Saxophonist, bandleader and composer Reagan Mitchell is an advocate of original works, and his Sunday concert at the Improv with pianist Paul Horton, bassist Greg Bryant and drummer Derek Phillips will feature some of Mitchell's latest pieces penned in a style that blends elements of hard bop, the blues and even the avant-garde.
Yet Mitchell, a native Nashvillian who began seriously exploring the jazz idiom about 15 years ago and has been writing songs for roughly 11 years, wasn't introduced to the music through famous players like John Coltrane or Miles Davis. Instead, it was hip-hop that paved the way into the improvisational world for Mitchell,
"My parents had a huge record collection and I grew up listening to all types of music," Mitchell said. "My uncle was a big jazz fan, while my parents loved old school soul and R&B.
“But I was really into hip-hop and rap, and I remember hearing albums by groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr with Guru and DJ Premier. They were using classic jazz melodies and beats, and I was intrigued by those sounds and started running down the records and trying to find the original tunes. The Quest album Low End Theory that had Ron Carter all over it was a particular inspiration."
Now Mitchell, who's also spent some time in other states but plans to remain in his hometown, says he's energized and upbeat about some of the things he sees in the current Music City jazz environment.
"There are more great players here than at any time I can remember, I mean, guys who are excellent soloists, know the tradition, are fine writers and know how to interact in any situation,” Mitchell says. “I see so many talented people all the time, and it's really encouraging that we now have an institution like the Nashville Jazz Workshop. That's not something that was here in the past."
At the same time, Mitchell, who also has plans to do some recording here soon, acknowledges that there remains one serious obstacle for many local and area jazz musicians.
"There aren't nearly enough venues here for jazz musicians, and even some of them don't really understand or appreciate the music," Mitchell says. "There was one place we played recently where the owner was saying things like don't play so loud and even trying to suggest that we do something that really wouldn't be playing jazz. I wondered why he even hired the group. He would have done better to just have a DJ and play tracks. But it's more a case of not having enough places to play rather than anything else."
Still, he has no plans or desire to relocate to New York, Chicago or Atlanta. And he looks forward to playing at the Improv/Underground, a site Mitchell hopes will soon become a prime one for challenging and edgy local jazz.
"When I started playing in the fifth grade, I really had no idea I'd ever be playing the saxophone or writing jazz compositions," Mitchell says. "This concert gives us a chance to present both older pieces and some new music I've been writing lately. The rewarding thing about playing jazz comes in the experience of really creating music right on the spot, making adjustments, working with your band and bringing something to people that hopefully inspires them and brings some beauty and joy into their lives."
The Reagan Mitchell quartet appears 4 p.m. Sunday at the Improv/Underground, 948 30th Ave.N. A $5 donation is requested.
Acoustic guitar wizard Tom Smith and longtime banjo soloist and accompanist Brian Fesler are joining bluegrass/country singer/songwriter Becky Schlegel for a free concert Saturday night at an unusual venue: the Church of Scientology on 8th Ave. S.
A heralded fingerstyle guitarist who's shared the stage over the years with such greats as Odetta, Smith has just finished a new CD he considers his best ever. He will be presenting selections from the new disc during the Saturday show.
Smith's inventive, fluid and impressive approach integrates aspects of folk, jazz, even classical and country in a vivid and exciting manner. A gifted banjo player as well, Smith's previous discs have been praised in such publications as Sing Out and Dirty Linen, and he's been compared to adventurous types such as John Fahey and Leo Kottke.
Yet his love of jazz — in particular, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk — shows in the sophisticated harmonies and progressions he weaves into his compositions.
Fesler began playing banjo over three decades ago, and has been a member of Schlegel's band for the last few years. He's also in year number five as a Scientology minister. Smith also did community outreach and participated in public information and inner-faith meetings held at Scientology churches during his years in California.
"I've been doing these acoustic shows lately and this is just the ideal site for that type of concert," Smith added. "I really like the humanity and the warmth that you get from these acoustic shows and I felt like you could really capture that setting even more in a place like this."
Tom Smith, Brian Fesler and Becky Schlegel will perform in concert Saturday night at the Nashville Church of Scientology and Celebrity Centre, 1130 8th Ave. S. 7 p.m., with dinner being served at 6:30 p.m. There is no charge. Call 687-4600 for more information.
Robert Palmer, Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer (Scribner)
Robert Palmer never worried about categories or trends. Excellence was what he championed, and he also never endorsed the notion that most people don't care about anything except what the industry deemed worthy or what was being played on commercial radio. During the '60s and '70s, as rock criticism was emerging from the background to the foreground in journalism, Palmer became a dominant voice. At one point he was not only chief critic for The New York Times (their first full-time pop music writer) but also doing columns and reviews for Rolling Stone, Penthouse and Record World.
This tremendous collection, edited by Anthony DeCurtis, shows Palmer at his best covering everything from avant-garde jazz and classical to the blues, rock, pop and punk. A former clarinetist who played with Ornette Coleman, the Master Musicians of Jajouka and the band Insect Trust, Palmer knew structure and theory, yet could communicate the passion and energy of music to people who knew little and cared even less about formal arrangements and chord changes. This is writing for people who love music first and foremost, regardless of genre, penned by someone who spent his professional life both ignoring and breaking down barriers to understanding and appreciation.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller with David Ritz, Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography(Simon and Schuster)
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller met at 17 in Los Angeles, when lyricist Leiber needed someone to provide music for a song he'd written. The two became immediate friends and colleagues despite their differences: Leiber enjoyed radio plays and the standards of the American theater, while Stoller was a bop champion.
But both were blues lovers, and that remained at the foundation of a host of hits they penned during the rise of rock 'n' roll. Hound Dog, their joint memoirs and confessions penned with David Ritz, blends personal and professional exploits, stories and tales of an amazing lifetime spent penning tunes for The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, the Robins and many others.
The duo eventually also got into label ownership, publishing and production as well as theater, but their hearts always remained in songwriting. They talk about partnerships with Atlantic legends like Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, their time in the famed Brill Building and their journey through American music history. Hound Dog is funny, profane, insightful, and a delightful chronicle of the life and times of two music maestros.
Nice guy but they only work well with their already high sellers. We had a…
well fuck you anon! Go and Catch fire!
The guitar is a custom made Gretsch he used on the Raconteurs tours...sweet. I couldn't…
I knew him before the beard.
Sometimes I think snowman69 makes good points. But I think he's way off the mark…