Friday, July 24, 2015

Benny Golson Show

The Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 7.23.15 on WZBC.ORG, 90.3 featured Benny Golson, one of the most singular talents in jazz: tenor sax master, arranger and composer of some of the great jazz tunes: Stablemates, Whisper Not, I Remember Clifford...

Listen HERE.


Benny Golson Nonet "Whisper Not" from "Benny Golson's New York Scene" (Jazz, 1957) on Contemporary Records 

Benny Golson Quintet  "Something In B Flat" from "Benny Golson's New York Scene" (Jazz, 1957) on Contemporary Records 

Benny Golson Sextet "Step Lightly" from "The Modern Touch" (Jazz, 1957) on Riverside 

Benny Golson Sextet "Hymn To the Orient" from "The Modern Touch" (Jazz, 1957) on Riverside 

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers "Blues For Marcel" from "Des_Femmes_Disparaissent_(Soundtrack)" (Jazz, 1958) 

Benny Golson And The Philadelphians "Stablemates" from "Benny Golson And The Philadelphians" (Jazz, 1958) on United Artists 

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers "Along Came Betty" from "Moanin'" (Jazz, 1958) on Blue Note 

Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet "Along came Betty" from "Another Git Together" (Jazz, 1962) on Mercury 

Benny Golson Quintet "A Bit of Heaven" from "Gone With Golson" (Jazz, 1959) on Prestige 

Benny Golson (solo) "You're My Thrill" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Benny Golson (duo) "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Benny Golson Quintet "Little Karin" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

The Jazztet "Farmer's Market" from "Jazztet at Birdhouse" (Jazz, 1961) on ARGO 

Annie Ross "Farmer's Market" from "Farmer" (1952) on Prestige 

The Jazztet and John Lewis "Milano" from "The Jazztet and John Lewis" (Jazz, 1961) on ARGO 

Benny Golson's Orchestra "You're Driving Me Crazy / Moten Swing" from "Pop+Jazz=Swing" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Benny Golson's Orchestra "Ornithology / How High The Moon" from "Pop+Jazz=Swing" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Art Farmer - Benny Golson Sextet "Killer Joe" from "Meet the Jazztet" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Manhattan Transfer "Killer Joe" from "Vocalese" (Jazz, 1985) on Atlantic 

Benny Golson Quartet "Mad About the Boy" from "Free" (Jazz, 1963) on ARGO 

Benny Golson And The International Jazz Orchestra "Stockholm Sojourn" from "Stockholm Sojourn" (Jazz, 1964) on Prestige 

Benny Golson Sextet "If I should Lose You" from "Just Jazz" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Louis Armstrong and The Big River

A Marable band with Armstrong, onboard a Steckfus steamship
A lot of New Orleans musicians gigged with bandleader Fate Marable, who ran the bands for the Streckfus excursion boats that plied the Mississippi: Red Allen, Tommy Ladnier, Baby and Johnny Dodds, Pops Foster and many others. Not the least of them was Louis Armstrong, who played with Marable on-and-off for three years.

William Howland Kenney's excellent Jazz on the River and Dennis Owsley's City of Gabriels, The History of jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1983 both make it clear that music played on the riverboats during their heyday(c. 1910's-1930's) was arranged dance music of a medium tempo, with apparently little chance for a musician to "get off." So, for New Orleans jazz musicians, playing in a Marable band on a Streckfus steamboat was not a chance to hone his hot chops, but it was nonetheless a desirable gig. Especially after the closure of Storyville in 1917, even those in the upper end of the New Orleans jazz hierarchy were struggling. The boats provided a steady paycheck–$35 per week with room and board, $45 without. They also provided a heavy dose of discipline; some of it arbitrary and racist and some of it seen as useful. I.e., the discipline of reading music.

Louis Armstrong first played on a Streckfus steamer in 1918. He worked his way from town to town and in St. Louis, jammed with the local musicians. Louis was ambivalent about reading music. He knew it was a skill he needed to have, but said he thought it separated the musician from the listener. As a result, he progressed in reading, but didn't become really proficient. (c.f. the "pound plenty" story with Fletcher Henderson).

Armstrong was allowed to play a cornet solo with just piano accompaniment on a song called "La Veda," which apparently went over well. He wanted to expand his role and be a featured player and singer with the band, but neither Marable nor Streckfus wanted that. One can speculate that Armstrong's representation would have threatened the very tightly controlled, segregated "Dixieland" mythology that ownership felt underlay the appeal of the excursion boats and which they tried to purvey through the music. Give the customers a whiff of the exotic, but no polyphony, really fast or slow tempos or sexual lyrics.
Armstrong and Oliver
So, in 1921, Armstrong left Marable. Then, in 1922, he got the call to join King Oliver in Chicago (Jazz mythology about the music traveling up the river aside, there was no Mississippi tributary deep enough to carry large boats all the way. Armstrong took a train to Chicago). In 1928, when gigs in Chicago had temporarily dried up, the Streckfus family sent a representative to Armstrong and him offered the chance to re-up. Despite an offer that escalated from $75 to $100 to $125 a week, Armstrong refused.

While Armstrong never played on the river again (at least for Marable), the Big River stayed a part of Armstrong's musical identity for the rest of his life, especially during the next twenty years.

Although he recorded Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy River" in 1931 and several times after, his approach to that tune has a very different flavor than the ones I'm posting. Armstrong plays "Lazy River" more as a parody, while these tunes allow him to more sincerely limn a specifically black-centric experience of life and memory on the Big River. As author Kenney suggests, he is taking the tradition of songs and chanteys sung by roustas and expanding it. As an aside, Kenney says that there is good evidence that, in derivation, chanteys are West Indian as much or more so than British. With the slavery triangular trade in full swing, there's good reason to think there was a musical exchange between the Caribbean Islands and the British Islands.

Armstrong's earliest "river" recording was in 1930 for Okeh records, with pianist Buck Washington. This tune was an amalgam of "Deep River" and "Motherless Child."

In 1933, Armstrong recorded for the Victor label with a 12-piece band, which included several Marable Alums. They recorded "Mississippi Basin," "Dusky Stevedore" and "Mighty River."

In 1939 and 1940, he recorded "Shanty Boat on the Mississippi" and "Lazy 'Sippi Steamer" for Decca records.

In this repertoire, Armstrong shows once again his genius for transcending the boundaries between racial identification, personal integrity and the marketplace.

I post this with all respect to Ricky Riccardi, whose blog is the ultimate source of Armstrong info.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jazz Bass Technique Evolution-Pt. 2

The question inspiring these bass posts is: Has the playing on this instrument progressed farther technically than on any other jazz instrument?

In Part One, we listened to foundational tuba and bass players from the 20's and 30's. We'll pick up now starting with Jimmy Blanton who, if not the first "modern" player, has as good a claim to that title as anyone.
Jimmy Blanton
Blanton's strong regional reputation led him to Duke Ellington's band in 1939, where he played until he died in 1942, at age 23, from TB.

Slam Stewart had the technique of the walking bass line down, but was also unique in his ability to bow solos and sing/hum along with them (see my previous post on arco-bowed-bass playing.

Oscar Pettiford was one of the first bass players to master the harmonic language of Bop. He broke his arm while playing baseball with the Woody Herman band, took up the cello and made it a viable solo and accompanying instrument in jazz. He was a fleet, nimble and creative soloist. The pianist on this 1955 Stardust is Don Abney.

This A Train has Pettiford on cello, Ellington on Piano and Strayhorn on celeste.

Charles Mingus was a master of the bass, although his greatest contributions weren't to bass technique, they were to arranging, composing and band-leading. Still, he was a convincing soloist and accompanist.

Paul Chambers was a VIP of later bop and hard bop. He updated Slam Stewart's bowing technique to work with post-swing harmony. 

Jimmy Garrison is most well-known for his part in the classic John Coltrane Quartet. In that context, he continued to walk, but he also was able to play solos alone and out of tempo, using multi-stops and strumming; in effect, moving the art of bass soloing into a freer space.

Next time:
Post-modern acoustic and electric bass players

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jazz Bass Technique Evolution

Watching Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten led me to ask whether the technique used to play any instrument in jazz has evolved farther from its beginnings than the bass:
The role of the bass in early jazz was to keep time and harmony, a more limiting role than that taken by horn players, who were free to create and embellish melodies and counter-lines. So, you had Bechet, Armstrong, Morton, Hawkins, Dodds, etc., able to take all the technique they'd acquired and put it in service to the music. It's also relevant that until the early 1930's, in order to make a living, players had to learn to play both string bass and tuba, instruments requiring very different techniques.

Early bass and tuba players in jazz occasionally stepped out beyond their usual role, but going too far, too often, in a polyphonic and/or horn-dominated environment would have meant straying too far from the anchoring role the bass was expected to play. One does get a whiff of an untapped reservoir of technique from the occasional startling solo and the overall assurance of the playing.

Here's Bill Johnson, slapping and bowing. Interesting that it's in the "primitive" musical context of jug and comb-kazoo:

Here's Steve Brown, making sure he's audible by bowing his way through the tune and playing a tricky bowed-plucked solo:

Here's Pops Foster on tuba. He plays a nice Latin-tinge line halfway through the tune.

Wellman Braud, long associated with Ellington, plays mostly quarter notes and about 3/4's of the way in, plays some "parts."

Walter Page, Kansas City stalwart, plays several different kinds of bass lines here:

Milt Hinton takes the slap bass technique to its logical conclusion with Cab Calloway:

Next Time:

We'll pick it up from Jimmy Blanton and go from there.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bob Dylan and the Jazz Avant-Garde

Bob Dylan performed at the 80th Sinatra birthday tribute in 1995. In 2004, he joined forces with Wynton Marsalis at a benefit concert for Jazz at Lincoln Center and his 2015 release, Shadows in the Night was, let's say, jazz-informed, but early on in his career, Dylan had truck with edgier jazz folk.

While not on the level of finding the lost Buddy Bolden cylinder, it would be interesting to hear a recording of Bob Dylan and Cecil Taylor when they jammed on The Water is Wide in the early 1960's. Dylan mentions this session in his Chronicles, Vol 1 and adds: "Cecil could play regular piano if he wanted to." Note that Tom Wilson, Dylan's producer at this time, produced Cecil Taylor's first LP, Jazz Advance

Cecil Taylor
Bob and Tom Wilson
Here's the tune in a 1975 incarnation, with Dylan and Joan Baez.

Dylan says he also jammed with Ornette Coleman associates drummer Billy Higgins and trumpeter Don Cherry. No specific tunes are mentioned.


Listen to the group and imagine what you will.

These musical intersections happened, says Dylan: " a creepy...little coffeehouse on Bleeker Street near Thompson run by a character called the Dutchman." I'm surmising it was the Cafe Rafio, at 165 Bleecker
Dylan also says that he crashed a Thelonius Monk rehearsal where he told Monk that he played folk music. Monk's reply: "We all play folk music."

Thanks to Elijah Wald for passing on much of the info in this post. Be on the lookout for Elijah's book on the 50th anniversary of Dylan going electric at Newport. It's due out in a couple of weeks. Go here for info.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Miles is to Picasso as Who is to Whom

In a well-known interview with Sonny Rollins and Gary Bartz, Miles Davis is likened to Picasso. Like Miles, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane went through cycles of intense artistic change; less so, other of the musicians in this postBix, Red Allen, Hampton and Shepp. And, like Picasso, the artists here sometimes had a dominant style and sometimes went through significant changes (not to mention working in different media). But, since this is pure subjectivity, not scholarly research, I'm using a single well-known work by the musicians and artists to present a simple case for their aesthetic linkage. Look and listen.

Bix and Joan Miro.                            

Coleman Hawkins and John Marin

                                        John Coltrane and Isamu Noguchi
Henry "Red" Allen and Franz Kline

Lionel Hampton Big Bands and Romare Bearden

Archie Shepp and Jacob Lawrence
More to come.

Friday, May 22, 2015

More Live Music on the Duplex

Acting under a strict injunction by the FCC to get live jazz on the airwaves, the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour on WZBC.ORG this week featured in-studio playing by tenor saxophonist Rich Halley and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, members of the Rich Halley 4, which played at the outpost186 on 5.22.15. I also played a few recordings by the band. Other members of the group are Clyde Reed on bass and Carson Halley on drums.

Listen to this one hour show HERE.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Charlie Kohlhase on the Duplex

Charlie K., one of the main folks on the Boston jazz scene, guested on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour on WZBC, 5.14.15. I played some tracks featuring Charlie and he was also kind enough to allow me to put him on the spot with some blindfold tests, which are scattered throughout the program.

You can hear it HERE.

Charlie Kohlhase Quintet "Tout De Moi" from "Plays Roswell Rudd" (Jazz, 2000) on NADA 

Charlie Kohlhase Quintet "Emanation" from "Plays Roswell Rudd" (Jazz, 2000) on NADA 

Red Rodney "Dig This" from "Quintets 1955-59" (Jazz, 1955) on Fresh Sound 

Kenny Dorham "Sunrise in Mexico" from "Whistle Stop" (Jazz, 1961) on Blue Note 

Charlie Kolhase "Decide for Yourself" from "Adventures" (Jazz, 2009) on Boxholder 

Bob Dorough "Right On My Way Home" from "Right on My Way Home" (Jazz, 1997) on Blue Note 

Serge Chaloff "Keen and Peachy" from "Keen and Peachy" (Jazz, 1950) on Uptown 

Charlie Kolhase Quintet "Eventuality`" from "Eventuality" (Jazz, 2000) on NADA 

Fud Livingston "Humpty - Dumpty" from "The Story of F.L." (Jazz, 2009) on Jazz Oracle 

Charlie Kolhase "Mergens Merganser" from "You Start" (Jazz, 2000) on Boxholder 

Ron Miles "Erase Yourself" from "My Cruel Heart" (Jazz, 1996) on Gramavision 

Mario Pavane Sextet "Day of the Dark Bright Light" from "Deez to Blues" (Jazz, 2006) on Playscape 

Cab Calloway & Chu Berry "Special Delivery" from "Penguin Swing" (Jazz, 1938) on Archives of Jazz 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Jazz, Junk, Cool and Nostalgia

So, who gives a crap about nostalgia, that fatuous relict of Ye Olde Bullshit Shoppe? I do.

nos.tal.gia. From two Greek words: nostos (homesickness) and algos (pain).

Notwithstanding the abuse it takes, nostalgia is a singular brain state of happy/sad/hyper-self conscious/free-floating-ness that feels like nothing else. When any emotional state grabs me that hard, I pay attention.

Jazz-the music itself-doesn't traffic much in nostalgia, although jazz-the listeners-with their wax and catalogues, do. Jazz musicians are known for not wanting to listen to their own old recordings, but name me a jazz fan who can't tell you the first album they bought.


Out-and-out schmaltz, like Jackie Gleason jazz records, or schticky trad bands are more bathetic than nostalgic. Unrooted in any particular time, they lack the weight to induce nostalgia, although they may induce a treacly simulacrum. In fact, I think there's an anomalous combination of elements that can make it happen in jazz.
                             Shmaltz + Cool = nostalgia.

Miles, then, would seem to be a candidate-plays a lot of ballads and medium tempi, often uses the harmon mute, cultivates an elusive persona-but his playing lacks schmaltz, which keeps it cool and non-nostalgic. (Miles Davis, the Bertolt Brecht of jazz?)

Chet Baker's pose is emotionally distant, like Miles, but Baker's music has the schmaltz and is nostalgic. His drug habit makes sense in this context. Heavy dope is not about being here now. The Now is Just Too Much. It's about retreating to a place of your own imagining; hassle-free, light (not heavy), but not without bittersweetness. This is also a credible definition of nostalgia. We relate to the music with a sigh, a sense of yearning, an emotional attachment to the notes. 

I don't know of a lot of tracks in jazz that use the word "nostalgia." The two below are the most well-known and are often covered. The first, by Fats Navarro, is in a medium tempo and actually has many of the qualities I defined as nostalgic. Despite the fact that Fats was one of the most declamatory trumpet players, he tempers his style and his solo here fits well in the emotional framework established by the song.

We think of Charles Mingus as one of the least nostalgic players-and people; seemingly, always searching for new musical routes, staunchly in the moment, to the extent that his groups were "workshops" and he taught his musicians their parts by singing them. He also had a streak of violence we don't associate with nostalgia.

While the tempo of this tune is slightly slower than the Navarro, the rhythmic approach is choppy and the second restatement of the tune is even choppier, which actually makes it seem faster. There is a fair amount of dissonance in the melody and little of the lilt and legato of the Navarro. Being nostalgic in Times Square is no simple matter.

OK, now to contrast Miles and Chet, here are their versions of My Funny Valentine. Of course, Miles never sang, and that makes a hell of a difference, but just listen to their horn solos.

Kudos, contrary opinions, suggestions for inclusion, elision and relevant EKG's are welcome.

Was turned on to Svetlana Boym by Artemis Nasby. Found a great essay about nostalgia written by her here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pepper, Desmond and Shank

Not a law firm. Art Pepper, Paul Desmond and Bud Shank are white alto sax players who eschewed the hard-edged sound and harmonic approach of Charlie Parker. There were other well-known white sax players in the 1950's: Phil Woods, Joe Maini, Herb Geller and Charlie Mariano who, because of their approach and tone, fell more into the lineage of Charlie Parker. I'd call Gene Quill a borderline case, with one foot in each camp. 

To a large extent, Pepper, Desmond and Shank became the (alto sax) personification of the West Coast versus East Coast schism and represented a lightning rod for racial tension in jazz during the 50's and 60's (the New York-based Lee Konitz did also, but to a lesser degree).

This tension is a major subplot in Straight Life, the Story of Art Pepper. A fascinating read, Pepper's jumble of self-delusion, introspection and braggadocio is not the place to go for an objective examination of social issues. But, although clearly sometimes a prick, Pepper is convincing in his descriptions of the resentment that some black musicians felt toward him and the insults he suffered as a result of being white and playing jazz.

I'm not going to try and parse out the threads of the racism/reverse-racism issue–abandon hope all who enter there. But, there are some interesting questions that can be asked. Were there black musicians playing in this softer, non-Bird style? Were they not being recorded because of the same recording industry biases that prevented black bands from being recorded in the 1920's playing anything but "hot" music? Did group/political pressure keep black musicians from pursuing this avenue of creative approach? These white musicians seemed to be consciously trying to carve out a different musical space-was it inevitable they end up sharing so much of the same space, one that prioritized sweetness of sound, ballad playing, slightly less blues emphasis and the creation of melodic lines instead of vertical chord delineation? 

It would take hundreds of tracks to properly characterize how these guys sound, but I'll present a ballad and an up tempo performance from each to give a sense of their playing. First, ballads.

Art Pepper

Paul Desmond

Bud Shank (starts at :53)

And, uptempo.
Bud Shank (Cooper solos first)


Desmond-(hard to find uptempo, rhythm-changes-type tracks like Scrapple)

My take: Pepper's tone is slightly more tart than the others. Desmond uses the most vibrato, then Shank and Pepper. In the uptempo tracks, a non-Bird approach seems to fall naturally under Pepper's fingers. Shank falls back more on Bird, but does find other pathways through the changes, albeit in a seemingly less natural way. Desmond's uptempo approach is all about the lines. It's more spare and he plays behind the beat more often. In sum, though, there is a very strong resemblance in their playing.

In any case, and broader cultural questions aside, I'm happy to hear any of these guys blow in a playlist that also includes hard boppers like Gigi Gryce, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Criss...

As happens more and more often, the discussion about this post is happening not here, but on social media. If you want to read that discussion, go here. You're also welcome to leave a comment here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Unaccompanied solos, Live and Recorded

Happy to have baritone sax player Zach Mayer on the 4/9/15 ‪Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour on WZBC.
Also, happy to jam with him (at about the half-hour mark). The live playing is interspersed with the recordings.

Check out the playlist. There will be some things you know and probably some you don't.


Charlie Parker's Earliest Recording 1940 ~ Honeysuckle Rose/Body and Soul‬-4:00

Coleman Hawkins "Picasso" from "Picasso" (1948) on Verve 3:15

‪Artie Shaw- These Foolish Things‬--Decca 1953 3:12"

Chet Baker- "Spring is Here" from "Chet With Strings" 1954) on Columbia 1:15

Mike Brecker- "‪Funky Sea, Funky Dew ‬part 2" from "‪Funky Sea, Funky Dew ‬part 2" 1980 on youtube-7:50 0

Eric Dolphy- "God Bless the Child (1961) [Live]" from "The Illinois Concert" (1963) on Blue Note 8'50"

Tom Harrell- "Joy Spring" from Helen Merrill's "Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown" (1995) Verve-4'

‪McCoy Tyner- "In A Sentimental Mood‬" from "In A Sentimental Mood" (1974) 6:30

Bob Mintzer- ‪Bass Clarinet Solo.mp4‬-"Improvization" youtube-3:20

Thomas Kneeland- "Confirmation" (Jazz) on youtube--2'50"

John Coltrane- "I Want to Talk ABout You" from "Live at Birdland" (Jazz, 1964) on Impulse! 8:15

‪Anthony Braxton "#5" from "Alto Saxophone Improvisations‬" (1979) on Arista #5-4'30"

Carol Sloan- "Never Never Land" from "live" (Jazz, 1985) on youtube- 2'

‪Jimmy Giuffre‬- "The Sheepherder" from "‪The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet 1956‬" (1956) on Capital 5'30"

‪Wynton Marsalis- "Stardust‬" from "Stardust" on youtube- 2'

‪Robin Eubanks- "Intro to Blues for Jimi‬" from "Intro to Blues for Jimi" on youtube- 3'30"

Joe Pass -"‪Joe's Blues‬" from "‪Joe's Blues‬" (Jazz) on youtube-5'30"

Bobby McFerrin- "Drive" from "Live" 1987 on youtube-faded out

Monday, March 16, 2015

Charlie Shavers Re-Mix

[I first wrote about Charlie Shavers a couple of years ago and since then, have noticed signs that increased attention is being paid to this great trumpet player (pure coincidence, I'm sure). I have expanded that piece, added new links and new commentary]

I first heard Shavers many years ago playing on Billie Holliday''s Verve LP "Solitude"- my favorite Lady Day record. Charlie's playing, both open and muted, was beautiful. I don't know why I didn't pursue his discography at that point; it just kind of spun out over time and I have grown to increasingly dig Shaver's facility, creativity and tone.

The only other swing trumpet players who could give Charlie Shavers a run for his money as both soloist and lead player were Roy EldridgeHarry Edison and Buck Clayton. If you happened to like the particularities of their sounds, you might say Harry JamesCootie Williams, Bunny Berigan or Red Allen were in his league. Shavers' tone was basically 'poppin', but rounder, slightly less edged and with a touch more vibrato than the others. His range was unsurpassed, except by Eldridge. He used mutes to great effect throughout his career.

Shavers was an alumnus of the Tiny BradshawLucky Millinder and John KirbyTommy and Jimmy DorseyBenny Goodman bands and Jazz at the Philharmonic. He recorded and sounded perfectly at home in many styles-blues, traditional, swing, semi-bop.

There's a dearth of info out there about the man. There is one very cool interview with him here, and what he says about the trumpet will surprise you. In this interview with Bobby Shew, there is a reference to Charlie's having what seems to be narcolepsy.

Whether or not he had that kind of medical condition or not he seems to have been an extremely laid back possibly even passive, guy. It's interesting to speculate on how his personality interacted with his career-especially his recording career-as many of the recordings he made in mid-to-late career (he died at age 50) were not very good. Producers put him in settings they thought would make him appeal to a bigger audience. On some of these, he is simply a high note guy and on some, a "beautiful music" guy. He probably had neither the clout nor the personality that would have made him push back against any of these musical follies.

Here's Charlie with Johnny Dodds in 1938 playing the mistitled tune "Melancholy."

This is the Charlie Shavers Quintet in 1947 doing "Dizzy's Dilemna."

Here's Charlie and Lady Day, 1952, on "Moonglow."

Here he is in 1952 with Eldridge in one of the classic JATP "battles."

One of the few clips of Charlie has him here in another fantastic "battle" with Buck Clayton:

Here he is holding down the solo and first chair at the same time for the Dorseys:

Here he is with his first major gig-John Kirby. Sid Catlett is fantastic:

And finally, here he is not long before his death. Dig the violinist Svend Asmussen. You might also recognize the bass player and the tenor player:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blindfolding Russ Gershon

Listen as Russ Gershon, the brave and intrepid Boston bandleader, musician, composer, arranger faces off against the musical unknown. On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, WZBC, 90.3 FM with Steve Provizer, 03/12/2015 5:00 to 07:00 PM.

Listen here for download and here to stream.

Playlist. Don't look, if you want to play along.

Before his arrival:
Either Orchestra "Nutty Ode to Billie Joe" from "Radium" (1989), Accurate Records

Either Orchestra "The Petrograd Revision" from "Mood Music for Time Travelers" 2010, Accurate Records

Either Orchestra "Born In a Suitcase" from "Radium" (1989) on Accurate Records

Either Orchestra "Suriname" from "Mood Music for Time Travellers" 2010 on Accurate Records

Either/Orchestra "Hard To Know" from "Radium" (Jazz, 1989) on Accurate Records 

Down to work:
Henry Red Allen "Love is Just Around the Corner" from "World On a String" 1957 Bluebird 

Phil Woods "Lemon Drop" from "Early Quintets" 1959) on Prestige 

John Tchicai "Sumolle" from "Hope Is Bright" 2002 on CIMP 

Donald Byrd & Pepper Adams "Day Dreams" from "Out of this World" (Jazz, 1961) on Compulsion 

Dexter Gordon "Our Love is Here to Stay" from "Our Man in Paris" 1963 on Blue Note 

Serge Chaloff "Keen and Peachy" from "Boston" 1950 on Uptown 

MIles Davis Sextet "Out of the Blue" from "Live at Birdland" 1952 on Fresh Sound 

Bix Beiderbecke "Trumbology" from "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans" (Jazz, 1927) on Okeh 

James Carter Organ Trio "Tis the Old Ship of Zion" from "At the Crossroads" (Jazz, 2011) on Decca 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Piano as Percussion Instrument

Herr Liszt
Pianos are percussion instruments (Nice history here). Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin and company did not write namby-pamby music and the evolution of the piano was spurred, in many ways, by trying to make the instrument play louder and faster. Ironic that p-"piano" is the notation for quiet and the more p's, the quieter.

Jazz pianists took full advantage of the piano's dynamic range, although there have always been widely different approaches to "touch." Early stride players like James P. Johnson, Willie the Lion Smith and Lucky Roberts were called "two-fisted" players. They were likelier to work the keyboard harder than those players coming through the more "modern" jazz vector of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, who put more emphasis on the right hand and, rather than striding (breaking up the chord in oom-pah fashion), using the left hand to just play the chord.

The bop pianists, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, Al Haig and company, were mainly occupied with right hand lines and block chords and tended to play in the metzo forte to forte range most of the time. Art Tatum, Jaki Byard, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Rowles and others continued to utilize both bop and stride approaches. Thelonius Monk and Count Basie used both stride and line approaches also, but were, in some ways, sui generis.

This post is not meant to be an omnibus catalogue of jazz pianistic touch, however, but to emphasize the more percussive end of the spectrum. We'll start with two of the premiere stride, or "Harlem" style pianists, contrasted with two seminal bop players.

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.