Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jazz on Film: Caveat Emptor


There are good documentaries about jazz. A person can see the films listed on this site and walk away without reaching for the gas pipe. But, as the furor around the film Whiplash (well, to jazz people it was furor) reminds us, it's wise to keep the bar low.

When Hollywood does jazz, it should stick to hagiography and cheesy romance: The Benny Goodman story, the Fabulous Dorseys, the Glenn Miller story; these are really just the Lindbergh, Curie and Young Abe Lincoln stories with clarinets and bobby socks. Henry Fonda coulda played Miller and Jimmy Stewart coulda been Lincoln. Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith as trumpet players in Second Chorus, competing for Paulette Goddard? No problem. These movies are a nice, comfortable roll in the lowest common denominator hay. And, of course, any time Louis Armstrong is on, he lights up the screen. Ditto, Hoagy Carmichael.

But, when the egomaniacs in L.A. go all arty and pseudo-egghead on us and decide they have to "explain" jazz and jazz musicians, it's a formula for disaster.

Remember your initial excitement when you heard about "Round Midnight," and about "Bird"? Remember your disappointment after you saw them? Why didn't they let Dexter play anything up tempo! Why did they make Bird a man-child! Why did they strip the original rhythm section off the sound track! Bird didn't look like that when he played! Is every black man a tragic figure and every white man a dolt?

Possibly the most exasperating example of the genre is "Jung Man With a..." Sorry: "Young Man With a Horn." The insane ilk of psycho-babble that oozes through this movie like celluloid arteriosclerosis makes me think Professor Irwin Corey had a hand in the screenplay. Kirk Douglas/Bix Beiderbecke has "one wing" then falls for the broken pseudo-shrink Bacall who has a pet macaw? She smashes your 78's? I hate to see that; even if they're just Caruso on Victor. You're right, Kirk/Bix, she is "dirty and twisted inside," while you-were-born-to-play-the-trumpet-and-can-only-communicate-through-that-damn-horn. Why, oh why do they try and foist off that juvenile premise: "I want to play the note that no one else has ever played?" Bejasus.

Don't ask me if the same 4th-class Freudianisms befoul the Dorothy Baker novel it was based on. I can only deal with psychic effluvia in one genre at a time. "Based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke"-my moldy toenail. Harry James is the film's music adviser and dubs the trumpet parts. James is a great player, but his style bears as much resemblance to Bix's as, well-you finish the analogy. Kirk Douglas pushes the trumpet valves convincingly and has the appropriate unyielding embouchure and convincing lunatic gleam in his eye.  

Happily, the movie is quite informative for all you trumpet players out there, as there are at least 4 mentions of the loathsome "roll" in this movie. You know, where the mouthpiece gets too low on your lower lip? You better correct it pronto, or I will strap you in this comfy chair and force you to listen to cinematic dialogue about trumpet rolls until your chops fall off.

I suppose it's not really the aspiring filmmaker's fault. They're not gonna raise a lot of money to make a movie-insightful or not-about jazz, unless it's about Miles Davis, who is now the only jazz musician that Americans can name. We'll see how Mr. Cheadle makes out with Miles, but when you walk into the multiplex, my advice is: caveat jazz emptor. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Talking "Love Songs" with Author Ted Gioia

Ted Gioia is a prolific writer and a good one. Readers of this blog probably know him through his books and articles about jazz, but Mr. Gioia is a polymath and writes on a wide range of subjects. 

In this Q&A, he talks about his recently released book, Love Songs: The Hidden History I'm confident that what he says will inspire many of you to pick up a copy of this fascinating book.

SP: In your introduction, you link the word “cantare” and the word “incantation.” As a reader, I had the sense that your search is not just for a hidden history, but for a hidden linkage between the song and the power of the song.

TG: As a music writer, I am forced to deal with songs as a product of the entertainment industry. But for many years, I’ve been dissatisfied with this narrow way of viewing music. In one of my favorite passages, Aristotle describes the various capabilities of song. He mentions that it refreshes us, strengthens our soul, builds our characters, enlivens the toils of everyday life, and then he mentions—almost as an afterthought—that it also provides entertainment. Nowadays society has forgotten everything except that last item on his list. As a result, our musical culture is weak and shallow.

I would like to use my work as a music historian to call attention to the power of song in transforming and enchanting our lives. Music is more than a diversion or entertainment, it is also a change agent, with more power than we realize. We all feel this almost instinctively, yet the history of music, as it is commonly told, tends to ignore these deeper powers of song.

In the 1990s, I began work on an alternative way of telling the history of music—developing a theory and practice that would focus attention on these deeper capabilities of song. I published the first results of this research almost a decade ago, in two volumes called Work Songs and Healing Songs. But I promised at the time to follow up with a book on the history of the love song. This has proven to be a difficult endeavor, since most of our songs are about love. But completing this project was essential to my goal of charting this hidden, alternative history of music. It is with some relief that I finally finished my research, and was able to publish Love Songs: The Hidden History. I’ve been writing about music for more than thirty years, but this has been the most challenging project I’ve ever attempted.

SP: I would say that this phrase from your book is at the core of your approach to the love song: “We feel compelled to sing about love but are deeply embarrassed by this compulsion. We need the outsider to extricate us from our shame. That’s just as true today as two thousand years ago” (p.201). What did you find that supported this idea?
TG: The historical records are fairly clear on this account. Among the ancient Romans, love songs were considered shameful and unmanly. But the outsider—in this instance, the slave entertainer—was allowed to perform them. In an uncanny echoing of this process, innovations in love songs in the United States also came from the marginalized, namely the African-American population. And the very same thing happened in the medieval era, when female slave singers from the Islamic world anticipated the troubadour revolution. 

In fact, at almost every stage in history, we have turned to outsiders—usually from the poorest classes of society—to teach us new ways of singing about love song. In the 1960s, it was lads from Liverpool. In the 1980s, it was rappers in the inner city. Who knows where the next breakthrough in love songs will come from? But I am confident that it won’t be invented by the ruling class or social elites. 

We need the outsider, because our love lives are always circumscribed by tradition, ritual and strict moral injunctions. A new way of singing about love almost always involves breaking the rules and regulations that control our romantic yearnings. The outsider, who by definition does not follow the rules, is typically the best person to show us how this is done. 

SP: We’re used to thinking of music as a cultural adornment, not something that shapes history. Yet, you believe the suppression of love songs stems from the threat they posed to those in power. Can you expand on this?

TG: Most people see the love song as soft and sentimental. It is considered wimpy music. Even I thought this was true before I embarked upon the research for my book. 

At first I was puzzled when I encountered all the examples of repression and social unrest caused by love songs. Why would lovey-dovey music create such consternation, and sometimes even lead to bloodshed? I only gradually realized that the love song has served throughout history as a force for expanding personal autonomy, individual freedom and human rights.

When we think of basic liberties we tend to think of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other elements in the Bill of Rights. But what about freedom to control our own love life? This has never been taken for granted in society. The younger generation has always had to battle with parents, church leaders and patriarchal institutions in order to achieve freedom of romance. The love song has inevitably been a vehicle in this battle. That is why it has been feared by parents and other authority figures, but embraced by the young and disenfranchised. 


By the way, my research shows the love song always wins in the end. It is more powerful than kings and legal bodies. It represents a kind of soft revolution. 

SP: One of the consistent themes here is of religion trying to infuse the love song with “the divine.” To what degree would you say this was also about power? To what degree did it reflect other, more personal struggles to rectify romance with spirituality?

TG: Church leaders tried to eradicate the love song from Western society during the first one thousand years of Christianity. When this attempt failed, after the rise of the troubadours, the Church pursued a very clever alternate strategy. They decided to allow the love song, but aimed to purify it first—taking out the dirty parts, so to speak. They believed that they could turn the love song into a type of spiritual music. If I can borrow the words of John Coltrane, they aimed to focus the music of romance on a “love supreme.”  
This obviously was a battle for power over the hearts and minds—but especially the hearts—of the populace. But it also reflected the belief, among religious leaders, that Christianity had special expertise in the matter of love. After all, when Jesus was asked which were the most important commandments, he replied that the first rule was to love God, and the second rule was to love your neighbor. Given this precedent, the Church felt that it had every right to define the essence of love, even within the context of a love song. 


By the way, the idea that religion might try to control the love lyric seems oppressive to most of us. But this very attempt to mix spirituality and romance spurred the masterworks of Dante, Rumi and other visionary artists. 


SP: Purveyors of love songs were often cut a great deal of moral slack because of the acceptance of the “artistic temperament.” This seems to me scape-goating turned on its head (to the benefit of the artist). Why did this happen? What relationship does it have to other aspects of our relationship to love songs?

TG: In studying the history of prohibitions and censorship, I am struck by the inconsistent rules applied to love songs. Some people are allowed to sing love songs, while others are threatened with punishments and excommunication. But the rules constantly change over times, and are filled with loopholes and exceptions. In medieval times, nobles had much more freedom than commoners. But in the early twentieth century, the opposite happened. African-American musicians were allowed to sing about erotic subjects, but performers addressing the mainstream white market were discouraged from doing the same. 

If you look at sheet music from the turn-of-the-century, you see visual proof of the hypocrisy. Any song that hinted at sexual matters would have a picture of a black person or a blackface entertainer on the cover. You see this with hit songs such as “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” and “Frankie and Johnny.” A few years later, Cole Porter found that critics of his sexually-charged song “Love for Sale” were satisfied after he reassigned the piece to a black singer. Even in the 1950s, broadcasters refused to play Dean Martin’s “Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am!” on the radio, but much more explicit fare was acceptable on R&B records targeted at black audiences.  
SP: In talking about songs of love in 20th century America, you say that music caused attitudes toward romance to shift. Why do you think that music was responsible for the shift and was not simply responding to broader and/or deeper cultural movements?

TG: This is the classic chicken-and-egg question. Do our songs merely reflect changes that have already taken place in our love lives? Or does music actually alter our romantic practices?

I’m forced to conclude that the songs have much more power than most commentators realize. You simply need to look closely at how people practice courtship and romance to grasp this. At every stage of history, music is enlisted as a tool of romance. This was true in Jane Austen’s day, when people met their future spouses at dances, and parents trained daughters to play the piano to help them snag a husband. This was true in my father’s day, when he always took his girlfriends to the ballroom to dance to his favorite jazz bands. And it’s true in the present day, when people agonize over what mood music to play when bringing a hot date back to the apartment. 
By the way, just consider the importance of the automobile radio on the history of modern romance. The car is the most frequent place for marriage proposals in the United States, and I suspect that a romantic song on the radio played a key role in many of those relationships. Many of us wouldn’t be here today if our parents hadn’t had access to the right love song to seal the deal. 

This relates to my earlier point about music as entertainment. The corporate world wants to turn us into passive consumers of music. But in the real world, people take an active role in constructing the soundtrack of their lives. They use songs to achieve very specific goals. Music is an active ingredient at every stage in our courtship, from the first date to the wedding celebrations.  

SP: You say: “Just as jazz had played a key role in ending segregation in earlier years, rock performers now took the lead in introducing mainstream society to outside the mainstream conceptions of gender and sexual self-definition” (p.240). I often refer to early mixing of the races within jazz-well before Goodman’s overt integration-as well as after. I’m just not sure it played a KEY role in ending segregation. Perhaps you can speak to that. Also, do you think that the diminished popularity of jazz is due, to some extent, because it represents more traditional, or at least less outsider, values?
TG: Music was the first sphere of integration in American public life. Long before Jackie Robinson crossed the color line in baseball, black and white musicians were making records together. Long before the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in schools, jazz bandleaders had already ruled against it on the bandstand. Music, on its own, couldn’t change centuries of entrenched bias and institutional privilege, but it served as an invaluable role model. When jazz became the popular music of the younger generation, back during the Swing Era, it helped pave the way for a host of social changes during the 1950s and 1960s.

As you note, jazz no longer has the same degree of influence or popularity nowadays. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the public’s musical tastes change over the decades. New styles come and go. But I must admit that I am still shocked when I hear young listeners describe jazz as old-fashioned, or treat it like a museum piece. As someone who listens to lots of new music in all genres—I spend 2-3 hours every day listening to new releases—I feel compelled to tell them that some of the freshest and most innovative music in the current day is coming from the jazz world. Why isn’t this better known? Maybe those of us who love jazz need to do a better job of letting the world know about all the great new artists and albums out there. Of course, it would help if the mainstream media gave us a platform for doing this.  

Let me put this differently. The jazz world faces a challenge over who gets to frame the narrative. Just like politics, no? Right now, vested interests are trying to redefine jazz in a way that allows them to maximize their income. A jazz festival makes more money if it hires a rock or pop act, so it has a financial interest in changing the definition of jazz. Or take the case of the famous jazz record label that now wants to switch its focus to R&B albums, because they sell better than hard bop. But they pretend that they are upholding their jazz heritage, even as they chase the big bucks. Meanwhile some of the jazz insiders who are best situated to respond to this land grab are ambivalent about the term ‘jazz’. Although they have the best intentions, they contribute to a quietism that allows outsiders to reshape the jazz narrative to suit dubious corporate goals. In such an environment, it is hardly surprising that many listeners have little idea of what is actually happening in the jazz idiom. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

8 Cats Who Make it Look Easy

If you turn off the sound and just look at them, you'd never guess the intensity of the playing. How can they keep their bodies so relaxed and generate such energy?

Wes Montgomery. Not a care, brother.


Charlie Parker. Yes, he's dubbing, but that's how he looked when he played.


Freddie Hubbard. The trumpet is too hard to really make it look easy, but how hard he blows isn't reflected in how he looks.


Errol Garner. Elfin.


Big Sid Catlett. Big man dances with ease.


Johnny Hodges. Intensity in the eyes, but no tension in his body.


Art Tatum.Falling off a log (perched on a 100-story skyscraper)


Lester Young. Just. Cool.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jazz FIlm Sound Tracks


Jazz, and especially swing, was often used as a backdrop for films of the 30's and 40's, although complete jazz scores began in the 50's. Arguably the first one was Elmer Bernstein's for "The Man With the Golden Arm." On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 02/05/2015, we meandered non-chronologically through some of the best.


Playlist: 
Elmer Bernstein  from "the man with the golden arm" (Jazz, 1955) on Decca 

Stan Getz  from "Mickey One Soundtrack" (Jazz, 1965) on MGM 

Martial Solal  from "Soundtrack from Breathless" (Jazz, 1961) on Vogue 

Miles Davis  from "Soundtrack from Ascenseur pour Lechafaud" (Jazz, 1961) on Fontana 

Quincy Jones from "Soundtrack from In Cold Blood" (Jazz, 1967) on Colgems 

Sonny Rollins  from "Alfie Soundtrack" (Jazz, 1966) on GRP 

Michel Legrand  from "Soundtrack for Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Jazz, 1964) on Phillips 

Duke Ellington  from "Anatomy of a Murder Soundtrack" (Jazz, 1959) on Columbia 

Ella Fitzgerald Pete Kelly's Blues" from "Pete Kelly's Blues" (Jazz, 1955) on Decca 

Gato Barbieri from "Last Tango in Paris" (Jazz, 1973) on MGM 

Dave Brubeck "Raggy Waltz" from "Soundtrack All Night Long" (Jazz, 1961) 

Don Ellis "Subway" from "French Connection soundtrack" (Jazz, 1971)  

Gerry Mulligan "Menace" from "La Menace" (Jazz, 1977) on DRG 

John Lewis  from "Odds Against Tomorrow Soundtrack" (Jazz, 1959) on Moochin About 

Jerry Goldsmith  from "Chinatown" (Jazz, 1974) on Geffen 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Racism and Jazz Mythology



Wilbur Sweatman's career exemplifies the path a black musician had to take in order to make a career in the pervasive racism of late 19th c. and early 20th c. America. It's a fascinating and sobering story and Mark Berresford's well-researched biography Wilbur Sweatman, That's Got 'Em tells the story well. Highly recommended.

Sweatman grew up in a town not far from ragtime hotbed Sedalia, MO and the Mississippi river, with its flow of itinerant musicians. He started, in the 1890's, in the trenches of showbiz as a member of a "pick" (pickaninny)
band and transitioned into minstrelsy, brass bands, circus bands and vaudeville, where he spent most of his career. His musical skills put him in leadership positions early on and he associated with important figures in African-American music, many of whom are little known today: Nathaniel Clark Smith, P.G. Lowery, Harry T. Burleigh, Ford T. Dabney and others, whose names are slightly more familiar: Will Vodery, Perry Bradford, Shelton Brooks, Bob Cole, Will Marion Cook, James Reese Europe, Ernest Hogan, James Weldon Johnson among others.

It may be all too easy to think-especially given the hardscrabble quality of this itinerant musical life-that these musicians were uneducated, "natural" musicians. Natural they may have been, but what this biography makes clear is that in order to make a living in music, a musician had to have a solid musical background, be able to read music and if not write, then contribute to arrangements and play in any style of music. 
Norris and Rowe Circus Band, Montana 1908
This runs counter to the pervasive mythology about the beginnings of jazz. 

Berresford's position, espoused by Sweatman, is that jazz was happening in a lot more places than just New Orleans; that the story is a lot more complicated than "jazz was born in New Orleans and travelled up the river to Chicago." I've long believed this too. Not that there wasn't something special about the New Orleans brew, but this mythology strikes me as a "great city" theory, analogous to the "great man" theory, where the charisma of one person throws into shadow other very important elements in the creation story. Berresford makes a strong case for Sweatman as an under-appreciated bridge figure between ragtime and jazz and his success and the story of his milieu, with figures like Lowery, Smith, Cook, Europe and others, runs in contradiction to this myth of the natural musician, 
Buddy Bolden
especially as personified by Buddy Bolden, often cited as the first real jazz musician. The fact that Bolden left no recorded legacy somehow fits into the romantic mythology in which early jazz history has become embedded. In fact, as this book shows, schooled black musicians were laying the foundation for 20th century music in cities across America.

Will Marion Cook


Racism helped to fuel the "natural" musician idea and black musicians were forced to hide their education. For example, black musicians playing for white audiences had to quickly memorize the latest songs, as they could not be seen to use sheet music on the bandstand. lest they be seen as putting themselves on the same level as their audience. And, of course, black musicians had to give up any idea of becoming involved in the world of classical music. 

Berresford's book leaves one wondering how both popular music and "classical" music would have sounded had America not truncated the creative aspirations of so many black musicians. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Off-Axes Show

Damian Draghici

Jazz can be played on just about anything, as I think this show illustrates.

Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour (ZBC Rock) with Steve Provizer 01/22/2015 05:00PM to 07:00PM

Listen to the show HERE.


PLAYLIST

Pakistani Sachal Studios "Take Five"

Art van Damme "A La Mode" from "Accordion a La Mode" (Jazz, 1961) on Columbia 

The Rudy Smith Trio "There will never be another you" from "Jazz 'N Steel" (Jazz, 1969) on Delos 

Art van Damme "You Stepped Out of a Dream" from "Accordion a La Mode" (Jazz, 1961) on Columbia 

Bix Beiderbecke "At the jazz band ball" (Jazz, 1927) on Columbia 

Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet "Mandy"  (Jazz, 1924) on Columbia 

Kenneth Jethro Burns "Just Friends" from "Kenneth Jethro Burns" (Jazz, 1987) on Acoustic Disc 

Kenneth Jethro Burns "If I Had You" from "Kenneth Jethro Burns" (Jazz, 1987) on Acoustic Disc 

Roland Kirk "The Black and Crazy Blues" from "The Inflated Tear" (Jazz, 1968) on Atlantic 

Steve Turre "Playin on Shells" from "Live U.N. Orchestra" (Jazz, 1991) 

Red McKenzie & His Mound City Blue Blowers. "I Ain't Got Nobody" "On Film" (Jazz, 1929) 

Mound City Blue Blowers "Hello Lola" (Jazz, 1929) on Victor 

The Joe Locke Quartet "Time Like the Present" from "Sticks and Strings" (Jazz, 2007) on Jazz Eyes 

Damian Draghici "Spain" from "Live concert" (Jazz, 2010) 

Pepper Adams Quintet "Seein' Red" from "The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams" (Jazz, 1957) on Regent 

John Coltrane - Ray Draper Quintet "Oleo" from "John Coltrane - Ray Draper Quintet" (Jazz, 1957) on Prestige 

Yusef Lateef "The Dreamer" from "The Dreamer" (Jazz, 1959) on Savoy 

Rufus Harley "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" from "A Tribute to Courage" (Jazz, 1968) on Atlantic 

Don Elliot Octet "Soon" from "Don Elliot Octet" (1956) on Emarcy 

Richard Galliano "Spleen" from "Spleen" (Jazz, 1985) 

Toots Thielmans and Bill Evans "I do it for your Love" from "Affinity" (Jazz, 1978) on Warner Bros. 

Julius Watkins "Jordu" from "Julius Watkins Sextet" (Jazz, 1955) on Blue Note 

Dorothy Ashby "House of the Rising Son" from "The Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby" (Jazz, 1966) on Atlantic 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Boxing and Jazz



Sugar Ray and ongoing antagonist, Carmen Basilio
Miles
I just read Sweet Thunder, The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood. Sugar Ray Robinson (nee Walker Smith Jr.), one of the most successful boxers in history also had some skills as a dancer, singer, pianist and drummer and when his boxing career was on the ropes, he tried to make it as a performer. His fame got him gigs, but his talent was not enough to keep folks coming.

Still, his boxing stature, love of music, and his presentation as a confident, sharply dressed, widely esteemed black man put him in solid with Harlem's cultural elite and musicians like Billy Eckstein, Lena Horne, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Miles was drawn into boxing through Robinson and it became an important part of the Davis mystique.

Mythically, as many have noted, jazz and the sweet science are linked through:
  • Improvisation.
  • Some kind of plan for a fight or a solo.
  • A repertoire of punches or "licks"(remember-"My daddy can lick your daddy")
  • Training and discipline.
  • Reflexes and senses finely honed and heightened enough to respond quickly to all cues.
  • A way out of poverty for African-Americans, Italians, Irish and Jews.
While there's a vibe that links them together, in many ways the resemblance is only-pun intended-skin deep:
  • For kids in poverty in 2015, sports and music are still a way out, but jazz has been replaced by hip hop and rock and boxing by basketball, baseball and football. 
  • As far as improvisation: in boxing, improvisation is reactive; the result of adapting to changing circumstances either forced by your opponent or by you, when you see a weakness and try to exploit it; two antagonistic forces with different plans trying to force the other to capitulate to theirs. In jazz, improvisation is collaborative (closer to the way professional wrestlers operate).
Jimmy and Tommy at Play


  • Of course, inter-personal enmity sometimes builds up on the bandstand, but with the possible exception of Charles Mingus or the Dorsey brothersit seldom leads to bloodshed.

  • In jazz, natural ability can make training and discipline less important. There are musicians who can play almost from the first time they pick up an instrument; who don't have to warm up; who never had to learn the musical nomenclature for a vocabulary they negotiate so well. A boxer may be a natural, but that's only a small opening that has to be developed by long hours of big and small bag work, running, skipping rope and sparring. 
All that said, there are boxers and jazz musicians who I think bring the same kind of energy to their work. Here are some who seem to me to be electro-magnetically aligned.

Jack Johnson (Fight actually starts at 5'27"):


And Jelly Roll Morton:


Friday, January 16, 2015

The Horace Silver Show


On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, January 15, 2015, two hours of pianist, composer, bandleader Horace Silver, with bio info and occasional musical analysis by the host, whoever that is.


Listen to the show.


PLAYLIST:

Stan Getz Quartet "Tootsie Roll" (1950) on Roost 

Stan Getz Quartet "‪Strike Up the Band‬" (1950) on Roost 

Stan Getz Quartet "‪Split Kick‬" 1951) on Roost 

Horace Silver Trio And Art Blakey "Opus de Funk" from "Horace Silver Trio And Art Blakey" (1953) on Blue Note 

Art Blakey Quintet "Wee Dot" from "A Night At Birdland With Art Blakey Quintet, Vol. 2" (1954) on Blue Note 

Art Blakey Quintet "Blues" from "A Night At Birdland With Art Blakey Quintet, Vol. 2" (1954) on Blue Note 

Art Blakey Quintet "The Way You Look Tonight" from "A Night At Birdland With Art Blakey Quintet, Vol. 2" (1954) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers "The Preacher" from "Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers" (1954) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet and Jon Hendricks "The Preacher" from "Horace Silver Quintet and Jon Hendricks" (1968) 

Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers "Doodlin" from "Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers" (1954) on Blue Note 

Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan "Doodlin" from "Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan" (1963) on RCA Victor 

Harold Land Sextet "west Coast Blues" from "West Coast Blues" (1960) on Jazzland 

Harold Land Sextet "Compulsion" from "West Coast Blues" (1960) on Jazzland 

Horace Silver Quintet "Strollin" from "Horace-Scope" (1960) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Sister Sadie" from "Doin the Thing" (1961) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Nica's Dream" from "Horace-Scope" (1960) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Filthy McNasty" from "Doin the Thing" (1961) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Cookin at the Continental" from "Finger Poppin" (1959) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Come on Home" from "Finger Poppin" (1959) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver Quintet "Song for my Father" from "Song for my Father" (1964) on Blue Note 

Horace Silver and the Sllver Brass Ensemble "The Hillbilly Bebopper" from "It's Gotta Be Funky" (1993) on Sony

Horace Silver Quintet "Red Beans and Rice" from "Pencil Packin' Papa." (1994) on Sony 

Friday, January 9, 2015

And Then God Created Chet

One thing I can say about James Gavin's Deep In a Dream: Hagiography, it ain't. In fact, it can stand as testament to Chet as the poster child for "the music is not the musician;" the ultimate example of the wrong-headedness of imputing personality or character traits on the basis of someone's music. Gavin makes sure we understand that the only mistress Baker was ever faithful to, the only friend he ever made any sacrifices for, was dope; that the people who bought into Baker's good looks, sweet sound and romanticized presentation were all played-big time. 

And yet, while here's not much reason to respect or like Baker, it's odd that Gavin doesn't seem to particularly like or respect his music, which he often describes as cold and devoid of emotion. It's as if he's set out to save his readers from becoming zombie dupes of the Chet Baker mythology. 

But, the fact is, Baker's stature as a musician was not cut from whole cloth. Yes, the music mutated into "phenomenon," working its way outward, amplified until the layers of bullshit overwhelmed the musical core-and Baker was completely complicit in this process. Still, when self-abuse hadn't gotten the better of him, there was always something magnetic in Baker's music and to the degree Gavin doesn't recognize that, the book is out of balance.

I'm not saying cut back on the gruesome tales of collapsed veins, violence and pathologically selfish, destructive behavior. We're reading for that, too. But the author's ambivalence about Baker's music leads to contradictions and unanswered questions:
  • His description varies from one page to the next about the quality of the music, with no explanation of a change from one performance to the next-such explanation as we would naturally expect to be about whether or not he scored what he needed. Along with this, there are inconsistencies about whether, at a given time, he was strung out on heroin, coping with methadone, strung out on methadone, coping by substituting cocaine, etc.
  • The author can't give us a clear picture of the degree to which Baker had musical knowledge, apart from his uncanny natural talent. He describes Baker's picking out melodies on the piano when very young; not being able to sight read and picking up parts by hearing them just once or twice; pushing people off piano benches to show them the right chords, but then taking a long time to find the chords; finally, not being able to tell people what key he wanted to play a song in.
  • When he quotes reviews, they're almost always slams of Baker's playing or bad reviews of his records. When he does quote something favorable, it's likely to be by musicians with whom Chet was getting high which, Gavin implies, undermines their credibility as witnesses. Many musicians in the book describe their time playing with Chet as life-changing, but such declarations always seem buried by Gavin in a context detailing Baker's pathological behavior.


Ironically, Gavin's approach is comparable to the infatuation he imputes to Bruce Weber, who made the film "Let's Get Lost." Aren't infatuation and dismissal just opposite sides of the same coin? Both Gavin and Weber short-change the music. Weber gives us a lovely and compelling portrait, with dark undertones and very little air time devoted to the up-tempo, dextrous trumpet player Chet Baker. Gavin gives us a dark portrait, unrelenting diss, with little energy spent on the music. For Weber, the music meant that all sins could at least be understood, if not forgiven. For Gavin, the sins meant that the music could not be trusted. Either way, both the book and the film are obsessed with Chet The Image.  

I'm not asking for transcriptions of solos. That's a different book. I'm trying to deal with Gavin's book on its own terms. He's written a juicy tome, but in not believing in the music enough to dig more into it and ask more questions about it, Gavin has me backing away from the descriptors of Baker and his music that riddle the book and to the psychological insights he offers. This makes his book shade too much toward the Kitty Kelley school of biography. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Top Ten New Year's Jazz Resolutions



  1. Re-create Blue.
  2. Study up on "satire," so I know it when I see it.
  3. Humbly accept my cultural irrelevancy.
  4. Kickstarter campaign for my chops transplant operation. 
  5. Ignore all incoming Armstrong biographies.
  6. Ditto Ellington.
  7. Four Words: Fud Livingston Tribute Band.
  8. Still have 8 Giant Steps keys left to learn. 
  9. Stockpile valve oil, before prices go back up.
  10. Continue to just call it "jazz."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Billie Holiday Holiday Show


On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour on 12/25/14 I played music by Billie Holiday, work by influences like Louis Armstrong and Lester Young and other music from the late 30's-early 40's. At the center of the broadcast was my radio production called "The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit," which recounts the creation of that singular song.

Listen to the program here.

Louis Armstrong "Weary Blues" (Jazz, 1927) on Okeh 

Louis Armstrong "Struttiin' With Some Barbecue" (Jazz, 1927) on Okeh 

Louis Armstrong "Once in a While" f(Jazz, 1927) on Okeh 

Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington "Lucky So and So" (Jazz, 1961) on Pickwick 

Billie Holiday "Yesterdays" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

Billie Holiday "I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

Billie Holiday "Fine and Mellow" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

Count Basie and His Orchestra "Lady Be Good"  (1936) on Decca 

Billie Holliday and Lester Young "Fine and Mellow" (Jazz, 1957) 

Bunnie Berigan "I Can't Get Started" (1936) on Decca 

Slim and Slam "A Tip On The Numbers" (Jazz, 1941) on Stash 

Cootie WIlliams "Concerto For Cootie" (Jazz, 1941) on Victor 

Billie Holiday "How Am I To Know" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

The Commodore Master Takes "My Old Flame" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

Billie Holiday "I'll Get By" from "The Commodore Master Takes" (Jazz, 1944) on Commodore 

Stephen Provizer "The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit" from "The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit" (Other, 2014) 

Billie Holiday "Blue Moon" from "Solitude" (Jazz, 1952) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "My Man" from "Ella and Billie" (Jazz, 1957) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "You Go to My Head" from "Solitude" (Jazz, 1952) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "Lover Come Back to Me" from "Ella and Billie" (Jazz, 1957) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "You Turned the Table On Me" from "Solitude" (Jazz, 1952) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "Lady Sings The Blues" from "Ella and Billie" (Jazz, 1957) on Verve 

Billie Holiday "I Only Have Eyes For You" from "Solitude" (Jazz, 1952) on Verve 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Hath Dylan Wrought?


As we at The Institute told Bob, nothing resurrects a moribund career more than a good cover project.

Always ready to jump on the bandwagon, we hooked up with the good folks at K-Tel and produced these recordings, featuring some of your favorite golden oldie stars. Look for them soon on the shelves of your favorite record store!

Bono Loves Como!

Blondie, Edy and Steve: Together Again For the First Time.

A Talent To Abuse: Slash Digs Coward.

Sting Swings the Sammy Davis Jr Songbook!

Clapton Says: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Der Bingle."

Madonna's Rockin Mall Classics.

Prince: Ooh, My Papa; The Eddie Fisher Omnibus.

Van Halen -What Kind of Goulet Am I?*

Springsteen-It's Amore! No, It's Deano!

Def Leppard-The Mellow Side of Manilow.

Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Twisted Sister Kate--Smith, of course!

*Also available in 8-Track

Friday, December 5, 2014

New Orleans Omnibus Show


Broadcast on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of December 4, 2014.

LISTEN TO N.O. OMNIBUS

Louisiana Five "I Ain't-en Got-en No Time" 1919, Columbia 
Armand J. Piron's New Orleans Orch. "Bouncing Around" 1923, Okeh 
Armand J. Piron's New Orleans Orch.  "West Indies Blues" 1923,  Okeh 
Clarence Williams' Blue Five "Texas Moaner Blues" 1924,  Okeh 
Clarence Williams' Blue Five "Livin' High" 1925, Okeh 
Johnny Dunn and His Band "You Need Some Lovin" 1928, Columbia 
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra "Mahogany Hall Stomp" 1929,  Okeh 
Johnny DeDroit And His New Orleans Orchestra "Number Two Blues" 1924,  Okeh 
Fate Marable's Society Syncopators "Frankie and Johnny" 1924, Okeh 
Johnny Bayersdorffer And His Jazzola Novelty Orchestra "The Waffle Man's Call"1924, Okeh 
Halfway House (Dance) Orchestra "Barataria" 1925, Okeh 
Russ Papalia and His Orchestra "Cross Word Mama" 1925, Okeh 
Brownlee's Orchestra Of New Orleans "Peculiar" 1925, Okeh 
New Orleans Rhythm Kings "I Never Knew Just What a Gal Could Do" 1925, Okeh 
New Orleans Rhythm Kings "She's Crying for Me" 1925, Okeh 
New-Orleans Rhythm Kings "Milenberg Joys" 1925, Okeh  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Songs That Deeply Move

After my recent interview with Sheila Jordan, Jeff Turton made this comment: "She sang at my wedding and I always loved "You Are My Sunshine..."[see below]. I asked if she would sing it but she told me that she wouldn't sing it because to her it was a sad song. Growing up it was always a song that they sang when there were problems in the mines and lives were lost, which happened on a regular basis back then... Since that time I have never heard the song in the same way and I now hear that sadness in her voice."

There are often universal, or at least consensual emotional responses to music. Minor and major are more than just the mechanical act of flatting the third. But, we always bring our own backstory too, sometimes conscious, sometimes not and once in a while we are blindsided by our own reaction and deeply moved by music that other people find merely "pleasant," or "well-crafted."  
Abbey Lincoln
I'm not talking about the effect of music at the transcendental end of the spectrum-Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and others. That music summons up large vistas and profound cosmic spaces. The songs I allude to here move us to a very personal inner space and often, a deep melancholy. Sometimes we understand why this happens, as in Jeff's story above; sometimes not. The fact that we may not know why we are emotionally stirred seems to deepen the experience.

In "Dinji," from Wayne Shorter's "Super Nova" album, a very personal vocal by Maria Booker is bookended by music evoking a wider, more cosmic palette. This deepens the effect of the vocal, which enters at about 4:00.

In the LP "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie," comes Ella with "Good Morning Heartache," a beautiful marriage of music, lyric and musician. No surprise at its effect.

Here's "You Are My Sunshine," off the album "The Outer View." The arrangement George Russell wrote showed that he grasped the many layers of subtext in the song and Sheila Jordan's relationship to it.

Rahsaan and "A Laugh for Rory." Why this song? I'm not sure, but the combination of the real child's voice, the bubbling lightness of the head contrasted with the dramatics of the solos tripped a wire in me.

Finally, the song with a mojo that struck me like thunder is "Throw It Away," by Abbey Lincoln from "A Turtle's Dream." Why? I'll let the mystery continue to breathe.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Talking With, Listening to Sheila Jordan


It was my pleasure to play music by Sheila Jordan and interview her on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 11.13.14.

You can get her biography "Jazz Child," written by Ellen Johnson here.

The first 15 minutes are music, the next 35 or so are the interview and the last 10 are more music. Enjoy.

Here's the Program.

PLAYLIST
"Hum Drum Blues" from "Portrait of Sheila"  1962 on Blue Note
"The Bird / Tribute (Quasimodo) / Embraceable You" from "I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass" 1997 on Highnote
"Fred Astaire Medley" from "The Very Thought Of Two" 1988  on MA
"Dat Dere" from "Portrait of Sheila" 1962  on Blue Note
"What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life" from "Body and Soul" 1986 CBS Sony Records
"Anthropology" from "Lost And Found" 1989 on Muse

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Trumpeters: Breathe Deeply and Prosper


Throughout my long playing career (if you can call it that), I have been fed any number of what now seem like crackpot breathing directives, including "Ya gotta push hard out your butt, like you're tryin to fart." "Draw in that sphincter muscle and make it real tight." "Support has to come from the diaphragm, don't worry about your chest."

I've finally begun to understand a couple of fundamental things: 1) Both your chest (lungs) and diaphragm have to be fully engaged and (2) It's not the volume of air that opens up the upper register, it's the velocity. Plenty of air has to be available and you have to be able to generate great airflow speed. Your mouth cavity and tongue also effect the rate of speed. 

We get very obsessed about our chops, but in fact our chops don't kick in until all the above happens. It takes a lot of strength to resist a small, concentrated, fast-moving column of air. The job of your face muscles is to allow your lips to either tighten or relax, to produce faster or slower vibrations that are then amplified by the trumpet and emerge as notes of different pitch
                    
Whatever system of playing works for you is probably the one that allows this system to operate with the greatest efficiency for your particular physiological and psychological makeup.

All this being said, I think it's useful to go back to a fundamental understanding of the act of breathing. I came across this groovy video that explains how things work. They should show this to anyone who picks up a wind instrument.




Here's another video, just to give our friend the diaphragm its due. Ten points to whoever tells me where that extra "g" came from:




So my friends, breathe deeply and prosper.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

More New Yorker Jazz Nonsense

A recent short piece in the New Yorker (they call it a "casual") brings us back to the shift in how this magazine and other "thoughtful" mainstream periodicals now think of jazz.

The piece, under the heading "The Musical Life" is titled "Protege." It opens this way: 

"Jazz, once the national vernacular, lingers as a fading dialect at a musicians’ union in Hell’s Kitchen. Old men in black fedoras and roomy suits, men who toured Europe with Lionel Hampton and Chet Baker, now brush the hi-hat at Monday-night jam sessions before forty people in folding chairs. A few Mondays back at Local 802, “A Foggy Day” sounded downright murky until Quincy Jones strode in and a chorus of old friends cried, “Q! Q!”"
The piece focuses some of its attention on pianist Justin Kauflin, a protege of trumpeter Clark Terry. Kauflin's recording career was given a boost by the involvement of Quincy Jones, who also helped finance the documentary about Terry and Kauflin, called "Keep on Keepin' On." 

Apart from this, there's a noticeably prurient emphasis on Jones' love life. He flirts with two women, and says: "four Sudoku every day, to keep me young. Puzzles, and young women!” The closing of the piece is:

"As Kauflin turned away, Oxenhorn patted his knee and said, “It doesn’t matter how good-looking or talented you are—when Q calls a woman over, she’s going to leave you."

The final bit I want to quote is this:

“Until I met Clark,” Kauflin said, “I’d never been around anyone who could say ‘I love you’ so easily, who could spread joy just with his beautiful soul. That’s the same vibe I get from Q. We need to bring back that love because”—he gestured to the room—“we don’t exactly have a big audience anymore.”

So, to sum up: jazz is a fading dialect, the province of old men with fedoras and "roomy suits" (where the hell does that come from?) playing, essentially, for each other. Two elders of jazz are mentioned: Clark Terry, who is unfortunately, near the end of his life (offstage) and Quincy Jones (center stage), a swashbuckling womanizer with the bucks to keep the dim jazz flame alive.

Make of it what you will.