July 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kenny Burrell!

Kenny Burrell on guitar playing "Jeannine" during a gig broadcast on Japanese TV in 1990, with Bob Magnuson on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums.

July 29, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: July 29 to August 4

July 29
  • Pianist/composer John Lewis records The Wonderful World of Jazz, 1960.
  • Guitarist Charlie Christian born 1916 in Dallas, TX.
  • Arranger/saxophonist Don Redman born 1900 in Piedmont, W.VA.
July 30
  • Saxophonist James Spaulding born 1937 in Indianapolis, IN.
  • Drummer Vernel Fournier born 1928 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Charles Mingus records solo piano album, 1963.
July 31
  • Pianist Hank Jones born 1918 in Vicksburg, MS.
  • Guitarist Kenny Burrell born 1931 in Detroit, MI.
  • Clarinetist Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five with trumpeter Roy Eldridge and pianist Dodo Marmorosa record “Scuttlebutt,” 1945.
August 1
  • Pianist/vocalist Fats Waller records “Until The Real Thing Comes Along,” 1936.
  • Glenn Miller records “In The Mood,” 1939.
  • Drummer/composer Max Roach records “Percussion Bittersweet,” 1961.
August 2
  • Tenor saxophonist Big Nick Nicholas born 1922 in Lansing, MI.
  • Trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach record “Parisian Thoroughfare,” 1954.
  • The Benny Goodman Quartet records “Smiles,” 1937.
August 3
  • Alto saxophonist Greg Osby born 1960 in St. Louis, MO.
  • Trumpeter/arranger Charlie Shavers born 1917 in New York, NY.
  • Tenor saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter records “JuJu” with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Elvin Jones, 1964.
August 4
  • Louis Armstrong born 1901 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Guitarist Herb Ellis born 1921 in Farmersville, TX.
  • Count Basie’s band records “Song of the Islands” featuring trumpeter Buck Clayton and tenor saxophonist Lester Young, 1939.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

July 27, 2010

Picking Up the Horn

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Sonny Rollins was in his apartment in Greenwich Village, six blocks from the World Trade Center, when the first plane hit. He pulled out his old black-and-white TV, which he hadn’t used in years, and hooked it up just in time to see the second plane hit. He ran downstairs and out on the street, and saw the hysteria and panic first-hand. No one knew what to do exactly or where to go. Then the towers fell. Rollins sought refuge in his music. He went back upstairs and, after phoning his wife, Rollins says, “like a fool I picked up my horn and started practicing, you know, until my stomach began feeling kind of funny.” Probably not the reaction that most people would have had in the circumstances, but as Rollins says, “that’s how I’ve gotten through this life, by picking up my horn.” He had to be evacuated from Lower Manhattan the following day
Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert     He had just celebrated his 75th birthday four days before, and he was scheduled to give a concert in Boston four days later. Feeling unsteady after these traumatic events - let’s face it, everyone was feeling shaky - Rollins was considering canceling the concert, but his wife, Lucille, convinced him to go on. And there’s a record of this extraordinary evening in Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone Records, 2005).
     Perhaps the music is somewhat less showy than a normal Rollins date, but the playing is excellent, with a raw edge of emotion and an enormous underlying feeling of affirmation. Playing with Rollins is Clifton Anderson (his nephew), who does some terrific soloing on trombone, Stephen Scott on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Perry Wilson on drums, and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion. The night is given mostly to standards, including the title tune, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “Why Was I Born?” and “Where or When.” Lots of questioning in the song titles, for good reason.
     The band stretches out on all the tunes - all are over ten minutes long - with Rollins in extraordinary form, playing with a kind of controlled ferocity. This is nowhere more evident than on his one original song on the program, the calypso number “Global Warming.” Rollins ends it with six minutes of superb, inventive blowing, everything from a joyous bound across the melody to low, rolling, growling notes. I heard him play this tune three years later at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, where he used it to close out his concert at the Masonic Auditorium. The crowd was on its feet throughout - it was impossible to stay seated - simply reveling in the sheer joy of his playing. Listen to this terrific Rollins date and you'll feel lifted up as well.

July 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Johnny Hodges!

With the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."

July 23, 2010

A Haunting Miles Davis Film Score

Elevator to the Gallows - Criterion CollectionLouis Malle’s 1958 film Ascenseur pour l’échafraud (Elevator to the Gallows) is legendary for a number of reasons. It helped usher in the French New Wave film movement, it made Jeanne Moreau a star, and it has a haunting score by Miles Davis.
     The film is a crime drama about two lovers, Florence (Moreau) and Julien (Maurice Ronet), who plot to murder her husband and run off together. After killing the husband, Julien becomes trapped in the building’s elevator, leaving Florence to wander the streets of Paris wondering what happened. Meanwhile, a young couple steal Julien’s car and go on a joyride ending in another murder, for which, because of the car, the trapped Julien becomes the prime suspect. After various plot twists and turns, all guilty parties are inevitably caught.
     It is a remarkably assured Hitchcockian thriller from the 24-year-old first-time feature director. One sees elements of the New Wave in the seeming offhandedness of the younger couple on their crime spree and in the “natural” nighttime cinematography shot on the streets of Paris. Jeanne Moreau was nearly 30 when the film was made, but this was the first time the camera, and audience, got a chance to fall in love with her expressive face, sad eyes, and pouting lips - a love affair that was to continue through her long career.
     But it is the soundtrack that makes the film most memorable for me. Although it plays during less than twenty minutes of the film, the impact of the moody music is tremendous. Even Malle said, “I strongly believe that without Miles Davis’s score the film would not have had the critical and public response that it had.” Davis just happened to be in Paris in December 1957 as Malle was finishing the film. After agreeing to do the score, he was shown the film a couple of times and then recorded the entire soundtrack over the course of one night, with a band that included musicians that he hadn’t worked with before that trip to Europe (although they toured together at that time).
     This soundtrack represents early inklings of the modal style that Davis was to make such a splash with fifteen months later when he recorded the seminal Kind of Blue. He does away with chord changes and plays the slow and triste melodies (in the key of D minor) over the rhythm section. It was Davis’s first attempt at scoring a film and largely improvised on the spot.
     The impact on the film is felt immediately. It opens with an extreme close-up of Moreau’s face as she talks on the phone with Julien, pledging her love to him as they plan the murder. As the credits role, the quiet wail of Miles on trumpet sets the stage for the star-crossed lovers to fall. A variation on this title tune is played later in the film as Florence wanders at night on the Champs-Élysées. Other times, Miles just uses drums or drums/bass to help build suspense. Finally, when the gig is up at the end of the film, another tragic and moody melody takes us to “Fin.”
     I can’t recommend this atmospheric film highly enough. It is like a fresh baguette slathered in brie and downed with a glass of fine French red, all while contemplating the futility of human existence and love's culpability. For me, and I imagine for all jazz lovers, the soundtrack (available on CD) is what I wait for when watching Elevator. Rather than being truly melancholy, it is exciting to see the mesmerizing images and hear the doleful melodies fit together so perfectly.
     The scene that embodies all the innovative elements of Elevator is the one of Florence wandering the streets at night. They were using a newly available fast black-and-white film, which allowed them to get good exposures at night. Apparently, the cinematographer, Henri Decaë, was pushed along in a wheelchair as he filmed. With the Miles Davis soundtrack and Moreau the very picture of tortured heartbreak, the result is magical.

July 22, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: July 22 to July 28

July 22
  • Pianist Al Haig born 1924 in Newark, NJ.
  • Bassist Keter Betts born 1928 in Port Chester, NY.
  • Duke Ellington records “Harlem Airshaft,” 1940.
July 23
  • Trumpeter Emmett Berry born 1915 in Macon, GA.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records “Criss-Cross,” 1951.
  • Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy born 1934 in New York, NY.
July 24
  • Pianist Billy Taylor born 1921 in Greenville, NC.
  • Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson born 1939 in Joplin, MO.
  • Duke Ellington records “Sepia Panorama,” 1940.
July 25
  • Vocalist Annie Ross born 1930 in Surrey, England.
  • Trumpeter/bandleader Don Ellis born 1934 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Saxophonist Johnny Hodges born 1907 in Cambridge, MA.
July 26
  • Only live recording of A Love Supreme 1965 at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes.
  • Drummer/bandleader Charlie Persip born 1929 in Morristown, NJ.
  • Count Basie records “Alright, OK, You Win” with vocalist Joe Williams, 1955.
July 27
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records “Quiet Nights” with arranger Gil Evans, 1962.
  • Tenor saxophonist Jean Toussaint born 1960 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
  • Helen Merrill records with Gil Evans (Hank Jones, Art Farmer, Oscar Pettiford), 1956.
July 28
  • Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis born 1965 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Duke Ellington records “Sherman Shuffle,” 1942.
  • Tenor saxophonist Don Byas records Free and Easy with trumpeter Charlie Shavers and pianist Clyde Hart, 1944.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

July 17, 2010

Jazz Poetry - "The Day Lady Died"

The Day Lady Died by Frank O’Hara

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                                                I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with
                                                                      her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

--From Lunch Poems (City Lights, 1964)

Note: Frank O’Hara (1926 - 1966) was an American poet of the New York School, a loose collection of artists active in the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Baltimore, he studied piano before shipping off to the Pacific theater toward the end of World War Two. Back in the States, he attended Harvard, where he met fellow poet John Ashbery. O’Hara was a devotee of the visual arts and modern music, which shows in his poetry. He worked for years at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, while writing prolifically. His poetry generally incorporates experiences from his daily life in the city, which gives it a strong immediacy (as is clear from this tribute to Billie Holiday, who died on this date in 1959). As he stated, “It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail, or conversely that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial.” This same thing could be said about jazz.

July 15, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: July 15 to July 21

July 15
  • Harlan Leonard’s Big Band records Tadd Dameron’s “A-La-Bridges,” 1940.
  • Drummer Philly Joe Jones born 1923 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • First Newport Jazz Festival opens, 1954.
July 16
  • Drummer Bobby Previte born 1957 in Niagara Falls, NY.
  • Saxophonist/bass clarinetist/flutist Eric Dolphy and trumpeter Booker Little record at the Five Spot, 1961.
  • Vibraphonist Cal Tjader born 1925 in St. Louis, MO.
July 17
  • Drummer Joe Morello born 1928 in Springfield, MA.
  • Drummer Ben Riley born 1933 in Savannah, GA.
  • Creole Pianist/composer Jelly Roll Morton records with The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, 1923, one of the very first integrated recording sessions.
July 18
  • Trombonist Carl Fontana born 1928 in Monroe, LA.
  • Charles Mingus records Tijuana Moods, 1957
  • Trumpeter Erskine Hawkins’ Big Band records “Tuxedo Junction,” 1939.
July 19
  • Clarinetist Buster Bailey born 1902 in Memphis, TN.
  • Trumpeter Bobby Bradford born 1934 in Cleveland, MS.
  • Bud Freeman and his Summa Cum Laude Orchestra record “The Eel,” 1939
July 20
  • Arranger/saxophonist Ernie Wilkins born 1922 in St. Louis, MO.
  • Bassist Peter Ind born 1928 in Uxbridge, England.
  • Stan Kenton’s band records Bill Holman’s arrangement of “What’s New,” 1955.
July 21
  • Vocalist Helen Merrill born 1930 in New York, NY.
  • Louis Armstrong records “I’m Confessin’,” 1930.
  • Benny Carter arranges and plays on an all-star session for Lionel Hampton, 1938, including trumpeter Harry James and drummer Jo Jones.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

July 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Paul Gonsalves!

Paul Gonsalves, born on this date in 1920, was a tenor saxophonist mainly known for his long association with Duke Ellington. He was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, but his parents were of Cape Verdean heritage. As a child, he and his brothers played Portuguese folk songs on guitar for family gatherings. They also played “hillbilly” and Hawaiian music. These family dates, however, became a chore and turned off the young Paul from playing music. Fortunately, he and his oldest brother, Joseph, became enamored of jazz, particularly Duke Ellington, which reignited his interest.
     At sixteen, he took up the saxophone. His main early influence was Coleman Hawkins. As Gonsalves said later, “There was something in his music that coincided with Duke’s, that for me denoted class.” After serving in World War Two, Gonsalves played in the Sabby Lewis Orchestra, and then with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He joined Ellington’s band in 1950 after walking up and introducing himself to the Duke at Birdland one night. He stayed for the next twenty-four years.
Gettin Together     Gonsalves’ entire career is overshadowed by one event, his spectacular solo on Duke’s “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue” at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, which contained an astounding twenty-seven choruses. The rather diffident Gonsalves is about the last person in the Duke’s orchestra who would crave the limelight, but this was one of the first impactful extended sax solos in modern jazz history. The crowd went wild and it was a huge comeback for Ellington. (The performance can be heard on Ellington At Newport 1956 and here is a 1958 concert version from The Netherlands that gives some flavor of the Newport date, although before a much more restrained audience.) But in addition to his more straight-ahead melodic playing with Ellington (critic Gary Giddins called his playing “all liquid rhapsody,” although Ive always heard a somewhat rougher edge in it), Gonsalves was an inventive player throughout his career and an experimenter with tonalities on the tenor sax. This can be heard to better advantage on some of his small group recordings, such as Gettin’ Together (1961) and Tell It the Way It Is! (1963).
     Unfortunately, alcohol and narcotics abuse cut Gonsalves’ life short. He died in 1974, just nine days before Duke Ellington’s death.

July 8, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: July 8 to July 14

July 8
  • Arranger Bill Challis born 1904 in Wilkes Barre, PA.
  • Vocalist Billy Eckstine born 1914 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Duke Ellington records At Newport, 1956 with the extended version of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.”
July 9
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie records “Things to Come,” 1946.
  • Saxophonist Frank Wright born 1935 in Grenada, MS.
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records Blue Moods, with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Elvin Jones, 1955.
July 10
  • Trumpeter Cootie Williams born 1910 in Mobile, AL.
  • Vocalist Ivie Anderson born 1905 in Gilroy, CA.
  • Pianist/arranger/trumpeter Dick Cary born 1916 in Hartford, CT.
July 11
  • Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane records The Stardust Session, with flugelhornist Wilbur Harden, 1958.
  • McKinney’s Cotton Pickers record their first session, including “Crying and Sighing,” 1928.
  • Blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson born 1897 in Couchman, TX.
July 12
  • Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves born 1920 in Boston, MA.
  • Trumpeter Conte Candoli born 1927 in Mishawaka, IN.
  • Drummer Roy Haynes records Vistalite with tenor sxophonist Joe Henderson, 1976.
July 13
  • Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler born 1936 in Cleveland, OH.
  • Art Tatum records “Willow Weep for Me,” 1949.
  • Benny Goodman records “Body and Soul,” 1935.
July 14
  • J.J. Johnson records Tangence, an orchestral album with Robert Farnon in London, 1994
  • Drummer Alan Dawson born 1929 in Marietta, PA.
  • Pianist Billy Kyle born 1914 in Philadelphia, PA.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

July 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hank Mobley!

Soul StationHank Mobley, born on this date in 1930, was a hard bop tenor saxophonist with a relaxed and melodic style. Instead of the hard-edged playing tone common at the time, he had a more sinewy sound, at least in the early and middle part of his career. Mobley himself described it thus: “not a big sound, not a small sound, just a round sound.” But he was a consistently interesting and inventive saxophonist with an assured ebullience in his playing. Despite a prolific recording career, his somewhat laid-back playing made him an under-appreciated musician and an underrated saxophone player compared to many of his peers.
     He was born in Georgia but grew up near Newark, New Jersey. Early on, he worked with Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie, and he also appeared on the landmark recording Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1955). Other appearances as a sideman in the 1950s included dates with Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Curtis Fuller, and Sonny Clark.
     Mobley is mainly remembered for his twenty or so albums for Blue Note Records as a leader, starting in 1955. These included some classic dates that epitomized the Blue Note sound of the era, including Soul Station and Roll Call (1960), Workout and Another Workout (1961), and The Turnaround and Dippin’ (1965). One of my favorite tunes from the period is “Dig Dis” from Soul Station, which displays the kind of tasty, cool groove that Mobley could achieve. He stopped playing in the 1970s because of lung problems and he died of pneumonia in 1986.

July 6, 2010

Louis Armstrong - "Basin Street Blues" (1959)

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

July 3, 2010

San Francisco Jazz Festival Fall 2010 Lineup

The San Francisco Jazz Festival recently announced its schedule for Fall 2010 and Bay Area jazz fans have a chance to hear some great music. Now in its 28th year, SFJAZZ is a world-class music festival that presents a varied program - over 35 dates - of new stars, legends of jazz, and cross-over artists. Highlights of the festival include:
  • Esperanza Spalding - October 10
  • Danilo Perez - October 10
  • Chucho Valdéz - October 11
  • James Carter with John Medeski - October 21
  • Yusef Lateef - October 22
  • Gretchen Parlato - October 22
  • Taj Mahal - October 23
  • Kenny Barron Trio - October 24
  • Jon Jang - October 24
  • Ravi and Anoushka Shankar - October 27
  • Arturo Sandoval - October 29
  • Roy Haynes - November 6
  • Ledisi - November 6
  • Vijay Iyer Trio - November 14
  • Roseanne Cash - November 14
Tickets for the general public go on sale on July 11. If you live in the Bay Area or are traveling here in October and November, I encourage you to hear some terrific jazz in the City. Complete schedule and ticket information is available at sfjazz.org.

July 1, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: July 1 to July 7

July 1
  • Drummer Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler born 1952 in Shreveport, LA.
  • Drummer Rashied Ali born 1935 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Benny Goodman records “King Porter Stomp” featuring trumpeter Bunny Berigan, 1935.
July 2
  • Drummer Gene Krupa’s band and Roy Eldridge record “Rockin’ Chair,” 1941.
  • Thelonious Monk records “Misterioso” and “Evidence,” 1948.
  • Pianist Ahmad Jamal born 1930 in Pittsburgh, PA.
July 3
  • Trumpeter Johnny Coles born 1926 in Trenton, NJ.
  • Art Tatum records “Too Marvelous for Words,” 1955.
  • Trombonist Lawrence Brown born 1907 in Lawrence, KS.
July 4
  • Louis Armstrong’s “birthday” 1900 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Pianist/composer Randy Weston records Earth Birth with the Orchestre du Festival de Jazz de Montreal, 1995.
  • Drummer Butch Miles born 1944 in Ironton, OH.
July 5
  • Vocalist Billie Holiday records “Them There Eyes,” 1939.
  • Saxophonist Arthur Blythe born 1940 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald records Carnegie Hall, ’73.
July 6
  • The bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie record “For The First Time,” 1961.
  • Benny Goodman records “Sing, Sing, Sing” featuring drummer Gene Krupa.
  • Drummer/composer/bandleader Louie Bellson born 1924 in Rock Falls, IL.
July 7
  • Guitarist Tiny Grimes born 1916 in Newport News, VA.
  • Count Basie records “One O’Clock Jump,” 1937.
  • Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley born 1930 in Eastman, GA.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz