I was greatly saddened to wake up Sunday and hear about the unexpected passing of gifted jazz photographer and writer Ken Franckling, who had a long and distinguished career as a nationally known music journalist. He reportedly died on Friday, just three days after the death of his mother, Ann.
Ken did exemplary work reviewing concerts and new releases, and writing features, for JazzTimes and DownBeat magazines and his own blog, Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes, as well as other publications. He was a well-known presence at the Newport Jazz Festival, covering it for 41 consecutive editions (the 2020 fest was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic). For many years, he put together the Jazz Education Guide for JazzTimes.
He worked for UPI (United Press International) as an editor, feature writer, reporter and jazz columnist for nearly two decades, ending in 1990. And some of his extraordinary photos were collected in his coffee table book “Jazz in the Key of Light,” published in 2014. I treasure the autographed copy that he so kindly gifted to me.
“As I look at the photo of Sarah Vaughan leaning on the photo and reeling backwards as she sang with her eyes closed — putting everything she had into the song — I almost feel that “Sassy” is still with us,” late impresario (and Newport founder) George Wein wrote in his foreword to the book. “His photo of Miles Davis, with his chin resting on his fist and his eyes scanning to the right, reveals a musician who is a total enigma; you haven’t the slightest idea what Miles might be thinking.”
Ken was an important and influential figure in jazz and music journalism, a modest and likable guy whose work was greatly appreciated by those in the know but probably under appreciated by the general public.
After having enjoyed Ken’s photo art and writing for a long time, and occasionally connecting online, I finally met him in person in late 2021, when he came to see Acme Jazz Garage play a Tampa Jazz Club show at Hillsborough Community College/Ybor’s Mainstage Theatre. I was honored that he traveled to Tampa from his home in North Port for the concert. He was also very supportive of our band in what he wrote about us.
I really enjoyed our regular IM communications about jazz, music journalism and the sad and disturbing political realities in Florida, his adopted state (and my home state). He frequently sent along funny, irreverent memes, particularly those skewering the idiocy of our country’s increasingly extremist and dangerous Far Right loonies. His final one, a well-deserved slap at misinformation outlet Fox News, arrived in my inbox just last Tuesday.
We had talked about trying to meet up again, perhaps at the recent Sarasota Jazz Festival. I wasn’t able to get to the fest; I sure wish that I had made it and connected one last time with Ken. He recently mentioned that he would be cutting back on his volume of work.
Add Ken to the unusually long list of jazz writers and broadcasters who have died since December 2021, including Eric Jackson, Michael Bourne, Gene Santoro, John Swenson, Don Heckman, Terry Teachout and Greg Tate. Ken’s comprehensive list of 2022 jazz deaths was published Jan. 10 on the site of the Jazz Journalists Association, of which he was an active, longstanding member. Before that, on his blog he maintained a running tally of jazz people who had died of Covid or related complications; it extended to five “chapters.”
When a jam band meets a concert venue that doubles as a working bowling alley, good things can happen.
That was the case, at least, when long-running road dogs moe. hit the stage at Nashville’s roomy but intimate-feeling Brooklyn Bowl (one of 4 clubs in the chain) on March 9 for two sets heavy on that infectious thing they do. That is, loose-limbed, muscular, improvisation-heavy rock that sometimes leans into psychedelia and Americana.
The six-piece band opened strong with “St. Augustine,” from the band’s second studio release, 1994’s “Headseed.” It started as a funky one-chord stomp, topped with Allmans-esque slide guitar action, before opening up for vocal harmonies and sailing off into an extended jam.
Founding members Rob Derhak, on bass, and guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey and their bandmates proceeded to draw from multiple phases of a career that dates back to 1989, when the group was formed at the University of Buffalo.
“Tailspin,” a riff-based psychedelic rocker boasting an anthemic chorus, was followed by the churning, Stonesy dirty guitars of “Deep This Time,” and loping rhythms and 12-string electric textures of “Haze,” which morphed into a heavier “Hey, let’s go” chorus and another extended jam.
Also on the program were the laidback, twang-edged “Mexico”; the prog-ish “Skrunk”; the sprawling, suite-like “Buster”; the funk-driven “George”; and, as a closer, the Grateful Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway.”
First-timer to a moe. show? It’s easy to warm to the group’s eclectic approach, the intuitive way they move together as one, and their ability to crank the musical energy up to an even higher gear just when it seems as if they’ve reached the finale of any given tune. They make it all look easy.
Closer to home — the Tampa Bay area — a few notable jazz shows are coming right up:
Tuesday, March 28 at 5 pm — ERG (left), with trombonist David Manson, saxophonist Davd Pate, cellist Tom Kersey, bassist T.J. Glowacki and drummer Jim Stewart, will play new compositions inspired by “The Shapes of Dreams,” an exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The show is presented in collaboration with EMIT. More details and tickets,
Thursday, March 30 at 7:30 pm — The Monika Herzig Ensemble with Alexis Cole will present “Both Sides of Joni,” a Joni Mitchell tribute, at the Barness Recital Hall on the USF campus. Herzig is a longtime faculty member at Indiana University and Cole is an acclaimed New York singer. The show, promoting the related album slated for release the next day, will also feature guitarist Peter Kienle, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Ian Goodman. More details and tickets.
Tuesday, April 4 at 8 pm. — Brit-born pianist and award-winning composer Simon Lasky will bring his full 8-piece group to Studio@620 in St. Petersburg for a show featuring the leader’s original compositions and arrangements, including music from his forthcoming album. He’ll be joined by singer Ona Kirei, trumpeter James Suggs, saxophonists Jack Wilkins (tenor) and Aaron West (alto), guitarist Peter Mongaya, bassist Elias Tona and drummer Jonathan Thomas. More details and tickets.
— PHILIP BOOTH, a musician and critic based in Tampa, writes for Jazziz, Relix and JazzTimes magazines, and the Substack newsletter Screen Time With Philip Booth. His byline has also appeared in The Washington Post, Billboard, Variety, Tampa Bay Times/St. Petersburg Times, Salon.com, Rolling Stone and many other publications. He was the pop music critic for The Tampa Tribune. Contact him directly at email@example.com.