When music lovers think of Jazz, places like New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City most likely come to mind. But pianist and composer Dan Karlsberg points out that many artists who made those cities famous came from elsewhere, including Cincinnati, Ohio. To that end, he pays tribute to his hometown’s Jazz heritage with his new album, “The ‘Nati 6.”
"Sometimes, it feels like Cincinnati is the musical underdog, but you won't find another city this size with the Jazz scene we currently have, and the rich history and traditions," Karlsberg said.
“The ‘Nati 6” is not just the title of the album; it is the name of the group of extraordinary musicians Karlsberg recruited for the project, all veteran performers who have recorded and toured with some of the world’s best-known contemporary Jazz artists, while still calling Cincinnati home. They include:
- Bassist Jim Anderson, who has worked with the notable Art Blakely, Ernestine Anderson, Hank Crawford and Nat Adderly.
- Drummer Art Gore, who has performed with George Benson, Teru Nakamura and Herbie Hancock.
- Pianist and trumpeter Kim Pensyl, who has twice been named one of Billboard’s Top -20 Contemporary Jazz Artists of the Year, and has had four Top-10 albums on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart.
- Saxophonist Brent Gallaher, who has toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
- Trombonist Marc Fields, who toured with the Ray Charles Orchestra, six times.
And then, there is Karlsberg himself, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), who now teaches there as well as at the acclaimed Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan. A lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Karlsberg has spent years performing with the area’s top Jazz musicians, leading him to select five of his favorites to join him on “The ‘Nati 6.”
Comprised of 10 tracks, “The ‘Nati 6” defies easy classification. Though unequivocally Jazz, the album has hints of classical, folk and pop music scattered throughout. It is a style Karlsberg loosely describes as “Vince Guaraldi and Cecil Taylor meet Mozart.”
"It definitely has some avant garde aspects, but the album's focus is mainly on beautiful melodies," he said. “Some of the tracks are really complex. Each one is different, but most were inspired by something personal.”
Three of the tunes are dedicated to people Karlsberg knew who passed away—his grandparents (“Ballade No. 2”), a young woman who worked at the Riddle Rd. Market, a corner store in his neighborhood (“Ballade No. 1”), and a boyhood friend (“Mr. Shands Jr.”)
“Roger Shands and I were in Jazz band and symphonic band together in high school, and we played basketball together,” Karlsberg said. “He was a great friend. The song ‘Mr. Shands Jr.’ is my tribute to him.”
Five tracks on “The ‘Nati 6” were inspired by other composers. “Tchaikovsky 1” and “Tchaikovsky 2” are Karlsberg’s arrangements of the opening theme to the Russian composer’s first string quartet. “Freddie Freeloader,” meanwhile, is Karlsberg’s arrangement of the more contemporary classic by Miles Davis.
“Most jazz musician are very familiar with ‘Freddie Freeloader,’ especially jazz pianists,” Karlsberg said. “I wanted to take the tune and show it in a new light. My arrangement was very influenced by the music of Eddie Harris, Andrew Hill, the ‘Blues’ ala Cincinnati style, along with the original recording of the tune on ‘Kind of Blue.’”
Track 5, “Oh! Susanna,” is based on the Stephen Foster classic, which also happens to be one of Karlsberg’s favorite songs, melodically. Though another song with the same title is on Karlsberg’s debut album, released in 2007, the new version is substantially different. Another classically inspired tune is “Pavane of Sleeping Beauty,” which is Karlsberg’s interpretation of a piano piece by Maurice Ravel.
“The ‘Nati 6” is Karlsberg’s third album, and while it is stylistically similar to his first two, astute listeners will notice less emphasis on piano and more emphasis on the ensemble as a whole.
“It’s not about me; I wanted it to be about the group, equally,” Karlsberg said. “My presence is felt through the whole album, whether I am in the background or in the forefront, but this project is more about my composing than my playing. I am excited about the music, and it was such an honor to work with such amazing artists.”
Dan Karlsberg and The ‘Nati 6 will perform an album release concert in the Listening Lounge at Urban Artifact Brewing, 1662 Blue Rock Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223, on Saturday, June 27, 8:00 p.m.-midnight. No cover charge. For information, call Urban Artifact Brewing at 513-620-4729 or visit www.ArtifactBeer.com.
“The ‘Nati 6” track list
1. Ballade No. 2
2. Freddie Freeloader
3. Ballade No. 1
5. Oh! Susanna
6. Tchaikovsky 1
7. Pavanne of Sleeping Beauty
8. Mr. Shands Jr.
9. Tchaikovsky 2
10. Modest Minor Melody