM. The FM part is now known as WXRT. At that time it was WSBC-FM.”

But it wasn’t until Smith got a break emceeing shows at the acclaimed jazz haunt, The Sutherland Hotel that he charged headlong into what would become his lifelong ‘calling’ and role in the world of jazz. “The person who was doing the show could not handle it. Big names such as Lenny Bruce, Count Basie, etc., came by. One day, I was sent to fill in until they could get someone of Daddio or Sid McCoy stature. One month went by, then two, when someone finally said that the right man was doing the job. I lasted there for 2 ½ yrs”.

This in the late 50’s, a time and day that names such as Daddio Daylie, Sid McCoy and Al Benson dominated radio.

The Sutherland exposure was the springboard from which Smith shined meeting the biggest and brightest musical minds in jazz. “I had an opportunity to meet everyone that was anyone during that time because of the name acts that were booked in the lounge and the stars who came to see them. I was ordered not to interview three people who might come in, Red Foxx, Dinah Washington, and Miles Davis”.

Undaunted Smith carried on his task with verve. Not only did he come to interview many artists he in addition would go on to write album liner notes, becoming something of a ‘one-man’ publicity team in the name of jazz.
In a career that saw Smith work at stations such as WEAW, WXRT and at both WJOB and WWCA, out of Hammond, Indiana it was his years of service at Harvey, Illinois’s ‘all-jazz’ station, WBEE AM 1570 were Smith’s renown in the jazz world was solidified. Besides Marty Faye, Smith was perhaps the most notable personality on the air, hosting a popular jazz program for some years. Smith’s resourceful presence birthed a storied institution of jazz yore, ‘Larry Smith’s Jazz Party’, a floating jam session/showcase mining Chicago’s rich vein of talent synonymous with great jazz internationally.
Moving from site to site be it Roberts Motel Lounge, on east 63rd Street; the fashionable Chances R restaurant in Hyde Park, with it’s peanut shell strewn floor and 60ish atmosphere; and then he’d turn up out on south Stony Island at the Tropical Island lounge, known for its film noir ambience. All over the south side ‘Larry Smith’s Jazz Party’ featured a rotating venue of locals such as bebop specialists like Guido Sinclair; or the robust tenor sax sound of John Neely to the new avant sounds of the AACM’s Light Henry Huff. Not to mention world class jazz stars as the tried and true Miles Davis side man, George Coleman; trumpeter Frank Gordon; altoist Bunky Green and the skillful baritone sax man Nick Brignola.

Larry Smith would achieve even more prominent heights becoming the announcer and emcee ‘of choice’ for many jazz festivals and shows over the years. Earlier in the year upon learning of Smith’s impending retirement he was hailed as, “one of the most unique voices” in radio by the Illinois Entertainer. His ubiquitous and knowledgeable presence amongst WBEZs all-star roster of announcers down through the years was quite recognizable.
Heartily embraced as an ‘old friend’ by saxist Jimmy Ellis, toward the end of the evenings festivities Smith beamed with pride. Both in their 70s, Ellis steadfastly thanked him, as did the many in attendance. Larry Smith was enshrined as The Chicago Jazz Memorial’s inaugural recipient.

Ellis articulately recounted, “It was Larry Smith, since the late 40s who always promoted our music and paying honor to him now is long over due”.
Indeed it was and as said by many a jazz fan down thru the years, ‘now is the time’.

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2007 and posted on Jazz

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

David Weiss & Point of Departure - Snuck In / Snuck Out - Sunnyside

Trumpeter David Weiss is what in jazz parlance is called a, “musicians musician”. The group assembled for these performances are top notch. As Weiss duty bound is always in the ‘now’ and has with every new recording and performance a real sense of historic value. He values his role as arbiter of the advanced garde. This two volume set is culled from performances at the Jazz Standard, March 2008 and a studio date a year later.
Point of Departure’s palette is culled from a curious cabinet indeed. Selecting tunes from the dustbin of time Weiss gets plenty of life out of several Charles Moore compositions. A nod to the Detroit trumpeter’s timeless writing are the title cut, ‘Snuck In’, ‘Gravity Point’ and ‘Number Four’. Moore’s twin 60’s recordings of the vaunted but under recognized Contemporary Jazz Quintet are gems to be re-thought and this time by a new generation. Thanks to Weiss! Given an invigorating redress Point of Departure revels in such faire as Tony Williams’ “Black Comedy”; Shorter’s “Paraphernalia” and absolutely high charge Charles Tolliver’s “Revillot” to great effect.
J.D. Allen, already an established voice over the past decade is still making a case for one of the most exciting soloists of our time. His oblique Shorteresque dips and tilts are drama filled with attentive detail. Suffice it to say with the virtual glut of tenors jousting for attention these days Allen is heads & shoulders far above the fray. He’s a major cat! Juxtaposed with Weiss they make for a helluva up front team.
Weiss’s own tough cut, hard edge solos are mid-60ish Miles filled volleys of strength and purpose. Taking a back seat to no one he oft reminds of a Jack Walrath sans the mirth. Could Allen be Weiss’s Carter Jefferson? I’d dare wonder....
The wild card carrying member of the group is guitarist Nir Felder. By no stretch is Felder a ‘jazz’ guitarist. Not in the strictest sense of the word, lending this group an ethereal other world edginess. His subtle yet drifting riffs, fragmented chordal sequences are ‘rock centered’ often conflicting head-on with the harmonic nuance of the melodic content. This makes for an uneasy listen. Tension, yes. Unifying harmony, no. A Bobby Broom, Steve Cardenas or even a wild-ass David Fiuczynski might have lent more of a grounded flavor and bite. A tastiness and sequential appeal - cut to cut. Given time Felder may come into his own - that is if he doesn’t answer his calling in the ‘rock’ genre.
Drummer Jamire Williams is steady motion. A rhythm wealth of refreshing boldness of a free wheeling thunder. Whereas the steady bassist Matt Clohesy adhesively nails the bottom down.
Both recordings are a seamless unified whole and should be listened to as such. With all the music Point of Departure pumped out at the Jazz Standard that weekend there’s gotta be more to share...a clamoring audience awaits.