LEONID PTASHKA, Stanley Jordan and Bill Evans team up.  (photo credit: Yaacov Mayman/Nacho Gallego/Sasha Bortman)
LEONID PTASHKA, Stanley Jordan and Bill Evans team up. (photo credit: Yaacov Mayman/Nacho Gallego/Sasha Bortman)
Come to Israel's Grammy Jazz Summit
 

Leonid Ptashka is a showman. With his colorful sartorial getups, outlandish spectacles and effervescent persona, he tends to draw the crowds wherever he plays. Oh, yes and he’s a dab hand at jazz piano, too, picking up awards and performing across the world in a glittering career of four-plus decades and counting.

Since making aliyah from the Soviet Union at the start of the mass wave in 1990, he has made his mark on the local entertainment scene as a performer, media personality, and festival founder and artistic director. It is in the latter capacity that he gets to periodically invite over here A-lister fellow jazz musicians.

PR and marketing professionals frequently conjure up epithets and banner monikers that verge on the bombastic. But the header for Ptashka’s forthcoming two-slot confluence with stellar bassist Stanley Jordan and saxophonist Bill Evans, at Hechal Hateatron in Kiryat Motzkin, on January 30 at 8:30 p.m. and The Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv, on January 31 at 9 p.m., undoubtedly fits the bill.

The Grammy Jazz Summit references the fact that Jordan and Evans have a slew of Grammy nominations between them and have been pumping out quality jazz and other associated vibes for over 40 years each.

Stanley Jordan and Bill Evans

Evans has brought his artistry over here quite a few times over the years. I first caught him live at the Red Sea Jazz festival in Eilat, back in the late 1980s. I hadn’t heard of him before and naturally, the first thing that piqued my interest was the fact that he had the same name as the legendary jazz pianist who, among other memorable contributions, played on preeminent trumpeter Miles Davis’s 1959 release Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time. I wondered whether the reedman ever had a problem with that. “Put it this way, no one ever forgot my name,” he laughs.

A musician plays a trombone during the first day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana April 25, 2014. (credit: JONATHAN BACHMAN/REUTERS)A musician plays a trombone during the first day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana April 25, 2014. (credit: JONATHAN BACHMAN/REUTERS)

Of course, Evans has carved his own singular niche in the jazz world since he first stepped on a stage in the late 1970s, coming to wider notice as a member of Davis’s comeback band in the early to mid-1980s and recording four albums with him. In the meantime, he has put out over 20 releases of his own and contributed to numerous studio outings as a co-leader or sideman.

THE DAVIS tenure happened after Evans relocated to the epicenter of the jazz world, New York. Born and bred in the west Chicago suburb of Clarendon Hills, Illinois, Evans says he grew up under the spell of his father’s musical selections rather than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and other leading pop and rock acts of his youth. “My father influenced me by playing big band jazz records when I was 6 years old. My father was into jazz, mostly big bands like Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson,” Evans recalls. “When I was about 11 years old, my aunt turned me on to [tenor saxophonist] Stan Getz, [pianist] Oscar Peterson, [baritone saxophonist] Gerry Mulligan, etc. I didn’t listen to anything but jazz until I was in my mid-20s.”

“When I was about 11 years old, my aunt turned me on to [tenor saxophonist] Stan Getz, [pianist] Oscar Peterson, [baritone saxophonist] Gerry Mulligan, etc. I didn’t listen to anything but jazz until I was in my mid-20s.”

Bill Evans

The youngster soon got in on the act himself and started out on piano, which he says helped him find his way through some of the technical and stylistic arteries of the genre. “The piano was a big influence on me for phrasing and harmony and all-around style.” He eventually swapped percussive, harmonic ivory tickling for lyrical and robust wind work. “I wanted to become a jazz pianist when I was seven years old. I became interested in learning the saxophone when I was 11 years old,” he explains, adding, however, that his initial instrumental training comes in handy to this day. “I use the piano to write music and play live with my band. It is a major part of who I am as a musician, for sure.”

The high school graduate furthered his musical education at the University of North Texas, followed by William Paterson University in New Jersey, where he studied with Dave Liebman, a free-leaning alumnus of Davis’s early 1970s bands.

Evans’s street-level education began in earnest when he moved to the Big Apple, fired by the simple reality that he was able to witness the magic materializing right before his marveling eyes and trained ears. “When I was living in New York, I could go to see all my heroes playing live in the clubs,” he says. “I would see [saxophonists] Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins, you name it. I loved seeing all the post-Coltrane saxophonists, like Michael Brecker, Steve Grossman and Dave Liebman.”

The latter was a key figure in Evans’s artistic continuum. “Dave was a big influence on me in my early years in New York. I loved his bands and his style of playing. We became friends and I used to get together with him at his loft.” Liebman also helped to get his protégé on the jazz map. “Soon after he recommended me to Miles Davis, I slowly started playing a more personal style of my own that was less influenced by any one saxophonist. It all happened naturally. Something that continues to change to this day.”

I HAVE had the good fortune to interview several former Davis sidemen over the years, such as pianists-keyboardists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, and guitarist John Scofield, and they all said that when they were with the trumpeter they played way above the level they thought they were capable of. It was the same for the then twenty-something saxman. “It taught me to believe in myself and believe, and play what inspires me most. To be fearless,” he notes. That continues to inform his creative outlook to this day. “It gave me the confidence with all the bands I’ve had in the past that were innovative, from [1994 fusion album release Push], [the album] Acoustic Groove, [Evan’s epithet for 1997 album Starfish and the Moon] and [2005 fusion record] Soulgrass to name a few.”

In between his straight-ahead jazz and more peripheral work, Evans has mixed it with some major rock acts over the years. That must have been a horizon-broadening experience because of the wider market exposure it brought him and also because, whether jazz fans like it or not, rock concerts generally draw larger crowds. “I only recorded with Mick Jagger in the studio,” he notes. “I did play with the Allman Brothers band and various other rock legends in some fairly large venues.” Then again, they weren’t entirely alien episodes. “I’m used to playing festivals with my bands and those audiences can be quite large at times, as well,” he observes.

Anyway, true to his artistic credo, he is more focused on what he is up to rather than how many people are watching. “It’s all good. Music is music. It’s all just music I’m inspired to play and write.”

He says he’s currently forging new scores for one of his performing and recording vehicles, a band called Spykillers. That prompted me to ask him how he writes music. “I work at the computer putting down drum tracks, bass tracks, etc. I move between the piano and the keyboard [when I am] writing songs. My saxophones are on my lap so I’m constantly using different instruments. It’s all-consuming.”

Spykillers also offers him opportunities to play piano and, surprisingly, produce some earthy robust vocals. Apparently, this is nothing new. “I started singing background vocals years ago,” he explains, “then I began to study vocals more seriously with teachers in NYC. I’ve been singing live with my group for about 10 years now. I play piano and sing at least one number a night. I have co-led a couple of groups in the past several years. Me and [guitarist] Robben Ford, Me and [former Miles Davis guitarist] Mike Stern, Me and [drummer] Simon Phillips: I sing with each one of those bands.”

The vocals in Kiryat Motzkin and Tel Aviv next week may come courtesy of British-born singer Roy Young, one of several sidemen to the front three, but Evans says he can’t wait to reunite with the outgoing Ptashka, both on and off the stage. “I love Leonid’s energy and style. He’s a great musician who plays all different kinds of jazz at the highest level. This will be the second time Leonid has brought me to Israel. I love playing with him. He’s a great guy to hang out with, too!”

For tickets and more information, visit: www.kartisim.co.il/announce/73609.



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