Saturday, June 22, 2013

Costumes Are Mandatory : Ethan Iverson with Lee Konitz, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy

Ethan Iverson's Costumes Are Mandatory HCD 7249
With a shriveled and charred pumpkin face on the cover (photo by Julie Worden) one might find the cover art of Costumes Are Mandatory  holds a subliminal message. A worn out and used up octogenarian going through the paces of just another record gig. Ha! Dispel all such notions. This record  finds the eighty-five year old alto-saxophonist Lee Konitz playing in top form with his signature dry-ice tone and his measured economy of notes that somehow speaks volumes. The taciturn Mr. Konitz speaks with his horn only when necessary and when he does one should be inclined to sit up and listen or risk missing fleeting brilliance. Here, the hearty Konitz,  is joined by a stellar cast assembled by Ethan Iverson, of Bad Plus fame on piano.  Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, the formidable original rhythm section of Brad Mehldau's trio, round out the bill.

The record was the brainchild of Mr. Iverson and includes two Konitz originals, some standards and some of Mr. Iverson's original compositions.The album is book ended by two versions of Mr. Iverson's "Blueberry Ice Cream."  Mr. Grenadier anchors this twelve bar blues with his full walking bass line over which, according to Mr. Iverson's liner notes, a reluctant Mr. Konitz plays his abstract, sparse blue lines to great effect and total enjoyment. On Mr. Konitz's "It's You,"  Mr. Iverson overdubs piano in an introductory nod to Lennie Tristano, Mr. Konitz's mentor. By his own admission, Iverson plays the piece in a Monk-like fashion. Konitz plays with a mute floating above a walking bass line by Grenadier and rambunctious interactive drum work by Rossy, something Tristano, who hated active drummers, would have undoubtedly scorned. Iverson and Konitz trace each others lines in a nice piece of synchronous interactive playing.  On Konitz "317 East 32nd Street,"  the Tristano-style is most evident in Iverson's playing. Iverson claims Konitz begrudgingly plays this one, albeit gracefully. After so many repeat performances over the years perhaps he has found it difficult to say anything more?

The highlights of the album are the ballads, played with such minimalism as to be beautiful in their unabashed, almost stark nakedness. On "Try a Little Tenderness" Mr. Iverson's piano is probing, ruminative and abstract while still retaining some thread to the melody. Mr. Konitz again uses a mute on his horn creating a nostalgically shrouded sound. On Bob Haggart's "What's New," Iverson creates an angular lead-in for Konitz to enter the song with his own oblique approach to the melody. His brut champagne-like notes linger over the deliciously languid lines of this superb rhythm section, creating a marvel of concise, liquid inventiveness. The piece de resistance is the beautifully imagined duet of "Body and Soul" with Larry Grenadier's full-bodied bass playing the perfect foil to Lee Konitz's meandering alto. Grenadier's work is simply superb; a warm and round display of virtuosity and precision tone. Mr. Konitz's roaming sound is at it's most delicate, allowing room for Mr. Grenadier's work to shine through. The last ballad is "My Old Flame" which features the eighty-five year old Mr. Konitz on a vocal scat that is quite unnerving. Following Mr. Grenadier's bass lines, Mr. Iverson's twangy piano string plucking and Mr. Rossy's  consortium of  muffled drum effects, in comes Mr. Konitz "do do do we"  high pitched scat. Gratefully he picks up his horn and renders a heartfelt solo that dances around the melody in his own inimitable way. Mr. Iverson and Mr. Grenadier both play sincere, poignant solos before Mr Konitz comes in again for a brief reprise.

Mr. Iverson and the trio, sans Mr. Konitz, are featured in much of the remainder of the album. On the Vincent Rose song "Blueberry Hill" a song made famous by Fats Domino in 1956, Mr. Iverson shows his creative juices are flowing, successfully deconstructing the rock and roll standby into a vehicle of musical abstraction and I might say surprising beauty.  The Lennie Tristano/Paul Bley influence shines through on Mr. Iverson's  "A Distant Bell"  which is a note filled semi-free piece that couldn't be further from Mr. Konitz's style. "Bats" is Mr. Iverson's metronomic homage to the abstract pianist Lennie Tristano. The style is walking piano bass lines with  floating drum rhythms by Mr. Rossy that seem to take the lead. "Mr. Bumi" is a homage to Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi which has Mr. Grenadier, who plays arco here, trading lines with Mr. Iverson in an counter-intuitive exchange. "My New Lovers All Seem So Tame"  finds Mr. Iverson plucking the strings of his piano in harpsichord-like manner; a strange song originally intended to be an intro to the following song "My Old Flame" which seems oddly out of place.

All in all  Costumes Are Mandatory is a wonderful body of music that more than makes up for some of its rough spots by offering moments of unvarnished beauty from a marvelously supple group of musicians and magical playing by Mr. Konitz, a living legend of his craft.

I could only find the short snippet above of Mr. Konitz with Mr, Iverson, Mr. Grenadier and Mr. Rossy, but here is a classic version of Lee doing "Body and Sou"l: from  Another Shade of Blue with pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Charlie Haden from 1999.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Life of a Working Musician: An Interview with Jazz Voclaist Kathy Kosins Part 2 of 2

Kathy Kosins photo by Ralph a. Miriello
In the first part of this interview with the Detroit jazz singer Kathy Kosins (which you can link to here.,) we talked about her experiences growing up around her father's famous clothing store, a Detroit landmark. Her first dance single and her experience with producer Don Was in his funk 1970's soul/funk group Was Was Not. Now we delve into her jazz repertoire, her concert productions, her artwork and her future projects.

NOJ: You turned from soul, pop and funk to jazz. What made you make that transition?

KK : I was writing jazz tunes here in NY with the idea of selling those songs to already established jazz artists. I came back to Detroit and I was on the east side of Detroit burning cassettes of my mixes from NY, in order to start sending them to various managers and publishers. I ran into this guy ... who managed George Clinton and the P funk ( Parliment Funadelic). This was the beginning of sampling. They would take all of George Clinton’s floor sweepings and sampled them out to all these rappers that wanted to  use them in their own records. He said “Give me one of those cassettes; I am going to a meeting with Steve Bergman from Schoolkids Records.” He called me like a week later and he said “I got you a record deal...” I said “what?” I flipped.  It came out on me and I called it All in a Dreams Work.

NOJ: This was your first jazz work. What female vocalists particularly inspired your music, especially your jazz vocals?

KK: Really nobody. I listened to the jazz instrumentalists. I listened to Miles Davis, first and foremost. Second to Miles Davis I listen to Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Don’t forget this was of the seventies, fusion. That’s what I was listening to. I didn’t want to copy any other singer and I stayed away from singers.  I really liked Carmen McRae, ... liked her the best.  I admired and had a huge amount of respect for Ella’s technical proficiency; I mean spot on in tune all the time. Sarah Vaughn, I mean the tone is just amazing. Carmen, there is something about Carmen, she is of that time, but there is an edge about her that I liked.

NOJ: How about Betty Carter?

KK: I didn’t like Betty Carter. When I was coming up in that big band, I was taught stick to the melody and she did everything but stick to the melody. I just think she was too far the other way. I would rather hear the melody instead of a long, endless scat solo. I’d rather hear a variance of the melody the next time through. 

NOJ: What about Dinah Washington?

KK: Her husband, the football player was one of my Dad’s customers. I met Diana Washington when I was  little. She was married to a football player. He was a Detroit Lion. I actually liked the stuff she did with Brooke Benton. That’s another guy who I really love. “Rainy Night in Georgia”. I have a really wide interest. I don’t listen to much country, but there are pop singers that I really like. I listen to Adele, she’s good. There is an earthiness about some of these singers that I really dig. Same with Carmen, there was an earthiness about her and Sarah. Billie Holiday, I really loved Billie Holiday, but she didn’t inspire me.

NOJ:  What contemporary singers blow you away?

KK: Contemporary singers who blow me away? I’ll tell who blows me away Dianne Reeves, Diane Schurr, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nancy King. 
Patti Austin

NOJ: How about Patti Austin?

KK: Love her. She was my first jazz inspiration as a singer. I wrote her a letter she lived in Orange, NJ. Oh God, I would love to meet her and bow down. It was her and Marlena Shaw. Unbelievable. Nasty, nasty, but unbelievable.  

Tony Bennett, God I want to meet him. I could kiss his shoes. I am crazy about him. He’s to me is the best male singer. To me there is no one like Tony.

NOJ: Your bio said you worked with the JC Heard Orchestra and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra tell me about those gigs.

KK:  JC Heard did an event for my father... some foundation honored Kosins Clothes and my dad. He got letters from the President and the Governor and the Mayor. It was at a big hotel in Detroit.

Harry Shirley Kosins. He took on the name Shirley because of the poet. May he rest in peace and is smiling down on his kid. He never got to see one thing I did, nothing. He never saw any of the records.
He could be mean. He told me once “You’re a bum. You’ll never amount to anything. Go get a job.” But you know, that’s because, I think he was afraid of the artist’s life for me.

JC Heard played at my dad’s party and I sang with them a couple of other times. I was with the Johnny Trudell Orchestra when Nelson Riddle’s son, Chris Riddle, who somehow  got his Dad’s charts, asked me to go sing with his band. One gig was in Dallas/Fort Worth and it was a big private function. The band he got together were all North Texas University guys, they were incredible. The second gig was on a ten day cruise ship, Alaskan Cruise, which was for me was like a really great paid vacation. I stopped off in every port and saw everything.  This was in 1993 or 1994.
All in a Day's Dream 1995

NOJ: Let's go back to All In A Dreams Work, your first jazz album back in 1995. How did that evolve?

KK: I went from LA to NY. I was writing on the upper West Side with this guy Jeff Franzel, who was writing all this pop material. It turned out that Jeff was a really good jazz pianist and he loved jazz.   I was also working with Marcy Drexler of ASCAP, who was also working with Jeff,. She paired me up with a woman, who has now become my best friend; her name was April Lang. April ’s mother and her mother’s sisters were jazz singers on the radio, you know how they had radio singers on radio broadcasts?  April went to the NY School of Performing Arts. April’s surrogate uncle was Dave Lambert from Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.   So Jeff, April and I started writing what would become my first cd. All in a Dream’s Work.

I didn’t know it was going to be my first cd. We would write the songs with the idea that I would demo the songs and we would farm them off to all the established artist like, Nancy Wilson, like Lena Horne at the time, Diane Schurr, like Diane Reeves whoever. It’s a great record.

NOJ: What is your favorite cut from All in A Dream’s Work ?

KK:  There are three. Actually one of them I re-did on Vintage . There is an original tune on Vintage called “I Can’t Change You,” I cut it in a different key and put it to a reggae beat. “Time Changes Everything” dark music noir. “Man of My Dreams” and “Down to My Last Dream.” 
Mood Swings

NOJ: Then you did Mood Swings which was a complete turnaround where you tackle songs like Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady.” It took you seven years between records. What took you so long?

KK: I don’t know. I wasn’t focused. I was between records and I was sure what I was going to do. I think I was in a relationship at the time and it took up a lot of my time. I didn’t feel motivated to write and get another record out right away. Life happened.

NOJ: What made you go in this different direction?

KK: It really wasn’t a different direction. I was there as an original “No Ordinary Joe.”  I took the music from “Pennies from Heaven,” and rewrote the lyric and melody.  “Living in Style,” a very Dave Frisberg style... tongue in cheek. I cut “Maybe September”, Percy Heath, beautiful tune. It’s just a hodgepodge of original tunes and a few non originals like “Gee Baby A’int I Good to You”. I just wasn’t focused.
I think Mood Swings was literally an extension of having mood swings (laughter). I was kind of all over the place.” Foxey Lady” we tried to take into adult contemporary, it didn’t work but we tried. When I hooked up with (bassist) Michael Henderson’s band he knew that I was going into jazz writing and he pretty much said,".. look at me, I was in with Miles Davis and you can have one foot in each thing and it’s ok."

NOJ: What made you cut Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots”?

KK: I cut “These Boots” because I had been singing that tune for a while with an arrangement that Paul Keller wrote for me. Paul Keller is a jazz bassist in Detroit, he runs The Paul Keller Orchestra and he would write all sorts of fun charts for me to do on a “live” show. He made it sound like, “Killer Joe”.

 I thought if I handed to Aaron Goldberg he would do some wacky arrangement on it. I like it and it got a lot of airplay on jazz radio.

NOJ: Which are favorite songs from your great 2005 cd Vintage?

KK: “Tip Toe Gently.” The woman that wrote it is ninety years old and her name is Paulette Girard and she lives on the upper west side. She’s fabulous. She wants me to start writing music to her songs. She wrote all kinds of stuff for John Coltrane and all these jazz instrumentals. Her real name is Paulette Rubinstein, she married a jazz harmonica player, a guy from Denmark I think, or maybe he was an accordion player. She married him so he could get his green card and through him she met all these great people.

“Look Out Up There” and “Tip Toe Gently “are my two favorites, followed by “Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast” and “Go Slow”. That was my entry into West Coast Cool. “Look Out Up There” was on June Christy’s   “Something Cool “record.  John Ellis played a wonderful soprano saxophone solo on that tune. That was a great record.

NOJ: You did the music of June Christy, Julie London, Chris O’Connor and Anita O’Day in To the Ladies of Cool. What inspired you to do this record? What gave you the idea?
Henry Mancini

KK: I started listening to West Coast Cool. I started listening to Mancini. I started listening to Mandel. I started listening to Chet Baker and then I started listening to female west coast vocalists. Jackie and Roy, Irene Krall, Jerry Southern, just a bunch of people from out that way.

The song that I cut called “Free and Easy” came from a really bad rock and roll movie called “Rock Pretty Baby,” Sal Mineo was in the movie and I was on the road and one night my eyeballs popped out, I’m looking at Turner TNT and I’m looking at this really bad B movie in black and white. I guess it was about a delinquent, a JD, juvenile delinquent, and I’m hearing this jazz in the background. The kid wants to be a rock guy and the soundtrack was all dubbed in by these west coast cool guys and it sounds like jazz. So I did my homework and I found out that Mancini did the music, Bobby Troupe took the music and wrote the lyrics for his wife Julie London, who was formerly married to Jack Webb of Dragnet fame, by the way. 
Johnny Mandel and Kathy Kosins

Mandel’s “Hershey Bar” was written for Stan Getz and Anita O’Day cut it as a scat. When I got hold of it I knew I wanted to do something without photocopying Anita. So I was on the plane and had a few vodkas and I wrote the lyrics and it was like a stream of consciousness. 

NOJ:  What are your favorite songs from To the Ladies of Cool?

KK: “November Twilight” is my all-time favorite. Do you know the story of that song? Julie London cut an LP called “Calendar Girl, where she is pictured in a fold out with a different outfit and a different song for each month. She did “Memphis in June” most famously but most of them I didn’t know.  When I heard “November Twilight” I said that’s mine.
When Johnny Mandel came to my gig in California I said “The guy that wrote the lyrics to “November Twilight” was your co-writer on “The Shadow of Your Smile.” He told me he almost wasn’t his co-writer. Johnny Mercer was supposed to write “The Shadow of You Smile” with Johnny Mandel and Mercer passed on the project. So they gave him Paul Francis Webster, who was much older than Mandel, and Mandel thought to himself “What am I going to do with this old guy.” But they did it and out comes the mega hit  “The Shadow of Your Smile.” Paul Francis Webster wrote the lyrics to “November Twilight” with Pete King.  I found this poem by some nineteenth century poet, called November Twilight, and I sometimes read it on the stage, it’s really abstract. I usually tell people to close their eyes, because the imagery is so evocative…I almost started crying when I did the song at the club Half Moon Bay recently, because there is a line in there about sunburnt arms and garden swings. When I see that in my mind I see Malibu or I see the beach in the nineteen fifties. You know, with those modernistic houses jutting out over the water. Then here I am at this guy’s place (Half Moon Bay) looking out at the sea, singing there, I almost left the planet for a minute. I had an out of body experience.

NOJ: You have done some interesting productions involving older jazz standards. One particularly interesting production was a program you were involved in with the Helios Jazz Orchestra titled Rhapsody in Boop featuring the music of Betty Boop.  How did you get involved in this?

 A Lady ahead of her time
The Fleischer Brothers Betty Boop

KK: I loved Betty Boop. I have been watching her cartoons forever, but the more I watched them the more I saw a thread between her and Cab Calloway and Don Redman and Louie Armstrong. All these guys appeared in her cartoons on screen. Cab Calloway had his first on screen appearance in “The Old Man of the Mountain” and the other one was “St. James Infirmary”. “How am I Doing, Hey, Hey“ was Don Redman. When the animation opens there is Don Redman and his orchestra is playing.I thought the Fleischer brothers were forward thinkers. They were jazz freaks that found a way to incorporate African American jazz into these cartoons. Betty was an actress and a singer and a femme fatale and a lover of animals and the first women’s libber. She was a character!

NOJ: What was her time period?

KK: Nineteen thirty to nineteen thirty six. Like six years, maybe into nineteen thirty-seven. What happened was in 1934 the government came down. The censors came down.  It was the enactment of the Production Code Act which set moral standards for motion pictures. They had to lower her skirt so you couldn’t see her little garter belt and you couldn’t see any more cleavage. She started looking more like a schoolmarm.

I’ve done six of these shows and I would really love to make it work and I would love to play it with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. I mean its right up their alley but I can’t get to these guys. But there are orchestras out there. The charts are well written. The guy’s name is Dr. Jack Cooper, he runs the University of Memphis Jazz Studies group and Paul Keller wrote a couple of charts.

So Louie (Armstrong) did some music and Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and Don Redman and then there were songs by these Jewish writers, where you could find snippets of these songs in her cartoons. I said let’s make a big band chart of these. So there is like fifteen pieces and a couple of them are instrumentals.  We have a Power Point with a big screen behind me and the band, and film shorts for the intermission, and I talk about the Fleischer Brothers and the animation cells, it’s a whole story.

The guy that came up with a lot of this is Kevin Mahogany’s business partner, this guy out of Detroit, Rick Cioffi. I’ve known him for a million years. He has done a lot of work on my career. He and I kind of came up with this; this is our brainchild. He is the one who came up with all the footage and all the animation cells and the whole Power Point. I played it in Florida, Detroit and another part of Florida and in Memphis. It’s an all-ages show. It goes well beyond the scope of jazz and crosses right into Americana.
Kathy Kosins with Big Band

NOJ:  How hard is it to sing in front of a big band?

KK: I love it. Nothing is hard. If you would have asked me this question twenty years ago, I would have been intimidated, but after you do this for so long, I can front any size band. I can get on stage with one piano player or sixteen peoples. Each set-up is appropriate for different reasons.  I love the power of a big band. I love interacting with a big band. I just did this in Santa Rosa. I wished I did more big band always. I love performing with a single piano player or a trio. I have done my Tamir Hendleman charts with the two horns and with the trio and it works both ways for me. I have done my Ladies of Cool material with just a piano player.

NOJ: Do you consider yourself more of a singer or an entertainer?

KK: I consider myself a musician who likes to sing and entertain.  I think it’s one and the same. I think a lot of singers today do not entertain. They get on a stage and they are really arrogant. There is just a real coolness about them and they don’t care to connect with the audience. I don’t care how old the audience is I want to connect with the audience. I don’t want to get on the stage and not talk between songs and just sing a bunch of tunes and just introduce the band and get off. I know that is what a lot of these people do. That’s just not me. I’m a Midwest girl. I’m not a New York girl. You get these New York singers and I don’t know what it is about them, there is snootiness, there is an inside something about it that I don’t get.

NOJ: You have been a modern abstract artist for some time and some of your work is impressive. How did you get into this form of expression?
Recent Painting by Kathy Kosins Untitiled

KK: I don’t know the, the spirits guided me there. It wasn’t a conscious thing. I started painting in about 1990 right about the time my Dad died. It had nothing to do with his death.  But now I’m really taking advantage of using it in all my performances.  If I talk to a performing arts center, the first thing I ask them is do they have any gallery space. The Milford Center for the Arts, in Milford. CT, is considering having a show of my paintings. They want me to tie the art in with my improvisation on canvas clinic, which is a painting with jazz clinic where I teach students how to hear color and hear shapes. So wherever I go first thing I ask now is, “Do you have a space to hang artwork?”    “Would you be interested in giving me a gallery opening before the concert, to make it a couple day event?” I am doing this next month ( June 7th & 8th)  in Newport, Oregon. The Newport Jazz Party is run by the Oregon Council for the Arts, so Holly Hoffman pitched me to all the patrons. It’s like a benefit for all the patrons. She saw my art work and she loved it and said would you send me thirty of your paintings. We are going to put them in a show. They’re hanging on the wall now. The Baruch wants me to do this too. So now I’ve opened a new can of worms. I like painting it keeps me sane. It keeps my Jou Jou going.

NOJ: Amazingly, you are your own one woman musical machine. You do your own publicity, booking, scheduling, promotion, managing, in addition to writing music and lyrics, performing and releasing cds, selecting band members and producing your artwork. How do you do it all and what can you advise people who want to become a self-promoted professional musician?

KK: I don’t think about it or I couldn't do it all. I just wake up in the morning and I either work out or I work all day and then I go to do something at the gym. Yoga, I love Yoga. It helps, it helps.  It centers me a little bit. Yes the door has been shut in my face. I might get three yes’ for fifty no’s. So I have got to stay positive. Every call I make is a new call. Just like the song I recorded “Tomorrow's Another Day”.  I have never had anybody say don’t call me anymore. I’m relentless. I’ll call every few months and I stay on their radar and eventually they will hire me.

I went to Europe with Kevin Mahogany, Cyrus Chestnut and may he rest in peace Red Holloway. That was 2009, I said if I could get myself into Europe one way or the other. That’s all I wanted to do, I had an obsession. I just wanted to do some dates there so people would know of me and then I would get invited back. But you need a hook up, you need a way in, you can’t just show up. If…you not esoteric, they don’t care. Getting back to my advice to young people.

NOJ: Just do it, like Nike says, and give up your life to it?

KK: I hate to put it like that, I mean it sounds ruthless. I am relentless; I’m like a pit bull. I don’t let go. I don’t give up. You have to be ready willing and able to do it all. You have to do your own administration, your own PR, manufacturing the records, the artwork, the production, who else can do it for you but you?

NOJ: What is next on the agenda for Kathy Kosins?

KK: A vacation (laughter).  I am putting this record out, which as of yet has not title. What’s next for me? My garden and a little gardening; when I get home I’m going dig some weeds because that’s therapeutic. I’m going to paint like a crazy woman because I have another art show in August.

After Newport, Oregon, I’ll be in Portland, then I’m going to remix and release an album of music that I did in LA a little while ago.  The first cut on this album will be “Drowning in a Sea of Love”. Let me tell you about this project. Before I recorded the To the Ladies of Cool cd, I recorded with Tamir Hendleman (piano), Bob Hurst (bass)and  Eric Harland (drums)  with Larry Koonse ( guitar) playing on a couple of tunes. When I did a concert  at a performing arts series in Beverly Hills, California I met Tamir and he and  I connected. I said I want to do a record with you. So I picked these very obscure tunes, somewhat Ladies of Cool, a little bit of Marlene Shaw, a little bit of Mark Murphy and Tamir did some nice arrangements.

I went to California and I went into the same studio as the Ladies of Cool. It includes,” Drowning in the Sea of Love”, “A Song for My Father”, a wonderful tune  called “Spring is Where You Are” that Steve Allen wrote, there’s a tune called “Don’t Be On the Outside” which I found on a Shirley Horn with a big band record. There is a wonderful tune called “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s” it’s a barroom lament, but it’s a great song. I play “You Fascinate Me So” with a Brazilian/Latin kind of a vibes and the end of it.
It’s got that Ivan Lins thing at the back end of it. I cut a tune called “Social Call” and a tune called “Passing By” …I like obscure tunes. I am working on getting this ready now for release later this year. Then the next project I think will be half my compositions and half contemporary songs with jazz vibes that I will be working on for release in 2014.

NOJ:  Thanks Kathy

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Life of a Working Musician; An Interview With Jazz Vocalist Kathy Kosins Part 1 of 2

Kathy Kosins photo by Ralph A. Miriello
The singer Kathy Kosins came across my radar screen sometime in 2012 when I received a copy of her Resonance Record release To the Ladies of Cool that year. The album is a well thought out compilation of the music of some West Coast female singers who had put their indelible mark on the music of the late fifties and early sixties. Choosing often neglected material by artists like Julie London, Chris Connors, Anita O’Day and June Christy, Kosins, who has a marvelously evocative alto, authentically recreated some of the feel of that era in American popular music with great honesty and respect. I was so impressed I named it one of my favorite cd’s for 2012. Intrigued, I later got acquainted with some of Kosins’ earlier work, which started with her first single, a dance tune called “I’ve Got the Night Off,” from 1987, followed by her first jazz cd, All in a Dream’s Work from 1995, the eclectic Mood Swings from 2002, Vintage, a cooking session she did with some young New York cats who are now top line players on the downtown progressive music scene from 2005, and the masterful To The Ladies of Cool from 2012.

In between recording, writing and producing her own material, this Detroit native and one woman whirlwind is constantly booking herself into a circuit of  festivals, concerts, performing arts centers and private functions around the country and abroad. Always the entertainer, her live shows offer multi-media presentations that are theme based upon the music.  Whether it be an orchestra backed show that features the music of cartoon icon Betty Boop, her  Ladies of Cool show with a photo montage from the West Coast cool era or her front line singing with the funk/soul group Detroit-Memphis Experience,  she is always formulating new ideas as to how to connect with her audience. She runs seminars on art and jazz and is a prolific painter of abstract art, which she also features in some of her shows.

Kathy was scouting out her upcoming October 17, 2013 gig at the Baruch Performing Arts Center at Baruch College in Manhattan when I got to catch up with her for this extensive interview.

NOJ: Let’s get a little history of your background. You were raise in Detroit and your father was a famous clothier there for many years. Can you tell us about that part of your life? Who was the jazz influence in your life?

KK:  My brother David, he was way beyond his years. He would buy records like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Lester Young and he’d listen to everything from Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Bud Powell to Miles Davis. John Coltrane was a favorite of his, as was Charlie Parker. So I had no choice, I mean, he was listening to this and his room was right next to my room. He had a turntable. He was two years younger.

Kathy Kosins photo by Ralph A. Miriello

NOJ: Before his influence what were you listening to?

KK:  I was listening to Soul and R & B. My dad took me to see the Beatles at Olympia Stadium and dropped me off at age eleven. Brian Epstein, the Beatles Manager, came into my dad’s store and bought suits and he gave my dad tickets and my dad took myself and my brother and my uncle Ben's kids and dropped us off at Olympia stadium and it was a mass of screaming kids, but I listened to soul music.

NOJ:  Where you always interested in singing?

KK: No, but I sang with the radio and I found out I could carry a tune. What really got me wanting to do a career in music was around 1967 my parents took me to NY. My dad would come here on many, many buying trips. He would come to NY and stay at the Warwick (hotel).  Later on he would stay at the grand Hyatt. When my dad came to NY, often times he would take me with him on buying trips here. Lou Rawls came up to my father one time in a menswear show and asked my dad to manage him. My dad was charismatic like Bill Clinton is, that was my dad.
Poster from Hair the Musical

He took me to see the play Hair. So when I saw this Broadway production of Hair , I said “Oh my God.” I knew then that I wanted a career in the public eye. I think part of me, on a subconscious level, I couldn’t see it then, I was a child who grew up by herself. My dad was always working. My mother did the best she could with me and my brother, but  I think she subconsciously resented my dad because he worked so much. I basically raised myself. As a child who was alone so much, I had a lot of fantasies, and in my fantasies I was in the public eye.

In my mind I wanted approval from my parents, which I never got, so I sought it from the audience. Remember the old saying “Children should be seen and not heard?” I wanted to be seen and heard.

NOJ: I read somewhere that you father wanted to be a lawyer. Did your father resent going into the family business, Kosins Clothing Store?

Label from 1960's Cashmere Blazer
Kosins Clothes courtesy of 
KK: He wanted to go to law school when he came back from service, he was so in tune to family, he did basically what was asked of him. So he forgoes his own dreams. He was sucked into the family business.

NOJ: You were exposed to many Motown artists in (your father’s) clothing store. Many got fitted for their custom suits in the exclusive “back room.” Did this exposure make an impression on you?

KK: No. What made an impression on me was shaking Dianna Ross’s hand or meeting Aretha Franklin’s father the reverend Franklin and meeting Marvin Gaye; meeting Smokey Robinson and all the guys from the Temptations and the Four Tops. They used to all come in. I used to work in the store when I was a kid. My Dad had the Motown clients and then also guys like Jerry Vale, and all these guys that would  come in to play concerts in Detroit. They would all come in. When I was a little girl my dad would say let’s go take Berry Gordy his suits, the suits would be tailored and my dad would take them home and after dinner would take them in the car and ride down Woodward Avenue. We lived right off Woodward. I grew up literally a mile south of where I live now.  Remember M & M’s movie “8 Mile” well I grew up right off of 8 mile. Woodward Avenue was like the main thoroughfare, like Second Avenue is a thoroughfare. So we lived off  of Eight Mile and Woodward. Berry Gordy lived where all the mansions are in the Boston Edison district. My dad said” Let’s go drop the suits off.” So I’d get in the car and sometimes Berry Gordy would have us in. He was a big client of my dad’s. Anybody who wanted to be fashionable went to Kosins Clothes.
Motown's Berry Gordy Undoubtedly in a Kosins Suit

NOJ: How big was your father’s store?

KK: It did more business per square foot in that store than any other men’s clothing store in the country. The first store was in downtown Detroit. My grandfather Max opened it in 1926 .During the 1967 riots, my brother went down there and sat down there in a window with a gun in case anyone would try to loot it.  The store burned down… I think it was an electrical fire shortly after my father Harry died in 1990.

He had a whole operation. He had a tailor shop. He had a pressing shop. They had a lay away  room. My grandmother used to take in the money. You would have pimps walking in there, that would buy a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of suits and they would put the money in a brown paper bag filled with one dollar bills from their drug money.  She would count it all. It was a scene. It was like a Fellini movie. You would have to be there to understand.  I was a kid and I only saw the tip of the iceberg. It’s my heritage. I was a product of my environment. Growing up around the store and around my dad’s being congenial, I think it took me far into my business, into doing what I do. A lot of people can’t do things without a manager or an agent. They can’t do the cold calling; they can’t sell the shows or do the bookings.
Harry Kosins (left)  and Unknown client
 courtesy of Kathy Kosins

NOJ: So more than anything the family clothing business influenced your business savvy?

KK: Totally! One hundred percent! He gets all the credit. Growing up in that household gets all the credit.

NOJ:  That’ interesting, but let’s get back to the music. Who were some of your favorite artists growing up?

KK: Janis and Jimi.

NOJ: You liked Janis?

KK: Totally. I went to see her at the Grande Ballroom and I saw Jimi Hendrix open for I think the Monkees. I liked the Stones and I still like the Stones. I loved Traffic. I went and saw, multiple times, Joe Cocker with Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He had two drummers and all those women background vocalists. When I heard the background singers, it was Rita Coolidge and Maxine and Marilyn Waters. That impressed me.

Who sang in the Court of the Crimson King? (That was King Crimson) I loved King Crimson, loved all those English bands, the Moody Blues. Other people were into bubble gum music but I couldn’t get into that. I liked the orchestral bands. I liked the band Yes ( who were)  into the synth thing.

NOJ: You played with Don Was and David Weiss in Was Was Not. How did you audition for that band?

KK:: I walked into the studio, you know timing is everything my friend, I walked in there and Jack Tann, who was friends with Don Was, whose real name is Don Fagenson. His mother Mrs. Fagenson was my high school counselor. I was twenty-three or mid to late twenties. I walked in cold.  He went to Oak Park High, half the Jewish kids went to Oak Park and half went to the school where I went to. We all knew each other. I think I gave him an audition cassette, with me singing, and I told him I had done this project with Michael Henderson ( the bass player who played with Miles Davis’).He said “we’re doing our first record” it was simply called Was Not Was and they had brilliant material like
"Out Come the Freaks”, songs like” Oh, Mr. Friction”, really crazy, crazy writings. These guys were like two mad scientists. They had a single before this album, it was a dance single. I forgot the name of it.

So he asked me not only to sing backgrounds but to contract the background singers.  So I got the two girls from the Henderson gig, Carol Hall and another girl. I wrote all these background vocals for this first record. He would give me pieces of it, in some cases he made me a cassette …and I would take them home and I
would write these triad parts. In some cases we wrote the parts on the spot.

 It was the best. It was like… it’s so melancholic for me. This really was for me the most creative project I think I was ever involved in. We all collectively would turn up in the studio about one in the morning; we all giged, we all had bar gigs, all of us, individually in separate bands. So we would show up at the studio in a horrible part of town. We had to get buzzed in. People ‘s cars would get stolen. My fortunately didn’t and you would show up at one in the morning and you didn’t have cell phones , so you took your life in your hands when you got out of your car and started ringing the bell.

NOJ : Your parents must have loved that?

My parents were so liberal. I moved out of the house when I was eighteen. I moved out of the house and into a hippie house at eighteen. My dad, God love him, my brother David grew an organic garden in the back yard and he planted marijuana plants and my mother and father said. “That’s fine, but we live on a corner and when they get this high (motioning to her waist) you must cut them down, because I don’t want the Southfield police to come by and throw us in jail. 

I never saw my dad.  He worked twelve hours a day seven days a week. He was wild.  He had clients, he partied, and he did everything.

NOJ: Let’s continue with your Was Was Not days

KK:  I told you we would show up at two in the morning and we would cut tracks till six, seven, eight, nine in the morning and then sleep all day. I mean everyone went to their homes and slept all day. The next night everybody would go to their gigs and then we would all go back to the studio. We actually did a little road work. We performed at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. Then, same time this happened, in 1985, I had a dance single out that I wrote. It was about a hooker that has the night off and she wants real romance. It was all fictitious stuff and it was called “I Got the Night Off.”  It was like one hundred and twenty one beats per minute. One of the guys in Was Not Was, that also had a studio, was doing a ton of projects at his place, sent it to Sony in France and I got a record deal, I got a dance single, it was the big time. They flew me to NY. I had a white limousine waiting for me at the airport. I got out of the limo at three in the morning in a little bustier.  It was right about the time that Madonna was doing dance records. I performed for a sea of gay guys. I did one gay bar after another, a leather bar uptown, a gay bar in the Village then I was whisked away.  There was a B side called “I’ll Kill You with Kindness.”  It was writing at its worst. That tune, “I’ve Got the Night Off,”   is still being played today and you can still find on Amazon and e Bay. They must have made a hundred different edits and remixes of this thing. It was released in Germany and all these places and you can still hear it today. I never got a dime. That was the same time the first Was Not Was came out. Then Don Was produced a single of me under the name of Slingshot. I re-recorded an AC/DC song of “You Shook Me All Night Long”. He didn’t want me to listen to the song more than once.  He didn’t want any pre-conceived anything. It was like a rap almost. I hardly got to sing anything but the choruses. He wanted me sing it real sultry and sexy. You know like speak it, speak it and then sing the chorus. He produced it. That record did very well.  It’s still out there.

NOJ: What attracted you to Don Was and David Weiss? Their crazy music or what?

KK: They were; they are geniuses. Don Was is like a master chef. He knows just how much spices and sauce to put in the rue to make it come out incredible. He played upright bass in a jazz trio, but then he played electric bass in Was Not Was.  He plays upright on certain tunes.

Producer Don Was

NOJ : And his genius comes from what; inherent musical genius or is he just a marketing genius?

KK: No, I don’t know (where it comes from). He has produced Kurt Elling, Emmy Lou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, The Black Crowes, Bob Dylan, The B52’s and now he got the gig with Blue Note. Don Was is still a genius. There is a mystique about this guy that has been there that was there when I knew him in the eighties. It’s like you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, there is a mystery about him, but the other side to him is he will talk. He would give you an amazing interview. He will tell you he grew up listening to do-wop and all kinds of interesting music.

You know Bruce Lundvall (of Blue Note) almost signed me to a dance single in the eighties. The guy who was responsible for promoting my dance single “I Got the Night Off” heard some of my other writings, and he worked for Capital Records in promotion. He took one of my tunes to Lundvall, who was at Capital Records, and he was signing some dance acts in addition to the jazz stuff he had.  I had four or five songs to play for him when I went into his office in NY. I played him the song that he wanted to sign me with and he said “What else do you have?” And that’s when I made a mistake. I played him five or six other things that I had written so there was no cohesiveness to the song that he had liked, because I was a writer too and so each one was a little different. Instead of signing me on the strength of my talent on the one tune and pairing me with some writers who could write, he just passed. Then I had a guy from NY who wanted to sign me to a dance single. Eddie O’Loughlin, remember Salt & Pepper.  I had an attorney…, he took too long to make the deal and Eddie O’Loughlin lost interest. All I can tell you is it’s a hard business.

NOJ: You’ve been a songwriter for many years. How many songs do you have to your credit?

KK: That I have written? I have a song in a Snoop Dog movie called Soul Plane. To my writing credit I have at least a hundred pop and R & B tunes that I have written and thirty or forty jazz tunes that I have composed. I’m composing now as we speak.
Poster from the 2004 movie Soul Plane

NOJ: When you compose do you compose music and lyrics or just lyrics?

KK:  Melody and lyric, because I don’t read music that well. How I got through the commercial world without reading music, I did, I just have an ear, it’s like photogenic but it’s audio. I’ll usually come up with a melody first… I’ll play it into a recorder. Then I will hook up with a pianist like Aaron( Goldberg) or Tamir (Hendleman). We will painstakingly flush out the chords. Let’s say that we start flushing it out and I’ll say let’s try a substitute chord here, until I hear what I am hearing. Then I start working on lyrics or I’ll partner up with one of my songwriting buddies and we will co-write the lyrics.

The Johnny Mandel piece (“Hershey’s Kisses” from To the Ladies of Cool) was written by me on an airplane coming back from LA. I’ m fast with lyrics. I am working on another Johnny Mandel tune that he scored for… a movie called “I Want to Live,” it’s from the fifties.  It’s called “Little Black Night Gown” so I’m working on a lyric right now.

NOJ: What advice do you have for aspiring pop music writers?

KK: I get asked this a colleges and Universities because I do a lot of those through the year. People want to know, there students and I tell them categorically, you have to want to eat, breathe, sleep, live this business and give up stuff for it, if you want a career in this business, because if you think you can do it part time…. and there is no such thing as overnight anything, and if there is, it’s very short lived. I’m still building a career.

Clubs are bull shit. The club owner’s hate you if you don’t bring in a gang of people. The club owners want to give you a guarantee and a door. It’s so minuscule. So for me to fly myself into NY, put myself in and pay the band, and then they have the gall to take 30% of your cd sales.

NOJ: Have you had to eat breathe and sleep the music and the business to be a successful writer or musician?

KK: You have to do that to be anything. I don’t care if you want to be an actor, any art discipline, a painter, a dancer. I gave up everything. I gave up everything. I don’t miss  having children. I have a wealth of wonderful creative things in my life. It gives me the freedom. I can travel and I do take vacations. I mean I take off by myself. Most of my friends are either married or they are out of state. So if I want to go somewhere I book a ticket and I just go.When I am at home I have a routine. I work in my office, I work eight or nine hours a day, cold calling. I sit there, first I research. I find which performing arts festivals are looking for artists.

NOJ: Tell us about some of your other projects.

KK: I see the lines of jazz are being blurred by hip hop and R&B and so I did a hip hop version of my song “Night Bird” from the Ladies of Cool lp and I’m toying with releasing it as a bonus track on the new album. It’s more like Nu Soul.  Speaking of which you know the band Memphis-Detroit Experience record is getting played on jazz and R & B and blues stations all across the board. We took it to Radio Submit. It was like the future cd of the week. It’s being played all over the world now. These guys are playing my record and then they are turning around and playing Susan Tedeski, Sean Murphy, and then they will turn around and play an Elvis track and then another cut by me and then a Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tune. I’m telling you this thing is going to explode. I also cut recently a version of “Lover Please” remember that old Clyde McPhatter tune?

NOJ: Sort of a Tower of Power sound?

KK:  Kind of, it’s cool. It’s got that Steely Dan funk sound. I am going to cut a Denise LaSalle tune next. It’s all writers or performers that came out of Detroit or Memphis that have nothing to do with Motown or Elvis. It’s Big Maybelle or Little Willie John stuff like that; its’ really interesting material.

Part Two of this Interview will cover Kathy's Records, her Artwork  and her Upcoming Projects

Monday, June 3, 2013

At Fifty Years Old the Trumpeter Dave Douglas takes his Music to the Fifty States

Dave Douglas at Firehouse 12
On March 24th of this year the creative musician Dave Douglas turned fifty years old. The trumpeter decided to celebrate this personal milestone by  starting a tour with his quintet that would take him to all fifty states of the union. On Friday evening, in New Haven CT, the Douglas quintet brought their music to the state of CT. Mr. Douglas had last been at the Firehouse back in October of 2005, the first year the now established venue had started their remarkable quest to present top quality music in the beautifully renovated firehouse on Crown Street.  Eight years later Douglas has blossomed as both an artist and a composer. His music is a skillful amalgam of many elements of jazz, American and European folk, avant-garde, Klezmer and classical forms that has influenced his psyche along the way. To many, he represents the epitome of the independent artist, who despite the difficulties of a shrinking music industry, has managed to find his niche and flourish doing it his way. Since 1993 the prolific artist has released over thirty albums as a leader, the last 17 on his own label Greenleaf Music which he started in 2005.

His latest quintet is a brilliant young, adventurous group that includes the pianist Matt Mitchell, the tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, the bassist Linda Oh and the drummer Rudy Royston.  On this night at the Firehouse the only change in personnel was the bassist Chris Tordini who took over duties for Linda Oh.
The Firehouse 12 is the perfect setting to experience an artist like Douglas. Entering the compact, starkly beautiful venue- a chrysalis that allows you to watch up close the immersion of a butterfly-you get the feel of being a part of a privileged elite.  You are enveloped by the artist’s vision and with an artist like Douglas it is a profoundly moving experience.

Dave Douglas Quintet
The set started out with the dirge-like“The Law of Historical Memory” from his latest album Time Travel, with a piano ostinato by pianist Matt Mitchell and some rolling drums by Rudy Roylston. The front line of Irabagon  and Douglas playing solemn lines in perfect synchronization. 

The band got into a swinging “Bridge to Nowhere” with its Monk-like phrasing. I hear elements of Dizzy and Freddie in Douglas’s trumpet solos with a tremendous introspective edge that make them deeply personal. Drummer Roylston and Bassist Tordini anchor the music which is at times a difficult task.

On the beautifully touching “Be Still My Soul”, a hymn that features Todini’s solemn ,bellowing bass, and a marvelous dual line by Irabagon and Douglas, the inventive Roylston predominantly plays cymbals as Douglas reaches to the higher register during his solo in a passionate serenade. The song is a part of Douglas’s 2012 release  Be Still,  which is a  compilation of hymns and songs favored by the trumpeters late mother who passed away in 2011. Knowing she was dying, she requested that her son  play some of these songs at her funeral and the poignancy of this music to Mr. Douglas is palpable in his playing.
Time Travel The Dave Douglas Quintet

“Beware of Doug” is a song Mr. Douglas explained was based on his experience at a concert camp in Colorado. An aging Mountain Lion, named Doug by the locals would unnervingly wander through the camp where Mr. Douglas was staying. The raucous fast paced music had an sense of adventure to it, with Irabagon and Douglas leading the way. Mr. Iragabon, the winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone competition, is a fluid player with a deep resonant tone.  He masterfully negotiates his lines with the ease of a veteran and seems the perfect foil for his front line partner Mr.Douglas. Irabagon uses honks, slurs, screeches and deadened flaps during his solos. He pronates his toes and lifts himself on the balls of his feet during particularly reaching parts.  In contrast Douglas is more pensive in his approach, using penetrating, liquid lines, that is until he reaches for the stars. The trumpeter pushes out his higher register notes with a fury that overtakes his face in a rush of blushing color that approaches crimson. He is totally absorbed in his music and he reels you in like a fish on a hook drawn to the glitter of the stunningly attractive gleam of the lure.
Dave Douglas
Perhaps the most moving piece of the night was Mr. Douglas’ poignantly evocative duet work with pianist Matt Mitchell on the hymn  “Wither Must I Wander.”  Pianist Mitchell is new to me. For the predominance of the night he played a rhythmic left hand and a dancing right, but his sound is glass-like, translucent. When he dances in crescendos up and down the keyboard it’s like listening to the crystals on a massive chandelier being blown gently in the wind. So when Mr. Douglas plays this extraordinarily moving song, his trumpet’s clarion call is framed within Mr. Mitchell’s opulent glass palace. When Mr. Tordini and Mr. Royston join the song they do so with the most profound reverence with Royston playing cotton mallets and the bassist adding burnished chords. The song builds to a triumphant explosion of hope with Douglas’s human voice-like sound coming from his horn. The audience sat in stunned silence, realizing they had witnessed something special , until the spell snapped and  they broke out into  appreciative  applause.
Be Still The Dave Douglas Quintet
The final song of the first set was titled “The Pidgeon and the Pie.” Mr. Douglas starts out with a catchy repeating line relentlessly builds up tension. Royston is especially cacophonous playing all over the entire drum kit, as Irabagon and Douglas continually ascend behind Matt Mitchell’s repeating piano lines. Saxophonist Irabagon solo, using repeated circular vamps that he builds from. He searches these ideas creating rhythmic loops within himself from which he emerges with new ideas, almost like a centrifuge whirling his admixture to the outer edges to discover what was embedded within. Mitchell offers a dazzlingly robust piano solo that has a wandering elegance. Royston’s powerful drive is backed by Tordini’s pulsing bass. The trumpeter and the saxophonist use the last few minutes of the song to bring it to a soft landing.

In speaking to Mr. Douglas after the set he indicated that he has many more states to go to complete his goal of bringing his music to the outer reaches of the country.  To those who wish to see him here is a link to a schedule of his tour.