Damani Phillips’ new CD ‘The Reckoning’


It’s been a while since my last CD review for ‘All About Jazz’ (what with one thing and another), so when I learned Damani Phillips had released his second CD, The Reckoning, I volunteered to give it a listen. I was not disappointed.

After reviewing his previous release, The String Theory, I wasn’t certain what to expect. Well, it’s straight-ahead mainstream post-bop … and it’s killer. Having a special fondness for the Hammond B3, I was sold as soon as I heard Greg Bianchi, Damani’s organist on this session. [To read my AAJ write up of The Reckoning, click here]


Center for Great Plains Studies Symposium

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
April 7-9, 2010

“Czech and Slovak Americans: International Perspectives from the Great Plains,” was the theme for the 36th international conference hosted and sponsored by the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The conference examined Czech and Slovak immigrants and their descendants in the North American Great Plains region, their relationships with other Czech- and Slovak-Americans, and with Czechs and Slovaks in Europe and other parts of the world.

I was privileged to participate in this prestigious event, delivering two papers and having the honor of serving as chair of one session. Under the general headings of music and religion, my papers discussed two key figures in Czech culture, one modern and one medieval.

“From Moravia to Iowa … and Back: Emil Viklický & American Jazz in the Czech Republic” [to read this paper, click here]

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All About Jazz

I’ve been associated with the Web site All About Jazz, widely regarded as the single best Web site on the topic, for some time. The range, authority and overall quality of this site is very impressive, whether one is a musician, an aficionado, or just a casual fan. Perhaps the coolest thing about this site is its across-the-board comprehensive attention to all aspects of this subject — not just CD reviews, but also videos, artist profiles and interviews, education, regular columns, concerts and festival notes, global information, artwork, blogs, booking and management, associations and societies, recording outlets, radio stations, print publications … and even book reviews.

This latter category was my entree into “AAJ.” After writing a long book review of a Bill Evans biography, How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger, for “The Compulsive Reader” (see my literature page), I was quite gratified by the kind words of praise I received for it, in some cases from pretty tough critics. Given the huge readership “AAJ” has, as well as its thorough-going excellence, I decided that this ought to be the place where I do my jazz writing. I submitted my essay on the Evans bio to them, and in less than two weeks it registered nearly 900 hits!

I’ve reviewed two other books for AAJ: 88 Keys: The Making of a Steinway Piano, a fascinating little volume by Miles Chapin, great-great grandson of the founder of Steinway & Sons; and The Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B, a comprehensive history of this iconic instrument by Mark Vail.

Subsequent pieces include an account of a jazz seminar given by pianist Benny Green at Drake University in Des Moines and a DVD video of a Japanese concert by Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Solo, as well as an ever-growing number of CD reviews.

Others include:
* Viva by Argentine trumpeter Diego Urcola
* Call It A Good Deal by alto saxophonist David Bixler

* Cookin’ in Bonn by Czech pianist Emil Viklický
* Vienna Dialogues by soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman
* Jazz Fiddle Revolution by violinist Christian Howes
* The General by Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Lindborg

* A Reason for Being Alone by pianist Alex Levin
* Mose Allison Sings by the great Mississippi singer/pianist
* Live at Jazz Standard Volume One by guitarist Russell Malone
* Mosaic by Caribbean Jazz Project featuring Dave Samuels

* Baltimore Jazzscapes by an assortment of artists from that city
* Bill Evans Songbook Vol. One by William Montgomery
* Bebo by the venerable Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés

A more recent AAJ piece is a profile of the renowned Brazilian trumpet and flugelhorn player Claudio Roditi. After an illustrious career playing for luminaries like Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and countryman Airto Moreira, Roditi is looking to raise his profile as a bandleader in his own right. My story describes a rehearsal he led with local sidemen prior to a Sept. ’09 concert at a central Iowa community college, along with an extended interview.



Damani Phillips

Hendrik Meurkens

Most recent is an interview I conducted in early February ’11 with German vibraphonist and harmonica player extraordinaire Hendrik Meurkens ( to read interview, click here). I also reviewed a CD titled The String Theory by saxophonist Damani Philips, a Detroit native now a music professor at Grinnell College (to read review, click here).

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Seeing Music and the Challenges of Filming Jazz

All About Jazz
January 4th, 2007

As a result of delving into the music of Bebo Valdés and Paquito D’Rivera (along with watching the movie The Buena Vista Social Club), I became interested in the history of Cuban jazz. After reading a couple of good books on the subject, I rented Calle 54, a very well-done work by Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba on the subject and wrote an extended critique of it, “Seeing Music and the Challenges of Filming Jazz: The Exceptional Case of Calle 54.”

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Kenny Barron: A Musical Autobiography

All About Jazz

January 30, 2007

One of the giants of modern jazz piano, Kenny Barron, performed at the Des Moines Civic Center in December ’06, and he also gave a presentation at Rieman Music in which he discussed some of the piano players who influenced his musical development. I was privileged to be there and to get a brief interview with him afterward; I wrote the story up under the subtitle “A Musical Autobiography” [click here to read]
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Emil Viklický: The Patriarch of Czech Jazz

Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 2006

All About Jazz, October 2006

I‘ve occasionally engaged in some newspaper freelancing when a particular story has intrigued me. Frequently, this involves the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, with which I have a long-running relationship as a member, scholar and writer. In August of ’06, I had the opportunity to not only hear but also interview Czech jazz pianist Emil Viklický when he performed at the NCSML. While ‘All About Jazz’ published the lively and wide-ranging interview I was privileged to have with him the following October, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published a short background piece of mine about him (view it here).
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Sam Salomone, Jazz Organist Extraordinaire

Music For the Love of It, December 2005

All About Jazz, June 10, 2006

A profile of my favorite local musician, Sam Salomone, has run both in print and on the Web. It was published in the December 2005 issue of Music for the Love of It under the title “Jammin’ at the Hammond,” as well as in All About Jazz under the title “Old School Player, Old School Axe.”

Sam plays a vintage Hammond organ, complete with authentic Leslie speaker. No digital pseudo-patches here: this guy — and his axe — are the real thing, baby! The story, briefly recounts his biography and the Hammond’s history.

For a time, Sam and his compadres, the cream of Des Moines’ jazz players, could be found holding forth at the Court Avenue Brewing Company in downtown Des Moines every Monday night. Regrettably, this long-running weekly jam session, which drew both local and visiting musicians for some wonderful, fresh-minted music, is now a thing of past, but it was great while it lasted.

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Take me out to the ball game — to hear some good jazz music!

West Des Moines Press Citizen
June 6, 2004

In a discussion of the sound track for the Ken Burns film Baseball, one commentator on National Public Radio predicted it would leave most viewers humming the 1908 vaudeville classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The movie features literally dozens of versions of the much-beloved song, including country & western, delta blues and swing; Burns has called it “an amazingly flexible tune.”

In Des Moines, baseball fans arriving at Sec Taylor Stadium are greeted by an exuberant Dixieland version of the tune, courtesy of Party Gras, a musical sextet that performs Fridays, Saturdays and holidays at Iowa Cubs home games. “We play a lot of music that comes from the 1900s through the 1930s,” says the driving force behind the music, drummer Kurt Bowermaster, a 1980 graduate of Valley High School. ... [Full story].

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Benny Green Jazz Seminar at Drake University

All About Jazz, June 4, 2006

Music for the Love of It, June 2005

As was the case with my piece on Sam Salomone, an article I wrote spotlighting pianist Benny Green was published both in print, by Music for the Love of It under the title “Coaching Jazz,” and online by All About Jazz under the title “Teaching Jazz to the Next Generation.”

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Jazz musician’s international tour to stop in Des Moines

South Des Moines Press Citizen
February 2, 2000

Jazz was born amid the cultural diversity of New Orleans, and over the course of the past century the “Big Easy” has nurtured such masterful trumpeters as Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke (originally a native of Davenport, IA), Al Hirt, and more recently, Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard.

Blanchard came to town on Saturday, February 12th for a performance at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, by way of Los Angeles, where was working on the sound track of a film tentatively entitled Love and Basketball. He took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss, in a telephone interview, his dual career: composing and orchestrating film and television scores, and recording and performing with his own ensemble, along with some personal and professional reflections.

His sound is well-known to many people who may not know his name, as a result of his collaborations with film maker Spike Lee, starting with a small solo in School Daze and moving into major contributions in Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues (for which he received a Grammy nomination), Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Jazz Suite, and Four Little Girls. [Full Story]

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