Romance, Swing, and the Blues was recorded in 2013 with a new 12-piece band—The Modern Jazz Generation. I am so proud of this group of young musicians–they truly are the modern jazz generation. But they wouldn’t be here either if it were not for the dedication of a great group of experienced musicians (Rodney Jordan, Jason Marsalis, Ron Westray, Stephen Riley, and Marcus Printup) who helped to mentor them along the way and prepare them for the recording session.
The piano introduces the suite’s main themes in the first three measures and then is joined by the horns. Jason Marsalis comes in later bringing a livelier pulse on the sock cymbal. The saxophones and brass take turns playing the melody, giving us variations on the main theme. Ron Westray and Stephen Riley play some swinging solos and I take a turn as well. An energetic contrapuntal section transitions us to the majestic conclusion of the first movement.
“A Festive Day” starts with the trumpet and drums interacting like two dancers in a ballet. I was thinking of a couple just having a fun time when I wrote this movement. The trio changes the mood, leading to a spontaneous group conversation. Check out the exchanges between Alphonso Horne and Ricardo Pascal and then Ron Westray and Joe Goldberg.
“Evening Caress” reflects our couple’s growing love for each other. After a brief rubato introduction, Stephen Riley renders the tune with such sensual beauty and tenderness that his saxophone almost sounds like a voice. The movement has the feeling of joy, fulfillment, and mystery throughout. “It’s a Beautiful Night to Celebrate” is spirited, playful, and buoyant. Ron Westray displays a command of the bebop language that you won’t hear very often over a swinging waltz. His playing is vibrant and articulate, yet free and unforced. I take a solo over a Latin groove and later Marcus Printup delivers a trumpet solo full of unpretentious abstract blues depicting both the joy and pain of life.
“Oh, No! How Could You?” is about unexpected betrayal. Tissa Khosla’s bold baritone and Ricardo Pascal’s swinging soprano reflect the struggle between two people embroiled in utter despair. Rodney Jordan’s lyrical bowed bass solo transitions us to a more hopeful, optimistic and slower second half. Tim Blackmon uses bebop language and the sound of Louis Armstrong to introduce a mood of hope and redemption over a blues form while Alphonso expresses his Southern roots with deep soul. The piece ends with Stephen’s tenor solo, intimating that healing, through contemplation, optimism, and renewal, is still possible.
This first disc concludes with “The Intensity of Change”, a piece that resonates with the after-effects of irreversible life-altering trauma. Our suite so far has brought us from the mystery of romance to swing that is the heartbeat of life and jazz—that flexible, elastic pulse that gives our music vitality, and our lives uniformity and balance. The blues of life are inevitable and so we play this blues to get us through this time.
The second disc in the suite begins with Rodney’s rubato solo bass. His sound is huge, and his blues feeling is rich and full of wit. He shows how a great bassist develops strong meaningful themes. His vivid imagination, quick reflexes, and well-structured ideas create this great solo. I join Rodney midway, providing support and dialogue. Almost everyone solos on “Being Attacked by the Blues”, maybe because this 14-bar blues form lends itself to self-expression as well as group interplay.
“Reminiscence” is about deep tragedy. We dedicate this song to the late Richard Brown, a great tenor saxophonist who was a key part of the original performance of Romance, Swing, and the Blues in 1993. Richard also played on my recording, Blues for the New Millennium. He died unexpectedly from a rare form of cancer, and his big, rich tone is sorely missed. Ron Westray’s poignantly reflective introductory cadenza and the mournful trombone/piano duet sets up a mood of deep contemplation. Like Richard, Ricardo Pascal shows his love for the intricately complex soul of 1960s Coltrane. Coltrane’s music always balances the pain of life with the celebration of better times to come.
“Period of Denial” is a hard driving solo piano piece that uses shades of boogie woogie mixed with impressionism to illustrate the times in life when we pretend that things do not affect us. We cope by taking a cavalier approach to pain or loss that threatens to attack us at the very marrow of our being. The pulse created by my left hand signifies both deep despair and reaching for a sense of control to survive.
“In Transition” is one of only three pieces in the suite that swings from beginning to end. It suggests that time and patience will bring us to a new state of transcendence. “Reaching for the Stars” is a simple and pure, lyrical ballad. Joe Goldberg’s soulful alto draws inspiration from Johnny Hodges and Cannonball Adderley, who both contributed immensely to the alto saxophone legacy. After a reflective, contemplative piano solo, Joe plays the B-section of the melody followed by a restatement of the theme from “The Mystery of Romance”. But we hear it differently now—stronger, rejuvenated, more powerful.
Jason Marsalis’ virtuosity, intellect and imagination are showcased in the final movement. His drum solos are interspersed with themes and cues from the band. Jason’s knowledge of the history of the drums is vast and its scope broad ranging. He plays with thematic logic, rhythmic precision and maturity but with a sound and approach that are completely flexible and organic. Jason has been a key mentor for the younger members of The Modern Jazz Generation. Corey had never played the tune before and didn’t have a chance to rehearse with us. After hanging out with the band for a few days, he joined us in the studio. Corey plays with enormous charisma and energy and we welcome him to the group.
This recording exists because of the birth of a new band and a new concept of group improvisation that grew from the philosophy and style of the Marcus Roberts Trio. It reflects our vision of jazz that is being developed and carried forward by three generations of serious musicians who are dedicated to the music for life, and who call themselves The Modern Jazz Generation.