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Giving Older Masters Their Due Respect


Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Ryan Kisor, Nicholas Peyton.

Young artists such as these are given the lion's share of attention by both the media and the attendant listening public these days. But George Wein, the impresario who produces many of the U.S. and European jazz festivals and who is also a plucky swing-era style pianist, feels that the creative power of older musicians shouldn't be overlooked.

Wein's Newport All-Stars features such septuagenarian aces as saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, and trumpeter Clark Terry. The pianist said that musicians of that age are so appealing because they employ a style that's been developed over decades.

"There's a mature approach to melody, and a compositional approach to improvisation," said Wein, speaking from his summer home in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, where he's producing the Grand Parades du Jazz Festival in Nice. "This comes from self-discipline, where you know you don't have to shoot the moon each time, you can pick your notes."

"I think you get better as you get older," said 88-year-old trumpeter Doc Cheatham--who played with Benny Carter and Cab Calloway in the '30s, pianist Eddie Heywood in the '40s and Benny Goodman in the '60s. "I have made a point to do that by listening and learning."

Some older players find the marketplace basically off-limits to them. Others, like Cheatham, and the established players Wein hires, continue to thrive.

"I work too damn much," said Cheatham from his home in Manhattan. A recent Cheatham touring week included engagements in New York--with Jim Cullum's Jazz Band--New Orleans and Sweden.

Still, older artists are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to record for a major label, a slight that Columbia Records producer George Butler is attempting to address with his "Legendary Pioneers of Jazz" line. The initial three albums of the series, featuring Cheatham, Wein's Newport All-Stars and New Orleans-based clarinetist Alvin Batiste, are now in the stores.

"I have been concerned about the number of older jazz artists not being given the respect they deserve, and yet many of them were the players that paved the way for the younger musicians of today," said Butler. "I felt that these musicians have suffered in terms of getting the promotion, marketing and distribution that you get with a major label.

"True the record companies are all concerned with the bottom line," Butler continued, and he said that younger jazz artists are the ones with the broadest appeal today. "But there is a place for the genuine musicianship," as represented by the "Pioneers" series, which are priced at $15.98 for CDs and $10.98 for cassettes.

Butler said that additional album releases are planned for this year and that contractual negotiations are currently taking place "with artists with name recognition."

Critic's Choice: A veteran artist in his 30s, pianist Todd Cochran has consistently sought out new ways of telling his stories, looking for fresh compositional vehicles to which he attaches his unique melodic bent. Performing Tuesday at the Club Brasserie at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood, Cochran will investigate selections from his recent Vital Records release, "Todd."

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