Bill Cosby’s love of jazz is unconditional. Open to virtually every aspect of the music, supportive of its players, he has constantly used his visibility and his wealth to remind the American public that jazz is one of their greatest treasures.
So it’s appropriate that Cosby’s latest album, his fourth outing as a jazz producer for Verve Records, is dedicated to one of the other unconditional loves in his life--his son Ennis.
After the murder that took his 27-year-old son’s life in January, Cosby decided to release a collection of jazz standards recorded two years earlier as a tribute. The title, “Hello, Friend: To Ennis With Love,” refers to a familiar personal salutation that had developed over the years between father and son.
“We had our own personal greeting, which was ‘mon frere,’ my brother,” recalls Cosby. “Father to son, mon frere. . . . But occasionally, he would greet me with ‘Hello, my friend.’ How wonderful, because I don’t ever feel that goodbye is necessary in Ennis’ case. Even when it is time for me to leave, it will still be ‘Hello, friend’.”
The album features a cross-generational lineup of players that includes trumpeters Lester Bowie and Philip Harper, saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Billy Higgins. The tune list is heavy with classics from Cosby’s youthful jazz days--"Sister Sadie,” “Senor Blues,” “Moanin’,” “Sidewinder” and “Freedom Jazz Dance.”
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album will go to the Hello Friend Foundation, which was established by the Cosby family to promote recognition, understanding and education for people with dyslexia and language-based learning differences--conditions that Ennis Cosby overcame to earn postgraduate degrees.
But for Bill Cosby, the recording is aimed at an even more personal goal.
“I’m just trying to find a way to always have proof that a wonderful young man was here,” he says. “You know how people hum a song that they love? The people who knew Ennis still hum about him with smiles on their faces.”
James Unplugged (Almost): Pianist Bob James begins what he describes as his “first nightclub run ever in Los Angeles” Tuesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill. And he’s doing it in what is, for him, a rare acoustic setting, in which he will concentrate on piano, using an electronic keyboard only for fills and backgrounds.
“I’ve never been very enthusiastic about just re-creating material from an album,” says James, who will be playing with a trio.
“So when the decision was made to tour in support of the new release, ‘Playin’ Hookey,’ I decided to try shifting some of the stuff that was recorded in a different instrumentation and with a lot of studio-type construction, and reduce it down to just the acoustic piano mode.”
The decision may seem like a surprising one for those who only know James as a contemporary jazz star via his own recordings and his work with the group Fourplay. But James started out as a straight-ahead player, and spent a few youthful years as Sarah Vaughan’s accompanist. Returning to the club scene in a largely acoustic setting, he says, feels like a full-circle return to his roots.
“I love the idea of working up-close with an audience,” says James. “And the choice of playing as a trio is kind of a selfish one, because I really do like it. In all honesty, if my career hadn’t evolved the way it has, I’d probably be happy just playing in that setting, full time.”
* The Bob James Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill, Tuesday through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. Shows at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Budget Music: Laserlight Digital, a budget line record company, has released two attractive boxes dedicated to jazz. The first, “The Art of Jazz Saxophone,” is a five-CD collection ranging from Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins to Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker, with a bunch of stops in between. The “Bebop and Beyond” CD, for example, includes Charlie Parker’s “Hot House” and “Donna Lee,” and the “Explore” CD features selections by John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz. In sum, the set is an impressive, compact overview of jazz saxophone.
Laserlight’s five-CD “Jazz Piano Anthology” is equally attractive. There are early selections from James P. Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton, juxtaposed with contemporary tracks from Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Eliane Elias. Here, too, the “Bop” CD is outstanding, with three selections each from Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk (including “ ‘Round Midnight” and “Evidence”). Other featured artists include Kenny Barron, Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum--an extraordinary lineup of pianistic talent.
Best of all, the price is right, with a recommended retail of $29.99. Six bucks an album for two first-rate, basic jazz compilations is as good as it gets.
Mixed Media: Carmen Lundy is not only a fine jazz singer, she’s also an accomplished visual artist. During her two-night performance at the Jazz Bakery on Nov. 18 and 19, the venue will present an exhibition of Lundy’s autobiographical acrylic paintings.
Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who opens a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill starting Nov. 25, will be available for online chatting on Nov. 19 at noon at the Jazz Central Station Web site: https://www.jazzcentralstation.com