Jazz greats Ron Carter and Pablo Ziegler and their trios set for Hong Kong concerts
One-night-only performances by the Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio and Ron Carter Trio in October and December form part of city’s ‘Jazz Up’ events
A jazz band can be almost as diverse in terms of the number of members, variety of musical instruments and style of play as the music itself.
Yet there are some standard components: most jazz bands have a horn section, which is paced by a rhythm section.
In full jazz bands, the instruments usually include saxophones, trumpets, trombones, a piano, bass, guitar and drums. They often also feature one or more vocalists – along with other instruments chosen to lend a particular style to the music.
Hong Kong audiences will have a chance to become more familiar with the instruments found in a jazz ensemble – and the exceptional talents that play them – in three forthcoming programmes which form part of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department’s “Jazz Up” Series of musical events: the Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio on October 16; the Ron Carter Trio, also for one night only, on December 1, and a series of six lectures in November and December.
Ron Carter Trio
Ron Carter has been described as the greatest double bassist in the history of jazz and, with a discography of more than 2,200 albums, holds the Guinness World Record as the most recorded jazz bassist.
However, as he talks on the phone from New York, the American is modest about his role in his trio.
“I try to find the right notes, that’s kinda my job, just finding the right notes,” he says
He will be taking to the stage with Russell Malone on guitar, Donald Vega on piano and special guest Ted Lo – referred to as the godfather of Hong Kong jazz – also on piano.
Although 81-year-old Carter glosses over his own skills, there is no mistaking the seriousness with which he regards his band.
“The first thing that surprises the audience is that we come out on stage wearing suits and ties – very expensive suits and matching ties – and this announces to the audience that we are serious about what we do,” he says.
“We have an elegant way of playing the music and we like to show this also in how we dress.”
Audiences will also notice straightaway that there are no drums.
“Once they see that, they realise there are no competing sounds other than the three instruments on stage and they automatically expect a different kind of music coming their direction,” Carter says.
“And they are absolutely right – our music has a lot of melodies, we have a very wide dynamic range, and we all play really well together.”
A band is defined not only by its individual players, but also by how well the musicians play together.
“The more [the musicians] know each other’s good points, and unfortunately, bad points, strengths and weaknesses, the more they are able to cater to that and make the band even more cohesive,” Carter says.
Between 1963 and 1968, Carter was a member of the legendary Miles Davis Quintet – he was part of what is referred to as the Second Great Quintet – and he has recorded with some of jazz’s biggest names, including B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, Tommy Flanagan, Gil Evans, Bill Evans, Lena Horne and the Kronos Quartet.
The Ron Carter Trio has been playing together for five years.
Vega is the newest band member, replacing Mulgrew Miller after his death in 2013.
“Donald [Vega] is starting to fit in really nicely and he’s starting to understand what his contributions can be and we look forward to him making some serious musical impact on every song we play because of his ability to do that,” Carter says.
Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio
Like the Ron Carter Trio, the Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio has no horn section.
It includes piano and guitar, but instead of the double bass, the band uses the bandoneon – a form of concertina that is considered an essential component in the orquesta típica, a traditional tango ensemble found in Argentina and Uruguay.
The band is led by the Argentinian pianist, composer and arranger Pablo Ziegler, who, for more than a decade, was a member of a world-famous quintet formed by tango’s grand maestro, Astor Piazzolla.
Ziegler says that after Piazzolla died it was difficult for him to imagine performing with another bandoneon player.
“However, through the years, I included the bandoneon in my group because the sound and colour of the bandoneon adds the unique flavour of Buenos Aires,” he says.
“This German-made instrument is iconic in tango music and it brings melancholy and passion to the music.
With this trio, Ziegler and his fellow band members, bandoneon player Walter Castro and guitarist Quique Sinesi, perform what is known as Tango Nuevo – a mix of jazz, tango and classical music – a genre that Ziegler has been instrumental in defining.
“The audience can hear the romance and chaos of the streets of Buenos Aires, with improvisation and harmony from jazz, in a classical form of composition,” Ziegler says.
“When I compose, I always try to illustrate life in Buenos Aires. It can be a story of love, excitement, nostalgia, conflict … all the feelings that people can experience in one’s life.”
While all instruments work together to create the sensual, emotional effect of the music, it’s the piano that hangs it all together.
“It’s like a skeleton that connects the different instruments,” says Ziegler, who also improvises on the piano during performances.
The guitar is crucial to tango and a key instrument in jazz, and Sinesi brings his vast experience in tango, Argentinian folk, and jazz music to the trio.
“In order to play my music, he combines all the techniques,” Ziegler says.
“His guitar has seven strings with an extra bass line, which gives a wonderful depth to the ensemble.”
Ziegler has included Argentinian folk music in his compositions.
There’s murga – a colourful form of musical theatre replete with banging percussion and whistles, which is performed in Uruguay, Argentina and Spain in carnival season – and a contemporary twist on malambo – a kind of high-energy tap-dancing performed by South American cowboys, or gauchos.
While the Pablo Zieger Latin Jazz Trio brings the sound of the tango and traditional Argentinian folk music to jazz, the Ron Carter Trio brings classic jazz history to life on stage.
Not only has Carter played with some of the greatest figures in jazz, and is himself a jazz legend, but the other members of his trio also channel the sound of past greats.
“Russell [Wallace] is the historian in the band; he knows all the famous guitar players and he talked to many of them before they passed away,” Carter says.
“He’s good friends with [drummer] Ernie Elly, he knew [guitarist] Joe Pass and others of this calibre … he was able to talk to them about the history of the jazz guitar and the history of their melodic concept.
“You can hear the history of these masters as he plays.”
So, too, with Vega, who studied with influential jazz pianist, Kenny Barron.
“Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock … Vega knows all the styles and he’s able to understand why they work, and he borrows from them. So he also plays the history of piano,” Carter says.
‘Jazz Classics: Let’s Listen, Let’s Jam!’ lectures
Hongkongers can learn more about the history of jazz, its sound and its groundbreaking players through the series of lectures in Cantonese in the “Jazz Classics: Let’s Listen, Let’s Jam!” Lecture Demonstration Series.
Alan Kwan, a jazz guitarist, composer and educator who has performed around the world, will explore the history of jazz, focusing on some of its key figures and their stories.
Audiences will listen to their classic hits, getting insight into the characteristics of their styles, performing techniques and influences on contemporary jazz.
On November 13, the lecture will focus on legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, while on November 22 audiences will learn more about famed saxophonist John Coltrane.
The November 29 talk will put the spotlight on Bill Evans, a jazz pianist and composer most famous for his trio performances, while beloved jazz pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole takes centre stage on December 6.
Wes Montgomery, renowned for playing the guitar with his thumb, is the focus on December 13, while the December 20 lecture is centred on saxophonist and songwriter Wayne Shorter.
The evenings will also include live jam sessions with Kwan and his band, which audience members are invited to participate in.
Musicians include the talented pianist, composer and producer Patrick Lui, renowned bassist Wong Tak-chung, and Lo on drums.
Lo has collaborated with Canto-pop singers including George Lam, Eason Chan and Sandy Lam, the jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Larry Coryell, and has also performed with the Ron Carter Quartet.
Carter says he is looking forward to being on stage with Lo again in December.
“I haven’t seen him since he left the US to move out East,” Carter says.
“I’m looking forward to giving him a New York embrace.”