In addition to her creative endeavors as a jazz vocalist, producer, songwriter, lyricist and graphic designer; Gail Marten occasionally writes music reviews, some of which appear below. She also writes fiction and a book of short stories is on the horizon.
A PERSON LIKE YOU (THE KINGS OF CROWNSVILLE)
By Gail Marten, July 2019
HAIL TO THE KINGS. A Person Like You, the latest CD by The Kings of Crownsville, is earthy and joyful with a down home (yet sophisticated) quality. Kudos to Steve Johnson for his witty, wise and wonderful lyrics. Throughout, a rhythmic message of positivity and good humor abounds that will uplift even the most downhearted listener. Although each track is noteworthy and stands on its own, this clever collection of original music and diverse arrangements interweaves into a motif of truth. I thought I detected a dash of Dr. John in the narrative and a smidgen of Steely Dan in some of the vocal harmonies, but all of these unique songs bear the stamp of The Kings. All of the musicians contribute their impressive talents to this treasure trove of musical gems.
HE KEPT THE MUSIC PLAYING
By Gail Marten, July 2017
Even after his passing, Mike Binsky kept the music playing. His widow, Ruth Binsky, with assistance from Leslie Imes, presented a tribute to this dedicated jazz promoter on Saturday, May 13th, 2017, at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center. Appropriately, this was the venue where Binsky presented dozens of internationally renowned jazz artists .
Ruth Binsky spoke to the guests about Mike’s love affair with jazz. “Mike loved being a merchant seaman, but was truly passionate about what he considered real jazz. He often said that the words ‘jazz’ and ‘smooth’ don’t belong in the same sentence.”
Fittingly, a superb jazz trio comprising Larry Willis, piano; Blake Meister, bass; and Eric Kennedy on drums provided the music for the event. Eubie Live, on the fourth floor of the center, was filled to capacity and remained so throughout the afternoon. The musicians performed exquisite renditions of ballads including “Alone Together,” “To Wisdom the Prize,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Autumn Leaves,” and cooked on several exuberant treatments of upbeat standards including “Stolen Moments.” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” Binsky’s favorite song lyric, was given an eloquent treatment by the trio, and the spine-tingling, poignant “Ethiopia” (composed by Larry Willis) brought many to their feet.
Thank you, Ruth Binsky, for generously providing the occasion to groove on this beautiful tribute to a man head-over-heels in love with jazz.
MIKE BINSKY, AUTHENTIC JAZZ CHAMPION
By Gail Marten, June 2017
If you’re a Baltimore jazz musician or devotee, you undoubtedly know the name Mike Binsky, owner of Jazz Artists Management. The enthusiastic jazz promoter brought the best of the best to our city for decades.
Michael Robert Binsky, a true jazz warrior, passed away on April 18th. He had been a merchant seaman for 40 years, but music was his passion. He managed The Bandstand (owned by Shelton Oshinsky) from 1978 to 1981. Although the club on Fleet Street in Fells Point wasn’t much to look at, it was a magnet for musicians and jazz fans due to the nationally known artists who performed there, often with a local rhythm section made up of pianist Reuben Brown, bassist Steve Novosel and drummer Hugh Walker. As a new arrival to Baltimore in the late ‘70s, I had the opportunity to hear Art Pepper on one occasion and Houston Person with Etta Jones on another. Jazz luminaries played memorable dates in The Bandstand’s laid-back ambience that kept fans coming back again and again. Many jazz celebrities dropped in at The Bandstand, including Dizzy Gillespie, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Sam Jones, Jimmy Forrest, Al Grey, Monty Alexander, Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard, John Hicks, Tommy Turrentine, Willis Conover (Voice of America) as well as Al Pacino and other cast members of the film . . . And Justice for All.
The great musicians based in the Baltimore/DC area who graced the stage at The Bandstand and contributed to its unique aura included Reggie Johnson, George “Dude” Brown, Marc Copeland, Tommy Cecil, Dave Wondrow, Charles Covington, Gus Sims, Don Walters, Terry Plumeri, Keith Kilgo, Bernard Sweetney, Joe Clark, Phil Harris, Mickey Fields, Billy Murphy, J.J. Wiggins, Arnold Sterling, Andy Ennis and Whit Williams.
Binsky also booked many jazz greats for Baltimore’s Artscape, and he and his wife Ruth have been a significant part of the Baltimore jazz scene for many years. In days of yore they sponsored annual bus trips to regional jazz festivals and were regularly seen at the Left Bank Jazz Society Sunday concerts at The Famous Ballroom. He was a contributor to the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz for many years.
In 2005, Mike retired from the Sailors Union of the Pacific and began promoting jazz in venues around the city. In recent years he brought jazz giants Louis Hayes, Larry Willis, Houston Person, Steve Davis, Hugh Masekela, Richie Cole, Ethel Ennis, Charles McPherson, Ira Sullivan, Johnny O’Neal, Steve Turre, Albert “Tootie” Heath and many other jazz notables to the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, Caton Castle, An die Musik and other Baltimore jazz venues.
JAZZWAY’S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
By Gail Marten, August 2012
THEY DID IT AGAIN! On July 14th, Marianne and Howard Katz celebrated the fifth anniversary of Jazzway 6004 with a concert featuring the multi-talented Warren Wolf on vibes; Anthony Wonsey, piano; Eric Wheeler, bass; John Lamkin III, drums; and special guest artist Delandria Mills, flute. Filmmaker Jon Bevers recorded the performance for a documentary about jazz in Baltimore that he is producing.
Marianne and Howard began the evening with a brief description of the genesis of their unique venue and its goals, which include the showcasing of local musicians and the promotion of jazz in Baltimore. They have given forty-five concerts at their home since June, 2007, including three Art to Dine For fundraisers for the Creative Alliance. During the five years that Jazzway has been presenting concerts, ticket proceeds have totaled $78,000, with $66,000 earned by musicians and about $12,000 raised for the CA.
The quartet opened the concert with Duke Pearson’s musical question “Is That So?” Mills joined the group for the following tour de force, Harold Land’s “A Night in Barcelona.” Wolf astonished us with the velocity of his solo, and Wonsey adroitly drove us to Spain and back as he traversed the 88 keys of Jazzway’s excellent piano. Wheeler and Lamkin expertly kept us racing along the autopista.
Warren Wolf delivered an amusing monologue, during which he described how he came to know Lamkin, Wonsey and Wheeler. He also shared this information: although he has performed before audiences of 5,000 or more, he finds it mysteriously nerve-wracking to perform in an intimate setting for 100 or fewer.
The music resumed with a passion-soaked treatment of the sweetly poignant “Save Your Love For Me,” by Buddy Johnson, with the musicians extracting every drop of honeyed juice from this succulent berry.
Refreshed, we went back on the road, exceeding the speed limit with an astonishing rendition of “Lover,” a song made famous by vocalist Peggy Lee in the film The Jazz Singer. Wolf, Wonsey, Wheeler and Lamkin played with a jaw-dropping demonstration of skill and musicianship. I imagined a whiff of burning rubber as they accelerated past us toward jazz nirvana.
The musicians were permitted a respite as Wolf introduced his parents Celeste and Warren Wolf, Sr., who thanked Marianne and Howard for their ongoing support of jazz musicians (in particular their son) and presented the couple with a limited edition print of a three-year-old Warren, Jr. playing vibes.
Mills rejoined the group for Anthony Wonsey’s composition “The Professor,” with its compelling harmonies. Wheeler and Lamkin provided the robust, resilient trampoline on which Wolf and Wonsey executed their exhilarating musical acrobatics.
Marianne and Howard expressed their appreciation to the musicians and the audience; then Baltimore’s own Baroness
delighted us with her upbeat, joyous interpretation of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream.” Jazzway’s fifth anniversary cake was displayed and we were all invited upstairs to enjoy the famously impressive assortment of delicious desserts to die for.
DELICIOUS and DELIGHTFUL
By Gail Marten, October 2011
Kudos to Mike Binsky's Jazz Artists Management for bringing another premier jazz event to Baltimore. On Sunday, September 18th, Binsky presented the Steve Turre Quintet at Eubie Live! (the club at Eubie Blake Cultural Center), located at 847 N. Howard Street. The group comprised jazz titans Steve Turre, trombone and conch shells; Larry Willis, piano; Billy Harper, tenor saxophone; Corcoran Holt, bass; and Dion Parson, drums. Most of the music performed at this concert was from Turre's CD Delicious and Delightful, including all of the personnel with the exception of Russell Malone.
Leader Steve Turre—who has played with Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, Slide Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Tito Puente and other jazz royalty—has been part of the Saturday Night Live band since 1984.
On the first set Turre began the first show with Billy Harper's “Light Within,” mesmerizing the audience with the music of his self-designed conch shells. Harper added his energetic tenor saxophone, followed by Turre's sumptuous trombone sound. Pianist Larry Willis offered a short expressive solo, and bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Dion Parson completed the circle, setting the musical tone for this extraordinary evening. Turre's Ellingtonian “Duke Rays” began with his trombone—strong and smooth as silk—and was reinforced with Harper's tenor finesse. The swinging groove continued as Willis interacted with the horns, Holt revealed his significant talents, and drummer Parson expertly drove the bus. Harper's romantic ballad, “Speak to Me of Love, Speak to Me of Truth,” showcased Turre's lambent trombone tones and remarkable breath control and Willis's gorgeous touch at the piano.
“Dance of the Gazelles,” described by Turre as an “African 6,” began and ended with Willis and Holt playing a threebar dance trance structure, full-out horns, drum, cowbell and shakers in the middle, the rhythm making several detours before arriving back to where they started, resuming the hypnotic pulse with which they began. The title track, “Delicious and Delightful,” took us to Funkytown, during which bassist Holt once again displayed his impressive chops.
The first set closed with Turre's “Blackfoot,” in which Parson had an opportunity to display his impressive percussion skills in a lengthy drum solo before the entire group joined in as Turre delivered a blistering solo reminiscent of “Cherokee.”
The second set commenced with Turre's upbeat “Steve's Blues,” and bassist Holt played another extraordinary solo. Then we were provided with a welcome reprieve from the hard-driving musical pace by Hoagy Carmichael's “The Nearness of You.” Willis, recently back from Africa, where he recorded and relaxed with Hugh Masakela, brought his inimitable musicality to his inventive solo, and Turre effectively added a mute to his trombone toward the end of the piece. The audience was euphoric. OK . . . time to snap out of it. Thelonious Sphere Monk's “Nutty” followed. The feisty musical conversation that ensued among Holt, Willis and the rest of the band was beautifully arranged, as was all of the music in the show.
A rapid-fire rendition of famed trombonist J.J. Johnson's “Tea Pot” then exploded from the bandstand—a high-speed chase among the musicians. Turre and Harper then stepped away to allow the trio of Willis, Holt and Parson to intrigue the audience with a unique interpretation of “Alone Together.” Willis brings it all—every time—and this night was no exception. His voicings were exquisite, and Holt's marvelous fast-as-light innovations and Parson's skilled drumming provided the perfect rhythmic support.
The show closed with “Ray's Collard Greens,” a spicy tune that Turre wrote in 2000 for a recording he made with Ray Charles, whose valet came up with the title. Each musician added his ingredients to this flavorful recipe before turning off the flame to say good night to an audience whose jazz palate had been more than satisfied. Delicious and Delightful. Definitely.
TIM WARFIELD BRINGS HOLIDAY MAGIC TO JAZZWAY
By Gail Marten, January 2013
At their 49th concert, on Saturday, December 15th, Marianne and Howard Katz brought an extraordinary group of stellar jazz musicians to Jazzway 6004. Our hosts welcomed a roomful of jazz lovers, hungry for seasonal healing, and related the genesis of their unique venue and its goals, which include the showcasing of local musicians and the promotion of jazz in Baltimore. Howard quipped, “We like having a jazz club in our basement.”
This was a magical night. Santa came to Charm City—only he was a lot thinner and wore a really sharp suit. With his mellifluous voice, the sartorially splendid Tim Warfield greeted the guests warmly and enthusiastically, then plunged into the first song of the night, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” performed with ample creative license by these magnificent (and also smartly dressed) musicians: drummer Billy Williams, Jr., bassist Eric Wheeler, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and (the surprise guest) pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Wheeler led with a stunning bass solo before Stafford came bodaciously swinging in. Warfield followed with his hip interpretation of Johnny Marks’s 1949 novelty tune, made famous by Gene Autry. Chestnut’s fingers nimbly flew across the keys, fashioning multi-colored tones and displaying his mastery of the piano. When the cheers, whistles and applause subsided, Warfield’s soprano sax shepherded us to “The Little Drummer Boy.” His increasingly fierce solo was followed by Stafford’s moody, passionate treatment of this holiday classic. Wheeler and Williams, both exuding virtuosity, technique and taste, laid down just the right fills for Chestnut’s elegant improvisations.
“When what to my wondering eye should appear” but the lovely Philadelphia-born vocalist Joanna Pascale, with her ebony hair tumbling over black lace and satin, shod in ultra-high-heeled patent leather pumps. “O, Christmas Tree” took on a whole new meaning in this unique and sublime arrangement. Pascale’s compelling vocal was supported by Warfield’s sweet alto responses and the rhythm section’s flawless accompaniment. Her measured confidence soothed any savage breast in the audience, and things only got more soothing as she continued. A soulful, eloquent rendition of “Let It Snow” followed, with Warfield imaginatively soloing on soprano with rhythms that ran the gamut from swing to Latin, and Chestnut demonstrated his versatility with limitless explorations and hypnotic riffs. Pascale’s arrangement of “Caroling, Caroling” began with an exuberant solo by Warfield, the rhythm percolating and bubbling and Stafford’s notes pouring out of his trumpet like molten lava.
The program ended with a sophisticated, sparkling arrangement of Claude Thornhill’s rarely performed “Snowfall,” after which Warfield invited Baltimore’s own Baroness, Marianne Matheny-Katz, to the bandstand. He expressed appreciation on behalf of all the musicians who have played at Jazzway 6004, before asking her to favor us with a closing song. Marianne was radiant as she sang her sweet rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the audience enthusiastically displayed their appreciation.
Then we were all invited upstairs to partake of delicious hors d’oeuvres and the famously delectable desserts that Ms. Matheny-Katz creates herself (blood sugar level be damned!). Thank you, Marianne and Howard, for this remarkable holiday gift. Priceless!
MEMORABLE MOTHER’S DAY AT CATON CASTLE
By Gail Marten, June 2013
Three of Baltimore’s most talented jazz artists played to a full house of mature jazz aficionados at Caton Castle’s annual Mother’s Day event, on May 12th. Owner Ronald Scott has been presenting Mother’s Day jazz events for twenty-three years. This year Eleanor Janey and Arthur Hoffman occupied their usual table, and Ms. Janey acted as emcee, introducing Greg Hatza, organ; Brad Collins, sax and vocals; and Bobby Ward, who provided percussion on his brand new set of snow-white Gretsch drums.
The band opened with a high-octane rendition of “Misty,” with lots of head-bobbing, toe-tapping and accomplished chair-dancing by the enthusiastic crowd. It was just the beginning of a joyous, “forget your troubles, c’mon get happy” evening at Baltimore’s “real jazz club.” A soulful “Coming Home, Baby” followed. Paying tribute to the ladies in attendance— attired in their Mother’s Day finery—Collins sang a romantic version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Then we got back into the groove with a swinging “Just In Time” and a bluesy “Georgia On My Mind” that would have made Ray Charles grin. “Down Home Blues” enticed one couple onto the dance floor, and Eleanor Janey delighted us with her subtly-executed bumps and shimmies. (Where did you learn those moves, Eleanor?)
The second set kicked off with “Moanin’,” followed by “I Thought about You,” “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday,” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Body and Soul.” When the band began to play “Back At The Chicken Shack”—Great Googly Moogly! More than half of the attendees sprang to their feet and danced where they stood, and the other half danced in their chairs. Does it get any better than this?
On the final set Hatza and Ward knocked it out of the park with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” “This Masquerade” and “Fly Me To The Moon” kept the crowd going before “I’ve Got A Woman” lured two grandmas to the dance floor to captivate the audience with their suggestive, rhythmic gyrations. Forget “Dueling Banjos”; we had “Dueling Grannies!” Thankfully, Collins restored us to our senses with “Tenderly,” before the trio closed with “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Thanks, Ron Scott, for a Mother’s Day never to be forgotten—at least, not by me.