June 27, 2010

Tickle the Ivories, Elmo

Trio And QuintetElmo Hope, born on this date in 1923, was a self-taught hard bop pianist and composer who never achieved wide recognition but was influential on other bebop pianists. He was actually childhood friends with Bud Powell - they listened to classical music (J.S. Bach, in particular) together. Hope had a percussive style of playing that was generally rhythmic, fast, and harmonically complex, although he could also play very slow, almost meditative music as well. In the early 1950s, he recorded with Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Jackie McLean, and others. He also did some leader dates in trio and quintet formats with Frank Foster, Hank Mobley, Leroy Vinnegar, Philly Joe Jones, and Paul Chambers. Check out the Trio and Quintet compilation album from Blue Note Records, which includes this version of “Vaun-Ex.” Other albums include Informal Jazz, High Hope (an unfortunate name because of his difficulties with heroin addiction), and Homecoming!
     Due to drug problems, Hope lost his cabaret card in New York City, and so he moved to Los Angeles. Not a proponent of the West Coast jazz style, he nonetheless recorded with Harold Land and Curtis Counce. Los Angeles, however, did not light Elmo’s fire, so he returned to New York in 1961. His heroin use again caught up with him and he did a short stint in jail. He even did a recording called Sounds From Riker’s Island. After that, he played irregularly and did not record as much. His final recordings were made in 1966 and have only recently been re-released as The Final Sessions. In 1967, he spent time in the hospital with pneumonia - perhaps related to his drug use - and while still recuperating from that, Hope died of an apparent heart attack.

June 24, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: June 24 to June 30

June 24
  • Bandleader/pianist George Gruntz born 1932 in Basel, Switzerland.
  • Arranger Manny Albam born 1922 in Samana, Dominican Republic.
  • Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin records Back From The Gig, with trumpeter Woody Shaw, 1968.
June 25
  • Composer Bill Russo born 1928 in Chicago, IL.
  • Drummer/pianist Joe Chambers born 1942 in Stoneacre, VA.
  • The Bill Evans Trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian record At The Village Vanguard, 1961.
June 26
  • Thelonious Monk records “Epistrophy” with a band that includes both Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane 1957.
  • Drummer Joey Baron born 1955 in Richmond, VA.
  • Bassist/educator Reggie Workman born 1937 in Philadelphia, PA.
June 27
  • Benny Carter records his Songbooks, Vol. 1 and 2, 1995.
  • Pianist Mal Waldron records The Quest with saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin, 1961.
  • Pianist Elmo Hope born 1923 in New York, NY.
June 28
  • Louis Armstrong records “West End Blues” 1928.
  • Bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini born 1904 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Joe Smith born 1902 in Ripley, OH.
June 29
  • Trombonist Julian Priester born 1935 in Chicago, IL.
  • Pianist/arranger Ralph Burns born 1922 in Newton, MA.
  • Orchestra U.S.A. records Benny Golson’s “A Portrait of Coleman Hawkins” 1964.
June 30
  • Drummer Buddy Rich born 1917.
  • Pianist/composer Andrew Hill born 1937 in Chicago, IL.
  • Duke Ellington records Ellington Uptown, 1952.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

    June 23, 2010

    Big Band Ambassador

    Birks Works: Verve Big Band SessionsDuring the Cold War, the U.S. government sent artists - stars of all stripes - around the world to promote a positive image of the United States. This included jazz musicians. And while Louis Armstrong had a justified image as the “real ambassador,” Dizzy Gillespie was the big band ambassador in 1956 on tours of the Middle East and South America. In the Middle East, this included concerts in the cities of Beirut and Athens, as well as stops in Turkey, Iran, India, and Pakistan. After one concert, the local Pakistani paper stated: “The language of diplomacy ought to be translated into a score for a bop trumpet.” Dizzy's integrated band presented a wonderful image of American society to audiences abroad; too bad the reality of race relations back home didn't always match it.
         He tried to keep this big band intact afterwards, but it wasn't economically viable. Dizzy had gone the big band route in the 1940s as well, and lost money on it. As he said, “I’m tired of going down in history. I want to eat.” This band eventually broke up two years later, ironically just before their first release, “Over the Rainbow,” became a hit.
         But they left behind a recorded history that is available on a 2-CD set from Verve Records called Birks Works. Dizzy’s State Department band had some all-star talent, including Phil Woods on alto saxophone, Benny Golson and Ernie Wilkins on tenor sax, Lee Morgan and Quincy Jones on trumpet, Al Grey on trombone, and Wynton Kelly on piano. The music they play is a muscular and dynamic big band sound, similar to the groups of Charles Mingus around this same time. Dizzy’s solos on trumpet soar above all and there’s also some terrific tenor sax work. Highlights include Dizzy's own "Birks' Works," a playful “Doodlin’” (a Horace Silver tune), “Jordu,” Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” and “I Remember Clifford,” and “Joogie Boogie.” I personally don’t care for the vocal numbers, which tend toward the Johnny Hartman crooning style. But for big band jazz on some challenging arrangements and with great soloing, check out Birks Works.

    June 21, 2010

    Dizzy Gillespie - "Tin Tin Deo" (1965)

    Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, and featuring Christopher Wesley White on bass.

    June 17, 2010

    This Week in Jazz History: June 17 to June 23

    June 17
    • Soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet records “When a Soprano Meets a Piano” with Martial Solal, 1957.
    • Clarinetist Tony Scott born 1921 in Morristown, NJ.
    • The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra records Central Park North, 1969.
    June 18
    • Drummer/bandleader Ray McKinley born 1910 in Fort Worth, TX.
    • 1956 Metronome All Stars, including bassist Charles Mingus, trumpeter Thad Jones, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and drummer Art Blakey records.
    • Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath records A New Face with pianist Tommy Flanagan, 1985.
    June 19
    • Vocalist Dave Lambert born 1917 in Boston, MA.
    • Pianist John Hicks records Impressions of Mary Lou (Williams), 1998.
    • Vocalist Carmen McCrae records “If Love Were All,” 1957.
    June 20
    • Pianist Bill Evans is featured on the recording of George Russell’s “All About Rosie,” 1957.
    • Saxophonist/bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy born 1928 in Los Angeles, CA.
    • Saxophonist Benny Carter records “Waltzing The Blues” 1936
    June 21
    • Pianist Eric Reed born 1970 in Philadelphia, PA.
    • Pianist Les McCann records Swiss Movement at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1969.
    • Troy Floyd And His Plaza Hotel Orchestra record “Dreamland Blues,” 1929.
    June 22
    • Drummer Ben Pollack born 1903 in Chicago, IL.
    • Percussionist Ray Mantilla born 1934 in New York, NY.
    • Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins records “Blue 7” 1956
    June 23
    • Composer George Russell born 1923 in Cincinnati, OH.
    • Saxophonist/flutist Sahib Shihab born 1925 in Savannah, GA,
    • Just Jazz with Red Norvo records “Body and Soul” 1947.
    Source: Smithsonian Jazz

      June 16, 2010

      Not So Lucky at Life

      Saxophonist Eli “Lucky” Thompson was born on this date in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1924, and spent his formative years in Detroit. He played tenor in the swing orchestras of Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Billy Eckstine in the mid-1940s. Thompson’s main influences were Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Don Byas. He was also the sax player that Dizzy Gillespie hired at this time to substitute for Charlie Parker, who was an erratic presence due to his drug problems (Parker set fire to his hotel bed one night in 1946 and was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for six months). Lucky participated in Parker’s famous Dial sessions from this time.
           In the 1950s, Thompson evolved a more hard bop style and recorded with the likes of Miles Davis (Walkin’), Milt Jackson, and Oscar Pettiford. He recorded his first session as a leader as well, Brown Rose (Xanadu Records). This was also when Thompson began to grow increasingly disenchanted with the business side of music. “Vultures” is what he called club managers and record company executives, who he felt were exploiting the musicians. While many other successful musicians managed to thrive in the music business, Thompson seemed unable to abide it. He was also affected by the racism he encountered while working in the U.S.
      New York City, 1964-65     He was an expatriate for long periods in his life - France in the late Fifties and he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, in the mid-1960s. He recorded several terrific albums there, including the aptly titled A Lucky Songbook in Europe. Other memorable sessions from this time include Lucky Strikes (1964) and Happy Days (1965). After the release of the former album, Thompson did some live dates at New York’s Half Note and Little Theatre, and these recordings, which show him at the top of his game, were just released last year on New York City 1964-65 (Uptown Jazz, 2009).
           He returned to the U.S. in the early 1970s and taught at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, for a couple of years and also did his last recordings. But his distrust of the music business lingered and he abandoned performing completely and vanished. He apparently drifted around the U.S. and Canada, sometimes homeless, even apparently living in the Canadian wilderness for a time, growing his own food. Thompson eventually settled in Seattle, but suffered with Alzheimer’s dementia for years preceding his death in 2005.
           As his life went on, Lucky's nickname became increasingly ironic. While his difficulty with the music business was something he clearly paid a high price for, and may have made him a relatively obscure jazz exile, Lucky Thompson's recorded legacy is worth seeking out.

      June 12, 2010

      Oscar and Frank

      Lately, I’ve been listening to Oscar Peterson’s album A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra, recorded in Paris in May 1959. This was one of the first albums Peterson recorded with his new trio partner, drummer Ed Thigpen, who replaced guitarist Herb Ellis; bassist Ray Brown remained. As a fellow Frank Sinatra fan - particularly of his classic Capitol Records LPs of this period (Sinatra had just released Come Dance with Me! in January 1959) - I understand Peterson’s stated reasons for the album:
      For years I have been an ardent admirer of Frank Sinatra. I've been thrilled by his singing and I've respected the taste that goes with his singing. As a musician I've further admired his choice of tunes and as a fan I've recognized that certain tunes are forever, at least in my mind, inextricably linked with Sinatra, both by usage and interpretation and by that special magic that is his alone. This album is not only a tribute to Frank Sinatra, but also my emotional interpretation of the feelings I get when I hear him. I have tried, therefore, to paint as well as I can a portrait, told in my personal jazz terms, of Frank Sinatra.
           Peterson’s playing on this album has been unduly criticized for sticking so close to the melodies, but clearly this was his intention. He was about to embark on an ambitious re-recording of his songbook albums (Ellington, Gershwin, Rodgers, Kern, Porter, Berlin, Arlen) with the new trio configuration, and the same critique could be leveled at these as well. (In fact, you could make this same accusation of Sinatra's singing.)
           But I think this is a willful misreading of the project’s intentions as well as of Peterson as a performer. Praise for Peterson’s technical prowess has often been paired with complaints about his lack of adventurousness. Perhaps it is true that he was more of a crystallizer than an innovator in his approach. But the breathtaking technique and melodic brilliance on display on this and many other albums speak for themselves.
      A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra     Jazz Portrait opens with a loping version of “You Make Me Feel So Young” and a quick-paced “Come Dance With Me.” The tempos for the most part are not Sinatra’s but Peterson’s, although one can almost hear Frank singing along on “Witchcraft” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” My personal favorites on the album are “All of Me” and an appropriately bluesy “Birth of the Blues.” I highly recommend this album to Sinatra fans and Peterson fans alike.

      June 10, 2010

      This Week in Jazz History: June 10 to June 16

      June 10
      • Bassist Charnett Moffett born 1967 in New York, NY.
      • Pianist Erroll Garner records “Frankie and Johnny” 1947, with bassist Red Callender and drummer Hal ‘Doc’ West.
      • Trombonist Dicky Wells born 1907 in Centerville, TN.
      June 11
      • Pianist Fats Waller records “I Ain’t Got Nobody” piano solo 1937.
      • Pianists George Shearing, John Lewis and Dave McKenna record A Tribute to Bill Evans, 1981.
      • Drummer Shelly Manne born 1920 in New York, NY.
      June 12
      • Pianist/composer Chick Corea born 1941 in Chelsea, MA.
      • Pianist Geri Allen born 1957 in Pontiac, MI.
      • Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon records “Bikini” 1947.
      June 13
      • Trumpeter Doc Cheatham born 1905 in Nashville, TN.
      • Louis Armstrong and The Mills Brothers record “The Song Is Ended” 1938.
      • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie records “A Night in Tunisia” with Boyd Raeburn’s band, 1944.
      June 14
      • Bassist John Simmons born 1918 in Haskell, OK.
      • Bandleader/drummer Chick Webb makes his first recording, “Dog Bottom,” as a bandleader 1929
      • Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson records Components with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, 1965.
      June 15
      • Pianist Jaki Byard born 1922 in Worcester, MA.
      • Pianist Erroll Garner born 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA.
      • Jimmie Lunceford’s band records Sy Oliver’s “For Dancers Only,” 1937.
      June 16
      • Saxophonist Lucky Thompson born 1924 in Columbia, SC.
      • Pianist Albert Dailey born 1939 in Baltimore, MD.
      • Trumpeter Tom Harrell born 1946 in Urbana, IL.
      Source: Smithsonian Jazz

        June 7, 2010

        Happy Birthday, Tal Farlow!

        Tal Farlow on guitar playing the Count Basie classic "Li'l Darlin'."

        June 5, 2010

        Plenty of Sugar - Lou Donaldson Live

        Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing saxophonist Lou Donaldson live at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Donaldson is an icon of the soul-jazz genre and at 83 is still playing great music. As Donaldson once put it, “Blues is the backbone, and if you don’t have it in jazz, it’s like taking sugar out of a cake.” This could be taken as the solemn oath of soul-jazz. Before recording as a leader, Donaldson played with a who’s who of jazz luminaries in the early 1950s, including Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Clifford Brown, and Milt Jackson. This is where he cut his teeth in bop and hard bop.
        Blues Walk     The concert opened with “Blues Walk,” the title tune from his 1958 album and his self-acknowledged theme song. This is a relaxed, swinging groove that perfectly embodies the soul-jazz ethos. Donaldson, unapologetically, doesn’t stray from this soulful and bluesy source. As he stated, “We’re gonna play straight-ahead jazz. No fusion, no confusion.”
             Ably backed by organ, guitar, and drums, Donaldson played a couple of his all-time hits, “Alligator Boogaloo” and “Gravy Train.” He also humorously sang some down-home blues, including “Whisky-Drinkin’ Woman,” and the audience discovered that he does a mean Louis Armstrong impression on “What a Wonderful World.” He displayed his bop chops on Charlie Parker’s “We” and showed his lyrical side on a rendition of “L-O-V-E.” A terrific version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” rounded out the evening. (An earlier live version of Donaldson playing this tune can be heard here.) All in all, it was an evening of sheer joy, with plenty of sugar in the cake.

        June 3, 2010

        This Week in Jazz History: June 3 to June 9

        June 3
        • Joe Henderson records Page One 1963.
        • Trombonist/composer Grachan Moncur III born 1937 in New York.
        • Trumpeter Ted Curson born 1935 in Philadelphia, PA.
        June 4
        • Saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton born 1945 in Chicago, IL.
        • Saxophonist/composer Oliver Nelson born 1932 in St. Louis, MO.
        • Saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera born 1948 in Havana, Cuba.
        June 5
        • Pianist Misha Mengelberg born 1935 in Kiev, Ukraine.
        • Duke Ellington records “Bakiff,” featuring violinist Ray Nance, 1941.
        • Pianist/composer Stanley Cowell records “Blues for the Viet Cong,” 1969.
        June 6
        • Guitarist Grant Green born 1931 in St. Louis, MO.
        • Pianist Monty Alexander born 1944 in Kingston, Jamaica.
        • Pianist/bandleader Count Basie records “Doggin’ Around” 1938.
        June 7
        • Guitarist Tal Farlow born 1921 in Greensboro, NC.
        • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records solo album in Paris, 1954.
        • Trumpeter Miles Davis records Nefertiti with his quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), 1967.
        June 8
        • Soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet records “Summertime,” 1939.
        • Trombonist Bill Watrous born 1939 in Middletown, CT.
        • Avant-garde composer John Cage and bandleader/keyboardist Sun Ra record together at Coney Island 1986.
        June 9
        • Don Byas and Slam Stewart record “I Got Rhythm” 1945.
        • Pianist Kenny Barron born 1943 in Philadelphia, PA.
        • Guitarist Les Paul born 1915 in Waukesha, WI.
        Source: Smithsonian Jazz

          June 1, 2010

          Jazz Poetry - "O-Jazz-O"

          O-Jazz-O by Bob Kaufman
          Where the string
          some point,
          Was umbilical jazz,
          Or perhaps,
          In memory,
          A long lost bloody cross,
          Buried in some steel cavalry.
          In what time
          For whom do we bleed,
          Lost notes, from some jazzman's
          Broken needle.
          Musical tears from lost
          Broken drumsticks, why?
          Pitter patter, boom dropping
          Bombs in the middle
          Of my emotions
          My father's sound
          My mother's sound,
          Is love,
          Is life.

          Cranial Guitar (1995)

          Note: Bob Kaufman (1925 - 1986) was a Beat/surrealist poet inspired by jazz music. He was born in New Orleans, lived in New York during the 1940s and 1950s (where he met fellow Beats William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg), and then settled in San Francisco from 1958 until his death. Kaufman usually recited his poems and didn't write them down - his work survives because his wife, Eileen, transcribed the poems as he conceived them. His poetry used the syncopated rhythms and meter of jazz and particularly bebop. Kaufman described his own work this way: "My head is a bony guitar, strung with tongues, plucked by fingers and nails."