April 29, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: April 29 to May 5

April 29
  • Composer/pianist Duke Ellington born 1899 in Washington, D.C.
  • Tenor saxophonist George Adams born 1940 in Covington, GA.
  • Harmonica player and guitarist Toots Thielemans born 1922 in Brussels, Belgium.
 April 30
  • Pianist Richard Twardzik born 1931 in Danvers. MA.
  • Bassist Percy Heath born 1923 in Wilmington, W.VA.
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker makes his first commercial recording (Swingmatism) with Jay McShann’s band in Dallas 1941.
 May 1
  • Vocalist/pianist Shirley Horn born 1934 in Washington, D.C.
  • Pianist Bud Powell records Night in Tunisia 1951
  • Flutist James Newton born 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
 May 2
  • Organist Richard "Groove" Holmes born 1931 in Camden, NJ.
  • Pianist Eddie Heywood records How High The Moon with the tenor saxophonist Don Byas, 1944.
  • Vocalist/bandleader Billy Eckstine records "A Cottage For Sale," 1945.
 May 3
  • Pianist/composer John Lewis born 1920 in La Grange, IL.
  • Vibraphonist Red Norvo Trio with Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow make their first recordings 1950.
  • Vocalist Ethel Waters records “Stormy Weather,” 1933.
 May 4
  • Duke Ellington records “Cottontail” featuring tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, 1940.
  • Bassist Ron Carter born 1937 in Ferndale, MI.
  • Vocalist Bessie Smith records “Lost Your Head Blues,” 1926.
 May 5
  • Trumpeter Jack Walrath born 1946 in Stuart, FL.
  • Drummer/bandleader Paul Barbarin born 1899 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane records Giant Steps with pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor 1959.
 Source: Smithsonian Jazz

April 26, 2010

Give “Gator” Some Respect

Nuther'n Like Thuther'n: More Gravy/Boss Shoutin'In 1964, sax man Willis “Gator” Jackson released the album Nuther’n Like Thuther’n on Prestige Records. This title neatly sums up the main criticism of Jackson: that he made a lot of records and they all sound the same. Granted, Jackson was no musical innovator, but one can still feel how his gritty, lowdown-blues blowing could stir a crowd in a dancehall on a hot Saturday night. Perhaps it’s the Sixties version of “dirty dancing”?
     Jackson was born in Miami in 1932 and was already touring with Cootie Williams, late of the Duke Ellington orchestra, and his band in 1949. He played a lot of rhythm and blues in the early Fifties. His honking and wailing sax style - in performances, he’d lie on his back and play - particularly on the song “Gator Tail” earned him his nickname. Jackson married R&B singer Ruth Brown and toured with her extensively. When he signed with Prestige in 1959, he modified his flamboyant style and became a proponent of soul-jazz playing. “Soul” signifying emotion in this case - something that Jackson wore on his sleeve when he played. Subtlety was not his game - Jackson was about expressing the emotion of the tune, not playing in a “style” per se.
     He was greatly influenced by Illinois Jacquet, who was also a honker in his day, and he admired Gene Ammons. Jackson had this to say about playing the sax: “So many of these saxophonists playing today [1961], they have what I call a ‘peashooter’ sound. They sound like an alto, they’re playing alto on the tenor. They’re wonderful technicians, they all have a good execution, but they don’t make the instrument sound like they should.” No one ever accused Jackson of being a peashooter. Just try sitting still while listening to Jackson’s version of “Swimmin’ Home Baby” from 1964.
     For the next ten years, Jackson made a slew of albums for Prestige, more and more of which are becoming available, including Please Mr. Jackson, Gentle Gator, and a compilation album called At Large. Over the years, he had long associations with both Jack McDuff and Carl Wilson on organ and with Pat Martino on guitar. “Gator” continued playing up until his death in 1987 and he left behind some swinging albums of bluesy soul-jazz, played by a master of the form.

April 22, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: April 22 to April 28

April 22
  • Bassist/composer Charles Mingus born 1922 in Nogales, AZ.
  • Bassist Paul Chambers born 1935 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Bassist John Kirby’s Sextet records 20th Century Closet, 1940.
 April 23
  • Vocalist Lil Brown records "Why Don’t You Do Right," which Peggy Lee later turns into a major hit with Benny Goodman’s band, 1941.
  • Clarinetist Jimmie Noone born 1895 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Vocalist Abbey Lincoln records Over The Years, 2000.
 April 24
  • Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson born 1937 in Lima, Ohio.
  • Guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans record duo album Undercurrent, 1962.
  • Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin born 1928 in Chicago, IL.
 April 25
  • Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald born 1917 in Newport News, VA.
  • Saxophonist Earl Bostic born 1913 in Tulsa, OK.
  • Saxophonist Archie Shepp records Goin’ Home, a duo of traditional themes with pianist Horace Parlan, 1977.
 April 26
  • Drummer Dave Tough born 1907 in Oak Park, IL.
  • Blues singer Ma Rainey born 1886 in Columbus, GA.
  • Reedman/composer Jimmy Giuffre born 1921 in Dallas, TX.
 April 27
  • Multi-instrumentalist/composer Scott Robinson born 1959 in Pequannock, New Jersey.
  • Three drummers born - Denzil Best 1917, Connie Kay 1927, Freddie Waits, 1943.
  • Saxophonist John Coltrane records The Drum Thing with drummer Elvin Jones, 1964.
 April 28
  • Trumpeter Mario Bauza born 1911 in Havana, Cuba.
  • Pianist Thelonious Monk records San Francisco Holiday, 1960.
  • Louis Armstrong records "Blue Again," 1931.
 Source: Smithsonian Jazz

April 21, 2010

A Love Letter to Latin Jazz

Calle 54Calle 54 is clearly the work of an enraptured lover of Latin jazz, and the film looks marvelous. This 2000 documentary was directed by Spaniard Fernando Trueba, who also directed the wonderfully sexy film Belle Époque (1992), starring Penelope Cruz. Here, he films some of the all-time greats of Latin jazz playing their music, including Tito Puente, Eliane Elias, Gato Barbieri, Michel Camilo, Chico O’Farrill, and Chucho and Bebo Valdéz. Each musician is briefly introduced while they are filmed (often as solitary figures) in their own homes or neighborhoods, whether in New York City, Havana, Cuba, or Stockholm, Sweden.
     But the bulk of the film is performance, all done on a soundstage and intimately filmed with beautiful sound quality. (The title of the film refers to 54th Street in New York City, the location of Sony Music Studios, where the performances were shot.) We see Chico O’Farrill conducting a big band, Tito Puente as the over-animated rhythmic center of his group, and a wonderful duet with Bebo Valdéz and bassist Israel López “Cachao.” Chucho and Bebo also play a father-son piano duet. One couldn’t have asked for anything better in a music video.
     However, virtually no historical context regarding Latin jazz is provided. And I found myself wanting to see more about the musicians’ personal lives. The snippets we get wet the appetite but leave you unfulfilled. We visit Tito Puente in his eponymous restaurant on City Island, showing off his murals to Latin jazz. And there’s a wonderfully quirky interview with Gato Barbieri in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park. Gato sounds as if he’s just been taken from a 1970s time capsule, and his answers to the filmmaker’s questions (which have been edited out) come across as a string of nostalgic and crazy non sequitirs. But Gato’s performance that follows is gangbusters.
     For some great Latin jazz, filmed and recorded with loving care, you couldn’t do better than Calle 54. Highly recommended.

April 19, 2010

Reconsidering “The Sidewinder”

The SidewinderTrumpeter Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” is an example of familiarity breeding contempt. The 1963 hit tune, from the album of the same name, was used as the theme in Chrysler car commercials at the time. This was without permission from Morgan or Blue Note Records – threats of lawsuits caused the commercials to be quickly taken off the air. But even Morgan thought the tune was just “filler” for the album. This is a bit surprising because he desperately needed a comeback, as he was coming off several years of trouble due to a heroin addiction.
     “The Sidewinder” opens the album with ten minutes of great blues. The catchy rhythm is deep blues mixed with a Latin riff and is sustained throughout. Lee’s opening solo is on the showy side, but there’s also some wonderfully intimate playing, almost a talking quality to the trumpet. Joe Henderson follows on tenor sax with a melodious solo that is immediately recognizable. (The following year, Henderson would make another memorable guest appearance with a seminal solo on Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.”) Barry Harris on piano and Bob Cranshaw on bass are also given ample room for bluesy solos in “Sidewinder.” Hey, “catchy” doesn’t necessarily mean bad.
     Blue Note tried to repeat the formula on later Morgan albums, attempting to capture the magic again with opening extended blues songs. This is part of what contributed to the dismissive attitude toward this tune/album. (And did we really need an album called The Rumproller?) Morgan continued to record prolifically throughout the Sixties until his untimely death in 1972, when he was shot by his common law wife at the club where he was performing, the unfortunately named Slugs’.

April 16, 2010

Wes Montgomery - "Twisted Blues" (1965)

Wes Montgomery on guitar, Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass, and Jimmy Lovelace on drums. Recorded for the television broadcast "Jazz Prisma," at Universal Studio, Brussels, Belgium, March 1965.

April 15, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: April 15 to April 21

April 15
  • Bassist Richard Davis born 1930 in Chicago, IL.
  • Vocalist Bessie Smith born 1894 in Chattanooga, TN.
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis’s Quintet records In Person: Saturday Night At the Blackhawk, 1961.
 April 16
  • Trombonist Benny Green born 1923 in Chicago, IL.
  • Pianist Earl Hines records solo piano Plays Cole Porter, 1974.
  • Pianist Alice Coltrane records Transfiguration, 1978.
 April 17
  • Bassist Buster Williams born 1942 in Camden, NJ.
  • Banjoist/guitarist Johnny St. Cyr born 1890 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Pianist/composers Mary Lou Williams and Cecil Taylor record Embraced at Carnegie Hall, 1977.
 April 18
  • Multi-instrumentalist Sidney Bechet overdubs records a one-man band version of "Sheik of Araby," 1941.
  • Pianist Hal Galper born 1938 in Salem, MA.
  • Pianist Jimmy Rowles records his last album, Lilac Time, 1994.
 April 19
  • Drummer Tommy Benford born 1985 in Chaleston, W. VA.
  • The Great Concert of (bassist) Charles Mingus is recorded in Paris, France, 1964.
  • Saxophonist Jimmy Greene records Live at Birdland, 1998.
 April 20
  • Drummer Beaver Harris born 1936 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Percussionist/bandleader Tito Puente born 1923 in New York, NY.
  • Pianist/composer Sun Ra records The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume 1, 1965.
 April 21
  • Trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton born 1932 in Jeannette, PA.
  • Pianist Chick Corea records solo Piano Improvisations in Olso 1971
  • Guitarist Mundell Lowe born 1922 in Laurel, MS.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

April 14, 2010

A Hoot - Fred Jackson

Hootin' 'N Tootin'Tenor sax man Fred Jackson released only one album as a leader, but it was a fine one. Jackson got his start playing in Little Richard’s band in the early 1950s. Later, he toured with rhythm-and-blues vocalist Lloyd Price, who was most famous for the single “Stagger Lee,” and he also recorded with B.B King. In 1961, Jackson appeared on Baby Face Willette’s Face to Face for Blue Note Records. His inventive playing on this album - he uses the whole bag of sax tricks available to him - landed him his own date as a leader the following year.
     In February 1962, Jackson stepped into Van Gelder Studio and recorded Hootin’ ‘n Tootin’ with other Lloyd Price veterans – Earl Vandyke on organ, Willie Jones on guitar, and Wilbert Hogan on drums. The result is a bluesy classic. Jackson’s playing is a mix of hard bop, earthy blues, and soul-jazz. The first tune, “Dippin’ in the Bag,” is an uptempo blues with Vandyke comping on organ and Jones and Jackson both taking extended solos. “Southern Exposure” is a more lowdown affair, a slow swinger with Jackson laying down the blues in a quiet wail (if that’s possible). The album continues to vary between swinging and shouting ravers and slower, R&B-inspired jazz, all showcasing Jackson’s searching solos.
     Jackson had a second recording session in April 1962 with the same band, with the addition of Sam Jones on bass. Unfortunately, Hootin’ didn’t sell well and the tunes from the second session weren’t released. Fortunately, for the reissue of Hootin’ in 1998, Blue Note tacked on these seven tracks. Again, it’s a mix of burners such as “Stretchin’ Out” (what’s Jackson got against including final g’s?) and “On the Spot” with more low-down blues such as "Egypt Land" and “Minor Exposure” (my personal favorite of all fourteen tunes).
     Jackson later recorded with organist Big John Patton and then basically disappeared from the jazz scene. His bluesy and inspired playing on the sax from his all-too-brief stint as a jazzman is worth seeking out.

April 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Herbie Hancock!

"Cantaloupe Island" (2008) - Herbie Hancock, piano; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Miller, electric bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums.

April 9, 2010

New Release: Lisa Engelken - Caravan

CaravanLisa Engelken is trying to seduce you, and with her latest CD, there's no doubt she'll succeed. Caravan takes us on a journey through the sometimes bumpy territory of love. The first tune, “We’ll Be Together Again,” starts as a sad goodbye between lovers but quickly kicks into an uptempo “see you later” - and so the roller coaster ride begins. Engelken displays a similar playfulness in both vocals and song choices throughout. After a little samba break, the Duke Ellington classic “Caravan” is given a slow, haunting reading as is the little-known Hoagy Carmichael tune “Winter Moon,” my personal favorite on the album. Engelken’s funkier side is on display on Joni Mitchell’s “Trouble Child” and a version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.” On Billy Idol’s seminal “White Wedding,” we hear Engelken’s sinuous tone wind its way around the noirish corners of this tune. The final song, “Detour Ahead,” is a gorgeous ballad to the vagaries of love, where the road to happiness is most definitely still under construction.
     The mix of updated standards, covers of Joni Mitchell and Billy Idol tunes, and a little funk give Engelken a chance to display her athletic vocal technique, from kittenish tease to speedy scatting to full-throated belting. And the often complex arrangements are ably handled by the talented group of musicians working with her. Special kudos go to Adam Shulman on piano and Jon Monahan on guitar. Lisa Engelken is a talented singer who deserves to be heard more widely - listening to Caravan will have you falling under her spell.

April 8, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: April 8 to April 14

April 8
  • Vocalist Carmen McRae born 1920 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Tom Harrell records Form with Joe Lovano, Dave Leibman and John Abercrombie 1990.
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s big band records Benny Goldon’s "Stablemates," 1957.
 April 9
  • Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard records Hub Cap with saxophonist Jimmy Heath, 1961.
  • Tenor saxophonist Julian Dash born 1916 in Charleston, SC.
  • Arranger Gil Evans records New Bottle, Old Wine featuring alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, 1959.
 April 10
  • Saxophonist/arranger Fud Livingstone born 1906 in Charleston, SC.
  • Pianist Denny Zeitlin born 1938 in Chicago, IL.
  • Pianist Count Basie’s band features tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins on "Feedin’ The Bean," 1941.
 April 11
  • Trombonist Grachan Moncur III records his Echoes of Prayer with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, 1974.
  • Guitarist Oscar Aleman records "I’m Beginning to See the Light" in Buenos Aires, 1946.
  • Cornetist Nick La Rocca born 1889 in New Orleans, LA.
 April 12
  • Pianist Herbie Hancock born 1940 in Chicago, IL.
  • Pianist Thelonious Monk records "I Should Care," 1957.
  • Clarinetist Johnny Dodds born 1892 in New Orleans, LA.
April 13
  • Trumpeter Bobby Hackett records his big band version of "Embraceable You," 1939.
  • Saxophonist Bud Freeman born 1906 in Chicago, IL. .
  • Pianist McCoy Tyner’s Trio records Infinity with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.
 April 14
  • Trumpeter/composer Shorty Rogers born 1924 in Great Barrington, MA.
  • Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins records "Misterioso" with pianists Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, 1957.
  • Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons born 1925 in Chicago, IL.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

April 5, 2010

April 3, 2010

Shirley Scott - "Queen of the Organ"

Jazz history is riddled with stories about the tragic consequences of drug use. But organist Shirley Scott was certainly the only jazz musician to succumb to the effects of a diet drug.
     Scott was born in Philadelphia in 1934. She played piano and trumpet before settling in at the Hammond B-3 organ. She was an admirer of fellow Philadelphian Jimmy Smith, as were so many other jazz artists. Scott first came to prominence working with  sax great Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis in the late 1950s, particularly on the 1958 hit song “In the Kitchen.” Her style encompassed bebop chordal harmonies with a blues and gospel influenced sense of rhythm; she had a lighter touch but punctuated her playing with the bass pedal (as Jimmy Smith did), epitomizing the soul-jazz organ sound. “On the organ, no one knows how many different sounds you can get. It's an infinite number of tones,” Scott once said. “The only problem is taste. Most people think of electricity as the ability to drown everybody else out. I don't play like that.”
Soul Shoutin'     In the 1960s, Scott teamed up - personally and professionally - with sax man Stanley Turrentine, and this collaboration produced winning music over a number of years. Scott’s 1963 albums The Soul is Willing and Soul Shoutin’ are a great place to hear her play if you don’t know her music (they are available together on a Prestige CD). Turrentine’s Never Let Me Go, Hustlin’ (probably my favorite), and Let It Go are also wonderful albums from this period, mixtures of blues, bop, and pop songs, with great interaction between sax and organ. On her dates from the late Sixties, Scott tended to include a few too may pop tunes, which perhaps tainted her reputation somewhat. Did we really need an organ rendition of “On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” or The Beatles’ “Something”?
     Scott recorded less in the 1970s as organ combos fell out of favor, but she returned again in the following decade, including on dates with Al Grey, Jimmy Forrest, and Dexter Gordon. She also did some piano recordings in the 1990s. By some estimates, over her entire career, Scott recorded an astounding fifty records as a leader - "Queen of the Organ" indeed! In the mid-1990s, she began taking the diet drug fen-phen, which was later proven to cause damage to the heart. Scott actually sued the manufacturer, American Home Products, and was awarded $8 million by a Philadelphia jury in 2000. But Scott succumbed to heart disease in March 2002.

April 1, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: April 1 to April 7

April 1
  • Saxophonist Harry Carney born 1910 in Boston, MA.
  • Trumpeter/bandleader Cootie Williams is the first to record a Thelonious Monk composition, "Epistrophy," 1942.
  • Saxophonist John Laporta born 1920 in Philadelphia, PA.
 April 2
  • Trumpeter Booker Little born 1938 in Memphis, TN.
  • Larry Coryell born 1943 in Galveston, TX.
  • Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke record All The Things You Are in Essen, Germany 1960.
 April 3
  • Composer/arranger Bill Finegan born 1917 in Newark, NJ.
  • Bassist Scott LaFaro born 1936 in Newark, NJ.
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker rehearses with Gene Roland’s Big Band, 1950. It is issued as The Band That Never Was.
 April 4
  • Bassist Gene Ramey born 1913 in Austin, TX.
  • Pianist Benny Green born 1963 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Booker Little records Out Front with Max Roach and Eric Dolphy in 1961.
 April 5
  • Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine born 1934 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Drummer Stan Levey born 1925 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton records "Sweethearts on Parade" featuring tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, 1939.
 April 6
  • Saxophonist/composer Gerry Mulligan born 1927 in New York, NY.
  • Saxophonist Charlie Rouse born 1924 in Washington, DC.
  • Cornetist King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band records "Dippermouth Blues" 1923.
 April 7
  • Vocalist Billie Holiday born 1915 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard born 1938 in Indianapolis, IN.
  • Conga player/bandleader Mongo Santamaria born 1922 in Havana, Cuba.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz