Bessie Smith, considered by many to be the best blues singer the world has ever known, was born this day in 1894 in Chattanooga, Tenn. She was known as the "Empress of the Blues," who sang forcefully about grief and earthly joys. Her last classic recordings were made in 1933 with jazz players Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman.
Pianist and arranger Sy Johnson was born this day in New Haven, Conn., in 1930. His arranging collaborations have been with Charles Mingus, Lee Konitz, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and Quincy Jones. He also helped re-create the music for the 1984 Francis Ford Coppola film "The Cotton Club."
Bass player Richard Davis was born this day in 1930 in Chicago. He toured extensively with Charlie Ventura, Sarah Vaughan and Kenny Burrell before turning to free-lance playing and recording. His most important recording associations have been with Eric Dolphy and Elvin Jones.
Bandleader and flugelhorn player Herb Pomeroy was born this day in 1930 in Gloucester, Mass. He toured with Lionel Hampton and Stan Kenton in the early 1950s before joining the faculty of his alma mater, Boston's Berklee College of Music. He retired from Berklee in 1995 to devote more time to performing and recording.
Looking at today's hip happenings...
The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University in New York today hosts "A Day for Dexter: Celebrating Dexter Gordon at 80." The daylong symposium and evening concert celebrates the life and career of late tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon.
The Grammy award-winning jazz artist, who was an Academy Award nominee for his role as leading actor in the film "Round Midnight," died in April 1990. The symposium will feature readings, testimonials and performances by
musicians, writers, scholars and friends of Gordon, who will reflect on his career and continuing influence.
Scheduled guests include the photographer Herman Leonard, whose 1948 photo of Gordon is one of the most famous jazz images; writers Stanley Crouch, Thulani Davis, and Wesley Brown; along with scholars Robin D.G. Kelley, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Dan Morgenstern and Steven Feld.
Pianist Barry Harris, who made several recordings with Gordon, and saxophonist Frank Wess will headline the evening concert. It also will include a performance by saxophonist Salim Washington's Harlem Art Ensemble.
Elsewhere on the New York jazz scene... the Don Byron sextet is at the Village Vanguard. The James Cotton blues band with Lucky Peterson is at the Blue Note tonight and Wednesday. Cotton's special guest shifts every two nights. Peter Bernstein Plus 3 featuring Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart is at The Jazz Standard this week. The Mike Stern Band with special guests Richard Bona and Terri Lyne Carrington is at Iridium through Thursday. Toshiko Akiyoshi's Jazz Orchestra is at Birdland. The Hector Martignon quartet is at The Zinc Bar tonight through Thursday. Matt Hong leads the Tuesday Night Midtown Jazz Jam at SWING46.
Jazz lecturer Arnold Jay Smith's "Jazz Insights" discussion series this spring at New School University is focusing on the vocalists. Singer Catherine Dupuis is tonight's special guest.
The Jazz Mandolin Project is at the Trafalmadore in Buffalo tonight.
In the Boston area tonight... steel pan player Andy Narell leads the multinational jazz quartet Sakesho at Scullers jazz club. Lyambiko is at The Regattabar in Cambridge. Trumpeter Greg Hopkins quintet plus one -– the one being pianist Tim Ray –- are at The Roma Restaurant in Haverhill. Tenor saxophonist Dino Govoni's quartet is at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River tonight.
The Berklee College of Music's Guitar Department presents its Guitar Week series of concerts and clinics today through Friday. Today's schedule includes a free creative improvisation clinic by faculty guitarist Wayne Krantz this afternoon. The Ben Sher Group will present a free recital of contemporary Brazilian music tonight. And faculty guitarist Jim Kelly presents a jazz/rock concert at the Berklee Performance Center tonight.
The Giga Shane trio is at Chris's Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia tonight.
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express organ band is at Nighttown in Cleveland tonight and Wednesday.
In greater Chicago... Men of Note are at Andy's. The Deep Blue Organ Trio is at the Green Mill tonight. Ken Cheney is at Joe's BeBop Cafe and Jazz Emporium tonight. Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan are at Katerina's. Tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and Friends are at the New Apartment Lounge on Tuesday nights.
The Marc Pompe trio is at the 100 South Chop House in Elmhurst. The Ron Perrillo trio is at Pete Miller's Steakhouse in Evanston tonight. Marshall Vente is at Philander's in Oak Park. The Alison Ruble trio is at Pops for Champagne. The Taku Akiyama quartet is at Smoke Daddy. The Kimberly Gordon quartet is at the Underground Wonder Bar.
In New Orleans... the Ted Hefko quartet is at the Blue Nile tonight. Earl Brown is at Cafe Sbisa. The Funkin' Horns and Juan Ferdinand are at the Funky Butt. The ReBirth Brass Band is at the Maple Leaf. Greg Stafford leads tonight's band at Preservation Hall. The Rob Wagner trio is at the Seaport Cafe. The Maurice Brown band featuring Quamon Fowler is at Snug Harbor.
On the California jazz scene... saxophonist Lee Konitz is at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles this week. The Banda Brothers sextet is at Charlie O's in Valley Glen tonight. The Chris Williams quintet is at Steamers Jazz Cafe in Fullerton tonight.
This is John Pisano's Guitar Night at Spazio in Sherman Oaks with Frank Potenza. The Sal Cracchiolo-Melanie Jackson sextet is at Spaghettini's Italian Grill in Seal Beach tonight. Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos is at the Onyx Room in San Diego on Tuesdays.
The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine is at Yoshi's in Oakland through Sunday. Saxophonist Rob Sudduth's quartet is at Jazz at Pearl's in San Francisco tonight.
The Dave Holland quintet is at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle through Thursday.
On the recording front...
One of the Japan's newest labels keeping the jazz flame alive is Eighty-Eights, an imprint of Village Records, which is a subsidiary of Sony Music Japan. Its first four CDs are being released today through Columbia Records. They are "Friendship" by trumpeter Clark Terry and drummer Max Roach, "Mad 6" by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, "So What" by trumpeter Eddie Henderson and "Love Letters" by drummer Roy Haynes.
Henderson's Miles Davis tribute recording includes tenor saxophonist Bob Berg, a veteran of Davis's mid-'80s fusion bands, who died late last year in a storm-related traffic accident.
The group takes on nine tunes by Miles or closely associated with his career. Included are the "So What," "All Blues," "Old Folks," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "'Round Midnight," "Well, You Needn't," "Prince of Darkness," "Footprints" and "On Green Dolphin Street."
"Love Letters" by Roy Haynes turned into an all-star session including pianists Kenny Barron and David Kikoski, guitarist John Scofield, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman and bassists Dave Holland and Christian McBride. On the nine-tune collection, the band takes on such standbys as "Afro Blue," "Que Pasa," "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "Stompin' at the Savoy."
ECM is out with three new discs this month, all from Norwegian musicians. They are pianist Tord Gustaven's trio session, "Changing Places," guitarist Terje Rypdal's "Lux Aeterna," and pianist Christian Wallumrod's "Sofienberg Variations" quartet CD.
The Steve Smith-Michael Zilber band, based in California's San Francisco Bay Area, this week released "Reimagined, Vol. 1: Jazz Standards." It's out on the Bluejay label. Smith is the busy former Journey drummer and leader of the fusion group Vital Information. Zilber is a Bay Area saxophonist.
Sharp Nine Records is just out with alto saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith's "Up in Smoke." The CD was recorded at New York's uptown jazz club, Smoke, with pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Joe Strasser.
The label has also released Hazeltine's sixth release as a leader on Sharp Nine. "Manhattan Autumn" is a quartet session that teams him with tenor sax ace Eric Alexander, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth.