December 30, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: December 30 to January 5

December 30
  • Pianist/arranger Jimmy Jones born 1918 in Memphis, TN.
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie records “Manteca,” with percussionist Chano Pozo, 1947.
  • Duke Ellington records “The Clothed Woman,” 1947.
December 31
  • Trumpeter Jonah Jones born 1909 in Louisville, KY.
  • Bassist John Kirby born 1908 in Baltimore, MD.
January 1
  • Vibraphonist Milt Jackson born 1923 in Detroit, MI.
  • Pianist Albert Ammons records "Shout for Joy," 1939."
  • Bassist Al McKibbon born 1919 in Chicago, IL.
January 2
  • Drummer Nick Fatool born 1915 in Milbury, MA.
  • Gene Krupa records "Blue Rhythm Fantasy," 1940.
  • Vocalist Arthur Prysock born 1929 in Spartanburg, SC.
January 3
  • Count Basie records Blues In The Dark, featuring vocalist Jimmy Rushing, 1938.
  • Pianist/composer Herbie Nichols born 1919 in New York, NY.
  • Alto saxophonist John Jenkins born 1931 in Chicago, IL.
January 4
  • Trumpeter Frankie Newton born 1906 in Emory, VA.
  • Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie record "What's The Matter Now?" with vocalist Rubberlegs Williams.
  • Saxophonist/flutist Frank Wess born 1922 in Kansas City, MO.
January 5
  • Cornetist "Wild" Bill Davison born 1906 in Defiance, OH.
  • In 1959, Trumpeter Blue Mitchell records Out of the Blue with Art Blakey, Wynton Kelly, Benny Goldson and Sam Jones.
  • Trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez born 1949 in New York, NY.

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

December 29, 2010

Jazz News: Pianist Billy Taylor Has Died

Jazz pianist Billy Taylor has died. Here's the story from the New York Times:

Billy Taylor, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 89

By Peter Keepnews

Billy Taylor, a pianist and composer who was also an eloquent spokesman and advocate for jazz as well as a familiar presence for many years on television and radio, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. More...

December 27, 2010

The Story Behind the Smile: Terry Teachout's "Pops"

I just finished reading Terry Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops, which is now out in paperback, and can recommend it wholeheartedly. Teachout, the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, had access to a lot of previously unavailable material on Armstrong, including over 650 reels of tape recordings made by "Satchmo" during the last two decades of his life. This provides a very intimate and fascinating look at the man behind the very public persona: his dope smoking, his marriages, his run-ins with the mob, his generosity, and his unadulterated joy in music.
     Armstrong was universally recognized as an artist who changed everything about jazz when he burst on the scene in the late 1920s. And he was also roundly criticized over the years for his on-stage and on-screen antics - a kind of fawning or clowning to please the audience - which many people, including other jazz musicians, considered demeaning or even "Uncle Tomming."
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong     What we see in the book is that Armstrong was very much a product of his time. He grew up in poverty in the New Orleans of the early twentieth century and he lived in a time when race was an everyday issue. Armstrong also grew up without the presence of a father, so he often had a father-like figure in his life that he relied on - other musicians such as Joe Oliver or his long-time manager Joe Glaser. So, there was an aspect to his personality that wanted to please others, but it was not some kind of showmanship he put on.
     We also see Armstrong the savvy career man. He made the conscious decision in the early Thirties to try to become more mainstream and, frankly, appeal to white audiences. This led to more emphasis on his singing and less on his trumpet playing and to a string of mostly forgettable movie appearances. His bands and musical arrangements for much of the decade were also primarily mediocre. It worked, and "Pops" became a crossover star.
     But the jazz world was moving along while he stood still. The Big Band era came and went and bebop came along in the Forties. Armstrong had a revival in the late Forties and Fifties when he switched to a small-group format. He toured relentlessly, but often played the same tunes every night. And then he had his biggest hit of all with "Hello, Dolly!" in the Sixties, which beat the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" to be the most popular tune in America.
     Through it all, he played and audiences around the world fell in love with the sheer joy that came through in his performances. Armstrong never made a differentiation between art and showmanship - he was an unapologetic entertainer. But this is why his critics were so off the mark: there was nothing phony or fawning about "Pops"; it just wasn't in his DNA.

December 23, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: December 23 to December 29

December 23
  • Coleman Hawkins records “The Man I Love,” 1943.
  • The first Spirituals To Swing concert is held at Carnegie Hall, 1938.
  • Louis Armstrong records “Sweethearts on Parade,” 1930.
December 24
  • Drummer Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds born 1898 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Wayne Shorter records Speak No Evil, 1964.
  • Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk record “Bag’s Groove,” 1954.
December 25
  • Trombonist/bandleader Kid Ory born 1886 in La Place, LA.
  • Pianist/organist/composer Don Pullen born 1941 in Roanoke, VA.
  • Bandleader/singer Cab Calloway born 1907 in Rochester, NY.
December 26
  • Bassist Monty Budwig born 1929 in Pender, NE.
  • Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane records “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, 1958.
  • Guitarist John Scofield born 1951 in Dayton, OH.
December 27
  • Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster records “Old Folks” with alto saxophonist Benny Carter and bassist John Kirby.
  • Bassist/author Bill Crow born 1927 in Othello, WA.
  • Pianist Walter Norris born 1931 in Little Rock, AR.
December 28
  • Bassist/composer Charles Mingus records “Changes I” with trumpeter Jack Walrath, tenor saxophonist George Adams, pianist Don Pullen, and drummer Dannie Richmond, 1974.
  • Lester Young records first session as a leader (“Sometimes I’m Happy”), 1943.
  • Two pianists born: Earl Hines 1903 in Duquesne, PA, and Michel Petrucciani 1962 in Orange, France.
December 29
  • Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano born 1952 in Cleveland, OH.
  • Pianist Art Tatum records “Without A Song,” 1953.
  • Snub Mosely born 1909 in Little Rock, AR.

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

December 20, 2010

Jazz News: A New Addition to the Louis Armstrong House Museum

A story in the Wall Street Journal provides details about a planned new visitor's center at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. It will house the entire Armstrong collection.

What a Wonderful House
In Queens, the Louis Armstrong House Museum Trumpets Its Namesake Anew
By Will Friedwald

Louis Armstrong has been gone for nearly 40 years, but there's still little doubt that he is regarded as the single most important figure in jazz, and perhaps all of American music. More...

Harold Land - A West Coaster Worth Surfing For

Hard bop saxophonist Harold Land (1928 - 2001) grew up in San Diego and started playing saxophone at the age of 16. He recorded some early sides as a leader in the late 1940s, but he really came into his own in 1954 when he joined the famous Clifford Brown/Max Roach quintet. He toured and recorded with the group for a couple of years before returning to Los Angeles to be with his family.
     Land remains lesser known because he spent his career on the West Coast, although his playing style does not fit the conventional definition of West Coast jazz. Rather, he falls well within the hard bop school. His tone was strong but had a somewhat melancholy edge to it, which added glints of emotion and even a certain vulnerability to his playing.
West Coast Blues     In Los Angeles, he recorded with the likes of Curtis Counce on You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce! (1956) and with Red Mitchell. In 1958, his leader date Harold in the Land of Jazz was released by Contemporary Records chased by The Fox the following year. One of my personal favorite Land albums, West Coast Blues!, was released in 1960. It was recorded in San Francisco, with Wes Montgomery on guitar, Joe Gordon on trumpet, and the rhythm section from Cannonball Adderley's quintet (Barry Harris, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes). The title number is a good sample of the excellent playing throughout.
     In the late 1960s, he formed a group with vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, which recorded several albums with Blue Note Records. From this period onward, his playing took on a new level of intensity, which Land himself ascribed to the influence of John Coltrane. In the 1980s and 1990s, he toured with the Timeless All-Stars, sponsored by the jazz label of the same name. This group included Hutcherson, Cedar Walton on piano, and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Land was also a professor in the University of California, Los Angeles, Jazz Studies Program, along with guitarist Kenny Burrell. He died of a stroke in 2001.

For more on West Coast jazz, see "Sand, Surf, and Sax: West Coast Jazz Album Covers."

December 18, 2010

Eddie Condon All Stars - "Royal Garden Blues" (1964)

From a 1964 television broadcast, "Salute to Eddie Condon," on ABC. With 'Wild' Bill Davison (cornet), Edmund Hall (clarinet), Cutty Cutshall (trombone), Willie "The Lion" Smith (piano), Al Hall (bass), and George Wettling (drums).

December 16, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: December 16 to December 22

December 16
  • Vocalist Sarah Vaughan records “You’re Not The Kind” with trumpeter Clifford Brown and pianist Jimmy Jones, 1954.
  • Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers record “Grandpa’s Spells,” 1926.
  • Saxophonist Joe Farrell born 1937 in Chicago Heights, IL.
December 17
  • Pianist Bud Powell records A Portrait of Thelonious with drummer Kenny Clarke, 1961.
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker records “Crazeology” with drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Miles Davis, 1947.
  • Arranger Sy Oliver born 1910 in Battle Creek, MI.
December 18
  • Jimmie Lunceford records “Rhythm Is Our Business,” 1934.
  • Two saxophonists born: Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson 1917 and Harold Land 1928, both in Houston, TX.
  • Bandleader/arranger Fletcher Henderson born 1897 in Cuthbert, GA.
December 19
  • Drummer Lenny White born 1949 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie records Sonny Side Up with tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt, 1957.
  • Valve trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer born 1929 in Kansas City, MO.
December 20
  • Clarinetist Sidney Bechet records “Blue Horizon,” 1944.
  • Saxophonist Arne Domnerus born 1924 in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Pianist Larry Willis born 1940 in New York, NY.
December 21
  • Drummer Panama Francis born 1918 in Miami, FL.
  • Ornette Coleman Double Quartet records Free Jazz, 1960.
  • Composer/conductor/cellist/trombonist David Baker born 1931 in Indianapolis, IN.
December 22
  • Red Onion Jazz Babies record “Cake Walking Babies From Home,” with trumpeter Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, 1924.
  • Pianist Ronnie Ball born 1927 in Birmingham, England.
  • Four bands record, 1947 - Stan Kenton (“Interlude”), Dizzy Gillespie (“Woody ’n’ You”), Duke Ellington (“On a Turquoise Cloud”), and Fats Navarro/Dexter Gordon (“Index”).

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

December 14, 2010

In the Mood for James Moody

At the Jazz WorkshopOn hearing of the recent death of saxophonist and flutist James Moody, many casual jazz listeners may be seeking out his music for the first time. One of my personal favorite albums of his is At the Jazz Workshop (GRP, 1961), recorded here in San Francisco, which I believe serves as a wonderful sampling of Moody's many talents. The recording is a live date that emphasizes the blues but also incorporates some fine ballad playing. The ensemble is a septet - Moody, Musa Kaleem (baritone saxophone), Howard McGhee (trumpet), Bernard McKinney (trombone), Sonny Donaldson (piano), Steve Davis (bass), Arnold Enlow (drums) - with Eddie Jefferson chiming in on three vocal numbers. The band plays with a terrific full sound and Moody is the featured soloist throughout, playing on alto and tenor sax as well as flute. Particularly fine tunes include the swinging "Bloozey," "The Jazz Twist," and "Bunny Boo." Ballads include "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "Round Midnight." And the album finishes with a remake of Moody's surprise hit "Moody's Mood For Love," with a playful vocal from Jefferson. Highly recommended.

December 9, 2010

Jazz News: James Moody Has Died

Sad news out of San Diego today - jazz saxophonist James Moody has died. Here's the story from USA Today:

Jazz Saxophone Giant James Moody Has Died at 85
Acclaimed jazz saxophonist James Moody died this afternoon of pancreatic cancer at a San Diego hospice, the San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting. He was 85 and had lived in the city for more than 20 years.  More...

This Week in Jazz History: December 9 to December 15

December 9
  • Two trumpeters born: Donald Byrd 1932 in Detroit, MI, and Jimmy Owens 1943 in New York, NY.
  • The John Coltrane Quartet records A Love Supreme, 1964.
  • Louis Armstrong records “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” 1927.
December 10
  • Trumpeter/violinist Ray Nance born 1913 in Chicago, IL.
  • Clarinetist Irving Fazola born 1912 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Bassist Bob Cranshaw born 1932 in Evanston, IL.
December 11
  • Duke Ellington records “The Controversial Suite,” 1951.
  • Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins records “Angel Face” with pianist Hank Jones, 1947.
  • Pianist McCoy Tyner born 1938 in Philadelphia, PA.
December 12
  • Pianist Earl Hines records “Fifty-Seven Varieties,” 1928.
  • Vocalist Joe Williams born 1918 in Cordele, GA.
  • Drummer Tony Williams born 1945 in Chicago, IL.
December 13
  • Drummer Sonny Greer born 1895 in Long Beach, NJ.
  • Louis Armstrong records “Hotter Than That,” 1927.
  • Bennie Moten’s band makes its last recordings, including “Moten Swing,” featuring pianist Count Basie, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, trumpeter Hot Lips Page, and arranger/guitarist Eddie Durham, 1932.
December 14
  • Trumpeter Clark Terry born 1920 in St. Louis, MO.
  • Jelly Roll Morton records “King Porter Stomp,” 1939.
  • Two saxophonists born: Budd Johnson 1910 in Dallas, TX, and Cecil Payne 1922 in Brooklyn, NY.
December 15
  • Bandleader/composer Stan Kenton born 1911 in Wichita, KS.
  • Drummer Dannie Richmond born 1935 in New York, NY.
  • Pianist Cecil Taylor and drummer Max Roach record a duo concert at Columbia University, 1979.

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

December 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Smith!

Jimmy Smith is the acknowledged master of the Hammond B-3 organ. In fact, the B-3 is the only instrument in jazz on which you'd find so little disagreement about who was the greatest player. And Smith took up the instrument relatively late.
     Smith was born on this date in 1925 (although some members of his family claimed he was actually three years younger) in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Both his parents were pianists, and young Jimmy took up that instrument as well. He joined the Navy in World War Two, where he played both piano and bass in segregated band. After his discharge, Smith attended the Hamilton and Ornstein schools of music in Philadelphia, studying piano and bass while working jobs in construction and on the railroad.
     In 1951, he was playing rhythm-and-blues piano with Don Gardner's Sonotones and toying with the idea of playing the B-3 organ. That's when he heard Wild Bill Davis, the "organ king" of the day, playing at an Atlantic City club and Smith knew he had to make the switch. He bought his first organ in 1954 and kept it in a Philadelphia warehouse, where he practiced on it.
Midnight Special (Reis)     In January 1956, Smith made his debut in New York City at Small's Paradise in Harlem, then he made a splash at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, and the rest is history. He started recording with Blue Note Records shortly afterward with the hit A New Sound, a New Star: Jimmy Smith at the Organ, and he made over 30 additional albums for the label, including The Sermon! (1958), Midnight Special (1960), Back at the Chicken Shack (also 1960), and Prayer Meetin' (1963).
     Smith played a winning combination of R&B-inflected blues and bop in an earthy groove that came to be called the "Philadelphia sound." He had a very percussive fingering attack on the organ and emphasized certain notes in the lower ranges much like someone playing a string bass. Before Smith, the organ got little respect in the jazz world - his appearance on the scene changed everything.
     He switched to Verve Records in the 1960s, with whom he recorded over 30 more albums. He worked with many of the great jazz musicians of the day, including Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Stanley Turrentine, Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Tina Brooks, and Jackie McLean. In the 1970s, Smith took a break from touring and opened an supper club in Los Angeles, where he regularly played. But in the 1980s and 1990s, he started recording and touring again, right up to his death in 2005. In his final year, Smith was awarded the NEA Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
     One of my favorite albums of Smith's is the aforementioned Midnight Special, where a quiet, swinging groove is maintained throughout by Kenny Burrell on guitar, Stanley Turrentine on sax, and Donald Bailey on drums. Here is a video of Smith playing the title tune from that album live in 1992.

December 5, 2010

Louis Armstrong - "Mack the Knife" (1959)

From a concert in Stuttgart, Germany. Louis Armstrong on trumpet and vocals, Trummy Young on trombone, Peanuts Hucko on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Mort Herbert on bass, and Danny Barcelona on drums.

December 2, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: December 2 to December 8

December 2
  • Vocalist Sylvia Syms born 1917 in New York, NY.
  • Composer/arranger Eddie Sauter born 1914 in New York, NY.
  • Two pianists born: Wynton Kelly 1931 in Jamaica, and Ronnie Mathews 1935 in New York, NY.
December 3
  • Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin records The Freedom Book with pianist Jaki Byard, 1963.
  • Valve Trombonist/arranger Brad Gowans born 1903 in Billerica, MA.
  • Alto saxophonist Benny Carter plays and sings his composition “Goodbye Blues” with The Chocolate Dandies, 1930.
December 4
  • Guitarist Jim Hall born 1930 in Buffalo, NY.
  • Duke Ellington records “Daybreak Express,” 1933.
  • Duke Ellington’s band historic opening at New York’s Cotton Club, 1927.
December 5
  • Bassist Art Davis born 1934 in Harrisburg, PA.
  • Louis Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines record their duet “Weatherbird,” 1928.
  • The BeBop Boys, featuring trumpeter Fats Navarro, record Nostalgia, 1947.
December 6
  • Guitarist Remo Palmier born 1923 in New York, NY.
  • Bassists Slam Stewart and Major Holley record “Shut Yo’ Mouth!” 1981.
  • Pianist/composer Dave Brubeck born 1920 in Concord, CA.
December 7
  • The Casa Loma Orchestra records “Casa Loma Stomp,” 1930.
  • Bandleader Teddy Hill born 1909 in Birmingham, AL.
  • Pianist Matthew Shipp born 1960 in Wilmington, DE.
December 8
  • Organist Jimmy Smith born 1925 in Norristown, PA.
  • Louis Armstrong records “That’s My Home” with drummer Chick Webb’s band, 1932.
  • The Sound of Jazz is broadcast live, setting a standard for jazz television that has yet to be equaled, 1957.

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

December 1, 2010

A Groovier Thing - Dizzy for President!

With the midterm elections behind us and the rumors and prognostications already starting for the presidential election of 2012, let’s hope and pray for an inspiring candidate like the one we had in 1964. No, not Barry Goldwater or Lyndon B. Johnson - I mean John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie!
     Dizzy’s presidential run began as something of a lark, and it never really developed much beyond that stage. A bunch of “Dizzy Gillespie for President” buttons had been created several years before for an unrelated publicity campaign. Jean Gleason, the wife of jazz critic Ralph Gleason, seems to have been the chief instigator of the campaign, mainly out of a desire for an alternative to the arch-conservative Goldwater other than LBJ. As Dizzy stated, “I was the only choice for the thinking man.”
     She organized college rallies in California - at the University of the Pacific, San Francisco State, U.C. Berkeley, and elsewhere - and attempted to get Dizzy’s name on the ballot. There was even a “Dizzy for President” birthday ball on October 21, 1963, at Basin Street West in San Francisco. At a rally in East Menlo Park, Dizzy’s official campaign song was unveiled. Sung to the tune “Salt Peanuts,” it included the following lyrics:

Your politics ought to be a groovier thing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!
So get a good President who’s willing to swing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!

     By 1964, his fans formed the John Birks Society, a takeoff on the radical right-wing John Birch Society, which was prominent at the time. The John Birks Society was active in 25 states. Asked why he, a jazz musician, was running for president, Dizzy replied, “Because we need one.” But as the civil rights movement began to pick up steam, Dizzy and his followers saw the campaign as something a little more substantial - a chance, at least, to show support. Proceeds from Dizzy’s presidential paraphernalia went to civil rights groups like CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
     “Anybody coulda made a better President than the ones we had in those times,” wrote Gillespie in To Be, or Not ... to Bop, “dillydallying about protecting blacks in the exercise of their civil and human rights and carrying on secret wars against people around the world.”
Dizzy for President (Dig)     His platform included strengthening equal opportunity laws, free education for everybody, diplomatic recognition of China (he was way ahead of his time on this one), a national lottery to replace the income tax, and an end to the war in Vietnam. He thought NASA should have at least one black astronaut. On the less serious side, Dizzy promised that his first executive order if elected president would be to change the name of the White House to the “Blues House.” And he proposed the creation of civil service nightclubs, where musicians would actually be government workers and could play and get paid regularly (a federal bebop/Dixieland playing time ratio would probably need to be determined annually).
     For his cabinet, Dizzy proposed getting rid of the title “Secretary” and replacing it with the more dignified “Minister.” Miles Davis would head the CIA, Max Roach would be Minister of Defense, Charles Mingus as Minister of Peace, Ray Charles would head the Library of Congress, Peggy Lee as Ministress of Labor, Malcolm X as Attorney General, Duke Ellington as Minister of State, and Thelonious Monk as Roving Ambassador Plenipotentiary. (This last appointment is the only one that could be said to have come to pass.)
     Eventually, the whole thing sort of fizzled out, but not before making some serious points and having a lot of fun along the way. Gillespie did finally make it to the White House in 1978, where he sang “Salt Peanuts” (presumably with the original lyrics) for President Jimmy Carter.

November 29, 2010

Jazz News: New Documentary for Dave Brubeck's 90th Birthday

Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way will air on Turner Classic Movies on Brubeck's birthday, December 6 - as reported in the Chicago Tribune...
‘In His Own Sweet Way’: Celebrating Dave Brubeck’s 90 Years - on Film
By Howard Reich 

Dave Brubeck will turn 90 next Monday, and of all the tributes sure to flow his way, one of the most endearing will be public: the broadcast of an ambitious documentary film on his remarkably enduring career. More...

November 28, 2010

Jaleel Shaw - "Bemsha Swing" (2008)

Jaleel Shaw on saxophone, with Chris Lomhiem on piano, Billy Peterson on bass, and Kenny Horst on drums.
Note: I had the pleasure of hearing Jaleel Shaw in person recently with Roy Haynes at the SFJAZZ Festival (my review). Terrific young player.

November 25, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: November 25 to December 1

November 25
  • Cornetist Nat Adderley born 1931 in Tampa, FL.
  • Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond born 1924 in San Francisco, CA.
  • Pianist/composer Willie “The Lion” Smith born 1897 in Goshen, NY.
November 26
  • Duke Ellington records “I’m Just A Lucky So-and-So,” 1945.
  • Charlie Parker records “KoKo” at his first session as a leader, 1945.
  • Louis Armstrong records “After You’ve Gone,” 1929.
November 27
  • Bandleader/composer Maria Schneider born 1960 in Windom, MN.
  • Violinist Eddie South born 1904 in Louisiana, MO.
  • Pianist Jacky Terrasson born 1966 in Berlin, Germany.
November 28
  • Drummer George Wettling born 1907 in Topeka, KS.
  • Tenor saxophonist Lester Young records The President Plays with Oscar Peterson, 1952.
  • Saxophonist/composer Gigi Gryce born 1927 in Pensacola, FL.
November 29
  • Drummer Adam Nussbaum born 1955 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Lee Morgan records The Rajah, with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and pianist Cedar Walton, 1966.
  • Composer/pianist Billy Strayhorn born 1915 in Dayton, OH.
November 30
  • Trumpeter Jack Sheldon born 1931 in Jacksonville, FL.
  • Louis Armstrong records Satchmo at Symphony Hall with drummer Big Sid Catlett and trombonist Jack Teagarden, 1947.
  • Bunny Berigan records Bix Beiderbecke’s “In A Mist,” 1938.
December 1
  • Saxophonist Jimmy Lyons born 1933 in Jersey City, NJ.
  • Bassist/composer Jaco Pastorius born 1951 in Norristown, PA, and records The Birthday Concert, 1981.
  • Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin records Five Birds and a Monk with pianist Stanley Cowell, 1978.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

November 23, 2010

Jazz News: The Bird's Old Roost

A New York Times piece on Charlie Parker's old apartment...

Where a Bird Played Sax, Now Others Find Refuge
By Corey Kilgannon

There are two signs in front of 151 Avenue B, a row house in the East Village facing Tompkins Square Park. One is a bronze plaque identifying the building as a former home of the jazz legend Charlie Parker, who lived in the ground-floor apartment from 1950 to 1954. More...

November 21, 2010

Jazz News: Brubeck Back in Action

Dave Brubeck is back in action after cardiac surgery, as noted in this story from the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram-Gazette:

Brubeck Makes Up-Tempo Return
Ticker repaired, pianist keeps beat
By Peter Landsdowne

WORCESTER — Joined by alto saxophonist and flutist Bobby Militello, bassist Chris Smith and drummer Cody Cox, perennially popular pianist Dave Brubeck kicked off the 16th annual Mass Jazz Festival Friday night with a dynamic concert at Mechanics Hall that served as part of Music Worcester Inc.’s 151st Worcester Music Festival. More...

Happy Birthday, Coleman Hawkins!

Coleman Hawkins Quintet playing "Centerpiece," filmed in London, 1964. Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, "Sir" Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woode on bass, and Jo Jones on drums.

November 20, 2010

Jazz Poetry - “Eleven”

Eleven by Sterling D. Plumpp

There ain’t/No word
I ain’t/Heard.
ain’t/No word
Bird/Ain’t heard.

Language is an/Inventor’s

I/Blow psalms.
I/Blow sinner’s deeds.
I/Blow prayer before death.
I/Blow curses.
I/Blow laughter.
I/Blow vocabulary of my axe.

You can’t/Hold
folks/Down who Be-Bop
but you/Kin hold

Every Be-Bopper/Renew
to/Genius when he riff some
thing/New on his axe.

--From Velvet Bebop Kente Cloth (Third World Press, 2003)

Note: Sterling Plumpp was born in 1940 in Clinton, Mississippi. He grew up poor, working in cotton fields and corn fields by the age of eleven and prepared for the life of a field hand. But an aunt of his, who happened to be a bootlegger, had bigger plans and paid for him to attend school in Jackson. He earned a scholarship to a local college, but when the money ran out, he hitchhiked to Chicago and began writing poetry. He graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago, had his first poems published, and began teaching English at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). His poetry often includes the rhythms of jazz (as does “Eleven”) and especially the blues. In a recent interview, Plumpp said that “bebop becomes the moment when people find their voices in some kind of collective process of innovation” - something that might apply equally to jazz (or poetry) as a whole. He has won numerous literary prizes for his twelve volumes of writing. Plumpp retired from UIC in 2001.

November 18, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: November 18 to November 24

November 18
  • Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra records Hoagy Carmichael’s “Washboard Blues,” 1927.
  • Trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry born 1936 in Oklahoma City, OK.
  • Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane records “Alabama,” 1963, in reaction to the church bombings in that state that killed four girls.
November 19
  • Drummer/bandleader Chick Webb records “Don’t Be That Way,” 1934.
  • Trombonist/bandleader Tommy Dorsey born 1905 in Shenandoah, PA.
  • Pianist Teddy Wilson records “Pennies From Heaven” with vocalist Billie Holiday and clarinetist Benny Goodman, 1936.
November 20
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records arranger Gil Evans’ version of “Concierto de Aranjuez,” 1959.
  • Tenor saxophonist Don Braden born 1963 in Cincinnati, OH.
  • Guitarist Skeeter Best born 1914 in Kinston, NC.
November 21
  • Pianist Geoff Keezer born 1970 in Eau Claire, WI.
  • Xylphonist/composer Red Norvo records “Dance of the Octopus,” 1933, with Benny Goodman on bass clarinet.
  • Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins born 1904 in St. Joseph, MO.
November 22
  • Pianist/arranger Horace Henderson born 1904 in Cuthbert, GA.
  • Trombonist /arranger/composer Jimmy Knepper born 1927 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Composer/author/conductor Gunther Schuller born 1925 in Jackson Heights, NY.
November 23
  • Bassist/composer Ray Drummond born 1946 in Brookline, MS.
  • Composer Johnny Mandel born 1925 in New York, NY.
  • Drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers record At the Café Bohemia, with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, and pianist Horace Silver, 1955.
November 24
  • Vocalist Bessie Smith makes her last recordings, including “Give Me A Pigfoot,” 1933.
  • Organist/arranger Will Bill Davis born 1918 in Glasgow, MO.
  • Saxophonist/composer/arranger Al Cohn born 1925 in New York, NY.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

November 17, 2010

Shorty Rogers - "Martians Go Home" (1962)

Shorty Rogers on flugelhorn, with Lou Levy on piano, Gary Lefebvre on flute, Gary Peacock on bass, and Larry Bunker on drums.
Note: When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, on October 4, 1957, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was officially on. This became a national obsession for the next decade, culminating with the United States landing men on the moon in 1969. Jazz artists responded to the zeitgeist by producing songs and albums with space-related names. Generally, as in this case with "Martians Go Home," the music wasn't other-worldly at all and was merely given the name as a novelty.

November 16, 2010

A Look at Mingus the Composer

Charles Mingus: Triumph of the UnderdogCharles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog (1997) is a fascinating look at the life and legacy of bassist Charles Mingus. It combines concert footage, interviews with fellow musicians and family, and bits of a noirish documentary of Mingus made in the late 1960s. It was directed by Don McGlynn and co-produced by the composer’s widow, Sue Mingus.
     The film is hardly a complete portrait, however. It barely touches on Mingus’s troubled early life. For his own take on this - growing up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles as a mixed-race child whose mother died when he was very young and whose father was abusive - I recommend his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, which is told partly in stream-of-consciousness quotations and partly in a curious, disembodied third-person point of view. The fractured perspective is disconcerting, but one gets the feeling throughout that Mingus, rather than falling apart, is putting the pieces of his life together. Unfortunately, insights into his musical thinking are few and far between. While one must certainly view his sexual braggadocio in the book with a prophylactic skepticism, Mingus emerges as an intelligent and sympathetic character, someone who had to overcome a great deal to become a great musician.
     In many ways, the film picks up where the book left off. The point it attempts to make is that Mingus should be ranked among the great American composers, and the evidence it presents is pretty convincing. Throughout his career, Mingus had an amazing ability to incorporate ideas and musical influences (classical included) into his own complex tunes. The concert/television footage in the film, from the 1950s to the 1970s, provides tantalizing glimpses, although one wishes that more extensive cuts had been used. None of his songs are heard in totality. Interviewees include his wives Sue and Celia Mingus, musicologist Gunther Schuller, and musicians John Handy, Eddie Bert, Wynton Marsalis, and Randy Brecker.
     His difficult personality is also on display. Mingus was a volatile personality, who could be extremely articulate on almost any topic, a lover and sentimentalist, or a raging and angry man. In one scene, we see him being literally run out of his New York City apartment in the mid 1960s and taken away in a police cruiser. There are also snippets of a documentary (made in 1968 by Thomas Reichman) in which the camera follows Mingus from behind (a la Samuel Beckett’s Film), and he appears as an ominous and shadowy figure wandering down trash-filled streets in the dark of night. I’m not sure what the point of this was, although I have to admit it was evocative.
     Finally, at the end of the film, Mingus’s music gets a little airing out with extended excerpts from “Epitaph,” his posthumous magnum opus. This two-hour orchestral piece was discovered after Mingus’s death from ALS in 1979 and first performed in 1989.
     Although somewhat scattered in its approach to Mingus (who was scattered himself), Triumph of the Underdog is definitely worth viewing for its insights into this troubled genius.

See also: Charles Mingus - "So Long, Eric" (1964) 

November 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hampton Hawes!

Hard bop pianist Hampton Hawes was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1928. His father was a Presbyterian preacher and his mother was the church’s pianist. His interest in piano may have first begun as a toddler as he listened to his mother rehearsing, and he was already plunking out tunes by the age of three.
     When he was only in his teens in the 1940s, Hawes was playing with the likes of Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Shorty Rogers, and other musicians active on the West coast. At age 19, he spent eight months with the Howard McGhee Quintet, which included Charlie Parker.
Trio 1     After serving in the Army in Japan from 1953 to 1954, Hawes formed his own group and hit the recording studios. His trio sessions from 1955 (Hampton Hawes Trio Vol. 1 - The Trio, This is Hampton Hawes Vol. 2 - The Trio, and Everybody Likes Hampton Hawes Vol. 3 - The Trio), with Red Mitchell on bass and Chuck Thompson on drums, are spectacular. His speed, rhythm, and innovative harmonies are all on full display. (Just listen to this fantastic version of “All the Things You Are.”) The All Night Session (three volumes) with guitarist Jim Hall, recorded as the name suggests in the course of a single overnight session, are also top notch, with Hawes incorporating elements of gospel and classical music into his brisk and bluesy pianism.
     In 1956, Hawes won the “New Star of the Year” award from Down Beat magazine. He had struggled with heroin addiction for many years and it finally caught up with him in 1958: he was arrested (on his birthday!) for selling heroin to an undercover cop. Hawes refused to squeal on other dealers and was given a ten-year sentence in a federal prison hospital, twice the minimum sentence.
     Here’s where things get strange. While in prison, Hawes watched the inaugural speech of President John F. Kennedy and immediately felt that Kennedy would give him a pardon. And in 1963, against all odds, the President granted Executive Clemency to Hawes.
     He continued playing, touring, and recording after his release. In 1974, he published his acclaimed autobiography, Raise Up Off Me, which detailed his struggles with drugs as well as his thoughts on jazz. Hawes died suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage in 1977 at the age of 48. Even today, Hawes remains one of the more obscure jazz piano greats, which is unfortunate because his bluesy, hard bop style, combined with a surprising emotional lyricism and astounding dexterity in playing, deserves to be widely heard.

November 11, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: November 11 to November 17

November 11
  • Duke Ellington’s band records Billy Strayhorn’s “Progressive Gavotte,” 1947.
  • Cornetist Don Cherry records “Where is Brooklyn?” with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, 1966.
  • Trumpeter Willie Cook born 1923 in Tangipahoa, IN.
November 12
  • Bassist Sam Jones born 1924 in Jacksonville, FL.
  • Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five record their first piece, “My Heart,” 1925.
  • Trumpeter/arranger Buck Clayton born 1911 in Parsons, KS.
November 13
  • Pianist Hampton Hawes born 1928 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Cecil Taylor Quintet, with John Coltrane and Kenny Dorham, records Hard-Driving Jazz, 1958.
  • Drummer Idris Muhammad born 1939 in New Orleans, LA.
November 14
  • Pianist Don Ewell born 1916 in Baltimore, MD.
  • Guitarist Billy Bauer born 1915 in New York, NY.
  • Benny Carter Meets Oscar Peterson recorded 1986.
November 15
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk makes his last studio recordings with bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Art Blakey, 1971.
  • Drummer Gus Johnson born 1913 in Tyler, TX.
  • Guitarist Kevin Eubanks born 1957 in Philadelphia, PA.
November 16
  • Composer W.C. Handy born 1873 in Muscle Shoals, AL.
  • Guitarist/bandleader Eddie Condon born 1905 in Goodland, IN.
  • Louis Armstrong records “Big Butter and Egg Man,” 1926.
November 17
  • Bassist/bandleader Ben Allison born 1966 in New Haven, CT.
  • Trombonist Roswell Rudd born 1935 in Sharon, CT.
  • Trumpeter Doc Cheatham and pianist Sammy Price record Duets, 1976.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

November 10, 2010

Clark Terry - "Miguel's Party" (1959)

Clark Terry with Barney Wilen on tenor sax, Bud Powell on piano, Kenny Clarke on drums, and Pierre Michelot on bass, recorded at the Club Saint Germain in Paris.

November 9, 2010

Roy Haynes - Live at SFJAZZ

We Three: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters SeriesOne can only bow to the master. Drummer Roy Haynes has played with a who’s who of jazz greats over the course of his long career: Lester Young, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Chick Corea. Now 85, he shows no signs of slowing down.
     Haynes was born in Boston in 1925 and made his professional debut at the age of 17. He came out of the bebop era, but in the 1940s played with both Lester Young and Charlie Parker, so he was hardly defined by any single style. He spent five years with Sarah Vaughan in the 1950s, but he also worked with those on the more experimental edges of jazz, such as Coltrane, Andrew Hill, and Eric Dolphy.
     As a sideman, Haynes appeared on Vaughan’s In the Land of Hi-Fi (among others), Monk’s Live at the Five Spot, Rollins’ Brass & Trio, Dolphy’s Outward Bound, Getz’s Focus, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Jackie McLean’s Destination... Out!, Coltrane’s Newport ’63, and on and on. He’s also recorded as a leader since 1954’s Busman’s Holiday. Two of my favorites are We Three (with Phineas Newborn and Paul Chambers; 1958) and Out of the Afternoon (1962). There’s also a recently released (2007) 3-CD career retrospective - A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story - which is highly recommended.
     His playing modes range from hard swinging to bebop to jazz fusion and the avant-garde, but he is always identifiably Roy Haynes. He has a percolating effect on the drums: popping on the snare, sometimes implying the beat more than playing it (playing with the time), and bringing the cymbal playing to the foreground. He’s long been known as “Snap Crackle” in acknowledgment of this electric and pulsing sound.
     On November 6, Haynes made a stop at the San Francisco Jazz Festival with his band, the aptly named Fountain of Youth: Jaleel Shaw on alto and soprano sax, Martin Bejerano on piano, and John Sullivan on bass. There were very few showy drum solos during the evening, but Haynes made everyone in the band sound better with his constantly inventive playing. One gets a very strong sense of Haynes listening to what the others are playing and reacting instantaneously - hes the groups central nervous system, sending out rhythmic pulses of energy across the synapses to keep everyone swinging. You are always aware of what he’s rapping out on the drums, and he keeps your rapt attention.

November 4, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: November 4 to November 10

November 4
  • Pianist Joe Sullivan born 1906 in Chicago, IL.
  • Louis Armstrong records Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” 1931.
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker records “Klactoveedsedstene,” with drummer Max Roach, 1947.
November 5
  • Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald records “Goodnight, My Love” with Benny Goodman’s band, 1936.
  • Jimmie Lunceford’s band records Sy Oliver’s version of “Annie Laurie” featuring trombonist/vocalist Trummy Young, 1937.
  • Pianist Keith Jarrett records his solo The Sun Bear Concerts in Kyoto, Japan, 1975.
November 6
  • Arranger Andy Gibson born 1913 in Zanesville, OH.
  • Pianist Claude Thornhill’s band records Gil Evans’ arrangement of “Donna Lee” featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, 1947.
  • The World Saxophone Quartet records Steppin’, 1981
November 7
  • Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware born 1949 in Plainfield, NJ.
  • The historic Live at Fargo recording is made of the Ellington band in 1940, giving us an informal listen to the band at its zenith.
  • Pianist Joe Bushkin born 1916 in New York, NY.
November 8
  • Trumpeter Kamau Adilifu (Charles Sullivan) born 1944 in New York, NY.
  • Vocalist Billie Holiday records “Don’t Explain,” 1944.
  • Guitarist Russell Malone born 1963 in Albany, GA.
November 9
  • Two alto saxophonists born: Jesse Davis 1965 in New Orleans, LA, and Pete Brown 1906 in Baltimore, MD.
  • Count Basie records “How Long Blues” with his All American Rhythm Section (guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Jo Jones), 1938.
  • Pianist Oscar Peterson records “If You Could See Me Now” with guitarist Joe Pass, 1983.
November 10
  • Pianist Paul Bley born 1932 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  • Bassist Walter Page’s Blue Devils make their only recordings, “Blue Devil Blues” and “Squabblin’,” 1929.
  • Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner born 1965 in Fairborn, OH.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

November 1, 2010

Kenny Barron - Live at SFJAZZ

I recently saw Kenny Barron in performance during the San Francisco Jazz Festival. He is an elegant and melodic player and was in top form on October 24th.
     Barron was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and was already playing piano professionally as a teenager. After moving to New York City, he was hired by tenor saxophonist James Moody. He was a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s Quintet for five years in the 1960s. Barron also played with a number of jazz luminaries, including Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Ron Carter, and Stanley Turrentine. In the 1970s, he was a member of Yusef Lateef’s band.
     At this time, he also became a professor of music at Rutgers University, a position he maintained until 2000. Barron also toured and recorded with Stan Getz in the 1980s and co-founded the quartet Sphere with Charlie Rouse, Buster Williams, and Ben Riley. He has made over 40 recordings as a leader and has five Grammy nominations.
     At SFJAZZ, Barron was playing with his trio - Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums - as well as David Sánchez, a former Rutgers student of his, on tenor sax. The program got off to a fast start with a Tommy Flanagan tune called “Freight Train,” with everyone taking solos. This was followed by a more relaxed Kenny Barron original called “New Samba.” There was also a lovely version of “My Funny Valentine,” including a terrific extended solo by Kitagawa on bass.
     A couple of other Barron originals, “Bud Lite” (a tribute to Bud Powell) and “Lemuria” (from the album of the same name), showed how fleet a player Barron is. However, from my sonic vantage point in the balcony, the piano was not sufficiently enunciated from the rest of the band. Fortunately, Barron did a solo medley of Ellington/Strayhorn tunes, showcasing his lovely technique (he does seem to tickle the ivories). The evening ended with a selection (“Theme #1”) from a film soundtrack that Barron had composed but that was never used in the final movie (a straight-to-video classic, apparently). This was the most straightforward bit of jazz played during the whole concert, but the simple melody was a real crowd pleaser.