October 28, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: October 28 to November 3

October 28
  • Guitarist Philip Catherine born 1942 in London, England.
  • Trombonist Bill Harris born 1916 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Composer/arranger Chico O’Farrill born 1921 in Havana, Cuba.
October 29
  • Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker records “Embraceable You,” 1947.
  • Tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims born 1925 in Inglewood, CA.
  • Composer/arranger/trumpeter Neal Hefti born 1922 in Hastings, NE.
October 30
  • Percussionist/bandleader Poncho Sanchez born 1951 in Laredo, TX.
  • Count Basie records “What’s Your Number?” featuring tenor saxophonist Lester Young, 1940.
  • Trumpeter Clifford Brown born 1930 in Wilmington, DE.
October 31
  • Actress/singer Ethel Waters born 1896 in Chester, PA.
  • Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin born 1930 in Denison, TX.
  • Tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet born 1922 in Boussard, LA.
November 1
  • Pianist Roger Kellaway born 1939 in Newton, MA.
  • Basssist/composer Charles Mingus records Mingus Dynasty with a group including Jimmy Knepper, Booker Ervin, and Roland Hanna, 1959.
  • Alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson born 1926 in Badin, NC.
November 2
  • Trumpeter Bunny Berigan born 1908 in Hilbert, WI.
  • Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges records Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream,” 1940.
  • Saxophonist/clarinetist/bandleader Phil Woods born 1931 in Springfield, MA.
November 3
  • Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins records A Night at the Village Vanguard, 1957, with drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Wilbur Ware.
  • Bassist Henry Grimes born 1935 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Pianist Fats Waller records “Your Feet’s Too Big,” 1940.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

October 27, 2010

Barney Kessel - "One Mint Julep" (1964)

Barney Kessel on guitar, Buddy Woodson on bass, and Stan Levey on drums.

October 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sonny Criss!

Out Of NowhereSaxophonist William “Sonny” Criss was born on this date in 1927 in Memphis. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 15 and he remained there for much of his life. This may partly explain why, despite his obvious abilities, Criss never achieved due recognition - most West Coast musicians at the time usually made the trek to New York City in search of fame and fortune. But he was also an introspective man who didn’t toot his own horn except on the bandstand. Fellow saxophone player Teddy Edwards once said of Criss that he was like “a closet full of coats with the shoes underneath.”
     One of his earliest gigs was with Howard McGhee’s band, which also featured Charlie Parker. While clearly influenced by Parker, he was not merely a disciple as has sometimes been said. Criss had his own crisp, bluesy tone and was particularly strong on ballads and slow melodies. His playing is a mix of the sweetness of a Johnny Hodges with the urgency of a Charlie Parker. Criss cut his teeth with Al Killian, Hampton Hawes, Wardell Gray, and others on the Los Angeles Central Avenue scene. He moved from band to band, appearing on a few jam session recordings for Norman Granz and on sessions led by Johnny Otis and Billy Eckstine.
     In 1956, he made several recordings with Imperial Records, including Criss Cross and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter. He moved to Paris for a while, where he recorded the engaging Mr. Blues Pour Flirter, Vols. 1 and 2 (1963), among others. In the late 1960s, he made a number of fine albums, mostly in the hard bop tradition, for Prestige, including This is Criss and Sonny's Dream, which started to bring him a little more notice - he won the Down Beat award for “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition” in 1968 (which sounds like a pretty thankless award if you ask me).
     On November 19, 1977, Criss committed suicide. He was still playing in top form and getting more widely heard at the time, so the reason for this was a mystery. Finally, more than a decade after Criss’s death, his mother, Lucy, revealed that he had been suffering with stomach cancer. I have lately been listening to his 1975 album, Out of Nowhere, where he is ably accompanied by the wonderfully named Dolo Coker on piano, and Criss’s playing is as full of emotion and inventiveness as ever. I guess, because of his tightly packed suitcase of a personality (to continue the clothing-related metaphors), Criss simply let his music do the talking for him, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.

October 21, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: October 21 to October 27

October 21
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie born 1917 in Cheraw, SC.
  • In 1946, Billy Strayhorn begins rehearsing his and Duke Ellington’s only Broadway show Beggar’s Holiday, which closed after only 4 months.
  • Tenor saxophonist Don Byas born 1912 in Muskogee, OK.
October 22
  • Pianist/composer Clare Fischer born 1928 in Durand, MI.
  • Count Basie records The Atomic Basie, 1957, featuring arrangements by Neal Hefti.
  • Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band records “Bogalousa Strut” in New Orleans, 1927.
October 23
  • Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss born 1927 in Memphis, TN.
  • Composer/arranger Gary McFarland born 1933 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • The Brass Ensemble of the Jazz and Classical Music Society records J.J. Johnson’s “Jazz Suite for Brass,” featuring trumpeters Miles Davis and Bernie Glow, 1956.
October 24
  • Jazz historian Dan Morgenstern born 1929 in Munich, Germany.
  • Bassist Wendell Marshall born 1920 in St. Louis, MO.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records “Well, You Needn’t” at his first trio session with bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Art Blakey, 1947.
October 25
  • Saxophonist/composer Jimmy Heath born 1926 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Trombonist Robin Eubanks born 1955 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records “The Way You Look Tonight” with Sonny Rollins, 1954.
October 26
  • Tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh born 1927 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Bandleader/saxophonist Charlie Barnet born 1913 in New York, NY.
  • C. Luckyeth ‘Luckey’ Roberts records an unissued session for Columbia, 1916.
October 27
  • Pianist/composer George Wallington born 1924 in Palmero, Sicily, Italy.
  • Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy records The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy, with drummer Roy Haynes, 1960.
  • Clarinetist Benny Goodman records “Texas Tea Party” featuring trombonist/vocalist Jack Teagarden, 1933.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

October 16, 2010

October 14, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: October 14 to October 20

October 14
  • Tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and pianist Joe Zawinul record together, with trumpeter Thad Jones, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, 1963.
  • Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich born 1931 in Jajce, Yugoslavia.
  • Duke Ellington records “Tootin’ Through the Roof,” featuring cornetist Rex Stewart and trumpeter Cootie Williams, 1939.
October 15
  • Nat King Cole’s short-lived television show has Jazz at the Philharmonic as his guest, and plays in a rare jazz appearance with Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk makes his first recordings as a leader, 1947.
  • Trumpeter Al Killian born 1916 in Birmingham, AL.
October 16
  • Saxophonist/arranger/composer Benny Carter records “Lonesome Nights” and “Symphony in Riffs,” 1933.
  • Trombonist Ray Anderson born 1952 in Chicago, IL.
  • Trumpeter Roy Hargrove born 1969 in Waco, TX.
October 17
  • Trombonist Jimmy Harrison born 1900 in Louisville, KY.
  • Two guitarists born - Barney Kessel 1923 in Muskogee, OK, and Howard Alden 1958 in Newport Beach, CA.
  • J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding record their first album as co-leaders at Birdland, 1954.
October 18
  • Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis born 1961 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Pianist/composer James P. Johnson records Carolina Shout 1921.
  • Tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine records “Jubilee Shouts,” 1962.
October 19
  • Trombonist Jack Jenney records his classic version of “Stardust” with his own big band, 1939.
  • Clarinetist Eddie Daniels born 1941 in New York, NY.
  • Clarinetist Alphonse Picou born 1878 in New Orleans, LA.
October 20
  • Saxophonist Eddie Harris born 1936 in Chicago, IL.
  • Pianist/composer Jelly Roll Morton born 1890 in New Orleans, LA. 
  • Vocalist Ethel Waters records “Dinah,” 1925.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

October 10, 2010

Another Cause for Celebration: Harry “Sweets” Edison

While October 10th is rightly honored for the birth of Thelonious Monk, I want to celebrate another jazz musician who shares his birthdate, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison. Edison was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1915, and spent part of his childhood in Kentucky, where an uncle introduced him to music. As a teenager, he played trumpet in local bands in Columbus.
     “Sweets” joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937 and stayed for 13 years. One can hear the Basie influence in the economy of his playing, in the ability to sound just the right note while playing a melody, make it swing, and give it so much meaning and feel at the same time. It was Lester Young (also in the Basie band) that gave Edison his nickname for just this quality. His sound is immediately recognizable.
     After leaving Basie, Edison recorded some albums as a leader and also traveled with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic. He also played in the bands of Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, and Louie Bellson at this time. He moved to the West Coast and did a lot of gigs as a studio musician in Los Angeles, including dates with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. He was the featured trumpet soloist with arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle for most of the 1950s.
     During the 1960s and 1970s, “Sweets” continued to do studio work for television shows (for Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bill Cosby, and Della Reese, among others) and films, including the biopic about Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (1972). He also worked in Las Vegas and toured extensively in Europe and Japan. He died in 1999.
     Among my favorite “Sweets” albums are two he did with Ben Webster, Sweets (1956) and Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good to You (1957), and the compilation The Swinger and Mr. Swing (1958). He can also be heard to good advantage - okay, he often steals the spotlight - on the Stan Getz album Jazz Giants ’58 (1958) and on the Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges album Side by Side (1959). 
     In the video, which is from a 1964 concert in London, “Sweets” plays a lovely rendition of “Willow Weep for Me.”

October 9, 2010

Stéphane Grappelli - "Blue Moon" (1990)

Stéphane Grappelli on violin, Martin Taylor on guitar, Jon Burr on bass.

October 7, 2010

This Week in Jazz History: October 7 to October 13

October 7
  • Louis Armstrong records his first session with Fletcher Henderson’s band, 1924.
  • Drummer Jo Jones born 1911 in Chicago, IL.
  • Organist Larry Young born 1940 in Newark, NJ.
October 8
  • Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams born 1930 in Highland Park, MI.
  • Drummer J .C. Heard born 1917 in Dayton, OH.
  • Lennie Tristano records first trio sides (Out on a Limb) 1946, with Clyde Lombardi and Billy Bauer
October 9
  • Reedman/composer Yusef Lateef born 1920 in Chattanooga, TN, and records Gong, 1957.
  • Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett born 1960 in Detroit, MI.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records “Ba-lue-Bolivar-Ba-lues-are,” with bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Max Roach, and saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Ernie Henry, 1956.
October 10
  • Trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison born 1915 in Columbus, OH.
  • Billie Holiday stages a 1956 comeback concert at Carnegie Hall (it also became an album) with a band that includes Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk born 1917 in Rocky Mount, NC.
October 11
  • Drummer/bandleader Art Blakey born 1919 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Trumpeter Lester Bowie born 1941 in Frederick, MD.
  • Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins records “Body and Soul” 1939, an advanced improvisation that became a hit.
October 12
  • Drummer Tubby Hall born 1895 in Sellers, LA.
  • Bassist/composer Charles Mingus records The Complete Town Hall Concert, 1962.
  • Alto saxophonist James Moody records “I’m in The Mood for Love,” 1949, which later becomes a hit as “Moody’s Mood” for vocalist Eddie Jefferson.
October 13
  • Bassist Ray Brown born 1926 in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Pianist Art Tatum born 1909 in Toledo, OH.
  • Saxophonist Lee Konitz born 1927 in Chicago, IL.
Source: Smithsonian Jazz

October 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Blanton!

Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster BandBassist Jimmy Blanton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on this date in 1918. He was the first great innovative jazz double bassist, known mainly for his recordings with Duke Ellington from 1939 to 1941. Before Blanton, the bass was used primarily to lay down the beat and provide the harmonic underpinnings for a tune. Blanton played his bass as a harmonic instrument, using both plucking and bowing techniques to create what have been described as “horn-like” solos. Ellington provided plenty of opportunities to showcase Blanton’s swinging soloing capabilities - so much so that the Ellington band at the time became known as the Blanton-Webster band (Ben Webster was the other featured player). The Blanton-Webster legacy has been well preserved due to some excellent recordings on the Victor label. Ellington also recorded some piano/bass duets with Blanton - their renditions of "Body and Soul" and "Sophisticated Lady" are exquisite. Unfortunately, Blanton’s career was cut short: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1941 and died the following year at the tragically young age of 23.

October 1, 2010

Jazz Poetry - "Copacetic Mingus"

Copacetic Mingus by Yusef Komunyakaa

“Mingus One, Two and Three.
Which is the image you want the world to see?”
- Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog

Heartstring. Blessed wood
& every moment the thing’s made of:
ball of fatback
licked by fingers of fire.
Hard love, it’s hard love.
Running big hands down
the upright’s wide hips,
rocking his moon-eyed mistress
with gold in her teeth.
Art & life bleed
into each other
as he works the bow.
But tonight we’re both a long ways
from the Mile High City,
1973. Here in New Orleans
years below sea level,
I listen to Pithecanthropus
Erectus: Up & down, under
& over, every which way -
thump, thump, dada - ah, yes.
Wood heavy with tenderness,
Mingus fingers the loom
gone on Segovia,
dogging the raw strings
unwaxed with rosin.
Hyperbolic bass line. Oh, no!
Hard love, it’s hard love.

From Neon Vernacular (Wesleyan, 1993)

Note: Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947 and grew up in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War and, upon his return, began writing poetry while attending the University of Colorado. His published poems are known for their use of jazz rhythms combined with often startling imagery. Komunyakaa summed up his own view of making poetry this way: “Poetry is a kind of distilled insinuation. It’s a way of expanding and talking around an idea or a question. Sometimes, more actually gets said through such a technique than a full frontal assault.” He currently teaches creative writing at New York University.