Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Ears and the New Jazz of the 1950's

One of the fascinating aspects of the "new" jazz music of the mid-late 1950's. was the background of its creators. Three spent formative years in rhythm and Blues bands: Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Charlie Haden came from a folk-country background. Cecil Taylor was immersed in contemporary classical music. Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd were "Dixieland" players. Henry Grimes studied classical and played R&B gigs. Dennis Charles came from traditional Caribbean music.
The Bebop language had so taken hold that subsequent 1950's jazz styles were deeply in its debt[all these names could have quotation marks around them]: Cool, West Coast, the Tristano school, Hard Bop, Chamber jazz, Soul Jazz. 
Questions present themselves: Was it easier for these players to make the dramatic musical leap they did because they were less in thrall to bop? If so, why? One thing strikes me-the language of bop is so rich and deep that it can simply be addictive. Once you're inside it, it's easy to become obsessed with exploring it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Hour with Smiling Billy Higgins

On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 10.12.17, I played music of drummer Billy Higgins. He was a joy to watch, as he really seemed to love every minute of it. He was not a bombastic drummer, simply an inspirational one.


Ornette Coleman "Ramblin'" from "Change of the Century" 1960 on Atlantic

Cal Tjader & Stan Getz Sextet "Crow's Nest" from "Cal Tjader & Stan Getz Sextet"1958 on Fantasy

Billy Higgins with the Teddy Edwards Quartet "Me and My Lover" from "Sunset Eyes" 1960 on Pacific Jazz

John Coltrane "Simple Like"[later called Like Sonny] from "Simple Like" 1962 on Roulette

Thelonious Monk "Let's Call This" from "Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk" 1960 on Riverside

Steve Lacy with Don Cherry "Evidence" from "Evidence" 1962 on New Jazz

Lee Morgan "You Go To My Head" from "The Gigolo" 1965 on Blue Note

Bobby Hutcherson "Blues Mind Matter" from "Stick-Up!" 1966 on Blue Note

Andrew Hill "Black Sabbath" from "Dance With Death" 1968 on Blue Note

Friday, October 6, 2017

1970's Boston Jazz

On the 10.5.17 edition of the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, WZBC, we sample an eclectic mix of 70's Boston Jazz, courtesy of my guest Dick Vacca, author of the Boston Jazz Chronicles. 


Baird Hersey’s Year of the Ear "Lookin’ for That Groove" from "Lookin’ for That Groove" 1977 on Arista Novus

The Fringe "The Message" from "The Fringe" 1978 on Ap-Go-Ga

Gary Burton Quartet "Coral" from "Times Square" 1978 on ECM 

Buddy Rich Big Band "Nutville" from "The Roar of '74" 1973 on Groove Merchant

Joe Maneri "Zeibekiko" from "Art-I-Facts" 1973 on NEC

Mae Arnette w/ Phil Wilson Sextet "All in Love is Fair" from "Getting It All Together" 1976 on Outrageous Records

Getting It All Together "Space-A-Nova II" from "Brighter Days" 1977 on Outrageous Records

Arnie Cheatham "Road Through the Wall, Part 4" from "Thing" 1972 on Porter Records

Dave McKenna "If Dreams Come True" from "Giant Strides" 1979 on Concord

Monday, October 2, 2017

What's the Right Tempo For That Tune?

There aren't that many categories for song tempos in jazz: up/fast, medium-up, medium, medium-slow and ballad/slow, but the permutations are endless. Is there a "right" tempo for a tune? 
Some songs seem to invite a wide latitude of tempo without losing their internal musical-emotional logic. I'd suggest as examples Autumn Leaves, But Not For Me, Come Rain or Come Shine, Our Love is Here to Stay...On the other hand, there are a lot of tunes that really call out for a narrow range of tempos-Good Morning Heartache, St. Thomas, After You've Gone, Donna Lee, Liza...

I find there are certain musicians who seem to always call tunes at the tempo I would choose, like Bobby Hackett, Roy Eldridge and Benny Golson. There are some who stretch tempi a little bit and make them work-Miles Davis (usually slower) and Art Pepper (usually faster) come to mind.

There are musicians like Charles Mingus and Steven Bernstein who sometimes re-work tunes so that they become almost indistinguishable from the standard versions. In this new aesthetic territory, the tempo becomes highly frangible

Then, there are tempo choices that just seem wrong-headed; where either the sentiment of the song or the contour of the melody clashes with the speed at which it's played. It's easier to see this in sung versions where you can hear the words, but in instrumental versions, it can also be irksome.

Let's start by comparing an original conception with a jazz re-working and listen to Kurt Weill play his composition "Speak Low," at 116 beats per minute, followed by Sonny Clark's version of the tune at 170 beats per minute:

In the Clark version, there is a shift between "Latin" and swing in the rhythm section, harmonized background horn parts, virtuosic bop playing. This version does not "Speak Low," but it does build on what the tune offers and essentially creates a convincing new tune on the bones of the old.

In this version of  "Dancing in the Dark," the tempo is a little bit faster than when first introduced in the film "The Bandwagon." The quality of Astaire's delivery does give the sense of this tempo, or something close to it,  being the "right" one.

The very slow tempo Cannonball Adderley chose for the same tune, his melodic ornamentations, interpolations and alterations were extreme enough that for several spins, I wasn't sure if I was hearing the standard or an original ballad by Adderly. See if you can buy into this approach.

Here are two versions of "Young and Foolish." The first is typical of the tempo usually chosen for the tune; perhaps even a bit slower. 

In the above, Mark Murphy takes the same tune way up. He uses "stop-times," key changes and horn obligatti for variety and creates a completely different approach. He renders an viable alternate vision, but to me, the lyrics don't really work at this tempo. There's a ruefulness to them that gets steamrolled. 

Here's a Clark Terry revamp of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." 

The melody actually fits well in this tempo and the performance is terrific. The original emotional impact of the song is swept away here, but its intent is so far away from the original that this version can be taken on its own virtuosic, up tempo terms.

Many jazz people take "My Shining Hour" at an up tempo. I happen to think that the song deserves to be heard at a slower tempo, which is how I do it when I play it. Here are two contrasting versions. 

Degustibus non disputatum est, of course, but I think it's fair to say that when choosing how fast to play an instrumental, there can be a lot of latitude-melodies can often sustain themselves in a wide range of tempos. But, in choosing to alter the usual tempo of a tune with known lyrics, musicians need to reckon with the emotional weight and meaning of the lyrics.