Jazz Collective ‘Sasha’s Bloc’, Featuring Guest Vocalist Jane Monheit and Conceived by Bassist Alex Gershman, Sets Heart on Fire Album Release for March 17, 2015
A Big Jazz Band Sound, Featuring Original Music That Hearkens Back to the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s; An Upbeat, Modern Embrace of an Era That Gave Us the Music and Stage Presence of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, Count Basie and More
With the upcoming release of their second album, Heart On Fire, due out March 17, 2015, jazz collective Sasha’s Bloc aims to solidify their growing presence on the U.S. music scene with an original album that hearkens back to the Big Jazz Band sound of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, and to a performance style that evokes such seminal acts as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Scott Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald and more.
An intriguing ensemble founded in 2012, Sasha’s Bloc is an amalgam of varied artists, nationalities and experiences, all fueled by bassist and songwriter Alex Gershman to deliver a sound that is consistently big, boisterous, full of spirit and rich in everything that makes jazz linger as an American phenomenon. On Heart On Fire, Gershman is honored to have Grammy-nominated vocalist Jane Monheit perform on multiple tracks. Listen to audio samples, here: https://soundcloud.com/sashasblocheartonfire/sets/heart-on-fire-sashas-bloc/s-qSSL6
The group has built a name for itself in recent years via multiple sold out concerts at the key Jazz Clubs in Los Angeles, including Catalina Bar and Grill, Vibrato and Vitello’s. Gershman’s goal, via the group’s successful performances and now on Heart On Fire, is to create a signature sound for Sasha’s Bloc that he describes as “fresh, well-developed and above all lyrically progressive.” Citing Fats Waller, Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington as primary examples, Gershman comments, “My hope is that the Sasha’s Bloc will help bring these great American cultural achievements to modern life and contemporary audiences.”
The group’s core nonet is comprised of Nora Rothman, vocal; Brandon Fields, saxophone; Alex Budman, saxophone, clarinet; Kye Palmer, trumpet, Bob McChesney, trombone; Kevin Winnard, drums; Steve Cotter, guitar; Andy Langham, piano. Guest artists on the upcoming album include: Jane Monheit, vocal; Alvin Chea, vocal; Patrick Tuzzolino, vocal; Princess Fortier, vocal; Glynis Leflore vocal; Octavia Pace vocal; James Lum, banjo; Jason Fabus, accordion; Marc T. Bolin, Tuba. Gershman plays upright bass and electric bass.
Each track on the album is an Alex Gershman original, written with the goal of evoking this aforementioned, distinctive era in the evolution of jazz. Gershman collaborates with Bob McChesney on songs 1 and 10, and with Bob Garad on song 4. Music arrangements are by Elliot Deitch, with vocal arrangements by Bob Garad. The CD is produced by Joe Diblasi, with sound by Mauricio Gurrero, and package design by Yana Bannikova.
Gershman guides us through his inspirations for the varied tracks:
1. Lonely Day in Paris - Dedicated to Frank Sinatra, his style and musical feel. I wrote it because of my profound admiration of that time in the history of American Pop.
2. Feels like Jazz - Cabaret song in the style of 1920s and 30s music traditions. The girl in the club is flipping through names of the guys she’s dealt with, and after some time they all look and feel the same. However, she gets up and manages to perform, again and again.
3. Anything is Possible - Dixie style, New Orleans brass song. This song is about trusting yourself and your abilities, to achieve all the goals in life that you wish for, and making it clear that nobody has the right to stay in your way.
4. Black and Blue - This is a song I wrote originally for a musical I’ve been developing. The main character, Ruby, was harassed by three guys outside the bar where she’d just finished performing. She comes home, seeking some comfort from her friend and mentor, who sings her this song.
5. Breakfast - I think that this is my favorite tune on the CD. Also written in the tradition of the New Orleans big band sound. We added accordion to make the tango portion more authentic, and Tuba for the horn section. Life is beautiful and joyful. We just refuse to see it and enjoy every moment of living. Start with breakfast...that’s the idea!
6. Take a Chance – Highlighted by a classical swing instrumental interlude.
7. Heart on Fire - Slow ballad about passionate love, and life that is empty without somebody you care for.
8. Angel – The search for angel never stops, and it is good to keep looking.
9. Duke – Our tribute to the great Duke Ellington.
10. Sunday Blues - Classic jazz blues of 1930s style with banjo, horns and great piano and vocal parts.
11. Manhattan – Inspired by the great city.
From the band’s website:
With a big-band sound that recalls the vibe of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band infused with the Blues, a hint of Gypsy Jazz, contemporary jazz and swing, Sasha’s Bloc have been playing to sold out shows across Southern California for the past two+ years and have developed a loyal following across the country.
Formed in 2012 by bassist Alexander Gershman, who hails from Moscow, Sasha’s Bloc is an eclectic mix of musicians focused on the revival of the jazz culture of the 1920’s and 30’s, combined with the adaptation of modern jazz original compositions.
Professor Allen is currently Director of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology.
Geri Allen, pianist/composer, bandleader, educator and Guggenheim Fellow, is the first recipient of the Soul Train, Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. In 2011 Geri Allen, was nominated for an NAACP Award for her Timeline, Tap Quartet Project. Allen is the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize. She is a cutting edge performing artist, and continues to concertize internationally.
She is a product of the Detroit Public School System, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh. Allen moved to NYC in 1982 after she completed her advanced degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh, and for the past thirty years has recorded, performed and collaborated with some of the most important artists of our time including Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, George Shirley, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Cobb, Sandra Turner-Barnes, Charles Lloyd, Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, Jason Moran, Lizz Wright, Marian McPartland, Roy Brooks, Vijay Iyer, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion, Laurie Anderson, Terri Lynn Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, Hal Willner, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Dr. Billy Taylor, Carrie Mae Weems, Angelique Kidjo, Mary Wilson and the Supremes, S. Epatha Merkerson, Farah Jasmin Griffin, Howard University's Afro-Blue and many others.
Allen a recent recipient of the Howard University, Pinnacle Award presented by Professor Connaitre Miller and Afro Blue. Ms. Allen has been a faculty member at Howard University, the New England Conservatory, and the University of Michigan where she taught for ten years.
In 2014, Allen was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree by Berklee College of Music in Boston. The Honorable Congressman John Conyers Jr. presented the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Jazz Legacy Award to Ms. Allen.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra commissioned Geri Allen in 2013, to compose new works for the 50th Anniversary celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. She composed a piece “Stones & Streams” a work for orchestra, chorus, piano and narrator.
She is the musical director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective, recording and performing the music of the great Mary Lou Williams, including her sacred work, Mass For Peace. Allen collaborated with S. Epatha Merkerson and Farah Jasmin Griffin on two music theatre projects, "Great Apollo Women", which premiered at the legendary Apollo Theatre, and "A Conversation with Mary Lou", which premiered at the Harlem Stage, as an educational component for the Harlem Stage collaboration. The featured artist was Carmen Lundy, and Allen's long time trio members Kenny Davis and Kassa Overall). The University of Pittsburgh hosted the first ever Mary Lou Williams Cyber Symposium where ViJay Iyer, Jason Moran, and Allen performed a three piano improvisation from Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh, in real time using Internet 2 technology.
Farah Jasmin Griffin, PHD from Columbia, and Dwight Andrews, PHD from Emory, Eugene Rogers PHD, from the University of Michigan, and Opera Icon Professor George Shirley, along with Fr. Peter O'Brien from the Mary Lou Williams Foundation who presents from The San Francisco Jazz Center in San Francisco, CA, Father O’Brien served as the distinguished panelists for the symposium.
Mount V. Allen, Geri Allen's brother introduced her to this important IT2 technology. Jazz is of course a potent vehicle for expression, and creative exploration. "We are engaged in the process of developing a framework for education equity in the digital place." The Mary Lou Williams Cyber Symposium and a recent Master Class collaboration with renowned master drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington held a Berklee College of Music, and Pitt in real time, are the first two projects of their kind. We look forward to advancing this important work.
Both Allen's are the product of a family of educators. Her father Mount V. Allen Jr is a retired Detroit Public School Principal, and her mother Barbara Jean was a defense contract administrator for the U.S. Government. "Our parents insisted my brother and I go to college. We took their advice. I pursued a career as a jazz performer, and completed my undergrad degree at Howard, and my master's at Pitt. Mount pursued a career as a jazz advocate and presented, completing his masters at Lehigh University. He is currently Director of Operations, at the San Francisco Jazz Center."
Geri Allen, a mother of three, acknowledges her family for making it possible for her to sustain longevity in a sometimes challenging and always changing field of the music industry.
Allen has enjoyed a very successful thirty-year performing career as a NYC jazz musician. She has now returned to Pittsburgh to continue her legacy as a cutting edge pianist/composer, recording/concertizing artist. Allen is just as passionate about her work with her undergrad and graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh, and she firmly believes that "meaningful access to music is one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others". She is a fierce advocate for all children of all ages to have direct hands on access to music, and the creative and empowering process jazz inspires.
"My Detroit Public School education afforded me the best possible training, and all children deserve the opportunities we had access to. I look forward to continuing to give back in effective and meaningful ways."
Clay Corley Sr.
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!