Dave Koz’s Bummer of the Summer

“Strange. The longer I play the smaller this saxophone gets.”

The idea of a quartet of top smooth jazz saxophonists gathering for a super-session must have seemed like a great idea to Dave Koz. Why not invite Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot to join him for a sax summit? Hang out, play some together, have some laughs. It’ll be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit actually. The biggest problem with Summer Horns is it suffers from the mistaken assumption that if some is good, then more must be better. But more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more than what is necessary and that is why Summer Horns doesn’t work.

There will be a some folks mad at Koz about this album. Namely, every smooth jazz saxophonist who wasn’t invited to play.
Yet even swapping out Koz, Albright, Abair and Elliot for Euge Groove, Eric Darius, Walter Beasley and Jessy J., probably doesn’t change much. The songs would probably stay pretty much the same as the horn arrangements by Greg Adams, Tom Scott, Gordon Goodwin, Marco Basci and Albright achieve competency without ever being impressive.

Discerning fans will notice the songs chosen for the album are crossover jazz (Ronnie Laws’ “Always There” and “Rise” by Herb Alpert), rock and soul bands that featured horns, (Chicago, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Stevie Wonder) and a few standards for good measure.

The all-covers concept may have been driven by the desire to dress up familiar favorites in new technology or maybe it was a matter of the various artists not having the time to compose and learn all-new, original material. Since there is a follow-up tour scheduled what’s more likely to please a crowd: a bunch of new and unfamiliar tunes or moldy oldies they know by heart?

There is a vague whiff of calculation to this approach because even though Koz, Abair, Albright and Elliot’s interpretations pale in comparison to the originals the chance to see all four sharing the one stage will be an irresistible hook for both promoters and concertgoers.

As a Doobie Brother and as a solo act Michael McDonald was the epitome of blue-eyed soul, but that was a long time ago. Tower of Power’s “So Very Hard to Go” sinks as McDonald strains for the soul that used to come easily. Jeffrey Osbourne is a veteran crooner who does a little better with “God Bless the Child” but not much better. He doesn’t have much of an affinity for Billie Holiday’s definitive classic and Koz and company fare little better.

More successful and Jonathan Butler and Osbourne’s backing vocals for “Hot Fun In the Summertime” and if there weren’t enough horns already Brian Culbertson drops in to add a trombone solo. The horns-and-bass version of “Take Five” is sincere in its wish to pay respects to Dave Brubeck, but hasn’t Paul Desmond’s classic been overdone by now? A persistent criticism leveled at smooth jazz artists is they take the path of least resistance and here the charge sticks.

The lone original moment comes at the end with “Summer Horns” but by then it’s only a teaser of what this grand collaboration might have been if Koz and company hadn’t chosen to play things both straight and safe.

The urgency to please instead of intrigue the listener is what makes Summer Horns a frustrating affair. It’s akin to a summer blockbuster movie with a star-studded cast, eye-popping special effects that kills an hour or two and leaves no lasting, long-term impression. The talent of the stars is undisputed, but nobody seems on the verge of breaking a sweat.

This is an album that will sell big, but aims small.

This review originally appeared at All About Jazz.

This part didn’t.

There was more I wanted to say about Dave Koz and Friends and the Summer Horns album that I could not say in the All About Jazz review.   Here on my personal blog I say what I want.

And what I want to say is how much I could not stand this record.

I like smooth jazz, but boy, does it wear me out trying to defend it from those who call it unlistenable pabulum.   It’s not, but albums like Summer Horns are impossible to defend.   Everything  you hate about smooth jazz is here in big heaping helping of different ways to SUCK.

How much sax is too much sax?

I find what a lot musicians are doing  to be completely uninteresting to my ears and jazz is certainly no exception.  Nothing bugs me more than guys like  Koz  whom seem capable of more, but settle on uninspired and unachieving crap like his  Summer Horns project which relies on a gimmick of pulling together four smooth jazz sax players, going through the motions on some lame cover version of someone else’s hit songs and then just noodle until it sells like crazy (or what passes for crazy in an age where nobody buys albums anymore).

It’s a sin and a shame to make music this dull.   It’s not a crime, but it should be.   This is not the worst album I’ve heard from a major act in ten years of reviewing recordings, but it could be the most lethargic.   Playing loud and piling on some lame solos doesn’t mean you’re kicking ass.   Simply calling Summer Horns a “bad” album doesn’t get close to summing up my feelings.  Bad is the wrong word.  Dreary is the word.  This is the kind of record that people who love jazz hate with a passion because it isn’t jazz.   It’s instrumental music.    Which ain’t necessarily jazz.

Too many musicians learn a trick and then they repeat that trick if it proves to be successful.   “They liked that one so I’ll give them another one just like it.”   This is a trap and artists big and small have walked into it.  I know this to be true.  Jazz is too much of a limited niche market for anybody to deliberately make lousy music and I truly believe  nobody makes a bad album on purpose.

But lazy, half-ass, going through the motions albums that nothing but product like a bad of McDonald’s fries?   Yes.  That absolutely happens all the time.

My father always said bad music will drive out good.   He wasn’t  entirely right about that.  Boring music  drives out both.

It’s Not Wrong to Do the Right Thing

Hadiya will be laid to rest Saturday

The news that First Lady Michelle Obama will be attending the funeral this Saturday of slain teenager Hadiya Pendleton is welcome news.   It’s the right thing to do and frankly, I don’t understand why some are criticizing the decision.

Where was the President and The First Lady before this?  What makes Hadiya’s death so special?  Because she performed at the inauguration a week before she was shot down?   Every gun death is a tragedy say those questioning why the White House cares so much now when they were so stonily silent before.

I understand why this is controversial to some, but I disagree agree with them.  I don’t want The First Lady or The President attending funerals for murdered kids for the next four years. It would be like attending funerals for every fallen soldier. They would have no time for anything else.

The First Lady is described as “heartbroken” over Hadiya’s death

This is a special case with a great deal of symbolic importance. In her own way, the First Lady and the Obama Administration is acknowledging all the fallen from urban violence and Black-on-Black crime. Hadiya’s case is particularly heart-rendering coming so soon after her having  paid respect to Obama at his second inauguration.   No, Hadiya is not “special,” but the circumstances are different.   The presence of Michelle Obama is an acknowledgment of that and proves the president is not indifferent to the suffering going on in our cities.

it simply isn’t possible for them to attend every funeral of every young person’s whose life was prematurely and violently ended without it being a logistical nightmare, eventually making their attendance a trite affair.  Can you imagine how much of a strain on law enforcement it would be to handle the security details each time the president or his wife attended?  The media would be all over it and who wants photographers snapping pictures while you’re trying to bury your dead? Never mind how it would affect the Obamas personally to in effect become “professional mourners.”

How long would it be before every family that lost a loved one serving in Afghanistan or somewhere else start wondering aloud, “My son died for this country, yet the Commander-in-Chief didn’t attend his funeral. Why?” That would open a Pandora’s Box of misery that would never be closed again.

I can’t believe people are so obsessed with polishing their Obama Bashing Badge and pushing their b.s. political agendas to demean the First Lady showing up to pay her respects to a dead Black teenage girl.

No, actually I CAN believe it. There’s always someone sitting comfy in a chair that knows how they could do a job better than the person who actually has to do it. It’s just really disgusting when it comes over the dead body of Hadiya Pendleton.

The critics and cynics don’t care about a mother’s grief

I am not in any way trivializing the deaths of Black people across the nation when I cite the cases of Hadiya Pendleton, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo and more for special notice as I have for years. I am never numb or indifferent to the unnatural deaths of my people, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to mourn each individually.

Not for me and certainly not for The President of the United States either.

The critics should STFU.  A young woman is dead.  The president’s family said they were praying for Hadiya and tomorrow the First Lady will be present to commemorate her life.   There’s nothing wrong with that and those who accuse the Obamas of a “publicity stunt” or not showing enough concern for other murdered Black children are out there where the buses  don’t  run.

They need to  stay there because they are miserable excuses for human beings.  Shame on them for their cynical exploitation of a dead girl to score their meaningless political points.

Young. Gifted. Black. Gone.

Hadiya Pendleton performed for the president’s inauguration. A week later she was dead.

Hadiya Pendleton, 15, was an honor student who according to her father hated and avoided violence.

But violence is relentless in how it methodically seeks out and destroys even those who want no part of it.

A 15-year-old girl who performed at President Obama’s inauguration last week was shot dead Tuesday while hanging out with friends after school in bullet-scarred Chicago.

Hadiya Pendleton — described by family as a “walking angel” — was standing under a canopy in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park when a gunman ran down an alley, opened fire and fled in a white car, police said.

Pendleton was shot in the back but managed to run about a block before she collapsed, officer Laura Kubiak said. She died at the hospital.

 A 16-year-old boy was wounded in the 2:20 p.m. incident. Police said Pendleton, who had no criminal record, was probably not the intended target.

 “Never in a million years did I think I would get a call that my own baby had been gunned down,” Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley, said through tears from her Chicago home.

“As usual, the bad guy aims, but he never hits the other bad guy . . . He hits the one that hurts the most to lose,” the victim’s godfather, Damon Stewart, 36, who is a police officer, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I changed her diapers, I played with her growing up. My heart is broken.”

A sophomore at selective King College Prep High School, Pendleton had traveled to Washington to perform with the band at inaugural events.

“It was the highlight of her young 15-year-old life,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday at a Senate hearing on gun violence.

“Just a matter of days after the happiest day of her life, she’s gone.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the shooting a “terrible tragedy” and said the Obamas were praying for Pendleton’s family.

Cousin Shatira Wilks said the inauguration trip was the talk of a family gathering around New Year’s, but the young majorette was even more excited about something else: plans to travel to Europe this spring with the band.

“She was an honor student all her life,” Wilks said. “Honestly, she was a walking angel. She never once gave her mom any problems ever.”

Young. Gifted. Black. Gone.

Young. Gifted. Black. Gone.

The day after Hadiya died, another gun victim, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords went before a Senate committee to ask Congress to actually make a tough call instead of talking a problem to death.

“Speaking is difficult,” Giffords said slowly and haltingly, “But I need to say something important. Violence is a problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.”

Also speaking was NRA Executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre running his usual rap about how more laws and background checks won’t stop criminals and only impede the rights of law-abiding citizens. It’s subject to debate whether LaPierre was there to testify or check on how the NRA’s money is being spent. Eight of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have received campaign contributions from the NRA including all eight Republicans and Democratic chairman Patrick Leahy.

There is no reason to believe “something” will be done by anyone on Capitol Hill.  Stand up to the gun lobby?  Question the priorities of the NRA?  Not from a  Congress populated by dopes like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) who doesn’t believe the proliferation of guns is any sort of big deal.

“I’m going to wait and see on all of these bills,” Alexander said. “I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games, and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns.”  Alexander, who is up for reelection in 2014 owns a 92 percent lifetime rating from the NRA.

Politicians that aren’t moved to action by White children killed in an elementary school,  aren’t about to do anything for Black children killed on the streets of Chicago.

The day Hadiya died she was one of three to be gunned down in broad daylight in the Windy City.

In 2012, while crime fell in most major cities, over 500 people were murdered in Chicago.

Thus far in 2013, over 42 people have been killed, the most violent January since 2002. Seven people were slain on one bloody Saturday.   Chicago is so segregated if you avoid the battle zones and stay in the nice neighborhoods and the tourist areas, you probably wouldn’t even notice they’re pulling bodies off the pavement two or three at a time.   If this isn’t war in the streets, it sure is claiming a body count like one.

It’s one thing to live in a war zone in Syria or Afghanistan. It’s another to live and die in a war zone in a major American city.   “This guy, whoever he was, the gunman…you took the life of my life, Nathaniel Pendleton said of his daughter, ” Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a non-violent person.”

As young Black people are murdered by other young Black people, I wonder if there might be more of an outpouring of outrage if there were thousands of racist Klansmen behind the mass spilling of blood across the  streets of America.

But I recall there is no law, no agency, no Constitutional right that can make someone respect human life. Self-hatred leads to self-destruction.   I could paper the walls of my house with all the editorials, essays and columns I’ve written about young people like Hadiya.   Apparently, I was writing those words for the wrong audience.

A petition has been created on the White House website requesting the president attend Hadiya’s funeral.   He really should.  She was there to commemorate his second term.    Obama should be there to commemorate her premature demise.   It’s not the most, but it’s certainly the least he can do.

I never knew you Hadiya, but I cried for you little sister.   I’m crying for you now.  Tears of pain.  Tears of anger.   Tears of bitterness.  Tears of rage.

“You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”

~ James Baldwin

Look familiar?  It should.

Look familiar? It should.

What a difference a day (or four) makes

Its all a matter of perspective

It's all a matter of perspective

Chicago rocks.

I never understood why Chicago is called, “The Second City.”   Comparing Chicago to New York is like trying to compare an apple to a tomato.  They’re both similar yet unique.

In my last blog entry I said I strongly believed UNITY ’08 was to be my last journalism convention.   In fact, I only rejoined the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) so I could attend this one.   I am a great believer in advocacy journalism, a stance that isn’t always popular in a mainstream organization such as NABJ.

But that’s another fight for another day.   I’m at peace with myself right now.  There’s always time enough to wage war.

I can’t be around intelligent, passionate and professional people without feeling I have to step my game up to meet theirs.  UNITY ’08 was everything I hoped it would be and then some.

It was enriching.

It was educational.

It was entertaining.

It makes me feel very good about being a independent, freelance journalist.

It makes me proud to be a Black man and knowing there are so many other accomplished and charismatic people.

It inspires me to meet and greet all the Asian, Hispanic, Latino and Native Americans that I did in Chicago.

Today I sat down and sent a personalized “hello” to every person whose business card I accepted.   Most of these people I will never meet again or speak with.  But for five days in Chicago we were colleagues and brothers and sisters brought together as a community with shared interests and goals.

I don’t care if they don’t remember me.  I remember them and right now I want to–need to–reach back and let them know they played a part in helping to reignite the flame.   Before time darkens my memory and I recall things differently than they actually occurred, I gotta get it right.

Which means just saying, “thanks” for making UNITY ’08 a total success for me and giving me a reason not to give up on my journalism dreams just yet.

Unity ’08: Drop me off in Chicago

Yes. Barack will be there too.

Yes. Barack will be there too.

Road trip!

Yeah, I’m taking it on the heel and toe and I’m off to Chicago for UNITY ’08, both a convention of minority journalists from the National Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association,  the National Association of Hispanic  Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association and something of an ethnic version of Woodstock with indoor plumbing and better accommodations.

Not a lot of hard work gets done between all the workshops, meetings, breakouts, luncheons, dinners, receptions, special events, tours, socializing, job hunting, networking, glad-handing, hooking up and general foolishness.   It is a lot of fun if you don’t take it or yourself too seriously.

Waaaaay, back in the day when gas was cheaper, a freelance journalist loaded up a Pontiac Grand Prix and pointed it south to Atlanta to attend the first convention of journalists of color.

That was UNITY ’94 and I was both a little lighter in the waist and considerably brighter about the opportunities open to me as a journalist.

Fast forward 14 years later and I am absolutely certain this will be the last journalism convention I ever attend.

Though I plan on walking around the job fair, I’m not bringing a single resume or clip.  Why should I?  I’m not expecting anyone is seriously going to get a job there.  The Job Fair has become little more than a way for newspaper, radio and television conglomerations to mass collect resumes in a one-size-fits-all-setting.

The dead giveaway for me is look for how many of the booths actually have chairs for prospective job seekers.   They don’t really want to get to know you.  They just want to get through their shift and try to look interested when in reality they can’t wait to get back to their rooms or to the open bar later.

Cynical?  Nope.  Just experienced.   And this was before I had read Jill Nelson’s chapter in Volunteer Slavery on NABJ conventions.

Besides, who reads?  Look at your five closest friends or acquaintances you call friends.  How many of them read a daily newspaper, subscribe to any magazines or wait until 6:00 or 11:00 pm to get their shot of news?

Sorry folks, but we’re dealing with a profession that is hemorrhaging jobs, become less, not more diverse, and is relying upon an outdated delivery system to reach the younger demographic it craves.   Or have you paid any attention to where the advertising dollars are going?

I have a friend who teaches journalism at Temple University.  She says she’s constantly asked, ‘Why do we need to learn this stuff when there’s no guarantee we will be able to find a job in this field when we graduate?’

Good question.  I wish I had a answer, but I don’t.

Which brings to mind a question. Why exactly am I going to UNITY  ’08?

Certainly not because I’m looking for a job.  I have one of those and I’m pretty satisfied with it.  I don’t need journalism.  In fact, I’m feeling pretty sure that journalism needs me a helluva lot more than I need journalism.

So why go from one hot city in the summer to another hot city in the summer for seemingly no good reason?

Because I still believe journalism is a needed profession in this time when telling the truth can get you in all kinds of trouble.

Because I have always believed nobody can tell our stories better than we can and if we leave it up to others to tell our stories they will tell the ones that make us look like wild, uncivilized and dangerous animals instead of the intelligent, creative, innovative people we are.

Because while I’m not opposed to working within the system, I’ve never believed the system was ever the only way for our stories to be told.

Because I have been blessed enough to meet and work with some incredibly talented brothers and sisters and they inspire me to keep on keepin’ on even when i can easily think of a dozen reasons to kick this journalism jive to the curb and move on to something that pays better and worthier of my time.

Because I can still be inspired.  I might even change my mind.  It’s been known to happen once or twice.

I’m going to UNITY ’08 on my own nickel.  Previously, there were some good White liberal alternative weeklies in Columbus willing to hook a brutha up by covering the cost of the convention registration or something like that, but there are no good White liberal alternative weekliles left in Columbus anymore.

Today I washed, waxed and vacuumed my wife’s Ford Windstar van.  I’m going to load it up with her and the two kids and point it toward Chicago.  We’re going to make this a family vacation.  The last one before my son goes off to college in the fall and my daughter starts high school.

When you consider how much the price of gas is compared to 1994 and how few opportunities are going to exist for future family vacations, it’s a smart move to use a Woodstock of minority journalists as a dual purpose event.

Most of all though I want to be there when thousands of Black,  Hispanic, Asian and First American journalists get together at one place at one time.  It’s hard for me to conceive that you can bring so much talent and energy in a room and something special not happen.

Besides ANY excuse to get out of Columbus for a while is a GOOD excuse.   If The Eagles had lived here they would have called the song, “Life in the Slow Lane.”

Can’t wait to see all my Cowtown connection crew in Chicago representin.’

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.  ~Japanese Proverb

Truth and Soul,

Jeff Winbush