August 27, 2010

Bill Evans in Oslo

Bill Evans Trio: The Oslo ConcertsBill Evans Trio: The Oslo Concerts (2006) presents two Bill Evans dates, one filmed at the Oslo Munch Museum in 1966 and the other at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1980. Evans is one of the least dynamic of performers, so filming him playing is almost a waste of film. But the music is a different matter.
     On the 1966 date, we see the younger, nerdy Evans: slicked-back hair, clean cut, glasses with black plastic frames. He plays with his head drooping to the right or with his whole body hunched over the keyboard, almost to the point of making you wonder if he doesn’t have a long-term vitamin deficiency. (He did have drug problems from the late 1950s onward.) He barely acknowledges the audience. But the music displays all the magical, impressionistic lyricism - an almost liquid quality to his playing - that one has come to associate with Evans. Among the highlights are versions of “Stella By Starlight” and “Autumn Leaves.” The interplay among the trio (Eddie Gomez on bass and Alex Riel on drums) seems to be accomplished by mind-reading.
     By the 1980 date, Evans’s diet seems to have improved, and his posture when addressing the piano is merely kyphotic. But like the Beatles did earlier, he has transformed from clean cut to scruffy, now sporting longer, Bee Gees hair and a beard. Here, there is a sense of more warmth and connection with the audience, and this version of the trio (Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums) also displays some wonderful interplay. Highlights of this date include “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Nardis.” This was one of Evans’s last dates, because he died in September of that year - from complications due to chronic drug use - at the age of 51.
     While I can’t say much for the visual impact of a Bill Evans concert, the music is absolutely top-notch and not to be missed.

August 26, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: August 26 to September 1

August 26
  • Saxophonist Branford Marsalis born 1960 in Breaux Bridge, LA.
  • Vocalist Jimmy Rushing born 1903 in Oklahoma City, OH.
  • Duke Ellington records “Old Man Blues,” 1930.
August 27
  • Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon records GO! with drummer Billy Higgins, 1962.
  • Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz records Big Band Bossa Nova arranged by Gary McFarland, 1962.
  • Tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Lester Young born 1909 in Woodville, MS.
August 28
  • Clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre records with the Modern Jazz Quartet at the Music Inn, 1956.
  • Tenor saxophonist Chu Berry records Monday at Mintons with pianist Clyde Hart and trumpeter Hot Lips Page, 1941.
  • Pianist Kenny Drew born 1928 in New York, NY.
August 29
  • Vocalist Dinah Washington born 1924 in Tuscaloosa, AL.
  • Trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden born 1905 in Vernon, TX.
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker born 1920 in Kansas City, KS.
August 30
  • Max Roach and Archie Shepp duo concert is recorded in Switzerland, 1979
  • Trumpeter Kenny Dorham born 1924 in Fairfield, TX.
  • Tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris records Freedom Jazz Dance, 1965.
August 31
  • Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman records Colors, duets with pianist Joachim Kuhn, 1996.
  • Jimmie Lunceford records “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” 1936.
  • Composer/arranger Edgar Sampson born 1907 in New York, NY.
September 1
  • Saxophonist Art Pepper born 1925 in Gardena, CA.
  • Bassist/French hornist Willie Ruff born 1931 in Sheffield, AL.
  • Duke Ellington records his tribute to Billy Strayhorn, And His Mother Called Him Bill, 1967.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

August 23, 2010

After Hours - A Great Blowing Session

After HoursI recently listened to an obscure Prestige album from 1957 called After Hours. It is a group blowing session without a true leader but with a stellar lineup: Thad Jones (trumpet), Frank Wess (flute and tenor sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Mal Waldron (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Arthur Taylor (drums). (In the record store, it will probably be filed under Thad Jones, as his name is first on the cover.) This is a wonderful collection of blues, from fast to slow, all composed by pianist Waldron and with terrific playing from everyone involved.
     It starts out with a tune called “Steamin’,” a cooker to open the album featuring flute and trumpet. “Blue Jelly,” the second number, is a medium-tempo, shimmering tune, with Jones opening on a muted trumpet, then Burrell announcing the melody, followed by Wess on flute. Jones, Burrell, and Wess have a playful three-way conversation that repeats throughout the song.
     My favorite tune is “Count One,” a Basie-inspired blues that opens, appropriately, with an extended solo by Waldron on piano. Wess has a terrific tenor solo followed by Jones and Burrell. Both Wess and Jones are veterans of the Count Basie Orchestra. The final number is “Empty Street,” a slow twelve-minute moody piece that really evokes that “after hours” feeling. Burrell sets the low-down tone, followed by Wess on obligato flute and Jones on the muted trumpet. You can definitely hear the bluesy influence of the Detroit contingent - Burrell, Jones (Pontiac, Michigan), and Chambers.
     All in all, After Hours is not your typical blowing session. Waldron’s tunes hold this talented group of musicians together for a memorable album of blues.

August 20, 2010

Ben Webster - "Poutin'" (1964)

With Stan Tracey on piano, Rick Laird on bass, and Jackie Dougan on drums.

August 19, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: August 19 to August 25

August 19
  • Pianist Jimmy Rowles born 1918 in Spokane, WA.
  • Arranger Lyle “Spud” Murphy born Salt Lake City, 1908.
  • Trombonist/composer/arranger Eddie Durham born 1906 in San Marcos, TX.
August 20
  • Drummer Milford Graves born 1941 in New York, NY.
  • Guitarist Jimmy Raney born 1927 in Louisville, KY.
  • Trombonist Frank Rosolino born 1926 in Detroit, MI.
August 21
  • Pianist/bandleader Count Basie born 1904 in Red Bank, NJ.
  • Flugelhornist Art Farmer born 1928 in Council Bluffs, IA.
  • Drummer Leon Parker born 1965 in White Plains, NY.
August 22
  • Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” is recorded for the first time by trumpeter Cootie Williams’ big band, 1944.
  • Bassist Malachi Favors born 1937 in Chicago, IL.
  • Count Basie records “Jumpin’ At the Woodside,” 1938.
August 23
  • Pianist Martial Solal born 1927 in Algiers, North Africa.
  • Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane records “Traneing In” with Red Garland’s trio, 1957.
  • Pianist McCoy Tyner records Expansions with trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonists Gary Bartz and Wayne Shorter, 1968.
August 24
  • Vibraphonist Milt Jackson records “Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea” with pianist John Lewis, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Kenny Clarke, 1951.
  • Alto saxophonist Buster Smith born 1904 in Ennis, TX.
  • Drummer Buddy Rich records “This One’s for Basie,” 1956.
August 25
  • Tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate records Meets Dollar Brand, 1977.
  • Saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter born 1933 in Newark, NJ.
  • Organist Jimmy Smith records The Sermon, 1957 with trumpeter Lee Morgan and guitarist Kenny Burrell.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

August 17, 2010

I Like Ike

Saxophonist Ike Quebec, born August 17, 1918, was one of my favorite soul-jazz artists on Blue Note Records in the early 1960s. He had a full-throated sound (in the Coleman Hawkins vein), a sensuous and firm tone, rhythmically dynamic, and swinging. Quebec can be heard on breathy ballads, quiet bossa nova tunes, and more aggressive blues.
     He was born in Newark, New Jersey, and trained as a pianist and dancer, not switching to the tenor sax until his twenties. Early in his career in the 1940s, he earned his chops with a number of well-known bands and performers, including Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald. He was also a sort of unofficial talent scout for Blue Note, helping to advance the careers of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell.
     He struggled with drug addiction throughout the 1950s and recorded infrequently. However, later in the decade he started a comeback with Blue Note. He recorded a number of singles for the burgeoning jukebox market; a number of jazz labels were beginning to take note of the jukebox at this time, including Columbia with Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. Blue Note later released these Quebec sides as a two-CD set, The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions.
Bossa Nova Soul Samba     In 1961 and 1962, he recorded some terrific albums, including It Might As Well Be Spring (1961), a collection of quiet ballads. Blue and Sentimental (1961) is probably Ike’s masterpiece. He and Grant Green on guitar really stretch out on this collection of originals and standards, with some wonderful bluesy soloing. The title tune and Green’s “Blues for Charlie” are standouts. My personal favorite is Soul Samba (1962), recorded shortly before Quebec succumbed to lung cancer in January 1963. Here, he is joined by Kenny Burrell for a program of sultry, Brazilian-tinged tunes. His playing sounds as if it is coming from somewhere deep inside - just listen to his original tune “Blue Samba” - Ike playing beautifully until the very end.

August 14, 2010

Great Stuff

Stuff Smith, born on this date in 1909, was one of the three great pre-bop jazz violinists (along with Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli). In an era when the violin was considered a bit old-fashioned sounding for jazz, Smith’s playing was more raw and rhythmic, using a more Texas blues feel to knock any whiff of stale classicism out of his violin.
     Born Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith in Portsmouth, Ohio, Stuff’s father encouraged him to play classical violin, but he became a lifelong jazz devotee after hearing Louis Armstrong play - not an unusual occurrence in those days. In the mid-1920s, he joined a Dallas-based band that played jazz in a bluesy, free-form style. Stuff also played briefly with Jelly Roll Morton. In 1930, he formed his own group in Buffalo and then moved to New York City a few years later.
     Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys, including drummer “Cozy” Cole, became a fixture at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street for several years. Smith performed in what became his signature get-up: an old top hat, sometimes with a parrot perched on his shoulder. He also was a pioneer in the use of an amplified violin. He developed a distinctive sound, a more aggressive and bluesy approach than the swing-inflected style of other violinists.
     In the 1940s, his career stagnated somewhat and his health suffered from years of heavy alcohol use. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Smith experienced a revival, recording several albums - including Have Violin, Will Swing (Verve Records, 1957); Cat on a Hot Fiddle (Verve, 1959); and Swingin’ Stuff (a recording of a live set with Kenny Drew on piano, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass, and Alex Riel on drums) - and touring in Europe up until his death in 1967. (His nickname, by the way, apparently came from his habit of referring to people whose names he’d forgotten as “Stuff.”) He is aptly remembered as “the cat that took the apron-strings off the fiddle.”

August 12, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: August 12 to August 18

August 12
  • Pianist Wynton Kelly records Kelly Great with trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones.
  • Drummer Tony Williams records Spring with the tenor saxophonists Sam Rivers and Wayne Shorter, 1965.
  • Guitarist Pat Metheny born 1954 in Lee’s Summit, MO.
August 13
  • Pianist George Shearing born 1919 in London, England.
  • Pianist Mulgrew Miller born 1955 in Greenwood, MS.
  • Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan records with Thelonious Monk, 1957.
August 14
  • Violinist Stuff Smith born 1909 in Portsmouth, OH.
  • Pianist/vibraphonist Eddie Costa born 1930 in Atlas, PA.
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records first session as a leader, with Charlie Parker on tenor saxophone, 1947.
August 15
  • Bassist Sam Jones records Right Down Front, 1962
  • Composer Bill Russo records A Recital in New American Music, 1951
  • Pianist Oscar Peterson born 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
August 16
  • Three pianists born - Bill Evans, 1929 in Plainfield, NJ., Mal Waldron, 1925 in New York, NY, and Carl Perkins, 1928 in Indianapolis, IN.
  • Vocalist Al Hibbler born 1915 in Tyro, MS.
  • Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton records “Drum Stomp,” 1937.
August 17
  • Pianist/composer Duke Pearson born 1932 in Atlanta, GA.
  • Bassist George Duvivier born 1920 in New York, NY.
  • Pianist Paul Bley records Floater with bassist Steve Swallow ansd drummer Pete LaRoca, 1962.
August 18
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records Gil Evans’ arrangements of Porgy and Bess, 1958.
  • Drummer Don Lamond born 1920 in Oklahoma City, OK.
  • Fletcher Henderson’s band records Coleman Hawkins’ “Queer Notions,” 1933.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

August 11, 2010

Aural History

Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis MasterpieceFor fans of Miles Davis’s legendary 1959 record, and for jazz fans in general, Ashley Kahn’s Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece is a compelling read. It’s an insider’s look at people involved in the recording of this most popular of jazz records, including never-before-seen session photos. Kahn provides some historical context on Miles Davis’s development as a trumpet player from the tentative late 1940s dates with Charlie Parker, through finding his own sound in the mid-1950s with his classic quintet, and on to the development of modal jazz that blossoms forth on Kind of Blue. The book also covers the two recording sessions that produced the record, song by song, discussing the false starts, the studio conversations, and the final song versions. One really gets a vivid sense of the personalities involved - in addition to Davis, that includes John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers. There’s also coverage of Columbia Records marketing of the record and a look at its lasting legacy in the jazz world. This “recordography” of Kind of Blue will have you listening to this LP with renewed appreciation for the artistry behind it.

August 6, 2010

A Note on Mitch Miller

Jazz fans owe a debt of gratitude to Mitch Miller, who passed away at the age of 99 on July 31. Miller may have been known to many from his shlocky 1960s television show, Sing Along With Mitch, but he played an indirect role in the success of jazz in the 1950s.
     Miller was an oboist and musical director at Mercury Records, where he produced Charlie Parker with Strings, an album that many people love and probably an equal number hate. In 1950, he became a talent scout for Columbia Records, which at the time was only the number four record company, in spite of bringing the long-playing record (LP) to market only two years earlier. Miller brought in a slew of new talent to Columbia, including Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray, and Johnny Mathis. (Of course, he missed some opportunities as well: disliking rock ‘n’ roll, in 1955 he turned down Elvis Presley.)
     Miller had an unfortunate obsession with novelty tunes, which nevertheless often turned out to be big hits. He got Rosemary Clooney to sing “Come on-a My House” - and made her a star in the process - and Jimmy Boyd’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sold two million copies. The most notorious example of this was a tune forced on Frank Sinatra called “Mama Will Bark,” a duet with TV personality Dagmar (who clearly couldn't carry a tune) that featured howling hound sound effects. Sinatra gets to sing lyrics such as Hot dog. Woof!” on this barker, which was a minor, if embarrassing, hit. Miller was able to produce a string of pop singles, and in just two years, Columbia’s profits increased by 60 percent.
     The reason this is relevant to jazz is that Columbia’s phenomenal success in pop music allowed it to take some chances on jazz musicians. They not only spared no expense in recording jazz artists but they also marketed them like their pop stars, bring jazz a new-found prominence in American culture. Their stable eventually included Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and many others. Signing with Columbia Records became the sign that a jazz musician had finally arrived. So, Miller’s instincts as a showman, and the cash he brought in to Columbia, led directly to the phenomenal growth of jazz in the 1950s and beyond.

August 5, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: August 5 to August 11

August 5
  • Percussionist Airto Moreira born 1941 in Itaiopolis, Brazil.
  • Trumpeter Frankie Newton and bassist John Kirby record “Emperor Jones” with Charlie Barnet, 1937.
  • Pianist/bandleader Luis Russell born 1902 in Careening Clay, Panama.
August 6
  • Trombonist Vic Dickenson born 1906 in Xenia, OH.
  • Vocalist Abbey Lincoln born 1930 in Chicago, IL.
  • Bassist Charlie Haden born 1937 in Shenandoah, IA.
August 7
  • Pianist Thelonious Monk records Live at the Five Spot, 1958.
  • Guitarist George Van Eps born 1913 in Plainfield, NJ.
  • Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk born 1936 in Columbus, OH.
August 8
  • Trombonist Urbie Green born 1926 in Mobile, AL.
  • Vocalist Sarah Vaughan records “Nobody Else But Me” with Benny Carter, 1962.
  • Saxophonist/composer/bandleader Benny Carter born 1907 in New York, NY.
August 9
  • Count Basie records “Time Out” and “Topsy,” 1938.
  • Drummer/pianist Jack DeJohnette born 1942 in Chicago, IL.
  • Jazz historian/critic Martin Williams born 1924 in Richmond, VA.
August 10
  • Pianist/bandleader Claude Thornhill born 1909 in Terre Haute, IN.
  • Vocalist Mamie Smith records “Crazy Blues” 1920, the first hit record to establish the blues.
  • Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp records Four for Trane, 1966.
August 11
  • Pianist Jess Stacy born 1904 in Bird’s Point, MO.
  • Alto saxophonist/clarinetist Russell Procope born 1908 in New York, NY.
  • Clarinetist/bandleader Benny Goodman records Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Stealin’ Apples,” 1939.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

August 4, 2010

A Showcase for Benny Carter

Sax A La CarterSax ala Carter! (Capitol, 1960) was released fifty years ago and remains one of saxophonist Benny Carter’s most easy-going and enjoyable sessions. Backed by Jimmy Rowles on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums - an absolutely stellar rhythm section - Carter takes a swinging stroll through a number of standards as well as a few surprises. The tunes include “And the Angels Sing,” “All or Nothing at All,” and “For All We Know” (the latter taken at an unexpected medium up-tempo). Carter, as always, provides magic on his melodic lines, able to blow some new life into familiar tunes.
     The surprises are three “exotic” tunes that evoke a kind of South Seas dreamscape. The first is “Moon of Manakoora,” written for the 1937 Dorothy Lamour film The Hurricane (directed by John Ford). Taken at a quickish tempo, the song enables Carter to play some wonderful little riffs along the way. “Ennui” is a Carter original that features him on soprano saxophone instead of tenor, and one wishes he had done this more. His tone is luscious on this haunting melody. “Friendly Islands” is another Carter tune that was once used as the theme song for Hawaiian Airlines. Carter’s solos sound effortless on this swinging little number. (Of course, this was part of his mystique. Cannonball Adderley once said, “Benny could and can play as many notes as anyone, but he makes it look easy.” In other words, he never let you see him sweat.) This CD is definitely worth a listen for Benny Carter fans, and everyone else too.

August 1, 2010

Jazz Poetry - "Trane"

by Kamau Brathwaite

Propped against the crowded bar
he pours into the curved and silver horn
his old unhappy longing for a home

the dancers twist and turn
he leans and wishes he could burn
his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperor

of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky when he was born
no wise men found his hovel; this crowded bar
where dancers twist and turn,

holds all the fame and recognition he will ever earn
on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar
and pours his old unhappy longing in the saxophone

Note: Edward Kamau Brathwaite (born on Barbados in 1930) is a major voice in poetry and literature from the Caribbean. After his education at Cambridge in the early 1950s, he spent time in Ghana before returning to St. Lucia and then Barbados in the Caribbean. Brathwaite has published a number of books of poetry and prose, including Black + Blues (New Directions, 1976, 1995), from which this poem is taken. He is currently a professor of comparative literature at New York University.