May 28, 2011

Jazz News: Gil Scott-Heron is Dead at 62

Gil Scott-Heron, an important musician, poet, and voice of black protest in the 1970s, has died. The New York Times has the story.

Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, Dies at 62 
By Ben Sisario
Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like "The Revolution Wil Not Be Televised" made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. More...

May 27, 2011

This Week in Jazz History: May 27 to June 2

May 27
  • Bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen born 1946 in Osted, Denmark.
  • Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba born 1963 in Havana, Cuba.
  • Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater born 1950 in Memphis, TN.
 May 28
  • Pianist/composer Reginald Forsythe born 1907 in London, England.
  • Bandleader Andy Kirk born 1898 in Newport, KY.
  • Pianist Russ Freeman born Chicago, IL, 1926.
 May 29
  • Drummer Kenny Washington born 1958 in Staten Island, NY.
  • Duke Ellington records Anatomy of a Murder, 1959.
  • Pianist Hilton Ruiz born 1952 in New York, NY.
 May 30
  • Saxophonist Frank Trumbauer born 1901 in Carbondale, IL.
  • Clarinetist/bandleader Benny Goodman born 1909 in Chicago, IL.
  • Trumpeter Sidney DeParis born 1905 in Crawfordsville, IN.
 May 31
  • Saxophonist Otto "Toby" Hardwicke born 1904 in Washington, DC.
  • Two drummers born - Albert "Tootie" Heath 1935 in Philadelphia, PA, and Louis Hayes 1937 in Detroit, MI.
  • Pianist Bill Evans records Time Remembered, 1963.
 June 1
  • Saxophonist Hal McKusick born 1924 in Medford, MA.
  • Vocalist Billie Holiday records “I’ll Never Be The Same” with a band led by pianist Teddy Wilson, including tenor saxophonist Lester Young, 1937.
  • Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk records “Played Twice,” 1959.
 June 2
  • Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald records “Sing Me A Swing Song” with drummer Chick Webb’s band, 1936.
  • Pianist Marty Napoleon born 1921 in New York, NY.
  • Multi reedman Eric Dolphy records Last Date in Hilversum, The Netherlands, 1964.

Source: Smithsonian Jazz

May 22, 2011

Oscar Worthy

Oscar Peterson: Music in the Key of Oscar (2004) is a terrific documentary about the legendary jazz pianist. Shot in 1992 during a reunion tour with members of the original Oscar Peterson Trio, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown, the best thing is the generous amount of time we get to spend watching and listening to these greats play. Though all are long in the tooth at this time, they are still playing at a very high level, as cohesive a group as they were in the 1950s.

OSCAR PETERSON: Music in the Key of OscarInterspersed between the song sets are brief snippets of commentary from producer Norman Granz, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and, of course, Oscar himself. The film looks at his “boy genius” rise to prominence in Montreal, Canada, where he was discovered by Granz in what sounds like an apocryphal story but is apparently true. Granz was in a taxi heading to the airport to fly back to the States when he heard Peterson, then 24 years old, playing on the radio. When he asked the driver who the recording was by, the driver told him it was a live broadcast from a local club. Granz had him turn the taxi around and take him immediately to the club. Shortly thereafter, Peterson was introduced as a surprise performer at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert at Carnegie Hall.

The film briefly covers the highlights of Peterson’s career, his influences, his experiences with racism while out on tour, and the recognition he finally receives at the time the film was made. It even looks at criticism of Peterson, particularly the charge that he was not an innovator or trendsetter on the piano. The point is tacitly acknowledged, but Peterson never saw this as his role, and the sheer artistry on display makes the point moot. Oscar Peterson is simply one of the greatest to ever tickle the jazz ivories.

May 20, 2011

This Week in Jazz History: May 20 to May 26

May 20
  • Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers record “Pam” featuring trumpeter Sonny Berman, 1946.
  • Drummer Ralph Petersen born 1962 in Pleasantville, NJ.
  • Mills Blue Rhythm Band records “St. Louis Wiggle Rhythm” with trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen, 1935.
 May 21
  • Bassist Christian McBride born 1972 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Pianist/vocalist Fats Waller born 1904 in New York City.
  • Trumpeter Kenny Dorham records But Beautiful with pianist Hank Jones, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach, 1957.
 May 22
  • Pianist Dick Hyman records Jelly and James P., a tribute to Morton and Johnson, 1975.
  • Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman records “Lonely Woman” and “Congeniality,” 1959.
  • Pianist Sun Ra born 1914 in Birmingham, AL.
 May 23
  • Saxophonist John Coltrane records “Greensleeves” with a large ensemble including trumpeters Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard and reedman Eric Dolphy, 1961.
  • Banjoist/guitarist Fred Guy born 1897 in Burkesville, GA.
  • Clarinetist Artie Shaw born 1910 in New York City.
 May 24
  • Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp born 1937 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • Historic jazz concert at New York’s Imperial Theater - including clarinetist Artie Shaw’s new band that featured a string section, 1936.
  • Tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins record Tenor Madness, 1956.
 May 25
  • Clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Jimmy Hamilton born 1917 in Dillon, SC.
  • Trumpeter Wallace Roney born 1960 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins and trumpeter Roy Eldridge record “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” 1940.
 May 26
  • Trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis born 1926 in Alton, IL.
  • Vocalist Peggy Lee born 1920 in Jamestown, ND.
  • Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton records Flying Home with a classic solo by tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, 1942.

 Source: Smithsonian Jazz

May 13, 2011

This Week in Jazz History: May 13 to May 19

May 13
  • Pianist Red Garland born 1923 in Dallas, TX.
  • Louis Armstrong records “S.O.L. Blues,” 1927.
  • Arranger/composer Gil Evans born 1912 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and records Priestess, 1977.
 May 14
  • Saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet born 1897 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Fletcher Henderson records “Wrappin’ It Up,” 1934.
  • Drummer Zutty Singleton born 1898 in Bunkie, LA.
 May 15
  • Pianist Ellis Larkins born 1923 in Baltimore, MD.
  • Multi-instrumentalist/composer/bandleader Rahsaan Roland Kirk born 1936 in Columbus, OH.
  • Jazz at Massey Hall concert recorded, 1953 - last reunion of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Max Roach.
 May 16
  • Reedman/bandleader Woody Herman born 1913 in Milwaukee, WI.
  • Clarinetist Jimmie Noone records “Four or Five Times,” 1928, with pianist Earl Hines.
  • Vocalist Betty Carter born 1930 in Flint, MI.
 May 17
  • Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean born 1932 in New York, NY.
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie makes his first recordings (“King Porter Stomp”) with Teddy Hill’s band, 1937.
  • Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman born 1931 in Fort Worth, TX.
 May 18
  • English bassist/composer Spike Hughes records with Benny Carter’s band, 1933.
  • Bassist Pops Foster born 1892 in McCall, LA.
  • Vocalist Big Joe Turner born 1912 in Kansas City, MO.
 May 19
  • Count Basie records “Pound Cake” with classic solos by tenor saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, 1939.
  • Saxophonist Sonny Fortune born 1939 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Vocalist Sarah Vaughan records “Nice Work If You Can Get It” with trumpeter Miles Davis, 1950.

 Source: Smithsonian Jazz

May 9, 2011

Billie and the Blessed Child

Billie Holiday recorded what was almost her last hit song, “God Bless the Child,” on this date in 1941, with the Eddie Heywood Orchestra featuring Roy Eldridge on trumpet. Shortly before this session, she had co-written this tune with Arthur Herzog, Jr., a songwriter with whom she sometimes collaborated. In her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday claims that the song stemmed from an incident in her childhood when she asked for money from her mother and was refused.

Unfortunately, Holiday was not the most reliable of narrators. A different account appears in Donald Clark’s biography, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon. Herzog was trying to come up with a hit record at the time, which was during the ill-fated ASCAP strike, in which the American Society of Composers tried to boost their radio royalty rate and broadcasters balked. A rival organization was formed, called Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and their songs were the only thing on the air at the time. Herzog was not a member of ASCAP and saw an opportunity.

He approached Holiday and asked her for an “old-fashioned Southern expression” to turn into a song. Billie could come up with nothing in response to this rather odd request. Their conversation turned to Billie’s mother, who was apparently attempting to open a club of some sort at the time and was pestering her daughter for funds. In exasperation, Billie told Herzog, “God bless the child!” He asked her to explain the remark. “That’s what we used to say,” Holiday explained, “your mother’s got money, your father’s got money, your sister’s got money, your cousin’s got money, but if you haven’t got it yourself, God bless the child that’s got his own.” Herzog claimed that it took him only twenty minutes to write the song.

Billie Holiday’s version of “God Bless the Child” was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1976 - certainly an indication that all great popular songs are not necessarily about love.

May 6, 2011

This Week in Jazz History: May 6 to May 12

May 6
  • Cornetist/composer Bix Beiderbecke records “Riverboat Shuffle” with The Wolverines, 1924.
  • Bassist David Friesen born 1942 in Tacoma, WA.
  • Herbie Nichols records The Third World, his first album of his own music 1955
 May 7
  • Vocalist Sarah Vaughan records “If You Could See Me Now” with trumpeter Freddie Webster, 1946.
  • Saxophonist Herbie Steward born 1926 in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Saxophonist Ornette Coleman records Love Call, with Dewey Redman, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, 1968.
 May 8
  • Pianist Keith Jarrett born 1945 in Allentown, PA.
  • Pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams born 1910 in Atlanta, GA.
  • Pianist/vocalist Fats Waller records “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” 1936.
 May 9
  • Vocalist Billie Holiday records “God Bless The Child” with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, 1941.
  • Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins records East Broadway Rundown with Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and Freddie Hubbard, 1965.
  • Trumpeter Miles Davis records Dear Old Stockholm, 1952.
 May 10
  • Drummer/bandleader Mel Lewis born 1929 in Buffalo, NY.
  • Keyboardist Mike Melvoin born 1937 in Oshkosh, WI.
  • Louis Armstrong records “Potato Head Blues,” 1927.
 May 11
  • Cornetist/bandleader Joe "King" Oliver born 1885 in New Orleans, LA.
  • Pianist/composer Carla Bley born 1938 in Oakland, CA.
  • Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker record “Shaw ’Nuff,” 1945.
 May 12
  • Sauter-Finegan Orchestra records Doodletown Fifers, 1952.
  • Bassist Gary Peacock born 1935 in Burley, ID.
  • Guitarist Charlie Christian is recorded in a jam session with Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke, and plays an extended solo on “Stompin’ At the Savoy,” 1941.

 Source: Smithsonian Jazz

May 3, 2011

A Treasure Trove of Jazz from Norman Granz

Norman Granz was the producer of the famous Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series, a constantly changing all-star jazz band that toured the United States and Europe from 1945 to 1959 and at one time or another included just about every significant jazz artist of the day. He was also a record producer and founder of Verve Records, among other labels.

Granz was born in Los Angeles of Jewish immigrant parents, a background that may help explain his lifelong battle against racism, particularly as it manifested itself in the jazz world of the 1940s and 1950s. He was known for his generosity, both in dollars and spirit, paying his musicians very well and insisting they be treated fairly regardless of the color of their skin. Finally, he was the long-time personal manager of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

If that wasn’t enough of a curriculum vitae, Granz also made jazz films, many of which are gathered together on Norman Granz: Improvisation. This DVD presents a cornucopia of terrific jazz performances spanning the period from 1950 to 1977. The earliest snippet shows Charlie Parker performing with one of his heroes, Coleman Hawkins, and smiling like a little kid as he listens to The Hawk. Other highlights include Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young from the same early session, Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry battling it out on trumpet backed by the Oscar Peterson Trio, Duke Ellington playing for the sculptor Jean Miró on the Côte d'Azur, Joe Pass playing a couple of guitar solos, and Count Basie backing soloists Al Grey, Vic Dickenson, and Roy Eldridge.

The film begins with a short and pretentious featurette about Granz and the artistry of jazz improvisation, intoned with great seriousness by jazz critic Nat Hentoff. Once you get past this bit of fluff, the rest is a feast for the ears and the eyes.