James & Linda Darby




for the Newport Audio Show 2013 IS....

Mike Garson. Nina Freeland. Tierney Sutton. Do any of those names ring a bell? They should. They are 3 of the best jazz musicians on the planet, and they were performing 2 sets each night at the hotel where the show was held. These sets were as good as anything you would hear at the Blue Note In New York City or anyone else. I can verify that because afterwords I asked Jonathan Scull, former reviewer extraordinaire, who lives in The City and goes to jazz events quite frequently. I actually asked him how the music we had just heard compared to what he's used to in NYC. He confirmed what I just said.

Here's the thing; look at this picture below. How many people do you see?


Less than 40 by my count.

 And that was the whole thing


This was the audience for the musical events I've just described. Oh yeah… No ticket required, free admission. Now the same hotel and the other one adjacent to it were filled with people who call themselves “audiophiles” who had come to hear equipment that is supposed to re-create live music and in their places of abode. Think about that. Maybe 1,000 people or so had just spent all day traipsing from room to room in search of stereo stuff that is designed and created to sound like live music. Yet when given the opportunity to hear world-class live music, they did what? Go back home to listen to their stereo systems?!

I bet if you were to ask them, they would say, “Hey man, it's all about the music for me!” The evidence, as presented in this picture, would seemed to dispute that. No man, it's all about the gear. No wonder virtually every orchestra in the USA is going bankrupt or has already folded. The last orchestral concert Linda and I attended, we were the only ones not using a walker or accompanied by an oxygen mask. Really. We stood out like a nun in a nudist colony. We were the youngest ones there.

Let's go one step further. At this show, attended by probably over 1,000 audiophiles as well as the elite “audio press”, the only person we saw there at the evening concerts from any audio print magazine or online journal was David Robinson of Positive Feedback. He actually sat next to Linda one night. Good for you David. Where were were all the editors and reviewers? Ask yourself that the next time you read one of their reviews. Ask yourself if you would have skipped dinner like we did to hear those magnificent musicians. The musical nourishment we gained and musical performances that will never transpire ever again in all of time exactly the way they did those two nights, far surpassed anything we could have consumed at the local steakhouse or sushi bar.

Rant over. So let me share some anecdotes from those 2 nights. Mike Garson is a name you should know, even if you're not “into” jazz. The few audiophiles who know the name probably know him as keyboardist for popstar David Bowie since he recorded an album of Bowie's tunes for Reference Recording last year. He has also recorded several other albums for the same label, all of which I proudly and gratefully own. he's alson composed over 3,000 CLASSICAL compositions.He's also played with Alicia Keys, Nine Inch Nails, Seal, No Doubt, Stanley Clarke, Elvin Jones, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard...

Since no one was exactly standing in line to talk to him, I went over to Mike after the 1st set. I told them what an honor it was to meet him and that I had listened to many of his recordings. He was very gracious, so I went on to say, “Mike, listening to your recordings I thought you were one of the best and most underrated jazz pianists on the planet. Listening to you play live tonight, I know you are.”

After a while, I shared a little story with him. I told him that my favorite jazz pianist of all time was Oscar Peterson and that when I was a freshman in college pursuing a music degree, I was taking a jazz literature course when my my piano professor handed me an Oscar album and told me to listen to it. After the first couple of cuts, I truly felt like dropping out of college and never touching a piano again. For the first time in my life, I had heard somebody play that I knew that even if I practiced and studied the rest of my life, I'd never be able to achieve what I had just heard. Fortunately the professor counseled me, “What about Bill Evans? Does he have the pyrotechnic technique that Oscar has? How about Chick Corea? No? You think they should quit and dropout too?”

Point made. Garson is the only living pianist I know of that can play the things I've heard Oscar play such as 16 improvised measures of 32nd notes at a bop tempo played with two hands two octaves apart, a Peterson signature. In other words, a riff that mere mortals would play except 16 times as long and twice as fast with both hands instead of just one.

Then there was Tierney Sutton.



She did several albums with Telarc, eight overall. A five-time Grammy Nominee for "Best Jazz Vocal Album". She can pretty much sing the way Peterson and Garson play. For instance, she took a Joni Mitchell tune, completely deconstructed it and re-created it with completely different rhythm and feel improvising Joni's lyrics and melody in such a way that it gave the audience a completely different yet even more involving interpretation than the original. Standing ovation, as it was after nearly every song she sang.

Then there was Nnenna Freelon.


She's recorded several albums as well. She even sang at the Grammys a couple years back.

She did exactly the same thing as Tierney except in a completely different way like Rembrandt and Dali painting the same landscape. Nina took a hokey tune like “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and turned it into the most amazing jazz composition you'd ever want to hear. Spectacular.

I was talking to Nnenna after she'd just done one set and I told her that she probably never gotten the complement like I was about to give her, but I thanked her for actually singing in tune. She smiled then laughed and replied that she tries to him that no, she doesn't hear that a lot. I said, “Well, most of the big-name people out there can't seem to do that…” Tierney who was within earshot and heard what I said, fairly shouted “MORE”!! Did she mean to say that more than 50% can't sing in tune? She smiled wryly and said, “yeah… It's a pet peeve of mine,” to which Garson chimed in, “that's why they have Autotune…”

If you're not aware, Autotune is a software program used to recording studios where clicking a mouse will automatically place every song note perfectly on pitch. It will actually do much more than that, but you get the point. I once engaged in a demo session of autotune where the source vocal was the actual Marvin Gaye vocal of “Sexual Healing”, Isolated or soloed so that all you could hear was Marvin's vocal with just a little instrumental bleedthrough in the background. You would be amazed how many notes he sang significantly off pitch. With auto tuning, in a matter of moments I was able to make that track absolutely pitch perfect. I played it back with the backing tracks and it sounded absolutely awful. Gone was all the character, meaning and feeling of not only the local but the whole freaking song. Ruined. But then, by adding some compression, and a few other effects, I could've ruined it much more. Then it would've sounded much like any popular recording you care to buy in the last 10 or so years.


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