January 31, 2010

Gone With Golson

Gone with Golson
Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson (born 1929) got off to a fast start. Even while attending high school in Philadelphia, he was already playing with the likes of John Coltrane, Red Garland, and Philly Joe Jones. Philly (the city) was hopping with jazz at this time. Of Coltrane, Golson said in a 2009 interview: “John and I were like blood brothers. I was 16 when I met him, he was 18. And we spent our time in my living room, listening to lots of 78 records, trying to figure out what was going on.” It's amusing to picture this scene because it represents a typical sort of episode in a teenager's life, even today, as well as a “primordial soup” moment in the evolution of jazz.
     From the mid to late 1950s, Golson toured with Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, and Art Blakey. He then was co-leader of the famous Jazztet with trumpeter Art Farmer. Golson also wrote the classic tunes “I Remember Clifford” (written after the untimely death of Clifford Brown) and “Stablemates” (first recorded by Miles Davis). I particularly recommend the three albums he did as a leader for Prestige Records in 1959: Gone With Golson, Getting’ With It, and Groovin’ With Golson, all with Curtis Fuller on trombone. These are overshadowed hard bop classics, with Golson’s solos propelled forward with pulsing momentum but also displaying a big warm tone. “Staccato Swing” from Gone With Golson is a great example.
     During the sixties, when the commercial support for jazz largely disappeared, Golson, like many jazz musicians, went to work for the movie and television studios, writing music for the TV series M*A*S*H, Mission: Impossible, Mod Squad, and, yes, even The Partridge Family. In the 1980s, he returned to playing jazz gigs and he is still recording and touring regularly.

January 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bobby Hutcherson!

The KickerVibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was born in 1941 in Los Angeles. His first recording as a leader was The Kicker, with an all-star cast of Joe Henderson, Grant Green, Duke Pearson, Bob Cranshaw, and Al Harewood (the album was inexplicably kept in the Blue Note vaults until 1999). His vibraphone style is reminiscent of Milt Jackson, fast and tuneful, but with a more modern sense of interaction with his band mates. He also appeared on Grant Green’s Idle Moments, showing his hard bop credentials.
     Over the years, Hutcherson has recorded with Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and a long association with McCoy Tyner. He also made an appearance (as the bandleader) in the classic Sydney Pollack film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) starring Jane Fonda. Hutcherson once stated that “the whole thing of being in music is not to control it but to be swept away by it.” He’s been sweeping us away now for decades.

January 23, 2010

All the President’s Jazz 2009 - Part 1 of 2

During the 2008 election, I read somewhere (Rolling Stone? People?) that Reggie Love, Barack Obama’s aide, was responsible for updating Obama’s iPod. (This was the beginning of the undue fascination with the idea that Obama had an iPod.) The article said that Reggie was introducing Obama to hip hop and that Obama was introducing Reggie to jazz artists. A week after the inauguration, I wrote to Reggie and asked if I could send him some CDs of jazz for the president’s iPod. He graciously accepted the offer. So, over the course of 2009, I sent 14 CDs’ worth of jazz to Reggie. Now, whether or not this music has made it to the president, I have no independent verification, but I have received a couple of thank you notes from the White House, so I have no reason to doubt that it has.
     This blog post and the next contain the complete playlist of jazz tunes that I sent to the president in 2009. This list reflects my tastes in jazz and should not be construed to be President Obama’s choices. The only clue to the president’s tastes I had was that the previously mentioned article named John Coltrane as an Obama favorite. This was perfect because I tend to favor music from the Fifties and Sixties. I am a big fan of soul-jazz/hard bop, particularly Blue Note artists from around 1960. This music represents my idea of a soundtrack to Obama’s cool persona - the Obama groove - if that makes any sense. In deciding what to send to the president, I always had in mind trying to provide an entertaining musical experience for the person with the toughest job in the world.
     The list is presented in alphabetical order by the artist’s first name. This is followed by the song title(s), with the name of the album it is taken from in parentheses. One other note: one of the CDs was of Christmas tunes; this list is presented separately at the end of the regular playlist. (The rest of the president's playlist is posted here.)

Al Cohn-Zoot Sims Quintet: You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To (You ‘n’ Me)
Al Grey & Jimmy Forrest: Salty Papa (Night Train Revisited)
Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan: Backwater Blues; Goin’ Down Slow; Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out; How Long Blues (Trouble in Mind)
Art Pepper & The Marty Paich Quartet: Marty’s Blues; You and the Night and the Music (Marty Paich Quartet Featuring Art Pepper)
Art Pepper: How Can You Lose (Smack Up); Begin the Beguine (Art of Pepper)
“Baby Face” Willette: Goin’ Down; High ‘n’ Low (Face to Face)
Barney Kessel: Contemporary Blues (To Swing or Not to Swing)
Barney Wilen: B.B.B. “Bag’s Barney Blues” (Jazz in Paris, Vol. 26)
Bebo Valdés Trio: El Reloj de Pastora; Route 66 (El Arte del Sabor)
Ben Webster: Poutin’ (King of the Tenors)
Benny Carter: Ennui; Moon of Manakoora (Sax a la Carter)
Benny Golson: Stacatto Swing (Gone with Golson)
Billie Holiday: Comes Love (Billie’s Best)
Blue Mitchell: March on Selma (Down With It)
Bobby Hutcherson: The Kicker (The Kicker)
Booker Ervin Quintet: Dee Da Do (Cookin’)
Buddy Defranco: Frenesi (Plays Artie Shaw)
Candido Camero & Al Cohn: Stompin’ At the Savoy (Candido)
Cannonball Adderley: Autumn Leaves; One For Daddy-O (Somethin’ Else)
Carmen McCrae & Dave Brubeck: Travelin’ Blues (Vocal Encounters)
Charles Mingus: Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (Mingus Dynasty)
Charlie Byrd: It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing); Meditation (Meditacao); Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Byrd By the Sea)
Charlie Parker: My Little Suede Shoes (Confirmation)
Chet Baker: Exitus; Summertime (In Paris: Barclay Sessions)
Clifford Brown: De-Dah; Minor Mood (Memorial Album)
Clifford Jordan Quartet: Lush Life (Spellbound)
Curtis Counce: Complete; Too Close for Comfort (You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce)
Curtis Fuller: Hugore; Oscalypso; Soon (The Opener)
Dakota Staton: The Late, Late Show (Great Ladies of Song)
Daniel Visani: Sasha (Improvista)
Dexter Gordon: I Was Doing Allright (Doing Allright)
Diana Krall: Exactly Like You (From This Moment On)
Dianne Reeves: Pick Yourself Up (Good Night and Good Luck)
Dizzy Gillespie: Moonglow (Have Trumpet, Will Excite!)
Don Wilkerson: Senorita Eula (Blue ‘n’ Groovy, Vol. 2)
Donald Byrd: Dixie Lee (Blue ‘n’ Groovy, Vol. 2)
Donald Harrison: A Night in Tunisia; Take Five (Real Life Stories)
Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges: Big Shoe (Side by Side)
Duke Pearson: Big Bertha; Sweet Honey Bee (Sweet Honey Bee)
Erroll Garner: Mambo Nights (Mambo Moves Garner)
Freddie Hubbard: You’re My Everything [Alt. Take] (Hub-Tones)
Gene Ammons: Carbow; Jug’s Blue Blues (Up Tight!); Hittin’ the Jug (Boss Tenor)
George Shearing & Peggy Lee: You Came a Long Way From St. Louis (Definitive George Shearing)
Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond: Wintersong (Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond Quartet)
Gerry Mulligan Quartet: Festive Minor (Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker)
Gordon Samuelson: Blue Hawaii (Sax Hawaiian Style)
Grant Green: Cool Blues (Born To Be Blue); Have You Ever Had the Blues (Blues for Lou)
Hampton Hawes Trio: Hamp’s Blues (This is Hampton Hawes, Vol. 1); Blues for Jacque; Just Squeeze Me (But Don’t Tease Me); Yesterdays; You and the Night and the Music (This is Hampton Hawes, Vol. 2)
Hank Crawford: Mr. Blues (Mr. Blues)
Hank Jones: Summertime (Porgy and Bess)
Hank Mobley: Dig Dis (Soul Station)
Harold Land Sextet: West Coast Blues (West Coast Blues!)
Harry Edison & Ben Webster: Blues for Piney Brown; Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You? (Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?}
Herb Ellis: Pap’s Blues; Royal Garden Blues; Soft Winds; Tin Roof Blues (Nothing But the Blues)
Herbie Hancock: Cantaloupe Island (Empyrean Isles)
Herbie Nichols: Lady Sings the Blues (Complete Blue Note Recordings)
Horace Silver: Bonita; The African Queen (Cape Verdean Blues); Song for My Father (Song for My Father)
Houston Person: Goodness (Prestige Profiles)
Ike Quebec: Blue Samba; Favela; Loie (Bossa Nova Soul Samba)
Illinois Jacquet: Desert Winds (Flying Home)

All the President’s Jazz 2009 - Part 2 of 2

The rest of President Obama's jazz playlist. (The first part of the president's playlist is posted here.)

J.J. Johnson: Old Devil Moon (The Eminent, Vol. 2)
Jackie McLean: Why Was I Born? (4, 5, and 6)
Jake Shimabukuro: Misty (Gently Weeps)
Jimmy Giuffre: That’s The Way It Is (The Jimmy Guifre 3)
Jimmy Smith: When The Saints Go Marching In (Prayer Meetin’)
Joe Henderson: Out of the Night (Page One)
Joe Pass: Dancing in the Dark (Blues for Fred)
John Coltrane: Blues to Elvin (Alt. Take 2) (Coltrane Plays the Blues); Body and Soul (Alt. Take); Equinox (Coltrane’s Sound); Soul Eyes (Coltrane)
John Lewis & Sacha Distel: Dear Old Stockholm; Willow Weep for Me (Afternoon in Paris)
Johnny Hodges: I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart/Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Everybody Knows)
Kenny Burrell: Chitlins Con Carne; Saturday Night Blues; Wavy Gravy (Midnight Blue); Terrace Theme (Alt. Take 3) (Guitar Forms)
Kenny Dorham: Buffalo; Sunrise in Mexico (Whistle Stop)
Kenny Drew: Groovin’ the Blues (Undercurrent)
Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh: There Will Never Be Another You (Lee Konitz With Warne Marsh)
Lester Young: Love Me Or Leave Me (Pres and Teddy)
Lou Donaldson: Avalon; Gravy Train (Alt. Take); Polka Dots & Moonbeams; Twist Time (Gravy Train); Blues Walk; Play Ray (Blues Walk); Love Walked In; Spaceman Twist (The Natural Soul)
McCoy Tyner/Joe Henderson/Ron Carter/Elvin Jones: Blues on the Corner (Real McCoy)
Miles Davis: Au Bar Du Petit Bac (Ascenseur pour l’echafaud); Summertime (Porgy & Bess); Teo (Someday My Prince Will Come)
Modern Jazz Quartet: Bluesology (Fontessa)
Monty Alexander: Fly Me to the Moon (Echoes of Jilly’s)
Nancy Wilson: I Thought About You (The Great American Songbook)
Nat Adderley: Sack of Woe (Work Song)
Ornette Coleman: When Will the Blues Leave? (Something Else!!!)
Oscar Peterson Trio: Birth of the Blues (Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra); Georgia on My Mind (Night Train); Tin Tin Deo (Exclusively For My Friends, Vol. 1)
Paul Desmond: Samba Cantina (Bossa Antigua)
Randy Weston: Tamashii (Zep Tepi)
Regina Carter: Oh, Lady, Be Good! (Rhythms of the Heart)
Ron Carter: Blues for D.P. (Bass and I)
Roy Eldridge: The Song is Ended, But The Melody Lingers On (Little Jazz)
Roy Haynes: Sneakin’ Around (We Three)
Sarah Vaughan: Fever (Viva! Vaughan)
Sheila Jordan: Hum Drum Blues (Portrait of Sheila)
Sonny Criss: Day Dream, Early and Later, Pt. 1, Early and Later, Pt. 2 (Jazz in Paris, Vol. 23)
Sonny Red: Bluesville (Out of the Blue)
Sonny Rollins: I’m an Old Cowhand (Way Out West); Paradox (Work Time); Strode Rode (Saxophone Colossus)
Sonny Stitt: My Mother’s Eyes; Never Sh! (Now)
Stan Getz: All the Things You Are; To the Ends of the Earth; Pocono Mac (The Soft Swing); Candy; Chocolate Sundae; When Your Lover Has Gone (Jazz Giants ‘58); Desafinado; O Morro Nao Tem Vez (Bossa Nova Years); I Didn’t Know What Time It Was; Tangerine (More West Coast Jazz); Of Thee I Sing (West Coast Jazz); Three Little Words (Award Winner)
Stanley Turrentine: Goin’ Home; Ladyfingers; Trouble (No. 2) (Hustlin’); Little Sheri; Look Out!; Minor Chant; Tin Tin Deo; Yesterdays (Look Out!); Sure As You’re Born (Let It Go)
Stuff Smith: Blue Violin (Cat on a Hot Fiddle)
Tal Farlow: They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow)
Thad Jones: April In Paris (Magnificent Thad Jones)
Tony Bennett: Sweet Lorraine (Jazz)
Wes Montgomery: Bumpin’ on Sunset (Verve Jazz Masters 14)
Willis Jackson: Please Mr. Jackson (Prestige Profile)
Wynton Kelly: Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (Kelly Blue)
Wynton Marsalis: You & Me (Magic Hour)
Zoot Sims: Gus’s Blues (That Old Feeling); How Long Has This Been Going On; The Man I Love (Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers)

Christmas Songs
Beegie Adair: Frosty the Snowman
Carmen McRae: The Christmas Song
Chet Baker: The First Noel
Cyrus Chestnut: O Tannenbaum
Dave Brubeck & Gerry Mulligan: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Dexter Gordon Quartet: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Diana Krall & The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Jingle Bells
Duke Pearson: Sleigh Ride
Hank Crawford & Jimmy McGriff: Silver Bells
Houston Person: Blue Christmas
Jack Jezzro & Lori Mechem: White Christmas
Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Louis Armstrong: Christmas Night in Harlem
Ramsey Lewis Trio: Christmas Blues
Ray Brown Trio: Let It Snow
Tony Bennett: Winter Wonderland

January 20, 2010

Classic Brubeck Quartet on Video

Jazz Icons: Dave Brubeck Live in '64 & '66Dave Brubeck Live in '64 and '66 is part of the Jazz Icons series of DVDs and presents two performances in Europe by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The is the classic quartet with Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, and Eugene Wright. The DVD lasts for 67 minutes, and the first half is a 1964 performance in Belgium. This is a beauty of a black-and-white film, just what you'd want a jazz performance to look like from the period. Very crisp - everything was shot on film back then, of course - with lots of close-ups of Dave's hands flicking over the ivories and Paul on sax. Paul was a very low-key performer, standing quietly with his eyes closed as he produced all those smooth-as-butter notes. Songs include "St. Louis Blues," "Koto Song," and "Take Five," with a terrific extended drum solo. (By the way, this video of "Take Five" can be downloaded separately on iTunes.) Paul's expressive playing is a standout, and Dave - often underrated as a piano player - shows his range from lyrical to percussive.
     The second date is from Berlin in 1966 and is filmed, again in black and white, in front of a live audience. There is some compromise in the sound quality here - a little muffled reverb in the background. Songs include "Take the A Train," "I'm in a Dancing Mood," "40 Days," and "Take Five" again. (Some of the songs from this set and the '64 date are available on YouTube.) This is a chance to see and hear the Brubeck Quartet in its heyday and in classic form.

January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Horace Parlan!

Trouble In MindHorace Parlan was born in 1931 in Pittsburgh. As a child, he had polio, which resulted in a damaged right hand. It is all the more remarkable then that he became a hard-bopping jazz pianist, although his bluesy style does emphasize rhythmic left-hand bass chords. “I was not equipped to speak musically in the manner of [Art] Tatum or [Oscar] Peterson or any of the pianists I admire,” said Parlan in 2001. “I had to find a groove of my own. I think simplicity is the thing." He recorded with many jazz greats in the 1960s, playing on classic albums by Charles Mingus, Lou Donaldson, Stanley Turrentine, and others. He's also recorded albums under his own name. Particularly noteworthy are a couple of recent albums of slow blues with Archie Shepp, Goin' Home and Trouble in Mind.

January 18, 2010

Success in a Sewer

Here's a 1959 Time magazine story called "Success in a Sewer" about the Blackhawk,* the legendary San Francisco nightclub that closed in the early Sixties. Shelly Manne, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and many other jazz greats performed and recorded there. Located in the still ungentrified Tenderloin area of San Francisco, about a mile from where I live, the site is now a parking lot.
     On the corner of Turk and Hyde Streets at the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin and just a wiggle away from the city’s sleaziest strip joints, slumps a scabrous nightclub called the Black Hawk. Its dim doorway belches noise and stale cigarette smoke. Against one wall lies a long, dank bar minus bar stools; a bandstand, just big enough for an underfed quintet, is crammed on the other side; stained, plastic-topped tables and rachitic chairs crowd the floor. The capacity, when everyone is inhaling, comes close to 200, and strangely, the crowd is always close to capacity. This week the Black Hawk is edging into its tenth year as one of the nation’s top resorts for modern jazz, the club that launched such cool cats as Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan. Says Co-owner Guido Caccienti: “I’ve struggled for years to keep this place a sewer.”
     No Bells. Entrepreneur Caccienti is rarely aware of the kind of music being played in his sewer: he is a bit hard of hearing and besides, he knows little about jazz. This has its advantages. Explains the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jazz Columnist Ralph Gleason: “It’s the club musicians like best. First, the owners don’t tell them what to do. They can’t—they can’t communicate. Second, the audience is best. Why else except to listen would anyone endure these conditions?”
     The awful conditions have steadily deteriorated since the fall of 1949, when Guido and a boyhood pal named Johnny Noga scraped up $10,000 to go to a sheriff’s sale and buy a bankrupt nightclub. Guido deployed his wife Eleanor at the cash register, Johnny married Helen, the head waitress, and they began to book some musical acts. Along with Brubeck and Mulligan, jazz stars as well as pop singers drifted into the Hawk—Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Dorothy Dandridge, Johnny Mathis. Regulars remember how Eleanor Caccienti refused to ring the cash register when Dizzy Gillespie was talking for fear she would miss a joke. (Now the cash registers have no bells.) They recall the night a trombonist lost his pants in the middle of a solo, and the time Drummer Art Blakey belted a cymbal so hard that it bounced onto a ringside table where (according to Gleason) “two worshipers were sitting with eyes closed. They went six feet in the air, straight up.”
     No Books. Season after season, the joint was jammed. The Hawk’s mascots —pigeons living in a coop right above the men’s room—grew fat and happy. The fees that the club was able to pay for its jazz acts rose from less than $300 to more than $3,000 a week. Even after the Nogas sold their interest in the club last year to Max Weiss, secretary-treasurer of San Francisco’s avant-garde Fantasy Records, nothing really changed. They did try to straighten out the chaotic books, but it was a foredoomed effort. Accurate accounting is apparently not a necessity for survival in the jazz world, where only a few clubs—Nick’s in Manhattan and the Blue Note in Chicago—have lasted as long as the Hawk.
     This week Guido’s noiseless cash registers are ringing up drinks and entrance fees to a brisk rhythm, the music of Vibraphonist Cal Tjader and his jazz quartet (quickly convertible to a bongo-congo Latin quintet with the addition of a crack drummer named “Mongo”). Says Owner Guido: “We give the customers good jazz. The musicians we don’t bother. We never walked around with big cigars and said, ‘I’m Mister Black Hawk and won’t you sit at my table, musician?’ They can look right across the room when they play and see me at the bar and know the boss is working too.”

Time magazine, August 3, 1959
"Nightclubs: Success in a Sewer"

* There is some controversy about whether the name of the club was the Blackhawk (one word) or the Black Hawk (two words). Albums recorded at the Blackhawk have tended to use the one word spelling in their titles. However, this article uses two words and the photo of the marquee seems to show two words. Fred Hall addressed the issue in his biography of Dave Brubeck, It's About Time. Dave recalls the name as one word, and Hall spoke to the original partners, Guido and the Nogas, in the early 1990s. They all came down in the one word camp. Guido claimed that the guy who made the sign "goofed." One other note - Guido's last name in the Time magazine story is spelled "Caccienti" but elsewhere, including Hall's book, is spelled "Cacianti." Perhaps the corner of Turk and Hyde is some sort of grammatical black hole?

January 17, 2010

Count Basie Meets Clark Terry

Clark Terry (trumpet), Buddy DeFranco (clarinet), Wardell Gray (tenor sax), Count Basie (piano), Freddie Green (guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Gus Johnson (drums)

January 16, 2010

Story of a Sound

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound"I start from one point and go as far as possible," wrote John Coltrane in 1961. "But, unfortunately, I never lose my way. I say unfortunately, because what would interest me greatly is to discover paths that I'm perhaps not aware of." This is the essence of the musician who emerges in Ben Ratliff's excellent book, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound. As the subtitle suggests, the book is only partially a biography. Mainly, it traces the sources and progression of Coltrane's music, from the early rough and fast chord changes, through the "sheets of sound" phase, and finally to the modal and experimental "spiritual" phase of his last few years. The book also considers his influence on jazz after his death, at age 40, from liver cancer in 1967. He experimented and innovated with music until the very end, and he haunts all jazz since then with the unanswered question - What would Coltrane have played next?
     Coltrane's story was not one of meteoric rise and fall. Many jazz musicians seemed to appear on the scene fully formed with a breakout performance in a nightclub or on vinyl - the years of struggle to get there lost in obscurity. But audiences got to see and hear Coltrane's struggles and growth, and this is perhaps an underappreciated reason why many listeners are so attached to him. That and the fact that he absorbed and transformed just about everything there was to know about the saxophone.

January 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kenny Wheeler!

Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (born 1930) grew up in Toronto, Canada, and became interested in jazz in his early teens. After moving to England, where he still lives, he started playing with groups in the local jazz scene in London, including Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott. He's recorded several LPs as a leader – his first was Windmill Tilter (1969) – and has recorded with other groups, both larger orchestras and small combos, over the years, including Keith Jarrett, Anthony Braxton, Bob Brookmeyer, and Bill Frisell.
     His own avant-garde compositions often lean toward the complex and melancholic. As he stated in a 2003 interview, “I suppose I’m twisted because sad music makes me feel happy. My favorite people in jazz are the ones who sound a bit sad. Billie Holiday, Miles Davis – that’s a sad sound.” I don't think that's twisted - misery can generate great music and one can enjoy the expression without sharing the sentiment. The blues would never have been popular or influential if it just made us feel miserable.

January 12, 2010


Someday My Prince Will ComeTeo” is a song from Someday My Prince Will Come, a little-known Miles Davis album from 1961. The entire album was recorded in just three days. “Teo” is one of two songs on which John Coltrane makes an appearance. It begins with a kind of clapping rhythm (Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass), with a Middle-Eastern flavor, then Miles comes in and has some playful interaction with Wynton Kelly plunking on the piano. He then soars off into high modal territory, both playful and plaintive at the same time.
     Just before the four-minute mark, Coltrane comes in and from the first note he asserts his authority. This is the mature Coltrane who at this point in his career has found his full sound. He makes Miles sound almost delicate in comparison to his strong, emotive, and longing tone. Coltrane also explores the upper registers, combining brief spurts of fast notes with long, high tones, a sound that evokes in me something of a bird call, perhaps a great gull soaring along a fog-bound coast. But then I live in San Francisco.
     Many people have remarked over the years about how Coltrane’s sound, particularly in the latter stages of his career, seemed to come from deep within him and resonated for them in a personal way, a way that was often only possible to express in quasi-religious terms. One feels that here in the searching quality of his solo.
     Coltrane goes deeper into the song, where Miles seems to float within it. Miles returns to restate the theme, but it almost feels as if Coltrane’s solo is still echoing until the end.

January 10, 2010

Coltrane's Creed

"I believe that men are here to grow themselves into the best good that they can be. This is what I want to do, this is my belief: that I'm supposed to grow to the best good that I can get to. As I'm going there, becoming this, and if I ever become this, it will just come out of the horn."
~ John Coltrane (1966)

January 9, 2010

Ode to Liner Notes

My friend Don is into vinyl records. He claims their superiority – “warmer” tone or better mix – over CDs or electronic versions. This may be true in many cases, although it is an argument difficult to prove to those who grew up only listening to CDs or downloads. One area we agree on, however, is that the record sleeve is a disappearing art form. The often wonderful (and in the Fifties and Sixties sometimes hilariously sexy) artwork and design that went into album covers loses a great deal of impact when it goes from something you held in both hands to a thumbnail on your iPod.
Introducing Johnny Griffin     The other loss is the flip side of the album, the liner notes. (Yes, they’re included in CD booklets, but often in an unreadable, small font.) Now that many people download individual songs, we often don’t know who is playing drums or bass behind the album’s main artist, we don’t know recording dates, and we get none of the flavor of the moment that liner notes often provided. For jazz recordings, these things are crucial. Liner notes were often written by leading critics of the day, to place the recording/artist in some kind of context, or by producers or others just trying to push the record. So, they could vary from prescient analysis to desperate attempts to sound “hip.”
     In the liner notes to Introducing Johnny Griffin (Blue Note, 1956), Joe Segal states: “Among saxophonists, Johnny Griffin, by many, is considered to be ‘the man’!” Oh, really. We also find out that Griffin is performing at Chicago’s Flame Show Lounge. The “man” was truly hot apparently.
     I suppose this is indicative of our age. We have access to almost unlimited amounts of information, but the connection to meaning seems to be loosening.

January 7, 2010

My First Post

Time Further OutI'm a jazz enthusiast, and I mean that in the true sense of the word enthusiasm. That word comes from the Greek enthousiasmos meaning "to be inspired" or more specifically "inspired by god." Jazz can strike me like that and I often find myself listening over and over again to a particular song until I feel that I finally absorb it somehow. Does this happen to anyone else?
     The current enthusiasm is the song "Far More Blue" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. This song is from the album Time Further Out, recorded in 1961. It's a sort of funky waltz that begins with a beautiful Paul Desmond lead on the melody. Brubeck is considered part of the "cool" school of jazz, and Desmond's solo is a perfect example. But Brubeck's solo which follows is an argument against it, unless he's trying to be the nerd of the cool school. The piano solo is rhythmic and in fits and starts, as were many of Brubeck's solos, as if the waltz were trying to break out into a Charleston or something. The rhythmic play against the drums and bass are what make the song so enjoyable for me. Brubeck returns to the melodic waltz at the end - almost as if to say "I can play like this too."