Dec
17
7:30 PM19:30

SFJAZZ, San Francisco

There isn't a more dynamic jazz organization in the world than SFJAZZ, a nonprofit founded some 35 years ago by Randall Kline.

 Ben Ratliff at an SFJAZZ Listening Party, 2017. © Scott Chernis Photography

Ben Ratliff at an SFJAZZ Listening Party, 2017. © Scott Chernis Photography

In addition to the San Francisco Jazz Festival, SFJAZZ runs fantastic year-round programming at a purpose-built facility in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. I covered the opening of the building in 2013, and have been eagerly plotting my return. 

I'm excited to be a part of the 2018-9 SFJAZZ season with a Listening Party — an onstage conversation with Kline and members of the audience, around various themes and touchstones in Playing Changes. I'll be thinking about my playlist for the event, which will surely dovetail with the 129 Essential Albums list at the end of the book.

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Nov
2
7:00 PM19:00

The Royal Room, Seattle

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The Royal Room is an eclectic and soulful club in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood, partly owned by pianist-composer Wayne Horvitz. Decades ago, in another life, Horvitz was on the Downtown Scene in New York City — one of the influential early adopters of the Knitting Factory. I’m sure we’ll talk about that history, and jazz education, and much else besides, during my appearance at The Royal Room, organized with Earshot Jazz.

But it’s important to note the larger context for this event, whose full title is “Now's The Time: A Benefit for Initiative 1631.” This is an event in support of The Washington Carbon Emissions Fee and Revenue Allocation Initiative, also known as the Protect Washington Act — an environmental initiative that proposes to help fund air and water quality and green energy projects by levying a fee on greenhouse gas emissions. In light of recent climate reports, not to mention facts on the ground, this is an absolutely crucial cause.

The lineup for this event will include Electric Circus, a visionary jazz-funk band with conduction by Horvitz; pianist Ryan Burns playing the music of Thelonious Monk; a duo of percussionists Thione Diop and Greg Campbell; and Ayesha Brooks singing Fontella Bass. That’s just scratching the surface. I’m proud to be aligned with this benefit, and really look forward to all of this music.

If you’re in Seattle in early November, please come through.

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Nov
2
12:00 PM12:00

Earshot Jazz: A Conversation with Maria Schneider, Seattle

  • Kerry Hall, Cornish College of the Arts (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

Earshot Jazz is the premier organization of its kind in Seattle and one of the leading examples in the country. Its founder, John Gilbreath, was kind enough to invite me to take part in this year’s Earshot Jazz Festival, which began on Oct. 7 and runs through Nov. 4.

Back in 2010, when I was sniffing around Seattle for an Arts & Leisure piece about the city’s healthy jazz scene, John was an essential resource. Some of my reporting from that trip found its way into Playing Changes, in a chapter on the rise and influence of formalized jazz education.

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It’s only fitting, then, that the first of my Seattle book events will be presented by Cornish College of the Arts, under its Pivot Convocation Series. In a city that boasts several integral jazz institutions — from the public high schools to the University of Washington to the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra — there’s a special distinction held by Cornish. The faculty, chaired by composer James Falzone, is first-rate, and its history goes back to some formative work by John Cage.

It’s also fitting that the event be a conversation with Maria Schneider, one of the most inventive, precise and justly heralded composer-arrangers of our time. In addition to leading her orchestra, a large ensemble that has no equal in the realm of dynamic flux or timbral color, Maria has been an outspoken voice on the subject of musicians’ rights as creators in the Big Data age. I’ve always known her to be as astute and penetrating in conversation as she is with her writing, and I have no doubt we’ll get to some good places here.

The event is free and open to the public. Please come through!

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Oct
20
7:00 PM19:00

Politics & Prose, Washington D.C.

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My Washington, D.C. event will be at the wonderful bookstore Politics & Prose, on Saturday, Oct. 20. I’ve been doing events mainly at jazz festivals so far, with excellent local booksellers — but this will be my first reading and signing at an actual bookstore. I’ll confess that it’s a thrill to see my event on the same monthly calendar as Susan Orlean, Camille Paglia and Jill Lepore.

 Stephen Voss/NPR

Stephen Voss/NPR

It’s also a thrill to be sitting down for this event with Lauren Onkey, senior director of NPR Music. Before joining the team last fall, Lauren was the dean of Humanities at at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Oh. Prior to that, she spent seven years as Vice President of Education and Public Programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

I first met Lauren, briefly and surreally, onstage at the 9:30 Club during NPR Music’s monumental 10th anniversary show. We had a more leisurely hang at this summer’s Newport Jazz Festival. It’s going to be a lot of fun to talk about Playing Changes, and more broadly about the state of contemporary jazz, with someone so astute, perceptive and curious. D.C. folks, this is going to be a really good one.

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Oct
17
7:00 PM19:00

BRIC JazzFest, Brooklyn

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The marquee New York City event for Playing Changes will be this reading and discussion, presented as a part of the 2018 BRIC JazzFest in downtown Brooklyn. It's free and open to the public, though an RSVP is required. Folks from Greenlight Bookstore will be on hand to sell copies of the book, which I'll be happy to sign.

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I couldn't be happier about this event, which will largely consist of a conversation between myself, guitarist and singer-songwriter Camila Meza and two excellent trumpeter-composers, Terence Blanchard and Keyon Harrold. These artists, all appearing on this year's BRIC JazzFest, represent two generations of improvisers, hailing from different backgrounds and cultures but with a clear overlap of creative intention. Blanchard came up in the first wave of so-called Young Lions in the early 1980s, and has since become a leading mentor of his generation, as well as an acclaimed film and operatic composer. He's a proud product of New Orleans, though his perspective is emphatically global.

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Meza, born in Santiago, Chile, is another artist of cosmopolitan ideals. She's a brilliant guitarist, and could easily have established a career on that basis alone. But she's also a composer and a singer, with a style that streamlines even the most sophisticated inflection and turn of phrase. Meza has an album coming out soon with her Nectar Orchestra; her most recent release, Traces, was widely and justly acclaimed. 

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And Harrold, who hails from Ferguson, Missouri, has been a firebrand trumpeter in all sorts of settings; I’ve seen him onstage with Maxwell and Jay-Z. He ghosted Don Cheadle’s trumpet parts in the recent biopic Miles Ahead, and then released an excellent album, The Mugician, that brings a range of black musics into convergence, with a sociopolitical thrust.

I'm really looking forward to this event, and hope you can join us. 

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Oct
11
5:00 PM17:00

Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia

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At one point in my early 20s, the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania was a literal second home. During my senior year, when I had a job as its first assistant coordinator, I probably spent more cumulative hours there than at my actual apartment: shuttling brilliant novelists and poets to and from 30th Street Station; listening to said writers both in formal and informal settings; playing a Thursday-night gig with my resident jazz combo, a quintet. (Somewhere there's tape.) This photo at right is me at 21, reading an occasional poem for the Kelly Writers House grand reopening in 1997. 

So there was never any doubt that the KWH would be the Philadelphia stop on my book tour. I'm looking forward to seeing some familiar faces there (and some new faces, too). I’m so pleased that the event will be taking place in the same tented garden space where the Writers House recently celebrated its 20th anniversary — and that I’ll be joined in conversation by the eminent critic Anthony DeCurtis, author of Lou Reed: A Life. Come hang!

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Sep
29
3:00 PM15:00

Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Chicago

  • Reva & David Logan Center For the Arts (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, now in its 12th season, consolidates a great array of artistry and talent on the South Side of Chicago. "No other jazz festival in the Chicago area, and few elsewhere in the country, embraces and celebrates its neighborhood as effectively as the Hyde Park event has since its inception," wrote the Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich in his review of the 2017 edition.

For this among other reasons, I've been meaning to attend the Hyde Park Jazz Festival for a number of years. There was always a scheduling conflict, or some prior obligation. So I'm really pleased to be attending (and presenting!) this year, as part of the festival's lineup at the Logan Center screening room, on campus at the University of Chicago. I'll talk about Playing Changes with Mike Reed, the brilliant drummer, composer, bandleader and organizer. (Mike and I will get warmed up the night before on the North Side with an event at his club, Constellation.) Many thanks to Kate Dumbleton, the festival's executive and artistic director, for making this event a possibility.

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Sep
28
8:30 PM20:30

Constellation, Chicago

Constellation, on the north side of Chicago, just might be the finest jazz club in America that I still haven't visited. I'm looking forward to rectifying that.

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Mike Reed, a drummer, composer, bandleader and organizer of boundless vitality and bright ideas, is the owner of Constellation. And he has not only graciously agreed to open the club's doors; he will take part in a conversation with me about the book and its themes. Reed will also offer a tantalizing preview of The City Was Yellow: The Chicago Suite, which he's presenting the following night at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. 

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Sep
18
5:00 PM17:00

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson

  • Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

My second Hudson Valley event will be a presentation at Bard — part book lecture, part onstage Q&A, with plenty of musical illustration — in the Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium. I’m really looking forward to this one. It’s free and open to the public, so please come by!

Copies of Playing Changes will be available thanks to Oblong Books, an excellent indie bookseller in Rhinebeck.

Special thanks to Pete L’Official and the American Studies Program, which is co-presenting this event with the Africana Studies Program, the Division of Languages and Literature, and the Ethnomusicology Program.

For more info, contact Pete at 845-758-7662, or ploffici@bard.edu.

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Sep
8
7:00 PM19:00

Hudson Valley Vinyl, Beacon

Any small city in America would consider itself fortunate to have a record store like Hudson Valley Vinyl. Since opening a little over a year ago in my adopted hometown of Beacon, it has been a magnet for serious collectors and dabblers alike, and an excellent hang besides. This past April, on Record Store Day, the amazing electronic artist Four Tet played a live set there, just because. 

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So I was thrilled when Chris and John, the shop's owners, suggested I hold a book party there. Emphasis on the word "party" — this will all unfold in the midst of Beacon's Second Saturday celebration, and I'll spin records from the store as well as my own collection. Copies of Playing Changes will be available for purchase thanks to Binnacle Books, yet another righteous anchor of Main Street. If you're local, come on out. If you're not, here's a good excuse for a weekend getaway.

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Sep
2
3:30 PM15:30

Detroit Jazz Festival

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The Detroit Jazz Festival is often proudly hailed as the world's largest free jazz fest, but until I finally attended last year, I didn't quite grasp what that means. Taking up an enormous swath of urban downtown real estate for the duration of Labor Day weekend, it's as much a grand civic tradition as it is an artist showcase. This will be its 39th annual edition, and I've met folks older than me who have gone every year, since they were children.

Because there's so much local pride in the festival, and because Detroit was and still is an important jazz town, the feeling on the ground is different than at so many other events of its kind. Every single set is free of charge, but audiences take the music seriously, no less than if they had paid top dollar. Last year, the artist-in-residence was Wayne Shorter, and I was serving as an emissary of Jazz Night in America, which documented him there, in an all-star group with Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This year, Spalding and Carrington will anchor a resident ensemble in tribute to the late Geri Allen; the artist-in-residence is Chick Corea.

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One small but terrific innovation of the Detroit Jazz Festival is its Talk Tent, a dedicated space on the main thoroughfare that features interviews and discussions throughout the weekend. Programmed by Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn, it's a great environment for close-up interaction with artists and writers. The photo at right is a pic I snapped last year: Detroit's own critic and historian Mark Stryker speaking with Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, about the mysterious ways of playing with Wayne. (Something I write about in the book, as a matter of fact.)

I'll be at the Talk Tent on Sunday afternoon, discussing Playing Changes. Right now I'm not at liberty to say who, but I'll be joined by a very special guest. The event, like all programming at the Detroit Jazz Festival, is free and first-come, first-served. Come say hello!

 

 

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Aug
3
12:00 PM12:00

Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, R.I.

I'm proud to be presenting a talk at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival, and while it isn't technically a book-release event, it falls close enough to count. 

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My talk, Lensing the Newport Mob: On Jazz on a Summer's Day, is a historical and critical analysis of Bert Stern's film, which famously documented the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. (So in a sense, it's a 60th-anniversary observance.) This was originally the keynote address for the 2016 Film and Literature Conference at Rowan University. I'll be using images and music to illustrate the talk, and answering questions afterward.

Please join me for Lensing the Newport Mob during the first day of the festival, in the Storyville space at Fort Adams State Park. 

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