There is no rewind to this year, nor any fast forward. We are stuck in uncertainty. A year ago, the prospect of live music coming back, let alone shows of major touring scale, was the stuff of pure fantasy in a locked down world. Now, after months of measuring risk and meaning amidst global turbulence and ignorance, of COVID spreading at some shows and not others, of covering small rooms of brilliant jazz to capacity arenas and sheds with the biggest jam bands on the planet, I’ve come to one conclusion. I don’t know jack, and I’m lucky to be here. I haven’t a clue what 2022 may bring and neither do you. Will cornerstone festivals finally land as planned? Will emotional math rule every show decision? How much longer will fear creep into doing what I love? Will legacy acts age out and hang it up, or will they follow the Stones’ lead? Can the backbone of the business, the crews, the trades, the wait staff, the venue owners, survive more waves? I haven’t a fucking clue. What I do know is my life is better with a soundtrack created in real time in a shared space, and that I will mask up, vax up and continue to document those moments that stir me, so that maybe, you’ll hear something with your eyes, and I, hopefully, will not take an arrow along the way. So, in that spirit, I’ve gathered some of my favorite images of 2021, a year that began tentatively for me in late April, exploded in a Jamtober like no other and ended with a festival premiere of “A Year in the Pit”, a long awaited music photography doc that brilliantly captures the joys and challenges that go unseen, behind the music photos fans love to see.

In 2021, I heard everything with fresh ears, and encountered musicians I was barely aware of turn me sideways. Pianist Christian Sands floated through “Be Water”, his latest Mack Avenue Records release, and I will never hear “Can’t Find My Way Home” the same way ever again. Saxophonist Logan Richardson laid down “Blues People” in its entirety, which would be my hands down favorite release of 2021, if it hadn’t come out in 2018. Somehow, Newport Folk and Newport Jazz returned in slightly scaled down form and it felt like a family reunion, with performances that would stand up to any year at the Fort, especially Billy Strings’ elevation and Allison Russell’s showstopping rendering of her album “Outside Child”, which was a testament to the best of being human while emerging from the worst of circumstances. Newport Jazz was stacked with generational legends including Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland and Kenny Garrett, the roar of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, the inimitable Robert Glasper, and the slink and funk of Khruangbin and Cory Wong. That we were there at all felt like some kind of miracle, especially after losing founder George Wein not long after. The year also christened the former Bootleg Theater, a COVID casualty that was an indie rock fixture to Los Angeles, as the new 2220 Arts + Archives, with a stunning solo recital by pianist Jason Moran as part of the expanding Just Jazz series under the spiritual guidance of LeRoy Downs, the Jazzcat.

Fall brought a rousing set from young vibraphonist Joel Ross and his small legion of fans that filled Mr. Musichead Gallery on yet another it only happens here Wednesday night. As did West Coast Get Down trombonist Ryan Porter with an unbilled Kamasi Washington running through a whole set of standards that was priceless. But my first hometown show of the year in any bigger room came in early October, with Pat Metheny and his Side Eye trio, at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, some 42 years after the first time I saw the guitarist play live.

That the Stones pulled off the biggest tour of the year, in between pandemic waves and the death of drummer Charlie Watts, and with as much shit kicking attitude that stood up to the moment as they had, is etched into this year like no other. But that tours by JRAD, Phish and Dead & Company followed in a 10-day span is almost surreal. The indoor rooms and outdoor spaces got larger as did the anxiety that followed, especially after knowing of a few in my circle getting COVID. But, Dead & Company were the best I’ve heard the band since their inception from a 16-minute drop the needle jam>Playing in the Band Friday night opener to the closing refrains of Brokedown Palace for the tour closer on Halloween Sunday (get better Billy!). 

The Winter surge dampened the vibe a bit, but not before 33 strings took the stage at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel as My Bluegrass Heart in mid-December. Didn’t hurt that Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton were pulling those strings, transporting some Summer Telluride straight to DTLA.

As to what’s next, I’ll stick with what’s now and reflect on what did happen, not what didn’t. Y’all be safe and we’ll catch each other not too far down the road.

 

 

Mack Avenue Records pianist Christian Sands performing at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles, California, on April 26, 2021. This was the first live streamed event of the year for the Just Jazz series.

 

Theo Croker performing with pianist Christian Sands at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles, California, on April 26, 2021.

 

Bassist Max Gerl performs with his trio on June 1, 2021 at Mr. Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles, California.

 

Kansas City saxophonist Logan Richardson, performing with the John Escreet Trio, June 8, 2021 at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Poet Aja Monet performs with pianist Gerald Clayton, June 23, 2021, at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Bassist Ben Williams leading his band, June 14, 2021, at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

New Orleans bassist Charlie Wooton busts out with vocalist Arsene DeLay, July 15, 2921, at The Mint, Los Angeles, California.

 

Bassist Edwin Livingston performing with pianist John Beasley, July 18, 2021, at Sam First, Los Angeles, California.

 

Billy Strings during Folk On 2, the second of two smaller Newport Folk events, July 26, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Songwriter and guitarist Christopher Paul Stelling, performing at Folk On 2, July 26, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Chris Robinson, performing with brother Rich Robinson as Brothers of a Feather at Folk On 2, July 26, 2021, Fort Adams Rhode Island.

 

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats were the unannounced surprise artist as the day began at Folk On 2, July 27, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Allison Russell, debuting “Outside Child” to a live audience at Folk On 2, July 27, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Fred Armisen taking a seat at Folk On 2, July 27, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Beck closing out the Lawn Stage, Folk On 2, July 27, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Emily Frantz of Watchhouse performing at Folk On 2, July 28, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

The he was everywhere version of Chris Thile during a solo mandolin set at Folk On 2, July 28, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

An artist shoot with Katie Pruitt after her rousing set at Folk On 2, July 28, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Rachael Price with Lake Street Dive during the final Day of Folk On 2, July 28, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Bassist and artistic director, Christian McBride has a “situation” on his hands at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 30, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

An exuberant Cory Wong leading his guitar funkestra, Newport Jazz Festival, July 30, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Saxophonist Kamasi Washington at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 30, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Laura Lee of Khruangbin, center stage at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 30, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Drummer Eric Harland, during Chris Potter’s set, Newport jazz Festival, July31, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on fire at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 31, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Kenny Garrett before taking the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 31, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Mavis Staples reaching out at the Newport Jazz Festival, July 31, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Camera ready Trombone Shorty at the Newport Jazz Festival, Jluy 31, 2021, fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon with the Armstrong Eternity Band, Newport Jazz Festival, August 1, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

The legendary Charles Lloyd at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 1, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Pianist Gerald Clayton with the Jazz Gallery All-Stars, Newport Jazz Festival, August 1, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Artist in residence Robert Glasper expressing himself at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 1, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Andra Day closing this year’s Newport Jazz Festival, August 1, 2021, Fort Adams, Rhode Island.

 

Pianist Taylor Eigsti leading his trio, August 18, 2021, at Mr. Musichead Gallery,  Los Angeles, California.

 

Pianist Jason Moran’s stunning solo performance, on September 13, 2021, opening the 2220 Arts + Archives for the Just Jazz series, Los Angeles, California.

 

Pianist Joshua White leading his trio on September 15, 2021 at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Vibraphonist Joel Ross playing to a full house of young jazz enthusiasts at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California, September 17, 2021.

 

Trombonist Ryan Porter reflecting Kamasi Washington on a night of new and old standards, September 29, 2021, Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Guitarist Pat Metheny performing with his Side Eye trio at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California, October 2, 2021.

 

Keith Richards and bassist Darryl Jones locking in with drummer Steve Jordan at second sold out night at SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California, November 17, 2021.

 

Sasha Allen going toe-to-toe with Mick Jagger during “Sympathy for the Devil” at the Rolling Stones second sold out night at SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California, November 17, 2021.

 

Joe Russo is all smiles during JRAD’s rescheduled performance at the Hollywood Palladium, November 22, 2021, Hollywood, California.

 

A radiating Trey Anastasio during Phish’s fantabulous Sunday show at The Forum in Inglewood, California, October 24, 2021.

 

Drummer Jonathan Pinson backing up vibraphonist Simon Moullier, October 27, 2021, Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

John Mayer digging in early at Dead & Company’s first of three tour closing nights, October 29, 2021, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, California.

 

Bob Weir from Dead & Company’s tour closing show, October 31, 2021, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, California.

 

A different view of vocalist, winds and keyboardist Casey Benjamin during his Just Jazz performance, November 1, 2021, Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Bassist Joshua Crumbly covering the frets during a Fall Just Jazz performance, November 3, 2021, Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Radio host, jazz guardian and Just Jazz curator LeRoy Downs, AKA “the Jazzcat”, seen here November 12, 2021, at Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Winds player, vocalist and composer, MAE.SUN during one of the more extraordinary Just Jazz performances of the year, November 12, 2021, Mr. Musichead Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

 

Jamael Dean leading his band, the Afronauts, December 4, 2021, 2220 Arts + Archive.

 

Bela Fleck pulling hearts and strings, December 17, 2021, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, California.

 

String maestros Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush, riding some Telluride winds out to the coast joining Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton, December 17, 2021, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, California.

 

Coming soon to festivals and elsewhere in 2022.

 

 

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